30 September 2008

Illinois: 250 Holocaust documents to go on display

More than 250 World War II postal documents — cards, letters and stamps — have been acquired by an Illinois foundation from a private collector and will soon be on permanent display in a museum in suburban Chicago, according to this AP story on Fox News.

The collection belonged to longtime postal memorabilia collector and activist Ken Lawrence of Pennsylvania, and was called "The Nazi Scourge: Postal Evidence of the Holocaust and the Devastation of Europe." Former vice president of the American Philatelic Society, he collected the documents for more than 30 years in answer to claims that the Holocaust never occurred

The Florence and Laurence Spungen Family Foundation of Northbrook, Illinois bought the collection and added to it.

The faded papers hint at stark details in the lives of Nazi concentration camp inmates.

Letters secretly carried by children through the sewers of Warsaw, Poland, during the 1944 uprising. A 1933 card from a Dachau camp commander outlining strict rules for prisoner mail. A 1943 letter from a young man, who spent time in Auschwitz, to his parents.

The collection will be housed at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, when it opens. It includes a handwritten Bible scroll in Hebrew that was used by a German soldier to mail a package. There are also documents sent to a Nazi doctor on trial for war crimes at Nuremberg.

The exhibit will go to Billings, Montana in December, followed later by Santa Barbara, California.

Read the complete article at the link above.

Seattle: Paul Shapiro, USHMM, Oct. 23

Although it seems somewhat early to announce an October 23 program, Tracing the Tribe wants to make sure that all Seattle-area readers mark their calendars now for this special event, which should attract wide community participation.

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington State (JGSWS) will present "Opening the Archives of the Holocaust International Tracing Service," with Paul Shapiro, director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), in Washington, DC.

Doors open at 7pm, and the program begins promptly at 7.30pm, Thursday, October 23, at the Stroum Jewish Community Center Auditorium, Mercer Island. Admission is free for JGSWS members; others, $5.

Paul Shapiro led the Museum’s effort to obtain the international cooperation necessary to open the archives of the International Tracing Service—the largest and last major inaccessible collection of Holocaust-related records anywhere. He has also led the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s effort to provide focused leadership to the field of Holocaust Studies in the US and abroad. A member of the Congressionally-mandated Interagency Working Group on Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records, Shapiro serves on the Academic Advisory Committee of the Center for Jewish History in New York.

In 2003-4 he wrote major sections of the final report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, chaired by Elie Wiesel. Before joining the Museum, he served at the United States Information Agency and Department of State, where he was responsible for the Fulbright Fellowship Program and other major international exchange programs.

Shapiro was an editor of the journal "Problems of Communism" and editor-in-chief of the "Journal of International Affairs." He was a consultant to the Board for International Broadcasting, Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty, and the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI).

With a BA degree in Government (Harvard University), a Master of International Affairs and a Master of Philosophy degree in History (Columbia University), he has been a Fulbright scholar, an IREX scholar, and a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Eurasian Studies at The George Washington University.

Program Background:

The International Tracing Service (ITS) archive, located in Bad Arolsen, Germany was established by the Allied powers after WWII to help trace missing family members and reunite families.

Contents of the archives remained closed to the public until this year. The archive contains millions of pages of documentation captured during the liberation of concentration camps. Sixteen linear miles of shelving are required to hold all of the files.

The archive now contains approximately 50 million digital images providing documentation on 17.5 million people arrested, deported, killed, forced into slave labor or displaced from homes to which they were never able to return.

CBS’s “60 Minutes” ran a poignant story (updated in 2007) about the opening of these archives bringing several camp survivors back to see their own records. You can view that segment here.

Click here for more details, directions and future programs.

Gesher Galicia: Annual meeting, Oct. 19

The Gesher Galicia Regional Meeting is set for Sunday, October 19, at the Center for Jewish History, in New York, announced Pamela Weisberger.

Gesher Galicia is for those those with Jewish roots in the former Austrian province of Galicia:

From 11am-1pm, there will be four presentations:
- Cadastral Map and Landowner Records Project Update - Pamela Weisberger

- Researching Galician Records in Vienna

- JRI-Poland - Update by Mark Halpern

- "Good-Bye Bohorodchany" with Bernard Reiner

After an update on the newest map and land­owner records project in Lviv, waltz through the myriad resources in Vienna for Jewish genealogists researching Galician relatives. Also covered, the vast holdings of the IKG's (Israel­itische Kultusgemeinde Wien - Jewish Community of Vienna) vital records collection, the treasures found in the Gasometer ar­chives (household registration records and city directories) and the Austrian National Lib­rary col­lections (school records).

Mark Halpern will provide a short status report on JRI-Poland's activities with vital records from Galicia.

Bernard Reiner illustrates his 2007 'homecoming' trip with Alex Dunai, when he returns to the Bohorodchany, Galicia burial site where his ancestors were laid to rest more than four centuries ago, reads the megillah in the Great Stanislawow syna­gogue, attends shul in Kolomea on Purim morning, and eats from the 'conflicted soil' of his ancestors.

Following a lunch break, the program resumes at 2pm, with the JGSNY meeting, which will cover the May 2008 trip to Bad Arolsen by some 40 genealogists. A short video isn included providing a first-hand look at ITS resources and what the onsite process is like. A four-person panel - Valery Bazarov, Janet Isenberg, Renee Steinig and Pamela Weisberger - will offer unique perspectives on the experience.

The day is open to the public. Directions are here. For more information, click here.

29 September 2008

Southern California: Ethnic roundtables, Oct. 5

The next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County (JGSCV) on Sunday, October 5, will feature expert society members leading small groups in specific research areas.

Roundtables will be held on American, German, Lithuanian and Polish research; as well as JewishGen, getting started with your research, how to write your book and others.

The event format includes two 45-minute sessions so each attendee can participate in two areas. The society's traveling library will also be available.

The free meeting starts at 1.30pm at Temple Adat Elohim 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks.

For more information, directions and future programs, click www.jgscv.org.

28 September 2008

Maryland: Iranian Jewry, Nov. 1-3

"Iranian Iranian Jewry: From Past to Present" will take place at the University of Maryland, from November 1-3.

The international conference is sponsored by the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies and the Roshan Institute Center for Persian Studies, co-hosted by The Hebraic Section and Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

"Iranian Iranian Jewry: From Past to Present" will take place at the University of Maryland, from November 1-3.

The bios and abstracts of the speakers are here. It was nice to see the names of those I know, such as David Menashri (Tel Aviv), Peggy Pearlstein (Library of Congress), Nahid Pirnazar (UCLA), and those we've known since our days in Teheran - Haideh Sahim and Judith Goldstein.

A sample of the program:

Haideh Sahim, Hofstra University,
“The Herat War and the Expulsion of the Jews”
Nahid Pirnazar, UCLA,
“Voluntary Religious Conversion of Iranian Jews in the Nineteenth Century”
Parvaneh Pourshariati, Ohio State University,
“Jewish Participation in Over-Land Trade in Late Antique Iran:
A Preliminary Assessment”
Vera Moreen, Independent Scholar,
“Neglected Sources: The Riches of Judeo-Persian Manuscripts”
Peggy Pearlstein, Library of Congress,
“Iranian Judaic and Hebraic Resources in the Collections
of the Library of Congress”
Hirad Dinavari, Library of Congress,
“Jewish Resources in Persian and Iranian Collections
at the Library of Congress”
Shalom Sabar, Hebrew University,
“Persian and Kurdish Jewish Amulets: Shapes and
Images, Texts and Social Function”
Evan Rapport, New York University,
“Bukharian Jewish Musical Life and Its Relationship
to Judeo-Persian Culture”
Jaleh Pirnazar, UC Berkeley,
“Post-Revolutionary Jewish Iranian Literature”

There is also a good page on Persian/Farsi links and resources here.

The Meyerhoff Center is also planning other events:

4pm, November 17
"We are not Mizrahi...We are Indian Jews"
Issues of Culture and Identity in the Indian Jewish community in Israel
Professor Maina Chawla Singh, University of Delhi, India

Netherlands: Jewish genealogy society

The Netherlands Society for Jewish Genealogy was established in 1987. In 2007, its 20th anniversary year, saw some 500 members and the society celebrated with a symposium in Amsterdam.

Here is information on the 2007 symposium. The website is in English and Dutch, although symposium details are only in Dutch.

Its main goals and activities are:

- Sharing of genealogical data about Jewish families having lived or currently living in the Netherlands;

- Developing sources for research on Jewish families;

- Publication of a quarterly periodical (Dutch);

- Meetings and lectures;

- Encouraging genealogical research on Jewish families in the Netherlands and their ancestors from other countries;

- Study - from the genealogical view - on Dutch Jews throughout history.

The annual Family Register includes the names of families for which members hold data; it helps members contact each other for additional research and collaboration.

The quarterly journal Misjpoge (Dutch-Yiddish: mishpokha, family, Hebrew). It appears in Dutch with an English summary. The Q&A section is very popular, and the latest issue's Q&As are also on the website. To publish a question or provide an answer, send to forum@nljewgen.org, with the family name in the subject line.

