Sunday, December 23, 2012

The launch of the all new All Israel Database

It's hard to believe it's been less than a year since the launch of the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA). Launched in January of this year, IGRA has achieved much, including having their website genealogy.org.il being ranked one of the top 40 International Genealogy web sites only 4 months after launching. Last week they reached a new milestone with the launch of their all new search engine for the All Israel Database, IGRA's collection of 85 (and growing) Israel-related databases. I mentioned these databases about a month ago (when there were under 60 databases), and also mentioned a new search engine was in the works. Today that new search engine has launched:

IGRA's All Israel Database search engine
The search engine was designed in conjunction with Brooke Schreier Ganz, based on her LeafSeek genealogy search engine. Brooke's LeefSeek won 2nd place at the 2012 RootsTech Developer Challenge earlier this year, and IGRA worked with Brooke to enhance the engine to include such important features as the ability to search concurrently in both English and Hebrew. The search engine also supports phonetic searching, based on Beider-Morse Phonetic Matching (BMPM), allowing matches to be made to similar-sounding names, regardless of exact spelling.

The new search engine was developed through the hard work of IGRA volunteers, such as IGRA President Garri Regev, Database Coordinator Rose Feldman, Secretary Carol Hoffman, and website team-members Daniel Horowitz and myself, as well as many database volunteers who helped find, scan and transcribe the information in the 85 databases.

You may have seen an earlier version of Brooke's search engine in use on the Gesher Galicia All Galicia Database, but this new search engine that we've designed is capable of searching in both English and Hebrew simultaneously, which is a major breakthrough and of course necessary for our Israel-focused databases.

I hope everyone reading this will stop and take a minute to check out the new All Israel Database and try it out. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask via the contact form on the web site, or in the comments below.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Two years of Blood and Frogs

Thank you to Geneabloggers for pointing out it's my second blogiversary today. Thank you also to Jim Sanders from Hidden Genealogy Nuggets for pointing out to me that they did so.

Blood and Frogs: Jewish Genealogy and More was started on November 25, 2010. It's been a fun time, and I hope people have enjoyed what I've written and done here. If you've liked a specific article or site feature, please let me know in the comments.

In the past year I've also been working on two other sites, which unfortunately has lowered my output on this blog. I hope the usefulness of these two sites makes up for my lowered output on this blog.

The first, now almost a year old, is genealogy.org.il, the web site of the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA). It has already been ranked one of the top 40 international (non-US) web sites by Family Tree Magazine. Watch genealogy.org.il in the coming weeks for the introduction of one of the most advanced record search engines of any genealogy site – to support the over 50 databases added to the site in the past year.

The second is not yet done, but will be launching soon. I will writing about it here when the new site is ready. It is a site built to focus research into the Jewish community of a single town, Kańczuga, Poland (from the former Austro-Hungarian district of Galicia). There have not been any Jews in Kańczuga since 1942 when the Nazis murdered the entire Jewish population there, but there are many descendants of Jewish people who lived there prior to the Holocaust, and this site will lead research into the community that existed there, and try to make connections between long-lost relatives whose families came from the town.

Thank you to all my readers, to my 2601 followers on Facebook, and to my 386 followers on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

FamilyTreeDNA Sale - through end of year

FamilyTreeDNA is having another sale, this time through the end of December. Always a good time to get started with genetic genealogy, or to upgrade existing kits.

For more information on genetic genealogy, see my earlier posts Thinking about trying genetic genealogy? (ignore the old sale info) for a good overview, and Using DNA for Genealogy: Y-DNA and mtDNA for more specific information about Y-DNA and mtDNA testing.

You don't need any special codes for the sale, just go to FamilyTreeDNA and the prices should on the site.

New Kits
Current Group Price
SALE PRICE
Y-DNA 37
$149
$119
Y-DNA 67
$239
$199
mtFullSequence (FMS)
$299
$199
SuperDNA (Y-DNA 67 and mtFullSequence)
$518
$398
Family Finder
$289
$199
Family Finder + mtDNAPlus
$438
$318
Family Finder + mtFullSequence
$559
$398
Family Finder + Y-DNA 37
$438
$318
Comprehensive (FF + FMS + Y-67)
$797
$597

Upgrades

Current Group Price

SALE PRICE
Y-Refine 12-25 Marker
$49
$35
Y-Refine 12-37 Marker
$99
$69
Y-Refine 12-67 Marker
$189
$148
Y-Refine 25-37 Marker
$49
$35
Y-Refine 25-67 Marker
$148
$114
Y-Refine 37-67 Marker
$99
$79
Y-Refine 37-111 Marker
$228
$188
Y-Refine 67-111 Marker
$129
$109
mtDNAPlus
$149
$129
mtHVR1toMega
$269
$179
mtHVR2toMega
$239
$179
mtFullSequence Add-on
$289
$199

Monday, November 12, 2012

Database of Jewish Cemeteries in Poland


An interesting project people with Jewish relatives that lived in Poland should be aware of is the Database of Jewish Cemeteries in Poland. Started as a database of the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw, it has expanded to include cemeteries in the following cities and towns:
  • Brok
  • Błonie
  • Garwolin
  • Góra Kalwaria
  • Grodzisk Mazowiecki
  • Gąbin
  • Karczew
  • Korczyna
  • Mińsk Mazowiecki
  • Mszczonów
  • Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki
  • Okuniew
  • Otwock
  • Palmiry
  • Piaseczno
  • Prudnik
  • Pruszków
  • Przytyk
  • Płock
  • Radom
  • Siedlce
  • Sierpc
  • Sochaczew
  • Sopot
  • Strzegowo
  • Szydłowiec
  • Warszawa
  • Wieliczka
  • Wiskitki
  • Wysokie Mazowieckie
  • Wyszków
  • Węgrów
  • Łaskarzew
  • Łosice
  • Żelechów
  • Żyrardów
New cemeteries are added on a semi-regular basis. Most recently in September the databases for Sopot, Palmiry and Korczyna were added.

