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

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 13, Number 4 | January 22, 2012

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.

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Steven W. Siegel (1946-2012)
One of the pioneers of contemporary Jewish genealogy died Saturday, January 21. Steven W. Siegel succumbed to cancer at the age of 65. He is probably best known as a founder of the Jewish Genealogical Society, Inc., the New York society that began in 1977. He was on its board of directors since its inception, a period of nearly 35 years. In his formal life he was archives consultant and retired library director for the 92nd Street YM-YWHA in Manhattan.

I knew Steve for 32 years, having joined JGS, Inc. in 1980. I worked with him as a member of the board of directors in the 1980s. As impressive as his leadership roles were, his contributions to Jewish genealogy were even greater. I sensed that Steve preferred to let others be the presidents or chairpersons of organizations and instead he was content to be on boards of directors providing valuable advice, guidance and time to the leadership.

He participated in the creation of many aspects of Jewish genealogy that are taken for granted today. This includes:
  • first contemporary Jewish genealogical society, Jewish Genealogical Society, Inc. (1977)
  • first contemporary journal of Jewish genealogy, Toledot (1977–1983). It was the predecessor to AVOTAYNU.
  • first annual conference on Jewish genealogy (1982)
  • first major book published by a Jewish genealogical society: Genealogical Resources in the New York Metropolitan Area (1989)
  • founded the New York City Family History Fair (1990)

Among his leadership positions were:
  • president, Jewish Genealogical Society, Inc. (1985–1989, 2011–2012)
  • past president, Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York
  • president, Jewish Historical Society of New York
  • board of directors, Jewish Book Council
• member, Cornell University Hillel Board of Trustees

Contributions in his memory can be made to Cornell University Hillel, G-34 Anabel Taylor Hall, Ithaca, New York 14853.

An Experiment with DNA Testing
It is the rage to have your DNA typed and added to the FamilyTreeDNA pool to see if there are any close matches with other people in the pool. I decided to do something a bit different. I chose to have the DNA typed of the person who is my most distant relative on the Mokotow family tree to see how closely we matched. He is a boy living in Israel who is my fourth cousin twice removed. The result, at 67 markers, was a distance of 2, that is, we were an exact match except for two markers. There were a total of 12 opportunities for a mutation to occur.

What I found interesting was that two other people in the DNA pool are also matches with a distance of 2 to my cousin. The Mokotow family is from Warka, Poland, a town about 50km (30 miles) south of Warsaw. The second family is from Tarnow, Poland, which is in southern Poland, about 130km (80 miles) east of Krakow. The third family has its roots in Ukraine.

FamilyTreeDNA has what they call a TiP Calculator (Time Predictor) that predicts the likelihood two people are related based on (1) number of markers different, (2) number of generations it is known the two are not related and (3) which particular markers have mutated—different markers mutate at different rates, therefore a mismatch on a commonly mutating marker is not as significant as one that rarely mutates.

The result was fascinating. It said that the other two persons had a somewhat greater likelihood to be closely related to my cousin than I do. To be specific, they were both a 50.66% likelihood of being related to my distant cousin within eight generations and my result was 48.77%. My cousin’s ancestry is known for eight generations. According to FamilyTreeDNA, if two people are known not to be related for eight generations and they differ by only two markers, there is an 86% likelihood they are related within 12 generations. Assuming a generation averages 25 years, that is only about 100 years earlier than the known ancestry of the Mokotow family.

This brings up the question of how close matches could be so geographically diverse. My theory is that the origins of my ancestors as well as the Tarnow-based family were in Ukraine and they headed west to flee the Cossack rebellion of 1648. This rebellion was only 80 years earlier than the birth of my known most distant ancestor.

I am considering having my grandson typed. If he is an exact match to me, that is, there were no mutations in two generations, then he is also a distance of 2 from the Israeli boy, who is his sixth cousin.

Alexander Dunai Subject of Jewish News Article
Saul Issroff of England made me aware of an article written by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about Alexander Dunai, a professional genealogical researcher and tour guide who lives in L’viv, Ukraine. The article is located at Dunai’s skills and success have made him popular among Jewish family historians with roots in the L’viv area.

Winter Issue of AVOTAYNU to Be 84 Pages
The Winter issue of AVOTAYNU will be 84 pages, one of the largest in the journal’s 27-year history. Each year, the Winter issue is the one that adds human interest stories to the collection of other articles that expand our knowledge of genealogical research. All told, there are 23 articles in the over-sized issue. In conjunction with the publication of the issue, Avotaynu is offering it for free to any person who is a new subscriber for 2012 (see below).

Research articles. The lead article is about the 1940 U.S. census which will be released in April. One of the top professional genealogists in the U.S., Nancy Levin, CG, has written a five-page article explaining the census’ contents and strategies for locating people until an index is created. This is followed by an article about resources for finding out information about Displaced Persons—persons who survived World War II. These are people who found themselves distant from their pre-war residence for whatever reason (forced labor, incarceration, escaping persecution and so forth). This includes most Holocaust survivors. The authors are Valery Bazarov of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and Marian Smith of the U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Service (USCIS).

The report by Nolan Altman about how JewishGen gets students involved in projects—in this case, the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry—seemed rather interesting but routine until I went to select a picture of a student photographing tombstones. One particular tombstone caught my eye. It is shown to the right.

This is the tip of the research stories iceberg. Other articles cover Lithuanian research, a new resource at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, how genealogical research is similar to detective work (written by a professional detective), Romanian surnames, pushing one’s Bohemian ancestry back one generation beyond g-g-g-g-grandparents, Egyptian Jewish genealogy, Polish Jewish marriage records of the 19th century, New Christians in the Spanish archives, and creating public programming for Jewish genealogy.

Human Interest articles. Probably the most powerful human interest story is buried in the Bazarov/Smith article which includes three case studies. Case #1 is about a Holocaust survivor who married a German woman after World War II, had two children, and concluded the best way to get the family out of Germany and to the United States was to claim he was single to assure quick approval of his emigration. After getting to the U.S. he called for his family with terrible consequences.

Another story relates how a woman, adopted at birth, thought her birth family was of Catholic Polish/Irish heritage only to discover through DNA testing that her “Irish” birth father was almost certainly Jewish.

Most human interest stories also have a “how to do research” aspect. Newspaper resources were important in two stories; one of a 10 year-old boy who died from a contaminated diphtheria injection in 1901, and another of tracking down the story behind how the author’s great-grandmother was murdered in Minnesota.

Rony Golan is an Israeli lawyer who sometimes gets involved in finding heirs to unclaimed property. Imagine his surprise when he got an excited call from a close relative who said she had just received a letter from an heir hunter who said she was entitled to the proceeds of some valuable property if she paid the man 40% of the proceeds. Golan used his skills, which he describes in the article, to identify the unclaimed asset, file a claim and make his relative $240,000 richer.

Six other articles can be categorized as human interest stories.

The (tentative) Table of Contents for the issue can be found at

Five Issues of AVOTAYNU for the Price of Four
To start the new year, Avotaynu is offering to all new AVOTAYNU subscribers for 2012 the Winter 2011 issue described above free of charge. Go to and select the special offer noted that includes the Winter issue. When checking out, use the Coupon Code, DOMESTIC, if the subscription is for a U.S. address, and FOREIGN if the subscription is for a non-U.S. address. This coupon will deduct the additional cost of the Winter issue from the subscription.

Act now! This offer will be available for a limited time only.

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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