Gary Mokotoff, Editor
Volume 13, Number 7 | February 12, 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.
We just published one of the largest issues in the past 27 years of our journal, AVOTAYNU—84 pages—and this issue of Nu? What’s New? is the largest we have published in 12 years.
Lots to report.
Mormon/Jewish Controversy: The Problem That Won’t Go Away
Parents of Simon Wiesenthal Posthumously Baptized Last Month
Elie Wiesel, His Father and Grandfather Added to Mormon Rolls
The parents of Simon Wiesenthal, Asher and Rosa Rapp Wiesenthal, were posthumously baptized last month by the Mormon Church. Asher in the Mesa, Arizona, Temple on January 24, and Rosa in the Bountiful, Utah, Temple on January 21. This was documented by Helen Radkey, who has been monitoring the baptisms of Jews—especially Holocaust victims—for more than 10 years. Asher was killed in action fighting for the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I. Rosa was murdered in the Belzec extermination camp during the Holocaust. Radkey provided me documentation of the baptisms.
Also located by Radkey were Elie Wiesel, his father Shlomo, and his maternal grandfather Dovid Feig. For these persons, their status is “Ready,” that is, they are ready for baptism but the ritual has not yet been performed.
The records in the Mormon ordinance file can be seen at http://www.avotaynu.com/nu/Baptisms.htm.
The Church has developed a computer system that screens submissions for such people as Holocaust victims and famous people, whose baptisms are against Church policy. This demonstrates the futility of such a system. The record for Rosa Wiesenthal did not give a place of death, therefore, there was no clue she was a Holocaust victim. For Wiesel’s father, his place of death is given as Buckenwald, a misspelling of Buchenwald.
Upon hearing of the Wiesenthal baptisms, the Simon Wiesenthal Center stated, “Further meetings with Church leaders on this matter are useless. The only way such insensitive practices will finally stop is if Church leaders finally decided to change their practices and policies on posthumous baptisms, a move which this latest outrage proves that they are unwilling to do. We are grateful to activist Helen Radkey for exposing the latest outrage”
The solution? It was uttered at one of the many meetings I participated in with Jewish leaders to discuss the issue. Elie Wiesel happened to attend the meeting. Wiesel was unfamiliar with the controversy. When he heard about the Mormon ritual and that it included Holocaust victims, he had a puzzled look on his face and then uttered something to the effect that there was a simple solution to the problem: “Let them change their religion.” The suggestion is not as incredulous as some might think. Posthumous baptism of all dead people is not one of the original beliefs of Mormonism. At the start it was limited to ancestors and perhaps close relatives and friends. In 1918, the President of the Church had a revelation that it should be extended to the entire human race. Perhaps it is time for the Church to reevaluate the practice; it is time for another revelation. Nobody has the right to involve other people's families in their religion.
Sign the Petition: Help Save Access to the Social Security Death Index
The Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) whose permanent members are the Federation of Genealogical Societies, National Genealogical Society and International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies has mounted a campaign to get as many genealogists as possible to sign a petition to President Obama that hopefully will save public access to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI).
Because the SSDI has been used to file false income tax deductions, the U.S. House of Representatives Ways & Means Committee is considering a bill which would eliminate public access to SSDI. Legislators typically have a simple solution to the ills they come across: pass a law that prohibits. The net effect in this particular case is that identity thieves will find other ways to steal these identities, and the honest people lose a valuable asset for their work.
RPAC has come up with a better solution that stops the use of SSDI as a tool for people making fraudulent claims but still allows public access to the database. Answer: The government itself should use the SSDI to match against filings to see if there are fraudulent claims. RPAC has created an online petition that asks the Obama administration to consider such a move. Please sign the petition! More than 2,000 have so far done so. This important tool of family history research must continue to be available to the public.