The database includes photographs of graves, although the photos are small and generally hard to read. In Warsaw alone, there are over 80,000 records.

If you have family that lived in any of the above cities and towns, I recommend doing a search and seeing what you find.

Of course, when looking for Jewish cemetery records for your research, always check out the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR) as well. JOWBR has records from many countries, including 69 cemeteries in Poland. In Warsaw, JOWBR lists 5 cemeteries with only 591 burials, however, so clearly if you want to do research for all Polish cemeteries you'll need to search both databases. JOWBR has 97,953 burials in Piotrkow that this site doesn't have. Hopefully they will share data in the future.

For more information on JOWBR and how to use it, see my blog post from the JewishGen Blog: JewishGen Basics: JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR).

A look at new Israeli databases

As mentioned previously I have been involved in the past year in building a new genealogy website in Israel, genealogy.org.il, for the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA). The site has already been recognized as one of the top 40 international genealogy sites by Family Tree Magazine. One of the big issues I've had to deal with recently was upgrading the site to deal with high number of users. The original server the site was on was not able to handle the numbers of users we were getting, and we've now moved the site onto a much better server that can handle the site, and allows us to easily add capacity as needed (something impossible on our last server).

While I've been working on the nuts and bolts of the site, certainly the reason the site has been so successful is not my work, but more the work of the many IGRA volunteers, led by Rose Feldman, who have been adding dozens of new databases to the site. Their productivity is frankly mind-blowing. Since we launched in January of this year, Rose and her volunteer army have added nearly 50 new databases to the site, and more are coming on-line all the time. Think about that – they are adding more than a database each week. This is only the beginning.

Databases are categorized into three time periods:
  • Ottoman Administration (pre-1917)
  • British Administration (1917-1948)
  • Israeli Administration (1948-)
For those researching Jewish relatives, these databases can help pinpoint where a relative may have been living at specific points in time, and can lead you in new directions in your research. Some records include the person's exact address.

Databases include things like voter lists, lists of registered lawyers, accountants, doctors and nurses, candidates for various elections, phone books, burial lists, etc. There are over 60,000 records in the database now, and each record contains multiple pieces of information.

The current databases include:

Ottoman Administration (-1917)
  • List of Students & Staff of Gymnasia Haivrit, Yaffo 1908-9
  • Kollel List 1912 Safed (population register of families receiving funds “haluka“)
  • Safed Burials 1433-2000 from the new cemetery and part of the old cemetery
British Administration (1917-1948)
  • Births in African and Asian Protectorates for the Years 1916-1940
  • Drishat Shalom (Regards) 1919
  • UK Passport requests made in Safed 1921- 1951
  • Donors from UK for Safed Old Age Home run by Simcha Shulman 1924-1929
  • First National Conference of Edot Hamizrah in Eretz Israel – Protocol 1925
  • Nurse Certification 1923-1948
  • Earthquake Donations 1927
  • Voters’ List for Haifa 1928
  • Queries about Land Registries 1928-1929
  • Queries about compensation for loss of property during the disturbances of 1929
  • Voters’ List for Municipal Council Petah Tikva 1930
  • Members of Agricultural Organizations in Petah Tikvah 1931-1936
  • Voters’ List for Municipal Council Petah Tikva 1932
  • Voters’ List for Municipal Council Safed 1932
  • Galician Kollel Safed 1932
  • Voters’ List from Petah Tikva for the 18th Zionist Congress 1933
  • List of Sephardic Males in Safed 1934
  • Award of Silver Jubilee Medals 1935
  • Rehavia Address Book June 1935
  • Deaths in African and Asian Protectorates for the Years 1936-1940
  • Members of the National Youth Aliyah Committee of Hadassah 1937
  • Members of the Histadrut Hamorim (Teachers’ Council) 1939
  • List of Teachers of the Dept. of Education of Havaad HaLeumi 1940-41
  • Candidates for the 1941 Hahistadrut Haklalit
  • Candidates for the 1941 Va’adat Hapoalot (The Women’s Workers’ Council)
  • Hebrew Soldiers of the Yishuv who fell and perished in World War II 1940-1945
  • Refugees in Mauritius 1944-45
  • Swiss Aliyah Requests 1945
  • List of Donors for Repairs of Mikva in Safed 1947
  • Yahrzeit List from the Safed Old Age Home
  • List of people who have files in Beit HaMeiri in Safed
Israeli Administration (1948-)
  • List of registered doctors 1948-1957
  • List of Candidates for the First Knesset (C0nstituent Assembly) 1949
  • Candidates for the 1949 Hahistadrut Haklalit (General Council Elections)
  • Candidates for the 1949 Moatzet Hapoalot (The Women’s Workers’ Council)
  • Candidates for the 1949 Histadrut Hahaklaim (Farmers’ Council)
  • Candidates for the 1949 Histadrut Hapekidim (Clerks’ Council)
  • Candidates for the second Knesset elections 1951
  • Practical Nurses 1951-52
  • List of Candidates for the Third Knesset 1955
  • Authorized People to act as Accountants 5716 (1955-56)
  • List of Persons Authorized to Act as Lawyers in Civil Courts in 1956
  • Authorized People to act as Accountants 5717 (1956-57)
  • Candidates for the 1959 Histadrut Hapekidim (Clerks’ Council)
  • Candidates for the 1959 Histadrut Hahaklaim (Farmers’ Council)
Some databases that are coming online soon, include:
  • Rehavia Address Book June 1937
  • Candidates for the 1959 HaHistadrut Haklalit (General Council Elections)
  • Candidates for the 1959 Va’adat Hapoalot (The Women’s Workers’ Council)
The best news is that the launch of a new advanced search engine for these records is coming online very soon (as in days). Few genealogy societies, if any, will have the kind of advanced search capabilities we will have on the site. It's an exciting time for researching genealogy in Israel.

