When it comes to digitized newspapers on genealogy websites, Findmypast is a clear headliner. The site already hosts millions of U.S., British, and Irish newspaper pages–and their British collection is about to DOUBLE. Extra, extra, read all about it!
It may surprise you to hear that digitized historical newspapers aren’t a big part of the collections at all four giant genealogy websites. In fact, only one site–Findmypast–offers access to millions of exclusive British and Irish newspaper pages and a major U.S. newspaper database (which is usually just available at libraries).
Why mention it now? Because a good thing just got better: Findmypast plans to double its British newspaper content over the next two years.
Digitized Newspaper Treasures at Findmypast.com
Findmypast’s enormous genealogy collections focus on the countries of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Findmypast and The British Library have been working together for several years on The British Newspaper Archive, now home to more than 22.5 million newspaper pages dating from the 1700s. But what many people might not realize is that these same newspaper pages are also available to Findmypast subscribers.
You can search newspaper pages on Findmypast by name (first and last) and by other keywords, such as an occupation, street address, event or another word that might be associated with your family in newspaper articles. You can narrow the date range of papers searched and even target specific newspapers:
Original bound newspaper volumes at the British Library. Image from The British Newspaper Archive.
And it gets better. Findmypast just announced that over the next two years, it will nearly double its digitized newspaper collections! It is scanning over 12 million pages from the largest private newspaper collection in the UK: the Trinity Mirror archives. Over 150 local papers from across the U.K. are included. These pages have never been made available online, but will be on both The British Newspaper Archive and Findmypast. The project is already underway and moving along rapidly: up to 100,000 pages per week.
According to a press release, “The program builds on an existing partnership that has already resulted in the digitization and online publication of upwards of 160 Trinity Mirror titles, including significant coverage of both World Wars. Published online for the very first time, these war-time publications also included the Archive’s first national titles, The Daily Mirror and The Daily Herald.”
TIP: If you are interested in accessing British newspapers, but not needing the full range of genealogy resources offered at Findmypast, consider purchasing PayAsYouGo credits from Findmypast. You can purchase 60-900 at a time and “spend” them to view individual search results, including newspapers. You can also subscribe separately to The British Newspaper Archive.
More Digitized Newspapers on Genealogy Websites
The other giant genealogy websites do offer some newspaper content–indexed, imaged, or both. Here’s a short summary of what you’ll find on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, and MyHeritage:
FamilySearch: Millions of indexed obituaries are searchable by name on its free website, but it doesn’t generally offer any digitized newspaper pages. Of its billion+ historical record images, FamilySearch prioritizes more “core” genealogical records, such as vital records, censuses, and passenger lists.
MyHeritage.com: This site used to have access to NewspaperARCHIVE, the same U.S. newspaper database Findmypast currently offers, but it doesn’t now. It’s got new collections of Ohio (4.5 million pages from 88 sources) and New York (1.9 million pages from 56 sources) newspapers and access to the Jewish Chronicle [England]. But the bulk of its newspaper search results come from searching two other websites: Chronicling America and Trove, run by the national libraries of the United States and Australia, respectively. While it’s convenient to search them from MyHeritage if you are already using it, it’s not a reason to subscribe, as you can use those sites for free.
More Inside Tips on the Genealogy Giants
Genealogy Gems is your home for ongoing coverage and insight into the four ‘genealogy giants’ websites. Click here to learn more and to watch the RootsTech 2017 world premiere of my popular lecture that puts these big sites head-to-head. Genealogy Gems has published my ultimate quick reference guide, “Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites.” It distills that hour-long lecture (and I was talking fast!) into a concise, easy-to-read format that will help you know which websites are best for you to use right now.
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 the free Genealogy Gems podcast and blog!
Lisa Louise Cooke shows you how to use the free Google Earth Pro software to create your own historic map collection customized for your genealogy and family history research. By the end of this class you’ll have a permanent collection of hundreds of gorgeous historic and vintage maps from around the world, organized and ready to use for family history.
