30 July 2008

Chicago 2008: Important deadlines

The conference committee reminds attendees about upcoming deadlines:

- The deadline for the Chicago Jewish Roots tours and cemetery transportation is Friday, August 1. Depending on reservation numbers received, some tours and cemetery trips may be cancelled. While limited number of tickets may be available during on-site registration for these tours and the cemetery trips, don't count on it.

- The deadline for Breakfasts with the Experts and for SIG luncheons is Friday, August 8. No breakfast or luncheon tickets will be available after that date. The deadline also applies to the Banquet, although limited additional tickets may be available for sale during on-site registration on Saturday evening, August 16, and Sunday morning, August 17. Require kosher banquet meals? If so, don't wait to register.

- There are no deadlines for computer workshops and Spertus Museum tours, but each is limited to only 25 participants. If space is available, conference-goers may sign up during on-site registration. Popular workshops have generally sold out before advance registration ends. Conference attendees interested in a certain workshop or tour should sign up now to avoid disappointment.

Register for optional programs at 'Registration Update' on the conference website.

Chicago 2008: The thrill of the chase

Genealogists working together can uncover surprising details to either confirm or discount details of important cases.

Chicago 2008 conference attendees who are fascinated in "the thrill of the chase" should plan to attend Colleen Fitzpatrick's program on the Misha Defonseca Holocaust Fraud Case. "Connections, Connections" will be presented at 11:15am, Wednesday, August 20 (DATE CORRECTED).

The talk will focus on how forensic genealogist Sharon Sergeant, Fitzpatrick and other team members exposed Misha, beginning with suspicions about her story by the absence of photographs from the book's European edition.

It will describe the church, civil, and school records they uncovered that revealed Misha’s true wartime whereabouts, and how the team was ready to use DNA testing to expose her true identity had Defonseca/Wael not confessed.


The memoirs of an 8-year-old girl who wandered 3,000 miles across Nazi-occupied Europe searching for her missing parents was amazing enough. Add in her claims of surviving two freezing winters living with a pack of wolves and you have a truly astonishing tale.

Unfortunately the life story that earned its author £10 million and was translated into 18 languages was just that. A story.

On March 1, 2008, Misha Defonseca (real name Monique De Wael) admitted that her bestseller, Misha - A Memoir Of The Holocaust Years, was made up. Or, as she preferred to put it, "not the real reality".

What brought about Misha’s stunning confession was the work of a dogged team of forensic genealogists, headed by Sharon Sergeant and assisted by Colleen Fitzpatrick, PhD.

With the help of a Belgian woman who had been a hidden child during WWII, the team produced documents showing that at the time Defonseca claimed to be skinning rabbits in the snow and stealing food from farmhouses on her way to Poland, she was actually a 4-year-old living in a Brussels apartment with her grandparents.

The beginning of the end for Defonseca came in 2005 when she won a judgment for $33M against US publisher Jane Daniel, claiming Daniel had not adequately marketed the book in the US. Daniel was cautioned not to speak publicly about the case.

However, realizing that she had nothing more to lose, Daniel started a blog in search of any scrap on information that might lead her to the truth about Defonseca’s background, that until then, had been thought impossible to research.

In 2007, she was contacted by Sharon Sergeant who told Daniel she thought she could help.

The rest is history.

Chicago 2008: Belarus SIG program set

The Belarus SIG luncheon at the Chicago 2008 conference will feature Yuri Dorn, coordinator of the Jewish Heritage Research Group in Belarus, who will speak about the Belarus Jewish community today.

Yuri is well-known to many Belarus researchers.

If you have interests in Belarus, you won't want to miss this luncheon. If you haven't signed up already, go the conference site do add (fee) what should be a very interesting program.

Yuri has organized two very successful data retrieval projects for me at the Minsk Archives.

Some five years ago, he found more than 200 records for our Talalay family, and in a second project - funded by descendants of our shtetl (Vorotinschtina and adjacent Zaverezhye, about 12 miles southwest of Mogilev) - he located some 700 birth, death and marriage records from the shtetl synagogue's second register. The first register has not yet been found and we hope it may be located in the future for even more priceless information.

Germany: Historical manual, Westphalia and Lippe

Publisher Ardey-Verlag has just released the Historical Manual of the Jewish Communities in Westphalia and Lippe.

The Manual documents the development of Jewish life in this historical area and includes three regional volumes and a summary volume.

Each regional volume describes one of the governmental districts (Arnsberg, Detmold or Munster), while overview articles describe the historical development of the Holy Roman Empire territories and individual Jewish policies.

These are hefty volumes: Munster (780pg), Detmold (ca1000pg), Arnsberg (ca900pg) and the summary volume (ca800pg). Prices range from 69-89 Euros each. Munster is the first available volume of the set (April 2008).

Alphabetically arranged town articles form the most extensive part of each volume. Included are all places in which the existence of at least a prayer room or cemetery could be found.

Development of the Jewish communities is described in the following manner:
- Administrative and ritual affiliation of the community
- History
- Constitution and organization of the community
- Fields of activity of individual municipality members
- Buildings and art monuments
- Sources and literature

Time span ranges from first documentation (Middle Ages) to the few municipalities re-established post-Holocaust era. Each volume includes a map of the documented places and synagogue districts specified by Prussian authorities in the mid-19th century.

It was prepared by the Historical Commission for Westphalia and the Institute for Comparative City History (IStG) at the University of Munster.

For more information, go to www.ardey-verlag.de . The books appear to be solely in German, and the website does not indicate if English abstracts or summaries are available.

Seattle: Tracing the Tribe, August 12

I'm in Seattle now visiting with friends and family.

Also, I'll be preparing for a joint program with Lyn Blyden, Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington State president, on "Tracing the Tribe: How to Discover Your Jewish Roots."

The session will take place from 10.30am-noon, Tuesday, August 12, at the Mercer Island Community Library, sponsored by the Jewish Family Service's Endless Opportunities education, social, recreational and volunteer activities program for adults aged 50+.

Lyn and I will have an Internet connection and will provide an introduction to using on-line research tools, accessing different types of records, how to conduct oral histories to record the participants' family history and other relevant topics.

If you're in the Seattle area, come along to this free program. I'm looking forward to meeting Tracing the Tribe readers in the area, but please RSVP to either endlessopps@jfsseattle.org or president@jgsws.org.

29 July 2008

Poland: Young people making connections

During the Holocaust - often right before their towns were liquidated or the Jewish population was transported to their deaths - Jewish parents tried to save their infants and young children by entrusting them to non-Jewish families.

More than 90% of Polish Jewry perished in the Holocaust. Although some families who cared for these children tried to contact relatives in other countries - if they had such information - after the war, many did not. Many purposely forgot the children's origins and never told them about their Jewish families or roots.

Today, however, things are changing in Poland.

Jerusalem Post colleague Michael Freund is chair of Shavei Israel which is currently hosting 22 young Poles on a trip to Israel. All have learned they have Jewish roots and are attempting to learn more.

A story in the Jerusalem Post details their experience.

A group of 22 Polish youth who only recently discovered their Jewish roots arrived in Israel this week for a three-week-long Polish-language seminar in Jerusalem.

The seminar is being arranged by Shavei Israel, a non-profit organization which aims to strengthen ties between Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world. The participants will travel throughout Israel, study Hebrew daily and learn about Jewish history, culture and religion, as well as the history of the State of Israel.

"In Poland in recent years there has been this awakening taking place where more and more people are discovering their Jewish roots," Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, told The Jerusalem Post.

"Many Jews who survived the war and chose to remain in Poland , because of the persecution they faced, decided to hide their identity. Now that Poland has become a democracy and its society has begun to open up people feel freer to identify as Jews. We are seeing this incredible phenomenon of the hidden Jews of Poland emerging from the shadows."

A Shavei Israel emissary in Poland said, "Shavei Israel has the idea that people who have Jewish roots should receive an equal opportunity to decide whether they want to be Jewish or not. It is not their fault that they are not 'Jewish' in the sociological sense of being Jewish."

Each participant has a unique tale of their discovery and reconnection; not all have found it easy.

About a year and a half ago, Andrzej, one of the seminar's participants, found papers proving the Jewish heritage of his mother. She, like many other Jewish children, was given away as a baby to a non-Jewish Polish family during World War II. Andrzej has since become an observant Jew, keeping kosher and observing Shabbat.

"The irony and/or tragedy of it all is that Andrzej's mother is a believing Catholic while his father is even quite anti-Semitic," said Rapoport. "Andrzej therefore made it a secret to his own family that he was going to have a brit mila [circumcision]."

Another participant, Patryk Wolanowski, grew up in a Polish orphanage.

"His aunt once told him that his father was Jewish. That's all he knows," [But now he is] an active member of Jewish life in Wroclaw [Poland ]," said Rapoport.

While the goal of the program is to strengthen connections between descendants of Jews and the Jewish people, it could go further with DNA testing and actually find these young people's living relatives.

Some of these young people may be the relatives of Tracing the Tribe's readers and thus these connections could be made stronger as the descendants of these "hidden" children learn what really happened - if known - to their birth parents and help them connect with living relatives.

