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

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 11, Number 13 | July 8, 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.
Off to the Annual Conference
Tomorrow morning I am off to Los Angeles to participate in the 30th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy. I have attended every conference since they started in 1981 in New York City except two of the London conferences.

I will be giving one lecture and one computer workshop. The lecture is titled “The Paternal Ancestry of Bernard Madoff.” It shows how American census, naturalization and immigration records can be used to trace one’s ancestry. By using those records and three other important resources—JewishGen, Jewish Records Indexing-Poland and networking with others—I was able to trace the notorious Madoff’s ancestry back to 18th-century Poland. The study also includes the challenge that the name in Poland was not “Madoff,” and I describe techniques used to discover the Old Country name.

The computer workshop is a hands-on course on how to use Avotaynu’s Consolidated Jewish Surname Index and Yad Vashem’s Shoah Victims’ Names Database.

I hope many of you are planning to attend this important conference.

2011 Canadian Census Questions Revised
The Canadian government is planning a major change in the content of future censuses. They are opting for a shorter form and a National Household Survey.

The short form asks for each member of the household his name, sex, age and date of birth, marital status, relationship to person 1 (usually the head of the household), the language that the person first learned at home in childhood and still understands, and the all-important “Is anyone…a farm operator who produces at least one agricultural product intended for sale? (Crops, livestock, milk, poultry, eggs, greenhouse or nursery products, Christmas trees, sod, honey, bees, maple syrup products, furs, etc.)” The content of the short form will be available after 92 years only if the informant agrees.

The National Household Survey will ask questions about citizenship, ethnicity, religion, income, work, housing and other topics that had been on the long form that was used in censuses since 1951. However, the data will never be made public. Furthermore, only one in five households will receive this survey.

The government stated that the reason for this change was privacy concerns.

For additional information, see

Historians and genealogists are upset about the new rules. A report can be found at

More Functionality at the Morse One-Step Site
Stephen P. Morse has added two more functions at his One-Step site located at

If you use his feature to search New York City vital records located at the Italian Genealogy Group site, it now provides the LDS (Mormon) Family History Library microfilm number that contains the actual certificate of birth marriage or death.

FamilySearch located at is in the process of indexing and digitizing New York State censuses. The Morse One-Step site contains an AD/ED finder for the New York City portion of these state censuses in various years, namely 1890, 1905, 1915, and 1925. Recently the FamilySearch pilot added images for the 1905 Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan. The Morse AD/ED finder now links directly to the images for that AD/ED.

Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy Shipped
Initial orders of our new book, “Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy: 2010 Version” were shipped tody. If you have not ordered the book yet, information can be found at

Opinion: The Value of DNA Testing
After announcing the availability of our new book Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy, I received a number of comments from veteran genealogists stating that they were surprised that DNA testing was not included in the book. It was considered, but then rejected.

I do not consider DNA testing as a resource for beginners. To me, it is a course of last resort. The primary resort should be records. Consider a neophyte genealogist named Finkelstein whose ancestors came from Radom, Poland. He locates another genealogist named Finklestein whose ancestry is also Radom. They both submit to DNA testing and there is an exact match. What has this proved? Nothing other than they are closely related. It does not tell how they are related. If subsequent research of records demonstrates exactly how they are related, then the DNA testing was a waste of effort.

Here are two examples of how I used DNA testing successfully.

Example 1. I have documented all Jews whose original Eastern European name was Tartacki (pronounced Tartatsky), the surname of my mother’s father. Through family interviews and records, I was able to confirm that all persons with that surname come from a region of Eastern Europe within 100 miles (160 km) of Volkovysk, which today is in western Belarus. This suggests they are all closely related. I have records going back four to six generations on all branches but was unable to connect the branches. I submitted Y-chromosome testing to FamilyTreeDNA from a man in each of the three main branches and the results were that the families are not related.

Why the geographical coincidence? Using Alexander Beider’s “A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire” creates a theory. The origin of the surname is the Polish word “tartak” which means “sawmill.” Furthermore, using JewishGen’s ShtetlSeeker, there are numerous towns named Tartak in Eastern Europe. This is understandable since it means “the town where the sawmill is located.” Either the ancestors of the Tartackis were in the sawmill business—one branch claimed so—or they lived near a townlet named Tartak and chose it as their hereditary surname.

 Example 2: About a year ago I was contacted by a man named Terr who wanted to know why he was listed on my Tartacki family tree. The tree shows that his great-grandfather was a Tartacki from Bialystok, Poland, and his grandfather changed it to Terr. But I could not link his family to the Tartackis of Bialystok through records despite having his paternal ancestry back six generations. He was a fourth branch of the Tartackis. I had him submit to DNA testing, and he is an exact match to the Tartackis of Bialystok. In this case, DNA testing demonstrated there is a 100% likelihood that he is related to this clan.

I once asked Bennett Greenspan, president of FamilyTree DNA, of what value is DNA testing if the results are merely statistical, for example, that there is an 85% chance the two are related within a certain number of generations. It could also be said there is a 15% chance they are not closely related. His response was that DNA results must be taken in the context of other evidence. For example, if two men have an 85% chance of being related, and one has ancestry from Lithuania and the other from southern Poland, it is likely they belong to the 15% group who are not closely related (ignoring the possibility of recent migration). But if two men have ancestors from the same area and have the same surname—as was true in the Terr/Tartasky circumstance—it is 100% likely they are closely related.

What has been discussed refers to the Y-chromosome (paternal) or mtDNA (maternal) tests. The new test available from FamilyTree DNA does look into how people are related. (It also can examine relationships other than strict paternal or maternal lines.) Suppose the Finkelsteins described above took this path and the tests determined they were third cousins, that is, they share a common great-great-grandfather, I suppose that the family tree could represent that person as named Common Ancestor Finkelstein with the two branches descending from him. It still does not provide the name of this common ancestor or any other information about the person such as where/when he was born, married or died.

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