For more information on the society publications, email publications@nljewgen.org

Membership is 30 Euros or US$50; paid members receive the member list, Family Register and the current year of Misjpoge. The membership form is here.

Family names being researched by members and non-members are here.

27 September 2008

Book: Jews in Kurdistan

"I am the keeper of my family’s stories. I am the guardian of its honor. I am the defender of its traditions. As the first-born son of a Kurdish father, these, they tell me, are my duties. And yet even before my birth I resisted."

Thus begins the introduction to journalist Ariel Sabar's book, "In My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq," (Algonquin Books, New York; August 2008).

Sabar attempts to answer these questions and more as he journeys to the small northern Iraqi town of Zakho near the Turkish border.

"Who is my father? How did he wind up so far from home? I wrote this book in part to answer those questions. I wanted to conjure the gulfs of geography and language he crossed on his way from the hills of Kurdistan to the highways of Los Angeles. But I also had other, bigger questions: What is the value of our past? When we carry our languages and stories from one generation to the next, from one country to another, what exactly do we gain?"

Sabar's quotes - and his book - resonate with genealogists, as well as the children and grandchildren of immigrants.

In addition to the family history for which we all search, Sabar addresses the embarrassment of the younger generations at how their parents looked to others, the strange languages they spoke, the cultural symbols that made them different and, in general, how the elders just didn't fit in with the American society in which the youngsters were living.

The birth of Ariel Sabar's own son takes him on a family history journey to the northern Iraq town of Zakho where his father - Yona Beh Sabagha - grew up as a member of the small Jewish minority. He also hunts for information on his great-grandfather, Ephraim, the town's only fabric dyer, learns from Zakho old-timers in Jerusalem that Ephraim spoke to the "angels," and searches for other family stories.

In 1951, following the establishment of the state of israel and anti-Semitic sentiments against the Jewish minority, some 120,000 Iraqi Jews resettled in Israel, even as others went to Iran, the US and other countries. Yona was the last bar mitzvah in the town. In Israel, the family name became Sabar.

Amazingly, on his return to Zakho, Sabar learns that the town's Muslim Kurds still call the district where his father lived "the Jewish neighborhood," even though no Jews have lived there for 50 years.

Yona Sabar is a world expert on neo-Aramaic - a language nearly dead as its native speakers disappear. Resettlement wasn't easy, but being a speaker of neo-Aramaic helped, relates his son. His father received a scholarship to the Yale University Department of Near Eastern Languages and became a UCLA professor.

Publishers' Weekly (September 16) wrote:
For his first 31 years Sabar considered his father, Yona, an embarrassing anachronism. Ours was a clash of civilizations, writ small. He was ancient Kurdistan. I was 1980s L.A. Yona was a UCLA professor whose passion was his native language, Aramaic. Ariel was an aspiring rock-and-roll drummer. The birth of Sabar's own son in 2002 was a turning point, prompting Sabar to try to understand his father on his own terms.

Readers can only be grateful to him for unearthing the history of a family, a people and a very different image of Iraq. Sabar vividly depicts daily life in the remote village of Zahko, where Muslims, Jews and Christians banded together to ensure prosperity and survival, and in Israel (after the Jews' 1951 expulsion from Iraq), where Kurdish Jews were stereotyped as backward and simple.

Sabar's career as an investigative reporter at the Baltimore Sun and elsewhere serves him well, particularly in his attempt to track down his father's oldest sister, who was kidnapped as an infant. Sabar offers something rare and precious—a tale of hope and continuity that can be passed on for generations. Photos.

For more, see the author's site, http://www.arielsabar.com/. There is also a Q&A with the author here (this takes some time to load, be patient).

The author has a full book tour arranged and he will be at most major Jewish book fairs and many book stores in coming months. It might be worthwhile to try to arrange for Ariel Sabar to speak; contact Carolyn Hessel.

Ladino: Now there's a textbook!

Looking to learn Ladino? This is a book I'm planning to order for myself.

The recently published, English version of Marie-Christine Varol's "Manual of Judeo-Spanish: Language and Culture" book is available from CDL Press (University Press of Maryland), PO Box 34454, Bethesda, Maryland 20827.

The 330-page volume is $35, and includes an audio CD to be used with each lesson in the book.

To order: Click here.

Carnival of Eastern European Genealogy

Steve Danko hosted the 11th edition of the Carnival of Eastern European Genealogy centered on given names.

These Carnivals of Genealogy are very useful. We are challenged to respond to topics we haven't really thought about or addressed in our blogs. Each participant handles the topic from his or her own viewpoint and we all learn from each other.

The charge for this challenge was:

The topic for this edition is First (Given) Names: Did any of your ancestors have an unusual given name? Have you discovered the meanings behind the given names of your ancestors? Did your ancestors use any naming patterns for their children? Are there any given names that are particularly common in your family history? Did any of your ancestors have given names that you particularly like or dislike? Does your family celebrate “Name Days”? Did your immigrant ancestors change their given names after they arrived in America? Tell us about the first (given) names in your family. You can concentrate on one name, a few names, or you can go wild and write about the first names of all your ancestors!

Participants included Jessica Oswalt of Jessica's Genejournal (German); Lisa of 100 Years in America (Hungarian and Croatian); Julie Cahill Tarr at GenBlog; Donna Pointkouski of What's Past is Prologue (Bavarian and Polish); Jasia of Creative Gene and Al’s Polish-American Genealogy Research on their Polish names; Steve's own Polish names; and, of course, Tracing the Tribe's "Here's a Leib, There's a Leib!" which touched on Belarus and Iran.

About Tracing the Tribe, Steve wrote:

Schelly Talalay Dardashti of Tracing the Tribe: The Jewish Genealogy Blog writes about her family’s practice of naming children after their relatives. This practice results in an interesting conundrum when all the children in a single family decided to name one of their sons after the child’s grandfather. And so, today, anyone with the name Leib Talalay, wherever he may live, is probably a cousin. Read all the details at Here’s a Leib, there’s a Leib! While you’re at it, you’ll find out why Schelly’s daughter loves her given name and initials, and why Schelly was once known as Shirley! Thanks for a great article, Schelly. It’s a fascinating read!

This was a great topic, Steve. Thank you for this opportunity.

Do read descriptions and pointers to all participant entries at Steve's link above.

26 September 2008

New Site: GenSoftReviews

Always wondered how you can learn about genealogy software? There are so many different packages out there. Which is best for you and your needs?

Louis Kessler, who's been around for some three decades as genealogist and programmer, has now organized and launched GenSoftReviews, in addition to his venerable Lkessler.com, which has a Jewish genealogy page here.

The new site makes it possible for users of gen software to rate and review programs they've tried or used. The goal is to make it easier for others to compare and select the software best for their own needs.

If you are a non-techie, as many of us are, it can be confusing as you attempt to compare different programs and features. I hope this site will lessen confusion and help more people choose the program or programs right for them.

Some 355 programs are ready for review; categories include Windows, Mac, Unix, handheld and online programs, from full-featured, GEDCOM utilities, website builders and more.

The site is free and does not require registration.

There are five ranking levels: Whether you enjoy using it, if you use it often, if it has easy input, useful output, and an overall rating. You can write a short review and list the major advantage and disadvantage of a program. Viewers may use this information to make more informed decisions.

There is an RSS feed for all reviews as well as one for each separate program.

Why did he create this?

"I created my "Louis Kessler's Genealogy Software Links" page for my website in 1997 and that page has been a popular genealogy web resource with over 400,000 hits through the years. But I've always wanted to have more than just a list of programs. The new Genealogy Software Reviews site allows interactive user input and should be a more useful resource for everyone."

For more than three decades, Kessler has been a genealogist and programmer; written newspaper articles and made presentations on genealogy. He also developed the Behold genealogy program and is past president of the Jewish Historical Society of Western Canada (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada).

25 September 2008

Colorado: Secret Jews of San Luis Valley

Smithsonian Magazine's article "The 'Secret Jews' of San Luis Valley," focuses on a gene linked to a virulent form of breast cancer found mainly in Jewish women and discovered in Hispanic Catholics in southern Colorado.

One September day in 2001, Teresa Castellano, Lisa Mullineaux, Jeffrey Shaw and Lisen Axell were having lunch in Denver. Genetic counselors from nearby hospitals and specialists in inherited cancers, the four would get together periodically to talk shop.

That day they surprised one another: they'd each documented a case or two of Hispanic women with aggressive breast cancer linked to a particular genetic mutation. The women had roots in southern Colorado, near the New Mexico border. "I said, 'I have a patient with the mutation, and she's only in her 40s,'" Castellano recalls. "Then Lisa said that she had seen a couple of cases like that. And Jeff and Lisen had one or two also. We realized that this could be something really interesting."

Curiously, the genetic mutation that caused the virulent breast cancer had previously been found primarily in Jewish people whose ancestral home was Central or Eastern Europe. Yet all of these new patients were Hispanic Catholics.

Mullineaux contacted Ruth Oratz, a New York City-based oncologist then working in Denver. "Those people are Jewish," Oratz told her. "I'm sure of it."

