JGSS Meeting Notes/Items of Interest
Jewish Genealogical Society
October 29, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 10 a.m. – Jim Van Buskirk, “My Grandmother’s Suitcase”
Sunday, December 20, 10 a.m. – Ron Arons, “Mapping Madness”
October 18, 2009 Meeting
The meeting was called to order by President Mort Rumberg. He talked briefly about our upcoming meeting schedule, which inlcudes a presentation on “My Grandmother’s Suitcase” by Jim Van Buskirk on Sunday, November 15 and a program on “Mapping Madness” by Ron Arons on Sunday, December 20.
The 30th annual International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies conference is set for July 11-16, 2010 in Los Angeles. A Web site is now established for the conference: www.jgsla2010.com .
The Sacramento Regional Family History Seminar will be held Saturday, November 7 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the LDS Library on Eastern Avenue.
Member Allan Dolgow is not here today because he’s presenting his talk on his trip to the Ukraine to the Bay Area JGS. Mort mentioned that his talk to us generated considerable e-mails interested in his presentation.
From Treasurer Allan Bonderoff, our current account balance: $1,217.39. Your dues allow us to buy selected books for our library, offer small travel honorariums to our speakers, and more.
Our speaker for October was Dr. Roy Ogus, whose topic was Jewish Genealogical Research in South Africa.
Roy is vice-president of the Southern African Jewish Genealogical SIG (Special Interest Group) on the JewishGen Web site. He was born in South Africa and has lived in the Bay Area since the 1970s. Note that it is the Southern African SIG he’s involved with, taking in more countries than just South Africa.
Roy said his parents were born in South Africa but his grandparents emigrated there from Lithuania around the turn of the 20th century.
He began his talk with an overview of South Africa, which is about three times the size of California. The population is about 47.3 million. There are three capitals, one each for the legislative (Cape Town), executive (Pretoria) and judicial branches (Bloemfontein).
Until about 1850, the economy of the country was largely based on livestock and crops. However, in the late 1800s, diamonds and gold were discovered “and it completely changed the country,” Roy said. “Mining became the basis of the economy.”
In 1820 the first British settlers came to South Africa, about 150 years after the Dutch. The British abolished slavery which made the farmers irate.
In 1910 the colonies became self-governing (Union of South Africa) but part of the British Empire.
In 1948 the Afrikaner party wins the general election and apartheid begins.
Jewish Migration to South Africa
Roy gave us an historical overview that began in about 1652 when Jews were among the Dutch settlers, but were forced to convert to Christianity.
In 1820, there were 16 Jews recorded among the British settlers, and in 1841, the first Jewish congregation in Cape Town was founded by the British Jews. By 1880, there were about 4000 Jews in the country.
Then came “Wave 1” of the Jewish migration, Roy said. Between 1880 and 1910, a large number came from Lithuania. The push to emigrate came from pogroms, catastrophes while the pull was the financial opportunity.
Then a chain reaction helped -- with family members already there, more emigrated from Lithuania. By 1911, there were 47,000 Jews, mostly Lithuanians, in South Africa.
Why Lithuanians? There was easy access to shipping companies, who had already set up trips for Cornish miners. Lithuanians had access to all-weather ports such as Libau. Some of the Lithuanians basically tried to recreate their shtetls in South Africa.
According to records of the Poor Jews Temporary Shelter in London, 40 percent of their clientele went to Africa, and of that 40 percent, 90 percent were from Lithuania.
“Wave 2” of emigration to South Africa occurred in the 1920s. And before the Holocaust, about 8,000 Jews from Germany came to South Africa.
From 1970-1992 there was the opposite trend, and an exodus of Jews leaving South Africa, many for political reasons. The current Jewish population is about 72,000 and is pretty homogenous, Roy said, predominantly Lithuanian. “It’s overwhelmingly Ashkenazi, with a low level of intermarriage.” About 80 percent are Orthodox, with a Jewish Board of Deputies overseeing the congregations.
