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

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 15, Number 36 | September 21, 2014

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
Shana Tovah!
Happy (Jewish) New Year to all!! May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good year.

Statistics About FamilySearch
FamilySearch publishes at its site statistics about its scope and usage. It demonstrates how massive is this enterprise.

Launch date – 24 May 1999
3.5 billion names in searchable databases
35 million historic records published online each month
33 million digital images published online each month from original source documents
1,363 searchable historic record collections online
200 million indexed names published per year

10 million visits per day
85,000 visitors per day
5 million viewed per day
16.6 billion since launch
721 million since launch
308 million since launch
60,000 digital books

It is also noted that they have more than 200,000 volunteers indexing their records. That is the primary source of the 200 million indexed names they publish each year. It reminds us of the importance of volunteering for indexing genealogy-related projects. A project may not directly benefit you, but someone else may be indexing a record group that will assist in your research. JewishGen has access to thousands of records yet to be indexed and requires your help to complete these projects. Sign up for a JewishGen project at

Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Returns on September 23
The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) Series, Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., will return Tuesday, September 23 at 8 pm ET for its second season. The 10-part series explores the heritage and ancestry of 30 of today’s leading personalities including Ben Affleck, Jessica Alba, Khandi Alexander, Tom Colicchio, Tina Fey, Sally Field, Derek Jeter, Stephen King, Nas, Anna Deavere Smith, Sting, and Courtney Vance. It is the PBS equivalent to Who Do You Think You Are? Additional information can be found at roots-with-henry-louis-gates-jr-2. A full airing of some previous episodes is at

Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Kingdom of Poland Out of Print
Avotaynu has sold its last copies of Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Kingdom of Poland, by Alexander Beider. It won the 1996 “Best Reference Book of the Year” award given by the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL). There is a story regarding that award. Dr. Beider’s first surname book, the landmark Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire, was published in 1993. I was told by an AJL member that the Russian Empire was worthy of the award, but Avotaynu had won the award just two years earlier for Where Once We Walked and AJL did not like to give recognition to the same publisher in too close a time period. So when Dr. Beider’s second work, the Poland book came out three years later, it was given the award.

Four of Dr. Beider’s names books published by Avotaynu are still in print. Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire-Revised Edition placed him on the map as one of the authorities on Jewish onomastics. It contains the etymology, variants and geographic locations of more than 74,000 surnames from this vast area. Its 200-page introductory portion is considered the definitive work on the origin and evolution of Jewish surnames in Eastern Europe.

Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from Galicia covers another area of Eastern Europe—Galicia—where millions of Jews lived. It provides information about 25,000 different surnames used by Jews in Galicia. As was true for the Russian Empire and Poland works, for each name, he describes the districts within Galicia where the surname appeared, the origin of the meaning of the name (etymology), and the variants found.

Equally significant to the Russian Empire book is the landmark work Dictionary of Ashkenazic Given Names. It is based on his doctoral thesis (second doctorate) received from the History department of the Sorbonne in Paris. This 728-page book identifies more than 15,000 given names derived from just 735 root names. Each root name includes a detailed description of the origin (etymology) of the name, a list of the variant and derivative names displayed in a scheme that reveals how the variants evolved, and references to the more than 15,000 variations of the root names throughout the centuries—some dating back to the 11th century. An index to the 15,000 variations guides you to the proper root name.

A briefer version of the Ashkenazic given names book was published by Avotaynu in 2009 called Handbook of Ashkenazic Given Names and There Variants. It focuses on the needs of genealogists. Missing from the smaller work is the doctoral thesis and the portion of the Dictionary that cites sources for all the variant names. Included in the Handbook is the description of the origin and evolution of the name, a tree-like structure of all the name variants which shows how they were derived from the root name, and the all-important indexes which list all 15,000 names derived from the 735 root names. The index is in three sections: names as they appeared in the Latin alphabet, names in the Cyrillic alphabet and those in the Hebrew alphabet.

Alabama Bill Motivated By News Reporter Complaint
Jan Meisels Allen, chairperson of the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee, notes that a legislator in Alabama has introduced a bill that would permit cell phones to take photos of public records. It was motivated by a news reporter who was denied photographing a public record in the Alabama Department of Corrections. Rest assured if the person denied access was a family historian, the legislator would likely reacted by shrugging his/her shoulders noting “that is the law.”

It further emphasizes why the genealogy community has to be recognized as an important part of society and its needs for public access of records must be given strong consideration. The news article about the planned legislation can be found at Adds Nearly 350,000 Burial Records
UK-based, a fee-for-service Internet site, recently added nearly 350,000 burial records from South Lancashire. It is difficult to determine which Jewish cemeteries, if any, are included at their site. There are only 382 persons named Levy. If results are found, the information supplied may include:
   • Burial and cremation register entries in computerized form
   • Digital scans of register pages
   • Grave details and other interments in a grave (key to making new family links)
   • Pictures of graves and memorials
   • Maps showing the exact locations of graves and memorials.

A list of cemeteries in their database is at

Europeans Drawn from Three Ancient Sources
There is an interesting article at the BBC News site that indicates that research has demonstrated Europeans are descended from three ancient sources. The findings are based on analysis of genomes from the bones of nine ancient Europeans rather than other research which used the genetic patterns of living people.

It was originally thought that Europeans derived from two ancient populations that came from the Near East, but an additional group was discovered that is related to Native Americans. Dubbed Ancient North Eurasians, this group remained a “ghost population” until 2013, when scientists published the genome of a 24,000-year-old boy buried near Lake Baikal in Siberia. This individual had genetic similarities to both Europeans and indigenous Americans, suggesting he was part of a population that contributed to movements into the New World 15,000 years ago and Europe at a later date.

The complete story can be found at

A Story Worth Sharing
When it is time to resubscribe to Nu? What’s New?, a renewal notice is sent. If you fail to resubscribe that week, a Second Notice is sent. Then in the next week, a Final Notice is sent.

Every once in a while we receive a panic message from an ardent subscriber that states they don’t want to be removed from the subscription list; some unusual event has prevented them from resubscribing. One such e-mail is precious and worth sharing:

“We have been traveling in remote Alaska for brown bear. I am 81 years old and my husband 83. The one brown bear my husband saw got away. Send bill and address and I will send money.”

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 a check to Avotaynu Foundation,  794 Edgewood Ave., New Haven, CT 06515, USA. 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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