30 July 2010

Canada: Southern Alberta Jewish Life

There's a lot going on - genealogically speaking - in Vancouver, British Columbia. Read on for information on a new exhibit, a workshop on photographs and subscription database access.

The Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia hosts an exhibit based on Southern Alberta Jewish life.

"A Joyful Harvest : Celebrating the Jewish Contribution to Southern Alberta Life, 1889-2005" opens with a reception from 7-9pm, Thursday, August 5.

From 7.30pm, there will be three guest speakers:
-- Maxine Fischbein and Gary Averbach, both of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta, and
-- Dr. Moira Stilwell, MLA Vancouver-Langara

From their start as homesteaders and small business owners, Jewish immigrants have made their mark on Alberta society.

The exhibit's title is based on a line in Psalm 126: “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” It is sung on festive occasions before the Grace after meals, and applicable to Alberta's Jewish immigrant experience.

The event will be held in the Sidney & Gertrude Zack Gallery Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. Refreshments will be served.

The exhibit will run through August 31.

For more information and photographs, click here.

Here's a head's-up on archives workshop at the archives and museum - "Caring for your family photographs" - set for Sunday, September 26, from 2-4pm. The cost is $25 per person. Jewish Historical Society of British Colombia members receive a discount.

Jennifer Yuhasz, MAS Archivist of the Jewish Museum & Archives of British Colombia, is the presenter.

Have you ever wondered what to do with all those old family photographs that are stored in drawers, shoe boxes, falling apart photo albums? Did you know that putting photographs into albums can actually do more damage than good? Here is your chance to discover and learn from a professional archivist how to save your family photos for future generations. Bring your photos and negatives to the museum and join us for a hands-on session.

To reserve a seat, send an email.

For Jewish genealogists in the Vancouver area, here's some good news:

The Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, together with the Jewish Genealogical Institute of British Columbia have announced that subscription databases ancestry.com, findmypast.com, and footnote.com, are now available free of charge in the Nemetz Jewish Community Archives Reference Room, during normal operating hours of the Museum & Archives. There is a nominal charge for photocopies, and researchers must make an appointment (two-hour time blocks) to access the databases.

For those who need assistance, JHIBC mavens are available to help on some Sundays, 1-4pm, by appointment.

27 July 2010

Tablet: Roots and Family Trees

Today's Tablet Magazine has a book column focusing on family history in diverse ways.

The featured books include:

-- The 40 moves in 20 years documented in Brooke Berman's No Place Like Home: A Memoir in 39 Apartments (Harmony, June).

-- David Kushner’s account of harsh real-estate politics detailed in the 1957 integration of Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon, and the Fight for Civil Rights in America’s Legendary Suburb (Walker & Company, August).

-- Adam Langer’s The Thieves of Manhattan (Spiegel & Grau, July).

-- Telling Stories: Philip Guston’s Later Works (California, May), by Tablet’s poetry columnist David Kaufmann surveys the machinations New York City’s avant garde art scene of the late 1960s and 1970s.

-- The strange story of the Aleppo Codex, the oldest surviving edition of the Tanakh in book form, date to 939 CE, which Maimonides himself purportedly studied, and which lived in Syria before being smuggled to Israel in 1957, is detailed in Crown of Aleppo: The Mystery of the Oldest Hebrew Bible Codex (JPS, July), by Hayim Tawil and Bernard Schneider. One can also see the Codex on the web.

... the Aleppo Codex has from time to time been the subject of fantastic claims and suspicions of forgery; in particular, the unscrupulous Crimean Karaite scholar Abraham Kirkovich (1786-1874) tarnished the manuscript’s reputation through his spurious claim that its author was a Karaite, rather than a Masorete.
-- University of Chicago historian Fred M. Donner surveys the first century of Muslim history in Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam (Harvard, May).

-- Tracing the Tribe has already given a shoutout to Buzzy Jackson’s Shaking the Family Tree: Blue Bloods, Black Sheep, and Other Obsessions of an Amateur Genealogist (Touchstone, July), and Tablet provided a bit more.

[It] combines memoir and upbeat how-to elements as the author investigates her own family’s story through DNA testing, a Caribbean cruise, and old fashioned library research. Her father’s relations, with roots in Alabama, regale her with far-fetched family legends, but it turns out that the Galician Jews on her mother’s side tell one another “no stories about the old days or the old country.”
-- Genetics and DNA play a part in Jennifer Rosner's If a Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard (Feminist, May), as she describes discovering a history of deafness in her ancestors and a demonstration of "real" family ties:

When her two great-great-aunts, both deaf, were caring for infants, “they tied strings from their wrists to their babies at bedtime. When the babies fidgeted, they would feel their tugs and wake to care for them in the night.”
See the link above for more on each book.

26 July 2010

New DNA Project: Puerto Rico - Mallorca - Jewish descendants

A new DNA project has been organized for Puerto Ricans. Its primary objective is to find a possible DNA signature among those with known or suspected Mallorcan/Jewish ancestry.

Mallorca or Majorca are the two spellings for the same place in the Catalan-speaking Balearic Isles, near Barcelona, Spain. In 1391, the Jews of Mallorca were forcibly converted to Catholicism, some stayed, others left. They were known as Chuetas. We'll use the Mallorca spelling for this post.

Project members will have some connection to (or combination of) Mallorcan, Puerto Rican, Jewish ancestry. All data will be analyzed along with genealogical and historical information to track the once secret immigration of Jews from Mallorca to Puerto Rico.

For more information, see the project Mallorcan_Jews_PR here at FamilyTreeDNA.com.

Seham Lewis is organizing the project. She writes:

The Spanish Inquisition forced many Jews to take on new identities and relocate to other colonies, such as Puerto Rico. However, the tribunals extended to the New World forcing many to continue hiding their faith. As a result, the Jewish presence on the island has gone virtually unknown not only to the Jewish Diaspora, but to its own Puerto Rican descendants. With this project I hope to tell their story.
This is a Y-DNA project for males only, whose direct paternal line comes from this area. Females can have a male relative test or investigate mtDNA (maternal) tests and projects.

Why is Seham so interested in this project?

She wants to bring awareness to both Puerto Ricans and Jews around the world that Jewish people have been on the island since its early settlement by the Spanish. Many Puerto Ricans still do not comprehend this piece of their history because the Inquisition tribunals were replicated in the New World.

According to Seham, Inquisition tribunals were also set up in the Americas covering the four Viceroyalties. Puerto Rico fell under the New Spain Viceroyalty which covered what is present day South and Central America (minus Brazil and the northeast region of South America which was Portuguese), and some of the Caribbean islands. [The Inquisitors and the Jews in the New World, summaries of procesos, 1500-1810, and bibliographic guide; Liebman, Seymour B.; 1976 edition. University of Miami Press].

Many Jews, she adds, seem to find this fact peculiar, which she is still trying to understand. Her family in Dorado, Puerto Rico, did not know there was a Conservative synagogue just 20 minutes away from them, let alone that there are four congregations: Conservative, Orthodox, Reform, and Chabad.

My answer to both Jewish and Puerto Rican people is “Well, why not”. When you really think about this, it makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, the Spanish were too good at “protecting” their New World and blood line from the Jews.

However they weren’t 100% successful and one can see this by the growing number of Puerto Ricans discovering or somehow sensing they have Jewish ancestry. The scarcity of documentation on Jews in Puerto Rico forces one to be creative and analyze the topic “sideways.” The genius of Bennett Greenspan’s genetic genealogy has provided one the possibility to find connections when little or no records exist.

Studies done on present-day Mallorcan Jews have shown their DNA to be relatively homogenous and unchanged from one generation to the next.

Athough Seham is not a scientist, her theory and hope is that a pattern will show itself among Puerto Ricans with Mallorcan-Jewish ancestry. Her first member is R1b1b2, and he has upgraded from 12 to 37 markers to receive more information.

Since many Puerto Ricans do not know that they may have Jewish lineage, she opened the project to include anyone who knows or suspects they have Mallorcan ancestry. "I can use the non-Puerto Rican DNA results as a sort of comparison. Maybe…," she adds.

Seham hopes to turn this research into a Master’s thesis, but the topic is raising much skepticism among Jews and Puerto Ricans. Therefore, she has to prove that Mallorcan Jews existed in Puerto Rico, and then find their descendants.

Initially, she wanted to trace the early Jewish presence in Puerto Rico, but quickly realized the enormity of such a project. While reading a late 1800s book on island resources, she saw that the author describes “the inhabitants” (put in quotations because his wording seemed to describe specimens and not people) of Puerto Rico.