Go to http://tinyurl.com/6w2lf7p to sign the petition. It is a little complex but worth the time. If you have never signed a petition of this type before, you must register. Click the “Create an Account” button. After filling in the form, you will receive a validating e-mail to the address you specified. Follow the instructions of the e-mail to go back to a verifying site that now will allow you to sign the petition. Come back to the petition site and now Sign In. Now click the “Sign This Petition Button.” If these instructions do not work, RPAC has more detailed instructions at http://fgs.org/pdf/rpac_petition.pdf.
If you wish to be further involved, the House Ways and Means Committee will take written statements until Feb 16. The procedure to submit the statement can be found at http://waysandmeans.house.gov/committeesubmissions/. The title of the hearing is “Hearing on Social Security’s Death Records.”
The advantages of public access clearly outweigh its disadvantages. As RPAC notes, the SSDI is accessed by many different companies, non-profits and other entities besides individuals researching their family history. Forensic specialists utilize the SSDI when reuniting remains of military veterans with their next-of-kin and descendants. Law offices, banks and insurance companies utilize the SSDI to resolve probate cases and to locate heirs.
I work with the Hidden Child Foundation helping child survivors of the Holocaust in a variety of ways. One way is helping those who were orphaned by the Holocaust to find family. In two cases, relatives were found in the United States. Using the Social Security Death Index was one of the vital steps in locating these relatives. Without SSDI, it is highly unlikely these persons would have been found.
For those who want to know more about the House Committee hearing, Jan Meisels Allen, the IAJGS representative on RPAC, has indentified a number of sites.
• Listen to the entire hearing at http://waysandmeans.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=133.
• Written statements of the five invited witnesses can be read at
• The "Legal Genealogist" posted a summary of the hearing which can be read at: http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog. Scroll down to February 3 posting.
• A description of the subcommittee is at http://waysandmeans.house.gov/Subcommittees/Subcommittee/?IssueID=4772
Louise Stern Dies
Louise Stern, widow of the late Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern, died Friday. She was 100 years old. Rabbi Stern was considered by many to be the father of contemporary Jewish genealogy.
Louise was adored by the Jewish genealogical community. She was known for her big smile and acid wit. Louise Stern stories abound. My contribution is that I once called the Stern home. Louise answered and after the initial pleasantries I asked whether Rabbi Stern was home. “Oh yes, she responded, and I am so glad you called. He is playing the piano and now he will have to stop!”
Another story involves the fact that later in life Rabbi Stern developed a skin problem that required ointment. With his hands full of ointment, he decided to go to sleep wearing gloves. When Louise got into bed and realized he was wearing gloves, she commented to him, “I did not realize we were going to sleep formal.”
Probably the most famous story occurred when the couple was on a Caribbean cruise. At every port, Rabbi Stern would get off the boat and devote time to studying the Jewish presence in the area, including visiting cemeteries. This was not Louise’s idea of a pleasure cruise, so after patiently tolerating her husband’s antics for a period of time, at the next port, as they were about to debark from the ship, Louise told him, “If you get off this boat and go searching for one more dead Jew, I am flying home!”
She will be remembered.
There is an obituary for Rabbi Stern that describes his role in Jewish genealogy at http://tinyurl.com/88afzt4.
Remarkable Offer for Just Three Days! Every Family Has a Story for Less Than Half Price
It is time for another Avotaynu inventory clearance sale!
In the days before Print-On-Demand technology existed, Avotaynu was forced to guess how many books it could sell when publishing a new book. Sometimes we guessed wrong. Although we sold nearly 1,000 copies of Every Family Has a Story, we guessed too high and at present—given the current selling rate—we have more than a ten-year inventory of these books in our warehouse. To reduce our inventory, we are going to have a sale for three days only—today through Tuesday, February 14, 2012—Every Family Has a Story for only $18.00 plus shipping. That is more than a 50% discount!
