Gary Mokotoff, Editor
Volume 10, Number 8 | April 26, 2009
This edition is going to 8,389 subscribers
Editorial: These Are the Times That Try Men’s Souls
It is time for the genealogical community to form a Political Action Committee to lobby for the interests of family history research. The acts of government agencies—primarily local and state—are interfering with our ability to access records of our ancestors. These restrictions are arbitrary and capricious. The most popular excuses are that public access leads to identity theft or can be used by terrorists. Yet there are no known cases of vital records being used in either manner.
One clerk in the State of New Jersey limited access to death certificates that were part of probate records because he wanted to. When he was told it was contrary to state law, he reaction was “take me to court.” He now requests the executor of an estate to sign a statement that the family wishes the death record to be sealed, thus circumventing the law. Last month the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) banned public access to the index of vital records due to concerns that abuse by the public can lead to identity theft and security risks. The DOHMH has birth indices/records after 1909 and death indices/records after 1948. The same agency refused to provide me with a 40-year-old death certificate, because I did not know the names of the decedent’s father and mother.
Currently there is a Records Preservation & Access Committee sponsored by the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the National Genealogical Society. They are sometimes successful in modifying proposed legislation or regulations. The committee’s technique is to meet with the government officials and try to reason with them. It is time to kick it up a notch and make legislators and clerks aware that if they make moves to limit access to their records, they will incur the public and political wrath of the genealogical community.
In many ways the United States is really 50 independent countries, each making their own rules on many matters including access to vital records and their indexes. Recently I was able to reunite a Holocaust survivor with American relatives, because the American family came from California. It was easy to do because there is public access to the vital records indexes of California. Had the relatives lived in New York City, the link would not have been made.
My personal experience with security systems is that they inconvenience the honest and allow the criminals to do whatever they want. When I was in the computer software business, I used an IBM service facility that required you to sign in. I always signed in with the name of the president of IBM. No one ever challenged it. More recently, in this post-9/11 age, my wife and I traveled to a genealogy conference where Avotaynu was exhibiting its books. My wife brought along a box cutter to open the cartons and innocently placed it in her purse taking it onboard the plane. The security screening did not catch it. The criminals of the world will always find a way to get around security systems. Some years ago, in one New Jersey county, criminals were selling false birth certificates to illegal aliens. How did they accomplish it? They had a person working for the government agency produce the fake certificates. If I wanted access to the DOHMH for the purposes of stealing someone’s identity, all that would be necessary would be to get someone hired by the institution. This is not a hypothetical case. There was a rumor many years ago among the members of the New York Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists that you could get a adoption birth record unsealed by paying a city employee $500 for a copy of the records.
It is time for the genealogical community to approach state legislators and demand laws be passed that equitably balance the need to know by such people as family historians with the privacy of the person. Such excuses as identity theft and terrorism are lame reasons to inconvenience the public.
JGSLI Yearbook Project
The Jewish Genealogical Society of Long Island has initiated a project where it will act as an intermediary to match researchers with yearbook owners. High school, college or other miscellaneous school yearbooks or class lists can be an interesting source of genealogical information and photographs. In addition to a graduating photo, there may be photos of a relative participating in a sports activity, school orchestra, member of a club or other activity.
To date more than 900 yearbooks have been made available by volunteers through this program. Additional information can be found at http://www.jgsli.org/yearbook_project.htm. It includes the procedure for how to add yearbooks in your possession to the program.
Deadline Looms for Conference Early Registration
Early-Bird registration for the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy to be held in Philadelphia from August 2–7, 2009, ends on April 30, 2009. After that date, registration increases from $250 to $295. On-site registration takes effect after July 25, 2009, when the cost rises to $325. Daily registration is also possible. Register online at http://philly2009.org.
Register for Meals and Computer Workshops
If you are planning to attend the conference, it is recommended that you register now for the planned Breakfasts with the Experts, Special Interest Groups luncheons, banquet and Computer Training Workshops. With the exception of the banquet, these functions have limited capacity and sell out early. Go to the conference site and click the link to Registration Update.
Philadelphia Jewish Resource Guide Will Help Researchers
If you have roots in the Philadelphia area, which includes southern New Jersey and Delaware, the conference host society, Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia, has developed a 142-page “Philadelphia Area Jewish Genealogical Resource Directory” that is available on the Internet at http://www.jewishgen.org/jgsp/ResourceGuidev5C.pdf. Included are all Jewish cemeteries—both active and inactive—synagogues and funeral directors. Where appropriate, each entry includes name, address, phone number, key staff, web site, email, hours, fees, accessibility, public transportation, driving directions, Jewish interest holdings and research advice. Also included is information about institutions in both the government and private sectors. Another useful book is The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia: A History and Guide 1881 to 1930 by Harry Boonin, founding president of the JGS of Greater Phildelphia. It can be purchased from Avotaynu at http://www.avotaynu.com/books/Philadelphia.htm.
