Nu? What's New?
The E-zine of Jewish Genealogy From Avotaynu

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 9, Number 21 | September 14, 2008

Not much to report in this edition.

Correction on Conference Dates
In the last issue of Nu? What’s New? I stated the wrong dates for the 29th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy. It will be held from August 2–7 in Philadelphia. The 2010 conference will be held in Los Angeles from July 11–16. Washington will be the site of the 2011 conference although the dates have not been specified.

Site Shows in Which Countries a Surname Appears
There is an Internet site that will tell you whether a surname occurs in a number of countries throughout the world. The countries included are—as determined from the map shown at the site— U.S., Canada, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan and most of Europe but not Finland, Greece, Portugal, Czech and Slovak Republics, the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The site claims its sources are telephone directories and electoral rolls. It is located at http://www.publicprofiler.org/worldnames.

Other statistics for a given surname include the most common forenames, top countries that include the surname including frequency per million inhabitants, top regions and top cities. If you click on a country, it displays frequency by region.

I found out, for example, that there are persons named Wlodawer (my paternal grandmother’s name) living in Germany and France.


Ancestry.com to Partner with City of London
Ancestry’s British subsidiary, ancestry.co.uk, has announced that they have completed an agreement with the City of London where they will host the most comprehensive collection of historical London records, covering 500 years of the city’s history. Ancestry has secured the exclusive online rights to digitize and host key records from London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library Manuscripts. When completed it is estimated it will provide information about 77 million people.

The collection will take several years to index and image. The first records will launch on Ancestry.co.uk in early 2009. Initial records will include parish records, Poor Law documents and London school admissions—records from 843 individual London schools dating from the early Victorian times to 1911, providing admission and personal details for millions of London students.

A more detailed description of the announcement can be found at http://myancestors.wordpress.com/2008/09/06/500-years-of-london-history/.


Jewish Metrical Records from L’viv Archives Recatalogued
JRI-Poland and Gesher Galicia are creating a detailed inventory of the microfilms of Lviv State Archives in Ukraine that are at the Mormon Family History Library. The cataloging done by the Library was found to contain errors. The inventory, an Excel file download, is located at the JRI-Poland website at http://www.jri-poland.org/agad/lvivinventory.xls and on the Gesher Galicia website at http://www.jewishgen.org/Galicia/assets/images/LvivFilmInventories.xls. A description of the project can be found at http://www.jri-poland.org/agad/lviv.htm.


“Do I Have Jewish Ancestry?”
Since there is little recent news of interest, I thought I would expound on a favorite subject of mine: whether a given surname is “Jewish,” that is, was borne by a sufficient number of Jews to be considered a Jewish surname.

Every week I get inquiries from Christians who think they may have Jewish ancestry. The typical profile is that they had a grandparent who was secretive about his/her past or that the family has a lot of “Jewish” given names such as Jacob, Joseph, Abraham, etc. Many of them have searched Avotaynu’s Consolidated Jewish Surname Index (CJSI) and found their ancestral surname on the list.

The most popular page in the avotaynu.com domain is not our Home Page but the Consolidated Jewish Surname Index located at http://www.avotaynu.com/csi/csi-home.htm. In August it received more than 10,000 hits—our Home Page received only 6,700. The CJSI is a collection of surnames that appear in 42 databases some of which contain only Jews (Example: Jewish Records Indexing-Poland project) or contain mostly Jews (Example: Family Tree of the Jewish People).

The fact that you find a surname in CJSI does not necessarily mean that this surname is Jewish. This occurs for three major reasons:
    1. Jews and non-Jews share surnames. The third most common Jewish surname in the United States (after Cohen and Levy) is Miller. Clearly Miller in both non-Jewish and Jewish.
    2. Intermarriage and conversion. The fact that the surname McKenney appears in CJSI does not mean that Jews bore this name. One source of McKenneys is the Family Tree of the Jewish People, a database of family trees developed by Jewish genealogists. But these trees would also include non-Jewish branches of families.
    3. Nature of database. Some of the databases named are predominantly Jewish but do contain non-Jewish individuals. An example is the Russian Consular Records database of people who transacted business with the Czarist consulates in the United States.

