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

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 11, Number 12 | June 27, 2010

Every government puts value on preserving its history. That is why we have national archives. Genealogy preserves history; the history of a family. It cannot be done without access to records, just as historians cannot preserve a nation's history without access to records. It is a greater good than the right to privacy. It is a greater good than the risk of identity theft.
New Book: Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy: 2010 Edition
Avotaynu has just published a completely rewritten version of its very popular Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy. The original work, published in 1999, sold more than 2,000 copies. If you are starting out in your quest to know more about your family history or are trying to convince someone that it is possible for them to trace their Jewish roots, this is the book. It is low cost and gives an overview of Jewish genealogical research.

The new book is substantially different from its predecessor. There is greater emphasis on using the Internet, a resource that blossomed in this past decade. JewishGen has its own chapter, and there is a chapter regarding a resource that did not come onto the genealogy scene until 2001: Stephen P. Morse One-Step site.

Special focus is given to two complaints commonly uttered by neophytes: (1) My name was changed at Ellis Island, and (2) I do not know where my family came from.

The new version is titled Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy: 2010 Edition. It is Avotaynu’s intention to update the book every year, because advances in genealogy are coming so rapidly that there is a need for continual updates. This approach is made possible because of a new technology in printing called Print-On-Demand. Sometime in December 2010, we will publish an updated version: Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy: 2011 Edition. Every December thereafter there will be an updated version.

The book is deliberately small—only 92 pages (which is 25% larger than its predecessor)—to keep the price low. It is a getting started book, not a beginners guide. A beginners guide would take hundreds of pages. It is filled with illustrations—35 in total. People getting started don’t want to merely know what to do. They want to see examples.

The cost is only $14.50 plus shipping and handling. The Table of Contents plus ordering information can be found at

YIVO Encyclopedia of Eastern Europe Online
It has only been available in print for two years at a price of $400, but YIVO Institute has decided to place its YIVO Encyclopedia of Eastern Europe online. Judging from the quality of the site, it was planned all along. It is located at

A number of negative postings to the JewishGen Discussion Group complained that people keyed in ancestral towns and got no results. The purpose of the book was not to be an encyclopedia of Jewish towns. That is the purpose of Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust which originally sold for $395 and is now available from Avotaynu at $99.00! It has information about 6,500 towns. (A list of towns is available at the Avotaynu site. See

The YIVO Encyclopedia is an encyclopedia of the history of the Jews of Eastern Europe. Consequently, it has articles on selected cities, persons, events and locations. It has some interesting maps—60 in all—that include the Kovno, Lodz and Warsaw ghettoes. These maps identify specific sites within the ghetto, and sliding a mouse over a site provides a description. There are three maps of “Poland” from 1795, 1900 and 1930. On a more global scale there are maps of Eastern Europe in 1600, 1740, 1814, 1923, 1945 and today. I accidentally discovered that if you scroll the mouse wheel, it zooms in on the map.

The best way to determine its content is to click Browse on the home page. It provides an alphabetical listing of topics. There are also links to the maps, images/audio/video (1,382 in all) and 192 original documents.

Annual Conference: Final Comments
I hope to see many of you at the 30th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy being held at the Marriott LIVE in Los Angeles from July 11–16. If you have not yet planned to come and you live within 100 miles of Los Angeles, spend at least a day there to get a flavor for what an incredible event the annual conference has become. Particulars can be found at

Next year’s gathering will be in Washington, DC, August 14–19.

Order Avotaynu Books for Conference
Avotaynu will be selling more than 60 books and map sets at the conference. For the most part, we will have only one copy of each book and will ship to you, free of charge within the U.S., any book you purchase with an order of over $50. If you plan to buy books and prefer taking them with you, e-mail us at We will bring an extra copy and reserve it for you.

If you live outside the U.S., send your order now to the above e-mail address. We will reserve copies of the books you wish. You will save time and shipping costs by taking the books with you. A complete list of our products can be found at

IIJG Provides Semi-Annual Report
Neville Lamdan, director of the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy, has posted a semi-annual report on the Institute’s website. He notes that IIJG continues to work to advance the status of Jewish Genealogy as a sub-branch of Jewish Studies through participation in international conferences on Jewish Studies and discussions with universities to establish a degree-yielding program at academic institutions.

