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Genealogy Update

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  • SusanneLevitsky@...
    June 10, 2013 Upcoming Meetings: Next Sunday, June 16, 10 a.m. Breaking through Brick Walls Einstein Center, Sacramento Sunday, June 23, 2 p.m.
    Message 1 of 60 , Jun 10, 2013

      JGSS_Logo_jpeg
      June 10, 2013
       
      Upcoming Meetings:
       
      Next Sunday, June 16, 10 a.m.    "Breaking through Brick Walls"
                                                            Einstein Center, Sacramento
       
      Sunday, June 23, 2 p.m.       "Next Steps in Jewish Family Research," Victoria Fisch
                                                    Davis Library
       
      Sunday, July 21, 10 a.m.     "The WPA:  Sources for Your Genealogy," Gena          
                                                         Philibert-Ortega
                                                   Einstein Center, Sacramento
       
       
      May 19 Meeting Notes
       
      President Victoria Fisch called the meeting to order.  She noted that we have a new venue in Davis, the Yolo County library on E. 14th Street.  Meetings will be held there every fourth Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m.
       
      On May 21, there will be a tour of the El Dorado County Archives and Museum in Placerville; admission is free.
       
      Victoria presented the JGSS slate of officers for 2013-14:
       
      President -- Victoria Fisch
      Vice Presidents for Programming -- Art Yates and Dave Reingold
      Treasurer -- Bob Wascou
      Recording Secretary/Publicity -- Susanne Levitsky
      The slate was voted upon and approved.
       
      Mort Rumberg was thanked for his many years of finding program speakers -- "It takes two people to replace him,"  Victoria said.
       
      Teven Laxer was welcomed as the new librarian.  He noted that there are some 20 books out on loan that should be returned; he will start contacting the borrowers.
       
      Teven said we have about 300 volumes in the library that are part of the inventory, with maybe another 100 not yet inventoried.
       
      Dave Reingold talked about the upcoming National History Day -- "we're always looking for topics and people to work with students." Those interested can contact Dave at camp_wiseowl@....
       
      The Sacramento Public Library continues to offer a free 45-minute session, "book a genealogist."
      Victoria mentioned that the Western States Jewish History group is putting together a series of online museums-- check out their website for online exhibitions, starting with Los Angeles and San Francisco.
       
      The Boston IAJGS conference in August 4-9; Bob Wascou and Teven Laxer are among those planning to go. Victoria Fisch and Jeremy Frankel have decided to not to go, due to one of the speakers included in the program.
       
      May Program -- Jim Rader on "The New Super DNA Tests"
       
      Jim talked about FamilyTree DNA, which tests different parts of your DNA. Details can be found on FamilyTreeDNA.com.   He says this test does all the search work.
       
      National Geographic sends its test to Family Tree DNA, he says.
       
      Jim says you can search for a surname or can set up a group -- there are more than 6,000 groups out there now.
       
      Bennett Greenspan, founder of Family Tree DNA -- "his reason for starting it was to do his Jewish genealogy research," Jim says.
       
      Family history and DNA will be the focus of several speakers on June 6 at the upcoming Southern California Genealogy Jamboree, which Jim will be attending.  It takes place just two blocks from the Burbank airport.
       
      23andme.com  -- the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin is involved with this site, which plans to test one million people to establish a large database and track diseases.
       
      Some questions to ponder:
       
      When does your ancestry have an ethnicity?
       
      What date did you become a member of a nationality?
       
      Jim says race is a social construct, not a biological one.
       
      You have to break that old notion that you're from Germany.  But where did those ancestors come from?
       
      AncestryDNA -- can go back to your great, great-grandparents.
       
      Each company doesn't have rights to other companies' databases.
       
      Jim showed what he received from three different companies -- FamilyTree DNA, Ancestry DNA and 23andme -- different results for each. 
       
      FamilyTree DNA -- showed he had 87% Western Europe ancestry,12.08% European (Scandinavia, Turkey, Finnish)
      Ancestry DNA -- 67% Central Europe, 38% Scandinavian
      23andmeDNA -- 100% European
      "As we get more and more tests, it gets more and more foggy," Jim says.
       
