29 June 2007

We are all African: DNA

Dr. Spencer Wells is explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society and the director of the Genographic Project. His article in the July issue of Vanity Fair magazine is thought-provoking.

To learn about the Genographic Project, click here

Do you think you know who you are? Maybe Irish, Italian, Jewish, Chinese, or one of the dozens of other hyphenated Americans that make up the United States melting pot? Think deeper - beyond the past few hundred years. Back beyond genealogy, where everyone loses track of his or her ancestry - back in that dark, mysterious realm we call prehistory.

What if I told you every single person in America - every single person on earth - is African? With a small scrape of cells from the inside of anyone's cheek, the science of genetics can even prove it.
To read how it works, how each person has received DNA from their parents and so on for "millions of generations to the very beginning of life on earth," read Spencer Well's article in Vanity Fair here.

The end result: If you share a marker with someone, you share an ancestor with him or her at some point in the past: the person whose DNA first had the marker that defines your shared lineage. These markers can be traced to relatively specific times and places as humans moved across the globe. The farther back in time and the closer to Africa we get, the more markers we all share.

Take some time and read the entire article.

Syrian Jewry conference

I was sorry to have missed the late May Bar Ilan University conference - Syrian Jewry: History, Identity and Heritage. The event's extensive and interesting topic list was sponsored by the World Center for the Heritage of Aleppo Jewry and the Association of Jews from Damascus in Israel.

Topics included genealogy, architecture, history, literature, music, immigration, religion, women and others. More information is at the Dahan Center, dahan.center@mail.biu.ac.il.

The event included exhibits of inlaid metal implements from Damascus and Damascus-style metalware by Bezalel, a display of Judaic paintings; Syrian music and a film, The Man Who was not Afraid of Peace.

Presenters included Dr. Yaron Harel, Dr. Noam Stillman, Dr. Yom Tov Assis, Dr. Minna Rozen, Dr. Avraham David and others, as well as Sarina Roffe of Brooklyn, who focuses on Syrian genealogy.

Genealogical topics included the Farhi, Antebi, Elmaliah and Safra families, and even the Syrian-Jewish kitchen

History included the Jews of Damascus and Aleppo in the 17th century and more contemporary times, ties between Aleppo and London, the Brooklyn Diaspora, rescue of Syrian Jews, Jews under Assad, Syrian illegal immigration and aliyah, indigenous Arab Jews in 16th century Damascus, and Syrian Jews in Latin America.

Included were women Zionists in Damascus and the role of women in preserving community traditions.

Music covered a Damascus Cantor's notebook, musical tradition of Aleppo, Syrian cantors in Brooklyn.

The conference covered far-ranging subjects by outstanding researchers.

The Jews of Iran: A simple view

YnetNews posted a recent interview with non-Jewish Ramin Farahani, director of The Jews of Iran, which will be screened (along with 43 other films) at the 27th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy (July 15-20 in Salt Lake City).

Although the film should be seen as one portrayal of contemporary Jewish life in Iran, the interview - with a director who admittedly knew little about this ancient community and a reporter who understood less - was simplistic. It persists with stereotyping of certain cities and values (materialism and education) within the community.

Among reader comments was the question on why Persians use classical Persian names instead of "Jewish" names. At least Farahani answered that one correctly - with 2,700 years of life in Iran, its Jews are Persian and typical Persian names, taken from classic literature and used by all religions in the country, are a natural outgrowth of that long association and history.

Readers should not dismiss the fact that Farahani is not Jewish and that his governmental permit to make the film necessarily entailed restrictions and censorship. It must also be understood that the community in Iran does not feel confident in revealing what might be more correct answers to what Farahani attempted to show.

As someone who has lived in Iran and the U.S - within the community - I am dubious about the comments and motives of those who appeared in the film.

Farahani, according to the story, is soon returning to Iran, and his interview in Israel ahead of a recent screening of the film, may not have been the safest thing he has done, considering the current state of affairs.

The interview is here.

Who do Canadians think they are?

Our neighbors to the north will be getting their own version of the extremely popular British genealogy series, Who Do You Think You Are?

CBC offered a slate of fall shows that, according to an article in the Globe and Mail, was "less stuffy and more ebullient with a sexier slate of longer-running shows."

Among them:

CBC's documentary unit will air a 13-part genealogy series, Who Do You Think You Are?, in which well-known Canadians (Don Cherry, Chantal Kreviazuk, Shaun Majumder) set out to discover their family roots.

I wonder when a major U.S. broadcaster will do the same?

Back to the Mountains: The 13th Catskills Conference

Last summer, I returned to the Catskills - after more than three decades - for the 12th Catskills Institute Conference.

