Volume 7, Number 15 | September 17, 2006
Report on First Symposium of International Institute for Jewish Genealogy
The first symposium of the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy was held in Jerusalem last week. The presenters were genealogists, archivists and historians with an interest in the role genealogy has to play on the Jewish scene. At the end of the event, most of the presenters and audience agreed that the Institute would be a significant addition to the field of Jewish genealogy.
Sallyann Amdur Sack, chairman of the Institute and co-owner of Avotaynu, asked me to give a presentation at the opening session about the role of IIJG. Ostensibly the Institute's purpose is to bring Jewish genealogy onto the academic scene, but it is evident from the papers presented at the symposium and the views of those attending that its role will be far greater.
In my opening remarks, I stated that the Institute's role will be to bring genealogy past the hobby stage. The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies and its member societies focus on bringing more Jews into the hobby of genealogy, helping them develop research skills and, through its annual conference, provide education and eyeball-to-eyeball networking. JewishGen provides the online databases and electronic communication. Avotaynu, the primary commercial venture, provides books and a journal to the Jewish genealogical community. All focus on the immediate gratification of genealogy hobbyists although each group also indirectly helps the Jewish community.
The Institute will be free from this constraint and can focus on long-term projects, some of which may not even be of obvious benefit to the genealogical enthusiast but represent genealogy's role on the general Jewish scene. Some of its planned projects are Sephardic DNA and Migration, a Genealogical Recreation of the Destroyed Communities of the Holocaust and indexing the 400 genealogical studies of the late Paul Jacobi. Other items discussed at the symposium included standards for Jewish genealogy and improvements to the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex System.
I view Jewish genealogy as a big pond with a number of ducks swimming around such as IAJGS, JewishGen, Avotaynu and the like. There is plenty of room for more ducks in the pond with no need to trample on the territory of others. Jewish genealogy will be in the decline the day Avotaynu decides that conferences are commercially viable, or IAJGS thinks its function includes developing databases, or JewishGen decides to go into the book publishing business. The Institute, the new duck in the pond, will provide valuable service to Jewish genealogy without trampling on the turf of the other ducks.
The Fall issue of AVOTAYNU will include a more detailed description of the events at the symposium. The Institute plans to publish the papers presented at the symposium on its Internet site (http://www.iijg.org) and/or in printed form.
New Products at the FGS Conference
The annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, held this year in Boston, attracts nearly 100 exhibitors. Here are two unusual products and services.
A site, http://www.WeRelate.org, claims to be an Internet search engine that only finds genealogy-related web sites. I tried it and it works fairly well. Searching for information about the Mokotow ancestral town of Warka, Poland, using Google resulted in only three genealogically relevant sites on the first page. Others included hotels and weather reports. Using WeRelate.org all could be considered relevant. The first was the Wikipedia entry for the town giving its history; the second was a description of the voivodship (county/province) that included Warka. The third was a Warka entry from the catalog of the Family History Library. WeRelate.org is a general search engine. It can be used to search for people, surnames or places. I used "ice cream" as keywords, and the first few hits were a genealogy site with the heading "Italians, Ice Cream and Settlement;" a second page from the same site; a page about the history of ice cream; a RootsWeb site that included the words.
1837online.com claims it has 400 million Great Britain records at their site. This includes complete birth, marriage and death records from 1837–2004; census records, 1861–1891, with an all-name index; living relatives indexes; and military records. Future plans call for passenger emigration lists, 1890–1960, with an all-name index. It is expected to be available in the second half of 2007.
For birth, marriage and death records, provided are images of pages from the government index. The 1837online.com index only captures the first and last name on each page. This means you must know the year of the event to find the entry in the government index. Otherwise, you must browse year by year until the entry is found.
Military records include a National Roll of the Great War 1914–1918; Soldiers who died in the Great War; Army Roll of Honor 1939–1945; and Armed Forces births, marriages and deaths.
You can search for records free of charge but retrieving the information is fee based. The cost is £5 for 50 units; £10 provides 110 units. Many records cost more than one unit. Alternately, there are annual subscriptions for unlimited use of certain offerings.
New Book: A Field Guide to Visiting a Jewish Cemetery
A Field Guide to Visiting a Jewish Cemetery, by Rabbi Joshua L. Segal, clearly offers something missing in Jewish genealogical research: a good book on understanding the ways of Jewish cemeteries and how to interpret the Hebrew inscriptions on tombstones.
The fact that tombstone inscriptions are in Hebrew can be a challenge to some researchers. But the material presented in the book is simple enough that it can be understood by those with the most minimal exposure to Hebrew. Yet the book is comprehensive enough to be a valuable resource to the most sophisticated Jewish readers.
There is a dictionary of Hebrew words and common expressions that appear on tombstones. Since the carving of a tombstone can be expensive, sometimes Hebrew expressions are represented in abbreviated form. An appendix shows commonly used abbreviations.
The book is 220 pages, softcover, and lists for $19.95. Avotaynu is currently offering it for $18.00 plus shipping. Additional information, including the Table of Contents and a sample chapter can be found at http://www.avotaynu.com/books/cemeteryfield.htm.
Google Provides Online Index to Old Newspapers
Google's latest offering is an index to old periodicals. It is located at http://news.google.com/archivesearch/. The Google site appears to be a merging of many fee-for-service indexing services plus a few that are available for no charge. The sources are worldwide. I found references to Polish sources when searching for "Mokotow."
The first line of every hit states the source and date. When there is a fee to retrieve the item, the price is shown on this line. If there are a substantial number of hits, the system allows the user to narrow the list by time period or source.
Fifth Cemetery in New York City Area Goes Online
Mt. Ararat Cemetery, located in Lindenhurst, New York, has placed its 45,000 burials online. This is the fifth New York-area Jewish cemetery to make their burials available on the Internet. It is located at http://www.mountararatcemetery.com. Previous listings are
Mt. Carmel Cemetery (Queens, New York) at http://www.mountcarmelcemetery.com;
Mt. Hebron Cemetery (Queens, New York) at http://www.mounthebroncemetery.com;
Mt. Moriah Cemetery (Fairview, New Jersey) at http://www.mountmoriahcemeteryofnewjersey.org; and Mt. Zion Cemetery (Queens, New York) at http://www.mountzioncemetery.com.
Tooting My Own Horn
Sixteen years ago, Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern asked me to get involved with American genealogy at the national level. I joined the board of directors of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and have had an association with the organization ever since, helping it grow to an umbrella group that now has close to 600 member societies.
Five years ago, professional genealogist Eileen Polakoff asked me to get involved with the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) where I served as treasurer for four years.
This year both organizations recognized my work by giving me their highest awards. In May, APG awarded me their Grahame T. Smallwood Jr. Award of Merit for service to the organization. It is given annually. In September, FGS awarded me the Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern Humanitarian Award. The award recognizes "the lifetime contributions of a rare individual whose positive personal influence and example have fostered unity in the genealogical community, provided leadership to its individual members, and helped make family history a vital force in the community at large." Only three other persons have received the award since it was created 11 years ago.
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