Click here to watch a free preview of this full-length video class. Genealogy Gems Premium website members can watch the whole thing: click here to learn more.
The 4th Annual Northwest Genealogy Conference
This episode today is brought to you by the 4rd Annual Northwest Genealogy Conference, hosted by the Stillaguamish Valley Genealogical Society, north of Seattle in Arlington, WA. Centering on the theme, “Where Does Your Story Begin?” it’s four days PACKED full of genealogy.
There will be well-known and respected keynote speakers, including our friend and genetic genealogist Diahan Southard, speaking on DNA; Kenyatta Berry of Genealogy Roadshow fame, speaking on Caribbean research and using slave schedules in research; and Daniel Earl speaking on Putting History in Your Family History.
Starting off with the Free Day Wednesday afternoon, Speaker Peggy Lauritzen will address beginner’s issues in her Genealogy 101 presentation, which is also a good refresher for the more seasoned genealogists. There will be such great genealogical information for all levels, AND it’ll be lot of fun!
Between classes take a chance to meet a distant cousin with the “Cousin Wall”. Participate in the genealogy-related scavenger hunt, the Wednesday evening meet and greet and the Friday dress-as-your-ancestor day, and much, much more!
Go to www.NwGC.org for details and to register. Check it out now — registrations are limited, so it’s good to get in early. It’s August 16-19, 2017. It’ll be a great show: don’t miss it!
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. 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 at http://www.backblaze.com/lisa.
INTERVIEW: NICOLE DYER
Nicole has been researching her ancestors and delighting in their stories for the past 15 years. Nicole volunteers at the Tucson Family History Center teaching a family history story time group for young children.
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.com.
GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB: A FAMILY HISTORY MURDER MYSTERY!
The Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 196 with Lisa Louise Cooke
In this episode, expert Kate Eakman from Legacy Tree Genealogists joins us with some tips for those starting to trace their Irish ancestors into Ireland. She shares some great websites for Irish research and places to look for that elusive Irish home county;and an exclusive coupon code for anyone who could use some expert help on a tough research problem.
Listen now – click the player below
In this episode, expert Kate Eakman from Legacy Tree Genealogists joins us with some tips for those starting to trace their Irish ancestors into Ireland. She shares some great websites for Irish research and places to look for that elusive Irish home county;and an exclusive coupon code for anyone who could use some expert help on a tough research problem.
Additional episode highlights:
Gems listeners respond with strong opinions on sharing gossip about our ancestors;
Genealogy Gems Book Club surprises: a past featured author has a new book out?and something different for the new Book Club pick;
Mark your calendars and make some plans for big conferences in 2017;
Organize your DNA test results and matches to help you get the most out of them, now and in the future.
BOOK CLUB NEWS: NEW FROM NATHAN DYLAN GOODWIN
British author Nathan Dylan Goodwin, featured in the past on the Genealogy Gems Book Club with his novel The Lost Ancestorhas a NEW novel out in same forensic genealogy mystery series.
The Spyglass File: Hero Morton Farrier is back, and he’s on the trail of his client’s newly-discovered biological family. That trail leads to the fascinating story of a young woman who provides valuable but secret service during World War II?and who unknowingly became an entry in the mysterious Spyglass File. The connection is still so dangerous that Morton’s going to have bad guys after him again, and he may or may not be kidnapped right before he’s supposed to marry the lovely Juliette. Meanwhile, you’ll find him anguishing over the continuing mystery of his own biological roots?a story that unfolds just a little more in this new book.
“For those that have these old school records, consider donating them (even a digitized image) to the school from whence they originated. I shared class photos taken in the 1940s with my parents’ grade schools. The school was so appreciative! I hope another researcher down the road benefits from the pictures as well.” – Laura
MAILBOX: Passing on the Gossip
Blog post with Jennifer’s letter, my response, and several more comments
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. In the works: RootsMagic will 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: Kate Eakman and Getting Started in Irish Genealogy
Q: What does a researcher need to know before crossing the pond?