IIJG provides grants for proposed scholarly work in the area of family history. They have previously awarded grants for studies centered in medieval Spain, pre-modern Italy, Ottoman and Mandatory Palestine, 18th- and 19th-century Hungary, the 19th- and 20th-century “diaspora” of a Lithuanian “shtetl”, and Latvian Jewry during the Inter-War period.

According to Lamdan, perhaps the most exciting research results to be reported recently were received from Mrs. Maria Jose Surribas-Camps in Barcelona regarding her study into the “Lives and Lineages of Medieval Jews” in the provincial town of Cervera in pre-Expulsion Spain. Mrs. Surribas uncovered approximately 3,000 original documents in Latin and early Catalan, dating from 1328 to 1499, all shedding new light on the lives of Jews, including several important families associated with the town, among them the famous rabbinical scholar known as “Rashba” (1235–1310). Above all, she proved that the unexplored archives of such small towns are veritable goldmines for the history and genealogies of Sephardi families living today, who trace their pedigrees back to pre-Expulsion Spain. At present, Mrs. Surribas is working on the final version of her report for posting on the Institute’s website. Thereafter, she will prepare her material for publication as a book, in collaboration with Dr. Jeff Malka, the Deputy Chair of the IIJG Academic Committee. Dr. Malka is author of the award-winning Sephardic Genealogy: Discovering Your Sephardic Ancestors and Their World, published by Avotaynu.

Thee full report can be downloaded at

Michigan Jewish Burials Online
It was noted on JewishGen that the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit has indexed more than 64,000 Jews who died between the mid-1800s and 1999. A list of cemeteries that participated in the project is also available. The information can be found at

Addendum to Last Issue’s
Library and Archives Canada Digitizing Microform Holdings
In the last issue of Nu? What’s New? I suggested a good finding aid for these online digitized microfilm collections would be an index of the starting and ending names on each of the reels. In reality an index exists. If you click the Help link next to each of the collections, an index is provided. The home page is at

Australians Overtake Finns on CJSI
The Consolidated Jewish Surname Index (CJSI) is the most popular page on the site. It receives an average of 600 visits every day. Ostensibly, its purpose is to assist family historians with Jewish heritage to find databases that contain their surnames of interest. It appears that many people who visit the site use it to determine if a surname is Jewish. For this reason there is a special disclaimer at the site which says it really cannot be used for this purpose because:
   • Jews and non-Jews share surnames. The third most common Jewish surname in the United States (after Cohen and Levy) is Miller. Clearly Miller is both non-Jewish and Jewish.
   • Intermarriage and conversion. The fact that the surname McKenney appears in CJSI does not mean necessarily that Jews bore this name. One source, the Family Tree of the Jewish People, is a database of family trees developed by Jewish genealogists. But these trees would also include non-Jewish branches of families.
   • 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.

Last December, we added a counter to the site to determine exactly how many people visit the site. It is an unusual counter, because it keeps track by country. The United States, UK and Canada provide the most visits, but strangely, Finland came in fourth. Why Finland? Because as it says above, “Some of the databases are predominantly Jewish.” As it turns out, the Russian Consular Records database has many Finnish surnames, because during the czarist period, Finland was part of Russia. Of course, many Finnish viewers did not bother to read the disclaimer and thought they might have Jewish ancestry.

The Australians have overtaken the Finns and now hold the fourth rank. You can see the counter at

A number of years ago, I received a nasty e-mail from a woman who insisted that her surname was not Jewish, and she demanded that I remove the surname from CJSI. I happened to have a Hungarian Jewish lexicon and found the name there. I wrote back to the woman and informed her that indeed there were Jews that bore her surname, and perhaps if she traced her ancestry she would determine she had Jewish blood running through her veins.

Contribute to the Success of the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy
Help support a dynamic institution that in its brief existence already has been the catalyst for such benefits to Jewish genealogy as the Beider-Morse Phonetic Matching System,  Sephardic DNA and Migration project, inventorying the Paul Jacobi Collection of 400 prominent Ashkenazic lineages, the Proposed Standard for Names, Dates and Places in a Genealogical Database, and a system for Integrating Genealogical Datasets.

Visit the IIJG website at and read about these developments, as well as  ongoing and proposed projects.

Make your tax-deductible contribution by credit card or PayPal at Click the Donate link. If you prefer, mail it to the Friends of the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy, 155 N. Washington Ave., Bergenfield, NJ 07621. Make the check payable to “Friends of the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy.” Donations are tax deductible for U.S. taxpayers.
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