My news

I have been quiet for the last several weeks making adjustments and shifting gears.  I am very proud to announce that I have joined the team at AncestryProGenealogists as a Senior Research Manager.  Although my bio and photo are not yet on the website, you can reach me there, or continue to reach me at RelativaTree.

I am really excited to be working with such a great team of researchers and to have so many additional resources available to me.  I continue to work with all types of research problems/questions/challenges in the United States and overseas and my specialty will continue to be Jewish research.

Speaking of Jewish research, the IAJGS annual conference will be held August 7-12, 2016 in  Seattle and I am the Lead Co-Chair.  If you’ve never been to Seattle, now is a great time to make plans to visit and see all the resources for genealogical research.  If you have been to Seattle before, now would be a great time to visit it again – there have been lots of new genealogical resources since your last visit!

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Genealogy conferences are very different from other conferences.  At other conferences, most based on affinity groups, the common interest, professional or hobbies is what brings people together.  Although that common interest is certainly an attraction at genealogy conferences, the connections between people literally go deeper.

Yesterday, at the IAJGS conference in Jerusalem, amidst all the wonderful discussions about methodologies, techniques, tools and resources, there was another thread that was consistent.

This other conversation was about familial connections and finding relatives among the conference attendees.  Sure, at other conferences there might be conversations among attendees seeing who knows whom in the city in which you live.  This though is very different.  The conversation is extremely personal – it generally begins with the question “where is your family from” and progresses very quickly to comparing surnames to see if there is a family connection in that town.

Some attendees come to the conference knowing that there is going to be someone in attendance with whom you have already established a familial connection, but who you may never have met before.  At one earlier IAJGS conference in France, I finally met a cousin with whom I had been corresponding for years, without ever meeting in the U.S.  At the IAJGS conference in Boston a year later, I was able to meet two other cousins.

There is a strange tie between people with whom you share a common ancestor.  Having a place, the conference, where the chance of meeting a previously unidentified relative or one with whom you have been in contact but never met, gives the conference an undercurrent of excitement.

I feel very privileged to be the next IAJGS conference lead co-chair.  That conference will be in Seattle, Washington August 7-12, 2016.  Hope to see you there.

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Review and Refresh

Presentations at IAJGS are wonderful.  Today, I went to 3 sessions all of which looked at records that I am very familiar with.

So why, you might ask did I do that?  The presenters in each case were all experts in the types of records they were discussing.  As in so much else in life, reviewing things with which you are already familiar serves a purpose – it gives you a fresh perspective.  For the most part, today’s discussions focused on vital records.  And no, a birth record is not a birth record.

In other words, all birth records are not the same.  In different years and in different places birth records look different.  I spend a fair amount of time in the New York City Municipal Archives, and even New York City birth records have changed through time.  Eastern Europe has changed borders many, many times.  The area we call Ukraine today not too long ago had much different borders and those borders were not stable for extended periods of time.  Different political entities had different rules about the data on birth records.

What did today’s discussions give me a fresh perspective on?  They reminded me that I need to really examine the comments section on the records (and not just birth but other vital records) and get those comments translated, not just rely on my own understanding.  They also reminded me to look closely at the birth places of the parents of the new born.

Some of the comments can open the door to new areas of research, and that information, along with the birth places of the parents can often give us the tip of the iceberg in what might become a very interesting family story.

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Exploring Archives and Local Resources

I am very excited to be off to the IAJGS conference in Jerusalem.  One of the wonderful things about genealogy conferences is getting to explore local archives and resources.  Although many archival resources are on-line today, there is no substitute for walking into an archive and having the archivist take you on a tour through the facility, describe what kinds of data are maintained there, how new data is acquired and how you, as a researcher can access the acquisitions.

In just a few days I’ll be meeting with the director of the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP).  I have done long-distance research and correspondence with the CAHJP for several years and have met the director in person, but not on the premises of the CAHJP before.  I do know that the holdings there are quite extensive and much is still not digitized.

The first time I was able to look at archival material in an archive outside of the United States was about 20 years ago.  At the time I was researching someone who had died in the Holocaust, and had virtually no documentation about him, only some family stories that Norbert Silberman, my grandfather’s brother, had died in Mauthausen Concentration Camp.

The archive in which I spent a day researching was at Yad Vashem.  That day, I struggled with microfiche after microfiche, looking at the names of survivors and at those who had been murdered.  These were Red Cross records and records from the camps.  When I finally found the record of his interment and death I was overwhelmed by emotion.  Reading a transcription would just not have been the same.1761722_0_1

Other documents that I have found in archives since that long ago trip to Yad Vashem have certainly not been as dramatic but the experience of being in an archive is always amazing.

Sometimes, as was the case in Ukraine, the materials are neither digitized nor on microfilm – instead, you handle the original documents, some of them hundreds of years old.  When researching those archives, I was very taken by the paper, some of which was handmade, the handwriting on documents, and the thrill of handling the originals.

A trip to an archive is always an experience that has the potential to open up doors.

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Names are NOT generally unique!

Sure we are all unique individuals.  Even identical twins are unique individuals.  So why would we think someone’s name we are researching is going to be a unique experience?

