February 2006 Notes
Jewish Genealogical Society of Sacramento
But first, a few items that may be of interest:
Latest from Steve Morse: From the Avotaynu newsletter, mention that Steve
Morse's site (www.stevemorse.org) has added portals to the United Kingdom census
for all years from 1851 to 1901; the census data itself is located on
ancestry.com. You can also find www.zabasearch.com on his site, a means of finding
people’s current addresses, phone numbers and birthdates (month and year). It's
listed under his Births, Deaths and Vital Records" section.
Oh, Canada: If you have any family members who lived in Montreal, Avotaynu
also tells us about the Montreal city directories ("annuaires") from 1842-1940,
now online at http://bibnum2.bnquebec.ca/bna/lovell/index.html.
The Web site
is in French and some English, but the directories themselves were published
primarily in English. Included are alphabetical directories of individuals and
businesses, a street directory, and some advertising.
Personal sucess story: I found my grandfather and his occupation listed at
several different Montreal addresses for the years I've searched. This site is
easy to use -- click on the year or years you want to search in the left-hand
column, then choose "Montreal alphabetical directory" if you're looking for a
person -- it’s very simple to scroll through the page listings for each
letter. The copies of the pages I've seen are very clear and easy to read.
From the Michelin man: Here's a great Web site to add to your map sites
repertoire. From Michelin, it's a European equivalent of Yahoo Maps or MapQuest:
www.viamichelin.com. You'll find more than 40 countries, including the Russian
federation and other Eastern European countries. Useful for planning a
foreign trip or searching for the street where relatives once lived.
Lion's share from the NY Public Library: Thanks to member Allan Dolgow for
forwarding the url for the New York Public Library's great Web site:
www.nypl.org/databases/index.dfm?act+2&free=yes Check this site out -- it links to
dozens, maybe hundreds of databases. Somehow I spotted the link to the
Naturalization Index to Kings County (Brooklyn) records, 1907-1924.
After having no luck finding my great-grandfather's
records in Manhattan, and no idea the year he was naturalized, I put his name in
this database and found the year, volume and page number for his declaration
papers. They tell you it will take 4-6 months to receive a copy of the
declaration, but my request is now in the mail. (And thanks to the NY JGS members for
doing the data entry work on this site.)
Facing facts and photos -- MyHeritage.com Web site: At the end of these
notes, find an article on this Israeli-based site that includes family tree
components and face recognition technology. It’s already won praise from Steve
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Notes for February 19, 2006
President Mark Heckman called the meeting to order. Bob Wascou presented the
treasurer's report in Allan Bonderoff's absence -- we have $1489.58 in our
Vice-President Burt Hecht gave an overview of upcoming meetings.
Sunday, March 19, 10 a.m. -- Genealogy Share-athon, a round robin among our
members, to suggest solutions to thorny research problems and inspire others
with recent triumphs.
Monday, April 17, 7 p.m. (back to evening schedule) --David and Sophie
Hoffman will discuss late 18th century records available in Eastern Europe,
particularly in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Monday, May 15, 7 p.m. -- Les Finke will discuss oral interviewing and
Monday, June 19, 7 p.m. -- Pam Dallas will focus on researching burial sites
Other programs projected include preparing for the August New York conference
in July, along with a focus on Northern California Jewish history, and in
September, a wrap-up from the August conference. In the fall, an "antiquities
roadshow" is planned with members bringing in objects of interest from their own
More information will be placed on our Web site www.jgss.org as it becomes
Mark mentioned that he received word from member Sid Salinger that Sid has
shaved his head as part of a fundraising effort to combat children's cancer.
Those who'd like to contribute to the cause can e-mail him at
Former JGSS President Steve Kitnick, now in Las Vegas, has donated a copy of
a new book on William Alexander Leidesdorff. According to the book,
Leidesdorff was the first black millionaire, an American consul, California pioneer,
and Jewish. The book, now in our library, has been signed by its author, Gary
And Abraham Spivak has generously donated a real find -- a 5-inch thick 1924
edition of a 1915 English/Yiddish dictionary, published in New York. Abe
found the treasure at a book sale and has now contributed it to our library. It
should be an excellent resource for translating Yiddish documents.
