Nu? What's New?
The E-zine of Jewish Genealogy
Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 5, Number 18 | October 10, 2004

A Conference for Convict Ancestors
No one wants a horse thief for a grandfather, but everyone wants a horse thief for a great-great-grandfather. It adds color to the family tree. Who but the Australians could have a conference about convict ancestors? They are so proud of these people, who were the first Englishmen to colonize Australia, that they call them collectively the First Fleet.

On November 6-7, the Society of Australian Genealogists will hold a seminar in North Sydney about their convict ancestors. Some lecture topics include:
* A personal view of convict research; what might you find?
* Bank accounts, the Sheriff and annotations; advanced New South Wales (NSW) sources
* Catching a convict on the Web; convicts on the Internet
* Basic sources for NSW convict research
* Convicts on the job; road gangs and working conditions

Additional information can be found at the society's website http://www.sag.org.au, or if you are already convinced you want to attend, you can book online at http://svc007.bne009i.server-web.com/catalogue/onlinebook/gatewayitem.ehtml?id=19307.


Index to Australian Passenger Arrivals Online
The Public Records Office of Australia now has information online about nearly 1.7 million people who immigrated to the country. Information located at http://www.prov.vic.gov.au consists of:
Index to Unassisted Passengers to Victoria from British (UK) and Foreign Ports, 1852-1923 with 1,503,856 names
Index to Registers of Assisted Immigrants has 173,316 names.
An Index to Unassisted passengers to Victoria from New Zealand ports, 1852-1923, with 315,423 names, is expected by the beginning of the year.


Italian Genealogy Group Makes New York City Marriage Index Available
If you have ever plowed through the year-by-year index to vital records for New York City, you know how time consuming it can be, and the microfilm often is difficult to read. The Italian Genealogy Group has solved much of the problem for marriage records with the addition of an online index to New York City marriages (grooms' names) from 1908-1936. The index also includes Kings County (Brooklyn) groom and brides and Manhattan grooms for 1895-1897.
It is located at http://www.italiangen.org/NYCMarriage.stm.

The group has also updated their New York City death index. It now includes 1898-1919, all boroughs; 1891-1894, Manhattan only; and 1895-1897, Manhattan and Brooklyn only.

Search options include exact name, (American) soundex and wild card.

According to Renee Steinig of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Long Island, future plans call for:
* NYC death indexes, 1920-1929 (coming soon)
* NYC grooms' index, all boroughs, 1897 to 1907 (in progress)
* Brooklyn brides' index to 1937 (nearing completion)
* Indexes to Eastern District Court (Brooklyn, NY) naturalizations
through 1926 (nearing completion) and 1927 on (just getting started)

Indexes that already exist at the site include:
* Nassau County naturalizations, 1899-1986
* Suffolk County naturalizations, 1853-1990
* Bronx County naturalizations, 1914-1952
* Military Naturalizations in the Greater New York City area (WWI, WWII and Korean War)
* Southern District Court (New York) Naturalizations, 1906-1959


Book to Go to Printer This Week
Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from GaliciaAlexander Beider's new book, A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from Galicia, will go to the printer this week. Final corrections will be completed shortly.

The work identifies more than 35,000 surnames used by Jews in Galicia. It provides the etymology (the origin of the surname), the districts in Galicia in which the name appeared, and variants of the name. The 100-page introductory portion of the book follows Dr. Beider's scholarly style in analyzing the origin and evolution of Jewish surnames from that region. This includes a history of Jewish names in Galicia, basic etymological analysis, spelling and variation of surnames and analysis of surnames in various provinces of eastern Europe. An extensive bibliography is provided.

The cost is $85.00 plus shipping and handling. For subscribers to our quarterly journal AVOTAYNU only, there is a pre-publication price of only $75.00. This offer will last until October 15, 2004. Thereafter, AVOTAYNU subscribers also will pay $85.00.

Additional information about the book, including a Table of Contents and a complete list of the 35,000 surnames, can be found at http://www.avotaynu.com/books/djsg.htm.


Stephen Morse Adds More Search Engine Portals
Stephen P. Morse continues his efforts to make superior portals to online indexes that may be of use to genealogists. His site now includes portals to:
* Illinois Death Records (pre 1916)
* New York City Death Records (1891-1919)
* New York Naturalization Records
* New York Incarceration Records

One advantage of the Morse portals is of value where large lists are generated. Many of these sites have limited search factors, typically name only. The Morse portals allow the search factor to include fields which are displayed in the search results and allow for displaying long lists per page. As an example, the New York City Death Records Index at the Italian Genealogy Group site allows searching by name only yet it displays age, death date and county. The Morse site allows all these fields as limiting factors. The Italian site has 23 pages of Cohens who died between 1891-1919 whose first name started with the letter "A." (They display 20 names per page.) Using the Morse portal, and adding the additional search factor that the person was less than five years old, reduces the number of names to approximately 150 persons. Furthermore, by requesting that 500 names be displayed per page, all the A. Cohens under the age of five were displayed at one time.

