This episode’s got a bit of holiday sparkle! Lisa Louise Cooke welcomes Genealogy Gems Book Club author and Victorian lifestyle expert Sarah Chrisman to the show to talk about Victorian holiday traditions, some of which may still live on in your own life. Following that conversation, Lisa shares a fun description of Victorian-era scrapbooking: how it’s different than today’s scrapbooking hobby but also how it reminds her of modern social media.
More episode highlights:
Three success stories from Genealogy Gems listeners: a Google search with great results, a brick-wall busting marriage record and yet another YouTube find for family history (people keep telling us about those!).
Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard chimes in with what she likes so far about MyHeritage’s new DNA testing service.
An internationally-themed German research conference and a makeover for the Scotland’s People website.
More than 150,000 baptism entries from Scottish Presbyterian churches (other than the Old Parish Registers of the Church of Scotland) have been added and more are coming, as well as marriages and burials;
More types of records held by National Records of Scotland are coming, including records of kirk sessions and other church courts;
Explore the site for free, including handy how-to guides for using Scottish records such as statutory records, church registers and census returns.
MAILBOX: GOOGLE SEARCH SUCCESS STORY
From Joan: “I used one of the handy hints from your presentation at the South Orange County California Genealogical Society’s all day seminar in Mission Viejo, CA. I entered some of my common named ancestors, used the quotes, added a time frame and included some key words, like locations. Most of what I found were my own queries and posts. That shows it works!….
One thing I was amazed at was a multi-page article I found: ‘The Lincoln Kinsman,’ written in 1938. It included a lot of information on the Bush family [which is another of her family lines]. The article even included what I think is my ancestor Hannah Bush Radley.” (Click here or on the image above to see a copy of “The Lincoln Kinsman” at Internet Archive.)
Listen to a free 2-part series on cold-calling distant relatives or others as part of your genealogy research: “Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast, episodes 14 and 15.”
Gay entered “Freeport Texas history” in YouTube and found historical newsreel footage of the opening ceremony of a local water treatment plant. She and the women in her family were seated on the front row. Here’s a screenshot from that footage: maybe this is a stylish young Gay in sunglasses? (Watch the video here.)
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. By the end of 2016, RootsMagic expects to be fully integrated with Ancestry.com, too: you’ll be able to sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at http://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.
INTERVIEW: VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS WITH SARAH CHRISMAN
Sarah Chrisman lives her life every day as if it’s the Victorian era. Her clothing, household, pastimes, chores and more all reflect the time period.
Listen as Lisa and Sarah talk about the Victorian Christmas tree; gift-giving, crafts, decorating and things that might surprise us about holiday celebrations during that time.
Legacy Tree Genealogists provides expert genealogy research service that works with your research goals, budget and schedule. The Legacy Tree Discovery package offers 3.5 hours of preliminary analysis and research recommendations: a great choice if you’ve hit a brick wall in your research and could use some expert guidance. Click here to learn more.
The Victorians coined the phrase “scrapbooking:” they literally pasted paper scraps into books. As an embellishment, those who could afford to bought “relief scraps,” such as the ones shown here. These were like the precursors of modern sticker sheets or die cuts, printed just for the scrapbooking hobby. You could buy colorful images of everything from flowers or children to animals, or angels or Father Christmas. These images were raised or embossed on the paper, which is why they called them reliefs.
Relief scraps could be used as embellishments around other items on scrapbook pages, but sometimes they were the only decoration on a page, arranged in pretty patterns.
I don’t think there is any dispute that the four major online resources for genealogy include Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Find My Past, and My Heritage. Of those four, only Ancestry.com has attempted any real integration of DNA test results into traditional genealogy.
That is, until recently. On May 19, 2016 MyHeritage announced that they will be adding a DNA matching service to their offering, and then on November 7th announced they would be conducting DNA tests themselves. Now, MyHeritage has enjoyed partnerships with 23andMe and Family Tree DNA for quite some time now, but those partnerships have been woefully underutilized and are little more than an affiliate service, where MyHeritage provides a discounted rate to test at those companies.
There is no question that the launch of DNA Heritage fully into the genetic genealogy market is exciting news. In fact, it is something I have been pushing for ? we absolutely need someone to challenge AncestryDNA. Competition is good.
In September they began to provide matching results for individuals who had uploaded their results. As of today, uploading your results is still free, so if you have been thinking about it, you may want to take advantage sooner rather than later. As expected, the matches are only as good as the depth of the database, and it is early in the game, so their database is small, but even now we can get an idea of what to expect from MyHeritage as they take their first steps into genetic genealogy.
One of the most exciting elements of their November 7th announcement is their development of a Founder Population project where they have handpicked individuals to represent their reference population for calculating ethnicities. They plan to launch with 25 population groups, but will likely increase to 100 in a fairly short amount of time. This is a far more advanced ethnicity report than is currently offered anywhere else.
After you have figured out how to download your raw data from your testing company (see my instructions here: http://www.yourdnaguide.com/transferring), and then managed to add it to My Heritage (you have to add a family tree to MyHeritage to do this, see further instructions in their May press release), and waited the requisite time to process, you will receive a notice that you have new DNA matches.
