Sunday, October 23, 2011

The End of the Printed Book (coming soon, but not yet)

So I live in Israel and while it's not too hard to get popular books from best-selling authors in English, it's a bit harder to get things like technical books, or more niche books like those that deal with genealogy. Finding ways to get English books to Israel cheaply is somewhat of an obsession with much of the English-speaking community here, and it's not so simple. was a long-time favorite for many years, although now-Amazon-owned seems the better deal (books are a little more money, but shipping is free). Of course, with the rise of eBooks one would think eBooks are the simple solution – usually cheaper and no shipping charges. My wife recently got an iPad, and when I decided to order a book recently (Ancestors and Relatives: Genealogy, Identity, and Community by Eviatar Zerubavel) I thought about getting it as an eBook. The price was almost half the printed version ($9.99 on Kindle versus $18.21 in Hardcover on Amazon) and that's without considering shipping for the hardcover.

I've been a book collector for more than twenty years, and while not all my books make it out of my library, I do lend many books out. Considering how hard it is to get niche books like an academically-published one like Ancestors and Relatives..., here in Israel I figured it would be highly likely I would be loaning out the book at some point. So how does one loan out an eBook? First I think it's worth taking a look at who the different players are in the eBook field.

So the big players in eBooks are Amazon (with the Kindle), Barnes & Noble (with the Nook), Apple (with iBooks) and Google (with Google Books). Amazon has long been the leader in this field, with both the hardware (the Kindle) and the store ( to provide the total package for eBook reading. In fact, Amazon is really the only company that offers software on just about every type of device (Mac, Windows, iPhone, iPad, Android, and of course their own Kindle devices) and in that they have a real advantage. When Barnes & Noble, the retail leader in book sales in the US, launched their eBook platform called the Nook, they introduced one feature which had been missing from the Kindle – the ability to lend books. Amazon quickly copied that feature and made it available on the Kindle, but with the same odd restrictions – you could only lend a book once to a friend, and only for 14 days. Sure, I wish everyone I lent a book to would return it in less than two weeks, but that's not reality. Why does it matter how long the book is lent for exactly? When a book is lent out, you cannot view it yourself, which makes sense. If I can't view it while it is being lent out, who care how long it is being lent out and to whom? Herein lies the problem with eBooks as they currently stand – you're not buying the book, your essentially leasing it. In fact, even with the lending features of Kindle and Nook, not all publishers allow books to be lent – you need to check each book when you buy it and see if lending as a 'feature' is enabled.

In the days before Apple launched iTunes and the iPod, digital music failed to take off in a major way. The reason it failed was that it was easier to freely download pirated music than it was to buy and use music from the big labels. Apple fixed that, not by eliminating all the restrictions music companies wanted on the files, but by removing enough of them that using digital music legally became easy enough that most people wouldn't bother trying to get it illegally. The big breakthrough was that Apple had the store (what Amazon and Barnes & Noble now have for books) tightly integrated, and that Apple got the music companies to loosen their restrictions so that customers could play music on multiple devices (their Mac, their iPod and their now their iPhone for example) and could even burn CDs of their music for their own use. Most people don't really remember what digital music was like before Apple, but none of that was possible. Sure, the iPod was a breakthrough device when it came out, but the real reason it was so successful was the integration with the iTunes Store and the improved licensing from the music companies.

The problem with eBooks is that none of the companies have yet hit that sweet spot of great device, great store integration and good enough licensing. It's hard to even think about licensing a book. It reminds me of a used book store I used to visit almost 20 years ago in Jerusalem that had a copy of a book that was out of print, yet highly in demand, so they rented it out. It was bizarre and I didn't rent it. I waited a little longer and I found a copy for sale elsewhere. Eventually the book came back into print and everyone could get a copy. The iPad is a great device for reading books, and the various Kindles and Nooks are also good devices. The new Kindle Fire is really trying to compete with the iPad, and is perhaps the first device that will be able to do so, but while there are devices that are great, and there is store integration which works okay (I wouldn't yet call it great on any platform), no one has gotten the licensing right yet.

It took years of battling between Steve Jobs and music companies to get the licensing right for music – and that battle included a visionary like Steve Jobs and music company executives that finally 'got it' (perhaps they were forced into 'getting it' by Jobs). How long will it take for book publishers to 'get it' is anyone's guess. It's already possible to download illegal eBooks, although I don't know if the book reading public will adopt that as quickly as the music listening public did in the days before the iPod and iTunes.

One company that seems to be getting ready for the inevitable move to eBooks is, believe it or not, IKEA. Apparently, they are creating a deeper version of their popular (some might say ubiquitous) BILLY bookcase in order to accommodate the display for physical items, perhaps larger coffee-table style books, but not actually rows of books.

Music needed easy purchasing and a liberal licensing scheme so that people could listen to their music on all their devices. Books needs the same things, but something more. People listen to the same music over and over, but they don't read the same book over and over – instead they lend it out to others. The book publishing industry needs to come to grips with this difference and make their eBooks as lendable as their printed cousins. Until that point, buying books for reading on digital devices will not be ubiquitous (not even as ubiquitous as BILLY bookcases). What's worse is that as a 'leased' product instead of an owned product, what happens if the publisher decides to change the terms after the purchase, further restricting the usage of the book. What can you do about that? Not much, other than wait for the publishers to wake up and figure out that books are not music, and they need to be treated differently.

