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

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 17, Number 50 | December 18, 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.

Call for Papers: 37th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy
Hear Ye! Hear Ye! The Program Committee of the 37th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy invites you to present proposals for lectures to be given at the conference which will be held from July 23–28 at the Walt Disney Swan Resort on the grounds of Disney World/Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida.

The submission deadline is January 15, 2017. The committee set this deadline to allow enough time to evaluate many worthy proposals, to choose the best, and to notify speakers of their acceptance during the early registration period that ends April 16, 2017.

The committee is particularly interested in presentations that enable the conference participants to enhance their genealogical research by teaching them to:
   • Discover their family history using new research tools and resources
   • Preserve their family histories and traditions
   • Share their family history with future generations of their family and with fellow genealogists

The procedure to submit a proposal can be found at 2017/abstract_submission.cfm.

This annual gathering brings together more than 1,000 family researchers, academics, professional genealogists, historians, and a wide variety of individuals from around the world who cherish their heritage and the future of the Jewish people.

USCIS Increasing Fees for Services
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is significantly increasing their fees for doing genealogical searches and document retrieval effective December 23, 2016. The two-step process of first searching the index to identify the documents and then retrieving and copying them used to cost $20 each. Now the price has been raised to $65 each.

My experience just a year ago showed the processing time is very lengthy due to backlog. It took nearly four months for USCIS to search the index. Then after submitting a request for the actual documents, it took an additional four months.

The agency is funded almost entirely by fees. By law, USCIS conducts a fee review every two years to ensure that they recover the full cost of processing immigration benefits. The genealogy program has not increased its fees since the program was created in 2008. The agency increased fees for all its services; not just those that are genealogy related. A complete list of fees can be found at

MyHeritage Has Webinar on DNA
MyHeritage has created a presentation on the fundamentals of DNA testing at MyHeritage which demonstrates how the testing allows you to gain insights into your ethnic origins and further your family history research. The webinar lasts one hour and can be found at Links to other company webinars is at

Ancestry Adds More U.S. Marriage Records to Its Collection has added a number of new marriage records to its collection. They include:
   • Alabama, County Marriages, 1805–1967
   • Florida, County Marriages, 1823–1982
   • Illinois, County Marriages, 1800–1940
   • Indiana, Marriages, 1810–2001
   • Kansas, County Marriages, 1811–1911
   • North Dakota, Marriage Records, 1877–1929
   • New York, County Marriages, 1847–1849; 1907–1936
   • Ohio, County Marriages, 1774–1993
   • Texas, County Marriages, 1817–1965

In some cases, they are the actual records; in others just an extraction of the information. Also being a new record set, the range of years may not yet be complete. I determine the completeness of a collection by searching for the surname “Levy.” The results are presented in near-chronological order. For example, in the above case of New York marriages, the collection seems to be complete. The Florida collection appears to only go to 1950.

FindMyPast Offers Guide to U.S. Censuses
FindMyPast has created a search guide for U.S. censuses the details the contents of all U.S. censuses 1790–1940. It is located at search-guide-us-census-1842353662.html. Within the article there are links to search an individual census at no charge.

FamilySearch Adds More Than 4.4 Million Records This Week
A list of recent additions to FamilySearch, more than 4.4 million indexed records and images, can be found at This site provides direct links to the individual collections. They include records from Brazil, England, Ireland, Namibia, Peru and the U.S. states of Arkansas, California and Iowa. In addition, another 2.1 million records have been added from the FindAGrave index. Most of the new material is from the FindAGrave index and Ireland Valuation Office Books 1831

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, which can be greater.

British Jewish Chronicle Back Issues Now Online at No Charge
The British Jewish Chronicle back issues are online at with a full-word search engine. Previously a paid subscription was necessary to search the archives. Now only registration is required, but there is no charge to search the issues. The newspaper has been published for the past 175 years.

It is not straight forward to retrieve the results of searches. When a page is found, the system does not highlight the location of the searched item. Instead use the Find function (Ctl-F) to find the result. It is highlighted in pale blue, which is sometimes difficult to find. Increase the zoom to 125% to bring out the location of the searched word(s).

Our Chanukah Offering: Practical Guide to Jewish Cemeteries for Only $22.00
Is it possible to write a book about cemeteries that is both informative and interesting to read? Nolan Menachemson of Australia created such a book and Avotaynu published it in 2007. Its title is A Practical Guide to Jewish Cemeteries.

The first chapter of this 256-page book, “A Brief History of Jewish Burial,” describes many of the customs associated with the ritual of burial. Chapter Two focuses on what genealogists want for their research: “How to Read a Jewish Gravestone.” Then the book gets interesting. Chapter Three deals with more than 25 different symbols that appear on tombstones.

