Volume 7, Number 10 | July, 2, 2006
ITS Director Replaced
Charles Biedermann, director of the International Tracing Service, has been replaced effective July 1. It was generally agreed that he was a major impediment to public access to the ITS records. Biedermann was once quoted as saying that to open up the documents would be "neither morally nor legally justifiable."
The only news story of the dismissal that I could find on the Internet is at a German site: http://www.hna.de/waldeckstart/00_20060621182534_Biedermann_abberufen.html
To understand how valuable public access to ITS records will be to those wanting to know the fate of persons caught up in the Holocaust, we need only look at the success stories generated when the Pages of Testimony went online two years ago. Since Yad Vashem placed these documents on the Internet, there have been continual disclosures by people stating they now know the fate of their loved ones. These Pages of Testimony were always there; they just had very limited public access.
Typical is a statement posted to the Belarus SIG Discussion Group recently, which begins: "I was http://jgs-montreal.org/vital/S-List-a.htmon the Yad Vashem site and found a long lost great-uncle listed. We were always told that he went into the Russian army in WWII and disappeared. We never knew he was married, and I see that the submitter was listed as his brother-in-law and that he indeed had a wife."
Benjamin Meed is president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. When I first met Meed in the mid-1980s, he told me the story of his brother Mordechai who was deported from Warsaw in what has become known as the Hotel Polski Incident. Meed never knew the fate of his brother. In the late 1990s, as a leading dignitary of the Holocaust Survivor movement, Meed was invited to the International Tracing Service's facilities in Arolsen, Germany, to view their vast collection. The public is not permitted to enter the facilities to make inquiries or do research. During the tour, the Arolsen officials proudly showed Meed that they had records that tracked his brother from his deportation in Warsaw to his eventual death. For more than 50 years, Meed never knew what happened to his brother, but the records were always there at ITS.
Mormon/Jewish Controversy: The Problem That Won't Go Away
More About the Helen Radkey Incident
In the last issue of Nu? What's New? I described an incident in Salt Lake City where Helen Radkey, the whistle-blower in the Mormon/Jewish controversy, was ejected from the Family History Library.
Some people have told me that the Church had no right to make Radkey leave; it is a public facility. Of course the Church has a right to eject Ms. Radkey; it is a private facility to which the public is invited...and the public can be asked to leave.
In the last issue, I implied, but did not explicitly state, the reason the Church was upset with her. It almost certainly was because Radkey was using the inner aspects of the International Genealogical Index accessible only by password.
When the Jewish genealogical community discovered, in 1992, that 128,000 German Jews murdered in the Holocaust were forcibly baptized by the Church (forcibly in that it was done without their permission), the IGI was an open book. You were able to tell who got baptized, who submitted the name for baptism, when the person was baptized and the source of information. Furthermore, these documents are kept in batches. If you found one record, by analyzing the entire batch you could easily identify other Jews who were posthumously baptized within the group. You could also tell the original source of the information. That is why it was so easy to tell that the entire Gedenkbuch was extracted.
Today, if you go to the IGI, all you know is that someone has had some ordinance performed...unless you have a password. In other words, the Church is in the process of making the IGI a secret database. Is it a coincidence that for decades prior to the signing of the 1995 agreement with Jewish organizations the IGI was an open book and now it is almost closed? Perhaps. The final act will occur in the next year or two. The Church has announced they plan to merge the IGI with pure genealogical information (the IGI is a misnomer--properly, it should be called the International Ordinance Index). Will you be able to tell whether your ancestor was baptized by the Church or was just another genealogical entry in the merged database? The Church has assured the Jewish leadership that the public portion of the Combined Index will include a flag so that any person will know whether it is a genealogy record or a religious record.
Illustration: Example of a document submitted to the Church for the posthumous baptism of the 128,000 German Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Note that the person who extracted the information was faced with the daunting task of writing the words "German Gedenkbuch" 128,000 times, so he bought a rubber stamp to expedite the process. The name/address of the extractor has been blacked out for privacy reasons. The number 1357 at the bottom refers to the page number in the Gedenkbuch from which the Holocaust victim's name was extracted.
Illustration: In the 1960s, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, representing themselves as the Genealogical Society of Utah, approached the Beit Din of London and offered to preserve the birth records of the Jewish community on microfilm. The Jewish group consented. The agreement made no mention of using the records for Mormon rituals. After the microfilm reached Salt Lake City, the contents were distributed to Mormon volunteers who extracted the information, and the Church posthumously baptized hundreds of Jews identified on the birth records. In 1994, Charles Tucker, archivist for the Beit Din, wrote to me and said had they known the information would be used for Mormon religious purposes, they would never have consented to the microfilming of the records.
Don't Forget the Resource Room at the International Conference
The Jewish genealogy event of the decade will occur from August 13-18, 2006, when 26th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy will be held in New York at the Marriott Marquis Hotel. When you come to the conference, be sure to take advantage of the Resource Room. It will have a wide range of electronic, print, microfilm, and human resources to assist attendees with their research.
There will be free access to a number of fee-based genealogical sites including Ancestry.com, HeritageQuest census records, the New York Times images and index (1857-2000), and Godfrey Library's collection of online databases. In addition, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Database (three million records normally available only at the Museum) will be accessible.
There will also be 100-plus books available in the Resource Room including most books published by Avotaynu. Large scale insurance maps of New York's old Lower East Side and a variety of historical and modern maps of Europe will also be available. A local Mormon Family History Center has loaned the conference microfilms in their collection including the Hamburg Emigration Lists. Ten microfilm readers will be located in the resource room to view them.