      FamilyTreeDNA Family Finder tests 289 markers; Ancestry DNA 100; National Geographic 200.
      When something is "autosomal" it tests all of your DNA>
       
      FamilyTree DNA's Family Finder Feature tells you who has the same actual DNA that you have, Jim says.  "It definitely goes back three generations."
       
      "The very largest pool is FamilyTree DNA."
       
      Common uses for your DNA findings:
      -- finding adoptee relatives
      -- find fellow sperm donor siblings
       
      Tests 700,000 locations out of three billion.  "You can map your whole chromosome now for $1500," Jim says.
       
      Before, the DNA focus was on STRs; now the focus is on the SNP -- single base pair substitutions--which account for many of the genetic differences between you and others (appearance, diseases, etc.)
       
      Most--no observable differences.
       
      "With the SNPs, we can figure out where you are in the timeline."
       
      Hundreds of video clips on YouTube to check out re DNA,SNPs, etc.
       
      Jim says FamilyTree DNA stores your DNA for 20 years -- "none of the others do that." And your test will always be updated with the latest science.
       
      www.yhrd.org -- if you want to create a map, you put your results in.  Haplotype database.
      Family Tree DNA does Y-DNA STR testing, has the best set-up for surname projects, and the largest genealogical database.
       
      23andme -- does medical risk testing as well, possibly the best for the ethnic admixture.
       
      Ancestry DNA -- only does autosomal DNA now, links to trees on Ancestry, US only.
      "There's no commonality in the tests," Jim says.
       
      Jim noted that if you want to read up on DNA and genealogy, there are about 30 books on Amazon.com, some on forensic genealogy.
       
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
       
       
      From Gary Mokotoff's Avotaynu E-Zine:  May 26
       
      U.S. Version of Who Do You Think You Are? Returns to Television
      The U.S. version of the family-history based show  Who Do You Think You Are? is returning to television on July 23 at 9 p.m. It will appear on the TLC network with Ancestry.com remaining as the sponsor. There will be eight one-hour episodes in the new season. The celebrities featured this year include: Christina Applegate, Kelly Clarkson, Cindy Crawford, Chris O’Donnell and Zooey Deschanel.

      New “Forced Labor 1939–1945” Website
      A website “Forced Labor 1939–1945” has interviews with nearly 600 persons from 26 countries who had to perform forced labor during the Nazi period. It is located at https://zwangsarbeit-archiv.de/archiv/en/archive. Some are undoubtedly Jews because 25 of the interviewees live in Israel.

      An interactive map shows sites of biographical relevance to the interviewees: place of birth, deportation, camps, companies and prisons, places of residence after 1945. You check off which of nine categories are relevant to your search and then all locations are highlighted on the map. Clicking on a location identifies which interviews include the location. If you are registered, you can listen to the interview. The most comprehensive search is “Mentioned Places” which includes hundreds of locations.

      To hear the interviews requires registration which is processed by the site’s creators. You then receive a response in e-mail containing login details if your application to register was successful. I registered but never received a response.


      UK National Archives Adds Naturalization Records Online
      The records of thousands of 19th-century immigrants to Britain are now available to search and download online at http://tinyurl.com/UKNaturalisation. The collection, which covers the period 1801 to 1871, includes records relating to more than 7,000 people who applied to become British citizens under the 1844 Naturalisation Act, as well as a small number of papers relating to denization, a form of British citizenship that conferred some but not all the rights of a British subject.

      The records include:
         • All naturalization applications to the Secretary of State, 1844–1871
         • Some naturalizations by private Act of Parliament, 1801–1868
         • Some letters applying for denization, 1801–1940

      The announcement can be found at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/news/840.htm.

      JewishGen Offering Intermediate-Level Course in New York Research
      Many Jewish family historians have ancestors or collateral relatives with roots in New York City. Starting June 1, JewishGen is offering an intermediate-level course in New York City research. It will focus on the more esoteric documents generated such as naturalization, probate, landsmanshaftn, voter registration, newspapers, and court cases.

      The four-week course has seven text lessons that are downloaded; there are no specific times for the course; students interact with the instructor though a 24/7 forum, in a query and answer format. Phyllis Kramer, JewishGen Vice-president for Education, is the instructor. Tuition is $100 (there are no waivers for this course). Additional information, including a video, is at http://www.JewishGen.org/education.