He refers to the locals as Jibarros- those who live in the countryside. Every Puerto Rican knows the term Jibarro, and many understand its negative undertones. What many did not know, including myself, is that these Jibarros were said to be descendants of Mallorcan Jews, the Chuetas, AKA “the People of the Street.” I was unfamiliar with the term Chuetas. I kept telling myself it was such an ugly and odd name for a group of people because it sounded like ChuLetas, pork chops in Spanish.

I guess I found the name so horrible that I didn’t make the connection until the next day.
Suddenly, says Seham, a flood of Mallorcan references in her life appeared as if they were waiting for their cue. It is rumored that her mother’s paternal line is from Mallorca, but she is still searching for documentation. Her family surnames are among those found in Inquisition records for Mallorca: Correa, Rodriguez, Maldonado, Rivera and Escalera.

Although not a solid genealogical indicator of ancestry, I recalled eating Pan de Majorca, a type of morning bread or sandwich. I then found two street names with Judio in 2 different municipalities in Puerto Rico: “Cuesta de los Judios” in Yauco and “Sector Judio” in Utuado.
She insists that there must be a reason to have such names extant in those towns. She's currently investigating possible connections. In the meantime, she's hoping her DNA project will attract participants. She's also looking to develop a fund to defray testing costs.

Learn more about the project at the link above, and contact Seham for questions or more information at the project site link.

IAJGS 2010: Out on a limb with JTA

Edmon J. Rodman was out on a limb at the recent 30th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy.

The JTA writer spent several days at the Los Angeles conference investigating his wife's family story that they - SHEINBEIN - are descendants of the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797). It is a common claim and hard to confirm a connection to the famed Talmudic scholar of his age.

Read about his adventure here.

Rodman was among more than a thousand Jews who gathered desperately seeking not only Susan but Esther, Yankel and Morris. He was looking for Moishe Sheinbein, with whom the family tree starts, as created by cousin Fred and Judy Sheinbein.

"It's a family story passed down from generation to generation," Fred Sheinbein said of the Vilna Gaon descendancy. "We have a silver kiddish cup that we think belonged to the Gaon that has been passed down in our family from eldest son to eldest son. On Passover we use it as Elijah's cup."

To begin, I checked out the Gaon's portrait. Looks can be deceiving, but staring back at me over the centuries were the same eyes, brows and nose familiar to me from our wedding photos of my wife's grandmother, Sylvia Bierman, nee Sheinbein.
Among the people Rodman consulted for information on Moishe, who lived in the mid-19th century in Osava, Ukraine, was FamilySearch.Com's Dan Schylter, who told Rodman that Jewish Ukraine records in the Mormon Family History Library are not that good.

Rodman learned - as most of us have - that tracing family depends on readable records, geography, spelling and a lot of mazal (luck).

The conference appeared to be a virtual hotbed of genealogical serendipity.

As a result of computer searches, sessions like "Social Networking: New Horizons for Genealogists" and even genetic tests, the conventions foyer was with plenty of newly found cousins talking and hugging.

"I just found a relative I never knew I had," said Ellen Mark, the conference's translator coordinator, who discovered that her maternal grandmother had a sister through a recent translation of a Russian letter she had long kept.

She and others suggested I dig deeper into the conference's resource room.

In the computer room, he consulted Ina Getzoff of Delray Beach, Florida and accessed Ancestry.com's databases, but received too many hits. Adding in Osova and another location, Kolki, didn't help.

In the vendor room, he saw Chaim Freedman's book,"Eliyahu's Branches, The Descendants of the Vilna Gaon." The cross-index of more than 20,000 names produced a Sheinfeld and a Sheingold- no Sheinbein.

Andrea Massion suggested DNA testing, and Rodman found himself speaking to FamilyTreeDNA.com's partner and vice-president Max Blankfeld. He was just one swab away but hadn't yet experienced the "happy dance" moment that others had.

When I spoke on the phone with Rodman at the conference, he did tell me of one serendipitious moment when he discovered his wife's Sephardic maiden name - HASSON - on a display of photos from the Los Angeles Historical Society. A 1928 photo of Victor Hasson showed him in a flower delivery truck. His wife's uncle Lou confirmed Victor's connection.

And, as so many researchers find, a thread of another hunt replaced his Gaon search.

Maybe Rodman will find what he's looking for at next year's 2011 conference in Washington DC?

LitvakSIG: Election results

LitvakSIG held elections - with voting by email and in person at the recent LA 2010 conference - for its board of directors.

New directors are Judy Baston, David Hoffman and Eden Joachim.

According to the report by election committee chair Charles B. Nam, the special interest group has 529 members.

Congratulations to Judy, David and Eden.

If your ancestors lived in Lithuania, you will find much information at the group's website, which offers many resources. Read about these in more detail here.
The National Genealogical Society blog - UpFront - had two interesting posts with pointers to an article on family reunions, and another on a researcher's book recounting her journey as she gathered family information.

UpFront listed Jim Matthews' account in the San Bernardo Sun on the value of family vacations as he attended his wife's family reunion.

The new book launch - today in Truckee, California - included an ice cream party, book reading and signing, to celebrate Buzzy Jackson's new book, "Shaking the Family Tree…Blue Bloods, Black Sheep and Other Obsessions of an Accidental Genealogist."

Ellen Shindelman, JGS of Colorado president, informed Tracing the Tribe that Jackson is a member of the JGSCo, and that Jackson included a discussion of Ukrainian Jewish resources with Kahlile Mehr, a member of the IAJGS Board of Directors, in the book.

The story encompasses 250 years of family history, according to the blog post:
In her new book, Jackson investigates her roots and dives headfirst into her family gene pool: flying cross-country to locate an ancient family graveyard, embarking on a week-long genealogy Caribbean cruise, trekking to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and even submitting her DNA for testing to try and find her Jacksons. Through her research, she connects with distant relatives, traces her roots back more than 250 years and in the process comes to discover -genetically, historically and emotionally - the true meaning of "family” for herself.
Inspiration is found in many places. Here's hoping these two items will persuade more people to write about their journeys on discovery road.

Click the NGS link above to read these two posts and more.

Ukraine: Jewish agricultural colonies updated

Material has been added to the Jewish Agricultural Colonies of the Ukraine site, which states:

The study of Jewish agricultural settlement in an organized form in the European Diaspora contributes to an understanding of the endeavors of Jews to improve their social and economic situation under the restrictive and oppressive Tsarist regime.
The Jewish farmers’ efforts were a unique episode in the struggle for Jewish survival in the Diaspora, even as they held to Jewish values and lifestyle.

As archives in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine become more accessible, more new material is now appearing. In those countries, descendants of the colonists are finding material and developing websites. Although most are in the Russian language, various online translation tools help researchers.

Chaim Freedman is the force behind this site.

Here are some highlights:

Two valuable Russian books hold information about the Ekaterinoslav colonies:

L. Uleinikov [Binshtok], Jewish Agricultural Colonies in Ekaterinoslav Province in 1890, St Petersburg, 1891;

I. Kankrin, Jewish Agricultural Colonies of Aleksandrov Uyezd Ekaterinoslav Province, Ekaterinoslav, 1893.

The authors made detailed censuses of the colonies and provided statistics.

The census of the households included an overview of each colony and a summary of its history and assets. Kankrin added detailed house and street handwritten plans of the 10 colonies he studied, and sketches of buildings.

Uleinikov includes complete lists of heads of all families (surname, name and patronymic) in 17 colonies of Ekaterinoslav Province, Aleksandrovsk and Mariupol Uyezds, with detailed record of family composition, military service, type of house, agricultural implements, livestock, land and its subdivision within family and notes about profession etc.

Kankrin studied in a similar fashion 10 colonies in Aleksandrovsk Uyezd and has even more information about colonists' families. He was obsessed with the idea that colonists in reality remained artisans and not worked much as agriculturalists
Partial translations are available.

Other additions to the site:

-- Interview of Ukrainian residents of former Jewish colony Novozaltopol by Father Patrick Desbois; a horrifying account which demonstrates who actually carried out the massacre of nearly 800 Jews.

-- Photographs from the St. Petersburg Film archive and World ORT Photographic archive taken of many colonies in 1904 and 1922 showing public buildings such as schools, synagogues, municipal offices, and farmhouses.

-- "Nayzlatopler Rayon" [Novozlatopol Region] an account of the Sovietized colonies after the Revolution and Civil War.

-- "Destruction of Jewish Tradition under the Soviet Administration" [in process]

-- An article assessing the affect of Sovietization on the destruction of Jewish cultural and religious life with particular reference to the role of the Yevsekzia.

-- Revision lists from colonies Zelenopole and Mezhirech, 1850 and 1858.

-- Memoirs of Grafskoy 1907-1921 by the son of the colony's rabbi. Description of colony life, and reaction to post-Revolution pogroms.

-- Prenumeranten lists from two 1911 books include many residents.

-- A new links page for more information.