The Morse site is located at http://stevemorse.org.

Another Web-based Genealogical Software System
In the last issue I identified an excellent genealogical software system for placing a family history on the Internet called The Next Generation. Miron Ophir of Israel notes another system called phpGedView. It can be seen at http://phpgedview.sourceforge.net/. PhpGedView has at least one advantage over The Next Generation: it is free. TNG costs $27.00. Both sites link to user sites so you can compare the functionality of the two systems. The TNG home page is at http://lythgoes.net/genealogy/software.php.


Ancestry.com Updates World War I Draft Registration Database
Ancestry.com has updated its World War I Draft registration database to include portions of California, Michigan, South Dakota and Wisconsin. You can perform searches at http://content.ancestry.com/iexec/?htx=List&dbid=6482&ti=0&r=0. Ancestry.com is a fee-for-service site.


NGS Regional Conference in Phoenix This January
If you live in the Phoenix, Arizona, area, you might consider attending a regional conference of the National Genealogical Society. Some of the top American genealogists are lecturing there and the program gives you a selection of five concurrent sessions, at least two of which are on general topics which will extend your knowledge of genealogical research. Additional information can be found at http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/edutripsphoenix.htm.


Another Language Translation Site
I stumbled on what appears to be decent online to/from Russian-English translator. It is located at http://translation2.paralink.com/

Example of translations:
* Elections on a post of scientific prayful board of Sokolki
* Public censure from January 11, 1884 about election in the Main synagogue of Sokolki on a post of the treasurer
* Elections of members of prayful board of a synagogue and prayful Jewish school of Sokolki

It will also do various combinations of translation to/from French, German, and Spanish.


On Privacy, Security (and Now, Terrorism)
We live in a time when access to government records essential to do genealogical and historical research is becoming increasingly more difficult. The latest attempt to restrict access within the United States is a House of Representative's bill to require states and localities to limit access to birth records. The bill focuses on making certified copies of birth certificates available, but there is concern by the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) of the U.S. genealogical community that it may spill over to non-certified copies of records. This committee has requested that the House bill be modified to include the following explicit wording:

"However, nothing ... shall be construed to require a State to change its law with respect to public access to (a) non-certified copies of birth certificates or to (b) birth certificates or birth records once a period of 100 years has elapsed from the date of creation of the certificate or record."

RPAC includes a representative from the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. It was founded by the Federation of Genealogical Societies and National Genealogical Society.

In Vol. 4, No. 9 - May 25, 2003 of Nu? What's New? I spoke about how fear of invasion of privacy and security issues were impacting the ability to gain access to records to document family history. It is worth reproducing here.

[Start of May 25, 2003 article]

We live in a time when access to government records is becoming increasingly more difficult. The excuses given for closing access to these records are usually twofold: privacy and/or security. What right do I have to acquire the death record of another person is the claim? We must combat terrorists by eliminating their ability to steal a person's identity.

I define privacy laws as the attempt to keep from the public information that can be acquired anyway by some means. I define security as the mechanism that inconveniences the honest and allows the dishonest to get through. There are always cracks in the dike of privacy and security laws. That is why there are successful thieves and terrorists. Do locks on doors keep out burglars?

There are many ways our privacy is invaded already. Consider the following:

1. Newspapers. What is a newspaper? It is an institution dedicated to making public the private lives of people. They call it "news," but this news is published without your permission. What is worse is that newspapers often publish only half the story. We have all seen news items about a person's arrest for driving while intoxicated. Do you ever recall seeing news about the trial who found a person innocent of driving while intoxicated?

2. Internet. The Internet has taken lack of privacy to its ultimate level. Your private life is being distributed worldwide. The driving-while-intoxicated article in your local newspaper is now on the newspaper's web site giving access to the entire world. If you are fortunate enough to have a reasonably unique name, as I have, you have done generic searches of the Internet using your surname. That is how I discovered that a distant cousin living in Melbourne, Australia, is only a fair bowler. His average is 163 in his bowling league according to the Interent site. My cousin, a cardiologist who lives 1,000 miles from me, was once sued for malpractice. It was on an Internet list of all doctors in that geographic area that were sued for malpractice. The implication was that readers should proceed with caution if planning to use the doctor. I do not know the outcome of the case; it was not published on the Internet.

