Volume 5, Number 21 | November 28, 2004
Early Use of the Yad Vashem Names Database
Yad Vashem formally announced its Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names located at http://www.yadvashem.org on Monday, November 22, to worldwide publicity. The overall reaction of the genealogical community was great excitement and great finds. Many genealogists told of finding family they had not known existed some of whom had survived the Holocaust. The system is very well designed and very user friendly. There have been a number of problems using the system, some of which have already been corrected by the Yad Vashem technical staff.
Performance. During the first few days it was difficult to access the site. As the technicians noticed the overload behavior, they did the necessary tweaking to balance the system. I have used the site daily since the formal announcement and now no longer have difficulty accessing the site.
Erratic behavior. This too, for the most part, may have disappeared. Typical symptoms were attempting to link to a new page and getting the wrong page, then retrying the function and it worked.
Popup Blocking Interference. This may still exist. If you perform a search and get header and trailer information with nothing in between, it means your computer is treating the retrieved data as a popup/ad and is blocking it. Some people claim they got rid of the problem by disabling the popup function in Internet Explorer. My computer has the popup function enabled and there is no problem. A more likely culprit is the popup/ad blocking function of the computer's firewall. That function must be disabled.
Saving Images. As of this moment, when using Internet Explorer, it is not possible to save the image of a Page of Testimony after displaying the full image on the screen. There are two solutions. (1) The problem does not exist in Netscape. (2) The thumbnail image that appears on an individual's page is not a thumbnail but a tiny version of the total image; therefore, if you right click on it, the image you save is the large image.
Full Record Details Page. Certain data fields in the transcription of the actual documents to the Roman alphabet (most Pages of Testimonies are in Hebrew) displayed on the Full Record Details page were not done manually but by a computer program. It occasionally creates some strange results. As reported by Chaim Freedman of Petach Tivka, Israel, one Holocaust victim's father's name was written in Hebrew as "harebbi m'Rozprza" (the rabbi from Rozprza). The computer converted "harebbi" to "Harvey". It is wise to match the transcribed results with the actual document.
Correcting the Database. Yad Vashem is accepting corrections to the database. Be sure to use the form supplied on the detail page for each victim. It is identified by a button that states "Correct our Deciphering". It is important to use this form because it includes the victim's record identification number. Sending e-mail that merely says "You have the birth year of Jacob Cohen wrong," will get you to the bottom of the list of data to be corrected. I would recommend not sending corrections to the database at this time. Give the Yad Vashem staff 90 days to clean up the software and the database. By then, they should be ready to look at problems discovered by users.
Locating the Submitter of a Page of Testimony. A number of people have asked how can one contact the submitter of the Page of Testimony, most of whom live in Israel. That was easy until three years ago. You merely contacted the Search Bureau for Missing Relatives of the Jewish Agency and the one-person department, Batya Unterschatz, would locate family. Batya retired in 2001 and her department was closed down. It has been claimed that the Search Bureau function has now been transferred to the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem. I e-mailed them a few days ago, and they stated they do not consider their role to be locating where persons are living today in Israel. Batya has become a professional genealogist and offers her research services for a fee. You can contact her at BatyaL@netvision.net.il. There are other professional genealogists living in Israel. Three are members of the Association of Professional Genealogists. You can retrieve their names at http://www.apgen.org/directory/index.php. Select "Israel" as Country of Residence.
Ellis Island Database Takes a Step Backwards
The reason I extol the design of the Yad Vashem Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names and criticize the Ellis Island Database is because the Yad Vashem technicians clearly realize that people use their system, and the EIDB technicians couldn't care less. The EIDB has taken yet another step backwards, sacrificing useability for performance. You can no longer do searches by surname-only in the EIDB; you must provide at least the first letter of a given name.
That is understandable. Searching for all persons by surname only takes computer time and the last thing you want is a system that runs slowly. Well, perhaps, the next to the last thing. The last thing you want is a system that does not satisfy the users' needs.