Our family had spent every summer at my grandparents' (Sid and Bertha Fink) bungalow colony in Kauneonga Lake, quite close to where Catskill Institute founder Phil Brown's family had their property.

It was also the first time I had stayed at a real Borscht Belt hotel. Phil, a Brown University sociology professor, presented at the 2006 International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in New York and was very well received by a roomful of appropriately nostalgic individuals.

This year's event runs August 24-26 at Kutsher's Country Club in Monticello.
Speakers will include Jim Landis and Barbara Autrey, “Alfred Landis – Postcard Artist Extraordinaire;” Andrew Jacobs and Charles Swietarski, “Four Seasons Lodge: A Bungalow Colony of Holocaust Survivors; ”Joe Dorinson and Henry Foner, "Sam Levenson – From Classroom to Stand-Up.” Others will be announced.

The documentary pre-release of “Four Seasons Lodge” is based on the property whose residents were Holocaust survivors, by producer/director of photography Albert Maysles, under direction of New York Times reporter Andrew Jacobs.

The new bus tour this year will focus on Ellenville and will be led by author/historian Irwin Richman, whose talents were recognized on last year's tour of another area.

There will be an opening night event with a slide show of Catskills history, accompanied by live music.

The Catskills Institute publishes the newsletter “In the Mountains,” runs a website, coordinates research activities, and maintains the largest Jewish Catskills archive in the world. Phil is always looking for new items, so if you've got a neat T-shirt from your day camp years, postcards, photographs or other items, do contact him.

The conference fee is $60; the bus tour is $25 additional. Registration forms are here. For hotel reservations, contact Kutsher's.

While there is no requirement to stay at the hotel, the experience is well worth it. Our table of very interesting people from New York, Hawaii and elsewhere produced non-stop fun. One couple had met at the hotel and returned every year. Our family had spent summers at the bungalow colony, so we never stayed at the hotels, and it was a brand-new experience for me.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend this year due to travel plans, but I encourage other readers to return to the mountains.

Cruise the Mountain roads of the Catskills Institute website, or email Phil, catskills@brown.edu

The Jews of Libya: A rare glimpse

Little-known communities hold special interest for genealogists interested in Jewish history.

The recent documentary, The Last Jews of Libya, is narrated by Isabella Rossellini and directed by Vivienne Roumani-Denn.

It traces the final decades of an ancient Sephardic community seen through the eyes of the Roumani family. By the end of WWII, about 36,000 Jews lived there - there are none today.

Based on memoirs of family matriarch Elise Roumani, it offers interviews in English, Hebrew, Italian, Arabic, as well as archival film and photographs.

The family is from Benghazi and the film traces them from Ottoman rule through Mussolini and Hitler to their immigration when faced with Arab nationalism.

To learn more, click here.

26 June 2007

Jewish Genealogy's main event begins July 15

If you're still sitting on the fence about attending the 27th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, July 15-20, in Salt Lake City, here are some things you won't want to miss.

According to event chairs Hal Bookbinder and Michael Brenner, time is running out for the special conference room rate of only $119 per night at the four-star Hilton, only a few blocks from the Family History Library. The rate, good for 1-4 people will expire Friday, June 29.

To view the full program and plan your activities, click here.

Along with sessions geared to every level and every interest, and unparalleled research opportunities at the Family History Library, conference registrants will be able enjoy a series of films in a dedicated theater on the conference floor, free access to subscription databases and detailed European maps, three evening receptions, a world-class photographic exhibit, a wide array of special interest group (SIG) programming and events, and many cultural and natural attractions that the Salt Lake City area has to offer.

The sessions will include the latest on the opening of the Arolsen archives, upcoming improvements at CIS (formerly INS) to allow faster access to genealogical records, the latest from JewishGen, the incomparable Stephen Morse on his ever growing collection of on-line tools, a full day of focused sessions on DNA and genetics, and more. For more on the program and to register, go
to the conference website.

I'm looking forward to greeting Tracing the Tribe's readers, so please say hello at the conference!

25 June 2007

Next stops: Seattle, WA; Vancouver, BC

Hello, readers.

I've been traveling up the West Coast, from Los Angeles to Los Altos to Monterey and north again to San Francisco to attend the American Jewish Press Association conference.

At the meeting of the JGS of San Francisco Bay, the fascinating topic was pre-1906 earthquake records. The JGS is involved in indexing many pertinent Jewish records.

In a week, I'll be in Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, B.C. to speak and visit with friends and family.

From 10 a.m.-noon Sunday, July 1, I'm speaking to a Sephardic/Mizrahi group in Seattle's Seward Park neighborhood for those whose families come from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Iran. It is part of a worldwide effort to preserve Sephardic and Mizrahi experiences and history.