Personally, I would recommend each young person provide a DNA test to Family Tree DNA. The results may reconnect them to their actual birth families and relatives, making the bond even stronger.

Do read the complete article at the link above.

27 July 2008

Lebanon: Jewish oblivion

It is sad to read about small Jewish communities facing problems - Lebanon's is one of those caught up in politics, aging and attrition.

Once a vibrant thriving community, today it stares at oblivion in this AFP article in the Middle East Times.

It's not easy being Jewish in Beirut where the synagogue is crumbling, the rabbis have left, the community is dwindling and where Jews are commonly branded "Israelis".

The last vestiges of the Jewish community in Lebanon, the Magen Abraham synagogue in the Lebanese capital, reflects a community falling into oblivion.

Built in 1920 in the area of Wadi Abu Jmil, formerly known as Wadi al Yahud (the Jews' Valley), the synagogue is today a place of desolation.

The building is in a state of severe disrepair, the grounds overgrown and the gate shackled with lock and chain.

"Everything was looted during the (civil) war, marble benches and even windows," bemoaned Samuel, a member of the Jewish Community Council in Lebanon, who preferred to use a pseudonym.

There is no synagogue, no rabbi for years, no kosher food, no Jewish schools. The Jewish cemetery is near the former border between Muslim and Christian neighborhoods.

The inscriptions in Hebrew and the stars of David on the entrance are covered with dust. "Very few people come," said Samuel.

Efforts are now being made, however, to revive the community with plans under way to renovate the synagogue and the establishment of an online blog called Jews of Lebanon.

Samuel said the synagogue will be renovated later this year or in 2009, funded by expatriate Lebanese Jews. The blog helps raise awareness of the community.

Lebanon recognizes 18 religions - Judaism is one - even as the Jewish community has dwindled after a 2,000-year history. Before the 1975-1990 civil war, some 22,000 Jews lived there. After the 1982 Lebanon war with Israel, it became much smaller.

Most lived in Beirut, Baalbek, Tripoli and Sidon, where synagogues have also crumbled after the community began leaving. Community members say many expat Lebanese Jews still own land but won't sell it; some even return for vacations.

Click on the above link to learn more.

Memories: Picnics in New York, Teheran

Bill West at West in New England is hosting the Genea-Bloggers' Picnic, and inviting us to remember family cookouts and picnics, traditional foods or family recipes.

Growing up in Brooklyn, I don't remember any city picnics. However, my grandparents' Kauneonga Lake bungalow colony, about 10 miles from Monticello, was the scene of great 4th of July and Labor Day weekend picnics, the summer season's official opening and closing holidays.

My grandmother made her own cole slaw and potato salad - enough to feed an army - cooked and sliced corn beef, turkey and roast beef for deli sandwiches - the meat purchased from Mendelson's kosher butcher in Kauneonga.

There were perfectly ripe fragrant tomatoes and delicious just-picked sweet corn from Grandpa's friend up the road (whose farm would become the future site of Woodstock). Crisp sour pickles and cans of Charles' potato chips rounded out the menu, along with sliced cold watermelon.

The grills, manned by relatives, produced prodigious numbers of kosher hot dogs tucked into lightly toasted buns, slathered with relish, mustard and ketchup.

No one requested chicken or tofu hot dogs back then - we had never heard of a vegetarian, cholesterol or trans-fat. If we had, we would have thought they were strange - not eat Grandma's corn beef or those juicy hot dogs? Blasphemy!

Fast forward a few years to our time in Teheran 1970-78, when Fridays were picnic days at the family's huge garden in Karaj.

At that time, Karaj was a separate village with its main claim to fame the Karaj Dam, where one could boat or visit a trout farm (pick out a fish and grill it) on the river. Today, Karaj is a city and a bedroom community for the much-expanded city of Teheran.

In the old days, the whole family would spend the day at the very large garden - named Kazemabad - which featured a pool (mainly for irrigation, but we also swam in it), a pomegranate orchard, greenhouses, mulberry trees, sweet miniature grapes called yaghouti (ruby) a house where we could retreat if it rained or snowed (as once happened in April).

The garden's owners included my late father-in-law, his brothers and another family, so Fridays could be rather busy with groups ranging from great-grandparents to great-grandchildren, but it was large enough to accommodate everyone.

Stored in the garden house was my mother-in-law's huge copper samovar, fired by charcoal, which held enough water for 100 cups of tea. At least we didn't have to bring that back and forth.

Family cars were filled with Persian carpets (even the "garden" ones were beautiful), huge pots of rice and stews, fruit, dishes (no paper plates!), silverware, glasses, sheets and pillows for after-lunch naps, bikes and toys, radios, soft drinks, sweaters for the evening chill. It was a real expedition to a then-rural location, even though the drive was only about 30 minutes long.

We would arrive about 11am to arrange the carpets under the trees, get the fire started for the samovar, arrange the pots wrapped in blankets to keep warm (the food had been cooked early that morning).

The menu may have included rice with carrots and red kidney beans with chicken (polo-havij), rice with tomatoes and small pieces of beef or lamb or even tiny meatballs (polo-estamboli), rice with dill and baby lima beans (polo-cheved-e-baghala).

An aunt would bring fried white fish, someone else the chicken. Another cousin would have brought the watermelons and other fruit, stored in the pool to keep cool.

Sometimes we brought saffron-and-lime-juice marinated chicken (jujeh-kabab) or seasoned ground meat (kubideh) to grill.

Baking was my contribution, and I often made a huge tray of fudgy brownies (a la famous cookbook author Maida Heater) - What's a picnic without fudgy brownies?

After lunch, elders would play cards or backgammon, smoke gheilyun (water pipe), then nap under sheets on the carpets, shaded by trees. Younger kids climbed the mountain to the pomegranate orchard or, if the mulberries were ripe, they would climb the trees to eat the sweet berries and come down completely covered in purple juice that never quite washed out.

In the afternoon, preparing for a quick dinner before heading back, we'd drive into Karaj to buy fresh-baked breads right from the oven and delicious village yoghurt in green-glazed bowls; we ate half the warm bread on the ride back. The women would make mast-e-khiar - cucumber-yoghurt salad - with the fresh tangy yoghurt, nothing like today's supermarket variety.

Leftovers devoured, belongings and supplies gathered and packed, we headed back to the city at dusk.

Thanks, Bill, for suggesting this topic. That's the beauty of these Carnivals of Genealogy - they help us remember and share these important memories.

Now I'm hungry after this posting ... time for lunch!

Ukraine: Developers vs human remains

A Jewish group recently asked the Ukrainian government to halt construction on an Odessa site containing remains of some 26,000 Jewish victims executed in the fall of 1941.

According to the AP article in the English-language weekly Kyiv Post, a developer may be building a shopping mall on the site:

The Jewish community in Odessa says a developer has begun building what it believes will be a shopping mall on the site of a burial ground. When construction workers began digging they found bones, skulls and children's toys, said Avrohom Wolf, the chief rabbi for Odessa and southern Ukraine. He said the builder has taken away all the remains it dug out and said he has no clue where to search for them. Wolf would not name the company, in hope of finding a solution.
The victims were executed shortly after German troops invaded the Soviet Union. The barren site is near the city center, was marked by several Jewish memorials, but not officially registered as a cemetery.

"It is difficult to describe how horrible it looked - hundreds and hundreds of people, hands, legs, skulls," said Wolf, who with other Jewish leaders wrote to Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and asked her to intervene. Local officials, he said, had tried to help but failed.

The letter called the construction an insult to the memory of the dead; the government declined comment.

According to historians, about 1.4 million of Ukraine's 2.4 million pre-war Jewish citizens were executed, starved or died of disease. Remains are in common graves, ignored and unmarked.

Similar cases have occurred in other Ukrainian locations. In Belarus, construction for an apartment house began on a pre-WWII Jewish cemetery in Vinnitsa; the community fought to stop it.

Berlin: The Jewish Museum

The Jewish Museum of Berlin provides an interesting website with a concise German-Jewish history and illustrations of relevant documents and artifacts.
The permanent exhibit includes the history from the time Jews reached what is contemporary Germany as traders with the Romans. The first proof is a decree from 321 CE issued by Emperor Constantine to the authorities in Cologne.

The medieval world section details the fact that three most important Middle Age communities were Speyer, Worms and Mainz, known as the "shum" (Hebrew for garlic) communities, an acronym taken from the first letters of the Hebrew town names.

Glikl bas Juda Leib (Glukl of Hameln, 1646-1724) has her own section. She was a trader, businesswomen and mother and wrote a wonderful description of her life and times, considered the oldest preserved autobiography of a Jewish woman. These memoirs were translated into German by Bertha Pappenheim (1859-1936).

There is a section on the rural Jews of southern and western Germany after they were expelled from large towns in the 15th-16th centuries. They were traders and mediators between city and rural areas; some became "court Jews."

Another section is on the poor scholar from Dessau - Moses Mendelssohn - who fought for tolerance at a time when there were no civil rights for Jews.

Other sections view religious life, such as kashruth (dietary laws) and family tradition.

In 1871, Jews in Germany became citizens with full rights, and other sections go on to cover modern forms of Judaism from the Enlightenment, into modernism and urban life, modern life's Zionism and anti-Semitism, World War I and the Holocaust.