The best way to illustrate or explain what I mean is by describing an experience dealing with two people on my family tree.  The combination of the two names is probably a unique combination (but maybe not) but what they did with their names is certainly not unique.

Esther Leah Millontzik married Samuel Czidovetsky.  When they came to the United States they changed their surname to Goldberg and they became Esther and Samuel Goldberg.  Someone I do not know had an Esther and Samuel Goldberg in their family tree and decided that their Esther and Samuel were the same as mine.  He sent me an inquiry and asked if he could join my tree so he could see all the rest of the information I had and incorporate my data into his.  By way of proof he sent me his Samuel and Esther’s parents names.

My Samuel’s parents were Harry and Hannah (Chaim and Chana) and Esther’s parents were Harris and Rose (Tzvi Hersh and Ruchel).  The names this other person sent me did not match at all.  I was sure of the names I had – my mother knew Harris and Rose and a cousin knew Chaim and Chana.  Not knew through stories, but knew as in had met and spent time with these people.

My email back to the inquirer said that I didn’t think that his Samuel and Esther Goldberg were a match to mine.  I commented that mine had left Europe under the surname Czidovetsky and changed their name in the US and I also gave him the names of their children.  He responded that I had to be wrong about the surname change and the names of Esther’s and Samuel’s parents AND that I must have their children’s names wrong.

A long conversation ensued at the end of which the person admitted that he was not looking at the same person.

The moral of the story?  When you are trying to match people, look at more data than their names.  Look at dates for birth and death, places they lived, names of their children, reconcile differences in the things you think you know with the new data.  AND, most importantly, don’t be afraid of admitting you are not looking at the right records, and move on.  DO NOT try to force a match by insisting it must be right because the names are.  Any idea just how many Samuel Goldbergs are in the United States?

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The Importance of Using Tools

I know I’m fortunate in that I have access to lots of databases through subscriptions, databases that I’ve purchased or for which I’ve made contributions to obtain,  and also because of a lot of volunteer work which I do.  I just wanted to get that out of the way.

One of the databases I have from a European city, came with an index.  That’s right, someone made a handwritten index of all the vital records over a 75 year period listing the page and record number for births, marriages and deaths.  I have pored over that index countless time, finding lots of birth, marriage and death records, which included the deaths of my great-great-grandparents, and my great-grandfather; and the births of my grandfather and many of his siblings.

A lot of these records have now been translated, transcribed and indexed and are searchable through the JewishGen databases.  On the heels of the excitement of finding my great-grandmother’s sister in Montreal, I decided to give the digitized index, which for this city is pretty new, a look.

Amazing stuff.  The original index is organized by the name of the person who was born, married, divorced or died.  It is not indexed or cross-referenced by any other names which might appear in a record.  Major reason to consult on-line resources IN ADDITION TO, definitely not instead of, original documents.

Today I found some pretty interesting stuff.  One of my great-grandmothers’ sisters was divorced after the birth of her first child, remarried and had 3 more children.  Her ex-husband also remarried and had several children with his new wife.  Then, in May 1891, he left Europe for Montreal.  I don’t know if he returned, or if he stayed in Canada.  Still researching that.  That’s of interest because I now know that another sister of my great-grandmother’s went to Montreal.

All of this caused me, once again, to go back and examine documents I haven’t reviewed in a long time.  In 1956, one of my great-grandmother’s nephews in Israel wrote to my grandparents in New York, referring to his two children who were still in Romania!

Obviously, there is more work to be done!

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The last place…

It’s true that not only is the last place you look the place that will uncover the lost item or reveal the information, but it’s often really the last possible place to look.  It’s also a truism that the shoemaker’s children are often the last to have shoes made.

Last week, finally, I had the last few of the cache of letters I have had lying around translated.  The 6 letters that had not been translated were in Yiddish and a combination of Yiddish and German.  The first 4 letters in Yiddish, from my great-grandparents in Romania, were mostly letters complaining of ill health, loneliness since most of their children had left for America years earlier, and neglect by those children as evidenced by sufficient money not being sent home to keep the parents comfortable.

The last two letters were the German one and a Yiddish letter.  What made these different was that they were written after the death of my great-grandfather.  The Yiddish letter, written shortly after his 1926 death, was from my great-grandmother, with some of the same earlier complaints, but now, added to this was concern (and complaints) about waiting for a ticket to join her children in America.

The German letter, a year later, was from Montreal, and identified the writer as one of my great-grandmother’s sisters.  A sister I didn’t know she had.  In this letter, the sister was adding her voice to the anguish my great-grandmother had expressed and asking why, after so long, was she still in Europe!

These letters answered a question of why it took 2 years after the death of her husband for my great-grandmother to leave Europe for the US.  It also answered the question of who the person in Montreal was.  Thirty years ago, my grandfather asked me to find out what happened to the writer of that letter, who he identified only as someone who was important to his mother.  It turned out that the woman in Montreal died less than a year after her sister arrived in the US – I don’t think they ever saw each other.  The sister in Montreal had left Europe 25 years earlier.

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