Chaim adds that Yakov Pasik's Russian site has been updated with English, photos and maps.

For more information, contact Chaim Freedman.

Jamboree 2011: Call for Papers

We barely get through one cycle of great genealogy conferences before plans are announced for the next year!

This year's Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree was a great experience for Tracing the Tribe as a speaker, an attendee and as I helped out at MyHeritage.com booth.

The numbers at this very successful annual event every year, and dealing with the conference committee has always been a great experience. I don't know how they do it, but they always have smiles on their faces, no matter what's asked of them. Can we bottle that?

In any case, the SCGS has just announced the Call for Papers for 2011, and the deadline is September 1, so it's time to get cracking.

The 2011 theme is broad - "They Came from Some Place Else" - which provides many opportunities for programs on our ancestral origins, regardless of whether they are local, regional, national or international. Additionally, the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War will also be a focus.

There's a change this year, one with which international Jewish genealogy conference speakers are quite familiar. Submissions this year will be electronic, making it easier on everyone.

Download the Call for Papers and follow the instructions for electronic submission of your personal information and presentation summaries.

Click here for more information.
A wide variety of topics will be considered, including websites and electronic information sources, migration paths, use of records and repositories, research methodology, skill building, cultural and ethnic research, writing, computers and technology, genetics and DNA research, source records, immigration and naturalization, digital and brick-and-mortar record repositories, organization, recording sources and Genealogical Proof Standard, and others. We are considering adding a special Family History Writers track at Jamboree and welcome those proposals as well.

Jamboree draws attendees of all experience levels. We encourage the submission of advanced level sessions, as well as beginner and intermediate levels.

We are looking for fresh presentations, particularly those that have not been given at Jamboree within the past two years. The committee will consider proposals for panels, hands-on mini-course workshops and other innovative formats. The committee welcomes sponsored presentations and those from speakers whose 2010 presentations could not be scheduled due to capacity issues.
Tracing the Tribe hopes to see you at the 42nd Jamboree, to be held June 10-12, 2011, at the Los Angeles Burbank Airport Marriott Hotel!

25 July 2010

Our DNA: Accessing or owning it?

The FDA held hearings July 19-20 on oversight of laboratory-developed tests.

Tracing the Tribe has read articles on the hearings, but believes those hearings focused on medical genetic testing and not on ancestral genetic genealogy, which has a large number of very active, vocal consumers interested in the issue.

International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) director Katherine Borges heads a non-profit organization of more than 7,000 members in the US and 60 other countries. She was a speaker.

Her remarks are reproduced in a Huffington Post column by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, who wrote (DTC refers to direct-to-consumer tests):

Normally, I would expound upon my reasons, but one of the speakers today articulated the perspective of genetic genealogists (and other DTC test consumers) so well that I asked whether I could share her remarks here, and she kindly agreed.
Megan is involved in genetic genealogy as an author and consumer of DTC DNA tests. Tracing the Tribe is another of those genetic genealogy customers.

Katherine's remarks were mainly about DNA testing for genealogical, ancestral and anthropological purposes, while the FDA hearings focused on medical genetic testing. There is a difference.

Said Katherine:

Our (ISOGG's) mission is to promote and educate members and the general public about the use of DNA testing for genealogical and ancestry purposes. We are comprised of serious enthusiasts who represent an active core of the estimated one million people who have taken DTC tests for genealogy and ancestry purposes since their inception about ten years ago.

As the name of our society implies, our focus is primarily upon using DTC tests for genealogy, but a growing segment of our membership also use personal genome tests to trace health-related information within their families.

However, testing for ancestry and anthropology is far and away the largest segment of the DTC genetic testing market. This clearly does not fall under FDA's area of responsibility. Our concern is that FDA should not attempt to expand its regulatory authority beyond its proper domain of medical applications, and it should assure that its actions in the medical area do not inadvertently impact the non-medical applications.

Tracing the Tribe recommends readers access the link above to read Katherine's complete remarks.

On media articles focusing on sensationalistic cases, Katherine added:

Many of the articles I've read have been biased, reflecting the author's views without presenting voices from both sides of the issue. For example, just last week, a DC area reporter was looking for stories from consumers of DTC testing for an article to be published in anticipation of this meeting. He was contacted by several individuals who had positive testing experiences, but he did not follow up on these contacts. He told another consumer that he was specifically seeking negative experiences.
She also addressed medical groups who seek to limit access to medical information not under their direct control, that participatory genome study at some institutions means individuals cannot access their own genetic information.

Read her complete statement at the link above for more information.

Those interested in the issue should know there is an online petition - which does not include a clause referencing ancestral genetic genealogy, but focuses solely on medical genetic testing. However, many signers (read the comments at the link) are commenting only on the genetic genealogy issue not represented in the petition.

Perhaps the FDA is only concerned with medical DNA testing and not ancestral or anthropological genetic genealogy?

I'm sure we'll all be paying close attention to future developments.

24 July 2010

Southern California: Red Line Jewish Immigrants, Aug. 1

The Red Star Line brought 2.7 million immigrants - half were likely Jewish - from Eastern Europe, via Antwerp, to US ports from 1873-1934.

Artist Eugeen Van Mieghem of Antwerp is probably the only European artist who captured the lives of the Jewish immigrants. His parents had a tavern in front of the Red Star Line warehouse, providing a front row seat.

Eugeen Van Mieghem Museum (Antwerp) curator Erwin Joos will speak at the Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County (JGSCV) on Sunday, August 1.

The program will run from 1.30-3.30pm at Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks.

Joos' topic is "One Foot in America: Eugeen Van Mieghem (1875-1930) and the Jewish Emigrants of the Red Star Line."

The largest number of Jewish immigrants came following programs (1900-1914). Joos will also address Jewish writers who described their travel experiences on one of the most important shipping lines.

Joos is also president of the non-profit Eugeen Van Mieghem Foundation, which has more than 1,100 members. He has spoken some 100 times in Dutch, English and French, in Antwerp, Amsterdam, Paris, New York and Philadelphia; has written five art books, 12 albums, and organized 15 exhibits.

He will be speaking at several Jewish genealogical societies on this tour, so look out for notices and try to attend his talk.

The book and DVD -"One Foot in America, Eugeen Van Mieghem (1875-1930) and the Jewish Emigrants of the Red Star Line" - will be available for $20 each.

For more information, visit the JGSCV or contact president Jan Meisels Allen.

Washington DC: 2011 Jewish genealogy conference, Aug. 14-19

As soon as one conference ends, we look forward to information on the next.

As we congratulate the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles for their excellent program and event, we're already looking forward to see what the JGS of Greater Washington - 2011's host - has in store for the international Jewish genealogy community.


Join the international Jewish genealogy community in Washington DC, from Sunday, August 14-Friday, August 19, for the 31st IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy. The JGSGW has been working for some time to prepare for 2011. They've hosted the annual event several times - Tracing the Tribe has attended two - and the team is very experienced.

Click here for the conference website, which currently only lists basic details.

The Grand Hyatt Washington, with its 12-story atrium and lagoon, is the event venue. It's so centrally located that attendees will find the Washington Metro subway system accessible from the hotel lobby!

Conference-goers will be only five blocks from the National Archives I, six blocks from the White House, and close to many additional resources.

The call for papers will go out in October, so start working on your proposals now. Registration and hotel reservation information will be listed in the fall, while program details will be posted in the spring.

Trying to budget for next year? Room rates at the Grand Hyatt Washington, 1000 H Street NW, will be $199 for single/double and $204 for triple/quadruple. This is the same rate as 2010.

The hotel has 888 guestrooms of all types, offers five on site dining possibilities and it also has a separate kosher kitchen.

Tracing the Tribe checked out the conference and event spaces at the hotel site, and it appears that less hiking will be required than at this year's event.

Start planning for next year!

Bookmark the conference site above and stay tuned to Tracing the Tribe for all details as they are announced.

23 July 2010

France: What's in a [real] name?

Following World War II, Jewish immigrants to France were encouraged to change their names. Today, they want to reclaim their original surnames.

A Los Angeles Times story detailed this interesting occurrence.

In the post-war French Civil Code, a section indicates that surnames are "immutable" and must be continued. It allows foreign-sounding names to be changed to those more "French-like," but also states it is impossible to revert [to the original].

Following the war, during the 1940s-50s, many Jews - among them many Holocaust refugees - arrived in France. Most were poor and stateless and also feared anti-Semitism in that country which had sent so many to concentration camps.

According to the story,
There was no legal obligation for them to drop their family names, but they often were encouraged to do so. Many people agreed to new French-sounding names even when the new names bore little relation to the ones they had passed down through generations: So the Rozenkopfs became the Rosents; the Frankensteins the Franiers; the Wolkowiczs the Volcots.And Benjamin Fajnzylber became Benjamin Fazel.
On the face of it, it isn't much different than what happened in America and England, as immigrants anglicized their names to make them easier to say and to spell, to better "fit in" to their new home.