After the end of the war around 250,000 Jews waited in camps for displaced persons in Germany to emigrate to overseas. This number included nearly 50,000 survivors from concentration camps and the more than 1,500 Berlin Jews who had managed to survive in hiding. After a transitional period to the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, the German Democratic Republic, and the state of Israel, around 20,000 Jews settled in West Germany and about 600 in East Germany. Today there are more than 105,000 members of Jewish communities in the Federal Republic of Germany, approximately 96,000 of whom are recent arrivals, immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
There is an exhibit focusing on Jewish childhood and youth, since 1945,  in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, in which 18 storytellers have opened their photo albums. Each selected an image of an experience; these date from 1947-1990s, illustrating their maturing as a child of survivors, fugitives and migrants. Stories can be listened to in German or English.

Still another section is a multimedia portrait gallery of Jewish court servants - in velvet robes, curly wigs and pointed bonnets - during the 18th century in such cities as Berlin and Stuttgart as in Wolfenbüttel and Pfalz-Zweibrücken. They served the rulers, financing the building of palaces, equipping armies, and supplying jewels. A court Jew could amass a fortune but could also wind up in prison. There is even a computer game in which visitors can examine their own skills.

The museum's family collections contain valuable information for historians and genealogists, such as the following:.

Gerda Maison took care of a small leather folder given to her by her aunt, Frieda Neuber (1869-1942), shortly before her deportation from Berlin to Theresienstadt. She kept it for 65 years and has now given it to the Jewish Museum Berlin.

The folder contains letters and telegrams from and to Frieda over a period of three years, primarily correspondence between herself and Bob Kunzig, a young American law student. They had got to know one another on visits to each other's countries and Frieda Neuber's three-year stay in Philadelphia. With money he inherited from his grandmother who died in 1941, Bob tried to enable his "Aunt Frieda" to emigrate to the USA. The plan failed. On 6 July 1942, Frieda Neuber was deported to Theresienstadt where she was killed.

Friederike Maison and her three siblings Clara, Hermann, and Robert were christened at the St. Jacobi Protestant Church in Berlin on 12 October 1882. Over 50 years later, the four siblings were classified by the "Nuremberg Laws" as "Volljuden" (full-blood Jews). Since their non-Jewish spouses with the exception of the wife of Robert Maison (the father of the donator) were no longer alive, they were completely at the mercy of Nazi persecutory measures.
Take the time to explore the site and view the illustrated documents, paintings and artifacts.

Calgary: Historic Week, Jewish roots

Calgary kicked off its Historic Calgary Week celebration on Friday, inviting residents to explore the city's past through walking tours, museum exhibits, lectures and genealogy sessions - some 50 events over 10 days.

A story in the Calgary Herald presents some program details on the city's early roots - its pioneers, homesteaders, entrepreneurs, ranchers and many others - and how it became a thriving center.

The overall theme is "explore and celebrate our roots," according to event chair Carrol Jacques. Events include historic neighborhood walks and personal accounts of early life.

The event began at the Southern Alberta Pioneers Memorial Building with a talk on the city's early Jewish roots given by Jack Switzer, a descendent of one of the earliest Jewish families, who presented "Calgary's Jewish Roots: Key Decades 1904-1924."

Alberta's first Jewish resident arrived in Calgary from Ontario in 1888. Jacob Diamond, originally from Russia, became involved in pawnbroking, and the hide and liquor trades. His brother William arrived in 1892 to open a tailoring shop. The two men founded the religious community around which later Jewish immigrants structured their lives.
For more on Calgary's Jewish community, click here.

In 1091, only 17 Jews lived in Alberta, growing to 1,505 in 1911. By 1921, the province counted 3,201 Jews, of whom 70% lived in Calgary and Edmonton. For more of Calgary and Alberta's Jewish history and relevant projects, see The Jewish Genealogical Society of Southern Alberta, which is associated with the Jewish Historical Society of Alberta. See JewishGen's section on the Calgary Jewish Cemetery here, with 2,013 burials in a searchable database.

Other programs will be on pioneers, frontier men and ranching - all presented by speakers with direct ties to early inhabitants.

The article presents some highlights, such as events on Calgary's French community, with an August 1 talk and an August 2 walking tour of the Cliff Bungalow-Mission area.

For the details and event program (most events are free), click ChinookCountry.org.

26 July 2008

New Jersey: Family traces at Bad Arolsen

New Jersey resident Janet Isenberg was part of the group of genealogists who visited the Bad Arolsen archives in May, hoping to learn the fate of 163 relatives caught up in the Holocaust.

Her story is in a New Jersey Jewish Standard article by Jeremy Fishman.

The trip for amateur and professional genealogists was organized by genealogist Gary Mokotoff of Avotaynu, a major publisher of essential Jewish genealogy reference and related publications. The international group - from the US, Israel, UK and Australia - was the first large group of individuals to access more than 26 miles of Nazi documents since they were opened to the public in November 2007.
"My father was a Holocaust survivor," Isenberg, a genealogy enthusiast, told The Jewish Standard last week. She formed a passion for genealogy when she was 17. "I have been studying the history of my family for over 35 years, so when I discovered this opportunity I had to seize it," she said.
Mokotoff said that the International Tracing Service  archives at Bad Arolsen "has a computerized index designed for in-house purposes only. It is organized in a unique manner that is difficult to navigate if you are untrained in how to use it."  The German language documents are in three general categories in separate buildings: incarceration documents, forced labor documents and post-war documents.
"What I hoped to find were people who survived that I didn’t know about," Isenberg said. "I entered inquiring about 163 relatives. [But] 158 died in the Holocaust, and only five survived. I was excited to find cousins of cousins, one in Germany and one in Israel."
Fore more details, read the complete article at the link above.

25 July 2008

Jamaica: Sephardim, pirates and Rastafarians

A half-hidden Jewish legacy exists in Jamaica, according to an article in The Forward by Shelly R. Fredman.

An unusual resort perched on a spit of land that juts into the Caribbean Sea near Port Antonio, on the island’s resplendently green east coast, Great Huts is the brainchild and life mission of Dr. Paul Rhodes, who was born and raised in Brooklyn in a Jewish family. Rhodes is currently offering Jewish cultural tours, unearthing a rich and varied Jewish past mostly hidden from the typical Montego Bay tourist. Wander Jamaica’s farther reaches, and you will stumble upon Jewish islanders living idiosyncratic yet compelling versions of Eden.

Rhodes, who eventually left Brooklyn to settle in Washington, D.C., first came to Jamaica as a medical student. His love for the people of the island developed as he worked in the almshouses. “I was so moved by what I found there,” he said when I spoke with him in the spring. “The old people were so prayerful and spiritually robust.” In their hymns and chanting, Rhodes heard echoes of his grandfather. The elders’ sense of community reminded him of his boyhood summers spent at Makowsky’s bungalow colony in New Paltz, N.Y.
The story touches on Rastafarians and their Old Testament beliefs, including that they are descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel. Lions of David are all over the island, carved or painted, pointing to a past legacy. Eco- and environmental tourism is represented at the Hotel Mockingbird Hill, created by women who are daughters of Holocaust survivors.

The tours focus on 350 years of a Jewish presence dating to the first Converso who arrived with Columbus, and start in a Kingston hotel - the former home of an early Jewish Portuguese family named Matalone. In those days, the term Portuguese was synonomous with Jewish. There are indentations on the right upper doorframes where mezuzot might have been.

Kingston's one synagogue is the United Congregation of Israelites. The cemetery has 300 Jewish graves back to the 1500s. Some 50 bear the skull and crossbones.

Jamaica’s history includes a chapter on Jewish pirates, a long-forgotten partnership of Jews and pirates in the 15th century against their common enemy — the Spanish government. There are around 200 Jews living in Jamaica today, according to a figure cited by Ben G. Frank in his book “A Travel Guide to the Jewish Caribbean and South America” (Pelican, 2005). Most are intermarried couples with multiracial spouses, according to Frank.
Read more at the link above.

Canada: 1891 Census One-Step added

Ancestry has added the 1891 Canadian census and we knew it was only a matter of time before Steve Morse added a One-Step utility for this new data.

The 1891 Canadian census on Ancestry provides 4.5 million searchable names and 90,000 census page images from British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec – and the Northwest Territories, then-including the istricts of Alberta, Assiniboia East, Assiniboia West, Saskatchewan, and Mackenzie River, with other unorganized territories also.

Click Steve's site here and look in the Canada/UK Census section.

There are advantages to using the One-Step utility rather than the Ancestry site, as researchers can search using the following parameters on the same form:

- all years
- middle initial
- birth year between two values rather than using plus-or-minus
- age
- religion
- select district from drop-down list instead of typing it in
- specify more than 50 hits per page

Enumerators began asking the following questions on April 6, 1891:

-Number of family, household, or institution in order of visitation
- Name of each person in family or household on 6 April 1891
- Relation to head of family or head of household
- Sex (M = Male; F = Female)
- Age
- Marital Status (Single, Married, Widowed, or Divorced)
- Country or province of birth
- Whether French Canadian
- Birthplace of father
- Birthplace of mother
- Religion
- Profession, occupation, or trade
- Employer
- Wage Earner
- Whether unemployed during the week preceding the census
- If an employer, state the average number of hands employed during the year
- Whether able to read and write
- Whether deaf and dumb, blind, or of an unsound mind

Thanks, Steve, for the continuous innovations you provide for all genealogists!