      JOAN GRIFFIS , Commercial NewsThe Commercial-NewsSun May 19, 2013, 01:00 AM CDT   May 19, 2013
      Noted genealogical author Megan Smolenyak has reported in the Huffington Post that after a bit of a lull in genealogical programming, four genealogy series will premiere on U.S. television in the near future. First one was Christopher Guest and Jim Paddock’s mockumentary series, “Family Tree,” on May 12 on HBO.
       
      The remaining series that are “under production” are “Who Do You Think You Are?” (TLC) and “Finding Your Roots (PBS) — which both focused on celebrity subjects — and Genealogy Roadshow, “an Irish import … with an emphasis on family history mysteries, historical events, and ‘average Joes.’”
       
      Smolenyak’s website, Honoring Our Ancestors, at http://www.honoringourancestors.com, should be bookmarked and visited frequently for helpful advice and other information. For example, a click on the toolbar title “Library” allows one to click on “Internet Research” with links to Smolenyak’s articles from the Huffington Post, Ancestry Daily News, Family Chronicle, and others.
       
      “Celebs” on the toolbar, provides links to interesting articles including President Obama’s roots, Michelle Obama’s roots, and Annie Moore’s roots (the little girl who was the first to step on Ellis Island).
       
      Smolenyak’s generosity is greatly appreciated by the 600 recipients who've received her no-strings-attached genealogical grants since May 2000. Read the stories of the genealogical projects she's supported.  Perhaps a local society could request similar help? (The online application is brief and easy.)
       
      Under the toolbar title, “Submit,” one can click on a link to share with Smolenyak information or stories under the topics Orphan Heirlooms (“treasures” that need to be returned to owners/descendants), Lost Loved Ones’ Stories, and Brick Wall/Mystery Stories. She welcomes such new challenges, and although she “can’t tackle all cases,” her expertise might be just what is needed.
       
      In her latest book she remarks, “It’s high time for all of us to let our roots show.” Start searching.
       
       
      Avotaynu, May 19 edition:
       
      European Holocaust Research Infrastructure Adds New Tool
      A new tool for researchers is now available on the website of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure. It is called “EHRI National Reports” and provides for 47 countries an historical overview of the Holocaust period and what archives in the country have Holocaust-related material. Finally, there are published works cited that provide information about the Holocaust period. A description of the project is at http://www.ehri-project.eu/drupal/national-reports-on-website.


      JewishGen Memorial Plaque Project

      JewishGen wants to grow its Memorial Plaque Project. This is a database primarily of plaques placed on a memorial board on synagogue walls. Also known as “yahrzeit plaques,” they exist to memorialize relatives, usually parents or siblings. On the anniversary of the person’s death (yahrzeit), the plaque is illuminated by two small lights on each side. The name is read to the congregation at the Sabbath service before the yahrzeit. These plaques are of genealogical value because they usually include the name of the deceased, date of death reckoned by both the secular and Jewish calendars and the person’s religious name, which includes the name of the person’s father (above example: Chaim ben [son of] Meir.).

      Information on how to submit data can be found at http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/Memorial/Submit.htm. The database is at http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/Memorial.

      MyHeritage Introduces “Record Detective”
      MyHeritage has added a feature to their record search capability called “Record Detective.”  When you identify a record of interest in their collection of historical records, Record Detective will provide a summary of additional records about the person, or about people related to that person. For the more advanced researcher, the feature would be a disadvantage, because it will make the person aware of records s/he already knows of. For example, locating a person in the 1940 U.S. census might produce a result showing that the person in the 1930 and 1920 censuses. The reaction of the advanced researcher might be that the records are known, yet it might be new information to the beginner.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
       
      From the newsletter of the JGS of Ventura and the Conejo Valley:
       
      First American Jews
      Geni.com has made available Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern’s book, First American Jewish Families: 600 Genealogies, 1654-1988. It identifies more than 25,000 members of the earliest Jewish immigrants to the U.S. beginning in the colonial days. It's available to be viewed here: http://tinyurl.com/bkfr3c7. You may also connect directly to the database by clicking: http://tinyurl.com/acynmo3http://www.jgscv.org
       
      How The USCIS Helped Break Down a Brick Wall
      By Jan Meisels Allen
       
      This is a summary of the 5-minute genealogical hint given at the May 5th meeting. USCIS answered the question: What was Aaron Baker’s original name.
       