The one difference is that the immigrants to France were encouraged - if not officially required -to change their names. After what many refugees had been through, it wasn't something they wanted to fight.

The story focuses on Jeremie Fazel - a descendant of Benjamin Fajnzylber of Poland - and Celine Masson - whose original name is Hassan of Tunisia.

Says Fazel:

"It doesn't feel right," he said. "It says nothing about my family or our history."
Says Masson:

"I was born a Masson, but the name means nothing," she said. "It carries no history, it says nothing about my family, my roots, where we came from."

Masson has set up an organization called La Force du Nom (The Strength of the Name) with French lawyer Nathalie Felzenszwalbe — whose family retained its name — representing more than 30 French Jews who want to change their names to reflect family origins.

Last month the organization submitted its first requests for reversions of names to the State Council, which has said it will deal with them one by one.
Athough only about 30 families have requested the name reversion, change is in the air.

"Everyone needs to know where they come from. A family's name is part of the compass in life," Fazel said.
Read the complete story at the link above.

22 July 2010

New York: First Sephardic Jewish Book Fair, July 25

The first annual New York Sephardic Jewish Book Fair will include book readings, author signings, sales and tours at the Center for Jewish History, on Sunday July 25.

From noon-5.30pm - hosted by the American Sephardi Federation (ASF) - the event brings together authors and book lovers, those who write about and enjoy books relating to the culture, history, philosophy, religion, languages and experiences of Sephardic Jews, past and present.

Hundreds of Sephardic-oriented books - new, hard-to-find or rare - will be available.

Visiting authors will discuss diverse topics and personal histories, Sephardic history, philosophy, culture and religion:

12pm: Jean Naggar will read from her Egyptian memoir, "Sipping From the Nile."
12.30pm: Marc Kligman, Professor of Jewish Musicology (Hebrew Union College) will read from his award-winning book, "Maqam and Liturgy: Ritual, Music, and Aesthetics of Syrian Jews in Brooklyn."
1pm: Andrée Aelion Brooks will read from and discuss the life of the Sephardic banker and heroine, "The Woman who Defied Kings: The Life and Times of Doña Gracia Nasi."
Children's hour, 2-3pm:
1.30pm: Peninnah Schram, Professor of Speech and Drama, Stern College for Women (Yeshiva University), shares a Sephardic tale for youth, "The Hungry Clothes - And other Jewish Folktales."
2pm: Mara Cohen Ioannides, Professor of English (Missouri State University), reads a story about Sephardic and Romanoite Jews from her award-winning children's book, "A Shout in the Sunshine."
2:30pm: Jessica Jiji reads from her novel, "Sweet Dates in Basra."
3pm: Rabbi Marc D. Angel, Ph.D., founder of The Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals and Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel, North America's oldest Jewish congregation. He speaks on his books, "Foundations of Sephardic Spirituality" and "Maimonides, Spinoza and Us."
4pm: Abraham Sutton reads from "The Aristocrat," a book about his father, Rabbi Hillel Menashe Sutton, a leading member of the Aleppo (Syria) and Jerusalem Sephardic communities.
4.30pm, J. Daniel Khazzoom, Professor emeritus, reads from his book, "No Way Back: The Journey of a Jew from Baghdad."
5pm: Mitchell James Kaplan reads from his book about ordinary people swept up in the Inquisition's chaos and upheaval and the Expulsion, "By Fire, By Water."

Vendors will bring out-of-print Jewish books, as well as modern and rare titles, some from the 18th-20th centuries, including antique Ladino and Hebrew volumes from Salonika, Livorno, Tunis, Venice and Jerusalem.

Rare Sephardic books from the ASF Library and Archives will be displayed and Yeshiva University Museum will offer tours of its current exhibits, including "A Journey Through Jewish Worlds: Highlights from the Braginsky Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts and Printed Books.' This collection includes handwritten manuscripts and printed books from Holland, Italy, Spain, Greece and India.

The free event is set for the Steinberg Great Hall at the CJH, 15 W. 16th Street.

21 July 2010

San Antonio: Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies, Aug. 1-3

Tracing the Tribe cannot attend this year's 20th Conference of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies in San Antonio, Texas, August 1-3.

Among the presenters at the Hilton Palacio del Rio will be Dr. Stanley Hordes ("Ends of the Earth"), of the University of New Mexico's Iberian Studies department.

For several years, he has been researching in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Jamaica, building on his previous book's focus on the Southwest.

His most recent research trip was to Puerto Rico, where he conducted investigations in Ponce, Juana Diaz, Mayaguez, San German, Hormigueros, Anasco, Aguada, Aguadilla, Moco, San Sebastian, Lares, Arecibo and Ciales. On an earlier trip, he studied microfilms at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, covering 16th-17th century records.

All Sephardic researchers should be interested in the new research, and I'm sorry I won't be there to hear about it.

The event includes speakers from England, Algeria, Mexico and the US, who will speak on Crypto-Judaism in Northern Mexico, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Spanish Caribbean, Spain, Portugal and North Africa.

Here's the tentative program (also included are meals, art gallery and more) received today by Tracing the Tribe from Stan Hordes, who adds that changes might still take place:
Sunday, August 1
Seth Ward, University of Wyoming, Program Chair
Stanley M. Hordes, University of New Mexico, VP - Conferences
Kathleen J. Alcalá, Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, President

Marie-Theresa Hernandez, University of Houston Presidential Fellow: "The Virgin of Guadalupe and the Secret Jews in the Mexican Church"

Monday, August 2
David Ben Yosef, Spertus Institute: "Maimonides’ Letter on Apostasy and H. Solveichik’s critique"
Juan Marcos Bejaranno Gutierrez, Spertus Institute: "Samuel Usque’s Consolations: A Review"
Kathleen Alcalá, Northwest Institute of Literary Arts:"The Illegal Alien as Flaneur"
Martin J. Salvucci, University of Chicago: "Liberalism and Intolerance: Leo Strauss, Baruch Spinoza, and the Theoretical Foundations of Crypto-Judaism"
Abigail Seldin, Oxford: "Exploring Politics of Emergence in New Mexico: Work in Progress"
PANEL THREE Self and Image in the Converso Journey: Visual artists panel
Mercedes Gail Gutierrez (Nitzah Avigayil), Netanya, Israel and Davis, CA, Facilitator/panelist
Laura Cesana, Lisbon, Portugal, Panelist
Dan Riis Grife, Coupland, TX, Panelist
Stanley M. Hordes
, Latin American and Iberian Institute, University of New Mexico: "The Sephardic Legacy in the Spanish Caribbean: A History of the Crypto-Jews of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and pre-British Jamaica"
Abe Lavender, Florida International University: "The Secret Jews and New Christians of Brazil"

Tuesday, August 3
Laura Cesana
, Lisbon, Portugal: "An Artist's Journey: An Update of Judaism in Portugal"
Diana S. Zertuche, Del Rio, TX: "Nopalitos:The Crypto Jewish Remnants Along The Texas Borderlands"
M. Miriam Herrera, Malta, NY: "A Crypto-Jew Celebrates Her First Dia de los
Muertos (Day of the Dead): Poetry with Prose"
PANEL SIX: Publishing Fact And Fiction About Crypto Jews; Panel
Abe Lavender, Florida International University, Panelist: "Problems and Rewards of Publishing the Journal of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian Crypto Jews"
Art Benveniste, HaLapid and the SCJS Website
Dolores Sloan, Mount St. Mary's College, Panelist: "Publishing Fact and Fiction: Assessing Achievements and framing future discussion"
For more information about the conference, click here.

Cleveland: Roma Baran to speak, August 4

The Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland will host Roma Baran ("Suddenly Jewish") as she speaks about her journey of discovery, on Wednesday, August 4.

The program begins at 7.30pm, in the Miller Board Room at Menorah Park, 27100 Cedar Road, Beachwood, Ohio.

Raised as a Christian, Baran learned at age 61 that her parents were Jewish Holocaust survivors. She'll discuss how she reconstructed her past and the consequences of discovering her family’s identity.

In August 2008, received a stunning e-mail from a Jewish genealogist looking for heirs to a small estate of a Holocaust survivor -- her father's cousin - and learned that her casually Christian parents, and the whole rest of her family were not Polish Catholics, but Jews, including a rabbi and a Warsaw ghetto leader, and that her parents had survived the Holocaust under assumed names. She learned that not only were her family's names and identities false, but that she had actually lived in Israel from 1949 to 1951.
She will describe - with photos, documents and maps - how she systematically reconstructed her past over the last year. She will focus on the Galizianer side of her family, and will include new research on her father's Warsaw family. She will trace her parents' war-time escape from the Przemysl ghetto to Tarnawa, Krakow, and other towns, and their post-war journeys to Israel and Canada. She will also examine the emotional consequences of uncovering family secrets of staggering proportions.