Poland: Bialystoker Yahrzeit Card Index

Bialystok, Poland is one of my family towns. Mark Halpern - coordinator of BIALYGen - the Bialystok Region Jewish Genealogy Group - shares this interest.

More specifically, my mother's paternal grandmother - Rebecca Halpern Fink - was born in Skom Bobel, part of Bialystok. Her father was named Leizer, and one of her sons was named Leo after him.

While Mark and I have not yet discovered a connection, there are Halpern names (including a Leizer) on the new online Bialystoker Center Yahrzeit Card Index, with nearly 4,000 names from the Center on New York's Lower East Side, which provided help and permission for this project. The index runs from about 1880-1994.

The Yahrzeit Card was a record of the person's death and also served as an administrative reference enabling the Center's office to send notifications of upcoming memorial dates to relatives and friends of the deceased. Many Jews memorialized relatives and friends with plaques at the Center. The database has been provided to JewishGen to develop an online searchable index.

It is now online here for more information on the database, the project, card samples and Center history.

The database may be downloaded as an Excel file.

Index fields are:

Surname of Deceased
Given Names of Deceased
Date of Death (Secular)
Hebrew Given Name
Hebrew Name of Father
Other Surnames from Card (relatives notified of Yahrzeit date)
US States/Countries (of relatives)
Those who find family members' cards may obtain JPEG images. Send the individuals' full names and death date to bialystoker@comcast.net; write "Yahrzeit" in the subject line.

Volunteers who helped create the index were Tilford Bartman, Steve Denker, Stephanie Carson Feldman, Lynn Franklin, Bobby Furst, J. Michael Gilbreath, Henry Kaplan, Barbara Meyers, Gary Mokotoff, Greg Stone, Kathryn Wallach, and Sid Zabludoff.

Smiling faces: New Jersey, Moscow, Teheran

When I heard about the 4th edition of Smile for the Camera! event hosted by FootNote Maven, I began searching for suitable items on my travel laptop.

Jasia on Creative Gene mentioned it here .

The 4th Edition of Smile For The Camera takes its word prompt from the Ace of Hearts. What photograph do you consider "My Favorite Photograph," the one that has won your heart. Choose a photograph of an ancestor, relative, yourself, or an orphan photograph that is your favorite family photo or that photograph you've collected and wouldn't give up for a King's ransom.

While I thought there would be many images on my flashdrives, there were none - curious! However, as I use Yahoo for my main email connection - and it saves everything - I was able to locate images sent for other purposes from my home PC.

Here are three family photos, although the only smiling face is that of my great-uncle Lou in the first photo.

It is also a nice juxtaposition in that my branch was one of the several American branches arriving 1898-1914, and the second image is of a branch that remained in Moscow, until the past few decades when some individuals and their descendants immigrated to Israel and the US.


This is the only photo I have of my maternal great-grandparents and their first three children.

Aaron Peretz Talalay (Tollin), (born in 1875, Vorotinshtina, Belarus) son of Ber, son of Menahem Mendl, son of Rabbi Leib, son of Rabbi Michel Talalay; his wife Riva, daughter of Tzalel Bank, (born Kovno, Lithuania); and their three eldest children, from left, Leib (Dr. Louis Tollin), Sam and Chaya Feige (Bertha Fink, author's grandmother);
c1910, Newark NJ.
(Author's collection)

This is of a "lost" Moscow branch - well, they knew where they were although we didn't. What a handsome family from the 1920s!

Boris (Ber), son of David haMelamed (the teacher), son of Rabbi Leib, son of Rabbi Michel Talalay. Born in Vorotinshtina, Belarus, with his daughters and daughters-in-law; c1920s, Moscow.
(Author's collection)


To give equal attention to our non-Ashkenazi family, here's my late mother-in-law and three of her four children.

Farangis, daughter of Aghajan Penhas Kashi and Heshmat Dardashti; her three eldest children (from left) Houshang, Paridokht and Albert (author's husband). c1950, Teheran, Iran. (Author's collection).

So many photos have been lost over the years in all of our families.
Each image we have today is priceless.

If you have inherited boxes of photos, do something about them today.
At the very least, scan and copy them to various media - to preserve them - so you can work on them later.

24 July 2008

Chicago: Waldheim Cemetery's spring rains

Although this story refers to spring flooding at the Chicago area Waldheim Cemetery, it is of interest to those who may have relatives buried there or those visiting in the future.

It discusses the challenges of maintenance faced by the two companies which manage the graves.

The Chicago Tribune story was featured on the Arizona Daily Star online edition.

There are photos of what the cemetery, with more than 200,000 Jewish burials, looked like on April 23.

CHICAGO - At Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, a sacred Jewish burial ground, there is a section near the Des Plaines River where the tombstones are sinking.

Morris Kaplan’s and Rose Neiman’s gravestones have sunk so low that the dates of death are barely visible.

After a heavy rainstorm this spring, World War II veteran Emil Kleppel’s grave was submerged in standing water. Nearby, a pile of mangled branches covers Sam Getzberg’s gravestone, which apparently was removed from his grave and discarded.

Here at Waldheim, where more than 200,000 Jews are buried, the Hebrew headstones speak to the history of Chicago’s Jewish community. But the areas suffering from occasional flooding and other unkempt sections tell of the struggle to carry Waldheim’s legacy into the future.

As a Jewish cemetery, Waldheim faces unique problems because of the Jewish tradition that bodies be buried in a plain wooden coffin with no concrete vault. As the wood decays over the years, monuments atop those graves are more likely to tilt or fall. In addition, the cemetery’s nearness to the river brings sporadic flooding in areas now used primarily to bury the indigent.

It includes comments from Waldheim Cemetery Co. president Irwin Lapping, who manages about 85% or about 170,000 graves, while the smaller Silverman & Weiss Cemetery, owned by Steve Schwitzman, manages the remainder, about 26,000 graves, including the section near the river.

The story discusses both mens' comments on the difficulties of how the flooding issue might be resolved, while relatives of those buried there are also quoted and are clearly unhappy with the owners' response to the damage.

Waldheim’s history dates to the 1870s, when early Jewish immigrants established synagogues and fraternal organizations that bought cemetery lots for their members. Eventually, the massive area was divided into 288 small cemeteries, each with its own leadership and rules.

“Each one of these cemeteries did whatever they want. If someone wanted to put up a large monument, they did,” said Lapping, also Waldheim’s historian. “It was kind of chaotic because you had different people in control.”

When Jews migrated to the suburbs in the 1940s and synagogues closed or merged, neglect of the cemetery set in.

Lapping became involved in the late 1950s because his grandfather owned one of the caretaker businesses. Soon, Lapping’s firm took over the operations of most of the early groups, except for Silverman and Weiss, which Schwitzman purchased in 1991.

Under Lapping, much of Waldheim gradually underwent an extensive renovation that restored much of its beauty. An endowment was established to care for older graves. Today, Waldheim continues to attract Jewish families who want to be buried there. The company performs about 350 burials every year.

Both companies are challenged by costly maintenance problems such as tipping markers and older graves without any living relatives to care for them. One lacks heavy equipment to raise larger stones, gas prices have impacted upkeep and some Jewish organizations owning land fail to pay for upkeep. The flood-prone river section is no longer sold for graves but was designated for needy families and some burials are still made there.

The story discusses the flooding issue and how other area cemeteries have installed water pumps. For more details, read the complete story at the link above.

23 July 2008

Pittsburgh: Eastern European roots, Aug. 1-3

For the first time, the annual Federation of Eastern European Family History Societies will meet August 1-3 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The 14th annual event is themed "Pittsburgh: The East European Magnet."

The event has scheduled 24 speakers and 58 presentations, including beginner sessions and private consultations with expert speakers. Diverse topics include Jewish, Catholic and other records, databases and more.

FEEFHS is an umbrella organization for 26 organizations and 132 individuals, according to the conference chair, well-known genealogy writer and Slovak researcher Lisa Alzo. She's also gen-blogging colleague and GenClass.com instructor.

Last year, the conference was in Salt Lake City and I was happy to attend many of the informative sessions which help genealogists uncover Central and Eastern European family branches. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette just carried a story on the upcoming event.

If you are a descendant of the millions of immigrants who came to America from Central or Eastern Europe, tracing your family tree can be a challenge because borders changed often in those regions during the 20th century; even today, each country handles records differently.

Among the speakers is Jewish genealogy's own guru Steve Morse, whose One-Step Search Tool innovations are applicable to and considered essential aids by all genealogists.

An estimated 7.5 million immigrants from Eastern Europe came to America between 1880 and 1914.

The local mills and factories drew many of those people here. As of 1900, the U.S. Census counted 86,158 people in Allegheny County from Central or Eastern Europe, including Hungarians, Germans, Poles, Romanians and Austrians. The total number of foreign-born people living in Allegheny County that year was 191,479.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is a conference sponsor.