To stay up-to-date on the launch of the new search engine and on the ongoing launch of new databases, follow IGRA on their Facebook Page (facebook.com/israelgenealogy) or via Twitter (twitter.com/israelgenealogy). Of course, if you want to comment on the web site and where it can be improved, you can always comment here and I'll see what I can do.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Friends from Antwerp - and is that a famous Yiddish poet?

My grandfather was born in Vienna, Austria during World War I. His family had fled their homes in Galicia, then a region of Austria, and fled to the capital city to avoid the invading Russian army. His brothers, one born before him in 1911, and one after him in 1921, were both born in the Galician town of Rzeszow, known in Yiddish as Reisha.

In 1927 the family moved to Antwerp, Belgium, seeking a better life and perhaps more stable situation. As I've written about before, Antwerp and Belgium in general received many many Jewish immigrants during the interwar years, among them my family (my grandfather's future wife also made her way around the same time to Antwerp from Rzeszow).

In 1927 my grandfather was of course 12 years old, and he lived in Antwerp until 1940, when he was 25. Those were, no doubt, formative years for him. I know many stories about his time there, and have found documents hinting at others in the Police des Étrangers files I've found. I know just a couple of years after he arrived, after his father died, he ran a watch shop near the docks of the Antwerp port, helping support his family even though he was only 14 at the time. I know he used his US citizenship to travel to Nazi Germany in the 1930s and helped younger cousins get out of the country, as the Germans still respected a US passport (they probably hoped the US would side with them in the upcoming war). One thing I don't really know about, however, is what kind of social life he had. Some years ago he told me he bumped into an elementary school classmate of his from Belgium in New York, and he had recognized my grandfather even all those years later. He later sent my grandfather a class photo showing both of them. When researching family we sometimes forget that our relatives spent much of their time, especially when they were teenagers and young adults, with their friends instead of their family. It's part of what defined them and made them who they were.

In this light, some recent photographs I discovered at my grandfather's apartment are particularly interesting. I have no idea who anyone in the photos are other than my grandfather. If you had relatives born during WWI and who lived in Antwerp in the 1930s, perhaps they're among the people in these photos.

My grandfather is sitting on the bottom right

My grandfather in the middle with the white shirt

My grandfather isn't in this photo, but it was together with the others

My grandfather is on the right. The man on the left was his best friend.

Is this Baden in Germany? or is that booth to buy a ticket? My grandfather in on the left.

My grandfather sitting in the front
Know anyone in these photos?

Concerning the last photo, it raises an interesting question. Do you you think the man on the top right looks like Itzik Manger, the famous Yiddish poet? Here's a side by side, showing a close-up of the above person, and a photo of Itzik Manger from the YIVO Encyclopedia:

Right, Itzik Manger. Left, Maybe Manger?
I'm not an expert on Yiddish poets, and would never have thought of it, except in researching a distant cousin Golda I discovered she had once been married to (and divorced from) this famous poet from Romania. I never knew if this cousin even knew my grandfather, but if this Itzik Manger, perhaps this is evidence. Therefore is it possible that the woman he's got his arm on is Golda, my grandfather's cousin? or one of the other women in the photo? Here's a picture of Golda:

Golda, my grandfather's second cousin once-removed
So what do you think? Is that Itzik Manger? Is that my grandfather's cousin with him on the beach, possibly in Knokke, a favorite vacation spot? The picture of Golda is obviously of an older woman than in the photo on the beach, but that makes sense sine the photo of Golda was taken in 1939, when she was 35 (she was born in 1904). In the beach photo my grandfather looks like a teenager, so it could have been 1930 or shortly thereafter.

Itzik Manger survived the war and eventually moved to Israel. My grandfather's cousin, however, likely died during the war, although I've found no direct evidence of that. All I know is she shows up in the first register of Jews in Belgium in 1940 after the Germans invaded, but not in the later registration done in 1942. She doesn't show up in deportation lists, which recorded all those deported from Belgium to Auschwitz, so she either escaped Belgium or was killed. If she escaped, perhaps she changed her name and the trail was lost, or perhaps she escaped from Belgium only to be killed later in the war – certainly a possibility.

L'Shana Tova (from 1948)

As Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) begins tonight, I wanted to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a happy and healthy new year, or more traditionally L'Shana Tova (for a good year).

I also wanted to share a great new years card I found when scanning a cousin's photographs. The card was sent from a cousin who lived in Israel to a cousin who lived in Europe. The card was sent in 1948. Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, and Rosh Hashanah that year started the evening of October 3. This card, which depicts the moment of the Declaration of Independence with David Ben Gurion in the middle (under the portrait of Theodor Herzl), was probably a popular card that year.

Rosh Hashanah card from Israel in 1948
So to everyone who reads this blog, happy new year from Israel 64 years later.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Who's in that photo?