For information on reservations and address, contact chair Albert Israel, jewishalbert@yahoo.com. For more information, click here.

I will be in Vancouver for a meeting jointly sponsored by the Jewish Genealogy Institute of British Columbia and the new Jewish Museum and Archives, at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Vancouver, 950 W. 41st Avenue, at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 8.

Back in Seattle on Monday, July 9, I'll speak at 7 p.m. at Mercer Island's Stroum Jewish Community Center, co-sponsored by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington State and the Jewish Education Council of the Seattle Jewish Federation, as part of their Summer University series.

For more information, click here, or email AdultEd@JewishInSeattle.org.

I'm looking forward to these opportunities to encourage everyone to begin preserving unique family histories.

In the next few days, I'll be posting a batch of new entries, so stay tuned!

With best wishes,


19 June 2007

Lithuania to return tycoon's family property

This story is from Regnum News Agency, a Russian federal news service covering Russia and neighboring countries.

Taurage, Lithuania (near the Kaliningrad region) is planning to return family property to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

The town archives note that the Jewish tycoon's ancestors (grandparents, parents and other relatives) lived there prior to WWII, although they were later exiled to Siberia. In Taurage, they owned "vast territories and an estate," according to the article.

The town had expected him to attend the town's 500th anniversary, set for June 22-24, and had even renovated the street in anticipation, but Abramovich sent his regrets due to a busy schedule. The town hopes he may visit next year.

Abramovich’s parents and relatives lived on Bazniciu Street. His father, Arkady Abramovich, lived in one house, while his Uncle Abram and Aunt Leiba lived in another.

17 June 2007

Russian Jews reconnect to history

From the New York Jewish Week, this story focuses on how Russian Jews are searching genealogy archives on their roots quest.

Severed from their own history - its joys and tragedies - growing numbers of retirement-age Russian Jews here are on a roots journey to uncover as much as they can about how Jews from the former Soviet Union lived and died.

And though they have come to the journey later than many American-born Jews, they are making up for lost time, fueled both by the Internet and a nagging feeling of incompleteness.

A group gathered at HIAS's New York offices to learn about Jewish agricultural collective managers and agronomists in Southern Ukraine. The collectives were liquidated during the Stalinist purges of 1937.

Mikhail Mitsel, a JDC archivist who immigrated from Kiev in 1998, wanted to share the story of the kolkhozi and keep alive the memory of the 70-year anniversary of the tragic event during which 1.7 million were arrested and 700,000 were killed.

The Seminar of Jewish Genealogy for Russian-Speaking Jews was founded four years ago by two people, Valery Bazarov, 65, and Dmitri Margulies, 83..

Bazarov, a former journalist from Odessa who emigrated in 1988, is HIAS director of Location and Family History Services. His family tree includes members in America, FSU, Argentina and Israel. His own family tree has members in the U.S., the FSU, Argentina and Israel.

Margulies, a journalist and teacher, made a Russian-language documentary with English subtitles, “Through Russia, Turbulent Times," centered on seven generations of his family during the 19th-20th centuries.

The group has grown from 20 to 80 members and meets monthly for lectures and to discuss members' research. Although many are retired, younger people also participate.

I have known Valery for a long time and have always been impressed with his knowledge and helpful assistance - he has contacted long-lost Talalay relatives for me in the FSU, and hee also speaks at every International Conference on Jewish Genealogy.

“As I realized the full of extent of what could be found in the HIAS archives, it dawned on me that ‘location services’ might not only involve helping someone to locate a relative who arrived in America, say, two years ago, but also to help people find the names of previously unknown relatives who arrived 75 or 100 years ago. Almost every American Jewish family had someone who stayed behind, and every FSU Jewish family spoke of someone who left for America never to be heard from again.”

Valery believes genealogy is “therapy for generational amnesia” for both Russian and American Jews, as research encourages people to get more involved in Jewish history and tradition. It also encourages intergenerational contact as children and grandchildren learn family history from parents and grandparents, and the younger generations can assist with technology.

Leonid Leitis, 75, and his wife Bella of Moscow immigrated in 1995. He recently published The Plisetskis Markovskys and Messerers: A Genealogy in English and Russian. At the 2006 International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, he discussed how Russian Jews were forced by politics to cut themselves off from their own family roots.

He voiced the same things I have heard from my own relatives in Mogilev, St. Petersburg, Moscow and Novosibirsk: Afraid to talk about ancestors and those who went to America, they destroyed letters with addresses and photographs, although some families hid some items.