Roma Baran - producer, engineer, musician and attorney - grew up in Montreal, and has lived in New York City since 1976.

For more information on Baran, the JGS of Cleveland and its resources and databases, click here.

San Francisco: Post-conference roundup, July 25

Couldn't make it to Los Angeles for this year's conference? If you're in the Bay Area, there will be a conference roundup on Sunday, July 25.

Several members of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society will offer highlights and discussions on the recent event, at the San Francisco Public Library's Noe Valley Branch, 451 Jersey St. (just west of Castro), San Francisco. Doors open at 1pm; the program begins at 1.30pm.

It's been a few years since we've a post-conference meeting, but as this year's conference is in Los Angeles, we thought we'd bring the concept back again.

The plan is to have at least three people who attended the conference give their personal views to those who did not attend the event. If you weren't able to go to the conference, come and hear what happened. If you did go, come tell us what you learned!

Unrestricted street parking is nearby and light refreshments will be served.

Come along and see what you missed. Start making plans for next year's 31st IAJGS conference, planned for Washington DC in mid-August 2011.

19 July 2010

El Paso: Deep in the heart of Texas

It's the stories that get to you.

The stories of people from Brazil, Argentina, New Mexico and right here in this corner of Texas. Some drive for hours to connect to the heritage of their ancestors - which is now theirs.

They come from all backgrounds and professions. They are artists, consultants, professionals, teachers, musicians, contractors - and even rabbis. Some have made a short journey, others have taken years to learn the secrets of their families. Each has accomplished this in his or her own way, with the support - or not - of their families.

The music of Judaism has aways drawn me, and these past few days have been filled with various traditions. The beautiful circular chapel of El Paso's Congregation B'nai Zion was the perfect setting for the Sephardic chanting of Rabbi Juan Mejia and the Ashkenazi tradition of Rabbi Stephen Leon, whose father was a hazzan. In addition to these two fascinating men, there were others who took on major portions of some services and those who read from the Torah.

The 7th Sephardic Bnai Anousim Conference has been an eye-opener for me, even though I've known these stories for a long time. Hearing, in person, the life stories of these people from many backgrounds who have returned to public Judaism is an inspiration - or should be - for all of us.

I've heard the experiences of those who began searching, of the reactions of their families, their encounters with messianic churches and with people who misled them along their return. I've heard the stories of a man - originally from Monterrey, Mexico - and asked about his siblings. There are six, they live in different places, and "we all know who we are."

Rabbi Juan Mejia, recently ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary, is an amazing guy. His journey - from Colombia and Catholicism and the family secrets to teaching via the internet and in person to an audience that could potentially number in the millions - is inspiring.

While many anousim - children of the forced (even though that force was centuries ago) - look for acceptance from mainstream Judaism, many of these individuals believe they must be more proactive and organize their own centers. Rabbi Juan described a congregation in South America that he visited. A beautiful facility, filled with the returned and returning. A flourishing congregation. When the Ashkenazi congregation in their city could not afford to retain their rabbi, this congregation hired him.

I'm still absorbing this weekend.

My talks on Jewish Genealogy 101 and Sephardic Research Trends elicited many questions. I distributed notes of my talks, urged attendees to write down what they know, to record their stories, so future generations will understand. I distributed MyHeritage.com software to help in the process. I've explained about DNA testing - Y-DNA, mtDNA and the new autosomal Family Finder - and what our IberianAshkenaz DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA.com has demonstrated.

A pilgrimage is on the books, as the 8th Sephardic Bnai Anousim Conference will be held in Israel in August 2011. The plan is to be in Jerusalem on Tisha b'Av.

The date is important as Rabbi Stephen Leon introduced a resolution to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's conference in December 2009. It was unanimously accepted by the organization that Tisha b'Av be recognized as a day of memorial for the victims of the Inquisition - and that bnai anousim be welcomed - at Conservative congregations. Outreach for this movement is also being conducted in the Reform, Reconstructionist and Orthodox communities.

The group is planning to build a learning center in El Paso to assist bnai anousim in their quest.

As part of the conference, we watched a production of "Parted Waters" which described one family's experience with the ancestral secret. If this is offered in your community, do see it.

This morning, I'm heading to Ruidoso, New Mexico, and will be back in time to attend Tisha b'Av services.

16 July 2010

Jewish Publication Society names new CEO

The Jewish Publication Society has named rabbi and author Barry L. Schwartz as its new CEO.

JPS - in Philadelphia -has been publishing biblical, scholarly and popular Jewish works in English for more than 122 years.

The company is also known for its Jewish history volumes covering many countries and topics.

From the press release:

Schwartz comes to JPS from Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where he served as senior rabbi for the past 11 years. Rabbi Schwartz has served on the board of several nonprofit social justice organizations, and is especially active in Jewish environmental work.

“Barry has a passion for reaching out broadly to the Jewish community, whether through scholarly study, storytelling, or performing works of
tikkun olam,” said David Lerman, president of the JPS Board of Trustees. “We look forward to his leadership in energizing our existing constituents as well as building bridges for JPS with new audiences.”

"Leading JPS into the digital age is the challenge of a lifetime,” Schwartz said. “The Jewish people have survived and thrived by studying and being inspired by Torah while the world around them changes, and our age is no different. I believe JPS will remain the source of choice for the next generation of life-long Jewish learners, publishing books of enduring quality.”

A dynamic speaker and prolific writer, Schwartz is the author of four books, a prize-winning short story, and scholarly articles that have appeared in the Journal of Reform Judaism, American Jewish History, and the Hebrew Union College Annual. His textbook,
Jewish Heroes, Jewish Values, is used in more than 300 religious schools nationwide and Honi The Circlemaker: Eco-Fables From Ancient Israel is a series of folktales for children. His latest book, Judaism’s Great Debates, will be published next year.

Schwartz received his BA, magna cum laude, from Duke University, and an MA and rabbinical ordination from Hebrew Union College, New York, which recently awarded him an honorary doctorate for his 25 years of service to the rabbinate.

Maybe we can now convince JPS to publish Pere Bonnin's Sangre Judia in English?

JPS is the oldest nonprofit, multi-denominational publisher of Jewish works written in English.

IAJGS 2010: Achievement Awards

The annual IAJGS awards banquet was held last night.

Actor and singer Mitch Smolkin, accompanied by the masterful Nina Shapilsky, provided a nostalgic look back at the "Yiddish Frank Sinatra" - Samuel Rexite - who translated the Great American Song Book into mame loshn.

Following elections, the 2010-2012 IAJGS board includes:

President Michael Goldstein (Israel)
Vice President Michael Brenner (Nevada)
Secretary Joel Spector (New Jersey)
Treasurer Paul Silverstone (New York)

Directors at large:
Jan Meisels Allen (California)
Nolan Altman (New York)
Daniel Horowitz (Israel)
Kahlile Mehr (Utah)
Jackye Sullins (California)
Jay Sage (Massachusetts)
The Achievement Awards:
Lifetime Achievement Award: Hal Bookbinder (California)

Outstanding Contribution to Jewish Genealogy via the Internet, Print or Electronic Product:Judith Frazin (Illinois), for her Polish translation book.

Outstanding Program or Project that Advances the Objectives of Jewish Genealogy:"Philadelphia-area Jewish Genealogical Resource Guide" - JGS of Greater Philadelphia

Outstanding Publication by a Member Organization of IAJGS: "RootsKey" - JGS of Los Angeles

Stern Grant:Israel Genealogical Society

International Jewish Genealogy Month Poster:Jen Lowe, JGS of Colorado
This year's host society, the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles, is to be congratulated on producing an excellent event. It could not have been done without the leadership of co-chairs Sandy Malek, Lois Rosen and Pamela Weisberger and their legion of dedicated volunteers.

We're already looking forward to 2011, which will be hosted by the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington, August 14-18, in Washington DC. A preview of next year's conference will be held this morning.

Tracing the Tribe is leaving for El Paso (Texas) this morning for the 6th Sephardic Bnai Anousim Conference.

15 July 2010

IAJGS 2010: IAJGS business meeting, elections

The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies held its annual business meeting and elections Wednesday afternoon, July 14.

Several announcements were made:

-- The group is considering and investigating an Eastern European conference that could serve as a springboard for researchers to travel to ancestral towns after the event.

-- A review is being made of the IAJGS Mission Statement. A hefty packet was provided with information on the deliberations of the committee involving the statement, membership expansion and benefits and services for members.