Pooling their information, the counselors published a report in a medical journal about finding the gene mutation in six "non-Jewish Americans of Spanish ancestry." The researchers were cautious about some of the implications because the breast cancer patients themselves, as the paper put it, "denied Jewish ancestry."

The finding raised some awkward questions. What did the presence of the genetic mutation say about the Catholics who carried it? How did they happen to inherit it? Would they have to rethink who they were—their very identity—because of a tiny change in the three billion "letters" of their DNA? More important, how would it affect their health, and their children's health, in the future?

Some people in the valley were reluctant to confront such questions, at least initially, and a handful even rejected the overtures of physicians, scientists and historians who were suddenly interested in their family histories. But rumors of secret Spanish Jewry had floated around northern New Mexico and the San Luis Valley for years, and now the cold hard facts of DNA appeared to support them. As a result, families in this remote high-desert community have had to come to grips with a kind of knowledge that more and more of us are likely to face. For the story of this wayward gene is the story of modern genetics, a science that increasingly has the power both to predict the future and to illuminate the past in unsettling ways.

The long article also speaks with historian Stanley Hordes, has additional photographs, and discusses DNA, genetics and history:

By comparing DNA samples from Jews around the world, scientists have pieced together the origins of the 185delAG mutation. It is ancient. More than 2,000 years ago, among the Hebrew tribes of Palestine, someone's DNA dropped the AG letters at the 185 site. The glitch spread and multiplied in succeeding generations, even as Jews migrated from Palestine to Europe. Ethnic groups tend to have their own distinctive genetic disorders, such as harmful variations of the BRCA1 gene, but because Jews throughout history have often married within their religion, the 185delAG mutation gained a strong foothold in that population. Today, roughly one in 100 Jews carries the harmful form of the gene variant.

Read the complete article at the link above.

Cape Verde: Jewish memories

Cape Verde's Jewish roots are discussed in Naomi Seck's Voice of America broadcast. Here is the text and the broadcast itself is available as well.

In Cape Verde, a small stretch of islands just off the coast of West Africa, nearly everyone is Catholic. But as Naomi Seck reports for VOA from the capital, Praia, some residents talk about what it means to them to be the heirs of the islands' Jewish past.

At the main cemetery in Praia, white crosses stretch in every direction.

But a quick question to the guard, and he leads visitors sure-footedly up the hill to the left.

Here, a few stone tombs lie flat in the ground, and there are no crosses.

Jose Levy describes what he sees.

"Some of the graves have descriptions in Hebraic, others have descriptions in both Hebraic and Portuguese," he explains.

These are the graves of some of Cape Verde's former Jewish population. There are about half a dozen here. They mostly come from the late 1800s.

He shares his name with a man buried here. Only a few generations ago, the family were practicing Jews.

The island's Jews arrived in the 1400s, when Portugal colonized the uninhabited islands and it became an important trading post. The Portuguese Jews came under pressure when Portugal, following Spain's earlier example in in 1492, required all Jews to convert or be expelled.

The second wave of Jews came from Morocco in the 1850s, looking for economic opportunities. Levy's family descends from this group. At one time, says his father, Abraão Levy, his family owned and farmed a lot of land on Santiago, where Praia is located. Abraão also says the descendants of the Jewish immigrants have played prominent roles in Cape Verde, including a former prime minister and a finance minister.

"My grandfather and my great-grandfather came from Portugal and they married Catholic women, and I think the Catholic aspect was much stronger, because I never saw anything, my father told me he has never seen any practicing any rites in the house," Levy says.

Yet a gold Star of David, a symbol of the Jewish faith, dangles from a bracelet on his wrist.

Levy says he wears it to quietly remind himself of his Jewish heritage.

Read the complete article and listen to the program at the link above.

Tracing the Tribe has previously written about Cape Verde here and here.

Unlocking tales of family treasures

Just in time for the High Holidays - a time of year when we remember our ancestors, their stories and their histories - my story on family heirlooms was just published in the Jerusalem Post.

Genealogists in several countries participated.

To read it in the Jerusalem Post Online Edition, click here, or go to www.jpost.com -> Jewish World -> Jewish Features. Unlocking tales of family treasures is the second in the list of three today. By tomorrow you may have to hit "more" as more stories have been added for the holiday issues.

Asked about her collection of family heirlooms, Linda Silverman Shefler will likely say that as a child, she was somewhat of a nudnik!

As far back as she can remember, she would pester her grandmothers with questions: Who were those people in all the photographs? What did those documents she couldn't read really say? To whom did this or that object belong?

Eldest of the 10 grandchildren on each side of the family, Shefler was the only one who showed interest in the family history: "I believe that's what made me the logical candidate to inherit so many wonderful family treasures."

Shefler began researching her family 23 years ago after her grandmother died and she inherited a drawerful of photographs. She began to research a previously unknown Cleveland, Ohio branch, and her journey of discovery has gathered 80 direct ancestors, 10 generations and more than 11,000 relatives, going back (in one branch) to the late 1600s. "There's still so much research to do," she adds.

Other genners mentioned in the story: Stan Diamond (Canada), Bernard Kouchel (Florida), Ann Rabinowitz (Florida), Shelly Levin (California), Linda Silverman Shefler (US/Israel), Chaim Freedman (Israel), Rachelle Berliner (Georgia), Meryl Frank (New Jersey), Meyer Denn (Texas), Helen Horwitz (New Mexico), Frayda Zelman Naor (New York City), and Ina Levitt Yanover (Canada).

Shana tova u'metukah to all Tracing the Tribe readers. For you and your families, I wish you a happy, healthy, prosperous and sweet New Year, filled with amazing genealogical discoveries and everything else you wish for yourselves.

Tel Aviv: 1,800 rare photographs found

In Tel Aviv, Liselotte Grschebina worked as a photographer for more than 20 years. In 1957, she stopped and hid the photographs. In 2000, years after she died, the images were discovered. The Israel Museum is now holding an exhibit on her work. The story was in Haaretz.

Eight years ago, some 1,800 rare photographs taken by Liselotte Grschebina were gathering dust in several crates that for decades had sat in a storage space above the ceiling of her apartment on 18 Bialik Street in Tel Aviv. The negatives had been thrown into the trash and only the pictures remained - most of them which she had printed in her small kitchen, which was not usually used for cooking, as her only son, Benny Grschebina, testifies.

The German-born photographer died in 1994 at the age of 86, unknown to researchers of Land of Israel photography. She had already abandoned her profession in 1957, said her son this week. He doesn't know what made her stop taking pictures, but says that from then on she devoted her time to working in the clinic of her husband Jacob, a well-known gynecologist in the city.

"After my parents died, everything was transferred to me in cartons," says Grschebina. He didn't know what to do with them until a photography student, Itai Bar Yosef, heard about the find by chance and contacted the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. "The people in the museum's photography department chose the pictures they wanted. The family pictures remained with me."

The purchase of the collection was funded by Dov and Rachel Gottsman and donated to the museum in 2000. In 2003, some images were in the "Pioneers of Photography in Israel," and a few years ago, some were in an exhibit in Berlin.

On October 10, "Woman with a Camera," an exhibit solely devoted to Grschebina's work will open on October 10, at Ticho House in Jerusalem, under Israel Museum auspices. Included are 95 photos from 1930s-1940s.

Not much is known about Grschebina, who arrived in Palestine in 1934. Some photos appeared in newspapers of that period and in a 1938 calendar. Her son is quoted:

"Mother was not a tough woman, but she was a Yekke [a German Jew]," says her son. "Yekkes don't open blogs and don't write revealing diaries, and certainly don't pour out their hearts in their letters. The Yekkes lived among themselves and didn't open up even to their children. Therefore, my knowledge of her and her biography, and of the period in which she worked as a photographer, is quite limited."

The story carries an interview with her son, Benny, who says she wouldn't have imagined her work exhibited in a museum and didn't promote or preserve her work. In Germany, she studied photography at the highest standards.

Although the story says not much is known about Grschebina, there is quite a lot of genealogically-relevant information:

Born in May 1908 in Karlsruhe, Germany Liselotte Billigheimer as the daughter of wine merchant Todros-Otto Billigheimer. He was drafted into the Germany Army in WWI and killed, leaving his widow Rosa to raise two daughters, Liselotte and Hilde.

At 17, Liselotte began to study applied graphics and figurative painting in Karlsruhe. When she finished her studies she moved to Stuttgart and studied advertising photography at the academy, which was part of the drawing and design track in the graphics department. In 1929, she began to teach advertising photography in the academy, but was dismissed two years later.

In Karlsruhe, Liselotte met her Russian-Jewish husband, Jacob Grschebina, born in Tblisi. His parents moved to Danzig where he studied medicine. In Karlsruhe he was pathologist and the couple married in 1932.

In March 1934, they arrived in Palestine and settled in Tel Aviv, which was then full of German Jewish refugees. Among them were many with art world connections, including photographers. Only some of them made a living. There were so many photographers that the city of Tel Aviv limited the number of photographer's permits. Archival research, noted in the story, revealed dozens of letters from photographers asking for the revocation of rival photographers' permits.

