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

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 17, Number 1 | January 3, 2016

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
Underlined words are links to sites with additional information.

Brooke Schreier Ganz Announces Latest Plans to
Make More Government Records Available

Brooke Schreier Ganz, creator of the organization “Reclaim the Records,” has indicated on her website,, future plans to make additional government records available to the public. They include:
   • Index to all New York City marriage records, 1930–2015
   • Index to New York State Deaths (Outside of New York City), 1880–1957
   • New York City Birth Certificates, 1910–1915

The New Jersey Birth, Marriage, and Death Indices, 1901–1903 and 1901–1914 have been acquired by Ganz. Information about this collection is at She also received from the New York City Municipal Archives the Index to New York City Marriage Applications, Affidavits, and Licenses, 1908–1929. She now has a New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to the New York City Clerk's Office for the New York City Marriage Index 1930–2015.

Ganz wants other family historians to request records under their state’s Freedom of Information Law. Toward this end, she will post to her filings where everyone can observe the FOIL process in real time, “and hopefully learn that it's not so scary and impenetrable after all.” Her request for the New York City marriage records, 1930–2015 can be seen at new-york-city-marriage-records-1930-2015-23051. She notes, “If you browse around [the MuckRock] site, you can see all kinds of FOIL requests to all kinds of agencies in every state, coming and going, accepted and not accepted and redacted and fulfilled and ignored and everything else that can happen to a request. It's fun to poke around and see what other people are doing, and how good or bad the various agencies are about their responses.”

She is also asking people who know about historically or genealogically important public records that have limited public access—or no public access—to fill out a survey form at records-survey. If appropriate she will add it to her “To Do” list, which currently is quite extensive, and can be seen at

What motivated her to get involved in public access to these records, what she has accomplished to date, and her plans for the future will be the lead article in Winter issue of AVOTAYNU, which will be published in early February.

Can Genetic Research Help You?
Adam Brown, director of the Avotaynu DNA Project recently received an inquiry from a person which said, “My husband and I are exploring our families. Can genetic research help us?”

Below is Brown’s response.

The usefulness of DNA testing is a function of what you are trying to achieve. If you are trying to ascertain whether someone is related to you or not, DNA testing is exceptionally useful. For example, if your husband is a Goldstein and he would like to know whether he and another Goldstein are descended from the same individual through their fathers, that is very easy to ascertain with a Y-Chromosome test for each of the men. If you are trying to ascertain whether you are related to a particular individual within the last four or five generations, and you and that person do not share a common male ancestor, you should be able to figure that out by having you and the other individual take an autosomal DNA test.

If you are unfamiliar with your family history and are taking first steps to explore your family background, an autosomal DNA test can be very helpful by describing your likely ancestral origins and providing a list of individuals who match you to varying degrees. Furthermore, by comparing Y DNA and mitochondrial results to the large database maintained by the Avotaynu DNA project, you may be able to learn about your ancient and medieval origin of your specific patrilineal and matrilineal lines as well.

If you are trying to expand your family tree by identifying specific new relatives through DNA testing, sensational results can be obtained but it requires a bit of luck (relatives need to have been tested) and possibly additional testing. This past year, for example, Avotaynu published an article by an individual who compared his Y chromosome and autosomal results to those of suspected relatives and demonstrated that Strauss families around the world were part of one and the same family torn apart during the Shoah.

Until DNA testing becomes universal among individuals interested in Jewish genealogy (and our Jewish DNA database grows every day), there are no guarantees that DNA research will expand your existing trees, but it will most certainly expand your understanding of your family’s place in the overall Jewish family tree. Undoubtedly you will find DNA matches to numerous individuals with whom you are related. Some close relative matches may appear from out of the blue as Mark Strauss’ did, while other predicted relationships may predate records and not be readily apparent. The important lesson from the Strauss study was that many of the family members whom he matched had been previously tested; Mark had even tested himself. To quote the genetic genealogist Israel Pickholtz: “You do not just get DNA tested so you can find people; you also get tested so that others may find YOU.”

The types of tests offered and the prices charged for them change frequently. You can stay up to date on these by participating in the Avotaynu DNA project, which offers expert advice on DNA testing and will help answer your questions. Keep abreast of the Project by enrolling for Avotaynu Online at and participate directly in the Avotaynu Project directly by either enrolling your existing test or by purchase a new test at For personal answers to your questions, feel free to email us at Additional information about the project can be found at announcing-avotaynu-dna-project.

