December Genealogy Notes
Jewish Genealogical Society
December 26, 2007
Upcoming programs at the Einstein Residence Center, Sacramento:
►Video Virtual Tour of Lost German Synagogues
Sunday, January 13, 10 a.m.
►Protecting Your Digital Genealogical Information
Sunday, February 10, 2007,10 a.m.
Have 19th c. California Jewish Material to Share?
Paul Solomon, a trustee of the Commission for the Preservation of Pioneer Jewish Cemeteries
and Landmarks writes: "We're publishing a pictorial book titled /The Jews of the Gold Rush/for
Arcadia Publishing and for a Trust of the Judah L. Magnes Museum. We're looking for pictures of
the Gold Rush era approx. 1849-1880, of Jewish people, Jewish families, Jewish-owned or
working mines, stores, ads for stores, businesses, synagogues, posters for events, katubas,
prayer books, artifacts and other items of Jewish life in the Gold Rush in either picture form or
that we can photograph. Material from Tuolumne, El Dorado, Amador, Calaveras and Nevada
counties are of particular interest if you know of sources or leads to material." Solomon is also
interested in tracing any of the people or surnames in the pioneer Jewish cemeteries. You can
contact him at paul@.... He would need to have any material by July 2008.
"The Jewish Americans" to air on PBS in January
A three-part documentary on Jewish-Americans will air on three consecutive Wednesdays:
January 9, 16 and 23 from 9 to 11 p.m. on KVIE Channel 6. For details go to
Excellence in Writing Contest
The International Society of Family History Writers and Editors is sponsoring its annual "Excellence in Writing" competition to recognize talented genealogy writers.
The contest has four categories:
Category I -- Newspaper Columns
Category II -- Magazine/Journal/Web Articles
Category III -- Genealogy Research Story. This category is for original, unpublished articles between 1,000 and 3,000 words. The articles should tell the story of genealogical research using one of these topics: "The Search for Ancestors," "Sorting Out the Entangled Roots of . . . ," or "Encounters with a Family Skeleton."
Category IV -- Want-to-be Writer/Columnist. Entrants in this category aspire to be writers or columnists in the field of genealogy or family or local history. The submissions in this category are original and unpublished, between 500 and 1,000 words.
Entries must be received by the coordinator no later than February 15, 2008. Send entries (along with your check for the appropriate entry fee(s) and membership dues) to:
Yolanda Campbell Lifter
ISFHWE Competition Coordinator
1920 Eva Lane
Malabar, FL 32950-3219
Rules, information, and entry forms are available at:
Free Ancestry.com Access at Sacramento's Family History Center
FamilySearch and The Generations Network, Inc., parent company of Ancestry.com, today announced an agreement that provides free access of Ancestry.com to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and the 13 largest regional family history centers, including Sacramento's. With this new agreement full access will be provided to more than 24,000 Ancestry.com databases and titles and 5 billion names in family history records.
The regional centers with Ancestry access are Mesa, Arizona; Los Angeles, Oakland, Orange, Sacramento and San Diego, California; Idaho Falls and Pocatello, Idaho; Logan, Ogden and St. George, Utah; and Hyde Park, London, England.
Notes from JGSS Meeting December 16, 2007
President Burt Hecht called the meeting to order and welcomed members and guests.
Allan Bonderoff presented the treasurer’s report, which included $200 in 2008 dues and $36 in donations. A donation of $200 was made to the Einstein Center for our annual Chanukah gift. A purchase of $147 was made for “Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy” books, to be given to new members. Current total of our account is $1,782.15. And if you haven’t already sent in your dues -- $25-- for 2008, this is the time to do so.
Bob Wascou mentioned that a printer was donated for use by our library.
Teven Laxer noted that he is part of a committee that has just written to the Romanian archives, requesting that they open their records.
Vice-President Mort Rumberg introduced our speaker, Aaron Kornblum, archivist for the Western Jewish History Center at the Magnes Museum in Berkeley.
December 16, 2007 Program
Aaron Kornblum gave a little background about himself. He is a third-generation San Franciscan who grew up in Pleasanton. He attended Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, focusing on European history. He had a chance to spend four months in Paris, researching material from the French-Algerian war. His adviser said he was the best researcher she’d ever seen, and told him he needed to become an archivist.
He went on to attend the University of Maryland which has an archival sciences program. During his second semester, he did an internship at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., four years before it was to open. At the end of the internship, he was offered a professional position and headed up the geographic thesaurus program. He remained at the Holocaust Museum for 11 and 1/2 years.
“When I started there there was a staff of 45 people... when I left there were more than 400,” Aaron said. He said it is the most visited museum in Washington, D.C.