Fortunately the genealogical community has Stephen P. Morse. The change affected his White Form, the one that allows you to search the complete EIDB. The Morse Blue Form, the one for Jewish immigrants only, uses its own database, so it was not affected by this new "improvement". Morse has since modified his White Form to allow searching by surname only. It can be done in all instances but the "Starts With" option. When you use this option and provide a surname only, a message is generated telling you to use one of the other options.
The Ellis Island index was developed by the Mormon Church using thousands of volunteers. It was given to the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Foundation as a gift. Perhaps the agreement with SLEIF permits the Church to donate the data to another institution; one that knows how to design software such as Stephen P. Morse, or Michael Tobias of JewishGen.
Using the Advanced Search Feature of the Ellis Island Database
There is a powerful feature of the Ellis Island Database that most genealogists do not take full advantage of. It is the Alternate Name feature. This feature, developed by a professor of linguistics for the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation (SLEIF), selects the 30 most likely surnames in the database that might be variants of the surname sought. You can see such a list by going directly to the SLEIF site at http://ellisisland.org and searching for a name of interest but misspelling it in a way that assures the misspelling exists nowhere in the database. For example, instead of searching for "Mokotoff," search for "Mokotaff." Finding no exact matches, the SLEIF search engine displays the 30 most likely alternate names. The alternate names proposed not only include names that are phonetically similar (soundex) to the sought surname, but also proposes handwriting and spelling-error alternatives. For example, searching for "Mokotaff", the suggested alternate spellings start with Mokotoff, Mokoloff, Mokotow and Mokutaw. Mokoloff is a handwriting variant of Mokotoff because the "t" might be misinterpreted by a transcriber as an "l". That is the power of this Alternate Name feature.
The SLEIF site does have an Alternate Name option when there are hits using their search engine, but their implementation only searches the first 2 of the 30 options; there is no way to access the remaining 28 entries except through the back door described above.
Enter Dr. Stephen P. Morse. His website at http://stevemorse.org does take advantage of the 30 variant spellings, but it only exists in a place not frequented by Jewish genealogists. Jewish genealogists usually use his Blue Form variant because it isolates those immigrants in the Ellis Island database that indicated their race was "Hebrew" (Jewish). This form has a number of powerful features not available on other forms. But the variant-spellings option only exists on Morse's White Form, the one that searches the database for all ethnicities. Next to surname, select the option "sounds like (many)". Using that option to search for persons named Mokotoff yields immigrants with the surnames Magidof, Mijatov, Mokatel, Mokutaw (my grand-uncle's family), Magidoff, Mikoloff, Matukoff, Mutofoff, Makotow (another grand-uncle), Mocatuv, Mohotoff (distant cousin), Molotoff, Mokoloff, Mokotow (grand-aunt--this is the correct Polish spelling of the name) and three Mokotoffs (all distant cousins).
Submitting Corrections to the Ellis Island Database
I have received a report that the Statue of Liberty / Ellis Island Commission is now accepting corrections to its database and is acknowledging when the corrections are made. You submit corrections from the Passenger Record page for the immigrant. There is a box toward the right that states, "If you believe there are transcription errors in this data, please send us your suggested corrections." Clicking on the link brings up the new message form in your default e-mail software that includes all the relevant information about the immigrant and allows you to note corrections.
Online Registration for Las Vegas Conference Soon
Online registration for the 25th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy will begin December 1 according to the host society, the Jewish Genealogical Society of Southern Nevada. There is already a link to make a reservation at the Flamingo Hotel, site of the conference. The conference site is at http://www.jgssn.org. It is a little tricky to find the hotel registration link. At the home page, click on the picture of Las Vegas at night. Then click on the image on the following page. Then click on "Hotel Registration." On the next page, click on "Click Here for Online Hotel Booking".
Canada May Allow Public Access to 20th-Century Census Records
A bill was introduced in the Canadian Parliament that may finally allow public access to 20th-century census records. Two key provisions of the bill are:
* Personal information for censuses taken between 1911 and 2001 inclusive would be released 92 years after each census.
* Starting with the 2006 Census, Canadians will be able to decide if they will allow their personal census information to be released publicly after 92 years. Individual census records would be released only when consent is given.