It's a common problem for those researching their family history. You find an album or a box of photos, and you have no idea who the people in the photos are, or even how to go about finding out. In many cases, you may not even know if the people in the photos are related to you at all.

In my own family research, where I've spent considerable time reaching out to relatives to try to collect family photos, it's not uncommon to find a cousin with photos of people they don't know anything about. Sometimes I've only figured out who people are by finding the same photo, or a photo of the same person, in the possession of other distant cousins who might have a labeled photo. Sometimes you need to do a bit of detective work, such as if the photo has a studio stamp on the back showing where it was taken, which can help you figure out which cousins to ask about them (i.e. if the studio was in Rzeszow, Poland and you have only one branch of your family you know lived there, then start by sending the photo to other descendants of that branch and asking if they've seen the photo or otherwise know who the people are).

I've had some luck in researching photos in that I have a few 90+ year old relatives who remember who many of the people are, but sometimes you run into a picture that nobody knows about. My guess in many of these cases the photos are of people related to the person who saved the photo, but not to you. In other words, from the other side of the preserver's family.

Imagine finding a group of family photos preserved by your third cousin's grandfather, whom you are related to, and one photo out of the group ends up being his wife's family's photo. You could contact a hundred of your distant cousins and never find a match for the photo because simply, the photo is of people not related to you.

One that I think falls into this category is the following photo, which I found among my first cousin twice-removed (i.e. my grandfather's first cousin)'s photos:

Family Photo - 19th century? Poland, probably. Click to enlarge.
Now it's a great photo, right? Probably 19th century. Most likely taken in Poland. I have no idea who any of the people are. The relative who shared this photo with me, now deceased, had no idea who was in the photo. I'm related to his father, and have a lot of other photos of our mutual family, but not these people. So perhaps they're connected to his mother's family? Could be, but I'm not in touch with any of them, so I don't know. That family's name is Augenblick, in case you might be related. Then again, they could be from another branch entirely. It could be his mother's mother's family, whose name I don't know, or could be people not related at all.

If you've seen this photo, or any of the people in it, certainly be in touch. Also, if you've seen the prop the man on the left is leaning on in any of your family photos, let me know. If you know what town it was taken in by identifying the prop or the background, then that can help figure out what family this might be. I actually have two other photos taken in the same studio with the same prop, both around WWI, and while I knew who the people were, I only knew the location of one of the photos. By noticing the same prop and background in both photos, it let me figure out the location of the photo. Interestingly enough the photos each showed by great-grandfathers, but before their children married each other some 30 years after the photos were taken.

One interesting thing about the photo is that the man on the left, presumably the father, is not in the same photo as the other people. If you're confused, take a closer look and you'll notice that he's a cut-out from a different photo. The easiest place to see it is on the bottom left where the table leg is partly colored in to match, and the floor under the table changes color. Also, his left foot (right side in the photo) has a clear white line that comes to a point, showing where the negative was presumably spliced.

Are the other four people his children? Is one of them a spouse? Was this put together after the father died? Where is the mother? I don't know the answers to these questions.

I have a lot of family photos which I've collected over many years from many relatives, but I don't have too many photos from the 19th century. True, this could be early 20th century, but in any case I think I can say with certainty that it's over a hundred years old. After years of trying to figure out who is in the photo, I'm fairly convinced that this is not my family. The question then remains as to how much energy I should put into figuring out who is in it, when I don't think they're related to me. I'd love to be able to share the photo with whomever's family this is, but at the end of the day there are only so many hours one can put into research, and this kind of research take a lot of time and effort that I'd rather put into the many other mysteries in my tree. In the end, this post has led me to reach out to a few possible relatives of the family this photo MIGHT be from, and if I get any positive responses, perhaps I can find a match, and if not it will likely sit on this web page until someone else recognizes someone in the photo and contacts me.

When I started this post I actually intended on taking a look at a few other photos I recently discovered, but those will have to wait for another post, as this one seemed too interesting to combine with others.

Monday, July 30, 2012

RootsMagic joins FHISO effort to improve genealogy standards

I've written before about efforts to improve genealogy standards (The Future of Sharing and Genealogy Standards, Another Look). It was in 1995 that the last real standard of GEDCOM (GEnealogical Data COMmunication), version 5.5, was released. Most genealogy programs support a draft release which was released in 1999, even though it was never finalized, called GEDCOM 5.5.1. So it's been at least 13 years since any standard has been created that has been used for genealogy.

Earlier this year, the GEDCOM X effort was announced, but it is not yet used in any products. The other major effort, started earlier, but without the support of FamilySearch which originally created GEDCOM, is the Family History Information Standards Organization (FHSIO). Originally called BetterGEDCOM, it is an effort started by genealogists to create a new open standard for exchanging genealogy information.

In May, FHISO announced that Ancestry.com had joined as a founding member of the organization. Personally, I was hesitant to attribute as much as you might think to that announcement, as nothing in the announcement mentioned support in FamilyTreeMaker (their desktop genealogy application) nor Ancestry.com itself.

Yesterday, however, it was announced that RootsMagic had also joined FHISO as a founding member. As a major provider of genealogy software, it's great news that they've joined this effort to create new standards. Without support of genealogy software companies, none of these efforts will be worth much.

Hopefully we'll see other genealogy software companies like Millenia (Legacy Family Tree), Leister Productions (Reunion for Mac) and Incline (Ancestral Quest) will also support this effort, as well as open source efforts like GRAMPS.

UPDATE: On August 15, it was announced that WikiTree has also joined FHISO as a Founding Member. Good to see. I'm a fan of WikiTree, and its support of FHISO can only be a good thing.