-- Elections were held. Members of the board of directors, elected for a two-year term, are Jan Meisels Allen, Nolan Altman, Daniel Horowitz, Khalil Mehr, Jay Sage and Jackye Sullins. Directors are elected in even years, officers in odd years.

More information will be available on the IAJGS website.

Jerusalem: 8th Sephardic Bnai Anousim conference, August 2011

Tracing the Tribe flies to El Paso on Friday to participate and speak at the 7th Sephardic Bnai Anousim Conference, from July 16-19.

I've been trying to participate for a few years, and finally the dates worked out. New Mexico glass artist Sonya Loya, who is very involved with the event, never gave up, stayed in contact, and I'm very happy to be participating this year. I will post about the event.

The 8th conference - in 2011 - will be held in Jerusalem around Tisha b'Av, which is August 8-9.

For more on this year's and next year's conference, read a Ruidoso (New Mexico) News story about Sonya Loya, who has become a leader in the movement.
When she walked into the B'Chol Lashon International Think Tank 2010 meeting in San Francisco last month, Sonya Loya's first thought was, "What am I doing here."

Invited to participate in the four-day session, she found herself sitting and mingling with professors with multiple doctorates, with researchers, sociologists and leaders of various impressive centers of study, with rabbis and educators.

"Everyone had Ph.D.s, plural, and they were from around the world, the Lemba tribe, the Abudaya, the Ethiopians, people from Brazil, Israel, Mexico and Washington D.C," she said. "What is a hillbilly from the mountains of New Mexico and a glass artist doing here?

"But Rabbi Denis Yabarri said they had been watching me closely for some years. After our shabbat midrash study, Rabbi Irwin Kula told me, 'You have fearless grace and that's what the Jewish people and the rest of the world needs.'"

Still, every time someone introduces her as a leader of a Crypto-Jewish community, it jars her. She doesn't consider herself a leader, only someone who is on a journey to rediscover herself and her Jewish faith and is willing to help others along the same path.
She works with with Rabbi Stephen A. Leon of Congregation Bnai Zion (El Paso) and with Rabbi Juan Mejia - a recent Jewish Theological Seminary rabbinical graduate with a converso background - who is the anousim director for B'chol Lashon.

Like many descendants of conversos, she was raised Roman Catholic but felt something missing. And like others, attended a messianic event where she learned of her possible Jewish heritage. But when she learned of the Sephardic Jewish movement, she began her return to Judaism.

Since 2003, she has been helping others on the same journey

"Crypto Jews number in the millions," she said. "I am contacted everyday by people asking for help. I received a few this morning. I'm fortunate to be able to help others learn about their heritage while leaning about my own. My art ties into the search. After I read 'Glassmakers, The Odyssey of the Jews,' I knew glass connected me to my ancestry."
She also helps to facilitate education in Jewish communities and to help those seeking to learn more about possible Jewish heritage.

In her quest for knowledge she discovered that her connection to glass artistry may have a long connection to her Judaism. Until 1492, the Iberian glassmaking industry was mostly Jewish, and members of Sephardic glassmaking families escaped the Inquisition as they traveled through Amsterdam to the Caribbean. Among them were the ROBLES (her maternal great-grandmother's family) and SALAS families. In the article by Samuel Kurinsky, these families were linked to the industry in Italy, Spain, France and Holland.

This year's conference, as have the past events, is being held at Rabbi Leon's congregation. Leon presented a resolution passed unanimously by more than 2,000 rabbis at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's Rabbinical Assembly conference in December 2009. The resolution calls for member congregations to welcome bnai anousim to Judaism and also called for memorializing the victims of the Inquisition as part of Tisha b'Av observances.

In 2011, the conference in Jerusalem will bring descendants of Crypto-Jews to Israel to learn about their history.

For more information or to register for this year's conference, contact Loya.

IAJGS 2010: Persian Jewish genetic disorders

Monday's programming offered many Sephardic programs, and one session focused on Ashkenazi and Persian genetic diseases.

While Ashkenazi genetic diseases have been written about extensively, here's more on the less-well known Persian conditions.

Richard Gladstein, head of Jewish Genetics Disease Consortium, produced a very moving film on Jewish genetic conditions, focusing on families raising children with ML4, Tay-Sachs, Bloom's Syndrome and others. His child has Bloom's Syndrome.

The film demonstrates the importance of genetic screening before a couple plans a pregnancy. There are 16 common Ashkenazi recessive (both parents must be carriers). One in five Ashkenazi Jews is a carrier for at least one of those conditions.

For more information, go to the Jewish Genetic Disease Consortium site.

Dr. David Rimoin of Cedars-Sinai Hospital spoke on Persian hereditary genetic conditions, and he is head of Persian Jewish Genetics Screening at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

In 1970, he arrived in California and recruited Dr. Michael Kaback, who discovered enzyme screening for Tay-Sachs detection. The screening began in California and then throughout the Jewish world. The incidence of Tay-Sachs has been reduced by 90% through extensive community screening programs.

Rimoin believes it is now time - 40 years later - to wipe out other genetic conditions in certain communities.

He said that every community has some genetic conditions more prevalent than others.

Populations should be screened to see if they are carriers, or to find effected individuals and do something about it, "even though it is politically correct to ignore such things. All populations have common conditions."

Examples of some would be sickle cell anemia among blacks, or Tay-Sachs among Ashkenazi Jews. Similar conditions can be found in all populations but rates change for each population or mutations.

There are some Sephardic conditions such as Familial Mediterranean Fever and Machado Disease and there are some four conditions prevalent in the Persian community.

These are autosomal recessive disorders, which means both parents must be carriers to impact a child. If both parents are carriers, each fetus can be tested to see if it has the condition and the parents can decide what to do. Tests include amniocentesis at 16-18 weeks; chorionic villous sampling at 9-11 weeks; or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis in vitro to only implant healthy embryos.

Although Tay-Sachs has dropped by 90% among Jewish families, it is still found in non-Jewish families. With assimilation, people do not know their own backgrounds and the chance is higher. Screening is important for all as people do not know who they are.

Rimoin showed a Tay-Sachs incidence chart. The chance of it occurring in the USA general non-Jewish population is 1/300; Ashkenazi 1/29; Moroccan 1/110; Iraqi 1/140; French Canadians 1/30; Cajuns 1/30; and Irish 1/44. Note that the incidence among French Canadians and Cajuns is nearly the same as in Ashkenazi Jews. The question was asked of Rimoin if this indicates that those two populations may have Jewish ancestry, and the answer was yes.

He informed attendees that Ashkenazim were mainly in Eastern Europe, Sephardim have origins in Iberia (Spain and Portugal); and that Mizrahim are from the Middle East and North Africa. They also spoke Yiddish vs Ladino, and had completely different genetic conditions, likely due to isolation. Ashkenazim have 16 such conditions, Sephardim have many fewer, while Persians have four major ones.

Rimoin also stated that in Israel, there is only prenatal diagnosis, and what is recommended varies by origins of the couple. Ashkenazim are tested for 17, North Africans and Libyans a smaller number, Sephardic Moroccans and Iraqis for seven, Sephardic Yemenites for a few.

He provided a capsule of history for the Persian community, which is centered in Los Angeles and in New York.

Jews arrived in Iran during the Babylonian Exile, although some date from the earlier Assyrian Exile. Some returned to help rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem as allowed by Kourosh (Cyrus), while others remained in communities and intermarried among themselves with no contact with other Jews. During the Revolution, most came to Los Angeles, where there are some 70,000 - although it always seems a much larger community, a similar number in Israel and some 15,000 in New York.

In Iran, the community split from other communities some 2,500 years ago with little contact.

The four autosomal conditions are:

-- Anesthesia sensitivity disorder (pseudocholinesterase)

-- Salt-losing disorder (congential hypodosteronism)

-- Polyglandular multiple hormone deficiency

-- Hereditary Inclusion Body Myopathy (hereditary muscle disorder)

These can be diagnosed, treated, prevented or avoided.

The incidence and characteristics of each in the Persian community:

Anesthesia sensitivity: 1/10 carriers 1/100 are affected, 1/300 at-risk. Most don't know they have it. It can cause difficulty breathing or muscle weakness. Complications can be avoided through use of other drugs.

Congenital salt-losing disorder: 1/30 are carriers. It produces critical dehydration and shock in newborns. If untreated, may die. Less severe cases produce poor weight, short stature, blood pressure, weak, dizziness. normal lifespan and development with simple treatment and early diagnosis.

Polyglandular deficiency: 1/50 are carriers , 1/2,500 at risk. It causes skin infections, weakness, loss of appetite, hair loss, anxiety, depression, twitching muscles, some hair loss. It is easily treatable.

