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

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 12, Number 24 | June 19, 2011

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.
“Better Than Soundex”?
In one of his daily columns this past week titled “Better Than Soundex”, Dick Eastman touted one of the latest variants of soundex systems called the “Double Metaphone System.” Eastman notes, “Double Metaphone handles pronunciations of names from Italian, Spanish, and French, and from various Germanic and Slavic languages.” Sadly it is not true. Jewish surnames from Central and Eastern Europe are based on Germanic and Slavic languages and for them the Double Metaphone system is a disaster.

An essential requirement for any soundex system to be used by family historians is that surnames originating in the Old Country which were changed to phonetically accommodate the language of the New Country produce the same result. Here are some results for Jewish surnames showing their European and American spellings followed by the Double Metaphone code and the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex code.

Lipszyc – LPSS – 874400
Lipshitz – LPXT - 874400
Fajnsztajn – FJNS – 764360
Feinstein – FNST – 764360
Mokotoff – MKTF – 653700
Mokotow – MKT – 653700

Text describing the Double Metaphone system states, “It is more accurate than soundex, because it uses the basic rules of English pronunciation.” If this is true, it is its principal fault. It assumes that letters or combinations of letters in other languages are pronounced as in English.

A common misconception of the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex System is that it works only for Jewish surnames. This is not true. What is true is that the table associated with D-M favors Germanic and Slavic surnames. If this is unacceptable, then change the table; the D-M algorithm is independent of the table used. If you are dealing with predominantly English names, then create a table that focuses on English names. For example, “kn” as in “knife,” would be coded “56” in the current D-M table. Just add an entry to the table that indicates at the beginning of a word “kn” converts to “6.” The D-M table does not have entries for certain characters in the Polish alphabet that have peculiar pronuncistions. Add to the table that “ł” (the slashed “l”) is double coded for “w” or “l”.

D-M, developed in 1985, expanded the rules of the conventional soundex system in the following ways:
  • Six meaningful characters are encoded rather than four.
  • The initial letter of the word is encoded.
More significantly:
  • If a combination of consecutive letters produce a single sound, then it is coded as the sound not the components of the consecutive letters. Example: "tz" is not "34" but "4"
  • If a letter or combination of letters can have more than one sound, they are coded more than once.

You can try the Double Metaphone system at

The complete Eastman article is available only to paid subscribers of his newsletter. It is located at A description of the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex System can be found at

AARP Has “Discover Your Roots” Sweepstakes
AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) has announced a "Discover Your Roots" sweepstakes. First prize includes a one-year subscription to, $1000 gift card and five hours of private consultation via phone with Megan Smolenyak, who was once Chief Family Historian for To be eligible you must be at least 45 years old and a U.S. resident. The contest ends August 15. Registration is free. Additional information is located at

Jewish Genealogical Trip to Salt Lake City
For the 19th consecutive year, veteran Jewish genealogists Gary Mokotoff and Eileen Polakoff will be offering a research trip to the LDS (Mormon) Family History Library in Salt Lake City from October 27-November 3, 2011. To date, more than 300 Jewish genealogists from the U.S., Canada, Israel, Australia, England, Austria and Venezuela have taken advantage of this program. The group size is limited to 40 people.

The program offers genealogists the opportunity to spend an entire week of intensive research at the Library under the guidance and assistance of professional genealogists who have made more than three dozen trips to Salt Lake City. Each attendee has access to trip leaders every day—except Sunday when the Library is closed—from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Library for on-site assistance and personal consultations. There is also a planned program that includes a three-hour class on day of arrival introducing the participants to the facilities and resources of the Family History Library in addition to a mid-week informal group discussion of progress and problem solving.

Social events include a Sunday brunch for camaraderie and discussion of successes (and failures); attendance at the Sunday morning broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; and informal group dinners each night.

Additional information can be found at

English Outbound Passenger Lists Online
Yet another fee-for-service company has indexed outbound UK passenger lists. They are available at The lists include people onboard ships departing British ports for long-distance voyages from 1890 to 1960. It is also available at An advantage to users of having more than one company index a set of records is there are always errors in extracting records. Independent extractions mean an error in one may not be reproduced in another.

Genes Reunited was launched in 2003 as a sister-site to Friends Reunited.

More On Copyright
In the last issue of Nu? What’s New? I noted a website that explains the rules of U.S. copyright law. Saul Issroff of the UK has provided me with a website that explains European Union copyright rules. It is located at Also there is a Wikipedia article about the subject at

I frequently get requests for information about copyright rules. The most common misconceptions are:

I am going to use someone’s copyrighted material for my non-profit organization; therefore, I do not need permission since I will not be making a profit from its use. Wrong. Copyrighted works are someone’s property. You cannot use someone’s property without their permission. Whether you plan to make a profit or not is not a consideration.

I paid someone $20,000 to write my family history; therefore, I own the copyright to the book. Not true. The copyright owner is the person who creates the original work. Only by written agreement can the copyright be transferred to another party, such as the person who paid to have it created. has placed online the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia. The original work has some great illustrations that I want to use. This is permissible since the Jewish Encyclopedia copyright has run out. Wrong. The illustrations at are their version of what appeared in the original work and is protected by copyright. This does not prevent you from finding a copy of the original encyclopedia and copying the illustrations from the book.

Someone copied verbatim a posting I made to the JewishGen Discussion Group without my permission. I am going to sue them. You can sue the person and may even “win” the suit, but copyright is meant to protect works of value. It is unlikely that the courts will determine you suffered monetary damages.

Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from Galicia at 60% Discount
For three days only, Sunday, June 19 through Tuesday, June 21, Avotaynu is providing the opportunity to buy A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from Galicia at 60% discount, The regular price is $85. For three days only, we are offering it at $35 plus shipping.

A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from Galicia is one of the epic works of Dr. Alexander Beider. Galicia was the only region of Eastern Europe where Christian registrars assigned hereditary surnames to Jews. This spawned a series of myths about the naming process including that Jews had to bribe these registrars to avoid getting derogatory surnames (Beider notes that derogatory surnames are rare in Galicia). Another myth is that surnames based on colors probably described physical attributes of the bearer. Mr. Schwartz was dark skinned. Mr. Roth had red hair. Beider notes that in areas where surname are based on colors, all colors were used (Blau, Grün) and it is more likely the registrars used arbitrary colors when assigning surnames.

To quote directly from the book:

“Derogatory surnames do not appear to be common-place—they are rare exceptions. On the other hand, surnames derived from the names of flowers or precious stones (that is, the most expensive category, according to the classification suggested by Bałaban), appear to be the most common names in various regions of Galicia.”

“If we take into consideration the colors, we see that along with the ‘appropriate’ colors, such as black, white, and red, those that would have unusual meanings (green, blue) are common as well. Grün was found in about 50 districts, while Blau existed in about 30. The frequent use of these surnames implies that, in many other cases, appellations designating colors were simply artificial, created by officials without any connection to the personal characteristics of their first bearers.”

Each of the 25,000 surnames listed in the book includes the etymology of the name, spelling variants, and where in Galicia the surname was found. The complete list of surnames, the Table of Contents as well as a sample page from the book can be found at To take advantage of the discount, when checking out, use the coupon code GALICIA.

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