In July 2001, Aaron moved back to the Bay Area and became the archivist at the Western Jewish History Center at the Magnes Museum. He said its probably the 3rd largest Jewish museum in North America, after the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles and the New York Jewish Museum.
The Magnes Museum was created about 40 years ago; they are now trying to raise money to move to a bigger location near BART in downtown Berkeley.
Aaron’s staff consists of himself and a person who works 20 hours a week. He also has a large group of interns and senior volunteers.
“Part of the excitement for me is bringing in new collections,” he said. “Archives are forever.
Aaron explained the difference between a library and an archive-- archives are materials in a raw, aggregate form, very different from a book collection. He talked about the difference between researching your family genealogy from original materials, versus those who have collected everything online, so-called “Google genealogists.”
The Western Jewish History Center also has a research reference library, which Aaron is reclassifying by the Library of Congress system.
The Center also has a collection of many oral histories of Jewish families of the Bay Area. “Ninety-nine percent o four collections relates to Northern California, and most of it to San Francisco,” Aaron said.
Also in the collection are bound issues of the Jewish newspaper, Emanu-El. Aaron said there were Jewish papers in San Francisco dating back to the 1860s. Some included German and Hebrew as well as English. The papers are stored in a climatized, controlled environment.
Aaron said the Holocaust Museum’s policy is only to display original documents and items, although some people are hesitant to part with their originals. He recounted several efforts to obtain material from donors, although sometimes things are unfortunately discarded despite their best efforts, or arrive in poor condition.
Iris Bachman asked Aaron, “how do you decide as an archivist what to save?” He said it is a “very, very tough question.”
One segment of the population for which is there is less material is that of poorer Jews, Aaron said. “They didn’t have cameras and didn’t have the money to get their pictures taken. They really are an undocumented group for the most part,” but one for which they continue to seek material.
A focus of current research is Jewish women’s history -- it’s “huge,” Aaron said. He said there is a special collection in Brookline, Massachusetts.
“I’m very interested in stuff that is pre-1906,” he said, “because so much was lost during the earthquake and fire.” He is in contact now with a congregation in the Bay Area that started in the 1860s and still has its records.
The Emanu-el Jewish newspaper in San Francisco dates from 1845, later becoming the Northern California Jewish Bulletin and now called the “J.” The Western Jewish History Center has rolls of microfilm of the paper from 1895-1988 and lose copies from 1988 to the present. Included in the issues was a social column; Aaron said they are entering the names from the columns into a database. For example, a wedding story might mention that the ceremony took place at her parents’ home, and include the address, as well as the rabbi’s name. By knowing the rabbi, that could lead you to what congregation the family belonged to.
Aaron noted that despite what you might guess, the first congregation in San Francisco was orthodox, with later synagogues being reform.
Microfilm lasts about 100 years, not impacted as much as other materials by the climate it’s stored in. However, he told the story of the National Archives effort to copy a large collection of Life Magazines, from 1936 on, which had wonderful color ads depicting life in the 30s, 40s and beyond. “But someone made the decision to microfilm them in black and white, then pulp the originals.”
The Sinai Memorial Death Register-- Aaron said he received a Goldman Foundation grant to microfilm these burial records, from 1921-1992. The records include names, professions, cause of death, mother’s maiden name. He said that in reading through the records, he found one of a man who died of a broken neck. He was an inmate at San Quentin, and it was death by hanging.
Aaron also talked about the Commission for the preservation of seven pioneerJewish cemeteries in the Mother Lode, and donated to our library a copy of the Traveler’s Guide to Pioneer Jewish Cemeteries of the Gold Rush. The seven cemeteries under Magnes oversight are located in Sonora, Jackson, Grass Valley, Mokelumne Hill, Marysville, Nevada City (and one more I missed).
Mention of the cemeteries prompted Richard Paskowitz to mention the upcoming January 6th dedication of the gates at the Marysville cemetery. The gates originated at a Jewish cemetery in San Francisco and had been stored in a backyard for many years. If you'd like to attend the dedication, meet at 11 a.m. at Congregation Beth Shalom for coffee at 315 1st St, Marysville,(530) 742-1203, then 11:30 a.m. at the Marysville Hebrew Cemetery north of Marysville on Hwy. 70 , turn right at City Cemetery sign.
Aaron also showed some slides relating to symbolism on gravestones, including Masonic symbols such as the beehive.
“The museum is collecting oral histories -- hopefully people will pay to have it done, rather than expecting us to do it,” he said. “The best thing to do is to ask as few questions as possible and just let them talk ... you have to be careful you don’t get in the way.”
Other items in the History Center’s collections include flat files with paintings or oversized materials, including photos and posters. Aaron showed a picture of a Rabbi Lilienthal that was widely circulated in the 19th century; the collection includes the picture written over by a confederate Jew from New Orleans, unhappy with the rabbi’s antislavery position.
