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

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 9, Number 6 | March 16, 2008

A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire
There isn’t very much news of general interest these past two weeks, so I will bore you with the history of probably the most important book Avotaynu has ever published: A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire, by Alexander Beider. The long-awaited Revised Edition of the book will be available this summer.

A number of books published by Avotaynu have won awards. Books like Where Once We Walked and Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy will be talked about, perhaps for the next 10–20 years. However, 100 years from now, A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire will be cited by family historians and scholars.

How the book got published is worth retelling. In 1991, I received an unsolicited letter from France sent by Alexander Beider. The letter stated he had compiled a list of 40,000 Jewish surnames from the pre-World War I Russian Empire; determined which were variants of a root name; identified where in that Russian Empire the names appeared; and had determined the etymology (derivation) of most of the names. I was immediately suspicious that such a thing was possible because of an incident that occurred about nine months earlier. Another person who claimed he was the world’s expert on Jewish surnames from Eastern Europe said he would supply the etymology for any Jewish surname for a fee of $18. My mother’s father’s surname in Europe was Taratatsky. I had previously asked such experts as Batya Unterschatz (she speaks seven languages) and the late Rabbi Shmuel Gorr the origin of the name, and they could not think of a basis for the name. So I paid my 18 bucks and got back an answer I knew was wrong. I wrote back questioning the maven (expert) and received my letter back with the statement scrawled over it “Just a wild guess.”

To test whether Beider was just another person who used wild guesses in his scholarly pursuits, I responded to his letter by stating that, yes, Avotaynu might be interested in publishing his book, but he could help me with a personal matter. My maternal grandfather’s name in the Russian Empire was “Taratatsky.” Did he know the origin of the surname? Beider’s answer endeared me to him. His answer was, “I don’t know the origin of the name.” I concluded that any scholar who was willing to concede there were still things he did not understand was my kind of scholar, and I told him Avotaynu was willing to publish his book.

But I still was skeptical. At that time, Marsha Dennis of the Jewish Genealogical Society in New York told me she was about to make a trip to Paris. I told Marsha about Beider and asked her to “check him out.” Marsha returned from the trip all bubbly and excited about Sasha (as his friends call him). “He reminds me of my son,” she said. I asked her, “What do you mean?” Her reply was “Well you know he is only 26 years old!” I was stunned. I had visions that the person I was communicating with was an 80-year-old man who had spent his lifetime accumulating this vast collection of data and realizing he was not going to live forever, decided it was time to publish it.

Yes, I eventually found the origin of the name Taratatsky with the help of Sasha. It is a variant of Tartasky (Tartacki, in Polish). “Tartak” is the Polish word for “saw mill,” therefore Tartacki may indicate that the progenitor of the family operated a sawmill (one branch of the family claims it is so). More likely, the origin of the name is the town of Tartak located only 44 miles (73 km) north of Sokolka, the ancestral town of the Tartacki family.

Index to Russians/German/Italians to America Now Online
The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration has placed on the Internet three important immigration indexes previously available only in book and CD form. They are “Germans to America (1850–1897),” “Italians to America (1855–1900)” and “Russians to America (1834–1897).” These lists are also more comprehensive.

For “Russians to America,” the database consists of records of 527,394 passengers who arrived in the United States between 1834 through 1897 and identified their country of origin or nationality as Armenia, Finland, Galicia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Russian Poland or Ukraine. There are records of passengers who were U.S. citizens or non-U.S. citizens planning to continue their travels, returning to the U.S., or staying in the U.S. There are records of passengers arriving at the following ports: Baltimore, Boston, New Orleans, New York, and Philadelphia; the bulk of the records are for passengers arriving at the Port of New York. Each of the passenger records may include name, age, town of last residence, destination, and codes for passenger's sex, occupation, literacy, country of origin, transit and/or travel compartment, and the identification number for the ship manifest.

For “Germans to America,” the series consists of records of 4,048,907 passengers who arrived at the United States between 1850 through 1897; about 90 percent identified their country of origin or nationality as Germany or a "German" state, city, or region. In about 10 percent of the records, passengers identified their country of origin or nationality as France, Luxemburg, Switzerland, United States, and other places.

The database should be accessed through the Stephen P. Morse One-Step site at It is a superior portal to the NARA site.

JewishGen Offering Basic Education Course
JewishGen is offering a basic course in genealogy oriented toward the needs of Jewish genealogical research. The course starts April 1. It consists of eight lessons provided online twice weekly. Topics include genealogy formats, trees, organizing and tracking information, interviewing, Jewish naming conventions, U.S. vital records, U.S. census records, Ellis Island passenger manifests, and the JewishGen website and databases. The course includes computer hints and tips on how to best use your computer and browse the Internet. All classes offer individualized help through an online forum where you can post family information and photographs and get suggestions and answers to questions.

Tuition is $50. If you support JewishGen through an annual contribution of $100 or more, the course is available at no charge. To enroll or get additional information, go to

RootsWeb Gets New URL
RootsWeb, the world’s oldest and largest free genealogy website, is a popular American genealogy site owned by the parent company of Until now, it has enjoyed its own web address: Shortly, it will be changed to a new address: All old RootsWeb URLs will continue to work; there are no immediate plan to eliminate them. The decision to host RootsWeb on is being made, according to the company, “to introduce more users to RootsWeb and vice versa.”

IIJG Providing Research Grants for Up to $10,000
The International Institute for Jewish Genealogy is inviting individuals or organizations to submit proposals for ground-breaking research in six areas of Jewish genealogy to be carried out in the academic year 2008–09. Successful applicants will be awarded grants of up to $10,000.

The six research areas are: Jewish history from a genealogical perspective; rabbinical genealogy; onomastics; interdisciplinary aspects of Jewish Genealogy; Jewish genealogy and computer sciences; and sources and resources for Jewish genealogy. Proposals outside these areas are not altogether excluded.

The deadline for the submission of proposals is May 31, 2008. Instructions to applicants and examples of topics within the preferred research areas can be found on the Institute’s website

Every Family Has a Story to Ship at End of April
We have received notice from our printer that our new book, Every Family Has a Story, will be shipped to our distribution center on April 10. This means we will mail copies to prepublication subscribers about April 24.

Every Family Has a Story consists of 72 articles previously published 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.

Additional information can be found at It includes the complete Table of Contents and a sample story.

Reminder: March 31 Deadline for Resubscribing to AVOTAYNU at a Discount
If your subscription to AVOTAYNU expired with the Winter issue, there was a yellow insert with the issue providing information on how to resubscribe. The insert notes that if you resubscribe by March 31, you can renew at a special discounted rate. Renew for three years and enjoy a 20% discount over the annual subscription price. If you are not already an AVOTAYNU subscriber and wish to subscribe, you can do so at There is a special five-issue offer that includes the Winter issue.

Help Grow the Shoah Victims’ Names Database
Yad Vashem wants volunteers who are willing to contact local institutions and individuals to grow the Shoah Victims Database whose principal documents are Pages of Testimony. With the aid of promotional materials Yad Vashem has developed, volunteers will reach out to survivors and their families and assist them in registering the names of Jews who they know were murdered in the Shoah. This will be done through synagogues, Holocaust centers, Jewish Community Centers, Jewish student organizations, senior centers and social service agencies. To volunteer send your name, address, phone number and e-mail address to with the subject heading "Names Volunteer"

To submit a Page of Testimony, there is a link on the left portion of the screen from the Basic Search page at Click the words “Submit Additional Names.”

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