Gerry Ross mentioned the Jewish Film Festival is coming up -- mark your
calendars for March 4 and 5 in Sacramento.
Sacramento's Root Cellar is offering a day-long seminar in Fair Oaks
Saturday, March 25 featuring speaker John Colletta. For details check out
www.rootcellar.org. Early bird registration deadline is now March 15.
And Art Yates wanted to share a Web site that might aid you in getting a
mental picture of a family home, past or present, by entering in a specific street
address. The information varies by address, but can include the date the
house was built, square footage, how many bedrooms, estimated value, etc. Check
February Speaker -- Barbara Leak on "GenSmarts" Software
Barbara is a longtime genealogist and is currently president of the
Genealogical and Historical Council of Sacramento Valley. She is also a five-term
former president of the Placer County Genealogical Society.
She provided us with a live computer demonstration of the GenSmarts software
program, which works with existing genealogy data files such Ancestry Family
Tree, Family Tree Maker, Legacy Family Tree, Roots Magic, The Master
Genealogist and more. GenSmarts also works with Gedcom files or you can manually type
individual data directly into the program.
Generally, Barbara noted that the program looks at birth dates, death dates,
marriages and other data you've entered on your family members, and based on
that, generates research questions.
Barbara did a fairly wide search of the people in her database (more than
2500) and that generated 13,073 "research suggestions" she could follow up on.
For example, "search Maine 1880 census-- may contain birthplace information for
parents of people listed."
Barbara noted that there are five areas to the GenSmarts program, indicated
on tabs at the top of the screen.
The first is "My Genealogy File," which lists all the names in your data
file, as well as facts about each individual. Here you can mark "root" ancestors
of the family lines you wish to filter or prioritize when generating research
The second tab is the "To Do List." You can use filters such as "direct
ancestors," specific surnames, date, geographic location, record types, online
availability and more. Among the suggestions will be choices of where you can
search online, both paid and unpaid. If you then click "browse," the program
will actually take you to the screen where you can begin researching.
You can tag various research suggestions for future use. You can also
request that it ignore various suggestions. And everytime you load GenSmarts, it
re-analyzes your database.
There are also various print options for reports, ranging from brief one-line
summaries to extensive information. You can also have it print in a specific
sort order, whether by last name, or date of birth, for example.
The third tab in the GenSmarts program is "Research Locations." Barbara said
there is a list of 51 Web sites and library inventories currently in
GenSmarts, and it can give you specific book call numbers and microfilm roll numbers to
search in those locations. (Check the Allen County Library for a cited book,
with the call number xxxx.) While primarily American Web sites and
libraries, there are some Australian, Canadian, Irish and British sites in the program.
Under the fourth tab, "Data Cleanup," you'll find a list of place names the
software had difficulty recognizing. It also notes where a county may not be
listed, or events where no location is listed, etc. Data Cleanup also lists
information on dates that GenSmarts estimated and explains the logic behind the
The final tab is "Query." Barbara said that to generate research suggestions
on people not in your data file, use the query form to manually enter data
about the person. Then hit "generate suggestions." The query form also allows
you to use GenSmarts without a data file.
In the program's Tools list, you can indicate customized records (books you
have, other locations not already included) and do "sandbox editing."
Barbara emphasized that the program does not change your database in any way,
does not compromise the integrity of your data. You have to make any changes
in the data yourself.
For more information, check out the program's Web site:
www.gensmarts.com/index.html. A free demo, tutorials and users forum are available on the Web site.
The program, which costs about $25 for download only, about $35 for the
program with training, CD. Once you buy the program, any updates are free.
GenSmarts is available to use for free at the LDS Family History Centers in
Carmichael and Auburn.
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Don't forget, our next meeting is Sunday, March 19 at 10 a.m. -- it's our
Genealogy Share-Athon, or round robin. Come and share recent successes or
challenges that have you stumped. We guarantee you'll learn something new.
