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

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 12, Number 5 | February 6, 2011
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.
Online Yahrzeit Plaques
With more and more cemeteries going online, it is becoming easier to locate the final resting place of relatives. Now one synagogue has placed their yahrzeit (anniversary of death) plaques online. Yahrzeit plaques are memorials to relatives, usually parents or siblings, placed within a memorial board on the walls of synagogues. On the anniversary of the person’s death (yahrzeit), the plaque is illuminated by two small lights on either side of the plaque. The name is read to the congregation at the Sabbath service before the yahrzeit (reckoned by the Hebrew calendar).

These plaques are of genealogical value because they usually include the name of the deceased, date of death reckoned by both the secular and Jewish calendars and the person’s religious name, which includes the name of the person’s father (above example: Chaim ben (son of) Meir.).

Now the Carnegie Shul (that’s the name of the synagogue) of Carnegie, Pennsylvania, has placed images of all their yahrzeit plaques online at The site has been indexed by Google, therefore, names can be found by Googling the person’s name plus the word “yahrzeit.” Hopefully, this is the first of many synagogues placing their yahrzeit plaques online.

Two Papers on Jewish DNA Research
DNA research has demonstrated much about Jewish history.
   • Today’s Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews are descended from ancient Semites
   • There is a Cohanic trait that exists among the descendants of the priestly class
   • Similarly, there is a Levitic trait, but 38% of Ashkenazic Levites are not descended paternally from Semites but from Sorbians (Eastern European non-Jews). This has resurrected the Kazharian theory of the origin of some Jews.
   • Ethiopian Jews are descended from Africans, not Semites
   • The Jews of India also are not descended from Semites, but have DNA similar to the local non-Jewish population.

A paper was published last year in Nature titled “The Genome-Wide Structure of the Jewish People.” The authors are some of the leading DNA researchers in the world. It costs $32 to get a copy of the article from Nature, but now it is available free of charge at The study has been described as the most comprehensive study to date comparing the entire genomes of a number of Jewish and non-Jewish populations.

A second paper titled “DNA Origins and Current Consequences for Sephardi, Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Males and Females: Latest Results from medical, Genealogical-Familial and National-Ethnic Research” appears in the Journal for the Study of Sephardic & Mizrahi Jewry. It can be found at

March 26 Who Do You Think You Are? to Feature Gwyneth Paltrow
The last installment for the second season of Who Do You Think You Are?—Friday, March 26—will feature Gwyneth Paltrow. The show creates diversity by picking celebrities from various backgrounds. It appears Paltrow will be the Jewish theme for this season. Paltrow's paternal great-grandfather, whose surname was Paltrowicz, was a rabbi in Nowogrod, Poland, according to Wikipedia.

Based on the sequence of people provided on the initial program, the following celebrities will appear in the order shown: Vanessa Williams, Tim McGraw, Rosie O’Donnell, Steve Buscemi, Kim Cattrall, Ashley Judd, Lionel Ritchie and Gwyneth Paltrow. The show airs on NBC on Fridays at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Central Time). Has Apps for iPad and iPhone has announced an iPad App that can display and edit family trees, photos, etc. A comparable app already exists for the iPhone. Both apps are free of charge and are available at the iTunes App Store.

Frankly, the news release announcing the app was so full of superlatives that I had difficulty determining its features. It is described as delivering “a compelling experience,” “dynamic,” “intuitive,” on a “compelling platform.” The app “brings to life…multi-generational family trees.” (Exactly what is a single-generation family tree?) One user is quoted as saying, “I already use my iPhone to document my life…”

In any case, the app is free, so it is worth downloading to determine if it provides you with a dynamic, intuitive, compelling experience.

You can read the full news release at Dick Eastman’s Genealogy Newsletter at

"Using JewishGen" course begins Feb 15
If you are new to the vast resources of JewishGen, that organization is giving a course, "Using JewishGen," starting February 15. The course begins with an introduction to JewishGen, Jewish History and Naming Patterns, then moves into Geography and Jewish Communities. It continues, emphasizing JewishGen's search capabilities, the JewishGen Discussion Groups, making contacts with fellow researchers, understanding the All-Country Databases, Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and hosted projects.

Tuition is $80. You can register and/or see what other educational programs JewishGen offers at

Handbook of Ashkenazic Given Names and Their Variants
One of the fascinating aspects of Ashkenazic Jewish history is its given names. According to A Dictionary of Ashkenazic Given Names by Alexander Beider, all the thousands of these names derive from only 735 root names. I would never have thought that my mother’s Jewish name, Tserl, is a variant of Sarah.

The Dictionary is a 728-page tome that is the definitive work on the subject. One reason for its large size is that the first 300 pages are a detailed description of the origin and evolution of Ashkenazic given names. It was Dr. Beider’s doctoral thesis when he received his second doctorate from the Department of History at the Sorbonne. (His first doctorate was in applied mathematics from the Physio-Technical Institute of Moscow.)

Last year, AVOTAYNU editor Sallyann Amdur Sack-Pikus was struggling with the weight of the book and realized that only a portion of the book is necessary for genealogists to evaluate given names, so she suggested to Dr. Beider that a “handbook” be created as an alternative to his major work.

This is the origin of the book Handbook of Ashkenazic Given Names and Their Variants. The Handbook consists of the indexes to the identified 15,000 given names presented in three sections: names as they appeared in the Latin alphabet, Cyrillic alphabet and Hebrew alphabet. The body of the Handbook provides a description of each of the 735 root names plus a tree-like structure of all the name variants that shows exactly how they were derived from the root name.
The book Handbook of Ashkenazic Given Names and Their Variants is only $29.00 plus shipping, 232 pages and softcover. It can be ordered at As an example, the entry for the feminine given name Yentl can be found at

You can order A Dictionary of Ashkenazic Given Names at The site includes the expanded version of the entry for Yentl plus a complete list of the 15,000 given names in the dictionary.

Have You Visited Your Ancestral Country Recently?
If you have visited your ancestral country in the past two years, we would be very interested if you wrote an article for AVOTAYNU about the experience. In addition to the tourist aspect of the trip, be sure to write about your experiences regarding access to records in archives and registration offices, access to Jewish cemeteries and their status, presence of Jews in the towns visited including visits to synagogues (if applicable).

We are particularly interested in Belarus, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.  Othere countries have been covered in recent issues. Send the article to Sallyann Amdur Sack-Pikus at

Winter Issue of AVOTAYNU at the Printer
The Winter issue of AVOTAYNU is at the printer. You can read the Table of Contents (front cover) at The issue is extra large—72 pages—which is not unusual for the Winter issue because in addition to regular articles, there are a number of human interest stories of how genealogical research affected people’s lives.

If you are not a subscriber to the journal, you can become one at

To submit a Page of Testimony, go to Click the words “Submit Additional Names.”

Join the ranks of Yad Vashem’s worldwide network of volunteers working in one-on-one outreach efforts with Holocaust survivors and members of their generation to recover the names of Shoah victims before they are lost forever. For ideas and resources on how to launch a names recovery campaign in your area, visit Yad Vashem’s Community Outreach Guide for updated program information on the project in Israel and in Russian speaking Jewish communities around the world.

Yad Vashem has provided a 10-minute Pages of Testimony tutorial video at the site to learn how to help survivors and others from their generation to fill out Pages of Testimony. To volunteer for the project or for more information contact
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