      What I Knew:
       
      Aaron Baker was my maternal Aunt Anna’s husband for 57 years—they married in 1922. He was a farmer in Torrington Connecticut, born in Kovno, Lithuania, and according to the 1920 and 1930 censuses he immigrated in 1914 to the United States. He immigrated with his mother Etta. The 1920 census noted his immigration year—1914 and said he had applied for naturalization: PA. At that time he was living in Torrington with his mother Etta.
       
      The 1930 census had him married to my aunt and living with their two sons: Allen and Merrill. It stated he immigrated in 1914 and that he was a naturalized citizen. I could not find his ship’s manifest and I had assumed his original name was Beker or Bekerowitz.
       
      I was going to Boston in late October for an IAJGS board meeting –I thought I would go a day ahead and do some personal genealogy. Knowing that he was naturalized between 1920 and 1930 from the census records, and that he “probably” immigrated in 1914 I contacted the New England Historic and Genealogy Society asking if they had any records that would either show his naturalization or his name change. They replied they did not and referred me to the National Archives North East Region. They also replied that they had nothing they could find.
       
      Superstorm Sandy prevented my original plan to go to Boston a day early—and as neither organization could assist, I contacted Marian Smith at the USCIS and asked if it was worthwhile to make an inquiry to them. Marian let me know that she found his file and it was interesting—the file had 12 documents in it! She also told me his original name was Israel Buruchowitz! I should fill out the USCIS forms and submit the payment to get the records. I went to the JGSCV website http://www.jgscv.org and clicked on “resources”: United States and scrolled down to the USCIS link: http://www.uscis.gov/genealogy and completed the on-line form and payment.
       
      When I received the packet, the cover letter explained that they identified 12 documents but were only enclosing 10 documents in their entirety and two partially as under the Freedom of Information Act others were named and they could not provide their confidential information—such as birthdate, Social Security number etc. These would have pertained to my aunt and their eldest child and as I did not need them I did not pursue the appeal which was offered.
       
      Of most interest was the New Naturalization Lost or Mutilated Form where Aaron attests that “it was burned up by mistake in burning other papers which I thought were no longer needed”. Aaron started his inquiry for a replacement of his naturalization papers several months after the US entered World War II—he probably needed them to prove he was not an alien during the war.
       
      Other documents included in the file and sent to me were: Certificate of Naturalization; Duplicate Naturalization Certificate, a query about different names on the Petition for Naturalization (Israel Buruchowitz) and the Declaration of Intention (Aaron Baker), the name change letter, the new naturalization form when the original is lost or mutilated, and a letter to the Immigration and Naturalization Service dated February 1, 1943 complaining that he had started the reapplication process in February 1942 in their Boston office and followed their suggestions, paid the fee, filled out the forms and told to appear at a local court in April 1942 where he was interviewed and had heard nothing since.
       
      Documentary: No Place on Earth
       
      A documentary film about Jews who hid in a cave in the Ukraine for more than a year during WWII, No Place On Earth is being released in selected cities across the U.S. To see the trailer go to http://tinyurl.com/blrprhf. To see where and when it's being shown, and to request a screening visit http://tinyurl.com/ag2yw2w
       
      WORLD'S OLDEST TORAH SCROLL DISCOVERED IN ITALY
       
      After conducting carbon dating tests, the University of Bologna in Italy announced this week  it has what may be the oldest complete Torah scroll in the world. The scroll had been stored in the university library, but in 1889, was mislabeled by a librarian, who dated it to the 17th century. However, a Hebrew professor recently examined it and realized the script was that of the oriental Babylonian tradition—meaning it was much older than previously thought.
       
      Subsequent carbon dating confirmed the scroll may have been written more than 850 years ago.
       
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
      See you at our meeting next Sunday, June 16th!
       
       
    • SusanneLevitsky@...
      July 15, 2017 Upcoming Meetings -- No July Meeting Getting Started in Genealogy --- August 20, 9 a.m. to noon September 17, 9 a.m. to noon Meeting Notes --
      Message 60 of 60 , Jul 15


       
       
      July 15, 2017
      Upcoming Meetings --
       
      No July Meeting
       
      Getting Started in Genealogy --- August 20, 9 a.m. to noon
      September 17, 9 a.m. to noon


        
      Meeting Notes -- June 11, 2017
       
      Mort Rumberg called the meeting to order and welcomed members and guests.
       