Monday, July 9, 2012

FamilyTree DNA Summer Sale

DNA Inheritance
FamilyTree DNA is having another sale, this one until July 15th which is this coming Sunday. These sales are always a good way to get started in genetic genealogy, or to bring relatives into it. For men, the price of entry is $59, which you can always upgrade later. Oddly the less expensive mtDNA tests for both men and women are not listed in the sale, and in fact I no longer see any option for the cheapest mtDNA test. It seems FTDNA has opted to start mtDNA testing at what was their second tier test, the mtDNAPlus test, which is $159. In many cases, however, women will have more success with a Family Finder autosomal DNA test, which is on sale at $199 (instead of $289) and is probably the better option.

I've written before on Using Y-DNA and mtDNA for Genealogy, and I guess I still need to write something more comprehensive about autosomal tests like Family Finder. In short, Family Finder will let you find relatives who are up to your 5th cousins, male or female, as long as they have also been teted. It's much more of a statistical test than the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, however, in that if you have a solid match on one of them you can be sure there is a connection on that line, while with Family Finder it's based on the statistical likelihood and can be thrown off in its estimates if you have cousins who married, etc.

Of note, this the first sale that I've noticed the Y-DNA 67-marker test can be upgraded at a discount to the 111-marker test ($109 instead of $129).

Sale prices are listed below. You don't need any special codes to get the prices, all prices are changed this week when you go to the site. Note that if you were to just go to the site without being a member of a DNA group, the before prices below would in many cases be even higher (Y-DNA 37, for example, is normally $169, $20 more than buying through a group, and Comprehensive is normally $837, is $797 for groups and is $617 during this sale. So go to FamilyTree DNA and buy some kits before Sunday.


NEW KITS
Current Group Price
SALE PRICE
Y-DNA 12
$99
$59
Y-DNA 37
$149
$129
Y-DNA 67
$239
$199
Family Finder
$289
$199
mtFullSequence (FMS)
$299
$219
FF+ Y-DNA 37
$438
$328
FF + mtDNAPlus
$438
$328
Comprehensive (FF + FMS + Y-DNA 67)
$797
$617
SuperDNA
$518
$428

UPGRADES


12 to 37
$109
$70
25 to 37
$59
$35
25 to 67
$159
$114
37 to 67
$109
$79
37 to 111
$220
$188
67 to 111
$129
$109
mtHVR1 to Mega
$269
$209
mtHVR2 to Mega
$239
$199


So go to FamilyTree DNA now and save some money.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Around the World in 40 Blogs

Family Tree Magazine  recently published  their list of the top 40 international (outside the United States) blogs, titled Around the World in 40 Blogs, and one of them is the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA) site (genealogy.org.il):


As some of you may know, I built most of that site late last year and early this year for IGRA. It's rewarding that something I spent so much time and effort on is being recognized. If you haven't checked it out, or haven't seen it recently, I recommend going to the site and seeing what's there. There are videos and articles and dozens of searchable databases with information you cannot find anywhere else online.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jewish Databases from Aleppo, Syria

Jewish Wedding in Aleppo, Syria in 1914
Record keeping by the government in many of areas where Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews lived simply didn't exist before the 1920s. With the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after WWI, the new governments in those areas began to keep records of things like births and marriages, but how does one research family events that occurred earlier? The short answer is, unfortunately, with difficultly. Since the governments did not systemically keep track of events, you must look to the local Jewish communities and their own records, if they exist.

That said, one of the more interesting projects to assist a specific community with family research is the Sephardic Heritage Project, which has indexed a number of important collections of vital records from Aleppo, Syria, including:


  • Aleppo Britot - More than 7500 circumcision records dating from 1868-1945
  • Aleppo Marriage Database - 1354 records – For the  most part, the data covers 1847-1850, 1868-1877, and 1893-1934. However, we included a few records found in 1811and 1855 that were  derived from Ketubot manuscripts.
  • Aleppo Eulogies Database - Deaths in Aleppo, Syria, covering sporadic entries from periods as early as 1716 -1946


This effort has been led by Sarina Roffé, who founded the project in 2004, and had overseen the collection and translation of records in Israel and New York. You can read Sarina's description of the Aleppo Jewish community in her JewishGen article The Jews of Aleppo.

Note that these databases are all hosted on Jeffrey Malka's SepharicGen web site. For general information on Sephardi/Mizrachi genealogy, I recommend starting with Jeffrey Malka's Resource Guide on the Israel Genealogy Research Association web site.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New York records from 1940 Census now searchable!

New York was the most populous state in 1940 with over 13 million residents. It's not surprising it has taken longer than some other states to be made searchable in the 1940 Federal Census. Considering it's importance, it's also not surprising that it has been indexed early in the process compared to some other states.

Ancestry.com has just made their index for New York available online, after previously only having Delaware, Maine, Nevada and the District of Columbia available. None of the previous states had more than a million residents in 1940 (Nevada had just 110,247 residents), so the jump to New York is actually quite a large one, and certainly a very important one for Jewish researchers.

In 1940 there were nearly 5 million Jews in the US (a much higher percentage, 3.7%, of the US population than currently), and New York was home to more than 2 million of them. In fact, over 90% of those Jews lived in just New York City. Statistically speaking, if you had Jewish relatives in the US in 1940, chances are some of them were living in New York.