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Story on MyHeritage.com site:
March 5, 2006
A genealogy about-face as savvy people change the way we research our
Schelly Talalay Dardashti
In a century-old Templar building in the quaint village of Wilhelma (Bnei
Atarot) near Tel Aviv, I discovered the savvy people of MyHeritage.com, who are
changing the way we do family history research.
In a few minutes, a powerful genealogy search engine pulls up, from more than
400 databases, more than 13,000 instances of a few variations of my rare
name. Other components include an elegant, free, downloadable family tree builder,
a family website builder and a just-for-fun facial recognition technology
(FRT) game popular on the Internet. No commercial ads, free and user-friendly,
the sophisticated package is a one-click linked group of components.
A genealogist since age 13, CEO Gilad Japhet, now 36, was working full-time
in hi-tech while still a Technion student. When he married at 30, he decided to
take six months off for family research, visit archives and interview family
members. “I was aware of available genealogy software, but what I wanted was
missing,” he recalls, adding that what was out there was not innovative or was
As Gilad pursued his roots, he visited relatives around the world, armed with
a portable scanner and other equipment. He rescued some 2,000 photographs
found in albums, shoeboxes, shelves, attics and garages. Most weren’t labeled;
their owners weren’t sure of the pictured individuals’ names or relationships.
He talked to many elderly people, conducted video interviews, and he began to
see the face of humanity and relationships. Gilad’s dream was to “let people
upload pictures to a central site, teach the software who the people were
and, then, ask it to find the same people in other photos.”
In 2003, he took his passion and started MyHeritage.com. Gilad saw the future
– that genealogy as a leisure pursuit was becoming increasingly popular and
would continue to grow. He looked for investors, but nothing clicked until he
found two backers who are not only experienced businessmen but also genealogy
fans. Today, his staff numbers 24, some internationally-based.
You may have seen Gilad’s innovation. His “Find the Celebrity in You” game,
introduced a few months ago, is sweeping the Internet. Based on face
recognition technology developed for genealogy, some 20,000 facial photos of 3,200
celebrities – actors, politicians, scientists, artists and others – were scanned
into a database. Users upload their own photos and the FRT system
scientifically finds famous people who resemble them.
The craze is on, more than 790,000 people have registered to try this (up
from 580,000 when I visited Gilad’s office a week ago), and someone new registers
every two seconds. According to Gilad, they mostly come from the US, followed
by the UK, Italy, Turkey, Sweden, Finland, Canada, France, Germany, Poland
and Spain – with only 1 percent from Israel.
In about two months, the site will allow matching people with other users’
photos and a new direction in genealogy research will open up, he says.
FRT, researched at universities like Haifa’s Technion, started out as a
valuable security industry application. Today, thanks to Gilad’s vision, it has
extensive uses for genealogy and photography, in addition to fun.
Genealogical applications are obvious. One example: We all have unlabelled
photos of unknown people at all stages of life. If we could match the images, we’
d know more. Gilad says his matches are in the accuracy range of plus/minus
What’s in a name?
A common problem is finding name variations on relevant genealogical
databases. Fortunately, with my rare name – Talalay – I know there are about 30
variations (Talalai/j/y, Talolai/j, Tololay/j/i, etc.), with more on databases
using faulty record transcriptions.
This search engine offers the most likely 30 spelling options, and users can
try 10 each time, soon to be 20. Gilad expects that 100 variations, ranked by
likely match, will be available, and users will contribute synonyms. The
secret, he says, is to use the best variations.
While some focused genealogy megasites search a handful of databases
simultaneously, returning up to several hundred results, a general search engine will
return thousands of hits for the Talalay process for foam latex mattresses – a
family connection but not relevant for my research – and relatives’ films,
books, broccoli sprouts and more.
The MyHeritage Research engine, www.myheritageresearch.com , searches some
430 databases (more are being added) looking for selected variants. In a matter
of minutes, those aforementioned 13,000 Talalay (and variations) appeared. I
also retrieved 36,659 results from 52 databases in a fast search on three
variants of Tollin (the name many Talalay adopted in America).
