Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Free Access to Ancestry.com's Immigration and Travel Records

For the next week, through September 5th, Ancestry.com is offering free access to their worldwide Immigration and Travel records. For those who do not have Ancestry.com membership, this means you can now find a tremendous number of records including passenger manifests, passport applications, naturalization records, etc.

Even if you have a US membership, this free week includes some records normally only available to those with the more expensive World membership, and includes records from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Australia, Canada, Germany, Sweden and Mexico.

As an example of the use of these international records, if you find a record of someone who arrived in NY from Hamburg (a common point of departure from Europe in the 19th century), be sure to search for the corresponding record in Ancestry's Hamburg passenger records, which will show the original passenger manifest from when they left Hamburg, which may give additional information on the individual you are researching.

To access these free records, go to:


Good luck finding records. If you find something really interesting, tell people about it in the comments below.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Some observations from the IAJGS Conference

So last week I attended the IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Washington, DC.

As mentioned in a previous post I also spoke at the event, on the topic of Utilizing Belgian Archives for Jewish Research. I've posted a page on this site with the links mentioned in my presentation, although the page is not fully fleshed out yet. The page has a link to it in the tabs at the top of the page. It has all the links and e-mail addresses I mention in my presentation, but without hearing the lecture, not everything on that page will make sense. I plan to flesh out the page into a full article, and perhaps to take the actual presentation I used and put it up as a video with voice-over. If readers of this site express an interest in such a video, I'll try to get it done sooner.

This was the second IAJGS conference I attended, and it was definitely interesting. I can't speak about everything I saw at the conference, but I thought I would mention a few small things I noticed.

The Resource Room and ProQuest

The conference Resource Room had a large number of commercial databases available for searching during the conference. Most of them I either pay for already or didn't have much information on my family. ProQuest allowed the conference to have access to their database (normally only available through libraries and other institutions) for one day only in the middle of the conference, and indeed that database with its numerous newspapers had quite a bit of interesting information on my family. I haven't had time to sort through everything yet, but I tried to copy as many of the articles as I could to a flash drive for later review (since computer usage was limited to one hour on the day the ProQuest databases were available).

Many thanks to Suzan Wynne (I've mentioned her book on Galicia in a previous article) who organized the Resource Room at the conference and did a great job.

The 2014 Conference Will Not Be in Jerusalem

I mentioned this was my second conference. My first was in Jerusalem, Israel in 2004. I actually did the page layout for the souvenir booklet for that conference. It has been a tradition that every ten years the conference is held in Jerusalem (on the 4s) but this year it was announced that the 2014 conference, while previously announced to be held in Jerusalem, would instead be held in Salt Lake City. There was a lot of chatter at the conference about this change. Many people were disappointed as they had planned to come to Israel for the conference. The reason for the change were not clearly given at the conference, but for those familiar with the Israel Genealogical Society (IGS), the reason was quite simple. The IGS underwent a leadership change a couple of months before a major deadline imposed by the IAJGS for the 2014 conference. The new leadership did not have enough time to complete the work required by the IAJGS for the conference and had to give it up. There is the potential to have the conference in Jerusalem in 2015 instead, so hopefully the IGS will have a formal submission ready in time to get the 2015 slot.

In the meantime, the next conferences will be held in Paris in 2012, followed by Boston in 2013. Paris is a bit closer for me here in Israel, and Boston is where I grew up, so I will hopefully be able to attend both conferences. While Salt Lake City is the Mecca of the genealogy world, 2014 is a bit too far out for me to determine if I'd be able to go or not.

Younger Genealogists

One interesting aspect of the conference was the group of younger participants who got together at various times, sometimes officially but mostly unofficially. In the world of genealogy it seems 'younger' is defined as under 50. Certainly the vast majority of attendees at the conference were over 50, indeed probably over 60. The group of 20s, 30s and 40s got together and discussed their approaches to genealogy. There was a general consensus that the conference planners had not geared the conference for younger people, and indeed perhaps did not understand how to do so since none of the planners were young. The group will try to stay in contact and influence upcoming conferences and events to be more appropriate for younger genealogists, to encourage more younger genealogists to present at these events, etc.

Many thanks to Elise Friedman, who it seemed at times to be running multiple events at once, who organized almost all the events targeted at younger genealogists (dubbed appropriately for a genealogy conference - next-gen genealogists).