As there were many Jewish refugees streaming into the US in 1940, keep in mind that your family would have to have been living in the US at midnight at the beginning of April 1, 1940 in order to be recorded in the census. My grandfather actually arrived in the US by ship on April 1, 1940 and thus should not have been recorded (and as far as I can tell was not) because he arrived some hours after the midnight cut-off for being recorded in the census. The census wasn't recorded all on April 1, 1940, but rather one of the questions asked by the enumerators was where you were living at midnight at the beginning of April 1, and if you were not living in the US then, then you were not recorded. This is true also of children born on April 1 – they were not recorded (or at least should not have been according to the rules).

Of my relatives that were already living in New York when the census was done, I've noticed that their names were transcribed wrong. There are always going to be transcription errors in such a large project, but I wonder if this is a result of Ancestry.com's rumored use of transcribers in China to do all the work. It should be interesting to see how well the 1940 US Census Community Project does their transcriptions, and if the quality will be higher than the Ancestry.com transcriptions. With over 100,000 volunteers, redundant transcribing and an arbitration process, it certainly seems the community project has an advantage, but we'll have to see when the databases are completed. Right now the only state that overlaps the two efforts is Delaware, so perhaps if someone had relatives in Delaware in 1940, they could comment on the quality of the two transcription efforts.

The good news is that even with the transcription errors, Ancestry.com still found my relatives due to their soundex search capabilities. If you know your relatives were living in New York on April 1, 1940 and can't find them, however, try varying your search a bit and maybe that will help. I do strongly recommend that when you see transcription errors, you add a correction to the record. If you add the correct spelling, then future searchers will be sure to find the record. To correct a transcription, click on the 'View/Add Alternate Info' link in the Page Tools box on the left side of the record page.

For those trying to figure out where their relatives came from in Europe, the 1940 Census has a great addition to previous censuses, in that it asks where they lived in 1935. Both the city and country are listed, so if your relative moved to the US between 1935 and 1940 then this should show where they were living before they moved to the US.

States fully indexed, by company:

  • Ancestry.com: Delaware, Maine, Nevada, New York, District of Columbia (see status of other states – shows Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia coming soon)
  • Community Project (search on FindMyPast.com): Delaware, Colorado, Kansas, Oregon, Virginia, and New Hampshire - and partial indexes of other states (see status of other states on FamilySearch)
  • MyHeritage.com: Rhode Island and parts of New York


Monday, May 21, 2012

Linda Chavez Discovers Her Converso Roots

For those interested in genealogy, the past few years has been great for a number of reasons. The large genealogy sites like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org have grown by leaps and bounds. Ancestry.com just recently announced passing 10 Billion records on their site. FamilySearch volunteers index millions of new names every month, in many languages and from many countries across the globe. Many smaller niche sites have also popped up, and the Internet as a whole as connected people across the globe in way never before possible.

The 1940 Census, released less than two months ago is now over 40% indexed and whereas earlier censuses took years to complete and were usually available first on for-pay sites, the 1940 Census will be finished in a few short months and will be available for free from the start. Sites working on the 1940 census, as mentioned in my earlier post on the subject, including the 1940 Census Community Project, FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com.

In the US, there have been three seasons of the genealogy-focused TV show Who Do You Think You Are? on NBC, and PBS also has a series called Finding Your Roots (with Henry Louis Gates Jr.). In the UK Who Do You Think You Are? is already in its eigth series, and the show has other versions around the globe, including in Israel (Mi Ata Hoshev She'ata).

Linda Chavez
Last night an episode of Finding Your Roots aired featuring Linda Chavez. Chavez is probably most famous as almost being the first Hispanic woman to serve as US Labor Secretary under George W. Bush, before she withdrew her nomination. More recently she's a syndicated columnist and the Chairman of Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank that deals with issues of race and ethnicity in the public arena.

Linda Chavez's family has lived in the New Mexico area for hundreds of years, and was always Catholic as far as she knew. A simple question she asked about a funny habit her grandmother had where she turned a statue towards the wall led her to discovering her family included conversos, or Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism in 15th and 16th century Spain. Many conversos fled to the new world, ending up in Mexico and the nearby US states, including New Mexico. Albuquerque, the capital of New Mexico, even has a page on the city's web site explaining conversos and their history in the city.

There is even evidence that Chistopher Columbus himself, who sailed on behalf of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, the same monarchs that forced Jews to convert, and in the same year that the inquisition began, was from a Jewish family that secretly converted. See this CNN article, Was Christopher Columbus secretly a Jew?, written by Charles Garcia.

The topic of conversos living in the American Southwest was also covered in detail in Jeff Wheelright's recent book The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess: Race, Religion, and DNA. The book discusses, among other topics, how families in isolated communities in Colorado and New Mexico discovered their likely Jewish ancestry through the inheritance of a cancer gene that is most common among Jews.

As I've been writing this post, the full show was just posted on PBS' website, and I've embedded it below if you're interested in watching the show.



In addition, for those interested, Linda Chavez also wrote about her experience in researching her family history as part of the show in a Boston Herald article titled Nourishing our 'Roots'.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Ancestry.com Launches Autosomal DNA Test

Today Ancestry.com officially launched their autosomal DNA test, which they call simply: AncestryDNA

AncestryDNA user interface
Frankly, I think the name is a bit confusing considering they have other tests for Y-DNA and mtDNA, but that's a minor point. This new test now competes with FamilyTreeDNA's Family Finder test and 23andMe's Relative Finder test. So how does it compare?

The answer, unfortunately, is that I don't know yet. The only people who have received results so far, considering it just launched today, are those who participated in the beta test, where Ancestry.com sent out tests to various groups of people that were already customers of Ancestry.com. In fact I was one of the people who received a free (not including shipping) kit, but unfortunately there were problems in getting the kit for a long time due to mail problems, so while I have submitted a kit, I haven't received my results yet.