      Mort mentioned that the numbered parking spaces are for Einstein residents and we should park elsewhere.
       
      There will be no meeting next month, when the IAJGS conference will be held in Orlando.
       
      The California Museum will have a film program through August 6 --“Light and Noir,” exiles and Emigres in Hollywood, 1933-1950.
       
      Librarian Teven Laxer showed several books we have in our library, including “The History of the Jews in Milwaukee” and “The History of the Jews in Los Angeles” – both have cross-references to newspaper articles.  We also have a Legacy Family Tree 8.0 Manual.
       
      Teven said we have close to 500 volumes in our library, most targeting Jewish genealogy. The library is one of the benefits of membership.
       
      The Tikva group will have its next program June 25 on Anti-Semitism. It will take place at B’Nai Israel from 1 to 4 p.m.  The guest speaker will be Nancy Appel from the ADL in San Francisco.
       
      Judy Persin is organizing the August and September meetings which will focus on Beginning Genealogy Workshops, from 9 a.m. to noon on August 20 and September 17. There will be two sessions each Sunday. “We’ll provide the basics for those who are just beginning and it’s also a great review for old-timers,” Judy said.
       
      The cost is $10 for members, $15 for non-members, covering both August and September workshops.
       
      Registration form for the August/September workshops attached. Please reserve now to secure a space.
       
      June Speaker – Maryellen Burns “The Power of Story”
       
      Why do we tell stories? What is revealed, what is hidden in the story.
       
      “Growing up, I was really isolated,” Maryellen said.  “I didn’t discover I was Jewish until I was 10, when my parents invited a friend who had been in Auschwitz. I went from knowing nothing to now having 586 pages of relatives on my maternal grandmother’s side."
       
      She said her father was on the road from ages 7 to 9 – the only reason he could survive was that he could read the hobos’ symbols and find Jewish families in the South.
       
      Maryellen noted that while Jews don’t have godparents, two friends of her family, Nate and Laura, filled that role. She also recalls one day when Woody Guthrie, Andre Segovia and Arthur Fieldler’s sister were at her house.
       
      “I want to know the character of the person who is part of my history,” Maryellen said, something she learns through conversation. She says she has more than 110 conversations on her phone.
       
      She said the stories we tell and the stories we hide tell a lot about us.
       
      Maryellen said the family photos she had came from cousins, including many in the last few years. “My parents took a picture and then sent it to relatives.”
       
      “Each one of us in our lives has a keeper of stories,” she said. “The oral tradition plays a large part in Jewish culture.”
       
      "What we are named, who we are named for – are names chosen to hide our identity, to perhaps look we were Catholic?” That was the case for Maryellen and her brothers.
       
      Maryellen asked the group to talk to the person next to them about their names. Who were they named after?
       
      "And if you had a nickname, how did that affect your identity?”
       
      Seven Reasons Why We Tell Stories
       
      --They define who we are – what we choose to tell and what we want to conceal.
      -- To plant ideas in people – ideas, thoughts and emotions.
      -- We like stories
      -- We are born to tell stories.
      -- We are literally wired to relate to people who tell a story
                  It’s our own natural tendency to tell fictional stories as well as true stories.
      -- Stories inspire action.
      -- We tell stories to impress.
       
      Maryellen asked the group, how many of you plan on recording your story in some way? Most of you. What is the mechanism you will use?
       
      Why is it important to you? Do it for your kids?  Think about donating a copy to the library.  Maybe you can bring something that will spark a story in someone else.
       
      Maryellen said we tend to rely on lists of questions. “But get into conversation, let the story lead where the person wants to go. What did the house, Grandma, smell like?  What did you hear when you were there?”
       
      Maryellen does talks on a number of subjects, including book architecture, whipping up a family cookbook, and (for the Renaissance Society), how every wave of immigration affected the food in the local area.
       
      Maryellen can be reached by email at Maryellen_burns@....
       