As for my favorite features, I like how they list all the possible relationships that make sense between you and your match taking into account multiple factors like your age, gender, and your genetics instead of a simple, generic range like 2nd-4th cousins. The accompanying chart that visually shows you all possible relationships is also very helpful. You can access it by clicking on the little question mark icon next to the relationship suggestions. I like that these suggestions remind us that our genetic relationships have different genealogical interpretations. Meaning that genetically, a 2nd cousin once removed, a first cousin twice removed, and a second cousin, all fall within a similar genetic range and it is impossible to determine your exact relationship based on the genetics alone.
I also like that they are providing all three genetic descriptors of your relationship: total amount of shared DNA, how many segments are shared, and the size of the longest piece of shared DNA. While this more of an intermediate to advanced piece of your results, it can be important as your relationship analysis becomes more involved.
One unique claim made by MyHeritage in their press release about their matching feature addresses a main concern that genetic genealogists have: the lack of pedigree information provided by their matches. MyHeritage claims that 95% of their DNA samples have pedigrees attached. That is remarkable! However, from my own quick calculation of my matches, the number with pedigrees is more like 60%.
They also indicated that they will soon be doing a bit of pedigree analysis for you by providing a list of shared surnames and locations between you and your match based on the pedigrees you have both submitted. This will certainly be a welcome addition.
According to the November 9th Q and A they haven’t decided yet if the ethnicity features will be available to those who only transfer, and they hint at many more features they have in the works that may only be offered to those who purchase their test.
In short, the MyHeritage site is currently functioning much like the top three genetic genealogy sites (Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, and 23andMe) and like the free tool Gedmatch, offers a meeting place for those who have been tested at one company to meet those who have tested at another, with the added bonus of a promise of new features on the horizon.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
Lisa reprises a favorite research detour into vehicle forensics to identify an old family car and shares tips for creating short family history books like those she given as holiday gifts to loved ones.
Hear letters from listeners on a special adoption discovery and a 1940 census mystery that now makes more sense.
Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard weighs in with 4 reasons to take a DNA test if you haven’t taken the plunge yet.
Genealogy Gems Editor Sunny Morton spotlights the current Genealogy Gems Book Club title, Murder in Matera.
The vehicle forensics and family book segments originally appeared in Genealogy Gems Podcast episodes 18 and 13, respectively, and are being republished here for web audiences.
If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is an audio excursion with Lisa on an old railroad track up to a silver mine in the Colorado Rockies, an excursion she originally shared in Episode 18 of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, not now available online, and is being republished here exclusively for your enjoyment. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 forWindows, iPhone and iPad users
Qualities of a successful short family history book, from Lisa Louise Cooke
The book conveys an overall theme.
Start by reviewing all the available material you have. That will give you a good sense of what the time period was like for your ancestor. You’ll also start to understand their goals, experiences, and emotions. Ultimately a theme should begin to surface.
In the case of A Nurse In Training, I wanted to communicate my grandmother as a young woman taking on a new adventure away from home that ultimately led to this warm, caring woman’s successful career as a nurse. I also tucked a bonus subplot in there of how she just happened to meet her husband at the same time!
You don’t need every scrap of research and every photo to get this theme across. It’s your job to be a sharp editor and to pick out the critical pieces. You want the words and photographs that clearly communicate your theme to the reader.
#2. The book can be read in one sitting.
Like it or not, if it takes too long read, they probably won’t. Strive to create a book that doesn’t look intimidating. I create books that are ten to twenty double-sided pages. People will be willing to pick up a thinner book off the coffee table. If it’s well done they’ll find that all of a sudden they’ve finished the entire book without wanting to put it down. The final goal is that they will walk away with a real sense of having gotten to know that ancestor.
#3. It contains the best of the best of what you have.
This goes back to conveying the theme and being a strict editor. My grandma had many funny stories, but there just wasn’t room for all of them. I picked the best of the best. Anyone who reads the book should hopefully come away with the fact that she had a sense of humor and could laugh at herself. So keep the content of your book focused, full of graphics and photos, and including the best of the best. If you can capture their interest in the first three pages, you’ll have them for the entire book.
#4. There are lots of photos and graphics.
A picture is definitely worth a thousand words. Since the number of words in this size book will be limited, photographs will be your best friend. If you’re lacking in family photos, many of my previous podcasts will give you countless ideas for locating associated photos. In A Nurse In Training, I included scanned images of skating rink tickets, programs and announcements from my grandma’s scrapbook, and journal pages in my grandmother’s own hand. These types of items really add texture and interest to your book, as well as help the reader to see that you’ve really done your homework.
#5. Keep it in chronological order.
This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to get sidetracked and start going back and forth in time. Believe me, for the reader’s sake keep things in chronological order. You as the researcher know this information backward and forwards, but this is probably your reader’s first exposure to it. Be gentle with them and keep it straight forward and simple. Your reader will thank you.
#6. You choose only high-quality images and printing.
High-quality glossy pages, good image quality and a hardcover binding all shout to the reader “I’m worth your time, read me!” For example, I found a drawing of Dameron Hospital where my grandmother worked, but it was a low-quality image and didn’t translate well in the book. As much as I wanted to include it, I ended up leaving it out. I’m glad I did; it wasn’t critical to the book and there were other ways to communicate the hospital to the reader.
Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.
I used to think that economics was just a series of numbers and calculations that helped to gauge the future growth of companies and countries. In a word: boring. But that was before I discovered that you can study the economics of people and essentially use math to describe human behavior, and therefore in some ways make that behavior more predictable.
This is of course especially intriguing to my current situation as the parent of a teenager, a pre-teen, and a daughter. Teenagers especially are always talking about the things that “everyone else has,” a phenomenon that Malcom Gladwell, one of these interesting people-economists, describes as the “tipping point.” He says that the tipping point is “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” For my kids it’s everything from the point at which a party becomes fun to doing everything that is humanly possible to procure a fidget-spinner (if you don’t know what that is, ask the nearest 11 year old).
In DNA testing in the United States, that tipping point is now. We have reached the point where most genealogists at least have the passing notion that genetics can be useful in genealogy. Most genealogists (I would guess 85%) who attend the lectures I give have already had at least one DNA test completed. Let’s stop for just one minute and recognize how incredible that is! Not too long ago I was still trying to convince people that this was a good idea and that you didn’t have to dig up your ancestors to do it! But now we have scores of genealogists who have not only tested themselves, but have convinced half their family to test as well!
This got me thinking though, who are those people who haven’t tested? And why not? One category of people sans DNA test are those who have full pedigree charts. I have heard many of them say that they don’t see the need to do DNA testing since they have most of their lines “way back.” To those with the blessing of ancestors who kept better records than mine, I am offering four reasons why you should RSVP to your invitation to DNA test.
Record. First and foremost, your DNA is a record. Just as you have obtained birth certificates and marriage licenses for your ancestors, your DNA is a unique record. It does represent you and your family in a way that no other record can. It is a document of your genetic history, and should be preserved. Further, while you may doubt the ability of your DNA to shed light on your current genealogy, don’t underestimate the contribution it might make in the future.
Second Cousins. And third cousins, and fourth cousins, etc. Having your DNA tested means you can see a biological connection between you and other relatives that have had tested. For many, the idea of meeting or forming relationships with distant cousins is not appealing. But even if you have no intention of attending DNA family reunions or even in corresponding with these relatives, there is something reassuring about seeing them there on your match list. There is a certain thrill that comes with recognizing the connection between you and someone else. A connection that may not add any new names to your tree, but it helps you feel a deeper connection to your ancestor, and a greater appreciation for your biology.
Verify. Which brings me to the next point. Seeing these cousins on your list can actually help verify the genealogy you have already collected and documented. It helps to reassure you that you have made the right steps along the way, and may help you gain additional resources about your relative through their descendants that you find on your match list. Resources that can help turn that ancestor from a name on a chart, to a story and a life worth preserving.
Philanthropy. The last reason to go ahead and have your DNA tested is to help others. If you have been lucky enough to fill in most of the blanks on your tree, you can help others do the same by simply having your DNA tested. Your DNA provides a link to your tree that might be just what someone needs to overcome a brick wall in their family history.
So, if you have been hanging out on the outskirts of DNA testing because you feel like your tree is full enough without it, remember to RSVP to your invitation to be DNA tested, and join the party!
GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB: A FAMILY HISTORY MURDER MYSTERY!
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagicfamily history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. RootsMagic is now fully integrated with Ancestry.com, too: you can sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more athttp://www.backblaze.com/lisa.
GEM: VEHICULAR FORENSICS: Updated links, tips and resources
Here’s the original photo of my grandma next to her father’s car:
The original zoomed in image of the license plate:
The license plate with the “alternative light source” applied:
Since I first published this episode, iGoogle has gone away.
FromItStillRuns.com: “Veteran cars were manufactured before 1903, vintage cars were made between 1903 and 1933, and classic cars are considered to be vehicles manufactured from 1933 until fifteen years ago.”
Each area of genealogy research comes with a unique set of challenges. Jewish genealogy is no exception, but thankfully there are fantastic websites and online resources available to help. Even if you don’t have Jewish ancestors, these resources may prove very helpful for researching Eastern European branches of your family tree. Many provide detailed maps and information about towns that have long since vanished.
In this week’s Elevenses with Lisa episode professional genealogist Ellen Shindelman Kowitt (Director of JewishGen’s USA Research Division and National Vice Chair of a DAR Specialty Research Jewish Task Force) joins us to share:
unique features that JewishGen.org has to offer
the best regional websites
what you need to do before you dig into these websites
You can watch here, or click “Watch on YouTube” to watch at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel where you can also view the live chat by signing into YouTube with a free Google account.
Episode 57 Show Notes
Lisa Louise Cooke: When I think of Jewish genealogy, immediately my mind goes to JewishGen.org, and I was hoping you could start us off with an overview of that. I know that you’re involved with them and boy, do they have a lot to offer!
Ellen Kowitt: JewishGen is really the premier main source for Jewish records on the internet today.
It’s run as a non-profit and it’s actually a part of a museum on the lower side of Manhattan called the Museum of Jewish Living Heritage. It’s run by a professional executive director, Abraham Grohl, but then there are thousands of volunteers that participate as research division directors, who help to identify records, index records, and translate records because language is a big issue in Jewish genealogy.
