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

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 14, Number 27 | July 7, 2013

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.

Past issues of Nu? What's New? are archived at
FamilySearch Database Shows Birth Dates of Living Individuals
In something they call the “Public Records Index,” FamilySearch has added 29.5 million index records this week some of which include birth dates of living individuals. The database is described as an “index of names, birthdates, addresses, phone numbers, and possible relatives of people who resided in the five boroughs of New York City between 1970 and 2010. These records were generated from telephone directories, driver licenses, property tax assessments, credit applications, voter registration lists and other records available to the public.”

I found the names and birth dates of most members of the Executive Council of the Jewish Genealogical Society in New York. Also included are the birth dates of my two daughters, but not of my son. Actually there was no public record for my son; he never lived in New York City. His name was gleaned from the records of his sisters. Included for my daughters were a number of previous addresses, including some outside New York City. There was no information for me other than my name, also gotten from my daughters’ records.

The database is located at

New Book: The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan
Ellen Levitt has now completed her trilogy of former synagogues in the five boroughs of New York City with her new book The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan. It describes existing buildings in Manhattan (plus those in Staten Island and Governors Island) that once housed synagogues and now are used for other purposes, primarily Christian churches (one of the ex-shuls is a mosque). Her first book, The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn, was published by Avotaynu in 2009. The second, The Lost Synagogues of The Bronx and Queens, in 2011.

Each of the 83 featured former Jewish houses of worship in the new book includes a photograph of the building showing how it appears today with a narrative that explains the history of the building and, in some cases, interviews with former congregants. Many of the facades still have Jewish symbols. Some buildings have been faithfully preserved while others are in disrepair. Described in the book are memories of Jews who belonged to these old congregations as well as the Christians who now fill the pews. This is supported by extensive research and stirring stories. Author Ellen Levitt is a life-long New Yorker who has delved into a subject dear to her. Some of the photographs that appear in the Brooklyn book were part of her photography exhibit and lecture at the Brooklyn Historical Society.

Additional information including the Table of Contents, sample page and a complete list of synagogues identified in the new book can be found at The cost of the book is $26.00 plus shipping. There are special offers. Purchase all three books for the price of two: $52.00 plus shipping. Purchase any two books for $40.00 plus shipping.

2013 Conference Planning an App
For the first time at an IAJGS conference, there will be a special app for smartphones that will have all the information about the conference, including the program schedule. There are plans to permit attendees to construct a personal schedule from the program. The availability of the app will be announced at a future date.

As was true of prior conferences, many sessions are being recorded and the company doing the recording will be offering memory sticks with digital audio files of the sessions. You can pre-order the memory stick for $184 at After the conference, the price will be $199. The conference website is at

FamilySearch Additions for the Week
Recent additions to FamilySearch, both indexes and browseable images, can be found at This site provides direct links to the individual collections. They include records from BillionGraves, Belgium, Brazil, China, Czech Republic, England, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Portugal, Spain, and the U.S. states of Idaho, Illinois and Ohio.

Note that at the website announced collections may not be complete for the dates specified and will be added at some later date. Also note that counts shown in the announcement are the number added, not the total number available in the collection.

“My Family Story” Competition Announces This Year’s Winners
For the past 17 years, a project originating in Israel, called “My Family Story,” has encouraged young Jewish students to trace their family history. Through a yearlong curriculum, participants in Israel and worldwide Jewish communities partake in an educational initiative to learn how to research their roots. Students can then submit their work to the Manuel Hirsch Grosskopf International Annual Competition. This year, 76 institutions and more than 12,000 students participated in the MFS program resulting in the submission of 126 projects from around the world. The winners were recognized at a ceremony at Beit Hatfutsot on June 13. Twenty international winners received a free trip to Israel.

Information about the award ceremony can be found at Information about the project is at

New Book: Dictionnaire illustre du judeo-espagnol de Turquie
The father of AVOTAYNU Contributing editor Laurence Abensur-Hazan, Isacco Hazan, has just published a book titled Dictionnaire illustre du judeo-espagnol de Turquie (Illustrated Dictionary of Judeo-Spanish of Turkey). Abensur-Hazan notes that it is the first Judeo-Spanish Dictionary published with many illustrations (old postcards and other records) and comments about the culture, the meanings, proverbs, etc. It is written in French. Additional information is at

Avotaynu Moves Its Offices
Avotaynu has (almost) completed moving its offices to New Haven, Connecticut. Contact information can be found at Still undone as of today is voice mail and switching the 800 number from the control of Optonline to Comcast.

