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

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 9, Number 7 | March 30, 2008

Genealogy Groups Move Toward More Open Access of Records
Since 9/11 there has been a paranoia in the United States that everything and anything is of potential value to terrorists, from nail clippers to the Social Security numbers of dead people. Legislators are having a field day creating laws to restrict the activity of the population in the name of security. (My experience with security systems is that they are designed to inconvenience the honest and let the dishonest through anyway.)

This has had an increasingly negative effect on family history research as laws are passed to restrict record access, especially vital records. Some years ago, the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the National Genealogical Society formed a Records Preservation and Access Committee (RP&A) to address this problem. It has since been joined by the Association of Professional Genealogists, the Board on Certification of Genealogists, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies.

In the past, RP&A has been primarily a reactive group. When there is word of pending legislation to restrict access to records of interest to genealogists and other historians, the authors of the bills are contacted to discuss the situation. In many cases, RP&A has managed to have bills killed or at least modified to be more genealogy friendly.

Now the genealogical community is becoming more proactive in an attempt to educate legislators on the subject. Recently, a group of professional genealogists within the Association of Professional Genealogists has formed the Keeping Genealogical Records Open Workgroup (KGROW) and prepared a position paper on the subject. The paper states, “Well intentioned laws restricting vital records will not prevent terrorist attacks or identity theft...Laws restricting public records punish law-abiding groups with legitimate needs. They include genealogists, historians, the news media, the information service industry, medical researchers, funeral directors, academic researchers, and others. Closed records prevent them from doing their work properly. The heart of democracy is found in its open records.”
The KGROW committee recommends in their paper that “lawmakers respond to the ID theft problem, not try to prevent a nonexistent problem.” Furthermore, they encourage “private companies and government improve their protection of personal data.” The Case for Open Public Records position paper is a PDF file available on the APG website at

ITS Distributes Displaced Persons Files
The International Tracing Service now has distributed its digitized collection of records of displaced persons to the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and the Warsaw-based National Institute of Remembrance. It provides information about some 3.5 million people. To date ITS has given 67 million images of documents to the requesting organizations. It will take another two years to complete the job.

Additional information can be found at

Additional Information: A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire
I have just finished reading the 200-page introductory portion of the A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire: Revised Edition, a book that Avotaynu will publish this summer. It makes fascinating reading. There are six chapters that cover:
    * History of Jewish names in Eastern Europe
    * Types and morphology of Jewish surnames (subsections include names based on occupations, towns, physical attributes, Kohen/Levite origin, rabbinic ancestry, acronyms, artificial reasons, patronymics and metronymics).
    * Linguistic aspects of Jewish surnames. How Hebrew, Yiddish, German, and Slavic languages each influenced the surnames acquired by Jews.
    * Adoption of surnames in various regions. How each region used different bases for assigning surnames to Jews. Sometimes it was done by the individual Jews themselves, mostly by the Jewish community organization (kahal) and in some cases by Christian registrars. Subsections are Courland, Polish Livonia, Kovno and Vilna area, Grodno and Belostok area, Eastern and Central Belorussia, Volhynia and Podolia, Eastern Ukraine and New Russia and Bessarabia.
    * Jewish surnames and Gentile surnames in Eastern Europe. How Gentile surnames influenced the naming of Jews.
    * A scientific approach to the etymologies of Jewish surnames. Beider uses his skills acquired while working for his degree in applied mathematics at the University of Moscow (his first doctorate degree).

The Revised Edition will have two sections that did not exist in the original 1993 edition. First, a list of more than 2,000 German surnames that migrated to the Russian Empire and their Russian equivalents. Second, an index to more than 5,000 Russian Jewish surnames that are mentioned in the introductory portion of the book. Often greater insight into the particular surname is given. As an example, in his section on surnames derived from town names, Beider states:

Some surnames seem to be derived from localities outside the Pale, but are not. Tverskij, for example, is not from the Russian town of Tver’, but is either from the townlet of Tvery in Lithuania or from the Hebrew name for Tiberias; Saratovskij is not from Saratov, but from the village of Sarata in Bessarabia; Ryazanskij is not from the Russian town of Ryazan’, but from Rozhanka or Ryazanskie; Pyatigorskij is not from the Russian town of Pyatigorsk, but from the townlet of Pyatigory; Bryanskij is not from the Russian town of Bryansk, but from the town in the Grodno guberniya of the same name; Moskovskij (coincides with the Russian adjective meaning “from Moscow”) is actually derived from the masculine given name Mosko, a hypocoristic form of Moses commonly used by Jews in Lithuania and Belorussia.

The Revised Edition should be available in time for the annual International Conference on Jewish Genealogy being held this August in Chicago. The book will likely exceed 1,000 pages because of the expanded introductory section and because the number of surnames has grown from 50,000 to 74,000.

Genealogy Institute Looks for New Director
The Center for Jewish History in New York is looking for a new director for its Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute to direct the development and day-to-day operations of its genealogy programs and initiatives. An advanced degree in library science, history or other appropriate subject field is required, as well as significant experience doing genealogy and family history research, familiarity with Jewish genealogical resources, and supervisory experience in a comparable program area. Interested applicants should send a cover letter, résumé, and salary requirements to: Robert Sink; Chief of Archive and Library Services; Center for Jewish History; 15 West 16th Street; New York, NY 10011. E-mail:

Final 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.

Famillion Partners with Haaretz
Famillion, the new kid on the block in the area of Internet family history services, has announced a partnership with the major Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, to provide an “innovate Jewish genealogy service” by providing a new genealogy and social network search engine aimed at connecting the Jewish people worldwide. The initiative aspires to bring together Jews from all over the world and help them construct the narrative of the Jewish people through the stories of millions of families.

This is yet another example of the exaggerated claims of this company. A visit to their site at shows they are focusing on having subscribers build their own family tree online, as can be done at; merge family trees, as can be done at; and discover new family and friends, as can be done at ____________ (you fill in the blank).

The existence of this company was first reported in Nu? What’s New? in Volume 8, Number 12 (June 17, 2007) issue. At that time, the company claimed it will have mapped the entire Jewish population of the world by the end of 2007 and the entire Western world in about two years. Inquiries to the company at the end of 2007 to determine if the project is on schedule have gone unanswered.

Famillion is the brain child of Dan Rolls who states at the site that the organization started when he and his wife “produced their family trees through standard genetic testing.” Now that is innovative; a true first. I know of no genealogist who has produced their family tree through standard genetic testing.

Other claims at their site include:
   * The Famillion system is the only genealogical system that allows you to find unknown pathways to any other person in the world.
   * You may find yourself chatting with Angelina Jolie.
   * The Famillion technology offers you a unique, online, family social, network opportunity to discover your genealogic frontiers using the tools of tomorrow.
   * The Famillion cutting-edge system goes beyond the boundaries of time, culture, country and language by merging information from the historical generations of all its members.

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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