They’ve developed some really great data sets that can be searched for free by anyone. There is no charge to search JewishGen. Similar to FamilySearch, they ask that you register for a username and a password, but they don’t sell your name and it’s not going to go anywhere past accessing that website.
They have different tools they have developed that are unique to searching Jewish records.
I think there are a lot of entry points into JewishGen. For a novice, particularly beginners who have not done a lot of research anywhere on the internet, it can be a little overwhelming. They have a unified search, which combines the data sets from hundreds of records into one search function, because you can search each of these data sets separately. But if you’re just browsing and curious, and just want to throw your names in, the unified search is a great place to start.
Something that is really exciting about it is that they’ve had these special algorithms developed that are unique to Jewish names and Jewish languages. I’ll mention the Jewish languages in a minute, but it’s similar to the National Archives in the United States, which developed what we call the Soundex, which is an alpha-numeric code assigned to your name. It helps you navigate other spellings to your name that are similar, but maybe your family didn’t spell it that way, but it could be found in a record that way. The American Soundex doesn’t always work on Jewish or mostly Eastern-European names, so these special Soundexes were developed on JewishGen that are now used throughout the Jewish genealogy world on other databases as well. One is called the Daitch–Mokotoff. Another is called the Beider-Morse, but JewishGen doesn’t call them that. When you go in, it’s blind to you.
You’ll put your name or your town name into the search engine and there is a form with fields that you can populate. It doesn’t matter if you’re spelling the names of your given name, your surname, or your town name correctly, because you’re going to be able to pick a couple of different ways to search in a drop-down menu.
The first one will be called “Sounds Like,” the second is “Phonetically Like,” and then it goes into “Starts With,” “Is Exactly,” “Fuzzy Match,” “Fuzzier Match,” and “Fuzziest Match.” My recommendation is always search on “Sounds Like” and “Phonetically Like” because those are Daitch–Mokotoff and Beider-Morse Jewish algorithms for Jewish names and places. So that’s really, really helpful.
Many times people coming to Jewish genealogy are just hung up on names, where they come from, and figuring out an immigrant’s place of origin. Because, think about it: nobody spoke English in the Russian Empire or the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is where a majority of Jews came from after 1880. So, they’re speaking languages like German and Russian, Lithuanian and Polish, and even Yiddish, which is linguistically more like German although it is written with Hebrew letters.
These immigrants come to American ports and there could be an immigrant from another part of the world with a different kind of accent, like an Irishman. So, an Irishman in America listening to a Yiddish speaker from Russia – of course they’re going to butcher spelling the names. It’s just par for the course.
People can’t get hung up on the spellings of Jewish names, particularly the surnames and the towns of origin where they are emigrating from. Of course, those towns are important to narrow down and understand where they were, because that’s where you’re going to look for the records.
JewishGen’s Communities Database
That’s a second point about JewishGen that’s so helpful. They have a Communities Database, and that lists over 6,000 places where Jews mostly lived in the largest populations around Eastern Europe. In many of those places, Jews don’t live there anymore, but they will outline for you in different time periods where the records are or where they were.
We always refer to Jews coming from Russia because we see that on passenger manifests or census records. But a lot of times when you see Russia as a place of origin for a Jewish family, if they came before 1917, that was Russian Empire. The Russian Empire doesn’t exist anymore, and what was the Russian Empire pre-1975 is not Russia-proper today.
There are a lot of countries where your family could have come from, including Poland, because part of Poland was in the Russian Empire. Your family might actually be from Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, or Ukraine, or even some places in the south that don’t exist anymore. There used to be an area referred to as Bessarabia, and another one, Bukovina. These don’t exist anymore. Even Prussia, when you talk about the German Jews who came over, and this is true for non-Jews, too. There is no Prussian Empire anymore, and what was the Prussian Empire is now largely Poland, parts of Russia, and Germany of course. But it’s misleading that if your family spoke German and said that were Prussian, that they were German the way we think of Germany today. A lot of Jews came from Prussia, so that’s why I mention it.
Those are the key things about JewishGen. It helps with you the name complications and determining what other spellings there might be in records. It also helps you with locating these towns and what the administrative districts today would be.
How to Get Started in Jewish Genealogy Research
If you’re researching a Jewish family, it’s no different than any other American family, if you’re starting in America. You start with the civil records, the vital records, the census records, and the passenger manifests. None of these American records are divided by faith or ethnic group. So, a Jewish person, or if you’re researching a Jewish branch, should be starting the same way as any other American research. Start with yourself, work backwards, go through and exhaust all of the American records that you can, which will help you determine what those original names and place they came from are. That’s where JewishGen really helps you. It’s kind of like a 102 class. You have to do the American 101 records, and then when you’ve exhausted all of that, you jump to the Jewish records, which are largely available through JewishGen.
And the big point about JewishGen is the networking, because there’s this huge discussion group. They are now on Facebook with a group.
They have something called the JewishGen Family Finder, where you can register the names you’re looking for and/or the towns. Likewise, you can search to see whom else is researching the same names and towns that you are.