Every Family Has a Story: Tales from the Pages of AVOTAYNU consists of 72 articles that appeared in AVOTAYNU that focus on the human side of genealogy—how genealogists have been personally affected by their research and how the research of genealogists has affected others. Some of them are quite remarkable. Interestingly, the lead article in the book was the very first human interest story we ever published in AVOTAYNU: “Freya Joins the Kahn Klan.” It relates how a woman, who was adopted shortly after birth, decided to locate her birth family when, in her mid-40s, she became interested in genealogy. She discovered she was one of eight children—the only one adopted out. None of her birth siblings knew of her existence. How she found the family and the consequences would make a Hollywood movie. Every Family Has a Story is divided into eight sections. The first section, titled “Potpourri,” contains a mixture of articles chosen as the best of the human interest articles selected for the book. Example: “Children Under 16 Unaccompanied by Parent: The Family Zuser” relates the story of a Jewish woman with four children who got off the boat at Ellis Island. The authorities were suspicious that two of the children were not hers—they were black.
The remaining stories are divided into sections: People, Family, Back to the Old Country, Crypto-Jews, Luck, Genealogy and Holocaust.
The complete Table of Contents, which is annotated, as well as ordering information can be found at http://www.avotaynu.com/books/EveryFamily.htm. There is also a sample story from the book. When checking out, use the coupon code EVERYFAMILY to get the $19 discount.
Genealogists will not only find the book interesting reading, but will undoubtedly want to give it to family and friends to demonstrate that “this is what genealogy really is all about.”
FamilySearch To Take Down Its Classic Version
FamilySearch, the genealogy arm of the Mormon Church, has indicated they will be removing their older version, called the Classic version, from their website shortly.
It is unknown if the data currently in the Classic version’s International Genealogical Index will be accessible to the public in NewFamilySearch. This is a database of hundreds of millions of people posthumously baptized by the Church. The non-religious portion of the record is used heavily by genealogists because it includes dates of vital events and sometimes identifies parents, spouse or children.
The announcement was made on February 7 and in the first three days, more than 100 people have commented negatively about abandoning of the Classic version. Almost all claim it was easier to use than NewFamilySearch.
I find NewFamilySearch very difficult to use. It suffers in (at least) two ways. First it displays only 20 results at a time. This compares to the Classic version where Pedigree Resource file displays 100 results and the International Genealogical index displays 200. Second, it suffers from the same problem as the Ellis Island Database site. It takes many steps to get down to a single source. Let’s assume you are looking for someone in the 1920 census. On the home page, first search for the name. If the 1920 census data does not appear in the first 20 results displayed, filter the results by Collection and indicate to display only census records. If the results are still not displayed because FamilySearch has more than 20 results including other censuses, then you can limit the results to the 1920 census only. FamilySearch currently has records for 25 different census collections. What will happen when that number exceeds 100 (200?)? Will they be forced to have yet another step down and require the user to first select which country and then a second step to select which census within the country?
This approach compares to the Ancestry.com site which allows you go directly to the most popular searches on its home page. If your search is not for one of the popular record groups, then you globally search for a name and use the Summarized by Category option (not the Sorted by Relevance option) of the results, you are presented with every record group that includes the requested search and the number of hits in each record group.
You can read about the Church’s plans to drop the Classic version and comments by users at https://familysearch.org/node/1554.
How Who Do You Think You Are? Picks Its Celebrities
If you are a fan of the television show Who Do You Think You Are? there is an article about how the program picks its celebrities at http://tinyurl.com/78y8xvl.
JewishGen Education To Offer Independent Study
JewishGen will be offering a course of independent study from February 24 – March 25. Rather than the more classical classroom style of education, this program permits the student to define a specific project including surnames, towns and goals. JewishGen then suggests possible actions that will assist the student in achieving the goal and monitors the student’s progress. The cost of the program is $150. The application process and additional information can be found at http://www.jewishgen.org/education. Upon acceptance you will be notified how to enroll.