Hereditary Inclusion Body Myopathy: 1/20 are carriers. The hereditary muscle disorder produces progressive muscle weakness in arms and legs, beginning ages 20s-30s, with difficulty walking and gradual worsening. Most are severely debilitated and cannot walk. Prenatal diagnosis, in vitro, and it can be wiped out like Tay-Sachs.

Genetic testing is available. Rimoin arranged massive screenings in congregations and at the hospital, some 1,000 individuals were tested using saliva samples. Strict confidentiality was followed using genealogical questionnaire, bar codes, self-addressed envelopes. Each carrier was followed up and the affected were brought in. Only the individual or parents were informed. No one under age 16 was tested unless both parents were carriers. Family planning and prevention were discussed. They plan to extend this to other Persian Jewish communities and in Israel, and as a pilot for other communities with their own genetic conditions.

Tracing the Tribe asked Rimoin what the genealogical questionnaires revealed and whether it revealed if there was a higher incidence in some communities over others. He said that some 15 communities were listed but that results did not indicate which conditions were more prevalent in certain communities.

What the testing revealed:

--Anesthesia sensitivity: 9 people not affected, 121 carriers, at-risk couples 7

--Congential salt-losing disorder: 963 not affected, 28 carriers, 6 affected, at-risk couple 1

-- Polyglandualar: 37 carriers ....

I didn't have time to transcribe the rest of the chart flashed on the screen, but it showed also that 30% of those tested have one or more conditions and that 10 couples were at-risk.

Rimoin believes all Jewish Persian individuals should be tested.

Through the Persian genetic screening center, the cost is $350 for all four tests; normally, each test is $1,000. Saliva kits have been delivered to physicians all over the community. It is easy to get screening.

Rimoin has involved the community's Persian synagogue rabbis to include the screening in pre-wedding counseling.

For more information, contact the Jewish Genetic Diseases Consortium.

13 July 2010

IAJGS 2010: Breakfast with the bloggers

Monday began early with a special social networking breakfast headed by the bloggers.

From left: Thomas MacEntee, Schelly Talalay Dardashti, Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa of Genealogy Gems Podcast and Genealogy Gems News covered the portability of podcasts via iTunes download - even telling us about the woman who has a waterproof iPod and who listens to the podcasts while doing her laps.

She has so many helpful topics at the site, and she recommends going back and listening to older ones. As listeners learn more, some older topics may provide more information after a second take. Each episode has show notes - like a syllabus.

You can listen to the podcasts via any MP3 player, which may cost from a few dollars to many dollars, or even on a cellphone. Listen while exercising, cooking, commuting, or traveling on a plane trip.

An attendee asked Lisa how one makes money from podcasts, which Lisa terms vehicles of connection. But she offers more, such as only for subscribers' special videos and exclusive podcasts, for $29.95 a year.

At this conference, Lisa is teaching three Google classes (two searching, one Google Earth). Premium membership provides classes, DVDs, many special offerings. She also post affiliate links, such as Amazon and other sources. And she also has a speaking career. There's a wide range of things, which provide information and free initial content.

Lisa said that podcasts are suitable for genealogical societies, family groups and others.

Thomas MacEntee of Chicago cautioned attendees on privacy issues and said that any social networking site that you establish an account with has ramifications.

He discussed Facebook and how it can help diverse genealogy groups. For example, he shared that he will be publicity director for the FGS 2011 in Springfield, Illinois, and the event will have a Facebook page.

His latest endeavor is The Connected Genealogist, where free and for-fee items are available, including a Facebook cheat sheet and other very useful technical resources. He does charge for only e-books and templates.

As far as Facebook, he has six separate pages for his various activities, but are all linked to one Facebook account.

I discussed blogging, and also mentioned a new tool on Tracing the Tribe to help readers with visual problems. By clicking the icon above the logo, you can download a toolbar that can enlarge text, change the font, switch colors and more to make it easier to see, or even have the text read to you.

By the way, all of Tracing the Tribe's posts are available as podcasts!

Breaking News: JewishGen & MyHeritage

Breaking news at the IAJGS 2010 conference: JewishGen and MyHeritage.com are partnering to grow the Family Tree of the Jewish People project.

The following is on JewishGen now. Go to JewishGen.org ->databases->Family Tree (FTJP) or click here.

NEW in 2010: JewishGen is launching a new initiative to grow the Family Tree of the Jewish People, and invites you to participate. We have partnered with MyHeritage.com to provide a special facility for Jewish genealogists to create their family tree on MyHeritage.com, or import their GEDCOM there, and automatically share the tree with JewishGen's Family Tree of the Jewish People.

This partnership provides Jewish genealogists with a highly capable family tree system supporting English, Hebrew and 34 additional languages, with photos, Smart Matches and a host of additional features, with the added benefit of synchronization with JewishGen. By participating, you will help grow the Family Tree of the Jewish People, while keeping its contents constantly up-to-date, and you may be rewarded by being discovered and contacted by Jewish genealogists who can add to your family tree. Learn more here.

Here's the press release:

Tel Aviv, Israel; London, UK and Los Angeles, US – July 10, 2010 – MyHeritage.com and JewishGen.org are now working together to invigorate the Family Tree of the Jewish People (FTJP) project.

Under this collaboration, family trees built with a special version of MyHeritage.com available at http://www.myheritage.com/jewishgen, with the consent of the tree creators, will be transferred periodically to the FTJP for digital safekeeping. Privacy controls, using the MyHeritage.com tools, can be set according to the wishes of the tree creator. Data of existing MyHeritage.com users will not be transferred.

JewishGen is a non-profit organization created to help researchers interested in Jewish genealogy around the world connect to each other, research their families and ancestral geographic locations, participate in research projects and store Jewish family trees safely. The mission of JewishGen is to obtain records and information that will be valuable to those with Jewish ancestry and place them on the JewishGen website, at no cost, in an easy to understand and searchable format.

The Family Tree of the Jewish People is a project of JewishGen to bring together family historians around the world who research Jewish family branches. The project offers a central resource for Jewish family trees and helps re-connect Jewish families.

MyHeritage.com is a genealogical social networking site with more than 50 million members and 590 million profiles worldwide. It currently holds some 15 million family trees. It operates in 36 languages including English and Hebrew, making it ideal for Jewish families around the world to connect, as it offers easy and fun tools to enable sharing of information, photos, documents and videos among far-flung relatives, with complete and secure privacy controls that can be set by tree creators.

“JewishGen is committed to ensuring Jewish continuity for present generations and generations yet to come,” says JewishGen managing director Warren Blatt. “Our free, easy-to-use website features thousands of databases, research tools and other resources to help those with Jewish ancestry research and find family members. The vision of JewishGen is to connect Jews throughout the world with their relatives and provide them with the ability to learn about their family history and heritage.”

“MyHeritage.com – a site used all over the world and by all religions – is among the most popular genealogy websites in the Jewish world, making it a natural partner for JewishGen”, said Blatt. “The benefit of this partnership is to offer the free website tools from MyHeritage.com to create and research family trees, with the option to share those trees with the thousands of JewishGen users via the FTJP. Under the new partnership, the FTJP will be invigorated and constantly updated, resulting in an accurate, up-to-date and constantly growing Jewish family tree database for JewishGen.”

“We are excited to join forces with JewishGen,” said Gilad Japhet, founder and CEO of MyHeritage.com, himself an avid genealogist and a member of JewishGen since August 2000. “We see it as a privilege to cooperate with JewishGen and help it preserve family trees of people who wish to discover, and be discovered by, fellow researchers and relatives," Japhet added. "Our Smart Matching technology will provide genealogists the added benefit of discovering additional relatives through the large databases on MyHeritage.com. This will fulfill the mutual objective of MyHeritage.com and JewishGen to reunite families whose ties have been lost through time and fate."

About MyHeritage.com:

MyHeritage.com was founded by a team of people who combine their passion for family history with the development of innovative technology. Since launching in November 2005 MyHeritage.com has become the world’s leading international online network for families and the second largest family history website. The fastest growth rates in the industry combined with the acquisitions of Pearl Street Software (2007), Kindo.com (2008) and OSN (2009) have made MyHeritage.com the home for 50 million family members and 590 million profiles. The company has offices in London, UK; Hamburg, Germany; Boulder, Colorado, USA and Tel Aviv, Israel. MyHeritage.com has received funding by Accel Partners and Index Ventures. For more information, visit http://www.myheritage.com/jewishgen.

About JewishGen:

JewishGen, a non-profit organization affiliated with the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, was founded in 1987 as a bulletin board with only 150 users who were interested in Jewish genealogy. Primarily driven by volunteers, there are over 700 active volunteers throughout the world who actively contribute to its ever growing collection of databases, resources and search tools. Currently, JewishGen hosts more than 14 million records, and provides a myriad of resources and search tools designed to assist those researching their Jewish ancestry. JewishGen provides its resources online as a public service.