A quick scan showed that not every hit was relevant to my interests, but
there were new ones in unusual places, and that can make all the difference! A
caveat: Although the search looks concurrently inside hundreds of databases,
some, like Ancestry.com, require a paid subscription to retrieve the data.
The future holds more, says Gilad, “We expect to have 500 databases soon and
1,000 in six months.” The full version, soon to go live, will enable users to
save searches for instant retrieval and schedule recurring searches with email
alerts to find names in new databases. In a few months, a place search will
also be available. Perhaps it will help me find my missing Vorotinschtina and
Zaverezhye (near Mogilev, Belarus) landsmen.
The system will also indicate others researching the same name. Perhaps a
cousin in Argentina, whom I haven’t been able to contact, will find the site and
we’ll finally connect. A blind email system will enable researchers to contact
each other without revealing emails unless the parties decide to share them.
San Francisco’s genealogy guru, Dr. Stephen Morse, a household name in both
general and Jewish genealogy circles for his One-Step (www.stevemorse.org )
pages for accessing Ellis Island, census, passenger arrivals and much more,
recently tried the search engine. He wrote to Gilad, “I must confess your searches
are amazing. This is certainly very beneficial to genealogical researchers.”
My visit revealed all the components, and as I looked at pages, functions and
features, the operative word was “Wow!”
The MyHeritage Family Tree Builder (FTB) is an attractively designed,
easy-to-use program for building family trees. It is free, downloadable from the
Besides the lack of ads and the no-charge bottom line, FTB works in 12
languages, including Hebrew and even Yiddish. Data entry is simple, user-friendly,
intuitive; available reports and chart designs are a cut above.
The interface (“the page look” for non-techies) can be in any of the
languages while data entry can also be in any available language, with bilingual
translation in various fields. It comes with a rich language-specific database of
built-in names and vocabulary and users can view the pages any way they want,
selecting designs, styles and colors.
The amazingly easy photo handling will appeal to non-technical people (the
majority of researchers) – no photo editing courses are required. FRT
automatically captures the face and, with one click, or drag and drop, users can link
the face to each individual. It can label group photos with the names of each
individual – just float the mouse over any face to see the name.
A family affair
In the MyHeritage Family Pages, which will go live in April, anyone can build
a user-friendly, multi-lingual family website for free in the basic version
(larger storage areas will bear a charge). Again, no technical knowledge is
required; content and family trees can be imported from any program.
Materials can be posted in their original languages. For me, it means
including a Minsk archive report in Russian, a Barcelona researcher’s discoveries in
Catalan and an English database.
Features include a family address book, a family event calendar (with options
to choose holidays of most countries and religions), a message board, news
and a “today in history” cultural element (according to language selected).
With one click, FTB data can be published online to the family site, which can be
used as a meeting place, an archive of memories, events, blogs, images –
whatever people can imagine.
Options include password-access for private sites, public sites, or mixed
sites where sensitive data is only accessible to family members, with the rest
public. Automatically, if desired, living people’s names and data are omitted
for strangers, but not for visiting family members, which Gilad calls “dynamic
In these days of identity theft, researchers must be careful about publicly
posting names of living people or using their first names, although they may
want the same data in private areas for relatives. Privacy options can be set
according to preference.
Cast a wider net
Searches can be made across the entire MyHeritage community. Users can search
all public family trees and photos, request membership in other sites,
connect sites, open as many sites as desired or join as many as they wish.
Comments, valuable for genealogy research, may be added by any user in any
component, and are included in site searches.
Importantly, members are automatically associated with family trees, thus
anyone visiting a family site sees a personalized display – a “where am I in the
family tree?” For every person in any photo, the system explains how s/he is
related to the viewer.
In a few months, all MyHeritage components will go live, including services
for restoration of historic photos, printing digital photos and family tree
posters. “Then,” says Gilad, “we won’t stand still, but continue to innovate,
and listen to what our users ask for.”
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