According to Optonline last Wednesday, July 3, the reason they have not released the number was that our July 7 (sic) invoice was past due. On Tuesday they refused to release it because our account was closedk, and they cannot port over 800 numbers on closed accounts (they reopened it). On Monday they informed Comcast they could not release it because the name of the company did not agree with their records. I called Optonline and letter for letter, the company name submitted by Comcast agreed with their records.

In the summer, a company’s employees lightly turn to thoughts of vacation time.

Genealogical Research in the 1980s
While placing the contents of Avotaynu’s files back into their proper order after our move, I came upon two file drawers that represented my early family history research in the 1980s. It made me think about how things have changed with the advent of the Internet and digitized images. Here are some examples.

Some of my most cherished possessions from the 1980s’ collection are the passenger arrival (Ellis Island) records acquired by expending much energy. The records, available then only on microfilm, required that you first search an index sequenced in soundex order. My original family name, Mokotow, soundexed to M230. The American version, Mokotoff, coded to M231. Consequently, I had to look in two different places in the index. (It was one of my motivations for creating the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex System—a system that supports Germanic and Slavic names as well as Anglo-Saxon names.) Once you found the index card, it provided sufficient information to identify which microfilm had the actual passenger record. You could then retrieve the microfilm reel of the passenger list and locate the page of interest. The film was then brought over to a microfilm printer and a copy of the pages(s) was made. I never did find the arrival record of my great-grandparents because their surname was misspelled on the passenger list. I had to wait more than 20 years for the Stephen P. Morse One-Step site on the Internet which has the ability to locate passengers providing minimal information about the name.

In 1981, I stumbled onto a place called the (Mormon) Family History Center in New York City. The Family History catalog, then on microfiche, showed they had Jewish vital records of the Mokotow ancestral town of Warka, Poland. At that time the Center did not have a microfilm printer. Wanting to capture every document of a person named Mokotow, I brought along my non-digital camera loaded with black/white film and took a snapshot of every Mokotow record projected on the microfilm table. The film was taken to a photo store where it was developed and printed. These snapshots are still in my possession. Years later, a trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City allowed me to make prints from the microfilm. Today, Jewish Records Indexing – Poland has indexed these records, and it is likely that in the next 12 months, the actual digitized images located at the Polish State archives site will be linked to this index.

My collection also includes some excellent indexed road maps of the countries of Eastern Europe. These were used to find an ancestral town in the 1980s before there was

We have come a long way in the past 25–30 years in doing family history research. What used to take hours or days now takes minutes. What could not be found due to misspellings has been overcome with indexes that include wildcard and soundex searches.

Avotaynu Anthology of Jewish Genealogy
 All back issues of our journal AVOTAYNU from 1985–2011

    • 27 years   • 105 issues   2,900 articles  • 7,000 pages 
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 Download or print articles

 Cost is $35 (one-time charge).

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Number of articles in Anthology by topic:

Algeria 8
Argentina 21
Australia 36
Austria 17
Austro-Hungary 7**
Belarus* 26
Belgium 24
Bermuda 1
Book Reviews 289
Brazil 25
Bulgaria 5
Burma 1
Canada 94
Caribbean 9
Cuba 3

China 10

Computers 21
Conferences 52
Costa Rica 1
Croatia 3
Cyprus 1
Czech Republic 33
Denmark 2
DNA 25
East Europe– Gen’l
Egypt 11
England 125
Estonia* 5
Europe-General 25
Finland 1

France 102
Galicia 20
General 233
Germany 173
Gibraltar 1
Greece 12
Holland 83
Holocaust 177
Hungary 46
India 6
Iraq 3
Iran 5
Ireland 2
Israel 125
Italy 14 
Latvia* 26

LDS 29
Libya 1
Lithuania* 71
Methodology 84
Moldova* 5
Morocco 18
New Zealand 13
North Africa 2
Poland 118
Portugal 21
Rabbinic 57
Romania 33
Russia 46** 
Scotland 27
Sephardic 42
Serbia 2

Slovakia 1
South Africa 22
South America 1
Spain 13
Sudan 1
Sweden 5
Switzerland 27
Syria 3
Tunisia 3
Turkey 22
Ukraine* 57
United States   227
USSR 92**
Venezuela 1
Zimbabwe 1

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