Through the messaging on JewishGen, you can get in touch with them and say, “Hey this is my story. Can I see your tree?” or “Do you have any family photos?” or “Have you had any success finding records for the little town in the middle of Ukraine?” Or even, “Have you hired a researcher that was helpful in pushing your research back in this particular archive in Lithuania?” It’s a fantastic way to find people researching the same obscure, small areas of the world that you are.
Lisa Louise Cooke – That’s an amazing resource, and you’re so right that we still have to follow the basic genealogy methodology. We still need to go through those records here. It’s tempting – I know people will say, “Well I know they were Jewish” so they’ll want to jump into that, and yet you miss so many clues that would probably come in super handy once you get over to JewishGen and you’re ready for that.
Ellen Kowitt: Absolutely…I find people who come to Jewish genealogy as beginners have not done that. I’m often backtracking and teaching American research before I ever get to a single Jewish record. I think that it’s really important that people take a look at (American records).
If they’re not in the United States and they’re listening, Canadian records or British records, wherever you might be starting from. You need to start in the country where your person that you’re researching is located, with those records first.
JewishGen Research Divisions
Lisa Louise Cooke: That’s a great point. I know for my own Sporowskis who were German-East Prussians, really they’re out of Belarus. I’m pretty sure that even though my great-grandfather later was going to the Lutheran church in America, I think they were a Jewish family back in Belarus. JewishGen has been one of the few places to find information about some of these locations that have changed names and boundaries. It’s just an amazing resource in that way.
Ellen Kowitt: Belarus is a good example. JewishGen has maybe over 20 research divisions. I happen to be the director for what’s called the USA Research Division, and just to define that, it’s not census records and passenger manifests. It’s looking at records held at Jewish repositories that are in the US, like the American Jewish Archives or the Southern Jewish Historical Society.
There are research divisions geographically all throughout Eastern Europe and there is one for Belarus called the Belarus Research Division. If you click on their link from JewishGen’s drop-down menu, they have their own website and they give a lot of maps, from now and then, of what Belarus was, and lists of towns divided by province, or what was gubernia. There are ways to connect with people and search what their records are.
Here’s a little tip I have about Research Divisions and any project on JewishGen. If you don’t find what you’re looking for and you really think it might be there, or you’re spelling it wrong and it’s not showing up in the Soundex, contact whoever the person is on that record set or who the Research Division director is, or who the town leader is.
In Ukraine, there are hundreds of town leaders for these little towns and what we find is that the town leaders and the Research Division leaders often know or are holding onto records that are not online. If you’re not finding something, it’s free to send an email! Just inquire and say, “Do you know anything else about Grodno, Belarus in 1854? Or the name Cohen?” or whatever it is, and you just never know what these folks have because I have found there are a lot of offline lists that the experts know about.
Lisa Louise Cooke: That’s very good insider information. It’s true, as you go into your genealogy research you get more and more daring and send that email. All they can do is just not be available. But it sounds like those folks are more than happy to help. What a wonderful idea.
Regional Jewish Genealogy Resources
Lisa Louise Cooke: We were talking about specific regions and I’m sure there are all kinds of different things here, but what other types of websites might be out there for regional Jewish genealogy?
Ellen Kowitt: It’s a little confusing. There is kind of a hierarchy. It’s not coordinated by any organizing body, but there are three independently run Jewish database sites. When I say the names, sometimes people say, “Oh that’s part of JewishGen.” They’re not. They are run independently. The three are:
JRI-Poland which stands for Jewish Records Indexing Poland,
And what we used to call LitvakSIG, and SIG stands for Special Interest Group.
All three of these groups kind of have roots in JewishGen and then for different organizing reasons all wanted to organize as independent non-profits. But they share their data. Now, do they share all of their data? Do they share their data at the same time? Are they sharing it in the same place? The answers really vary. This is why, I always say, if you’re brand new, check out Unified Search on JewishGen.
Ancestryactually has some of LitvakSIG, some of JRI-Poland, and some of JewishGen’s records. Just recently LitvakSIG released some of their records to MyHeritage. So, there is some overlap back and forth on the data sets. But if you’re from these three particular geographic regions, I would not only be looking on Ancestry, FamilySearch, and JewishGen. I would always go to their original databases on each of their original websites.
LitvakSIGreally stands for Lithuania, but Lithuania today is really different than the geographic borders of Lithuania a hundred years ago. When you look at modern-day Lithuania on a map, if your family is coming from a part of Latvia or Belarus or an area of Russia that surrounds that area, you might want to look there. I have this corner of southwestern Lithuania that part of my family came from, but it has also been Prussian, it has been Suwalki, Poland, and it’s right near Belarus, but yet I found records in Lithuania in LitvakSIG. I have also found them in Suwalki from JRI-Poland. So, loosely when you define your location, consider what’s geographically around the modern-day borders. But LitvakSIG is predominantly Lithuania and a lot of Jews came from Vilnius and Kaunus and all these places up there.
The second one is JRI-Poland. They are fantastic in their records acquisition. They’ve had partnerships with the Polish state archives. They give locations of microfilm that are for Polish municipalities at the FamilySearch digital collection. They have tons of volunteers who have worked there for 30 years. It’s extremely extensive.