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
      International Jewish Genealogy Conference hosts a plethora of talent
      Heritage -- Florida Jewish Names  June 23, 2017
      http://www.heritagefl.com/home/cms_data/dfault/photos/stories/id/4/6/8146/.TEMP/s_topTEMP425x425-3276.jpeg
      Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, host of the popular PBS television show "Finding Your Roots," will address the IAJGS annual awards banquet with a talk on "Genealogy and Genetics in America.

      What do Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alexander Hamilton and Aida have to do with discovering your ancestors? To find out, join other genealogists at the 37th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy from July 23–28 at the Disney World Swan Resort in Orlando, Florida.

      Henry Louis Gates Jr., host of the PBS hit series "Finding Your Roots," will be the featured speaker on "Genetics and Genealogy in America" on Thursday evening at the conference. Some of the many celebrities that Gates has successfully helped to find their Jewish roots include Barbara Walters, Julianna Margulies, Gloria Steinem, Norman Lear, Tony Kushner, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey, Jr., Carole King, Alan Dershowitz and Dustin Hoffman.

      "This is a one of a kind opportunity for the Greater Orlando Jewish community to trace their ancestors-both for those totally new to family history research and those already experienced in genealogy," said Dr. Diane Jacobs, local host conference co-chair.

      Sunday evening will feature "Alexander Hamilton, the Jews, and the American Revolution," presented by Dr. Robert Watson, professor, historian, author, and media commentator.

      Wednesday evening, there will be a special showing of the 2016 acclaimed documentary "Aida's Secrets" (sponsored by MyHeritage). This documentary is a story about family secrets, lies, high drama and generations of contemporary history. The international story begins with World War II and concludes with an emotional 21st century family reunion. Izak was born inside the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp in 1945 and sent for adoption in Israel. Utilizing the resources of Yad Vashem and MyHeritage, secret details of his birth mother, an unknown brother in Canada and his father's true identity slowly emerge in this extremely personal investigative film. 

      Featured Monday evening, acclaimed expert and author on etymology and geographic distribution of Jewish surnames, Alexander Beider and Harry Ostrer will debate "Setting the Record Straight: What Yiddish and DNA Tell Us About Ashkenazi Origins" (sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA).
      On Tuesday evening, "1917: A Turning Point in American Jewish History" (sponsored by JGSLA) will be presented by Hasia Diner, author and Paul and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish history at New York University.
      http://www.heritagefl.com/home/cms_data/dfault/photos/stories/id/4/6/8146/.TEMP/s_bottomTEMP425x425-5572.jpeg
      Professor Robert Watson, a featured speaker at the IAJGS Florida/Caribbean conference, will talk about our Nevis-born founding father "Alexander Hamilton, the Jews, and the American Revolution."

      The conference will include special emphasis on finding ancestors through DNA, finding Converso/Anusim ancestors, Jews in Florida, the Caribbean and the South, and strategies for passing your family legacy on to younger generations. Conference tracks, workshops, and sessions will focus on how to trace your ancestry through the Diaspora: in Poland, Galicia, Germany, Ukraine, Lithuania, Hungary, Austria, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Sub-Carpathia, Czech Republic, North Africa, South Africa, Brazil, Bessarabia/Moldova, and more. The special aspects of tracing Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi, and rabbinic family lines will be covered.
       
       
      Stanley Diamond is a leader in Canadian Jewish Research, JRI-Poland
       
      MONTREALER RECEIVES MEDAL FROM GOVERNOR GENERAL
      By Bill Gladstone -   July 13, 2017   Canadian Jewish News
       
       
      http://1cr9883up6mem97ddj01yxgu.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/WEB-Diamond-640x480.gif
      Stan Diamond, left, receiving his medal from Gov.Gen David Johnston. SGT. JOHANIE MAHEU RIDEAU HALL PHOTO
       