"How to Fail at Family History Research in 10 Simple Steps"
With all of the “How to” articles written on successfully doing genealogical research, Family History Daily concluded it would be worthwhile to identify 10 things to avoid when doing family history research. Some may be obvious to you; others may make you think. The article can be found at history-research-in-10-simple-steps.

FamilySearch Claims to Be Foremost Family History Organization in Year-End Report
Referring to itself as “the foremost family history organization in the world,” FamilySearch has published a year-end report which describes its accomplishments for the year 2015. Here are some of them:
   • now has over 5.31 billion searchable names in historical records.
   • The website has seen 291,806 visitors daily—an increase of 19 percent.
   • Around the world, 319 camera teams—an increase of 11%—digitally preserved more than 122 million records in 45 countries, and 304,000 online volunteer indexers helped make them searchable.
   • Through partnerships with other major online genealogy sites, patrons can now use a single click to search,, and for the person they are viewing in FamilySearch’s Family Tree.
   • RootsTech 2015, a global family history event held in Salt Lake City, Utah, and hosted by FamilySearch, attracted a record 300,000 attendees in person, online, and through local post–Family Discovery Day events.
   • FamilySearch has enabled the public worldwide to use its constantly expanding record collection to make family connections through 4,891 satellite family history centers in 129 countries, with 2,864 of those satellite centers located outside the United States. That’s an increase of 15% over 2014.

The complete report, which shows additional accomplishments, can be found at

USCIS Announces Two Genealogy Webinars
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced two webinars to be conducted by USCIS historian Marian Smith as part of its “History and Genealogy ‘Your Questions’” webinar series. The first is titled “The Curious Case of Albert Miller” and will be held on January 22 at 1:00 pm ET. This presentation will discuss the search for answers in the case of an immigrant who arrived at Philadelphia in 1908. Questions raised by Albert Miller’s naturalization documents lead to additional information in a variety of places and some very surprising results. At the time of the event, go to Websites/?VaccId=uscis&ExEventID=82058965&CT=M&oldee=1 to log on. This session will not be recorded.

The second webinar will be held on March 25, again at 1:00 pm ET. This will be the more usual USCIS genealogy webinar that is a question and answer session. Submit questions to Ms. Smith by March 11 via e-mail to with the subject line “Your Questions Webinar.” If your question relates to a document, attach a copy of the document to the e-mail. Documents submitted with questions may be shared and discussed during the live webinar. To ensure the hour is of interest to the widest audience, questions answered will be those most commonly asked or that generate the most useful answers.

USCIS “Your Questions” webinars provide educational responses to record and research questions submitted by genealogical and historical researchers. The program focuses on historical immigration and nationality records created by the legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Information about USCIS webinars can be found at

Free Access to Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont Vital Records
New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) is providing free access through January 31 to Massachusetts vital records (1841–1910); New Hampshire births to 1901, deaths and marriages to 1937; and Vermont births, marriages and deaths to 2008. Registration is required to view the complete results. All told, NEHGS has 441 databases online—mostly the United States. The complete list can be found at

Who Do You Think You Are? Live in Birmingham, England, April 7–9
 Who Do You Think You Are? Live has changed their conference dates since last reported in Nu? What’s New? It will now be held from April 7–9 at the NEC Birmingham (National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, England). There is an early-bird special of two tickets for only £26. Use promotion code NY26 at to receive the discount. Information about the event is at They refer to themselves as “the world’s largest family history show.” They are in competition with RootsTech, who claims to be “the largest family history event in the world.” RootsTech is held in Salt Lake City this year from February 3–6.

France Opens Vichy Archives to Public
French President François Hollande has decided to open the Vichy archives to researchers four-and-a-half years before the usual limit of 75 years. During the war the Germans established a collaborationist government in the city of Vichy in central France. Holocaust historians stated that the newly accessible documents may shed light on the nature of French collaboration with the Nazis. The Vichy government revoked the citizenship of French Jews and cooperated with German forces in rounding up people for deportation to concentration camps.
Additional information can be found at

Have You Registered to Receive Notices from Avotaynu Online?

Have you subscribed to Avotaynu’s latest venture: Avotaynu Online? We have created a special sign-on site at By registering, you will receive a weekly notice of items added to the site.

By virtue of its focus on the in-depth reporting of specific subjects, Avotaynu Online will be entirely distinct from the existing print journal, AVOTAYNU, which for over three decades has covered the broad spectrum of Jewish family history research, and from the weekly Nu? What’s New?, which reports breaking stories in the world of genealogy.

 Avotaynu Online is free of charge. 

Nu? What's New? is published weekly by Avotaynu, Inc.
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