For listeners who don’t know, the Polish State Archives has largely gone online, so a lot of vital records are digitized and you can go right to the record. Now, it may be in Polish or Russian, but you can get to those records for free, just like you can on FamilySearch sometimes.
JRI-Poland is just a powerhouse for getting access, using their indexes first to locate if there are records for your family in a town, using the Soundexes that are the Jewish Soundexes, and then getting to the original record. I just love JRI-Poland.
And be loose on those borders because it’s going to include Suwalki and those areas north on the Lithuanian-Russian border. Even the Belarus border and that Prussian border on the other side. For JRI-Poland, ‘cast a broad net’ is areas that were ever considered Poland, even on the southern side, too.
The third one is called Gesher Galicia, also run independently, and also shares data with JewishGen. Galicia does not exist anymore. It was a designation for an area that today you would think of on a map as western Ukraine and eastern Poland, and a lot of Jews lived in Galicia. Unique to that area is that it was Austro-Hungarian Empire at one point, so the records are in German, not so much in Russian or in Polish.
But Gesher Galicia has got a fantastic search engine on their database, and they are another powerhouse that is just continuing with their volunteer army of adding so many great data sets.
They’re really good, too, at allowing you to list what towns you’re researching if you join, and I think they have a small membership fee. In fact, each of them have a membership fee that they’ve added on, and I think that just gives you access to records maybe a little bit sooner.
These three are often lumped in with JewishGen but are really organized as separate organizations and they acquire records and index them in a different way.
Lisa Louise Cooke: That’s a great overview and it reminds us, like with all genealogy, that when you see partners working together and they end up with records on multiple sites, I find myself wanting to look at those records, even if they’re the same, on every site. You never know what the nuances are. You never know if their image is clear. There are so many different possible variations.
Jewish Records at Ancestry.com
Ellen Kowitt: There are! I have taken a deep dive on Ancestry’s records of JewishGen. They started an arrangement awhile back, I think in 2008, and JewishGen gave them a bunch of records in return for Ancestry housing their servers. So a great business arrangement for a little non-profit like JewishGen, but confusing for people like researchers that only use Ancestry and never look any further.
Certainly if you’re finding things on Ancestry (Jewish Records at Ancestry)that are JewishGen, you want to go to JewishGen and search also because JewishGen has not updated all the records that they sent to Ancestry ten or more years ago. There are unique records that were never sent to Ancestry, and you pick up those Jewish Soundex search capacities on JewishGen.
Now, Ancestry’s search has definitely advanced in recent years but it’s not the Beider-Morse the Daitch–Mokotoff Jewish algorithms for searching Jewish names. If you can’t find somebody on the JewishGen collection at Ancestry, go to JewishGen and try running the search there.
Lisa Louise Cooke: Another area I can think of as a roadblock area for folks in their research is around the Holocaust. What kinds of resources do we have to conduct research when it comes to the Holocaust?
Ellen Kowitt: I started doing this about 25 years ago and it used to be that either the records were not released by some of the archives in Russia or in the East, or they weren’t in English, or they weren’t indexed. You would put in these requests and it would take literally years for certain repositories to answer a basic inquiry with “Yes” or “No” if they have a card on your family.
I think there was a lot of mythology build around ‘you can’t document the Holocaust and what happened to people’ and what we’re finding all these years is later is that there are so many records. Plenty of people are documenting their families. We are continuing to find more resources available online, even from repositories that are traditionally not in English.
It’s hard to say where to start, because the story of the Holocaust has also evolved. It used to be we learned in school, if we even learned at all about the story of the Holocaust, that it was the story of the concentration camps and the Jews being gassed, and that’s certainly true. But there are so many other elements of the Holocaust like the story of the 1 ½ million Jews killed in Ukraine before anyone ever was killed at Auschwitz. We call this “the Holocaust by bullets” (and the story and most of what was the Soviet Union at that time), was the Jews were rounded up and, this is gruesome, but they were executed and left in mass graves that are unmarked, largely, throughout what was the Soviet Union.
Even Jews who knew their family was tied up in those kinds of stories thought there was no way to figure out what happened to their family or the town. But we do have records. The Russians kept records. It turns out the Germans kept records. A lot of this has become available online that you can search in English.
It really depends, for a family that knows they have a Holocaust story, where they were, what country they originated in, if you know the story that they went to a camp, or if they were in a small town where there was a mass grave. You’re going to be looking at very different resources.
I would say, if you only had to look at one and you wanted to just start this process, Yad Vashem’s website in Israel, in English, would be the place to do a general top-level search. The reason is because Yad Vashem is like the US version of the (United States) Holocaust (Memorial) Museum in DC, and they have resources too, but the one in Israel is called Yad Vashem and it has a larger collection.
They have also collected these pages of testimony from survivors who talk about their family members and where they last saw them, or if they know the exact story about what happened to them or their whereabouts throughout the war. Thousands of these pages have been submitted and they’re searchable. You can see the original pages that people submit and you can even get in contact with the people submitting them. It’s a great networking opportunity for people looking to connect. Yad Vashem has these great success stories, less and less because the survivors are aging out, where they connected people who still had living relatives in Argentina, Australia, or in Europe, and they’re just fantastic renewal stories.