This story is also interesting from a sociological view, as it explains why young women studied this craft in Germany: a profession and practical art that was relatively easy to learn and to work in. According to a researcher, the very first series of Swiss tourist photos, preceding photographed postcards, was created by a woman. More than 100 of Berlin's 600 photography studios in the early 1930s were run by women. The story goes on to detail her attempt to open a photography school; the permit was denied.

The story talks about her career in Israel, her associations and work, cameras and projectors, her friends and colleagues. It presents how refugees lived, worked and ate.

Read this fascinating complete story at the link above.

Barcelona: Preserving Jewish heritage

I have just received this update from good friends Dominique Tomasov Blinder and David Stoleru in Barcelona, who head up the Zakhor Study Center for the Protection and Transmission of Jewish Heritage

In addition to participation in the European Day of Jewish Culture, Zakhor prepared two sessions for Barcelona and one in Castello d'Empuries; organized a Jewish quarter walk during the 2008 Barcelona Jewish Film Festival, as well as visits to Jewish Montjuic.

Zakhor's scientific committee will be headed by Professor Yom Tov Assis (Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel), an expert on Sephardi Judaism in the Middle Ages. Other worldwide experts are being invited to this consulting team.

The group has signed cooperation agreements with prestigious institutions: Centre d’Estudis de Montjuïc, Barcelona; Fundación ATID, Barcelona; Institut d’Estudis Catalans, Barcelona; Editorial Raíces, Madrid; Department of Jewish Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Instituto Ben Zvi, Jerusalem; and the International Survey of Jewish Monuments, New York. Institut Ramon Muntaner, an institution which groups Catalan centers of studies in several disciplines, has included us in their membership, and conversations have begun with the American Sephardi Foundation, New York.

Zakhor's goals:

- To contribute with a Jewish dimension to the interpretation of Jewish history and legacy, for its better understanding and comprehension and for the best use of heritage sites (cemeteries, Jewish quarters, etc.). Ancient cemeteries require special and urgent actions to protect them from any kind of abandonment, damage, excavation or improper interventions caused by urban growth.

- As a non-profit association, thus financing has to be secured through public or private grants, matching funds, professional fees for our services and donations. This allows us to work with qualified professionals and consultants to assure the best quality of each project. Center of Studies ZAKHOR hopes to receive support from individuals, organizations and the public administration, on the endeavors to preserve our treasured history and historic sites for future generations to enjoy.

- There are many ways in which readers can help ZAKHOR: sharing this information with others, organizing a lecture in your community where we can present our work, writing letters in support of our efforts or choosing a project that deserves your interest and support.

Dominique and David will continue to inform readers about their progress. Visitors to Barcelona are always welcome to visit their office.

For more information, click here. The website is in English, Catalan and Castilian. and describes their activities in great detail.

24 September 2008

Book: Vanishing traces of Jewish Galicia

Brown University professor of history and German studies Omer Bartov spoke at the recent Chicago 2008 conference to rave reviews.

His latest book, "Erased: Vanishing Traces of Jewish Galicia in Present-Day Ukraine," (Princeton University Press, 232 pages, $26.95), was reviewed in the Haaretz Book Supplement, by Simon J. Rabinovitch, a University of Florida Jewish History postdoctoral associate.

"Erased" is a byproduct of Bartov's efforts to study the Holocaust's perpetrators and victims together in historical context. In the way that Jan Gross did in 2001 with "Neighbors," a book that investigated the 1941 massacre of the Jewish population of Jedwabne, Poland, Bartov, a professor of history and German studies at Brown University, intended to demonstrate that the murder of Jews often took place in the most intimate of settings.

Yet "Erased" is also a deeply personal project. While visiting the region of his mother?s childhood (he is writing a separate book on his mother's hometown of Buczacz), Bartov discovered that in town after town in eastern Galicia where Jews once made up a majority or plurality, the very memory of their existence and elimination is now imperceptible.

His travels resulted in this new project, a book that in its mixture of description and emotional commentary seeks to bring to light the shear success of efforts to expunge the Jewish past from eastern Galicia. It is as if not merely this region of Ukraine, but Ukrainian memory itself, has been ethnically cleansed.

Rabinovitch says Bartov is not the first to be shocked at what is missing in western Ukraine, and he mentions Daniel Mendelsohn's "The Lost," and Jonathan Safran Foer's "Everything is Illuminated." Both books grew out of the authors' trips to the same geographical area to find family history.

Writes the reviewer:

The genocide of the Jews in Ukraine was remarkable for its efficiency and simplicity. Though ghettos and extermination camps were used, most Jews were executed in mass graves in or around the towns in which they lived. Auschwitz satisfies those who seek to remember the destruction of the Jews, but the lack of either commemoration or restoration in the towns of Galicia thoroughly disturbs those who seek to remember Jewish life there.

Bartov rightly cares that Jewish life in western Ukraine be both remembered and properly memorialized, and his and the other books are all in some sense an effort to compensate for the failure of Ukrainians to do so. But the question remains, why do we as Jews care so deeply what the people who now live in this region (or for that matter the other countries of Eastern Europe) remember? Jews have made efforts to commemorate Jewish life in these towns through the compilation of memorial books and the creation of memorials in the Americas, Australia and Israel, even as the number of Jews who either live in or travel to this area remains very small. And yet as Jews, we still do care that synagogues and cemeteries themselves are preserved and mass murder commemorated through memorials, as a reminder to the current inhabitants about Jewish life there and the circumstances of its destruction.

Do read the complete review at the link above.

Photos: Old time images

Over the years, we've had old-time photos taken at various fairs and tourist spots. It involved putting on old costumes and becoming stars of sepia prints - you know, those brownish prints that at first glance indicates "old," as in historic?

They are here somewhere in my masses of photographs. I do remember the family looking like Daniel Boone's traveling companions, some with rifles; civil war-era fancy dress, uniforms of various periods, cowboys, pioneers, 1920s gangsters - you name it.

How confused will our descendants be when they discover these instant ancestors? Although my main line didn't arrive here until 1898, how did we get family photos of the Civil War, of frontiersmen and pioneers.

You too can confuse future generations and take family photos in historical costumes.

I guess it is like those painters who produced beautiful portaits of women, dripping with diamonds and other fantastic gems - although that jewelry never existed. How many descendants are still looking for that missing treasure, because it was in that painting of a great-grandmother.

Now, if you really want to confuse your descendants, inscribe the photos on the back using brown ink and a real pen-nib - not a ball-point pen or marker, please!

Is this payback for our own ancestors leaving us buckets of unlabeled photographs? I guess not, but perhaps it will inspire future generations to do some serious homework and realize those prominently displayed photographs are only fake family history.

Shoes are a dead giveaway, so be careful your newest Nikes - or whatever the top gear is today - aren't showing under those period costumes! Take off your glasses, if you wear them; a squint is more realistic. Hide those watches also! It's hard to claim a photograph as historic when the newest Swatch watch is showing under a sleeve.

Enjoy confusing your descendants - our ancestors certainly did the same to us with name changes, missing data, unlabeled photos and conflicting information.

Do leave a note, however, in your papers telling the truth about those "historic" images!

How many readers have these sorts of photographs? What were your favorite costumes?

DNA: The Epstein-Horowitz-Benveniste Projects

Are you an Epstein? Do you know an Epstein? What about a Horowitz or the many variations of this name? Or a Benveniste?

Itzhak Epstein of New York is looking for Epsteins around the world to participate in a DNA project designed to see how the various family branches are related ... or not.

Itzhak's project is at FamilyTreeDNA.com and can also be accessed through JewishGen. At the bottom of that link, check the map which shows heavy concentration of participant origins in Belarus and environs.

Itzhak recently wrote about the progress of this project to encourage others to participate in the painless mouth swab procedure.

We are working on identifying the various branches of our principal cluster, identifying additional members of our minor clusters, and on connecting our members to cousins. To accomplish this goal and to create as broad a search as possible, we need more male EPSTEINs to contribute a cheek swab as a DNA sample.

If you are female or an EPSTEIN through female ancestors, a sample from an EPSTEIN male relative can represent your family in the test. If you are not an EPSTEIN please share this post with male EPSTEINs who may want to participate in this project.

Names in this project include Ast, Chernin, Easton, Ebstein, Eppstein, Epshteyn, Epsteen, Epstein, Epsten, Epstien, Epsztajn, Epsztein, Epsztejn, Esten, Eylat, Levin-Epstein, Levitsky, Mulwitz, Ochs and Polonovsky.

Through the end of September - what a great Rosh Hashana gift from Family Tree DNA - prices are discounted and two tests even include a free mtDNA test for the price of the Y-DNA test only!

To join the EPSTEIN surname project through JewishGen, which receives a portion of the proceeds for each test ordered through this link, click here.

To date, the project has 38 tested members, with a principal cluster of 15 members, who were mostly strangers to each other, yet appear to be related.