Ancestry Adds Border Crossings from U.S. to Canada
Ancestry.com has now added border crossings from the U.S. to Canada (1908–1935) to its collections. Previously it only had crossing from Canada to the U.S. (1895–1956). The new database has more than 1.6 million names. Last year the company added Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865–1935, which contains more than 7.2 million names.
Photographs of Arrival at Auschwitz
There are now (at least) two photo essays of Jews arriving at Auschwitz on the Internet. One, at
http://isurvived.org/Survivors_Folder/Lustig_Oliver/Commentary-PhotoAlbum-1.html#Up has a description of each scene. The other at the Yad Vashem site appears to be from the book Auschwitz Album and includes an audio narrative. It is located at
Avotaynu Now Accepts PayPal Payments
Avotaynu now offers PayPal as a payment option when ordering our books or a subscription to AVOTAYNU. When you proceed to checkout at the Avotaynu site there will be two options: (1) order by credit card online or (2) PayPal. PayPal retains billing/shipping information making it unnecessary to key that information when ordering Avotaynu products. A complete list of books, maps anad other offerings can be found at http://www.avotaynu.com/catalog.htm.
Poland to Publish Online List of WWII Dead
An online list of some of the estimated six million Polish citizens who died during World War II is to be published at http://straty.pl/ . The initial offering will only have 1.9 million names. An estimated 3 million of the 3.3 million Jews living in Poland in 1939 died during World War II. Of the 33 million Polish non-Jews, an estimated 3 million died. Additional information can be found at http://www.ejpress.org/article/35991.
Blessing of the Sun
Probably the most renown Mokotoff that ever lived was Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov (born Abraham Eliyahu Mokotow, 1912–1976). He was my third cousin once removed. Rabbi Kitov is an author of a number of books, most notably The Book of Our Heritage (Sefer HaTodaah) which is a detailed explanation of all the Jewish holidays. Rabbi Kitov is often described as having been born with the surname Mokotowski, but I have yet to find any evidence he used that surname. As late as 1953, when he came to the U.S., the passenger list showed his name as Abraham Mokotow. His Polish passport, which he surrendered after immigrating to Eretz Yisrael, shows his name as Mokotow. It is part of the collection of the Jewish Institute in Warsaw. His family lived in Josefow nad Wisla, Poland, but his biography claims he was born in Warsaw. I have the birth records of most of his siblings, all of whom were born in Josefow or neighboring towns. I do not have his birth record which lends credence to the possibility that his parents were visiting Warsaw at the time he was born.
Rabbi Kitov’s book served a useful function for me 28 years ago. A holiday that occurred just a few weeks ago reminded me of the incident. There is an obscure Jewish holiday called “Blessing of the Sun.” It is obscure because it occurs only once every 28 years. It celebrates the Creation. Apparently the ancients observed that the sun does not rise in the exact spot every day but instead operates on a 28-year cycle. This is undoubtedly due to the wobble of the Earth. I first became aware of this holiday 28 years ago when I was sitting in synagogue one Saturday morning. The rabbi of the congregation explained the holiday and said the 28-year cycle could be traced back to the day of the Creation. It was the Jewish year 5741, and my mathematical mind observed there was a problem. How could a year, 5741, which ends in an odd number, be the beginning of a 28-year cycle which is an even number. I questioned the rabbi, and he had no answer. I went home and used a calculator to divide 5741 into 28. It left a remainder of one.
I was in the process of reading The Book of Our Heritage, so I went to the book to see if the holiday was even mentioned. Rabbi Kitov actually devoted three pages to the holiday. Why the discrepancy between the calendar year and the 28-year cycle? The book states, “The year 5741 (1981), the 205th circuit of the sun will be complete...we will have the privilege of saying the blessing for the sun. Even though 205 multiplied by 28 is only equal to 5740, the Sages have already explained to us that during the year of the Flood, the natural order of the world was suspended.”
It’s Not Genealogy, But...
One of the most popular television programs in the U.S. is American Idol, a talent show. The British equivalent is Britain’s Got Talent. On YouTube is a performance from the British show by a dowdy-looking 47-year old woman that has had more than 8 million views . It is worth watching—especially if you are an American Idol fan. It is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY&feature=related. Thanks to JewishGen founder Susan King who has a link to it on her web site http://www.susaneking.com.
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