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

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 10, Number 18 | September 13, 2009

This edition is going to 8,547 subscribers

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.
A Serendipitous Discovery:
A posting to JewishGen reported that an 1894 Commercial Directory of the Jews of the United Kingdom has been placed online at The site has a full-word search engine that permits searching the content of the book. The search argument can be a partial word. Searching for “Mok” produced a lot of butchers who dealt in smoked and salt beef.

This led me to explore the overall site of It is a remarkable resource, not only for information valuable to family history research but other pursuits. I spent more than two hours at the site and only got a taste of what it has available. is an archives of moving images, text, audio, software and education—as they describe their subsections. The text section—essentially books—are out-of-copyright books or other texts in the public domain. I stumbled on the fact that they had a 1959 Polk Directory for Boston. The search engine identified 51 Polk directories for various cities at the site. They have a total of 1,195 directories on various subjects. The first entry displayed was Fingerprint Directories, by Sir Francis Galton, published in 1895. Searching for “Jewish Directories” determined they have the 1912 New York City Jewish Communal Directory and the 1923 New York Almanac in Yiddish.

Moving image archives. It includes one of the first talking movies, one in which Eddie Cantor sings. The film was made in 1923 by Lee De Forest, inventor of the vacuum tube which brought us into the radio age. YouTube has the film also.

Audio. This library contains more than two hundred thousand digital recordings of old time radio shows, book and poetry readings and newscasts, among other items. I found news bulletins from December 7, 1941, announcing that the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor. Also there was the famous radio announcement of the docking and crash of the Hindenberg.

Software. Described as access to all kinds of rare or difficult to find, legally downloadable software titles and background information on those titles.

Education. It contains hundreds of free courses, video lectures, and supplemental materials from universities in the United States and China. is also the home of Wayback Machine, which has billions of web pages from the past. For example, there is a snapshot of the JewishGen home page from November 8, 1996. It sported a headline, “JGFF Goes Live.” This is located at The earliest Avotaynu home page, July 10, 1997, is located at Both web sites have come a long way since then. So has the Internet in general.

New Collections at FamilySearch
Periodically, FamilySearch, the genealogy wing of the Mormon Church announces additional projects completed and available at their Record Search Pilot Project site: I go through the list and cull any record groups that are of potential interest to Jewish genealogists. It is a subjective judgment. In reality, any of the records are of potential interest. Unfortunately, the weekly announcement is not available to the general public. I do not plan to publish the complete list, which this week includes the Managua, Nicaragua civil registrations from 1879–1984.

There is a solution. One e-zine that does regularly publish the complete announcement is Dick Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter. It is free with an option for a paid subscription that entitles the subscriber to additional news announcements and commentaries. The latest FamilySearch announcement can be found at At the site is a link to subscribe regularly to the e-zine.

The FamilySearch announcement has four parts:
   • New Projects Added
   • Recently Completed Projects
   • Current FamilySearch Indexing Projects, Record Language, and Percent Completion
   • Current FamilySearch Partner Projects, Record Language, and Percent Completion

Summer Issue of AVOTAYNU
The Summer issue will go to the printer shortly, a bit late due to commitments during the summer. Two of the 11 articles in the issue are worth previewing. About once every five years, AVOTAYNU editor Sallyann Amdur Sack-Pikus likes to measure how far Jewish genealogy has progressed and where is it heading. In the lead article in the issue, Neville Lamdan, director of the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy, writes that our discipline is moving forward in two directions that I call the “genealogical hobbyist” path and the “family historian” path. The genealogical hobbyist path is the compilation of facts about one’s ancestors and collateral relatives. The family history path is performing the research using accepted scientific methods and standards for doing research and historiography. The family history path will eventually lead to the establishment of a family history curriculum at accredited universities with bachelor and advanced degrees in the discipline.

The other article worth highlighting (actually all the articles are of the quality that has given AVOTAYNU the high reputation it has earned in the past 25 years) is a hilarious treatise that pokes fun at the very things that family historians take seriously. It is written by a cousin of Prof. H. Daniel Wagner. Wagner is a family historian (as opposed to a genealogical hobbyist). The cousin, a professional poker player, complains that “Daniel is the rational type. He conducts his genealogical quest in a systematic fashion. He then publishes his work in journals and recently has even proposed that genealogy could be studied as a scientific activity, as an academic discipline.” He
then counters, “But my life experience tells me otherwise. You see, I make a living as a professional poker player...My motto: Never plan your searches; always prepare for the unexpected find; anticipate the surprise. If you are really good at this, you may even provoke the stunning breakthrough—with intuition and sheer luck as your most important tools!” In essence, use the techniques of a good poker player. He then gives case studies of how he broke down genealogical brick walls that his cousin Daniel could not conquer by using his own methodology: prepare for the unexpected find; anticipate the surprise; provoke the stunning breakthrough. It is a must read.

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Frequency and Geographic Distribution of Surnames by Country
A posting to JewishGen noted sites that show, pictorially, the geographic distribution of surnames in five European countries. It might be of value in locating people with a certain surname in a country where you did not know the surname exists. For example, it notes that there are no Mokotows living in Poland anymore, but there is one Mokotowski. I am aware of this person and how this Christian acquired a Jewish surname is one of the articles in Every Family Has a Story published by Avotaynu.

The countries are:

Using Google, similar maps were located for other countries:
   The World (actually U.S., Canada, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan and most of Europe but not Finland, Greece, Portugal, Czech and Slovak Republics, the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia): This site was reported in Volume 9, Number 21, September 14, 2008 of Nu? What’s New?

Another Language Translator
Microsoft is advertising Bing, its new search engine which is supposed to compete with Google. It also has a language translator located at In the last issue of Nu? I put to the test a number of online language translators and concluded that Google’s was the best. One test was Google’s translation of the statement, “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country,” by translating that sentence into a variety of languages and then retranslating it back to English to see if the original sentence could be reproduced. In the case of Polish, the Google translator gave a perfect translation and retranslation. I put the Microsoft translator to the same test and the result was, “The time has come for all people good come to help their country.”

UK National Archives Plans Cuts in Service
In hard economic times, governments look to cut “unnecessary” services. Those departments hardest hit invariably include libraries and archives. The UK National Archives plans to cut £4.2m from their operating budget by charging for parking, closing its facility to the public on Mondays, reducing the staff by 47 persons and withdrawing microfilm series from instant access in the reading rooms. A group of academics, family historians, professional researchers, archivists and librarians have rallied to oppose the cuts and have created a website at to express their views and encourage other people to join in the protest.

Looking for New Databases to Add to CJSI
The last issue of Nu? Indicated plans to update the Consolidated Jewish Surname Index. What was not mentioned is that Avotaynu is looking for new online databases to add to CJSI. If you own a database that has at least 5,000 unique surnames and would like to participate, please contact me at CJSI currently has more than 700,000 surnames from 42 databases. It is located at

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 it to the Friends of the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy, 155 N. Washington Ave., Bergenfield, NJ 07621. 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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