According to Itzhak, these members are likely descended from the historic EPSTEINs of Frankfurt am Mein, in the late 14th century.

- Four of the 15 cannot identify any EPSTEIN ancestry, but are included because of their uniquely close genetic relationship.

- Seven pairs of project members may also be mutually related.

- The other nine members are unrelated to any other current EPSTEIN surname project member.

- Most members are closely related to men whose surnames are other than EPSTEIN.

The tentative conclusion is that about half of the EPSTEIN ancestors chose the surname when authorities mandated Jews to take surnames in the early 19th century.

Other families are either related to the historic EPSTEINs from before the original surname's origination in Frankfurt or are EPSTEINs who chose a different surname at a later date.

To join the EPSTEIN surname project through JewishGen, which receives a portion of the proceeds for each test ordered through this link, click here.

As for the historic EPSTEIN ancient origins, says Itzhak, the haplogroup shows that ancient origins are probably in the Alps and not in the Levant.

Modern Epstein genealogy started with the publication of Gvurot He'ari by Efrayim Mordechai Epstein in 1888 and the issuance the Epstein family tree by Shim'on Arye Epstein in 1908. Both document ancestry back to the mid-17th Century. There are also references to earlier but lost Epstein genealogies. Family tradition connects us to the Benvenestes of medieval Spain. The historic Epsteins are Levites. There is a documented Levite Epstein family in Frankfurt aM in the 15th Century. Nevertheless, at this stage of Y-DNA research, we are unsure of whether there is more than one historic Epstein family.

Most of the tested HOROWITZ share a modal haplotype with about 50% of Ashkenazi Levites and there are also Khazar speculations. The EPSTEIN belong to a haplogroup whose ancient origins are probably in central Europe and rare in Iberia.

For more information about the project, click here.

There is also another twist to the story that needs more volunteers. Itzhak is asking for Sephardic families named BENVENISTE to test for another FamilyTreeDNA project here.

Two prominent Ashkenazi families claim descent from two brothers who lived in Spain during the 13th Century CE. The Epsteins’ alleged patriarch is Rabbi Aharon de na Clara ben Yosef haLevi. The Horowitzes’ alleged patriarch is Rabbi Pinhas, Rabbi Aharon’s older brother and mentor. These brothers are the direct male descendants of Rabbi Zerahyah ben Yitzhak haLevi Gerondi (died after 1186). Epstein family lore asserts that Aharon’s surname was Benveniste.

The first known male Horowitz is Yishayahu ben Moshe haLevi Ish Horowitz who came to Prague in the late15th Century from the village of Horovice. The first known male Epstein is Yaakov (Koppelman) ben Natan haLevi von Eppstein who came to Frankfurt am Main in the early 15th Century from the town of Eppstein.

Benvenistes were prominent in Spain and, after the expulsion, were prominent in the Balkans. We do not know whether there have been several Benveniste families or only one. We know that many Jews assumed the Epstein and Horowitz surnames in he 19th Century.

Itzhak says that from the EPSTEIN and HOROWITZ participants he has, they are probably not related. However the sample is still very small and more research - and participants - are required.

Says Itzhak, "Though my research is not that scientific, the Epsteins' and Horowitzes' most recent common ancestor was "R1" who allegedly lived around 18,500 years ago."

Why not participate now and learn more about your family and further the goals of these projects? The more participants in the projects, the more likely are matches. Learn more about your family and yourself, and enjoy the special FamilyTreeDNA discounts through September 30.

Help solve a mystery, learn more about your origins and receive a discount. What could be better?

22 September 2008

More on MyHeritage and Kindo

Family history is all about connecting families. That's it - in a nutshell.

Today, there's some exciting news to share as MyHeritage has taken this goal a step further with its acquisition of Kindo, the UK-based social networking site. The acquisition will help MyHeritage - with 25 million international members - realize its vision to become the major source for connecting families, or as company executives called it, "Facebook for families."

The result is an easy, fun way to stay connected, organize events, share memories and strengthen ties across geography.

MyHeritage is known for its powerful technology helping families research their histories and stay connected, along with Smart Matching and automatic photo tagging - while Kindo's social networking and marketing expertise will help the site create a larger family network.

According to comments by executives at both companies, the two sites share a common vision for the future of families online.

MyHeritage also gives this pointer to its new photo tagging abilities, which, by all accounts, should be a boon to genealogists, family researchers and others.

Breaking News: MyHeritage acquires Kindo

The public announcement concerning the popular family web site MyHeritage's recent acquisition of UK social network site Kindo was made this morning. The release also points to a MyHeritage video featuring the new photo-tagging features recently announced (see link below):

Here is the official press release:

MyHeritage and Kindo join to offer the best online destination for families

London, England and Tel Aviv, Israel – September 23, 2008 – MyHeritage, one of the world’s most popular family Web sites, today announced the acquisition of family social network Kindo. MyHeritage has more than 25 million members worldwide and is known for its powerful technology that helps families research their history and stay connected, including Smart Matching and automatic photo tagging. The Kindo team’s experience in social networking will help MyHeritage realize its vision to be the Facebook for families. As part of this acquisition, MyHeritage will also establish new commercial operations in London.

“Adding the Kindo team to MyHeritage puts the company in an even stronger position to realize its vision of connecting families around the world,” said Gilad Japhet, founder and CEO of MyHeritage. “The synergy of our innovative, sophisticated technology and Kindo’s social networking and marketing expertise will further solidify our position as industry leader. Kindo successfully created a friendly service with an excellent reputation and great base of users.”

Founded by CEO Gilad Japhet, MyHeritage helps people around the world discover, connect and communicate with their extended family network and easily research their family history. The service is unique in its international reach, currently translated into 25 languages with more to follow. Its impressive growth is based on an increasing desire of families to stay closely connected, learn more about each other and share their photos. MyHeritage can be accessed through the Web site or by downloading a simple piece of software for free. Combining MyHeritage and Kindo will create a larger family network and instantly provide more value to its collective
user base.

The London-based Kindo team will become an essential part of MyHeritage, joining forces to accomplish the company's vision of creating the best online destination for families. Kindo’s users can now get easy access to Myheritage’s unique technology, helping them discover and learn even more about their family history. They will also benefit from MyHeritage's photo tagging technology, which automatically scans and identifies people in photos, making it easier for families to organize, search and share their photos.

“MyHeritage and Kindo share a common vision for the future of families online. We both want to give people an easy and fun way to stay connected, organize events, share memories, and strengthen ties across geographies,” said Nils Hammar, cofounder of Kindo. “When I worked at Skype, we saw first hand how powerful the Internet could be in helping families communicate, and now we want to take that a step further with MyHeritage.”

About MyHeritage

MyHeritage was founded by a team of people who combine their passion for family history with the development of innovative technology. It is now one of the world’s leading online networks for families, and the second largest family history website. MyHeritage is available in 25 languages and home to more than 25 million family members and 265 million profiles. The company is based in Bnei Atarot, near Tel Aviv, Israel. For more information, visit www.myheritage.com. View a video about the new photo tagging features here.

About Kindo

Founded in 2007, London-based Kindo is an internationally focused web-based family networking platform that spans generations. On Kindo, users can build their free next generation family tree and stay in touch with their loved ones. Kindo is available in 17 languages, as diverse as Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Hindi. The company is funded by high-profile business angels and venture capitalists, including The Accelerator Group (TAG), Stefan Glänzer (last.fm, myblog.de, ricardo.de) and Ambient Sound Investments (ASI), the investment company of Skype's founding engineers. For more information, click here.

21 September 2008

Here's a Leib, there's a Leib!

The newest Carnival of Eastern European Genealogy is focusing on family first names, hosted by gen-blogger Steve Danko.

Here's a bit of history, humor, naming traditions and patterns to peruse.

Anyone named Leib Talalay is sure to be a cousin, no matter where he is today.

The main branch of our Talalay family was from Mogilev, Belarus from the 1700s and, from 1832, from a newly established agricultural colony down the road apiece (Vorotinschtina, adjacent to Zavarezhye, about 12 miles south-southwest from Mogilev).

Rabbi Leib Talalay was a Talmudic scholar, and the son of a rabbi, Mikhl Talalay, and likely many generations of rabbis before that. Leib was rather famous and this, combined with the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition of naming children after a deceased relative, meant that each of Leib's children named a son after him. And so on and so forth, down to the present day.

Leib's claim to fame - at least the one I've heard the most about - is that he studied the Talmud through three times. There is a Yiddish term for that, but I've forgotten it. Because of this achievement, he was awarded all the stale bread in the bakery every day. Considering the number of mouths Leib had to feed, this was a rather good deal for his family.

Whether I find an olden-days Leib Talalay in Chaussy or Gorki (near Mogilev), or more contemporary days in Novosibirsk, Siberia, Moscow or St. Petersburg - he's more than likely one of ours.

In the New World, of course, Leib's namesakes became generally known as Louis and in more contemporary terms, some Laurences as well. In some Jewish families, keeping only the same beginning letter is considered enough to maintain the tradition.