A: Where the person was born in Ireland. The county. Find out if they were Protestant or Catholic. Click here for an interactive map of Irish counties, including those of Northern Ireland.
Q: Where do you recommend they look for that info in the U.S. crossing the pond?
A: Death records, marriage records, church records (keep an eye on extended family), passenger lists, naturalization papers. Keep an eye out for extended family members who may have come from the same place. Be aware of traditional Irish naming conventions and patterns.
Q: At what point in the Irish research process do hobbyists usually get stuck?
A: Common names regularly recycled, so it can be tough to sort out who is who. Also, a huge fire at the Public Records Office in Dublin in 1922 destroyed the bulk of government records. Clickhere for a description of what was lost and what surviving fragments are coming soon to Findmypast.com.
Q: How does it work to work with a professional genealogist at Legacy Tree Genealogists?
A: Here’s the process. A manager calls or emails the client to discuss their needs and parameters. They identify the goals and determine what the client already knows. A goal is settled on and then a researcher is assigned to the client. A written report of the research conducted is provided.
The Legacy Tree Discovery package provides for 3.5 hours of preliminary analysis and research recommendations. It’s a great way to get started if you’ve hit a brick wall in your research and could use some expert guidance. Click here to learn more.
This episode is sponsored by MyHeritage.com. the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Click here to see what MyHeritage can do for you: it’s free to get started.
I can tell whose turn it is to unload the dishwasher by the state of the silverware drawer. If either of the boys have done it (ages 13 and 11), the forks are haphazardly in a jumble and the spoon stack has overflowed into the knife section, and the measuring spoons are nowhere to be found. If, on the other hand, it was my daughter (age 8), everything is perfectly in order. Not only are all the forks where they belong, but the small forks and the large forks have been separated into their own piles and the measuring spoons are nestled neatly in size order.
Regardless of the state of your own silverware drawer, it is clear that most of us need some sort of direction when it comes to organizing our DNA test results. Organizing your matches entails more than just lining them up into nice categories like Mom’s side vs. Dad’s side, or known connections vs. unknown connections. Organizing your results involves making a plan for their use. Good organization for your test results can help you reveal or refine your genealogical goals, and help determine your next steps.
The very first step is to download your raw data from your testing company and store it somewhere on your own computer. I have instructions on my website if you need help.
Once that is complete, we can get to the match list. One common situation for those of you who have several generations of ancestors in the United States, you may have some ancestors that seem to have produced a lot of descendants who have caught the DNA testing vision. This can be like your overflowing spoon stack, and it may be obscuring some valuable matches. But identifying and putting all of those known matches in their proper context can help you realize these abundant matches may lead to clues about the descendant lines of your known ancestral couple that you were not aware of. In my Organizing Your DNA Matches quick sheet I outline a process for drawing out the genetic and genealogical relationships of these known connections to better understand their relationship to each other and to you. It is then easier to verify that your genetic connection is aligned with your known genealogical paper trail and spot areas that might need more research.
This same idea of plotting the relationships of your matches to each other can also be employed as you are looking to break down a brick wall in your family tree, or even in cases of adoption. The key to identifying unknowns is determining the relationships of your matches to each other, so you can better see where you might fit in.
Another helpful tool is a trick I learned from our very own Lisa Louise Cooke, and that is Google Earth. Have you ever tried to use Google Earth to help you in your genetic genealogy? Remember that the common ancestor between you and your match has three things that connect you to them: their genetics, surnames, and locations. We know the genetics is working because they are showing up on your match list. But often times you cannot see a shared surname among your matches. However, by plotting their locations in the free Google Earth, kind of like separating the big forks from the little forks, you might be able to recognize a shared location that would identify which line you should investigate for a shared connection.
So, what are you waiting for? Line up those spoons and separate the big forks from the little forks, your organizing efforts may just reveal a family of measuring Spoons, all lined up and waiting to be added to your family history.
GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB: Sarah A. Chrisman
Author spotlight: Sarah A. Chrisman, living icon of the Victorian age.
Sarah and her husband Gabriel live like it’s about 1889. They wear Victorian-style clothing and use a wood-burning stove and antique ice box. Sarah wears a corset day and night Gabriel wears 19th century glasses. No TV, no cell phones?and Sarah isn’t even a licensed driver.
For this Book Club, you can take your pick of Sarah’s books! Which would you like to read?
First Wheel in Town: A Victorian Cycling Club Romance. This is from her series of light-hearted historical fiction set in an era she knows well!
In honor of the Book Club theme, Genealogy Gems is going Victorian! From now through the end of the year, you’ll find Victorian-inspired crafts, recipes, décor, fashions and more on our Instagram and Pinterest sites, which of course we’ll link to regularly from the Genealogy Gems website, newsletter, podcast show notes and Facebook page. Nobody does sumptuous holiday traditions quite like the Victorians, and we look forward to celebrating that.
BONUS CONTENT for Genealogy Gems App Users
If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is a PDF with instructions on accessing the new free Guild of One-Name databases on FamilySearch.org.
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!
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!
The Genealogy Gems Podcast is the leading genealogy and family history show. Launched in 2007, the show is hosted by genealogy author, keynote presenter, and video producer Lisa Louise Cooke. The podcast features genealogy news, interviews, stories and how-to instruction. It can be found in all major podcasting directories, or download the exclusive Genealogy Gems Podcast app to listen to all the episodes and receive bonus content.
Do you love genealogy, mysteries and puzzle solving? Well in this episode we have not one but two tales of mystery.
The first has a Valentine’s theme centered around a mysterious love letter. Professional genealogist Kathleen Ackerman will be here to share how a love letter that was missing its last page took her on a genealogical journey full of surprises.
Our second story is a mystery full of twists, turns and murder that will ultimately resurrect your faith that what you think is lost, may still be found.
Frank recently wrote in saying that he listened to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 227 and my conversation with Ran Snir, MyHeritage DNA Product Manager about their genetic genealogy tools The Theory of Family Relativity™ and AutoClusters. This got him thinking about his own test results and a frustration he has had trying to find matches and records in pursuit of this Galician roots.
“Ancestry’s records are almost non-existent, except for some parish records, but this is the region from which Cuba and Argentina were populated, and the ultimate ancestry of Cubans in the US. I have done the AncestryDNA test but my matches are few and far between.
On the other hand, I have worked with a Spanish genealogist and have some records that go back to the 17th century. Is there any program like Ancestry, 23andme, or My Heritage, that can do Galician (Spanish) genealogy well.”
Regarding DNA matches and testing pools:
DNA companies test all types of people and because testers can download their results and upload them to other companies, their pools of people are becoming more similar. Generally, they don’t focus on particular groups. They just report the results based on the pool they currently have.
Conduct a Google Search: Galician (Spanish) genealogy “Galicia”. Click here to see the Google search results.
The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox Third Edition by Lisa Louise Cooke available in the Genealogy Gems Store.
Available in the Genealogy Gems Store.
Lisa’s video classes and handouts on Google search are included in Genealogy Gems Premium Membership. Learn more here.
Click to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium Membership.
“I am a regular listener to your podcasts. And I am the family historian. I recently received a trove of documents from my Uncle who had been working to chart the family for 25 years. He passed away last year. His most recent quest was to find as many old family pictures as possible and I have continued to reach out to distant relatives. I enjoyed the recent podcast about the New York photographer website and hope it will help me identify people in some of these very old pictures.
(Episode 236 – Interview with David Lowe, Specialist for the Photography Collection at the New York Public Library on a free tool they provide that can help you identify your old photos. Also a discussion of how to find unindexed records at Ancestry.com.)