A more recent addition to the collection is a poster for a candidate for San Francisco County supervisor, with a Nazi swastika scrawled on it. Aaron said he spent a year dealing with the San Francisco police department’s evidence unit, in order to obtain the poster.
He showed photos of Temple Emanu-el’s Sutter Street synagogue, whose towers were reportedly able to be seen across the bay. When it was destroyed by fire its records were completely wiped out, so the effort to glean information from the old Jewish newspapers is an important project, Aaron said.
Aaron said there was a time capsule retrieved from a synagogue from the 1860s time period that survived in a good condition, and the material is now in the Center’s collection. Other collections include the papers of Harris Weinstock, David Lubin, Julius Kahn and a very large collection of Adolph Sutro material.
Aaron said you can visit the Center’s archives but call in advance and make an appointment.
Check out Footnote.com
While still fairly new, Footnote.com provides access to digitized copies of important genealogical records not available elsewhere online. This includes naturalizations from states such as Pennsylvania, Maryland, and California; service and pension records from the Civil and Revolutionary wars; and city directories from many New England states. According to one genealogist, the document viewer is top-notch, and allows you to mark up, add comments, print and save any document. Records are being added continuously.
From Avotaynu's E-Zine by Gary Mokotoff:
USHMM Form Now on Internet
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is now accepting requests for searches of the ITS records. A form is available on the Internet at http://itsrequest.ushmm.org/its/getting_started.php. The site notes that priority will be given to Holocaust survivors and their immediate families.
Trip to Bad Arolsen
This past week, Sallyann Sack and I [Gary Mokotofff] made a site visit to the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany. On a scale of 1 to 10, my impression of the facility and the people operating ITS is a 9.5. I went there as a pessimist expecting to see an organization reluctantly acquiescing to the demands of the Jewish community. Instead I found a group that's totally accommodating, dedicated and competent. I think the past problems were caused by one man; he is no longer associated with ITS.
Below is my interpretation of the findings. More detailed information will be published in the Winter issue of AVOTAYNU by Sallyann Sack.
In its simplistic sense, ITS is an archives of 12 million documents (20,000 meters of files) regarding the fate of people during World War II (persecuted people only, not perpetrators) and after the War (refugees). An index card with summarized information was created for every person identified on a document. These cards comprise the Central Names Index which now contains 52 million index cards. If the person was a married woman and the maiden name was given, two index cards were created, one for each name. The third component of their holdings is case files (called T/D files.) In the beginning, there were only documents and the index. When an inquiry was received, they created a case file for the person being inquired about. Using the index, ITS collected all the relevant information from the documents and placed it into the case (T/D) file.
For the family historian, the Central Names Index is valuable, because it places a family member in a certain place at a certain time. The T/D files are potentially more valuable, because they may contain genealogical information provided by the inquirer. For example, if the inquirer was a family member, there might be additional information about the family.
How to Do Research
The entire Central Names Index has been digitized. Most of the records have been digitized. The T/D files have not been digitized and that process is not expected to be completed until 2010. Software was developed to search the Central Names Index by name. Provisions have been made in the search engine for name variants and alternate spellings. When a name is found, the software allows you to bring up all the index cards for the person. Its design is similar to a telephone book in that you can browse up and down the index. The index was designed for internal use only and, therefore, is not user-friendly. It is in German although there are plans to have an English-language version. This consideration is not really an obstacle; you learn rather quickly that “Drucken” means “Print.” As to the first problem, it means you must be trained on how to search the Index and how to retrieve results. This merely delays the time to do serious research. Sallyann Sack considers herself computer challenged, yet she learned rather rapidly how to use the search engine.
The principal problem is the contents of the index cards. They are often in German, frequently have abbreviations, and sometimes even have information that is encoded. When Sallyann and I did searches, we were assisted by a staff member who too often had to interpret the contents of the index card in ways that only an expert in using the system could glean its contents. Both the front and back of the index cards were digitized. This is because there often are notations on the back of the card made by persons at ITS about the document or in reference to other documents. They are often written in what might be called “ITS jargon”—only a trained ITS staff member would know what they mean.
Doing Research at Yad Vashem or USHMM
Anyone who has done research at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City knows there is a world of difference between doing research at the Library and doing it at a local Family History Center. The same is going to be true for years to come as to doing research in Israel or the U.S. to doing research at Bad Arolsen, Germany.
The most serious obstacle at this time is the lack of the T/D files at Yad Vashem (YV) and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). The best you can do is write to ITS for a copy, but if the T/D files contain information that leads you back to the Central Names Index, you must revisit YV or USHMM at some future time.