So in the end, I ordered the book from the Book Depository web site, and will get it in a couple of weeks. It's a little pricier, but I get to own the book and lend out as often and to as many people as I like, without having to worry about what the publisher thinks. Of course, since Amazon bought Book Depository they'll still be getting my money, but at least I'm getting something tangible for that money. In the future no doubt I will be buying eBooks along with the rest of society (I do not believe my grandkids will be buying physical textbooks) but for the time being I'm doing my share to help the paper industry.


So a little over a week ago Jennifer Shoer, otherwise known by her nom de blog The Scrappy Genealogist, started a series she called How She Does It, Secrets from the Geneamommybloggers, getting genealogist moms to explain how they juggle being moms and doing genealogy. She gathered a whos-who of genealogist moms to post in the series, including Caroline Pointer, Jennifer Holik-Urban, Kerry Scott, Amy Coffin, Marian Pierre-Louis, and Elizabeth O'Neal. For those of you who follow genealogy blogging, you probably recognize most if not all of those names. After seeing the series start I jokingly asked Jennifer on Twitter, why no Geneadaddybloggers? To which of course, Jennifer put me on the spot and asked me to write a guest post as well. I don't think I fit into the list of other bloggers (and not just because of the Y chromosome) but I did write something, which you can read on her blog: Philip Trauring – How He Does It – Secrets from a Geneadaddyblogger. So give it a read and let me know what you think. Post comments to the original article on Jennifer's site so everyone who reads the article can read them.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A little known Facebook feature (for genealogy)...

I just ran across an interesting Facebook feature that is fairly helpful for genealogy. I don't know if this has been around a long time, or if this is something they recently introduced.

Simply, if you go to you can search all Facebook profiles by surname. Not only that, but the search is created using an easy to remember web address, so you can share a search result page. For example, searching for the surname Zylberman would send you to the page:

which is the first page of search results for the surname Zylberman. Similarly, if you changed the 1 to a 3 at the end of the web address, you would be taken to the third page of results. Of course, these search result pages will change as new accounts are created, or old accounts are deleted, etc. so sending a result page might show the names you want to show someone in the short term, but may not show the same names later.

In addition to searching in English, you can search in other character sets, such as Hebrew:זילברמן

There are actually more Zylbermans listed in Hebrew than in English, but that's likely because there are less alternate spellings in Hebrew. For the same name in Hebrew, it could be Zylberman, Zilberman, Zylbermann, Zilbermann, Sylberman, Silberman or Silbermann in English (only the variation Sylbermann does not show up on Facebook).

You can also browse surnames which is interesting. One thing you can see is how many surnames are fake on Facebook. Besides that you can see lots of variations of surnames you may not have thought to search. Like in searching, you can also browse in other character sets. When browsing, Hebrew started on page 14893 of the 'Other' character set listings when I tried to find it, which you can jump to by going to this page:

It may or may not be where Hebrew names start when you read this, but it's probably not too far off if you're reading this post not long after it was written. I could be mistaken, but it looks like Hebrew follows Armenian and is followed by maybe Farsi? When I searched, Hebrew names ended on page 17611, which means there are currently over 2700 pages of Hebrew names, or with 96 names shown per page, over a quarter of a million surnames in Hebrew on Facebook. I suppose its possible some of those names are actually in Yiddish and not Hebrew, but presumably the majority of them are Israeli users who have listed their names in Hebrew.

What if you want to search for names in Hebrew (or Yiddish) and don't know enough Hebrew to spell the name in Hebrew, or have a Hebrew keyboard to type it out? Try using Stephen Morse's Transliterating English to Hebrew in One Step web page, where you can type the name in English, and receive the text in Hebrew. There are slight differences in the transliteration in some cases if you choose onto the options: Sephardic, Ashkenazi or Yiddish. In the case of Zylberman, both Sephardic and Ashkenazi options return the same result (the same spelling I guessed above). Yiddish is less likely to be useful (and in this case no search results were found using the Yiddish tranliteration) for the simple reason that anyone who uses a Yiddish spelling for their name (as opposed to English or Hebrew) is not very likely to be on Facebook altogether. Once you get the text in Hebrew letters, you can copy that text and paste it into the Facebook search box.

So there you go, a super-easy way to search and browse surnames on Facebook, even using foreign alphabets.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Fate of the Sabbatarians

I don't often link to other articles online, but I read an article today that struck me as fascinating, well-researched, well-written, and which has many implications for those interested in Jewish genealogy.

The article, by Shay Fogelman in Haaretz, is titled Discovering Europe's non-Jews who kept the faith and it discusses the fascinating history of the Sabbatarian community of Transylvania (Szekler Sabbatarians). The Sabbatarians were a community founded in the late 1500s by a Christian nobleman who, fascinated by the Bible and other Jewish writings, adopted many customs of Jews such as keeping the Sabbath (thus the name Sabbatarians) and keeping kosher, etc. He spread his beliefs to his court, which slowly adopted his beliefs, but it was his adopted son and successor who really spread this new belief-system by translating Jewish prayerbooks into Hungarian for the use of his followers. They were not Jews, they were not Christians, and that created no shortage of problems for them.