Translators will be on hand to interpret documents in Russian, Polish, Spanish, Hebrew, Yiddish, and other languages. Representatives of Ancestry.com and the Shoah Foundation will be on hand to assist in using their respective sites.
Information about the conference can be found at http://www.jgsny2006.org. Specifics about the Resource Room are located at http://www.jgsny2006.org/resource_room.cfm
New Book: Taking Tamar
Avotaynu has published its first book that has nothing to do with genealogy. It has to do with a genealogist. Martha Lev-Zion of Omer, Israel, is very active in Jewish genealogy. To highlight just some of her activities, she is founder and president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of the Negev—a branch of the Israel Genealogical Society, and she is on the Board of Directors of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. She was on the committee that made a success the 2004 International Conference on Jewish Genealogy held in Jerusalem and is a past president of the Latvia Special Interest Group.
Twenty years ago, Martha, a single woman then in her 40s, heard about a TV documentary regarding 22 children with severe birth defects who had been abandoned by their birth parents in Israeli hospitals. Martha applied for one of those babies and got no immediate response. Eventually she was told that of the 65 applications received, hers was the last one considered; likely because of her age and marital status. In the end, with only one baby remaining, Martha took into her care a 14-month-old girl with Down syndrome. Taking Tamar relates the amazing journey of Martha's life raising her adopted daughter Tamar.
Interwoven with her experiences fighting Israeli governmental authorities, school systems, the birth family, and even the U.S. government, was her commitment to bring up her daughter as normally as possible and the incredible accomplishments her daughter has achieved.
Typical of her problem with agencies was the United States government who initially refused Tamar a visa because "the United States of America is not required to allow visas to the following categories of applicants: ex-convicts, dope addicts, or the mentally retarded." (Tamar now has dual citizenship Israeli and American).
I have always told people that genealogical research requires persistence and patience. Martha has demonstrated she is the ultimate genealogist through her persistence and patience to maximize her daughter's potential.
The book includes a photo album of Tamar (and Martha) in the 20 years of Tamar's life. It is easy and enjoyable reading; enjoyable because you know the ultimate outcome will be success.
Taking Tamar is 208 pages, softcover and sells for $19.95. Ordering information and excerpts from the book can be found at http://www.avotaynu.com/books/tamar.htm
Ancestry.com Completes U.S. Census Project
Ancestry.com has announced they have completed their project to make all publicly available U.S. Federal Census—from 1790 to 1930—available online with an everyname index. It took ten years to process the estimated 540 million records. The company stated their combined databases now include more than five billion entries.
ProQuest to Terminate Remote Access for Institutional Subscribers
ProQuest will no longer permit remote access of their databases to the members of the institutions who buy their services. The company offers a number of online databases, the most valuable of which I have found is the digitization and full word indexing of the New York Times. Others include local and family history books, U.S. census records and databases usually not associated with Jewish genealogical research.
ProQuest deals only with institutions; their subscriptions are not available to individuals. They previously permitted selected libraries, and genealogical and historical societies to allow remote access to the databases by members of these institutions. This meant that a member could access the information from their home. The great value of these collection caused a surge in membership in these societies, such as the Godfrey Memorial Library, because the cost of membership in the society was nominal compared to the value of remote access to these collections.
Termination of in-home access will end when the contracts expire for each institution.
JGS of Montreal Has Index to Jewish Quebec Vital Records
The Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal has developed a surname index to Jewish vital records for the province of Quebec. It is available online at http://jgs-montreal.org/vital/S-List-a.htm. They include an extraction of the so-called Drouin collection (1841–1942) and over 10,000 entries from the 1917 to 1954 records of Rabbi J.L. Colton and those of Rabbi Nathan Mendelson.
The JGS will get copies of the records from the Drouin collection for US$13/CAN$15. The order form is at their website.
Stephen Morse Links to New York Cemetery Databases
Three New York cemeteries now have their burial databases online: Mt. Zion, Mt. Hebron and Mr. Carmel. The Stephen P. Morse site at http://stevemorse.org now has a one-step portal. In my personal use of the three databases, I have found the death dates may not be correct. In two cases, they were high by one day, indicating it may have been the date of burial rather than the date of death.
Morse has also added a portal to the Ancestry.com 1901 Canadian census database. Its site previously included a portal to the 1911 census.
Argentinean Equivalent of the "Sean Ferguson" Legend
There is a legend that a Jewish immigrant coming to the United States was encouraged to change his name to a more American name. When he arrived in the U.S., he was so flustered that when the Ellis Island official asked for his name, he blurted out "sheyn fergessen" (I already forgot), and the official dutifully wrote down the name of the immigrant as Sean Ferguson. The origin of this legend is known, and it appeared in the Winter 1989 issue of Avotaynu. Owners of AVOTAYNU on CD-ROM can search for "Sean Ferguson".
In the Summer issue of AVOTAYNU, which is now being edited and formatted, Paul Armony, president of the Argentinean Jewish genealogical society has written an excellent article about the use of Jewish surnames in Argentina. It is worth reading even if you do not have family in that country. Armony includes a story to support his claim that some of these names were accidentally created.
"The following example is a true story. Jacob gave 10 pesos to his employee to go to the city and register his newborn son. Jacob said that his son's name must be Isaac Reuben Trumper. The employer arrived early in the city, went first to a bar and drank most of the money. Only later did he remember that he must go to the civil registration office. When the employee was asked the last name of the parents, he replied, 'Jacob and Sara Trumper.' The clerk wrote that and then asked the name of the baby. The drunken man replied, "Jesus, me olvide!" (Jesus, I forgot!) The clerk dutifully registered the baby's given name as "Jesus Noteolvide."
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