What I can tell you is what looks good even before I have a chance to look at the DNA results.

For one, I was very grateful they handle something that the other companies haven't done yet – you can manage the DNA of other people. With 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA, you essentially set up an account for each person whose DNA is submitted. This doesn't always make sense. If you're submitting the DNA of your grandfather who doesn't use a computer, then you don't want to have to deal with a separate account, remembering the password, etc. Ancestry.com handles this much better by allowing you to attach DNA kits from multiple people to your existing account.

Another place where Ancestry.com seems to have put in some thought, is connecting tests to people in your family trees. Of course, Ancestry.com has a major advantage here, as they have very sophisticated family trees, that already integrate with other features of their web site such as finding records. The other companies that pioneered autosomal DNA tests do not have family trees of anywhere near the sophistication of what Ancestry.com offers, and thus Ancestry.com holds a clear advantage in this area. You can attach a test, whether the AncestryDNA autosomal test, or one of the existing Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, to a person in your family tree, and presumably Ancestry.com uses that information to try to figure out connections between people who match DNA. How well that works remains to be seen, but it looks promising.

It's not clear yet whether or not you'll be able to upload data from another company, or whether you'll be able to download your data either. Ancestry.com does allow you to download your Y-DNA and mtDNA results, so it makes sense they would allow this for their autosomal test as well, but this test is still in beta and there is no way to download the data as far as I know.

The test is supposed to be priced at $99 with a membership to Ancestry.com. What does that mean? I'm not sure. Is that a price you get once? or if you want to order more tests do you get that price on all tests? What if you're not an Ancestry.com member? If you only get one kit at $99, does that renew every year when you renew your membership? I'm sure the pricing will be explained better soon.

Anyone else reading this take part in the beta? Did you receive your results? What did you think?

Friday, April 20, 2012

FamilyTree DNA Sale Today and Tomorrow

National DNA Day (April 20, 2012)
Today is National DNA Day, and in honor of this FamilyTreeDNA is having a sale on all its new testing kits, and many of their upgrade kits. If you've been holding of getting started with genetic genealogy, or on getting an upgrade on one of your tests, this is your chance to do it a little cheaper. To find out more about how to get started, see my discussion of the topic in an earlier post titled Thinking about trying genetic genealogy?. I also wrote a much more detailed description of Y-DNA (patrilineal) and mtDNA (matrilineal) in my post Using DNA for Genealogy: Y-DNA and mtDNA. For those of you hoping there would be a discount on the Y-DNA 111 test, or the upgrade to it, unfortunately it does not seem to be discounted. No coupons are needed, all the prices are automatically discounted until the end of the day tomorrow.

Discounts in the current sale:

New Kits
Current Group PriceSALE PRICE
Y-DNA 12$99$59
mtDNA$99$59
Y-DNA 37$149$129
Y-DNA 67$238$199
Family Finder$289$199
mtFullSequence (FMS)$299$249
Y-DNA 12 + mtDNA$179$118
FF + Y-DNA 12$339$258
FF + mtDNA$339$258
FF+ Y-DNA 37$438$328
FF + mtDNAPlus$438$328
Comprehensive (FF + FMS + Y-DNA 67)$797$657
Upgrades
Y-DNA 12$89$59
mtDNA add-on$89$59
Y-DNA 12-37 Marker$99$69
Y-DNA 37-67 Marker$99$79
Y-DNA 12-67 Marker$199$148
mtFullSequence upgrade (HVR1 to Mega)$269$199
mtFullSequence upgrade (HVR2 to Mega)$269$199
mtFullSequence add-on$289$219
Family Finder add-on$289$199

So check out the sale and get started.

Monday, April 2, 2012

First 1940 Census Images are online!

1940 US Census Page from Durham, Maine

Above is a census page from the 1940 US Census. Officially the images are not supposed to be released until 9am Eastern (six hours from now) by the US NAtional Archives, so I'm not sure how this is possible. It would seem the National Archives has been sharing the images early to allow companies to get them up faster. The above image is from Ancestry.com's site, which somehow has a small number of images from DC, Maine and Nevada up already.

The 1940 US Census is being released today. The official launch is at 9:00am Eastern Time. There will be a live webcast before the launch at 8:30am. If you can get through, the official site for the census is http://1940census.archives.gov/.

Since I wrote about it last time, genealogy company MyHeritage has announced that they will also be indexing the 1940 Census images and providing free access online. They join Ancestry.com and the Archives.com/FamilySearch.org/FindMyPast.com consortium (The US Census Community Project) in indexing the census.

So now all the 1940 census record sites you should know about are:

The official National Archives site: http://1940census.archives.gov/

The US Census Community Project: https://the1940census.com/

Ancestry.com's 1940 Census: http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2442

MyHeritage: http://www.myheritage.com/1940census

and of course, Stephen Morse's Unified 1940 Census ED Finder.

One interesting thing about the 1940 census is that is was the first census to have a census time, not just a census day. In other words, in the past the census was recorded based on what the state of the population was on April 1, but in 1940 the census enumerators were instructed to base their information on midnight, April 1, so if lets say a baby was born on April 1, 1940, they won't show up in the census (since they were not born by midnight). In a strange twist of fate, I have another interesting example in my family – my great-grandmother, grandfather and great-uncle all arrived in the US by ship on April 1, 1940. If the enumerators followed the rules, they shouldn't be in the 1940 census. I'll have to wait until the images for New York are up to find out, however. Another great-uncle should, however, be in the records as he arrived earlier. Any strange stories in your family connected to the 1940 Census?