Bozodujfalu, center of the Sabbatarian community
In many ways they were persecuted even more than the Jewish community in the same region, because the Christian churches which dominated the region viewed Sabbatarians not as Jews, but as Christian heretics. By 1635 when they were forced to convert to one of the four major Christian sects in the region by the government, they counted their members at 20,000 people. Driven underground the religion persisted in hiding for hundreds of years, pretending to be Christian but intermarrying either amongst themselves or occasionally with the local Jewish community. In the mid-1800s with the emancipation of the Jews, the Sabbatarian community came out of hiding (although they were still persecuted as heretics) and half of the community converted en-masse to Judaism. The community, now half Jewish, continued to pray together in the same Synagogue as before.

When WWII started and the Nuremberg laws came into force, the Hungarians who controlled the region, and the Germans who eventually took over, were not sure what to do with the Sabbatarians. At first they considered them Jews, but after protests (including by local Christian clergy) some were exempted from the racial laws that sent the Jews into ghettos and eventually to the death camps. Some who were given the opportunity to leave the ghetto remained there as they decided they would rather share the fate of the Jews (if that was what God willed). Very little of the community seems to have survived the war, although some descendants of the community still live in the area, and even in Israel.

The story is interesting from a genealogical point of view because of the history of the community. While the mass-conversion of half the community occurred within a time-period that is well documented, the previous two centuries of the community is not well-documented, and the interaction between the Sabbatarians and the Jewish community is not well known. If members of the community intermarried into the Jewish community (presumably converting to Judaism beforehand), then that is in many ways reverse intermarriage compared to the much-more-common-at-the-time marrying out of the community. It would be extremely rare at that time to find large numbers of a non-Jewish community marrying into the Jewish community.

How is this influx of the local population into the Jewish population reflected the DNA of the Jewish population? If intermarriage really started in the 16th century, the number of descendants could in fact make up a large minority segment of the Jewish population from that area. What are the predominant haplogroups of Sabbatarians? Do those haplogroups exist in any large percentage in the Ashkenazi Jewish community? Some haplogroups such as Q1b1, which is a minority among Ashkenazi Jews (5%), but which is almost all Jewish, have been theorized by some to be a remnant of the Khazarian mass-conversion (the only other large-scale conversion since biblical times that I can think of), but perhaps the Q1b1 haplogroup derives from the Sabbatarian community? or another mass-conversion which we don't know about?

It would also be interesting to document the connections between the two halves of the Sabbatarian community after the mass conversion in the 19th century – presumably there was intermingling between the two halves after the conversion (they still prayed together after all).

From the article in Haaretz it seems those Jewish descendants of the Sabbatarians identified by the author may not be interested in researching this history. We may therefore never know the full story of the Sabbatarians, and what their influence on the make-up of the Jewish people today is (perhaps significant, perhaps inconsequential).

In any case, I recommend reading Shay Fogelman's excellent article and learning about this little-known non-Jewish sect which followed many Jewish laws (although not circumcision among others).

Out of curiosity, how many of you had heard of these Sabbatarians (Szekler Sabbatarians) before this post? If so, where did you hear about them?

Sunday, October 9, 2011 15 Days of Free Access and Prizes is in the middle of a 15 day celebration of their 15th anniversary. They are making one data collection free each day between the 1st and 15th of October (thus they are a little over half way through) and they are giving away a prize each day, and a grand prize after the 15th (going behind the scenes of the NBC TV show Who Do You Think You Are? with Lisa Kudrow). Each collection they make available for free remains free through October 15th, so you can access all the ones made available so far:

Oct 1 - Social Security Death Index
Oct 2 - Ireland, Griffith’s Valuation, 1848–1864
Oct 3 - California Marriage Index, 1960–1985
Oct 4 - Bavaria, Germany, WWI Personnel Rosters, 1914–1918 (in German)
Oct 5 - 1920 U.S. Federal Census
Oct 6 - Australian Electoral Rolls, 1903–1980
Oct 7 - Texas Birth Index, 1903–1997
Oct 8 - Sweden, Births from the Swedish Death Index, 1947–2006 (in Swedish)
Oct 9 - World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918

More collections will be made available Oct 10-15.

Today's collection, WWI Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 is a particularly interesting collection if your family lived in the US during WWI, as all males were registered (even if they were unable to be soldiers) and the registration cards can provide information on where the person was living, where they were born, etc. I discuss these draft cards in my article Finding Information on US Immigrants.

To access these collections, go to the Ancestry 15th Anniversary Collections page.

From that page you can also click on the link (and orange button that says Enter Now) to take you to the daily sweepstakes page where they are giving away a prize every day until the 15th (and then the aforementioned grand prize to go behind the scenes on the NBC TV show Who Do You Think You Are?).

Today's prize is an iPad 2...