His father was Mikhl (Michael) and so - again according to naming traditions - there are a lot of Mikhl and Michael and a large number of Moshe (Moses) - this name back to a 1353 document discovered in the Lerida, Catalunya archives (kosher winemaker Mosse Talalya). From London to St. Petersburg to Napoli, we have Michael Talalays.

This Ashkenazi naming practice can be confusing as women are also named for deceased grandmothers or other female relatives. Thus nearly every Leib had a sister named Gita (for her grandmother).

However, it is not as confusing as a family tree I received for the Ben Tolila family who left Spain in 1492 and settled in North Africa, also a rabbinical family in Meknes, Fez and elsewhere. We believe that this family is possible related to our Talalay before the Expulsion.

In any case, naming traditions in Sephardic families are different from Ashkenazi. The highest form of honor is to name a newborn after its living grandmother or grandfather. I received numerous pages in which nearly every generation was named Samuel (Shemuel) for the men and Mercedes for the women. It was impossible to fathom, and I got a headache trying to separate the generations.

My great-grandfather Aron Peretz Talalay, who would become Aron Tollin soon after he landed in New York and then Newark, was also honored with children named after him. One cousin's middle name became Paris instead of Peretz, although the first name remained the same. Great-grandmother's brother Hatzkel and their father Tsalel had a large number of Charles named after them.

And what were we going to do with a name for our daughter when we had a Leah and a Chana to name after? We racked our brains and came up with an Italian version, Liana, combining Lia (Leah) and Ana (Chana). It was a great success and she never met another girl with her same name until many years later. It also worked for the Persian family who could pronounce this "new" and strange name. Of course, many called her Diana, but we worked through that one also.

In Miami, a nurse told us we couldn't take the baby home without a middle name and we hadn't thought of one. We did ask about the hospital sending her to college if we left her there without a middle name; they said no. We finally settled on Shayne (for Shaine/Sheine, Yiddish for beautiful). We figured Liana Shayne would look great on a theater marquee if she wanted to become an actress, a doctor or lawyer. We did realize that with the last name of Dardashti, her initials would be interesting - you figure it out. We said to ourselves, "Oh, that's just a passing fancy. No one will recognize those initials when she grows up." Yeah, right.

Throughout her school years, her classmates delighted in her name and initials and thought her parents were soooo cool and that we must have been hippies living in a commune. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Can you spell "square," boys and girls?

How many readers hate their own names or have children who hate their names for a variety of reasons? We were lucky; she loves her first name and her initials!

My grandmother's names evolved as well. Born in Mogilev as Chayeh Feige (Chaya for life, Feige for small bird), she became known as Bertie in her Newark school, and later more elegantly as Bertha. Her mother-in-law from Suchostow (Austro-Hungary, Galicia, Poland, Ukraine) was Rebeka Halpern Fink, known variously on the Bronx's Grand Concourse as Rebeki and rarely Becky. But her headstone in the Suchostower Benevolent Society plot reads Regina Fink.

The other side of the family is Persian, and this is where the strange names to Western ears really come into play. Standard Hebrew and Persian literary names of the old generations include Yaqub (Jacob), Israel, Moshi (Moses), Ebrahim (Abraham)Parviz, Atollah and Faramarz are connected to wives and daughters named Khorshid (sun), Tavuus (peacock), Nane-jan, Sabh-jan, Paridokht, Farangis, Heshmat and Azam.

French names began to take hold when the Alliance Israelite Francais school opened its doors. Boys took on typical French names as a sign of education. In some families, two children might have French names, the others Persian names. Today, in Los Angeles (Tehrangeles), the younger generations are more likely to be named Tiffany, Ashley and the like, while boys have the same names as their non-Persian classmates.

The entire time we lived in Teheran, I was called Shirley instead of Schelly. I gave up trying to correct everyone; it was just easier to accept it. Just this summer, I visited a Los Angeles cousin who learned for the first time that it was really Schelly. She was shocked when her kids said she'd been saying it wrong (forever!).

What's in a name?

In Jewish tradition, it represents generations of family history. Think about who that person was named after, and the person who carried it before? Go back generations and generations and you'll see the same names repeated. These patterns are very useful clues in researching old documents including the days before surnames were required.

However, there are always exceptions in families: my mother was named after a cigar and an actress (Muriel, although the Yiddish version was Mirrel) while a Canadian cousin was named after the family's beloved dog. Really.

Looking forward to hearing your "name" stories in comments.

20 September 2008

Tagged: I heart your blog!

Greyroots of Grey roots are showing has tagged me for “I Heart Your Blog” award.

I would like to suggest, however, that these memes be limited to nominating only four blogs each.

The rules associated with this particular tagging are that the tagged blogger

- can put the logo on his/her blog

- must link to the person who gave the award

- must nominate seven other blogs and link to them

- must leave a comment on each of the nominated blogs

And now for the envelope:

- Aimee's Women's Lens
- Joel's Jewish History Channel
- Chris's The Genealogue
- Janice's Cow Hampshire
- Hsien-Hsien's Eye on DNA
- Thomas's Destination: Austin Family

Yes, I know that's only six - Everyone else seems to have already been selected, so here are some more esoteric ones.

Why these six? That's easy:

Thomas has helped me in so many ways and his part in the Facebook Genea-blogging adventure is now the stuff of legends. Hsien-Hsien makes DNA seem so easy and her graphics are great! Janice and Chris offer quirky humor that is infectious. Joel has been busy and not posting often, but when he does, it is fascinating, while Aimee's view on Sephardic topics is always interesting.

Louisiana: Natchitoches Jewish cemetery, video

The Natchitoches Preservation Network has prepared a short video on the town's Jewish cemetery. View it here

The Jewish cemetery in Natchitoches, La., is located on the west side of the 900 block of Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, formerly known as Lee Street. It is roughly an acre in size and is partly fenced.

Along the eastern boundary is a brick wall bearing a plaque stating that it was erected in memory of Adolph Kaffie.

Within the cemetery is lush foliage and numerous large trees, especially oak, cedar, and crepe myrtles.

The Jewish community of Natchitoches, though never large, is nevertheless very old. Its origins date to the time of the Civil War, prior to which a few Jews had settled in the area.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a synagogue functioned at Natchitoches. Today, most Jews of Natchitoches (for several families remain) are associated with the Jewish community of Alexandria-Pineville, some 40 miles to the south. (updated 1995) source: Eric J. Brock, Historic Preservation & Planning Consulting, P.O. Box 5877 Shreveport, LA 71135-5877

For more information, visit the following sites here and here.

Family Tree DNA: What's happening in Houston?

Tracing the the Tribe just received the latest update from Family Tree DNA on what's been happening in Houston following Hurricane Ike and some issues impacting the company. In general, things are improving.

According to president Bennett Greenspan and vice president of operations and marketing Max Blankfeld:

a) The 5th Annual Conference on Genetic Genealogy will be postponed until February or March 2009, as the Sheraton Hotel has just informed us that they will not be in an appropriate condition to host our conference. The positive aspect of this postponement is that we will try our best to arrange the schedule in order for Spencer Wells to be one of our speakers. As soon as we have the new date we will advise you.

b) Labs: First of all there has been no interruption in the processes related to the standard Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, which are performed in Arizona. The batch was successfully closed this week and transmitted, a couple of days later than normal, due to networking issues that were resolved Friday.

The Genomics Research Center (Houston Lab) processes the full mitochondria, autosomal, and deep clade, as well as the advanced marker tests. These are the only ones subject to delays. We are pleased to announce that due to the outstanding efforts of our lab team and the restoration crew in place at our site, we were able to fully restore the freezing capabilities of our DNA storage robot. Yesterday, we were also able to power one of our sequencing machines. Our lab team is working this weekend and we will be able to advise you of the integrity of the DNA samples stored in Houston by mid-week. As soon as this is confirmed, our Houston lab will resume the work on our customer samples, while we restore the full capabilities of the lab.

As we have additional news, we will keep updating you.

We also want to take this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation for the hundreds of emails of support and encouragement that we have received during this difficult time. There is no adequate way to express how much this means to us and our entire team. Thank you so much!

Thanks, Bennett and Max, for letting us know. We are thinking of you!

Khazar capital found, says archeologist

A scholar claims to have found the medieval Jewish capital of the Khazars near the Caspian Sea, although the dig has not revealed neither Jewish artifacts nor Khazar writings. The AP story was published in the Calgary Sun here.

MOSCOW - A Russian archeologist says he has found the lost capital of the Khazars, a powerful nation that adopted Judaism as its official religion more than 1,000 years ago, only to disappear leaving little trace of its culture.

Dmitry Vasilyev, a professor at Astrakhan State University, said his nine-year excavation near the Caspian Sea has finally unearthed the foundations of a triangular fortress of flamed brick, along with modest yurt-shaped dwellings, and he believes these are part of what was once Itil, the Khazar capital. By law, Khazars could use flamed bricks only in the capital, Vasilyev said.

The general location of the city on the Silk Road was confirmed in medieval chronicles by Arab, Jewish and European authors.