Mac Genealogy

As many of you know, I use a Mac for my computer. I attended the Mac BOF (Birds Of a Feather) meeting at the conference, where there were about 50 other Mac users. An informal show of hands indicated that the vast majority of those there used Reunion for their genealogy research. For a program that hasn't had a major upgrade in over four years, that's pretty amazing. Indeed I use Reunion also, and so far I haven't found anything as easy to use as it even though I've looked over the years. My first post on this blog was actually a look at Family Tree Maker for Mac. One feature added in the past four years to Reunion was the ability to sync with versions of their program on the iPhone and the iPad (sold separately). Yesterday was a year since Reunion for iPad was launched, so hopefully in he meantime they've been working to update their Mac product.

iPad Genealogy

One very noticeable trend at the conference was that large number of iPads being used, and every one that I saw was running Reunion for iPad. Presumably those people were syncing with Macs, but it's possible they were just using it on the iPad, I'm not sure. There is no Windows program for the Reunion for iPad program to sync to, so they either were syncing to a Mac or not syncing at all. There were many iPads around. I don't currently have an iPad, but it's usefulness at the conference was clear. I was constantly looking for a place to plug in my computer, something those with iPads didn't need to do (at least not as often).

An Interesting Encounter

I thought I would share one interesting encounter from the conference (although there were many). A woman who attended my lecture approached my afterwards and said she remembered her father had some connection to a man whose last name was Trauring (my last name). They both had lived in Belgium at the same time (which was clear to her from my lecture), and both were involved in the diamond business in New York (which she confirmed by asking me after the lecture), but she didn't know what the connection was. While searching the ProQuest databases (mentioned above) I came across an announcement of a business lease for an office which mentioned both the name Trauring and her father's name. Pretty amazing since a day earlier I hadn't even heard of her father. Just minutes after I left the Resource Room with the article on my flash drive I bumped into the same woman and showed her what I had found. She was (as I was) amazed at the coincidence of finding the article that confirmed the connection so soon after she mentioned it.

While talking to her while copying the file, she noticed that I was also researching Kleinhaus (the name badges at the conference listed surnames being researched by the wearer) and she told me she had a photo of a woman which it turned out was my grandmother. Small world indeed. My 96 year old grandfather was able to confirm that his brother had been in business with this woman's father (not my grandfather) but he had known him well. The moral of this story is sometimes personal contact is the only way to find connections, and that there are non-relatives out there with information on your families (such as the photo of my grandmother) that you wouldn't normally think of when doing your research. This is one of the reasons that attending conferences like this one can lead to breakthroughs in your research.


At the conference I also came up with several ideas for new articles for this site, so I hope to get those written and posted soon. I am expecting an addition to my own family tree soon, however, so my time to write may be curtailed. Please be patient if I am slow to post new articles. Even while I may be slow to post articles in the near future, I will be trying to answer questions on the Facebook page. 'Like' the Facebook page for this site at facebook.com/jewishgenealogy to join this site's page and participate. Everyone is also welcome to answer research questions on Facebook. I'm trying to build the Facebook page into an interactive community where people can ask and answer questions on Jewish genealogy, so if you are on Facebook (or have been looking for an excuse to join) then go to the Facebook page, press the 'Like' button and join the conversation.

If you attended the conference in DC and want to share your experiences, please post them in the comments below.

Friday, August 19, 2011

2000 Fans on Facebook!

I'd just like to thank everyone who has become a fan of this site on Facebook. Today we reached 2000 fans!

I also wanted to let everyone else who follows this blog know about the Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/jewishgenealogy) and invite everyone to become a Fan. Fans on Facebook can post their genealogy questions to the wall, and I and now 2000 other interested people can respond to your questions.

If you're logged into Facebook now, you can Like this blog by clicking on the Like button below:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Learning about Landsmanshaftn

This is a quick post while I am still preparing for my lecture at the IAJGC Int'l Jewish Genealogy Conference next week, but it's something I hope to write more about in the future.