Southern African SIG on JewishGen: Roy is the vice-president of the SIG and said this site should be the first step for someone doing research. There is a discussion forum and a newsletter as well as Web pages.
Other sources of genealogical information include the South African National Archives, with many records kept in the provincial archives. “I’ve never visited the archives in South Africa but put together my complete family history,” Roy said.
There is also the South African Office of Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths, the Master of the Supreme Court, and “a wealth of records” on microfilm in the LDS Library.
For Jewish South African records, the Kaplan Center for Jewish Migration and Genealogical Studies at the University of Cape Town has a Jewish Rootsbank database. The South African Board of Deputies has burial records and there are 2-3 Jewish Genealogy historical socieites.
Estate documents -- Roy said these are valuable documents, “they can be unbelievably rich in information.”
He said census documents do not exist in South Africa-- they are routinely destroyed. “It’s one of the few countries in the world that without census documents.”
Roy showed some of the documents he has been able to gather, including naturalization and estate documents. He also had a “complaint” document by one of his relatives against his landlord. “It’s not genealogical but it does show the texture of their lives,” he said.
In order to obtain information from some agencies, such as the Registrar of Births, Marriages, and Deaths, “it’s a Catch-22 -- you almost need all the information from the recrod to get the record,” he said.
In terms of death certificates vs. death notices, he said the death notices have more information.
Roy wrote a paper on the LDS records for South Africa which include relevant film numbers and information on estate documents up to 1950, death certificates and burial information. The article will soon be posted on the Southern Africa SIG.
Roy can be reached by e-mail at r_ogus@...
From the JGS of the Conejo Valley (Ventura County) newsletter:
Vintage New York -- An excellent compilation of vintage photos of New York City dating back to the late 19th century can be found at http://tinyurl.com/ygh9r5d. Expect to find an uncommon blend of artistic photography, traditional snapshots and historical perspective.
From Family Tree Magazine -- Family Tree Magazine has compiled the 10 best genealogy websites in each of 10 different categories –and one more for good luck. See if you agree at http://tinyurl.com/yhnk9b7
101 Best Web Sites 2009
By David A. Fryxell 9/30/2009
If our ancestors had swung down from the trees with six fingers on each hand, we'd probably be counting by dozens. But thanks to humanity's development of 10 fingers and 10 toes, we count things in 10s, group the years in decades and celebrate anniversaries ending in 0—such as this 10th annual installment of Family Tree Magazine's 101 Best Web Sites.
What's the one Web resource in a class by itself? Ancestry.com $$, of course. What can we say? With its ever-expanding collection of databases and globe-spanning country-specific sites, Ancestry.com comes the closest to realizing the dream of doing real genealogy online—not just finding a few clues, but tracing your ancestors in primary sources. The complete US census, indexed, searchable and linked to images, is only the beginning here. An annual membership is $155.40 for US collections only, or $299.40 for the World Deluxe membership.
Use these sites to find obituaries, cemeteries and other traces of your departed ancestors.
These are the best searchable databases of vital records from health departments, historicalsocieties and state archives.
Sharing your family history just got easier with these Web sites that let you create a family tree, store pictures and more.
You're sure to find information about your family in these stellar genealogy Web sites.
Trace your family's paths, find your ancestors' homes and explore the old country.
You can thank your lucky stars if your ancestors resided in the areas these Web sites cover.
Tracking down immigrant ancestors has never been easier.
Stay informed about the latest technology for genealogists with these sites.
Find ancestors who served their country in these databases.
Powerful search tools let you explore great library collections in the comfort of your own home.
Scientist works with stem cells during day, solves Jewish genealogy riddles in spare time
By Peter Goodspeed, National Post (Canada)
Dr. Karl Skorecki works on the cutting edge of molecular science, revolutionizing medicine through genetics and the use of stem cells to test anti-cancer therapies.