       
      In 1986, when Montrealer Stan Diamond sold his decorative-ceiling company after a successful business career, he could not have envisioned that a second career, even more monumental than the first, lay ahead of him. Almost by happenstance, it seems, he became executive director of a large, U.S.-based non-profit organization called JRI-Poland, which would help thousands of people research their family roots – an achievement for which he received a Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on June 23.
      To date, JRI-Poland (short form for Jewish Records Indexing, Poland) has indexed some five million 19th-century and early 20th-century Jewish birth, marriage, death and other records from more than 550 Polish towns. Not only is the database fully searchable online, but more than two-million records are available for download, with more becoming accessible every few months.
      Driven by an executive committee of four, a 16-member board and an international network of hundreds of volunteers, JRI-Poland raises about US$100,000 ($133,000) each year, most of which goes to digitizing and indexing records that are mostly hand written in antique Polish script or Russian Cyrillic. Scores of volunteers from the United States, Canada, Israel, Australia, Great Britain, France and elsewhere participate in the project.
      Diamond has heard countless stories of people achieving remarkable, sometimes even life-changing results from the JRI-Poland database. It has been instrumental, for instance, in uniting long lost family members. Recently, a brother and sister in Jerusalem found a half-brother from their father’s second family, who was previously unknown to them, even though he was living just 90 minutes away. Last year, Diamond used the database to confirm the birth date of 112-year-old Auschwitz survivor Yisrael Kristal of Haifa, who was subsequently proclaimed the world’s oldest man by Guinness World Records.
      His inbox is filled with stories of research “miracles” and people telling him that JRI-Poland has solved enduring family mysteries. “Two weeks ago, a woman in Toronto wrote us that her grandfather had always said they were related to (the late French actor and mime) Marcel Marceau and she wanted to know how,” he said. Taking on the challenge, he found that Marceau’s family was from the Polish town of Bedzin, where their surname had been Mangel, and was able to make the connection to the woman’s family. The lady was thrilled.
      While Jewish record books in most towns survived the devastation of fire, flood and war, there are often gaps in the series of available years. In a few towns, the records disappeared entirely. Sometimes it’s a matter of town officials being careless; and some records were lost during the tumultuous Nazi era, when the occupying Germans took over town halls for their headquarters. In Pultusk, Jewish records before 1875 were reportedly destroyed by the Jews themselves, who feared the Nazis would use them to track down the town’s Jewish families.
      The Warsaw cemetery, Diamond related, once had huge volumes of burial registers that disappeared. “What we were told by the management of the Warsaw cemetery is that they were used as firewood during the war,” he said. “They were huge registers – you’re looking at a cemetery with some 300,000 or more burials.”
      Diamond’s knowledge of Polish geography, developed over many annual two-week trips, seems remarkable for a non-native. “At the end of one trip, we were talking to the director of the archives about all sorts of things and I was pulling the names (of towns) out of a hat and he remarked, ‘You know, Mr. Diamond, I think you know more about the Polish State Archives (PSA) and about Polish geography than anybody else outside of Poland’,” he said.
      His knowledge of both Polish geography and Jewish genealogy began innocently enough some 30 years ago, when he wanted to trace the path of a rare genetic condition called beta thalassemia within his own family tree. Travelling to Poland, he received permission to index the Jewish records from his own ancestral town, Ostrow Mazowiecka. When he was done, he paid a visit to Prof. Jerzy Skowronek, then director of the PSA.
      “When I presented him with the printout of the database, I was not in any way, shape or form thinking about what was going to happen next,” Diamond said. “He said to me, ‘Mr. Diamond, this is very impressive, I wasn’t expecting this.’ And I don’t know what prompted me at that moment, but I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could do this for all of Poland?’And he said, ‘Well it’s not our policy, but maybe we’ll start small and do a few more towns’.”
      When he returned to Canada, Diamond began calling people and raising interest. He attributes the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fortuitous co-operative spirit of the PSA as chief factors – along with the rise of the personal computer and the World Wide Web – behind JRI-Poland’s step-by-step development and growth. “Everything came together, the timing was exquisite,” he said. “It was a continuum of one thing happening after another that made all this possible.”
      A key step along the way was the agreement that Diamond signed with the PSA in 1997 that officially recognized JRI-Poland as a partner. “After that, we had the credibility to go to each branch of the PSA, having been introduced by headquarters. Back then, of course, we were still buying photographs of the index pages. When digitalization became a reality, that was also a turning point,” said Diamond.
      Diamond has already received numerous awards for his work, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. Last December, he was nominated for the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.
      As for the Meritorious Service Medal, all JRI-Poland leaders and volunteers also share in the honour, he said: “What we have accomplished has only been made possible through teamwork and a level of collaboration and dedication unmatched in the Jewish genealogical world.”
       
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