The proper answer to the question as whether one has Jewish ancestry is to trace one’s roots and not base it on a Jewish name, secretiveness of grandparents or because people say “I look Jewish.” But the Consolidated Jewish Surname Index can provide clues regarding the likelihood that a surname is Jewish if it is used properly.

If a name is found in CJSI, evaluate the databases in which it occurs. If the name only appears in databases known to include Christian surnames, the likelihood is that it is not a Jewish surname. An example is the surname McKenney. It appears only in two databases: Family Tree of the Jewish People and First American Jewish Families. Both are family tree databases; therefore, undoubtedly they represent names that appear in Christian branches of Jewish family trees. I recently purged CJSI of more than 117,000 surnames that only appear in the Family Tree of the Jewish People (FTJP) on the grounds that they likely were Christian branches of Jewish families, since they appear in none of the other 41 databases. Hopefully, this will cut down on the number of inquiries I receive from people who found their surname in FTJP.

There are 891 surnames in CJSI that appear only in FTJP and First American Jewish Families. The first ten that start with the letter “R” are Reade, Ruddock, Ridgely, Rydholm, Radcliffe, Ryttenberg, Rizza, Richberg, Rosalio and Roege. Ryttenberg is a variant of the Jewish surname Rittenbereg. The unique spelling might indicate a Christian variant of the surname. To assist researchers, there is a list at http://www.avotaynu.com/csi/databases.htm that indicates whether each of the CJSI sources is exclusively Jewish.

What if the name appears in databases that are known to contain only Jews? My next step usually is to note in how many exclusively Jewish databases the name appears. If it is high, clearly the surname is used by Jews. Example: The surname Mokotow appears in seven databases. If the surname appears in only one database, if it is online, I go to that site and determine how many entries there are for the surname. If it is less than five, it is likely the surname is not Jewish but represents either a typographical error or a case where a Christian man married a Jewish woman.

There are some exceptions to the rule that a low frequency of a surname in CJSI indicates it is not Jewish. If the surname appears in the JewishGen Family Finder, it means that some Jewish genealogist is researching the family name. It is a simple task to e-mail the researcher to determine the history of the surname. If the surname appears in one of the four Jewish surname dictionaries published by Avotaynu (Russian Empire, Galicia, Kingdom of Poland and German) or in one of the databases of Sephardic names, then the author’s sources were compelling enough for them to consider the surname Jewish.

If a name is not found in CJSI but one appears that is quite close in spelling, I usually reject the similarity. When you have a database of more than a half million surnames, it is likely that any combination of letters will produce some result close to the surname being searched. Is the surname “Monkey” Jewish? It does not appear in CJSI, but the surname Monki and Monke do. Is the surname “Roosevelt” Jewish? It is not in CJSI, but Roseveldt is.

Jewish given names is a poor source of the likelihood a family is Jewish, unless the given names are uniquely Jewish. Biblical names such as Jacob, Joseph and Abraham are not uniquely Jewish given names. Malka, Chaim and Feivel are. A common inquiry I receive is from a family who thinks they are Jewish because there are many people in their family with Biblical given names. Biblical given names were common in many cultures. My experience has been that people who make inquiries based on given names are invariably people with German ancestry where use of Biblical given names was common.

There are always exceptions to these rules. What is shown is a proposed methodology to determine the likelihood—not the certainty—of whether a surname was borne by Jews and could be considered a Jewish surname.

Help Grow the Shoah Victims’ Names Database
Yad Vashem wants volunteers who are willing to contact local institutions and individuals to grow the Shoah Victims Database whose principal documents are Pages of Testimony. With the aid of promotional materials Yad Vashem has developed, volunteers will reach out to survivors and their families and assist them in registering the names of Jews who they know were murdered in the Shoah. This will be done through synagogues, Holocaust centers, Jewish Community Centers, Jewish student organizations, senior centers and social service agencies. To volunteer send your name, address, phone number and e-mail address to names.outreach@yadvashem.org.il with the subject heading "Names Volunteer"

To submit a Page of Testimony, there is a link on the left portion of the screen from the Basic Search page at http://www.yadvashem.org/lwp/workplace/IY_HON_Welcome. Click the words “Submit Additional Names.”

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