My question: a friend of mine has inherited all of her family’s old family pictures. The pictures are from the late 1800’s. She doesn’t know who most of the people are. She is not interested in learning and apparently there aren’t any members of the family who have taken the role of family historian. Is there anything to do with these pictures other than to dispose of them? It makes me sad to know that no one is interested. When I learned a branch of my family tree had tossed all of their old family pictures, I felt awful and it has taken me some time to accept that I might not ever find replacements for this branch.”
There are ways to make real progress identifying photos. I’m going to be covering more of this on upcoming episodes. I would start by asking your friend to write down states / counties / towns where she thinks her family lived, as well as her direct ancestors as far as she knows (even if it’s just grandparents or great grandparents.) With some basic genealogical info on the most recent members of the family and some possible locations, you could then post at least some of the photos on Deadfred.com.
This is a site where people search on families and locations and other identifying information to find unidentified photos of their family members. Many, many photos have made their way to family historians through DeadFred.
If you don’t have time to post them on DeadFred, and you do know the county where some of the photos came from, you could offer to donate them to the local genealogical society. They might be willing to take them, and their volunteers might be willing to do it.
I agree with you, it would be such a shame to toss them because you can be sure there is someone out there who would treasure them and may even hold answers.
Kathleen Ackerman graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of General Studies: Family History degree in April 2012. She now has her own research company, Finding Ties that Bind. She is also working on a Master’s Degree in Genealogy, Paleography and Heraldry from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.
Kathleen is the director for the Cave Creek Arizona Family History Center. She loves to help others as they learn about their family history. For seven years, she served as the Treasurer and British Institute Director for the International Society for British Genealogy and Family History. Besides her volunteer and school work, she spends most of her free time either working on her husband’s English and Scottish lines or playing with her granddaughter.
“In 2010, my mother found three pages of a letter addressed to “Mamie” among my grandparent’s things. My grandmother has passed away and my grandfather did not remember who Mamie was or why they had the letter. My mom sent me the letter in hopes that I could figure it out.”
Miriam (Mamie) Smith Patelzick 1891-1911 (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Ackerman)
The last page which may have contained the writer’s signature was missing. This is where Kathleen’s search began.
The first three pages of the love letter. (Courtesy of Kathleen Ackerman)
Kathleen turned to census records from the time period, and Google Maps to verify where Medicine Lodge was in comparison to Small, Idaho, the place from which the letter was sent. No such town could be found.
She then turned to old maps to see if the town had once existed. She used maps on the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection website. She found a map of Idaho from 1909, that showed Small, Medicine Lodge river and Reno (all mentioned in letter). They were all in Fremont County, Idaho. Her confidence that she had the right person grew.
1909 Idaho map published by Geo. F. Cram, Chicago (DavidRumsey.com)
The search moved on into vital records. A marriage certificate for Mamie and William Patelzick in Dec 1910 was located.Perhaps they had eloped?
Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t listened to the episode yet. The next image reveals the writer of the letter.
Later, Kathleen’s mother surprisingly found the final page of the letter:
Found! The last page of the love letter. (Courtesy of Kathleen Ackerman)
A surprise indeed, and a mystery solved!
Thank you to Kathleen Ackerman for sharing her story! You can visit her at her website, Finding Ties that Bind.
Announcing the Next Generation of Google for Genealogy
The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox By Lisa Louise Cooke
Discover the answers to your family history mysteries using cutting-edge Google search strategies. A comprehensive resource for all of Google’s free tools, this easy-to-follow book provides the how-to information you need in plain English. You will first gain a strong foundation in how to search quickly and effectively. Then you’ll dig deeper into solving real-life challenges that genealogists regularly face. This book will show you how to flex your new Google muscles by mining each of the free tools to deliver satisfying and enlightening results. You will develop a mastery of Google that will serve you now and for years to come.
This book features:
Step-by-step clear instructions and loads of images that help you easily follow along.
Tips for searching faster and achieving better results to solve the real challenges that genealogists face.
How to go beyond Google search by using the wide range of powerful free tools that Google offers.
Cutting-edge technology like Google Earth to tell your family’s stories in new and exciting ways!