12 July 2010

IAJGS 2010: Sunday, July 11 Opening

30th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy co-chairs (from left) Pam Weisberger, Sandy Malek and Lois Rosen officially opened the event Sunday night.

The surprise of the evening was a parody production of "Who Cares Who You Think You Are?" starring Jordan Auslander with supporting roles by other well-known genealogists, with a cameo by Sing Sing Prison. One highlight was Karen Franklin helping Jordan look for information using Steve Morse's site. She types in SteveMorse.com, which, of course, is the rock star of the same name.

Steve and Anita Morse were sitting in the row behind me and he really seemed to enjoy this. Copies of this video are being sold for $25. Well worth it, so look for another announcement on that.

IAJGS president Michael Goldstein (photo left) announced the winner of the International Jewish Genealogy Month poster and displayed it on the large ballroom monitors.

Steve Smith of the Shoah Foundation gave a humorous talk on some of the foibles of registering at such a large conference, attended by more than 1,000. He introduced author Daniel Mendelsohn (see photo right below), who also had a strange experience as he tried to register (the address on his registration was wrong). I believe the entire opening ceremony was taped. If so, do order it.
The dessert reception followed, and included cupcakes with purple frosting (I only saw a few), rice krispie bars, cake, cookies and Entenmann's chocolate-covered, powder and glazed donuts.

Shmoozing went on until the wee hours of the morning, but I was exhausted and turned in before 11.30pm, as Thomas MacEntee, Lisa Louise Cooke and myself were scheduled for an 8.00am breakfast on social networking.

IAJGS 2010: Sunday, July 11

This is a roundup of day one of the conference. So much to cover, so little time!

My day began with my presentation of "The Wonderful World of Genealogy Blogging" to a good group who asked excellent, interesting questions.

After assisting Daniel Horowitz at the MyHeritage.com booth, I attended the Jewish Records Indexing-Poland luncheon, featuring Yale Reisner, well-known to the Jewish genealogy community.

JRI-Poland luncheon: Yale Reisner

From 1994-2006, Yale was the founder and director of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation Genealogy Project at the Jewish Historical Institute (Warsaw). Anna Przybyszewska Drozd took over at the JHI from 2007-2010. That arrangement ended about a month ago, and the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture (San Francisco) is now the main sponsor of the new Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute Jewish Genealogy & Family Heritage Center. Yale is the director of this new Center, and Ania is also there in this team effort.

Future plans include, as funding allows, staffing increases, and a new database. For the first time, all information, including names and cross-referencing, will be in a database with backup.

It will provide better access to material. The goal is to include genealogical information and archival materials, books, articles, photographs, Jewish historical sites and historical documentation.

They also plan to link to other databases - possibly JRI-Poland, JewishGen and the new Museum of the Polish Jews.

An interactive website will serve as a clearinghouse of sorts for various Jewish heritage projects and researchers around the country. Yale noted that most major universities have Jewish studies departments, while Jewish culture festivals draw large numbers of attendees .

The database will be linked to the website and allow some access (but not all) via the Internet.

He also noted that they are planning a portal so that people can communicate live with staff. Visitors to the JHI's former Genealogy Project were (and to the new center) private individuals or professional researchers.

The main issue is that of staff, who are overwhelmed with inquiries.When one searcher receives good information, they tell their friends who tell all their friends, and thus the number of inquiries rises exponentially, via personal visits, email or phone calls. If inquirers can receive information via technology, they don't have to come to Poland to ask the same questions.

He advised that there are only a few staff members, but "10,000 of you." They've been triaging requests for 16 years and do the best they can, and also take walk-ins. "Perhaps we can do more with contributions."

The center will have a Facebook presence. Yale also mentioned that they will have the ability to receive items from the public. It is not just what information an inquirer wants, but if they have pre-war images or other items to share. "The memory of Polish Jewry is no longer in Poland, but elsewhere," said Yale. Such items need to be placed in the proper setting and may be what others are looking for.

They are beginning to connect, provide links, perhaps planning for live reunions of family members and the possibility of conferences. The public will be able to upload items to the website. The database is ready now and will come online later this year.

Yale also addressed the significant number of Polish clients who are researching their heritage. There are survivor grandchildren who just discover their roots. He described a nun who learned her father was Jewish; she converted to Judaism. Some young people are looking for their Jewish grandparents so they can participate on the Birthright trips to Israel (twice a year from Poland) which brings a few hundred young people.

Is fee for service in the future? Possibly. They hadn't thought about it previously, although JRI-Poland suggests contributions be made to them. Requests vary: an elderly survivor looking for family is very different than a tourist coming in to ask where Lemberg is located. "Something may be coming, we don't know when or what."

For more information, contact Yale and Ania.

Jewish Geography

Judy Simon's "Jewish Geography and DNA: A Player's Guide" provided a good guide for attendees to earn about the "alphabet soup" of DNA.

According to Judy, chromosomes do not come with labels, town flags, or ethnicity. She reminded attendees at the beginning that although more than 300,000 records are in the FamilyTreeDNA.com database, if you don't find matches, just wait until later. As more people test, the probability of matches becomes much better.

Learn the DNA vocabulary at either FamilyTreeDNA.com or at ISOGG.org. Learn whom you should test for searching paternal or maternal lines or the new Family Finder, for which sex doesn't matter.

When you get your results, join surname, geographic or haplogroup projects. Upload your results to public databases such as YSearch.org or Mitosearch.org.

Judy advised testing the earliest generation you have available and to test at least one good person from each side of the family, while also maintaining good archival records. Use the Family Finder results, YDNA and mtDNA together with records.

Intricate Tapestry of Iranian Jews

UCLA professor Nahid Pirnazar of the Iranian Studies Department gave a very good overview of Iranian Jewish history, which I enjoyed very much. I've known Nahid for a long time and we have met in Los Angeles, in London and elsewhere. We hope she will participate in the 2011 conference.

Those are just some of today's offerings.

There were many more, however we still have not perfected the ability to be in three places at one time!

See evening activities and photos in the next post!

11 July 2010

JGSLA 2010: Saturday, July 10

Would you believe that Tracing the Tribe was so busy today that I forgot it was our fifth blogoversary. I was reminded of this happy event when Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers.com arrived.

Today became more frenetic as the hours went by and more attendees arrived.

From left, IAJGS president Michael Goldstein (Israel), secretary Joel Spector (New Jersey), board members Jackye Sullins (California) and Jan Meisels Allen (California) with vice president Michael Brenner (Nevada).

Breakfast is the most important part of the day - conference-goers are usually too busy to eat lunch - and I was joined by Howie Morris of the JGS of Greater Boston, who is part of our International Jewish Genealogy Month committee. Conference co-chair Pam Weisberger and just-arrived Wolf-Erich Eckstein of the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien (Jewish Community Archives, Vienna, Austria) later came over to our table. I asked Wolf about Sephardic records in Vienna. He said that some 10 years of marriage records are missing, from about 1850-60, and no one knows why.

The breakfast buffet at the hotel's LA Market was tempting, complete with French toast, pancakes, waffles, fresh fruit, pastries and more. Some nice touches: genuine maple syrup is served in small warmed bottles, and steamed milk for coffee. Very nice!

Doris Loeb Nabel (Connecticut), who heads up the Mac-users group (gen-mac_users-schmozzers@yahoogroups.com, for more information) walked by not much later.

Pam had mentioned that an interesting display was being set up at the Platinum Ballroom, near the resource room, so I wandered up there and took a few shots of the traveling exhibit - Generations - which illustrates how four Holocaust survivor families reflect on the challenges they have inherited.

This hotel is BIG. There is a bridge from one part of the conference center to the other. Seating was non-existent on my first round, but many seating areas were ready for attendees only a few hours later.

The Internet connection, free for conference attendees, is excellent wired or wireless - to be expected in a brand-new facility.

Among the people greeted today: conference co-chair Sandy Malek (California), Renee Steinig (New York), Judy Simon (New York), Steve and Anita Morse (San Francisco), and so many more.

I also participated in the annual rite of conference bag stuffing this afternoon. See the finished bags (photo left).

Daniel Horowitz (Israel), Thomas MacEntee (Illinois) and I enjoyed a delicious dinner at Trader Vic's down the street. At an outdoor table were Warren and Debra Blatt (California) and Michael Tobias and his family (Scotland).

Back at the hotel, attendees began lining up at 9.15pm to pre-register. The long line moved quickly and I was soon back in my room, blogging about today's experiences, going over my blogging presentation tomorrow and reading through the conference materials.

More tomorrow on the major events of the conference's opening day: klezmer concerts, the Market Square, sessions for beginners, films and so much more.