3. All public records. Why are court trials public? Why are real estate transactions public? Why are probate records public? They all make available information about our private lives. I never knew how rich my next door neighbor was until I had access to the public real estate records at the county clerk's office. It showed me that he owns three houses in town. Hasn't his privacy been invaded by giving the public access to real estate records?

There also is the mother's-maiden-name controversy. If you publish information about living people, thieves will steal their identity. If you know a person's mother's maiden name, you will gain access to private information. The most "private" information I have ever received by disclosing my mother's maiden name is the balance on a credit card bill. If any company ever disclosed something I considered truly private, I would change companies.

For every good that we create to advance our quality of life, there are people who will abuse the system. We cannot run our society by creating laws that restrict people's activities because of the actions of a few. We must take into account the value public access to private information benefits us. Otherwise ban newspapers, ban the Internet, and ban public records.

Why do I bring up this subject? Increasingly it is becoming more difficult to do genealogical research because public access to records is being shut down on the grounds of privacy and/or security.

Genealogy does good for our society. It unites families. In order to accomplish this task, access to records must be permitted. Most people want to be united with family. That is why a favorite news feature is a Holocaust survivor finding lost kin, or an adopted child locating birth family.

There are those who claim you should not publish vital information about living persons without their permission. I have been researching the Mokotow family for 24 years. I have distributed to the family a family tree that includes information about living persons: their names, birth dates and place of residence. They are also aware that this information is on the Internet (in a manner that it cannot be indexed by a search engine). I have never received a complaint from any member of the family that I was releasing information about their private lives. In fact, exactly the opposite. The most common complaint is that I left out information from the family tree.

I receive Jewish New Year cards from all over the world from Mokotow relatives I did not know before my involvement in family history. Most of these people are only distantly related to me: fourth and fifth cousins. For many years, the Mokotows of Israel got together every year for a Chanukah party to celebrate the family. Most did not know they were related to each other until my genealogical research disclosed this relationship. The greater good is that I united the Mokotow family worldwide. The downside is that I disclosed information about living people.

As a professional genealogist, I have brought joy into peoples' lives by giving them information gained by access to records about their families. For example, I recently helped an adopted person in his quest to locate his birth mother's family. How he discovered her surname I must keep secret because some bureaucrat would close up that leak in the privacy rules ("privacy is the attempt to keep from the public information that can be acquired anyway by some means"). Given her surname, plus seemingly non-private information provided by the adoption agency, I was able to locate the family in the 1930 census. I then was able to identify one of her brothers in the Social Security Death index. My client is now seeking that person's death record so he can determine where he is buried which should lead to next of kin. This quest would not have been achieved without access to records such as the 1930 census, the Social Security Death Index and death records. These very same records could be used for identity theft and invasion of privacy.

Every government puts value on preserving its history. That is why we have national archives. Genealogy preserves history; the history of a family. It cannot be done without access to records, just as historians cannot preserve a nation's history without access to records. It is a greater good than the right to privacy. It is a greater good than the risk of identity theft.

Fortunately organized genealogy is doing something about this problem. In the U.S. there is a Records Access & Preservation Committee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and National Genealogical Society. It has successfully fought or modified legislation in various states that tried to limit access to records important to genealogists. Information about the group can be found at http://www.fgs.org/rpa. In Canada there is an ongoing battle between genealogists/historians and the Canadian government who wants to prevent access to census data on the invented claim that 90 years ago the informants were promised privacy in perpetuity. Information about this effort can be found at http://globalgenealogy.com/census. In Australia a group of genealogists and historians are moving toward eliminating the destruction of the national censuses. Since 1828, all Australian censuses have been destroyed once summary information was gleaned from them by the government. What a great tragedy to the recorded history of Australia. [Note: Since publication of this column in May, 2003, the law was changed to preserve the Australian censuses henceforth. The first such census, taken in 2001, will be available to the public in 2101, one hundred years after it was taken.]

[End of May 25, 2003 article]

We must weigh the benefits of records access against the risks. We must weigh the incovenience to the public against the likelihood of preventing invasion of privacy or the benefit to thieves or terrorists of the use of records.

As an aside, we all are now inconvenienced and delayed by the intense searches being performed in air travel. Last month, my wife and I flew to Austin, Texas, to attend the annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies. Some time after we arrived, she discovered that she accidentally placed a box cutter in her pocketbook (we use it to open boxes). It went through the x-ray screening at the airport unchallenged.


Gone Fiching
Next week I travel to Salt Lake City for a week of assisting 35 genealogists--beginners and veterans--with research at the Family History Library. It is my annual (twelfth) Jewish Genealogy Research Trip with professional genealogist Eileen Polakoff. The next issue of Nu? What's New? will appear the Sunday after I return on (or about) October 31.

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