Other chapters that make the book interesting reading are devoted to:
   • The burial location of more than 100 famous Jews with biographies of the individuals
   • A chapter on preserving cemeteries
   • A description of famous Jewish cemeteries and the location of major Nazi concentration camps
   • A set of “Frequently Asked Questions” on such matters as Jewish cemetery architecture, prohibitions, burial organizations and much more
   • There is also a 820-year Hebrew year to secular year calendar converter (years 1200–2020).

The original cost of the book was $39.00 plus shipping. Nu? What’s New? readers can purchase the book for $22.00 plus shipping until December 24—a 44% discount. No need for a discount code. When checking out, the discount will be automatically taken. If ordering more than one copy, a $17.00 discount will be taken for each copy. Additional information, including the complete Table of Contents, a sample chapter and ordering information can be found at

It Is Time to Think about Charitable Donations
Now, the last month of the year, it is time to think whether you have made your annual contribution to Jewish genealogical non-profit organizations such as JewishGen and the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy.

If you are a regular user of JewishGen, consider (at least) a $100 donation to the organization. JewishGen is a victim of its own success. Because of its tremendous amount of volunteer work, there are increased costs to make this information available on the Internet. The organization is approaching a $1 million annual budget relying almost entirely on contributions and grants. Also consider membership in one of the many Jewish genealogical Special Interest Groups. In many cases, your membership helps fund their extraction of records for their geographic area.

Secondly, there is the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy that has made great strides in developing Jewish genealogy into a recognized field of academic investigation, within the realm of Jewish Studies and in association with a broad range of other sciences on an inter-disciplinary basis. It seeks to do this by conducting scholarly research into all aspects of Jewish genealogy, both independently and collaboratively with other institutions and social scientists, as well as by promoting the teaching of Jewish genealogy at university level.

Contribute to JewishGen at and IIJG at

JewishGen Announces Education Courses for the Beginning of 2017
JewishGen has announced education courses for the beginning of 2017. They are:
   • Improve Your Organization Skills & Research Online (for Advanced
Beginners), January 2–29
   • Exploring JewishGen (Basic 1 – tuition waived for Value Added
‘Genners,), January 6–20
   • Brick Walls or Dead End, February 3–24
   • Search Strategies – Using Google (Basic 2 – tuition waived for Value Added ‘Genners), March 17–31
   • Complex Genealogical Research in the U.S., April 3–20

The three- and four-week classes are taught in JewishGen’s FORUM format, a personal mentoring experience, where students have the opportunity to share their story and work one step at a time with the instructor. Students are encouraged to post one branch, set goals for their research and work interactively. Instructors are familiar with a wide range of resources and offer text lessons to accompany the research process.

Basic Courses are two weeks long and text-based with exercises. Tuition is waived for Value Added members of JewishGen who have donated $100 to the General Fund in the last 12 months.

Course details, instructor’s credentials and student requirements (time, fee, prerequisites) are available at Course Registration opens two weeks before the course start date.

Dov Levin (1925–2016) z”l
 One of the great scholars of Eastern European Jewish history—particularly Lithuanian history—has died. Professor Dov Levin of Hebrew University was 91. I had the privilege of knowing Professor Levin through his interest and support of Jewish family history research.

He was born in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania, and educated in the Jewish schools of the city. During World War II, he was in the Kovno ghetto during the Nazi occupation along with his parents and twin sister, none of whom survived. He escaped the ghetto and joined the partisans fighting against the Nazis and their local Lithuanian collaborators. At the end of 1945, he made (illegal) aliyah to pre-Israel Eretz Yisrael.

Professor Levin was a friend of Jewish genealogy. He participated in the very first “Breakfast with the Experts” at the 1984 annual conference that was held in Jerusalem. “Breakfast with the Experts” was the brainchild of Avotaynu co-owner Sallyann Amdur Sack-Pikus who was conference co-chair that year. Today the event is having breakfast with conference attendees followed by a talk by an expert. At that time, it was truly breakfasting with an expert. The meal was held in the hotel restaurant with table size limited to 8–10 persons. I fortunately was at the table with Professor Levin who answered questions about Lithuanian Jewry. At one point he mentioned that he was a partisan during World War II. One of the persons at the table exclaimed, “Oh, that must have been very exciting.” Professor Levin responded with a sardonic smile, “Yes, it was very exciting.”

One evening, he invited Sallyann and me to his home to meet his family. In the course of the conversation, he asked where my family was from. I told him the Mokotows were from the Warsaw area and my maternal side was from Bialystok, Poland. “Then you’re a Litvak,” he exclaimed. He reminded me that Bialystok was once part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

A biography can be found at

May his memory be a blessing.

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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