But yes, complicated topic. It is possible to learn what happened to a community, hopefully to an individual. Records are at Bad Arolsen, the Arolsen archives in Germany, in addition to Yad Vashem and the US Holocaust Museum.
JewishGen does have a Holocaust collection worth searching, although it’s smaller than these other larger repositories. There are all kinds of things on the internet – webinars, speakers, and even books that have been published on how to track down victims and survivors of the Holocaust.
And non-Jewish, too. I recently was looking into someone who came from a Ukrainian Orthodox family and they were shipped out of Ukraine to what would be now the Czech Republic, and they were in a work camp. Sometimes these repositories you think of as Jewish record repositories for Jews in the Holocaust also tell the story of the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Lisa Louise Cooke: I so appreciate your vast knowledge on this. I know you teach people about genealogy, Jewish genealogy – tell us a little bit about you got started in genealogy and then into it professionally.
Ellen Kowitt: I guess like everybody out there, I just have that gene. Even from a young age, I was the one who just gobbled up the stories at the holiday tables and remembered the names and connected the relationships and just kept track of it in my head, long before I realized that was not normal, it was unusual and not everyone does that.
There is a woman, Sallyann Sack, who writes a lot of books on Jewish genealogy and she’s one of the publishers of Avotanyu, which is both a journal on Jewish genealogy and also a publishing company on books about Jewish genealogy. In my twenties, I happened to go to a lecture she gave at a synagogue in Washington DC, 25 or more years ago. She said “Hey we have this club! It’s a Jewish genealogy society and we’re doing a beginners workshop. Do you want to come?” I went and there was no looking back. I just got the bug. I started interviewing relatives like we all are taught, to talk to the oldest people first and the records can wait.
It just went from there. I got super involved as a volunteer. I actually think volunteering is a great way when you’re a beginner to learn about record sets. I have seen probate records, naturalizations, and Jewish records that I would never have found in my own family by helping index through a project with a local society. That was fascinating to me.
Then one day a friend insisted on paying me money to do some research on his mother, and I actually liked it. I thought, wow, if I can make a few extra dollars to pay for my genealogy obsession – and these websites can be expensive, the conferences cost money – but if I can make money and help to pay for my obsession, then I’m going to be a professional. So, that’s how I fell into that and it’s grown from there.
Lisa Louise Cooke: I think those of us who caught the bug when we were young are really fortunate because we got opportunities and I think had a focus on talking to and recording some of those stories. I know that’s probably people’s biggest regret, when they didn’t think about it back when they had an opportunity to interview some of the older relatives. I know in my case I just treasure the few interviews that I did do and I still have.
Ellen Kowitt: Me too.
Lisa Louise Cooke: I really appreciate you sharing all these wonderful resources. And of course, folks can visit you at your website at EllenKowitt.com, and I know that you do lecturing and all kinds of professional work on genealogy, and the wonderful article, Find Your Jewish Roots Online, in the May/June 2021 issue of Family Tree Magazine. Ellen, it’s been a delight to talk to you. Thank you so much for joining us here on the show.
Ellen Kowitt: Thank you so much for having me, I enjoyed it!
Damage reports are surfacing in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Today we discuss how two Texas library collections have fared, and disaster recovery strategies for genealogy researchers. I’ve got a fantastic get-started video tip for those trying to rescue documents, photos, and other family heirlooms–and the two steps everyone should take to protect their priceless genealogical collections.
Port Aransas, Texas
My heart goes out to those who have been in the paths of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma recently. Knowing I live in Texas, many of you have asked how my family is doing. I’m happy to report that the storms didn’t reach those of us here north of Dallas. However, our daughter Hannah and her husband, while thankfully safe after evacuating from their home on the Texas shore, suffered the loss of their car and other possessions, and Hannah’s workplace was destroyed. They are now part of the relief and recovery efforts, and look forward to when they will be able to return to their home, which is currently uninhabitable. We feel very blessed that they are safe and sound, and our prayers go out to all who suffered losses.
Disaster Recovery for Genealogy Libraries
Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research, Houston, TX. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view.
As lives are secured and order begins to be restored in devastated areas, I’ve wondered how various genealogy libraries and archives have fared. Genealogy Gems listener Chris emailed me with an alert that the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research in Houston, Texas has suffered some damage. “So sad for genies!” she writes. Indeed! The Clayton is one of the top public library genealogy research centers in the United States.
Not wanting to disturb their recovery efforts with a phone inquiry, I’ve turned to Google searching and social media for a status report. The Houston Public Library Foundation states that the Clayton is among one of 10 library locations that are “unable to open due to various building damages.” The Clayton Library Friends Facebook page offers more specifics–and this hopeful report:
“Yes, there was some flooding at Clayton Library and according to Susan Kaufman, Manager, Clayton Library is closed this week. Clayton Library staff will be deployed to other libraries that are open.
Clayton Library did suffer some water damage but it was not really that bad. They just need to decide how best to proceed since they were planning on doing renovations soon anyway.”