Local resources include Indiana University of Pennsylvania's special collection on coal mines, miners, disasters and the regional coal culture, while the McKeesport Heritage Center has back issues of the McKeesport Daily News as well as city directories.

Topics at the event cover Bulgaria, Macedonia, regional resources, ports of Bremen and Hamburg, photo preservation, Western Ukrainian (Galicia) records, Gdansk and Poznan archives, maps and atlases, Balkan research, the Jewish calendar, Czech research, geographical dictionaries, Lithuanian resources, Hungarian census, Cyrillic alphabet, German Emigration, Baltics, DNA, Romanian, Slavic, Galician real estate records, and much more.

For more information on the program and registration, click here.

Philadelphia: Society Hill walking tour, Sept. 2

The Federation of Genealogical Societies' annual event will be September 3-6 at the Philadelphia Convention Center. Here's a preview of the Jewish-focused events and sessions in addition to other programming.

I had been planning to attend; unfortunately, logistics may prevent this, although I'm still trying.

Paula Stuart-Warren writes in the FGS Conference blog about one event for FGS attendees, a Walking Tour of Society Hill with Harry D. Boonin, founding president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Philadelphia.

The tour will run from 3.30-5.30pm, Tuesday, September 2. For more details, see Paula's blog post above.

The tour will be of the old Jewish Quarter, today called “Society Hill,” the same area which was earlier home to the Powel House, the Spruce Street Baptist Church, today the Society Hill synagogue, the Third Baptist Church on S. 2nd Street, which in 1905 became the Neziner synagogue, and in 1983, became a condominium, the First Colored Wesley Methodist Church, today B’nai Abraham on Lombard Street (although the synagogue is in a building built in 1910) and many other buildings important to generations earlier than the East European Jewish arrivals in the1880s. We will see Mother Bethel Chuch, built in 1889 and located on the oldest piece of ground owned by blacks in the United States (Mother Bethel is a National Historic Site).

The Jewish quarter was a fairly well defined area, from Spruce Street in the north to Christian Street in the south, from 2nd Street on the east to 6th Street in the west. It contains an old bath house (today a condo) and the old Talmud Torah and Hebrew Literature Society buildings. We will also see an old immigrant bank where Jewish immigrants would order steamship tickets to bring their families here from eastern Europe.

Harry has written two books about the area:

-The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia (1999, 208pgs, 75+ B/W photographs) describes the area.

-The Life and Times of Congregation Kesher Israel (2008, 196pgs, 80+ photographs), located at 412 Lombard Street, covered the building's history, a Universalist church (1796-1889), the history of the synagogues there (1889-the present) and the area's history including the old pushcart market along S. 4th Street and more.

And for those planning ahead: Mark your calendars for the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, which will be held in Philadelphia on August 2-7, 2009.

Other sessions with a Jewish focus include:

-Gary Mokotoff's What's Different About Jewish Genealogy, which covers aspects of Jewish-American genealogical research that make it different from American genealogy. He's also presenting The Changing Face of Central & Eastern Europe which addresses town name and boundary changes that have created challenges to locating towns of ancestry.

-Debra Braverman's The Development of Eastern European Jewish Last Names

-Judith Shulamith Langer-Surnamer's How To Read A Hebrew Tombstone Anywhere In The World

I am hoping Jewish genealogical society leaders will be attending this event as there is a particularly strong multi-session program on society management, an important topic for all societies. I recommend a look at the topics addressed for more information and ideas:

Educating the Public Through Society Classes, Basics of Designing and Publishing Your Society’s Newsletter, Society Publications: Why, What, and How?, Preserving Genealogical Society Records, Book Review Columns for Society Newsletters, What Your Board Needs to Know, Staying on Track: Managing Your Society’s Projects, “Program, Program, Git yer Program!”, Educating the Members of Your Society, Collection Development: What’s your plan?, Projects: Planning~Participants~Production~ Publication, Creating the Operating Handbook Your Genealogical Society Needs, etc.

Overall, each time slot features some 10 programs, and four or five luncheons each day. The subjects are diverse and interesting. Do take the time to look over the program here

Canada: Montreal cemetery data online

Elizabeth LaPointe, in her Genealogy Canada blog, reported that among Jewish records at WorldVitalRecords are 23,000 records from Montreal Jewish cemeteries:

In Montreal, the Back River Cemetery (1876-1934), Berri Street entrance; Back River Cemetery (1901-1934), South Denis entrance; Shearit Israel - Spanish and Portuguese Jews (1825-1999); and a portion of Baron De Hirsch Cemetery on Rue de Savane have been transcribed.

The records are from Avraham Laber's Jewish Data, which has partnered with WorldVitalRecords to release more than 500,000 (previously posted on Tracing the Tribe) records of many types from the US, Canada, Germany and Israel.

Search by last name and discover first name, civil year of record, the record's location, and a photo of the gravestone.

Laber - Jewish Data's president- said:

"Our goal is to provide a home for Jewish records in order to help people study Jewish history and genealogy. Here we have thousands of hours of research already done for people, and it only takes them a few seconds to access the records. If they would search for the same records on their own, it would cost them much more money and time."

In 1989, Elizabeth - then a newspaper reporter - began writing about Canadian genealogy. She became hooked as she went through some previous family research and was putting her notes together.

According to her first posting, she's been on the Web for 14 years with various genalogical interests but, in 2004, started GenealogyCanada.com to focus on Canadian genealogy, history, heritage news and to fill that niche.

22 July 2008

California: San Francisco, Sacramento stops

Just back today to Los Altos, which is the next town over from Google's hometown of Mountain View.

On Sunday afternoon, I enjoyed seeing old friends, Tracing the Tribe readers and others at my program on gen-blogging for the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society, headed by president Jeremy Frankel.

I just wasn't prepared for these hardy Bay area residents showing up in coats and scarves - it was grey, windy and cold in the city - someone said it was 56 degrees. Several people said this was typical July weather.

It's easy to tell the tourists in San Francisco, they're the ones in T-shirts, shorts and sandals, while the residents are wearing fleece jackets, hats and boots.

Dan Ruby, with whom I've been in previous email contact, was a welcome attendee, as was Steve Morse, who helped with a technical equipment problem. Kathryn Doyle of the California Genealogical Society was also there.

On Monday, I trained out to Sacramento. I expected a rather straight-forward ride, although a problem up the line resulted in our train being stopped in its tracks (literally), as well as its sister train coming the other way.

A bunch of buses (Amtrak's term is "bus bridge") were rounded up to transport us to the other train and to bring those passengers down to our former train. It added on about 90 minutes, but our convoy enjoyed a pleasant, sunny drive up to Martinez where we embarked once more.

Nothing like a bit of excitement, but it all worked out in the end.

The Sacramento JGS was most welcoming (a special thank you to Mort and Susan Rumberg and Bob Wascou). The group asked numerous questions following my presentation on writing on genealogy for general audience publications and other issues relevant to tracing our tribe through time and space.

I didn't bring my computer along and am now paying the price - several hundred emails have accumulated since yesterday morning!

Australia: Early Jewish archives now online

Researchers with a family connection to Australia may be able to find many more records as early Australian Jewish records are now online, according to this story by Naomi Levin in the Australian Jewish News.

The file includes information fascinating to those with an interest in Jewish history.

Hard-to-find documents detailing the history of Australia's Jewish community are becoming more readily available since the National Archives in Canberra commenced digitising its massive collection.

The National Archives maintains such a large number of government records that immigration documents alone fill 22 kilometres of shelf space.

Senator John Faulkner launched the Making Australia Home project earlier this month -a plan that will progressively make Australia’s immigration records available on the Internet.

There's a 1933 census document listing Jewish demographics prior to World War II:

According to the file, Australia had 23,553 Jewish residents in 1933. Of those, 10,305 lived in New South Wales, 9500 lived in Victoria and 2105 lived in Western Australia, with the rest scattered around the country.
In 2006, the census revealed that 88,000 people declared themselves to be Jewish, and the actual number was predicted to be closer to 100,000.

Other documents include records of Jewish arrivals to Australia and cabinet ­documents, such as a 1926 "form of application for registration for alien resident in Australia," as well as 1943 confidential cabinet minutes giving permission to the Australian Jewish Welfare Society to bring 150 young Jewish refugees to Australia.

For more information, click here .

20 July 2008

Oklahoma: Indian Territory's first Jewish settler

I came across a new (to me) blog called Muskogee History and Genealogy with a posting about the first Jewish settler in Oklahoma's Indian Territory, fur trader Joseph Sondheimer.

Joseph Sondheimer, Fur Trader

According to this blog post, Joseph Sondheimer was the first Jewish settler in Indian Territory. Born on September 22, 1840 in Valkerschlier, Bavaria (Germany), he arrived in the area after the Civil War to trade in animal hides.

A clerk in stores in Baltimore and Pennsylvania, he became a US Army commissary agent during the Civil War, and later began trading in hides from St. Louis.

The best source of animal hides was Indian Territory (because of war destruction). In 1867, he rode through the area, heard about the Cobb brothers store on the Arkansas River, authorized them to purchase hides for him and established agreements with other merchants between Missouri and Texas.