Despite the fact that the dig has yielded no Jewish artifacts nor writings, Kevin Brook ("The Jews of Khazaria") believes the team has "truly found the long-lost city."

The Turkic tribe roamed from northern China to the Black Sea, and during the 7th-10th centuries, conquered large areas of southern Russia and Ukraine, the Caucasus Mountains and Central Asia.

The site, Itil, is some 1,300 km south of Moscow, may have had a population of up to 60,000 and covered 2 sq. km of marshy plains southwest of the Russian Caspian Sea port of Astrakhan, said archeologist Vasilyev.
Read the complete story at the link above.

Southern California Jamboree: 2009

Paula Hinkel of the Southern California Genealogy Society informed me that the dates for this group's 40th annual Jamboree have been changed to Friday-Sunday, June 26-28 2009.

The reason: a mix-up in the hotel's scheduling.

The call for papers has also been extended through September 30.

Paula Hinkle and her team put together a great experience for both attendees and speakers. In 2008, some 1,200 people attended, which makes it the largest "local" genealogy conference in the US.

This year, Jamboree will focus on the British Isles (English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh).

I have participated for two years and hope to be there again in 2009. For more on my experiences, click here.

Jamboree, in addition to a great line-up of well-known speakers, also worked in a popular Jewish track on Sunday with name speakers, thereby attracting conference-goers who might not otherwise have attended.

The conference team's very creative thinking-out-of-the-box also drew the largest number of genea-bloggers to one place, capped by our first-ever Blogger's Summit.

I'm looking forward to next year!

Pennsylvania: Family heirlooms and kids

When Rachel Glick, 14, heard about the planned Harrisburg Living Museum of Jewish Heritage, she decided to lend it an ordinary, yet priceless family heirloom: a soup spoon, according to a story in the Patriot News.

Glick is the third generation to use the only remaining piece of silverware from her paternal grandfather's family.

She said it seemed like a natural to be displayed Sunday in the Harrisburg Living Museum of Jewish Heritage. The one-day exhibit, a collection of Jewish artifacts on loan from the local Jewish community, was sponsored by the Rabbi David L. Silver Yeshiva Academy in the Jewish Community Center.

"I called my Bubbe [Yiddish word for grandmother] and asked her if I could borrow the spoon," said Rachel, 14 and an eighth-grade student at the academy. "She was happy to lend it to me. Everyone brought something given to them by a relative. It made me realize that a Jewish artifact can be very important in helping people remember a relative from a previous generation."

The 8 1/2-inch silver spoon belonged to Rachel's paternal grandfather, Eli Glick of Oshmiana, Poland in the 1930s.

"When my dad was 15 in the late 1930s, his family heard that the Nazis were coming," said Dr. Mark Glick, Eli Glick's son and Rachel Glick's father. "He, his parents and siblings wanted to escape. So they buried their silverware, silver candlesticks and jewelry in the backyard. His parents were killed, but the three teenagers walked several miles and lived in caves in the woods for the next 3 1/2 years. They came out at night and stole food to survive."

Meanwhile, Mark's mother, Sonia Lubetzka, then 14, was rounded up in the same village, taken to a cattle car, and then a concentration camp from 1939-1945. Her parents perished.

After the war, Eli and his two sisters returned to the family home, occupied by strangers who had taken all the family's possessions.

"The strangers told my dad and his sisters to leave," Mark Glick said. "When they went to the backyard to dig up the family things, the strangers said they already found that stuff. My one aunt begged for something and was given a soup spoon."

Mark's parents met in a Polish displaced persons camp in Poland, where they married and came to the US in 1951 - with the spoon.

"This spoon represents survival of a people and their faith," Glick said. "It's critical to learn about your heritage, who you are and what you will become. Rachel is very passionate about her heritage."

Rachel's grandmother, Sonia Lubetzka Glick, 87, said she uses the spoon every Sabbath "because it reminds me of my late husband."

Third-grader Madison Schwab,lent a copy of the manifest from the ship that brought her great-grandparents to the US from Russia in 1906 - the original name was Schwabsky.

David Schwab - Madison's father and grandson of David Schwab of Vilna, Lithuania, said the family came to the US to escape religious persecution.

"When they got to Ellis Island, they were asked questions like 'are you a polygamist?' Are you an anarchist? Are you deformed or crippled?" he said, pointing to the questions on the form.

Madison said she came to learn about history. The exhibit also featured antique candlesticks, scrolls, mortars and pestles, a yellow Star of David and pants worn in a concentration camp.

What a good idea for community programming!

Have Tracing the Tribe's readers heard of similar exhibits in their own communities?

If such an exhibit has not yet been organized, perhaps a local Jewish genealogical society, in conjunction with a local historical society, Jewish school, congregation or other community institution might collaborate to present one for people of all ages.

Preserving projects: Lithuania, Poland, Belarus

The World Monuments Fund has provided grants totaling $235,000 for the repair, maintenance or preservation of three synagogues and one former yeshiva, according to this JTA newsbrief.


The Choral Synagogue (1903), the only functioning synagogue in the Vilnius, Lithuania received $70,000.

Subotica, Serbia's Art Nouveau synagogue which has been undergoing sporadic renovation for many years, received $75,000.

Recently restored to Jewish ownership, the 17th-century Zamosc, Poland synagogue received $75,000.


Volozhin, Belarus: WMF also granted $15,000 for assessing conditions and conservation planning for the former yeshiva building - founded in 1803 - and considered the progenitor of Eastern Europe's yeshiva system.

These grants were provided through the fund's annual Jewish Heritage Program awards.

For more information, including how to submit proposals, click here.

18 September 2008

Canada Passenger Records: Finding Zayde

When Ancestry made its Border Crossings (from Canada into the US) database available, a long search finally pulled up my great-grandfather's record.

Aaron Peretz Talalai (to become Aaron Tollin in Newark, NJ) was finally found, albeit under Aaron Tallarlay. It seems that he picked up some sort of a Cockney accent after a few months in London, and thus an "r" got in there somehow. I knew it was Zayde as I have seen some 30 variants of this simple phonetic name TALALAY/I.

In fact, I almost gave up looking when I said, "OK, just one more page!" And there he was! Moral: Don't give up, always look at an extra page or two or 20!

Viewing the original image confirmed what I knew. He was 31, from Russia, Hebrew, born in Moliv (today Mogilev, Belarus) and was going to Newark, New Jersey to join his mother's sister Dora and her husband Mendl Konviser. He arrived in Quebec on November 4, 1904 on the vessel Canada and, on November 18, came by train (the Dominion Railroad) down to New York City.

We knew he was going to organize things for the impending arrival of my great-grandmother Riva Bank Talalay, their son Leib (Louis), 2, and daughter Chaya Feige (Bertha), 5 months.

When the Canadian passengers immigration list became available on Ancestry just a few days ago, I ran to find Zayde in this new database. After four hours, nothing...nothing...and more nothing. Finally, I found several passengers who were also on the Canada and clicked on each in turn. The duds were Aron Henrick, Aron Hanark, Aron Bary and Aron Berg.

However, when I clicked on Aron Semanowitz, I hit gold. Scanning the page - image 7, line 37 - revealed my Zayde on the line under the other Aron. So here was TILLARLAI Aron, which I immediately saw wasn't much different from the Border Crossing misspelling of TALLARLAY. Unfortunately - after doing a truncated happy dance - I realized there was very little information, which was a bit disappointing. There had been much more complete information on the Border Crossing manifest.

I then checked the database for TALLARLAY, TELLARLAY and the other 30 variations of the name previously found in many sources. Nothing came up in the search. When I "refined" my search, I now put in Aron Tillarlai and waited expectantly for .... nothing. No hits, zilch. Did that initial T look like an S? .... Nothing there either. An L? No.

Fortunately, I found Zayde but he doesn't seem to be in the index, so I couldn't post a comment/correction that Aron Tillarlai is really Aron Talalai.

By the way, I also found our TALALAY branch which had settled in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, across from Detroit. That was a nice present as well.

I have queried Ancestry about my missing Zayde, and I'll report back when I hear something.

In case you missed the announcement of this new release, you still have 11 more days of free access to search the new database. Good luck!

Here's an official press release:

Ancestry.ca launches Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935

TORONTO, Sept. 16 /CNW/ - In a world first, Ancestry.ca, Canada's leading family history website, today launched online the Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935, which contains more than 7.2 million names, including 5.6 million of those who travelled from around the world to start a new life in Canada.

The collection is fully indexed by name, month, year, ship and port of origin and arrival of more than 4,000 ships, and includes original images for more than 310,000 pages of historical records. It is the first time that these records have been indexed and made available online.

The Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935, the originals of which are held by the Library and Archives Canada (LAC), are the official records of the arrival of the majority of people accepted as immigrants in Canada during this key immigration period.

An estimated 11.6 million Canadians or 37 per cent of its current population have ancestors included in this collection(1), which also includes records for many vacationers and travellers, business people, crew members and historical figures such as foreign leaders, scientists and celebrities.

The collection includes passenger lists from all the major ports of arrival including Halifax, Saint John, North Sydney, Quebec City, Montreal, Vancouver, Victoria and even east coast ports in the US where many arrived before proceeding directly to Canada overland.