But as a sideline, the former University of Toronto professor has become world famous for applying genetics to genealogy and transforming history. He has found evidence to support traditional claims that modern-day Jewish priests, Cohanim, are descended from a single common male ancestor - biblically said to be Aaron, the older brother of Moses.
Among the other intriguing findings he has uncovered: that 40% of Ashkenazi Jews can trace their descent to four "founding mothers" who lived in Europe 1,000 years ago, evidence that all Jewish communities share a common paternal origin in the Near East, and genetic evidence supporting claims southern Africa's Lemba tribe may be Africa's "Black Jews."
"It began as a hobby, but it took on a life of its own," Dr. Skorecki says. "I didn't think anyone would really be that interested. I'm a nephrologist and a physician but I've always been interested in the genetic predisposition to disease."
Fifteen years ago, as he attended Shabbat services at his Toronto synagogue, Dr. Skorecki says his mind wandered during the reading of the Torah.
"A Cohen [Jewish priest] of North African, Sephardic, non-Ashkanazi origin was called up to read the Torah and it just got me to thinking what we have in common," he says.
"I myself am also a Cohen, but of recent European ancestry. It struck me as interesting that, on one hand, our paternal genealogies have been geographically separated for at least a thousand years. Yet, on the other hand, we share a Biblical oral tradition of common male ancestry dating back more than 100 generations."
According to tradition, the status of priest (Cohen) was conferred on Aaron and his sons, and has been passed on from father to son ever since the Exodus from Egypt.
As he sat in his Toronto synagogue, Dr. Skorecki says, "I realized if that were true, then it was a scientific hypothesis that was testable."
He reasoned the Cohanim should all have a common set of genetic markers at a higher frequency than the general Jewish population. After consulting Dr. Michael Hammer, a geneticist at the University of Arizona and a pioneer in studying the Y chromosome, the two men developed an experiment to test his thesis.
Besides determining maleness, the Y chromosome consists almost entirely of non-coding DNA, which is passed from father to son without recombination. Therefore the genetic information on a Y chromosome of a man living today is basically the same as that of his ancient male ancestors, with rare mutations that occur along hereditary lines.
By tracking those neutral mutations or genetic markers scientists can come up with the genetic signature of a man's male ancestry.
Dr. Skorecki's test found an array of six common chromosomal markers in 97 of the 106 Cohens he tested. Calculations based on variations of the mutations rooted the men's shared ancestry 106 generations in the past - 3,300 years ago, or the approximate time of Exodus.
He also discovered the common set of genetic markers in both Ashkenazi (European) and Sephardic (North African) Cohens, indicating they shared the same ancestry before their communities were separated more than 1,000 years ago.
"It's amazing," Dr. Skorecki says. "It's like an archeological finding. But instead of digging up in the sand, we dig in contemporary DNA."
His findings triggered a storm of interest in Jewish genealogy and the application of DNA analysis to the study of history.
The only child of Holocaust survivors, Dr. Skorecki was born and raised in Toronto. He took his medical degree at the University of Toronto, where he taught for 11 years before moving to Israel in 1995.
He is now director of the Rappaport Family Institute for Research in Medical Sciences and a researcher at the Rambam-Technion University Medical Center in Haifa, Israel's largest medical centre. After moving to Israel, Dr. Skorecki continued to dabble in genetic genealogy and conducted studies that suggest there is genetic evidence to support a common paternal origin for all Jewish communities.
In yet another study, Dr. Skorecki discovered an unusual genetic signature, thought to have originated in Central Asia, in more than half the Levites of Ashkenazi descent.
"They seem to be the descendants of one man who lived about 1,000 years ago somewhere between the Caspian and the Black Sea," he says. "Whether his ancestors originated there or he migrated from the Near East is unclear. We can't tell. But that is also the time and location of the mythical Khazar kingdom."
Dr. Skorecki says one of the most surprising discoveries of his genetic analysis of Jewish genealogy involves claims by the Lemba tribe of southern Africa to have Jewish origins.
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