Sondheimer purchased hides from settlers throughout the Cherokee, Creek and northern Choctaw Nations; his home and warehouse were near the Creek Agency, close to the Arkansas River where he shipped the hides downstream and later moved both home and business to the new town of Muskogee.

Hides were among the first commodities shipped by rail from the town.
Two years later, he shipped seven railroad cars filled with cured hides; he was the area's largest hide dealer. Other commodities in which he traded were sending pecans east; hides directly to Leipzig, Germany; wool and other goods. In 1904, after 35 years in business, he was reported to have said:
During fifteen days in the winter of 1881, Sondheimer shipped the following from his large warehouse in Muskogee: 4,500 raccoon, 3,000 skunk, 2,000 opossum and 3,000 pounds of deer hides. Additional pelts shipped on this order included gray fox, beaver, wildcat, wolf, pole cat and otter. The shipment went to dealers in major cities such as Chicago and St. Louis.

"business will be very poor this year - in fact it has been getting worse and worse now for several seasons. It takes a very wild country or a fairly well settled country to make a good fur business. In the very wild country the fur trader depends upon the skins of big game, while after a country has been fairly well settled the fur trader gets more mink, fox and pelts of small animals."
There is more information; click the link above.

Germany: Stumbling stones, stepping stones

Julie Ann Kodmur returned last month from a week in Luedinghausen, the Westphalian countryside town where her mother, Edith Strauss, was born. The two women were among several Jewish families returning to the town for a remembrance of those who died in the Holocaust. The story was published in the St. Helena (California) Star here.

Edith's father Ernest forsaw problems ahead and applied for visas for the family. She was 3 years old when they embarked on the SS Seattle in Bremen in July 1938 and went to a new life in San Francisco, leaving behind many Luedinghausen relatives, and some who would be hidden by non-Jews.
On a picture-postcard June day, in the quaint, tree-shaded town of Luedinghausen in northern Germany, my mother and I stood in front of 5 Bahnhoffstrasse where three brass-plated paving stones, known as Stolpersteine or stumbling stones, gleamed in the light. On them were the names of my great-grandmother and namesake Julie Strauss; my great-aunt Hildegard Strauss, and my cousin, Walter Strauss.

Three names, three stories out of an estimated 6 million - the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust.

My mother, Edith Strauss, was born in this pretty town along the Stever River in the Muensterland region of Germany known now as then for its horses, cattle, rolling meadows and moated castles. Her father was a livestock dealer whose family had a long, happy history in Luedinghausen. Little Edith, called “Edithlein” by her family, was the fifth generation of Strausses to be born here. Her grandfather had built the town’s first Art Nouveau home, complete with stylized crocodiles on the downspouts.
During Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938), the town's synagogue was destroyed. Great-grandmother Julie was deported to a Czecheslovakia camp where she died soon after.

Local high school teacher Baerbel Zimmer spent more than a decade researching the small community and locating descendants in a host of countries.She became part of a group of town residents trying to connect to the now dispersed Jewish families, exposing the past and also honoring their memories.
The same night the Gestapo arrested Hildegard Strauss and her husband, Siegfried, and took them to a jail in nearby Coesfeld where days later, Hildegard committed suicide. Their 7-year-old son, Walter, was sent to an orphanage in Cologne. (Four years later he was put on a train full of other Jewish children and in a forest near Riga, he and the others were taken off the train and mowed down by machine-gun fire while their Nazi captors turned up a phonograph to drown out the sounds of the slaughter.)
She organized the town’s high school students, some of whom cleaned the Jewish cemetery, others researched family trees and Zimmer wrote a series of articles for the local paper detailing each Jewish family.

Edith visited the town last fall to meet the teacher and others, who contacted German artist Guenter Demnig. His Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) project is a tribute to the Jews killed. He has installed some 15,000 stones and now expanding to the Netherlands, France, Italy and beyond.Further, he insists that the cost of making and installing the stones be paid by the townspeople and not the Jewish families. The brass-plated pavement stones are installed in the street or sidewalk in front of homes where people were sent to their deaths.

On June 2, families from around the world witnessed 22 stones installed in front of six homes. The event included speeches, music, prayers, Kaddish.

At each installation, old pavement stones had been removed and Demnig carefully inserted the Stolpersteine with their inscribed brass tops noting names and dates of birth and death. He poured dust, a binder and water around them and then, somewhat disconcertingly, pounded each into place, finally dusting them off so they gleamed.
An historic parade - the Brandprozession which dates to 1634 -commemorates fires which ravaged medieval Luedinghausen. This year,the event was dedicated to the Stolpersteine, with a memorial placed where the synagogue once was located.

But perhaps even more important, there were coffees and breakfasts and lunches and dinners where Luedinghauseners reached out to us, telling stories of the Strauss family or just talking about their own memories and feelings.

During these visits we spoke with the son of the man who built the three wooden trunks my grandparents used to take their belongings to America. He told how his father delivered them in the middle of the night so as not to be arrested by the Nazis for helping a Jewish family. The woman who today lives in the home of my great-uncle Adolph Strauss - a veterinarian who survived the war hidden in Luedinghausen - brought us the brass name plate of his business.
The townspeople shared their memories of the families in many emotional conversations.

“Seeing the names of my family on the shiny gold Stolpersteine tiles gave me a feeling of closure,” she added.“These poor souls who have no traditional ‘final resting place’ will now be remembered exactly where they spent their lives.”
Read the complete article at the link above, and to learn more about the Stolpersteine project, click here.

Cuba: Visiting the Jewish community

Tracing the Tribe has posted information about Cuban Jewish family history resources previously, and this Newsday story of the Cuban trip of a Long Island rabbi and his wife provides insight into this community.

The "conversos," or Crypto- Jews ... landed with Christopher Columbus during the "Discovery" or came during the years of the Conquest and colonial domination in order to escape the Inquisition ... -- From "The Chosen Island: Jews in Cuba," by Maritza Corrales
Cuba's current Jewish population is 1,500 of its 11 million population. Synagogue groups travel there to provide support in various ways.

Rabbi Barry Dov Schwartz and his wife Sonia didn't expect to see an American soldier's grave in a Jewish cemetery on the outskirts of Havana.

But there it was: a sepia-toned, oval photo set into a rectangular piece of pure white marble, leaning against a gravestone lined with bold Hebrew lettering. Despite more than 50 years' exposure to the subtropical climate, the photo still shows a handsome, dark-eyed young soldier, his uniform cap jaunty on his head.
The gravestone's inscription was also a surprise to the rabbi of Temple B'nai Sholom, a Conservative synagogue in Rockville Centre:

"Isaac, son of Aryeh Leib Bender, who fell in a mitzvah war in Korea on the 5th day of Sivan in the year of 1952, may his soul be bound up in the bond of life."
The Newsday story touches on how these groups help with medicines, school supplies and other essentials, religious items. They traveled to the island country with religious exemptions, one of a number who make the annual trek.

Cuba has six synagogues - Orthodox, Conservative, Sephardic - and three are in Havana.

In 1959, everything changed for the 15,000-strong Jewish community, after some five centuries on the island; 90% left and most went to the US. Practicing Judaism was discouraged, but in 1992, the constitution was changed to permit religious practice, and Castro visited the main synagogue.

Today, synagogue attendance is increasing. In some places, like Cienfuegos, there are no synagogues but groups of Jews meet to maintain their traditions and have a small Hebrew school.

"They said they were very inspired by having us come to see them," Sonia Schwartz said. "They said it helps keep them going. It was like meeting your own family."
Another innovation - like American bnai mitzvah children twinned with Russian children - is American children helping the Cuban community in various ways. Bar mitzvah students collect supplies for the congregations.

While in Cuba, the Schwartzes received an invitation to the bar mitzvah of Alberto Mordecai Alvarez Fuentes.

"I saw this bar mitzvah boy as a symbol of the Cuban Jews," Schwartz said. "Before the '90s, it was unthinkable that a boy would study Judaism and know Hebrew and stand in front of Torahs -- and, now, he is.

"That's the story of the Cuban Jews," he said. "They consider themselves part of the global Jewish community."
Read the complete story here.

Gen societies can help themselves

Many gen-bloggers have already written about what genealogical societies can do to help themselves in view of aging members and declining membership. As many groups plan the upcoming program year during the summer months, these suggestions may assist your society.

Among oft-repeated suggestions:

-In addition to a featured speaker, add an additional short talk by a member at monthly meetings.

-Journals and newsletters should include information on contemporary genealogy (new methods of research) and also spotlight member success stories.

-For outreach, get out into the community with a table or booth at community events, which enables the society to talk to the public and raise awareness. Along these lines, organize a community genealogy fair or participate in an already established event. Plan an annual all-day seminar with a well-known speaker (more and more Jewish genealogy societies are involved in these three activities).

-Join with other community institutions in co-sponsoring a relevant speaker, or cooperate in sharing expenses to bring a speaker to speak at several societies in nearby states.

-Organize and maintain an internet site for more information on programming, databases and more.

-Offer classes (free or nominal cost) for beginners as well as those with more advanced skills.

-Try to organize an awards program for junior or senior high school students, to get young people involved very early. Many of today's top genealogists started when they were in elementary school through high school.