The main immigrant nationalities arriving in Canada during this period of rapid growth were British, Irish, Ukrainian, Russian, German, Chinese and Polish (the majority of French immigrants, the second largest Canadian immigrant population, arrived prior to 1865).

Passengers from mainland Europe usually sailed to Great Britain where they boarded trans-Atlantic ships at ports such as Liverpool, London and Glasgow. Immigrants from Europe destined for western Canada landed at ports on the east coast, then continued their journey by train. Ships arriving on the west coast carried passengers from Asia, Australia and Honolulu.

Contained in the collection are records for a number of ships which tragically never made it to their final Canadian destinations, including that of RMS The Empress of Ireland, a passenger ship which was rammed in dense fog on the St Lawrence River near Quebec on the 29th of May 1914 and sank in just 14 minutes. 1,012 passengers and crew drowned - a larger loss of life than when RMS Titanic sank.

Individual records include information such as the passenger's first and last name, estimated birth year, year of arrival, port of arrival and departure, ship name, occupation, final destination in Canada and other family members listed with their relationship indicated.

Josh Hanna, Senior Vice President of Ancestry, International comments: "This is the first time that these important records have been brought together in one place online, making them accessible to so many; they will be of significance to literally millions of Canadians who want to know when their ancestors first came to Canada and how far they came."

"Due to the internet, family history is a rapidly growing interest among Canadians and Ancestry.ca is proud to play an important role in preserving and making important Canadian historical records accessible online."

Digitizing and indexing the collection took approximately 83,000 man hours, or the equivalent of a person working 24 hours a day, seven days a week for almost 10 years.

In addition to being a treasure trove of information on one's ancestors, enthusiasts can also find names and images of records of some of Canada's and the world's most famous politicians and personalities, as well as the anonymous ancestors of some of today's biggest names. Some came as immigrants and others as visitors.

The Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935 will be available to Canada and World Deluxe members and through a 14-day free trial and can be viewed atwww.ancestry.ca/CAPassengerLists.

Jewish homesteaders: Prairie dogs weren't kosher

Footnote.com has released homestead records which should be a boon to those researchers whose Jewish ancestors were homesteaders. There is much information out there on these brave people who endured terrible hardship. Following are some resources. It will be interesting to correlate the resources against the Footnote.com homestead records.

At one point, North Dakota had five large and two small Jewish colonies; all failed, and residents moved to towns and cities and became businessmen.

Nearly 1,000 Jews homesteaded the region. Listen to a 2004 Dakota Digest broadcast of South Dakota Public Broadcasting, entitled "Jewish Homesteading Experience in the Dakotas." Linda Mack Schloff is the director of the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest and author ("And Prairie Dogs Weren’t Kosher: Jewish Women in the Upper Midwest since 1855"). The broadcast is here.

Check for Schloff's book on GoogleBooks and read some pages. The book focuses on the voices of four generations of Jewish women who settled the Upper Midwest. At the top of one page is a line by Isadore Pitts, whose family immigrated there in 1913. Why did they leave? "[My parents] got tired of eating potatoes and prairie dogs weren't kosher."

In 1936, Rachel Bella Kahn Calof wrote her memoirs about her life on the North Dakota prairie: "Rachel Calof's Story: Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains." Purchase the paperback from Amazon here.

"In 1894, the 18-year-old Calof, a Russian Jew, was shipped to the U.S. to marry an unknown man and stake a homesteading claim with him in North Dakota. She later set down her memories of that time in fluid prose that occasionally reveals a biting sense of humor. Although her circumstances were often pathetic, Calof never is. She writes matter-of-factly about her 12'x 14' dirt-floored shanty, her husband's unappealing family and their unsanitary living arrangements. Each winter, her husband Abe's parents and brother would join them in their home in order to save fuel-an arrangement revealed only on her wedding day. There are pleasurable moments here too, like an impromptu supper of wild garlic and mushrooms (Calof does a taste test to see whether they are poisonous-"It didn't burn or taste bad, so I swallowed it"). Childbearing is particularly difficult: Calof seems to be constantly pregnant, and her superstitious mother-in-law keeps her secluded after the birth of her first child until she begins to hallucinate about demons. An epilogue by Calof's son, Jacob, picks up the courageous author's story in St. Paul, Minn., in 1917, while an essay by J. Sanford Rikoon on the phenomenon of Jewish farm settlements provides fascinating background." (Publishers Weekly)

The Jewish Women's Archive offers discussion questions and an interesting essay on the Calof book here.

There's yet another book about this period, "Dakota Diaspora: Memoirs of a Jewish Homesteader," by Sophie Trupin (University of Nebraska Press, 1988. 160 pgs.)

The Bismarck Tribune offered a story (September 17, 2006) about a granite monument being dedicated to honor immigrant Jewish families who settled near Garske in the 1880s.

The monument, about 25 miles north of Devils Lake, will be dedicated Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Sons of Jacob Cemetery, which holds graves of Jewish settlers and family members.

Hal Ettinger, of Lawrence, Kan., led the effort for the monument. He was traveling in the state on business a couple of years ago and decided to research his great-grandfather's gravesite.

"I knew that my great-grandfather was buried somewhere in North Dakota," he said. "He was attempting to homestead in Ramsey County. I did some homework and found that cemetery."

He found his great-grandfather's gravesite, outlined by a ring of rocks. A crude, rusted metal nameplate with his name and the year he died, 1891, was attached with barbed wire anchored into the ground.

His great-grandfather, Simon Ettinger, arrived at Garske Colony in 1886 and died only six months after receiving a land patent free title to 160 acres. His widow, with five young children, moved away, with only $10 in their pockets.

Ettinger saw 12 grave markers, mostly stones. Carved into many stones were the names and dates of adults and children, some with Hebrew inscriptions. He wondered what could be done to preserve his great-grandfather's memory and his desire to know more led him to other descendants of the colony.

A permanent memorial was what was needed, he decided and began a fund-raising drive for the monument, which would cost $2,500.

He contacted people in Devils Lake. Mike Conner, whose family homesteaded near the colony, adopted the cause.

"My parents always talked about how tough the Jewish settlers had it at the turn of the century," Conner said. "They went through some times that we couldn't imagine."

Conner manages the Devils Lake Basin Joint Water Resource Board, which became the official sponsor.

The drive raised about $5,000 from all over the country; the extra funds are for cemetery maintenance.

The cemetery land is owned by the family of retired farmer Dennis Kitsch, 79. Nick Kitsch, his grandfather, bought the land in 1902 after most homesteaders had left, fencing it to keep the cattle out. The family has continued to maintain the cemetery, mending fences, gates and cutting the grass.

"It's a wonderful thing to put a monument here," the 79-year-old retired farmer said. "They were good neighbors. And future generations should know they were here."

Hal Ettinger agreed.

"It's been a very rewarding experience," he said. "It's important insomuch as it's a memorial to those individuals who attempted to homestead there. Without it, any record of their existence might just fade away."

Here's a link to Dianne Siegel's reflections on the visit to North Dakota to dedicate a memorial to the 90 Jewish homesteaders in the Garske Colony, near Devils Lake – September 17, 2006. Her RUBIN family was among the homesteaders

The Upper Midwest Jewish Archives at the University of Minnesota holds records on Jewish homesteaders. Box 34 holds records, including family histories, on the following families in North and South Dakota: SCHLASINGER, ROSEN, GREENBERG, EPSTEIN, PAPERMASTER, GINSBERG, CALOF, SIEGEL, WILENSKY, RUBIN, ZISKIN, STRIMLING, OSTRIN, GELLER, SCHWARTZ, SACHS, LOSK, SINYKIN, SHARK, MACKOFF, HURWITZ, BOBER, RIGLER and others.

The history of Rabbi Papermaster of Grand Forks, ND is detailed. Rabbi Isaac Elchanan convinced Papermaster to come to America to serve the community in Fargo. Although he moved to Grand Forks, his responsibilities were to every Jewish community in North Dakota without a rabbi. It includes the history of Congregation B'nai Israel, Grand Forks.

In the archives, find information on the Sons of Jacob cemetery in Ramsey County, ND, along with accounts of settling on farms or small and medium-sized towns, synagogue histories; a list of Jewish farmers who proved claims to homesteads and more. Find a flour sack and news clippings concerning flour sent to Israel in 1949 by the B'nai Brith in ND, lists of homesteaders who filed in clusters, lists of towns and Jewish merchants.

Here's a link to Dianne Siegel's reflections on the visit to North Dakota to dedicate a memorial to the 90 Jewish homesteaders in the Garske Colony, near Devils Lake – September 17, 2006. Her RUBIN family was among the homesteaders. She lists more names of homesteaders, and describes the community mikveh.

For the Jewish homesteading experience in Kansas, read this 2000 Jewish World Review article.

For even more information on North Dakota's Jewish community and cemeteries, click here for the IAJGS's International Jewish Cemetery Project, listing extensive details and more resources online.

There are more resources out there. Enjoy searching for them.