Friday, March 23, 2012

New Social Security Death Index (SSDI) Search

I previously wrote about how many genealogy sites have been removing or restricting access to parts or even the entire Social Security Death Index (SSDI), due to pressure from lawmakers who have tried to make it seem like access to the SSDI was contributing to identity theft. I won't go over that again, but you can read my earlier post Changes in Access to the SSDI and Vital Records.

One company, Mocavo, seems to be bucking the trend of most of the genealogy companies out there to restrict access to the SSDI, and has actually introduced a very nice new search engine for the SSDI, which seems to include all the information in the database, including social security numbers. In order to see the results, you need to sign up for a free account on Mocavo if you haven't already. I suspect launching this SSDI search engine is largely a way to bring in users to their site. The search results also allow you to add comments, something I haven't seen before on SSDI databases. How this will be used will be interesting.

I'm not a regular user of Mocavo, but it seems that this is the first actual database they've added to their site, and thus this comment feature is also new. With their search engine, they have the ability to 'follow' a page, but this is the first time I've seen the ability to comment. I don't know if you are notified of someone else's comments on the same record, or if you have to go back and check regularly. I also don't see a way to send messages to other users (such as if someone commented that the person in the record was their great-grandmother, and they have a picture of her) but perhaps this is coming. If you are notified of other comments, then it might not matter too much, although without private messaging people would have to post their e-mail addresses publicly to take a conversation further, which is not ideal. As this is a brand new feature, however, I'm sure they're working on something.

Some other features of Mocavo are also interesting, such as being able to mark a search result as already read, and being able to say that a specific result is about the person you were searching for, maybe close, not who you are looking for, or is a broken link. Mocavo presumably uses this data to improve its search results.

As I tell people who ask me about it, we don't know if lawmakers will decide to restrict access to the SSDI in the future. I always suggest going through one's family records and searching through the SSDI for anyone likely to have had a social security number and copying down everything into your personal database. If in the future access is removed, you may not be able to get the information later. Information that can be very helpful from the SSDI records includes birth date (take with a grain of salt), death date (more likely to be accurate),  what state their social security number was issued in, the person's last residence, and where their last benefit was sent (which may be different from last residence and indicate where a spouse moved). So if you haven't done so already, take a look at your family tree, figure out who is likely to have had a social security number (someone who was working from the late 1930s on) and search through Mocavo's search engine, or one of the others available online (see my older article about that).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The 1940 Census is just 12 days away...


It only happens once a decade. Seventy-two years after the 1940 US Census was recorded, it is being released to the public. Unlike previous years where it was released on microfilm and took a long time to digitize and then index, this time the census is being released fully digitized. You should be able to see census pages on day 1 (April 2), although no index exists so you will not be able to search by name or address. The work on such an index will only start on April 2, 2012 when the files become available.

There are at least two efforts to index the 1940 Census records, one by Ancestry.com, and another by a consortium called the 1940 U.S. Census Community Project, which includes FamilySearch.org, Archive.com and FindMyPast.com.

It is unlikely that a full index will be completed by either group before at least six months from now, and probably longer, but there is a way to find the enumeration district (ED) for your relative which is the neighborhood that the census enumerator recorded.

Stephen Morse and Joel Weintraub have collaborated to create a number of useful tools that help you figure out which enumeration district you should be looking for, and when the images are released you will be able to locate which images are from the enumeration district you are looking for. To get started with these tools, use the quiz page on Stephen Morse's site. If your relatives were already living in the US in 1930 and didn't move by 1940, you should try to find their census records from 1930 which will help in figuring out the correct ED in 1940.

Be sure to go to Stephen Morse's site before April 2, as it will likely be difficult to reach on April 2 and for some time afterwards. Find the EDs of all your relatives who lived in the US in 1940 now, and then on April 2 you will be able to go directly to the census images and find your relatives using the EDs you already found.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Israel Through Photographs

A recent article in the recently-launched Times of Israel website covers, briefly, the story of Nadav Mann, who has been spending many years criss-crossing Israel to scan private collections of photographs from the early years of the State of Israel (and the years leading up to its foundation). This collection is incredibly important and offers a unique view of the growth of communities within pre-state Israel.

The article is written by Matti Friedman and is titled A lost world in black and white. The article includes a selection of the more than 100,000 photographs that Nadav Mann has collected over the years, but also helpfully links to a series of online albums [these now seem to be gone, sorry] that Nadav Mann has published via Google (which include thousands of photos, but certainly not all of them).

While the descriptions of the photos in the Google albums are all in Hebrew, just browsing through them without being able to read the captions is still incredibly powerful. Of course, if you find a photograph with someone you know, you should leave a comment on the photo - as not everyone in each photo is known, and you might be able to help improve the collection by pointing out who someone is in a photo.

An easier look in English at many of the photos can be found in Nadav Mann's regular articles highlighting photos from his collection on Ynet's English site (Ynet is the online publication of Israel's largest newspaper, Yediot Achranot).

A few photos from the collection:
[UPDATE: Sorry, but it seems Nadav Mann has removed the photo albums he had posted online, and the photos in this article were from that album so are also now gone. Check out the article A lost world in black and white and Nadav Mann's other articles in Ynet.]
Maccabi Girls Trip in 1930 in Poland
1936 Class Photo from Herzaliya Gymnasium
Building an irrigation system connect to the Yarmouk River in 1940
Kibbutz Dalia Dance Festival, during holiday of Shavuot in 1944