There is a short-term problem created by the procedures ITS followed over the years. There are an estimated 500,000 index cards not in the Central Names Index. This is because when a T/D file was opened, the index cards sometimes were removed from the card index and placed in the T/D file and a new index card was created indicating a T/D file existed. This primarily affected spouses and children of the family. If a document contains the names of all family members, an index card was created for each. If an inquiry was made for any of the individuals, all the cards were placed in a T/D file. This means, at present, you cannot search for a child if an inquiry had been made in the past unless you know the name of the parents. ITS is aware of this problem and has given high priority to retrieving the index cards from the T/D files and adding them back to the Central Names Index. This project should take about a year.
Finally, you do not have the expertise of the ITS researchers to interpret the Index cards. This problem may be short term if YV and/or USHMM are willing to assign staff members or volunteers to the ITS project and train them in the use and interpretation of the system.
I was amazed at the quality of the staff. I expected the management to be good. All the workers with whom we interacted—all local people—seem very dedicated to their jobs.
Bad Arolsen is a beautiful Baroque town with an ugly Holocaust-related past. It included an SS training camp, and the head of the royal Waldeck family, whose palace is in Bad Arolsen, was one of the principal SS officers in the Nazi regime. For his efforts, he was sent to prison for four years and his property confiscated. The duke's descendants are still permitted to live there though they do not own the property.
The hotel we stayed at was excellent with a friendly English-speaking staff. It is a short walk from ITS. We ate dinner in three restaurants, all serving delicious food at reasonable prices (under $25). It short, Bad Arolsen makes a fine tourist town.
As noted above, see the article in the forthcoming Winter issue of AVOTAYNU for further information. You can subscribe to AVOTAYNU at http://www.avotaynu.com/journal.htm.
Additional information about the International Tracing Service can be found at http://its-arolsen.org/en/homepage/index.html
Unclaimed Assets in Israel Online
The Company for Restitution of Holocaust Victims Assets has placed a list of assets in Israel, “previously owned by Holocaust victims,” on the Internet at http://www.hashava.org.il/eng/. Persons claiming to be heirs should submit applications for restitution of assets using a special form that is available at the web site. A list of persons owning the assets can be found at http://www.hashava.org.il/eng/assetList/. There are currently 60,000 entries. Assets include bank deposits, real estate and securities.
If there are spelling variants of the surname, use only the initial letters of the name when searching the database. Searching for “Moko” resulting in one person name Gecel Mokoton from Warsaw. This is almost certainly a misspelling of “Mokotow,” although the person is unknown to me. My maternal grandfather’s name was Tartasky (Tartacki in Polish). Searching for “Tarta” resulted in three men named Tartatzky. All are known to the family. The search engine has the flexibility of looking for any name that includes the sequence of letters in the search parameter. For example, the results of searching for “otow” included Bolotowski, Nachtowitz and others.
Call for Papers for 2008 Conference on Jewish Genealogy
There is now a web site for the 28th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy to be held in Chicago from August 17–22, 2008. It is located at http://www.chicago2008.org/. The conference planners have issued a Call for Papers to be presented at the conference. Information can be found at the web site. All proposals must be submitted via an on-line process. Deadline for proposals is January 15. Conference and hotel registration will begin on January 1.
Ancestry.com Adds U.S. Passports 1795–1925 to Its Collection
Ancestry.com has added U.S. passport applications 1795–1925 to its collection. Sampling 20th century applications shows that the information on the application includes name; date and place of birth; place of residence; occupation; physical characteristics; and for persons not born in the U.S., name and arrival date of ship; and date and place of naturalization. This information is provided for all family members. The database is located at http://content.ancestry.com/iexec/?htx=List&dbid=1174&offerid=0%3a7858%3a0. Ancestry.com is a fee-for-service site.
Genealogists/Historians Scuttle Plans to Limit Access to New Zealand Vital Records
A bill introduced into the New Zealand Parliament to limit access to birth, marriage and death records has been amended to the point where, for the most part, public access to these records will continue. The bill drew opposition from historians, genealogists, researchers, biographers and the news media.
Jewish Genealogy Databases Reach Milestones
The JewishGen ViewMate function has now processed more than 11,000 images since it inception in 2000. ViewMate is the JewishGen tool that allows you to upload images such as photos, letters, documents, etc., and get volunteers to translate or comment on the images. ViewMate is located at http://data.jewishgen.org/ViewMate/.
Jewish Records Indexing-Poland (http://www.jri-poland.org/) has now indexed more than three million Jewish birth, marriage and death records from more than 350 Polish towns, as well as indices from other sources, such as census records, legal notices, passports and newspaper announcements.
See you Sunday, January 13!