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

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 9, Number 20 | August 24, 2008

JewishGen and Form an Alliance
It appears that genealogical for-profit companies are forming alliances with genealogical non-profit organizations. For example, Ancestry and Family Search (Mormon Church) have agreed to share databases. Now JewishGen can be added to the list.

JewishGen has agreed to allow to place their historical databases within the Ancestry environment. In exchange there will be a great benefit to JewishGen users: JewishGen will be hosted on the Ancestry servers rather than their own. Anyone who uses JewishGen is aware of the horrendous response time and occasional down time from the slow antiquated servers. This will disappear by the end of the year when JewishGen will be hosted on the powerful Ancestry servers. A second consideration will be of great benefit to JewishGen itself: money. Ancestry will pay to license the data. It hopefully will be used for growing JewishGen. This will be possible only as long as volunteer contributions continue to increase and pay for sustaining JewishGen’s day-to-day costs.

Excluded from the agreement are “personal data” such as the JewishGen Family Finder, Family Tree of the Jewish People, Viewmate, ShtetlLinks, Yizkor book and SIG sites. This means, for example, that Ancestry will not have access to e-mail addresses. Ancestry was not interested in these databases, and, it is unlikely that JewishGen would have released them.

There are guaranteed to be rumors that JewishGen was acquired by Ancestry, merged with Ancestry, etc. All are untrue. It is nothing more than a pure business arrangement to the benefit to both parties. Ancestry’s motivation is to further penetrate the Jewish family history market. This not only includes new Jewish customers but non-Jewish customers with Jewish ancestry. JewishGen’s motivation was money, reliability of hardware and additional technical knowhow.

The official Ancestry announcement can be found at

Is Owned by the Mormon Church?
One of the myths that constantly circulates within the Jewish genealogy community is that is owned by the Mormon Church whose primary interest is to acquire genealogical data so they can posthumously baptize Jews. The other myth is that is owned by individual Mormons whose primary interested is to acquire genealogical data so they can posthumously baptize Jews.

The reality is that Ancestry was founded about 25 years ago by a non-Mormon named John Sittner, who happened to live in the Salt Lake City area. Through Sittner’s guidance, Ancestry developed a great reputation for publishing quality books for American genealogists, as the company does to this day.

(From this point on, what is said may not be totally accurate but is based on my observation of Ancestry throughout the years.) Sittner sold out to a group of investors who foresaw that the Internet would be a great way of exploiting interest in genealogy within the U.S. and ultimately worldwide. Such a concept was well beyond Sittner’s ability. It is likely that the early investors and early management were Mormon because it was a group of Utahans that foresaw this dream. I cannot say for sure that they were Mormons, because I have many friends within the realm, and I never had the urge to ask them, “Excuse me, are you a Mormon?”

As grew, it came under scrutiny of other investors who wanted to participate, and today Ancestry is primarily owned by a number of investment firms. Its current management is a blend of religious and ethnic backgrounds. I suspect that much of middle management and the employees of Ancestry are Mormon, because the company is located primarily in Provo, Utah. My latest Ancestry friend, whom I met for the first time at the conference, is Michael Daniels, Director of Operations for Ancestry. He is half Jewish and half Japanese. I have not had the urge to ask him, “Excuse me, are you a Mormon?”

28th Conference on Jewish Genealogy a Great Success
The 28th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy is now history. More than 800 registrants took advantage of the enormous program that ran from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday. All told there were more than 200 events: lectures, computer workshops, films, SIG and Birds-of-a-Feather meetings, Breakfasts-with-the-Experts, sponsored luncheons with speakers, trips to local sites and other functions. While waiting at O’Hare Airport for my flight home, I struck up a conversation with a person who attended the annual conference for the first time. He told me he learned more attending the five-day event than all the knowledge he had accumulated in the past year. This is why I tell “Nu? What’s New?” readers it is the premier event of the Jewish genealogical year.

The 2009 conference will be August 17–22 in Philadelphia.

At the banquet, which closed the conference, five awards were given in recognition of contributions to Jewish genealogy.

Howard Margol received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his efforts as a past president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Georgia, past president of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, and his years of working in the interests of Litvak (Lithuanian) Jewish genealogical research.

Steven Lasky received the “Outstanding Contribution to Jewish Genealogy via the Internet, Print or Electronic Product Award” for his Internet site which has grown to have a wealth of information of value to Jewish family history research.

The “Outstanding Programming or Project That Advances the Objectives of Jewish Genealogy Award” went to Petra Laidlaw of England for creating the “Jewish Community in Mid-19th Century Britain” database.

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain won the “Outstanding Publication by a Member Organization of IAJGS Award” for their numerous guidebooks that focus on how to do genealogical research in various segments of the discipline.

Finally a $2,500 grant was given to the Italian Genealogy Group located in New York to support their ongoing work in indexing the vital and naturalization records of the New York City area.

Closure: An Incident at the Annual Conference
Fred Blum, president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia, was sitting at the booth of JGSGP providing information about next year’s annual conference when he struck up a conversation with a woman. He related the following story to me:

“We examined each other’s name tag to ascertain the surnames and towns we are both researching. One of our towns was very close to one near Brody, Ukraine. I informed her that in June 2006 I was in Brody. She replied that she was in Brody in July 2006. I then inquired what other towns she visited. She replied Lopatyn. I told her that I was there as well. Lopatyn is a very small village. She told me her parents survived the Holocaust by hiding in the forest around Lopatyn after they fled Brody. She also told me that her brother died as a child, and she did not know the circumstances and wanted to know. I told her that my family also hid in the same forest. I placed a call to one of my survivor cousins who is 91 years old. He knew her family and indicated that our other survivor cousins lived with this woman’s parents. I then placed a call to the other cousins and learned the facts of her brother’s death. I felt compelled to tell her that for her parents to survive in their hiding place, they were forced to make the horrible decision to smother their son with a pillow, because his crying would have given away their location. As difficult it was for me to tell her, there was the solace that she now has closure.”