The second point may cripple the efforts of future historians and genealogists because, for all intents, it means future censuses will contain at best spotty information since the informant must do the positive act of declaring that the information can be released to the public after 92 years. Since the average citizen does not understand the historical value of censuses, many will have an immediate reaction of not wanting their "private" information released many years after their death.
More Utilities from Stephen P. Morse
Steve Morse is developing utilities of value to genealogists at such a rate that there ought to be a subsection to this bi-weekly e-zine titled "The Latest from Stephen P. Morse." All are available at http://www.stevemorse.org.
He has just added a Russian/English transliterator similar to the one he developed for Hebrew/English.
Ancestry.com has not yet indexed all the Baltimore passenger lists from 1892-1948 but all the images are online. Morse has developed a front end to the Ancestry.com site that permits access to the unindexed manifest images. It is in the "Other Ports" section of his site. Use of this portal requires a subscription to the Ancestry.com service.
If you use the Ancestry.com service for the 1910 census and cannot find the individual on the census sheet displayed, try the Morse portal to this census. He states that his tool finds the correct page in many instances where the Ancestry link is inaccurate.
A Technique for Finding Missing Relatives
Many people use search engines like Google to see if their own name appears anywhere on the Internet. You can use this to advantage to locate missing people on your family tree. About three months ago I placed the name of every person on my family tree at the Avotaynu.com site, made sure that search engines indexed the page, and sat back and waited. My first hit occurred last week. Admittedly it was not someone looking for family, but I performed a mitzvah anyway. The inquiry was from a woman from Minnesota who befriended a German exchange student when she was in high school 15 years ago. She searched the web using the friend's name and found it on my site. A quick search of my family tree indicated that the German had married a French member of the Mokotow clan. I was able to put the two in contact with each other.
My web site lists all names but with no genealogical information. In that way there is no value to identity thieves, name harvesters and other ne'er-do-wells. It is just a bunch of names. You can see the list at http://www.avotaynu.com/names.htm.
Fall Issue of AVOTAYNU
The Fall issue of AVOTAYNU is at the printer. The article I found most interesting is "Methodology for Researching 18th-Century Lithuania" by Len Yodaiken. In the Fall 1999 issue of AVOTAYNU, Yodaiken first introduced a strategy for tackling the problem of tracing Jewish ancestry in Eastern Europe in the 18th century, a time when Jews did not have hereditary surnames and were only identified by given name or, at most, given name and patronymic. Now, five years later, and five years wiser, he expands on his process of identifying ancestors during that period.
Included among the 11 articles in the issue are:
* Genealogical Resources at the American Jewish Archives
* Creation of Widespread Use of Compound Artificial Jewish Family Names
* German Jewish Migration to South Africa, Burial Books of Ashkenazic Jews of Amsterdam, 1872–1935
* Relationships Among Some Early Jewish Settlers in Dutch Friesland
* Creating State or Country Databases of Jewish Births, Marriages and Deaths
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Call for Human Interest Stories, New Family Histories
Each year, AVOTAYNU devotes its Winter issue to Jewish genealogy human interest stories. Stories may be about any aspect of the field—one that illustrates an unusual research approach, the report of some rare find, or just a good tale. For ideas, consult past issues.
Deadline for submission is December 6. Articles may be submitted by e-mail to
We cannot return manuscripts, but illustrations will be returned if accompanied by a stamped envelope (or postal coupons). Article must be original and not previously published.
Also in the Winter issue, AVOTAYNU lists Jewish genealogical family histories that have been published in the preceding 12 months. Books published earlier are also eligible for inclusion if they have not been previously reported.
Please present information about the book is a specific format: author; title of book; years covered; brief description, including family names researched; libraries in which book has been deposited; price and ordering information. The deadline date is also December 6.
Catalog Discount Ends December 7
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Featured books in the catalog are our latest works including:
* Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy
* A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from Galicia
* The Lurie Legacy: The House of Davidic Royal Descent
* Polish Sources at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People
* Chinese Exile: My Years in Shanghai and Nanking
* Where Once We Walked: Revised Edition
* Sephardic Genealogy
You can view all 62 books (plus CD-ROMS and maps) offered by Avotaynu at http://www.avotaynu.com/allbooks.htm
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