Don't forget that the most important aspect of genealogy society management - after programming and gathering local resources - is to get that information out to local media (print/online/broadcast media), community institutions (schools, community centers, libraries, synagogues, etc.), and other outlets to inform prospective members of your activities, resources and services.

A group might have the best program with the best speaker in the world, but if no one knows about it and no one attends - it's a big problem.

Public relations is one of the most important responsibilities in any genealogy society, and if your group is fortunate enough to have a professional journalist/writer/editor/broadcaster as a member, ask them to utilize their specialized skills and personal contacts to raise community awareness of the group, its programming, research services, classes - whatever is offered.

UK: Finding family in New Jersey

A family in Tyndale, Hexhamshire (UK) has reconnected with American relatives in New Jersey (US), reports the Hexham-Courant, which also has relevant photos.

Daniel Hershon’s wife Lorraine turned Internet detective to track down her husband’s relatives in New Jersey.
Now Daniel has been reunited with second cousin Liz and her family who took a detour from their holiday walking Hadrian’s Wall to visit the Hershons at their remote cottage in the tiny hamlet of Unthank near Haltwhistle.
“It is amazing,” said Dan. “It turns out my family has lots of secrets – and lots of name changes over the years – but Lorraine still managed to find them! It feels like I am putting the pieces of a jigsaw together and everything is falling into place.
“When Lorraine and I had our two sons and became parents we both had this overwhelming desire to find out more about our families. I believe it is important to talk to your children about where they are from, about their family’s history.
“My son Elkan is named after my great great grandad Elkan and my son Isak is named after Elkan’s son who died at the Somme. It is an amazing story. Exploring your heritage can really help give you a strong sense of identity and a real sense of history.”
Dan's great-great-grandfather Elkan, a bootmaker, left Latvia for Liverpool five decades before the Holocaust.

“We don’t know what made Elkan move – maybe he just wanted an adventure, to see the world – but we do know that his actions saved the lives of not just his children but his grandchildren, great grandchildren and all his other descendants.
“In fact I would not be here today if he hadn’t decided to leave Latvia and make a new life in England.”
Elkan’s son Hirsh Aron became Harry Harris, married a Latvian girl in England, had sons Sydney and Abraham and daughter Yetta and moved to America.
“Searching for Harry Harris in America was a bit like hunting for a needle in a haystack,” said Lorraine. “But I eventually found him on the Ellis Island database.
“Then the 1930 American census came on line and I managed to track down the names of his three children – who now of course have their own families. Within days of sending out a message on a geneology website appealing for help I had found not just Sydney, Abraham and Yetta but Sydney’s three daughters Liz, Barbara and Nancy.
The story focused on the UK family meeting the New Jersey family: Liz, husband Michael, sons Spencer and Greg. Liz's father Sydney was a local bank vice-president of a local bank, who once ran a Coney Island  fairground.

“The amazing thing is that Harry’s brother Eli, back in Liverpool, also had two sons called Sidney and Abraham. You just couldn’t make this up!”

Read the complete story at the link above.

19 July 2008

NY library gets major gen collection

When the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society sold its four-floor city townhouse last year, society members and others wondered what would happen to its extensive library.

Today, the New York Times reported that the New York Public Library has received the G&B's 75,000 volumes, 30,000 manuscripts and 22,000 reels of microfilm, which will expand its already extensive genealogical collection.

The G&B has now bought a city office condominium. It plans to focus on grant-giving, tours, lectures and other means of encouraging genealogical research. One of the society's first grants was about $1 million to the NYPL to fund a four-person staff to process and catalog the collection over two years.

Combining the G&B collection with the NYPL genealogical holdings will create, according to society chair Waddell W. Stillman, "one of the world's largest and most accessible genealogical libraries." The venture fills the G&B two-prong wish: members would have access and the collection would be preserved.

G&B was founded in 1869 and moved into the recently sold building in 1929. Early members were interested in 17th-18th century Dutch and English roots. Holdings include censuses, deeds, baptisms, births, deaths and wills. However, after WWII, the group had almost disappeared with members conflicted about its direction, despite the increasing popularity of genealogy following the major impact of "Roots," Ellis Island's restoration and database, and commercial websites devoted to family history.

G&B now hopes to evolve into an umbrella group to encourage and coordinate research. For those who are interested in the society's portrait collection, its future is being negotiated with the New York Historical Society.

According to the NYPL's local history and genealogy division chief Ruth Carr, it received 56,000 visitors and 1,200 mail inquiries last year alone.

Among those accessing resources are professional and amateur genealogists, art historians, and others. Carr herself used them to trace her father's 18th century roots. G&B's collection incudes Suffolk County deeds dating from 1660, Hempstead's cemetery and church records 1725-1850 and other groups. NYPL already held thousands of photos of Long Island churches, gravestones and old houses. All of this helps historians and others to understand the times in which their ancestors lived.

William Stingone, the library’s Charles J. Liebman curator of manuscripts, pointed to a 19th-century book from the Emigrant Savings Bank in the library’s collection, which included the birthdates, occupations and other information on depositors. It was called a “test book” and, the bank used it much the way Web sites do today when they ask security questions about a visitor’s favorite color or first pet’s name, to verify identities when money was being withdrawn.

The book “ended up being a source of information, though that was never intended,” Mr. Stingone said.

Read the complete story here.

Belarus: Grodno synagogue restoration underway

An excellent website for information on the Jewish communities of the Former Soviet Union is the Federation of the Jewish Communities of the CIS, which provides educational support, professional assistance and funding to member communities.

Additionally, through the articles on the website, readers may discover important contacts and resources in communities where their ancestors lived in the past.

A recent article concerns the restoration of Grodno's (Belarus) Great Choral Synagogue. The story includes photographs. The story indicates that work will be mainly done on the facade.

The historic, architecturally important building - built in the 16th century - is also a regional spiritual center and the oldest active synagogue in the CIS.

Funding comes from the Rohr Family Foundation, who made the restoration of the facade possible. This foundation has funded construction and renovation of synagogues, community centers and ritual baths (mikvaot) in many cities in many countries, as well as supporting some 200 Lubavitch rabbis and their families in those communities.

The future: Shrinking Jewish communities

MyJewishLearning.com offers an article on the shrinking Jewish diaspora in older communities by Jordanna Birnbaum.

She includes Burma (Myanmar), India, Argentina, Brazil and Ireland with story links to Haaretz, Ynetnews, Jewish Week and The Forward, although she focuses on a JTA story about the Samuels family in Myanmar.

Recently I heard Sammy Samuels, one of 20 Jews in left Myanmar speak about his homeland and how he made a difference. In early May, a cyclone ravaged Myanmar killing hundreds of thousands of people.

Samuels was in New York at the time of the cyclone and couldn’t get in touch with any of his family or friends. He was one of the few people able to reenter Myanmar due to its military regime’s impositions. He had raised thousands of dollars in just two days and returned with relief supplies, water tablets and hope.

The JTA interviewed Samuels who has a unique family history:

The Samuels family moved to Burma about 80 years ago from Iraq to pursue business interests in the rice and teakwood trade. At that time, its Jewish community numbered in the thousands. Most fled to Japan during World War II and the rest left when the military seized power in 1962 and nationalized many businesses. (The military changed the name of the country from Burma to Myanmar and Rangoon to Yangon in 1989.)

The Samuels family stayed and watched as the community dwindled to about 20. Four are his family - his father, Moses; his mother, Nelly; and his two sisters, Kazna, 29, and Dina, 31.
The family cares for the synagogue and cemetery.

After hearing Samuels speak, I asked if he planned to stay there long term. Samuels replied gently saying that he loved his country and he wanted to help support the Jewish community their. He spoke fondly of his heritage but also stated the obvious issues with living in a country with 20 Jews.
Birnbaum goes on to discuss a growing issue in the Jewish world, as more and more Jews leave older communities - either for political or economic reasons.

As we become aware of the Jewish presence in remote locations the balance of preserving heritage and community will remain a challenge. Should we leave behind synagogues of the past to create a more cohesive Jewish community?
A thought to ponder as we wonder what will become of family history resources in communities lacking the manpower to preserve and study essential documents and archives.

Do read the complete article for all the links and background stories.

West Virginia: Jews of Appalachia, July 22

The Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling, West Virginia will host historian Deborah R. Weiner to discuss her book, Coalfield Jews: An Appalachian History.

The event begins at noon Tuesday, July 22, as part of the library's Lunch With Books Program.

Weiner is a research historian and family history coordinator at the Jewish Museum of Maryland and director of Historic Jonestown, Inc., both in Baltimore.

The book is the first extended study of Jews in Appalachia, and explores the mass migration of Eastern European Jews to America and the effects of the coal boom (1880-1920) on settlements and culture. It won the Southern Jewish Historical Society Award “for the book making the most significant contribution to the field of Southern Jewish history published during 2003-2006.”

Jewish immigrants traveled to southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia to investigate opportunities during the coal boom, and some were successful in business, establishing numerous small Jewish communities.

Weiner used a wide range of primary sources in social, cultural, religious, labor, economic and regional history, personal statements, interviews, oral histories and archival sources to produce a picture of a little known piece of American Jewish life. The descendants of these families should find information about their ancestors and their way of life.