USCIS Fee-for-Service Now in Operation
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS), formerly called the INS, has launched its fee-for-service program which provides duplicate copies of records in their possession.

Records available under the new program are:
Naturalization certificate files(C-files) from September 27, 1906 to April 1, 1956 (from all federal, state, municipal courts and more)
    Microfilmed alien registration forms from August 1, 1940 to March 31, 1944
    Visa files from July 1, 1924, to March 31, 1944
    Registry files from March 2, 1929, to March 31, 1944
    Alien files numbered below 8 million and dated prior to May 1,1951

The fees for requesting the documents:
    Per index request $20.00
    Per record/file request from a microfilm $20.00
    Per record/file request from paper file $35.00.

An overview of the program can be found at Click the links in the
    upper right corner of the page for a more detailed description of the program and also to get the forms to be filled out when making an inquiry.

This program addresses a complaint of the genealogical community regarding very slow turnaround time for requests of immigration and naturalization documents. Its pricing conforms to the Office of Management and Budget requirement that all government offices charge fees that will recover the full cost of services provided.

GRO Abandons Effort to Digitize UK Family Records
The British General Records Office (GRO) announced that it is delaying indefinitely a project to digitize 250 million records of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales from 1837 to the present day. The project would have resulted in a new public website “that would allow people to trace their ancestors at the touch of a button next February,” according to an article in the Guardian. The article stated that three years after the government awarded the £16 million contract to German computer giant Siemens, the deal has been terminated with only half the work done. The complete Guardian article can be found at

What Do You Think of the New JewishGen Logo?
I do not understand the underlying psychological reason, but whenever there is an acquisition, there is an urge by the acquiring group to change the name of the acquired, or, at least, make some symbolic change. In its evolution, the company Ancestry was changed to, then and now The Generations Network.

The Museum of Jewish History, the parent organization of JewishGen, has changed JewishGen’s logo and wants your opinion of it. You can vote at The old and new logos are presented here.

Jewish Genealogy Trip to Salt Lake City
If you went to the annual conference but need another dose of genealogy, or if you did not attend the conference but would like to focus on your family history research for a week, it is still possible to attend the annual Jewish Genealogical Research Trip to LDS (Mormon) Family History Library in Salt Lake City from October 23-October 30, 2008. To date there are 31 people in the group. It is limited to 40 people.

The program offers genealogists the opportunity to spend an entire week of research at the Library under the guidance and assistance of professional genealogists Gary Mokotoff and Eileen Polakoff who have made more than three dozen trips to Salt Lake City. Additional information can be found at It includes a picture of the Class of 2007.

Another Academic Institution Providing Accreditation in Genealogy
In the continuing effort by the genealogical community to gave recognition of family history as an academic discipline, it should be noted that Boston University is now giving a Certificate in Genealogical Research. The certificate is issued after completing classes in 14 one-day sessions. All told, there are 98 hours of classes. It appears to be geared toward persons who want to become professional genealogists. The university states that the program is for those “who wish to develop the knowledge and skills essential to conducting quality genealogical assignments.” Additional information can be found at

New Beider Book to Ship Soon
We have received advanced copies of Alexander Beider’s new work, A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire: Revised Edition. Shipments to advanced subscribers of the book will be completed by the end of this month. It will probably be his last surnames book and is a tribute to his contribution over the past 15 years to Jewish onomastics. The book is 1,040 pages and weighs nearly six pounds (2,6 kg). Its 200-page introduction to the dictionary portion will be the definitive description of the origin and evolution of Jewish surnames in Eastern Europe for decades to come. You can view information about the book, including a sample page, at

Various Sites of Potential Value to Genealogical Research
The Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois has developed an online death index that has records from a number of Jewish cemeteries in the Chicago area. It currently contains more than 50,000 records including entries from Westlawn, Jewish Graceland and portions of Oak Woods cemeteries. A number of other smaller cemeteries are included. The index can be found at

Access to the online Canadian 1881 Census is now available through the Stephen P. Morse site at

Some 19th-century civil records from Jewish communities in Bavarian Swabia are available at At present there is an index to 16,143 individual records; of those, 4,937 allow direct access to the original document (Binswangen, Fellheim, Ichenhausen). The site also serves as a working platform for the volunteers who are transcribing the records. There is an overview of the project at

The Washington State Digital Archives at
has recently put state census records and vital records online. This is a work in progress; therefore, not all records are indexed yet. The site claims to have 61 million searchable records online. This may be misleading. The only Mokotoffs found were in the site’s version of the Social Security Death Index. If you had relatives that lived in Washington State, it may be a valuable site.

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.”

Nu? What's New is published biweekly by Avotaynu, Inc.
Copyright 2008, Avotaynu, Inc. All rights reserved

To be added or removed from this mailing list, go to the Internet site To change your e-mail address, go to the same site and remove the old address and add the new address.

Back issues of
Nu? What's New? are available at

To subscribe to AVOTAYNU, The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, go to

To order books from our catalog, go to

To contact us by postal mail, write: Avotaynu, Inc.; 155 N. Washington Ave.; Bergenfield, NJ 07621