When Jewish immigrants arrived on US shores in the late 19th century and early 20th century, they formed mutual-aid societies, usually based on the town or region they came from 'in the old country'. These societies are called Landsmanshaftn (Landsmanshaft is the singular form of the word). You may have heard of the term landsman meaning someone from the same place as you. Thousands of these organizations existed. In addition to helping new immigrants get on their feet in their new country, one of the major functions of many of the societies was to organize burial plots for its members. This is an important point for those people researching Jewish immigrants from this period, as Jews from this period would most likely have joined one of these societies, and would have bought a plot to be buried in within sections owned by their Landsmanshaft. If you don't know where your immigrant ancestor was from, but can find their grave, you might be able to figure out where they're from just from the section in which they're buried.

While the Landsmanshaft societies thrived during the years around the turn of the century, they largely died out as their members died off and their children born in the US didn't need the services provided by the organizations. In some cases this actually led to serious problems as member had purchased rights to a plot in the society's cemetery section, but the people needed to approve their burial in the cemetery had died off before them and not left things in the hands of someone who could handle it. A NY Times article from 2009 covers this problem of societies disappearing before all their members have been buried in their cemetery sections.

For many of these societies, as their final members died off, the remaining officers donated their records to the YIVO Institute. For thousands of other societies, however, their records were unfortunately lost to time, probably thrown out by children or grandchildren of the last keeper of the societies' records after the person's death. Some societies still exist in one form or another, and hopefully they will donate their records to YIVO or another suitable archive for preservation.

Washington Cemetery

A few weeks ago I visited Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn. This is a massive Jewish cemetery in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. The cemetery actually made the news several times in the past year. First there was the likely hate-inspired vandalizing of graves (photos) there back in December. In January, it was city sanitation workers' turn to damage dozens of graves when they dumped snow into the graveyard during blizzard cleanup and knocked over a fence and many gravestones.

An article from July about using lasers to etch portraits on gravestones used Washington Cemetery as the centerpiece of the article. Indeed when visiting the cemetery one could not miss the very large number of laser-engraved gravestones, particularly because it appears the cemetery seems to have been putting new graves into places that were not previously intended for graves, like along walkways in front cemetery sections. Thus the first graves you see whenever you are walking along the cemetery are these newer graves (largely from Russian Jews who immigrated to the US much more recently than the majority of the people buried in the cemetery). That the cemetery has been forced to put graves into any open spaces might explain the recently controversy over the graveyard's desire to buy a residential property to expand (interesting note from the article – no NYC city graveyard has ever expanded since they started keeping records in 1948).

I had a note in my tree written by a relative (that I had imported years ago) that mentioned my gg-grandparents were buried in Washington Cemetery. I only vaguely remembered that note when I read about the damage back in January, but I looked up the note in my tree and called the cemetery to figure out where my gg-grandparents graves were located, and if they had been affected by the vandalism or snow-damage. Luckily my gg-grandparents' graves were located in a section not affected by either problem. When I arrived in NY for the first time since that time a few weeks ago I decided to see if I could find the graves. As I followed the directions given to me from a woman in the main office of the cemetery, I came upon this:

Entrance to section of cemetery in Washington Cemetery
There are a couple of interesting things to notice in this picture.

First, if you read the article I linked to above about laser-etching gravestones, you'll notice the black granite gravestones in the front of the cemetery section are all laser-engraved. You will also notice that they are not actually in a cemetery section, but rather in the buffer space in between the cemetery section and the walkway. Thus those newer gravestones have nothing to do with the section immediately behind them.

Second, you should notice the elaborate stone arch with the metal gate that forms the entrance to the section. Not every section in the cemetery have such entrances. As this section is the one where my gg-grandparents are buried, I was interested to see what was inscribed on the arch, and what it might tell me about where my gg-grandparents originated. Keep in mind that just because someone is buried in a cemetery section managed by a Landsmanshaft doesn't necessarily mean that the person was from the town around which the Landsmanshaft was formed (especially spouses) but it is one more clue to add you your research into where your immigrant ancestor originated.

So what does the gate say? Here's a closer look:

Independent First Odessa Sick & Benevolent Association cemetery section
The arch reads: Independent First Odessa Sick & Benevolent Association (I'll shorten that to IFOSBA). Along the sides of the stone arch are the names of the people who organized the purchase of the cemetery section for the Landsmanshaft. If you look into Landsmanshaftn, you'll notice almost all the words used repeat in other organization names. 'Independent' might be a break-away organization, 'First' is very common – so common I really wonder if they were really all first, and if Independent did mean it broke away from another organization then how can it also be First? I don't know the answers to these questions, but to get an idea of how many organizations there were of this type, see this list created by the Jewish Genealogical Society of NY (JGSNY) of the collection of Landsmanshaftn records held by YIVO.