CityofHouston.news tells us what Clayton staff may be doing at other library branches: “The services and resources that are available at your library system include free access to WiFi and computers, one-on-one assistance with filling out applications and forms, and access to the expertise of library archivists who can assist you in preserving and saving precious family memorabilia such as books, letters and photographs that may have been damaged in the storm.”
Chris’ email encourages us to support the recovery effort for Houston’s libraries through the Houston Public Library Foundation: here’s the link she sent to their donation portal.
Port Arthur Public Library, Port Arthur, Texas. Image from library website.
Down on the coast, another library system wasn’t so fortunate. The Port Arthur Library will remain closed for months, reports the Port Arthur News. “The Port Arthur Public Library was one of many buildings hit hard by Harvey,” states an article by L.V. Salinas. “It sustained flood damage and the subsequent mold issue inundated buildings often face afterward. It also sustained substantial damage and loss of property of its books, computer equipment, archives and more.”
Crews are working to clean up and preserve what they can. High priority is being given to their historical and genealogical resources: “One of the costlier processes was the freeze-drying of irreplaceable items like genealogy records, microfilm, Port Arthur historical photos and collections. The intent, as performed by companies contracted by the city, was to prevent any further damage from taking place, kill the bacteria that’s present and preserve the items long enough for a transference of information by experts.”
The Port Arthur History Collection is proudly described on the library website; it includes a collection of historic photos that were lovingly organized by volunteers and placed in archival-quality storage. “It’s one of our highest buy testosterone medication priorities,” states a library official in the article. “It’s time sensitive, and it has to happen now….We have to preserve it now.”
Disaster Recovery for Genealogy Researchers
As genealogists, we to have our personal and precious libraries and archives. We build trees in software–some of us spending hundreds or thousands of hours on them. We may have files, books, and other research materials. Many of us are family archivists: the stewards of priceless original family documents, photos, and other artifacts. Here’s some level-headed counsel for after a disaster strikes–and here’s what the rest of us should be doing now, before another disaster.
After a Disaster: Take It One Step at a Time
If you’ve been affected by a recent disaster, I’d like to share this fantastic, level-headed advice from Rennee Tallent, Galveston Historical Foundation’s Manager of Historic Collections (Galveston, Texas was hit by a hurricane in 1900–the “deadliest natural disaster in American history”):
I love her compassionate advice:
“Walking into [your home after a disaster] is very overwhelming. Try to take a deep breath and think about the things that matter most to you and what your priorities are. Take it one piece at a time: after you’ve finished that one, move on to the next.” -Rennee Tallent, Galveston Historical Foundation’s Manager of Historic Collections
Start your recovery efforts with whatever matters most to you, Renee says. But she reminds us that certain items are more vulnerable to destruction than others, so try to also focus on things made out of paper and photographs, then cloth, then wood. Leave your china, silver, and glassware until these other items have been stabilized.
Before Disaster Strikes: Digitize and Back It Up!
If a disaster strikes, most of us won’t have the time to grab all our genealogy research files, photographs, and other precious heirlooms. But many of these items are one-of-a-kind–unless we make them two-or-more-of-a-kind!
As family archivists, we can best preserve our past by:
Digitizing it. Make high-quality digital scans of original documents and photos. Take digital pictures of three-dimensional heirlooms such as clothing, handicrafts, even quilts.
Backing up your digital files. Should a disaster occur–whether storm, theft, or fire–your computer may suffer the same fate as any original documents and heirlooms in your home. So I recommend investing in an automated, cloud-based backup service for your computer.
For a few dollars a month, a cloud-based backup service will continually back up your computer files to a remote server. In the event of any loss (including a computer crash), you can download them again. Having a digitized version of those original Civil War letters or photos isn’t quite the same as the real thing–but it’s so much better than having them disappear entirely. And if you’re like me, your computer doesn’t just house your photos and research files. It may have hundreds or even thousands of work files, personal files, music, or video files and more.
I use Backblaze for my personal computer and to back up thousands of Genealogy Gems audio, video, and other files. Backblaze is made for everyday consumers: it’s affordable and easy to use. Do your research yourself and choose the best cloud-based backup for you (click here to read the 8 features you should be watching for).
Our Service “Happiness” Manager, Lacey, experienced first hand the benefits of having her computer backed up:
Right after our Genealogy Gems seminar in Dallas in early August, I came home, sat down to work, and discovered my laptop had died. I tried everything I could find to get it going again (thanks to Google search results) but it couldn’t be revived. Thankfully, I had both Backblaze and Dropbox installed on my computer, and I didn’t lose any files at all. I was able to get everything back! Even my Google account saved all of my settings and bookmarks for my Chrome browser, so when I got my new computer, just about everything was restored as though nothing had happened. I was SO RELIEVED! Planning ahead really paid off!
(If you decide to go with my favorite, Backblaze, thanks for clicking here to purchase it. The modest commission we receive supports the free information I provide on this website and the Genealogy Gems podcast.)
My sincere wishes for the safety of your families–and your family history.
New North American genealogy records online this week! Featured are U.S. military, passenger and yearbook records (including WWII film footage); regional collections for New England and Great Lakes; Congressional statutes; and over 63 million Mexican genealogy records...