IIJG Issues Its Annual Call for Research Proposals
The International Institute for Jewish Genealogy in Jerusalem has issued its annual "Call for Research Proposals" for original research in the field of Jewish Genealogy to be carried out in the academic year of 2012–13. Successful applicants will be awarded grants of up to $10,000.
Proposals are requested by May 31, 2012. Proposals meeting strict standards of academic excellence will be judged by the extent to which they broaden the horizons of Jewish genealogical research and/or create innovative tools or technologies to assist Jewish genealogists and family historians in their work.
Instructions to applicants can be found at http://iijg.org/Research/ResearchGrants.aspx.
Winter Issue of AVOTAYNU in the Mail
The Winter issue of AVOTAYNU is in the mail. Subscribers in the U.S. should receive the issue within the next 15 days; non-U.S. subscribers in the next 30 days. If you are a subscriber and there is a yellow form and envelope with the issue, it means your subscription is up for renewal. The renewal form contains a discount for renewing by the deadline (March 15) and eligibility for a drawing to be held on April 15, 2012, where three winners will receive a copy of any book published by Avotaynu.
Become a new subscriber to the journal at http://www.avotaynu.com/journal.htm.
FamilySearch Additions for the Week
Below are the only additions of images and/or indexes to FamilySearch that I have concluded may be of interest to Jewish genealogists. The complete list can be found at http://tinyurl.com/7mugehz.
To search indexes, use the search engine at https://www.familysearch.org. To view images, go to the same web page and then click the appropriate “Browse by Location.” Narrow it down to the country or state and then click the appropriate record collection.
Australia, NSW and ACT, Masonic Lodge Registers, 1831–2004 New index.
Bahamas, Civil Registration, 1850–1959 New images.
Brazil, Immigration Cards, 1900–1965 Added indexes and images.
Canada, Quebec, Quebec Judicial District, Guardianships, 1639–1930 New images.
Canada, Saskatchewan, Probate Estate Files, 1887–1931 New index
Chile, Civil Registration, 1885–1903 New index
Peru, Civil Registration, 1874–1996 Added indexes
Germany, Württemberg, Schwäbisch Hall, Probate Records, 1803–1932 Added images.
Nicaragua, Civil Registration, 1809–2011 Added images.
U.S., Alabama, County Estate Records, 1800–1996 Added indexes.
U.S., Arkansas County Marriages, 1837–1957 Added indexes and Added images.
U.S., Arkansas, Death Index, 1914–1950 New indexes.
U.S., Arkansas, Marriage Index, 1933–1939 New indexes.
U.S., Delaware, Vital Record Index Cards, 1680–1934 New images.
U.S., Delaware, Wilmington Vital Records, 1847–1954 Added images.
U.S., District of Columbia Marriages, 1811–1950 54,325 New index and images.
U.S., Florida, Marriage Index, 1822–1875 and 1927–2001 New indexes.
U.S., Indiana, Marriages, 1811–1959 (Lake county) New index.
U.S., Iowa, County Births, 1880–1935 0 111,885 Added indexes.
U.S., Michigan, County Marriages, 1820–1935 New index.
U.S., Minnesota, Marriage Index, 1958–2001 New indexes.
U.S., New York, Probate Records, 1629–1971 Added images.
U.S., North Carolina, Estate Files, 1663–1964 Added indexes and images.
U.S., Ohio, County Births, 1856–1909 Added indexes and images.
U.S., Ohio, County Marriages, 1790–1950 Added indexes and images.
U.S., Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh City Deaths, 1870–1905 Added indexes and images.
U.S., South Carolina Deaths, 1915–1943 New images.
U.S., Tennessee, State Marriage Index, 1780–2002 New indexes.
U.S., Vermont, Vital Records, 1760–1954 Added indexes and images.
Discount Offers by Commercial Genealogy Companies
In celebration of Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday (one reason is as good as another), British Newspaper Archives is offering a special package. For £9.95, users can have seven-day access and 600 credits to download images. The offer is at http://tinyurl.com/8a7w4fx.
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