Another list created by the JGSNY is that of Landsmanshaftn incorporations in NYC, which were microfilmed by the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS). These documents are what was filed by the societies when they formally incorporated in New York. The documents are generally signed by the founding officers of the organization, and can list their addresses at the time as well. While these are single documents without extensive information on the members of the organization, they can still be useful. I requested a copy of one such document on the First Kancziger Aid Society, a Landsmanshaft for people from Kanczuga, and found that another gg-grandfather of mine and his brother were both founders of the organization, and the document had their signatures and their home addresses. It turns out that while YIVO doesn't have records on either the First Kancziger Aid Society, nor the IFOSBA, the AJHS has incorporation documents for both societies. I hope to get a copy of the incorporation document for the IFOSBA soon to see what I can find out.

Back to the Cemetery

So, it's not particularly relevent to the rest of the article, but I thought I would mention that I did indeed find the graves of my gg-grandparents in this section:

Gravestone of my gg-grandfather, Sam Greenberg
Gravestone of my gg-grandmother, Gittel Greenberg

Note that on the top of the stone of my gg-grandfather there was an embedded portrait (same size and shape as the one on my gg-grandmother's) which was ripped off the grave. Not sure who would want to do that, but as mentioned earlier in the article, this cemetery has seen its share of vandalism. Indeed in the same small section there were several gravestones that had been knocked over:

It is sad to see such vandalism in a cemetery. I'm not sure what to think about the fact that the cemetery administration doesn't re-cement the stones. I can understand that in cases where the stones are broken and require extensive and expensive repairs that the cemetery may seek to have the costs covered by relatives if they can be found, but in the case of something like this in an urban cemetery, I would think putting them back up and re-cementing them would be a routine part of their regular maintenance.

A Final Note

If you've exhausted all methods of figuring out where your immigrant ancestor came from, and you know where your ancestor is buried, you should look into which section your ancestor is buried in in the cemetery. Even if there is no grand entrance to the section, it should be marked. If the section is not marked, the cemetery office should know who purchased the section and can tell you if there is an active organization managing it or not. From there, tracking down documents from the Landsmanshaft from YIVO or the AJHS might be a good next step to finding out more.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

$50 off 23andMe DNA Testing

I haven't yet discussed Autosomal DNA testing in depth on this site (so much to do, so little time) but for those who are interested in DNA testing for genealogy AND for health reasons, 23andMe is a good choice. I won't go into all the things you should do to evaluate the companies that provide these services, but if you've determined on your own that you're interested in 23andMe, now might be a good time to go for it. 23andMe reduced their starting cost to $99 some time back (with a commitment of one year of subscription service at $9/month). You can get a no-commitment sign-up for $399.

Believe it or not, there are actually genealogical hints that can be derived from the heath side of 23andMe's offering. Carrier status of diseases, or specific shared traits, can help group people together or show that someone's origin isn't exactly what they thought. A member of our local genealogical society who is Ashkenazi, who had suspected possible Sephardi roots, found on 23andMe that he was a carrier for Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF), which among Jewish people is almost exclusively in the Sephardi population (like the many other diseases which are unfortunately exclusive among Ashkenazi Jews). That doesn't confirm a Sephardi link, but it is a good indicator that he may be on the right track.

Anyways, why do I bring all this up now? Simply because 23andMe is offering a $50 coupon this week (expires August 9), bringing the start-up cost to $49 (plus $9/mo or $118 in the first year for subscription). Even with the subscription cost, that's very inexpensive compared to what these tests have cost in the past.

So here's the coupon:

$50 Off
Coupon code: BG6HQY
Share with your friends!
(Valid for new customers only) 

In order to use the coupon, just add an order to the shopping cart on their site, and then add the above discount code to the order.

If you do order a kit, post in the comments how the process goes in ordering, using the kit, and when you get your results.

If you're already using 23andMe, you can't use the coupon, but feel free to comment on your experiences so others can learn about it.