18 July 2008

Yad Vashem: Volunteer Appreciation

Yad Vashem held its Volunteer Appreciation Day recently in Jerusalem.

Among the 300 volunteers honored, wrote JFRA Israel president Ingrid Rockberger, were a core group of Jewish Family Research Association Israel (JFRA Israel) members who visit Holocaust survivors in private residences and in senior homes as part of Yad Vashem teams.

JFRA members have assisted for some 18 months in the Names Recovery Project, which helps to create Pages of Testimony during interviews with survivors to ensure that every victim is memorialized in Yad Vashem's Hall of Names.

The audience of volunteers - many of them Holocaust survivors - heard moving speeches and watched emotional films in the packed auditorium.

Yad Vashem's director Avner Shalev emphasized that "without the volunteers we could not do our work the way we do. You are an integral part of our work and part of the Yad Vashem family."

Adds Rockberger, "So far, only about half the 6 million who perished have an individual Page of Testimony; it is now a race against time as even child survivors are reaching old age."

Details can be found on Yad Vashem; Pages of Testimony can be downloaded and/or filled in on-line.

Jerusalem: Central Archives request

The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem is a remarkable resource for data and historical information about towns of interest and our ancestors.

Director Hadassah Assouline has helped many researchers obtain documents, some from centuries ago.
The Archives is now looking for personal or family correspondence from Eastern Europe to relatives in the US, Israel or elsewhere, as these are important sources for historical research preceding World War II, as well as other periods.

If readers have such documents, the archives would like to receive them, either originals or photocopies. If you are willing to share these important family treasures, you may send them directly to Assouline:

The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People
Attn: Hadassah Assouline
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
POB 39077
Jerusalem 91390

Website: http://sites.huji.ac.il/archives

Los Angeles: Lithuania, July 20

The next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles, on Sunday, July 20, will focus on brick walls and breakthroughs in the context of regional special interest groups, according to program chair Pamela Weisberger.

The venue is Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino.

"From Birth in Lithuania to a New Life in America," with Dr. Benjamin Lesin, son and grandson of Lithuanian rabbis.

SIG roundtables and networking
Germany, Gesher Galicia/Austria, Hungary/Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and the UK.

Members are free, guests $5. For more information, click here .

Missouri: The Freund Baking Company

KETC in St. Louis is compiling a site of stories of its Jewish community. The project is an outgrowth of the documentary, The Jewish Americans, and intended to complement it. There are some two dozen stories online now.

The project actively seeks appropriate stories and photographs about the Jewish experience in St. Louis.

The latest one, by Gladis Barker, is here.

Back in the 1850’s when Mrs. Moritz Freund baked Bohemian rye bread for her South St. Louis neighbors, she had no inkling she was starting an institution that was to become a lasting part of St. Louis tradition. Freund Olde Tyme Rye Bread – baked according to Mrs. Freund’s Old World recipe – has been part of the social history of St. Louis. One interesting fact was that Mrs. Freund oven was heated by cordwood supplied by a bearded, struggling farmer who was later to become President of the United States – Ulysses S. Grant!

Her bread was welcomed by the Union Army soldiers at Jefferson Barracks during the Civil War, and by succeeding generations of soldiers until the post was closed after World War II. ...
Do read the rest of this four-generation story and the others on the website.

Vilnius: A search for family roots

The New York Times' Matt Gross is on the Grand Tour of Europe as the Frugal Traveler. His 12-week odyssey around the continent - and on less than 100 Euros a day - is "in search of cool hotels, memorable meals and contemporary culture," with videos and photographs. Each story will be posted on Thursday.

This week, the story here focused on his visit to Vilnius, Lithuania in search of his own family roots for information about his great-grandfather Morris Gross who left for the US about a century ago. Along with tips on hotels, food, transportation, sites, there are photos and a video. To help, he hired Regina Kopilevich, well-known to many Jewish genealogists searching their roots; she had previously worked at the Lithuanian State Historical Archives for 15 years.
It was in one such cafe that Regina Kopilevich sat across from me last Thursday and asked the question I had been waiting a lifetime to hear. Placing her hand atop the pile of papers in front of her and opening her clear blue eyes extra wide, she leaned forward and said, in slightly accented English, “Would you like to know your name?”

A simple question for most, but for the descendants of Eastern Europeans who immigrated to the United States at the turn of the last century, it can be a fraught mystery. Eager to assimilate, our ancestors shortened their unpronounceable alien monikers into names that would be easier on American ears and tongues. In the New World, the Old World was irrelevant.

For my family perhaps more than some. My great-grandparents were born
in the 19th century, in the lands then referred to as Russia but that
encompassed Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and beyond. And all somehow decided, as
they embarked on new lives, never to discuss the past with their children.

Growing up, I heard but a single story about our family: that my mother's great-grandfather owned a mill, and broke his neck when his beard got caught in its works. Other than that, I had only my name, Gross - which my elementary- school classmates kindly ensured I would never forget.

But my name, it turns out, is not Gross.

It’s Grossmitz.
Do read the complete story about the old and the modern city, its pre-war Jewish community and much more. If you're thinking about such a trip yourself, Gross' travel tips may provide assistance in addition to his research experiences:

The recorded history of the Grossmitz family begins on Feb. 9, 1829, with the marriage of Mowsha, son of Berko and Freyda Grossmitz, to Dobra, daughter of Berko and Sora Braskowicz. On Dec. 15 of that same year, their daughter Freyda was born, beginning a 20-year run of babymaking that produced Abram Itzko, Berko, Gabriel, Esther, Liba and Jankiel Judel.

Every fact, no matter how insignificant, was a nugget to be savored. Mowsha, potentially my great-great-great-grandfather, was a tailor! His nephew Chaim a shoemaker!

We traced the lineage through the decades, inching closer to the 1885
birth of Moshe Grossmitz - that is, Morris Gross, who at the age of 16 would
leave Marijampole and wind up in Bridgeport, Conn. But after 1874 the trail ran
cold. ...

There's much more, including comments and experiences in synagogues, Marijampole, Jewish cemeteries, and the horrors of the war years.

17 July 2008

Poland: Tykocin record indices online

Tykocin shtetl co-op coordinator Mark Halpern of Jewish Records Indexing-Poland reports that the following Tykocin record indices are now online:

1826-1844, 1846-1847, 1852-1853, 1856-1864, 1866-1867

1827-1831, 1833, 1835-1839, 1841-1842, 1844, 1846-1847, 1852, 1856-1862, 1864, 1866-1867

1829-1831, 1833, 1835-1839, 1841-1842, 1844, 1846-1847, 1852-1853, 1856-1859, 1864, 1866

Halpern notes that all Tykocin vital records 1826-1900 have now been indexed and can be searched online, as well as marriage record indices through 1934 (indexed from LDS microfilms).

He hopes these records will be helpful in expanding the family trees of those researchers of this town

Interesting in acquiring copies of records? Click here and here for more information.

Chicago 2008: Suchostaw group meeting

The Suchostaw Region Research Group (SRRG) will meet at the Chicago conference on Wednesday, August 20, from 9.45-11am, announced SRRG coordinator Susana Leistner Bloch.

I have attended most SRRG meetings at the annual conferences as my FINK family has connections to Suchastaw, Skalat, Romanowe Siolo, Tarnopol and other towns. Susana has done a great job in locating resources for researchers with roots in many of the SRRG towns.

SRRG includes the following Administrative Districts: Borszczow - Buczacz - Czortkow - Husiatyn - Skalat -Tarnopol - Trembowla - Zbaraz - Zaleszczyki.

Although there are many other shtetlach in the SRRG area that once had a Jewish community we list, below, some the shtetlach where our members had family connections:

Barysz, Baworow, Beremiany, Biala, Bialoboznica, Bilcze, Budzanow, Burakowka, Chorostkow, Cygany, Czahary, Czarnokonce, Draganowka, Darachow, Dolina, Gleboczek, Grzymalow, Horodnica, Iwanowka, Jablonow Jagielnica, Janow, Jazlowiec, Jezierzany, Kopyczynce, Korolowka, Kosow, Krasne, Krzywoluka, Kujdance, Ladyczyn, Lanowce, Majdan, Mielnica, Mikulince, Monasterzyska, Myszkowice, Nagorzanka, Nowosiolka, Okopy, Olchowiec, Ostapie, Ostra, Pauszowka, Petlikowce Stare, Pilatkowce, Plotycz, Podfilipie, Podwoloczyska, Potok Zloty, Probuzna, Romanowe Siolo, Rosochowaciec, Skala, Somorosze, Snowidow, Sosolowka, Strusow, Stryjowka, Suszczyn, Swidowa, Tarnoruda, Tluste, Touste, Trojka, Trybuchowce, Tudorow, Turylcze, Ulaszkowce, Uscie Biskupie, Uscieczko, Uwisla, Wasylkowce, Wierzbowka, Winiatynce, Wolkowce, Worwolince, Wygnanka, Zadniszowka, Zaleszczyki, Zascinocze, Zaleszczyki, Zazdrosc.
For the complete list of area shtetlach, click here.