For his part, Bazarov said that one of his primary missions in the years going forward will be to help close the considerable gap in understanding between Russian-speaking Jewish genealogists and their American-born counterparts. “Unfortunately, due to language and cultural differences, the two groups have often worked in isolation from each other, with each side seemingly reinventing the wheel,” he said.

Valery called me a few months ago to tell me his idea to strengthen communication and ties between Russian and North American Jewish genealogy communities with a summer 2008 congerence, possibly in Odessa.

What a good idea to enable North Americans to do research onsite with individuals who hold the same passion that we do. It is a win-win situation, bringing the two genealogical communities closer together and enabling future cooperation.

“Such a conference would mark the first time that Jews from America and the FSU participate together in a Jewish history and genealogy conference taking place in the Old Country, where both communities have their roots,” Bazarov said enthusiastically. “My dream is for our two communities to work together to uncover our common past, and, in the process, to build a sense of shared destiny for the future."

Los Angeles: Fusion weddings

From the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, a great story on fusion Jewish weddings, combining the cultural traditions of diverse groups.

Kirin and Babak might not seem like your ordinary Jewish couple. Kirin grew up Jewish in Anchorage, living the typical western American life. Babak was raised with the traditions of a large Persian Jewish family.

The pair met in Los Angeles, got engaged, and then threw a raucous Persian wedding with a twist from up North. While the food and the ceremony were Persian, the quilted chuppah sent down from the sisterhood at Kirin's Anchorage synagogue was purely Alaskan.

The blending of wedding traditions to create a fusion ceremony has become a contemporary norm in multicultural Southern California. This trend holds true for the Jewish community.

"Welcome to Los Angeles," said Rabbi Denise Eger of West Hollywood's Congregation Kol Ami. "Here there are Chinese, Japanese, black, brown, Hispanic all being raised as Jews. The face of Judaism is not what it was back East."

I particularly liked the fact that one Persian-Asian Jewish pair printed two sets of invitations with different starting times to make sure everyone showed up at once!

Cross-cultural weddings have been carried out throughout Jewish history, according to rabbis interviewed in the article who maintain that this fusion has strengthened us as a people.

Kirin said her parents are now overjoyed with the cross-cultural offerings of her marriage, from new recipes and customs to new genealogy.

"My parents always said marry someone Jewish, it will make your life easier, happier. It never occurred to them that I could find someone Jewish, yet culturally so different," she said.

Persian weddings are an amalgam of thousands of years of traditions, while Alaska's frozen chosen haven't yet reached the 100-year mark.

Italy: More on Jews in the south

Nardo Bonomi, who lives near Florence, Italy, is conducting groundbreaking work on the Jews of Italy. He spoke at the 2006 International Conference on Jewish Genealogy and answered many questions.

For more on Italian Jewish genealogy, see Nardo's Web site.

Although various archives hold documents, many of the towns that once had Jewish populations no longer have any Jewish community. Thus no one has really been interested in the records for these towns - except for Nardo, of course!

Nardo recommends a 1915 book by Nicola Ferorelli, Gli ebrei nell'Italia meridionale, reprinted 1966 by Arnaldo Forni Editore, Sala Bolognese pp. 283. The 283-page book lists places in Southern Italy (including Sardenia and Sicily) where Jews were resident in the 15th century.

The Web site of the Center for Calabrian and Sicilian Jewry offers much information for those looking for Italian Jewish roots.

"It has been estimated that prior to the Inquisition, at least forty
per cent of the combined population of Calabria and Sicily was Jewish. In fact, in dozens of small towns and villages throughout Calabria and Sicily, interesting remnants of Jewish life remain to this day. Historians have discovered indications of a thriving Jewish presence in the quartiere in major cities and the via giudecca in smaller towns and communities."

The Italian version of the page is better as it provides an interesting list of names with the numbers of people with each name.

According to this page, in 1492, there were Jews bearing names of cities and small towns, such as Ragusa, Siragusa/Siracusa, Ferra, Ferla, Catania, Messina, Monreale, Palermo, Trapani, Lentini, Sciacca, Enna as well as the cities of Milano, Pisa, Genova o Roma or the region, Calabria o Calabrese. Other names are of Hebrew origin: Isaia, Saja, Namias, Namia, or occupations: Orefice, Cremisi, Croccolo, Ferla, Ferula, Tinto, Sità, della Seta, Seta, Zaffarano, etc.

DNA: Ancestral tourism swabbing

One of my favorite DNA blogs is "Eye on DNA" by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei, who always has interesting takes on this subject, and great graphics.

A recent posting offered a new twist on adding samples to databases:

Sound the bagpipes! Scotland wants to distribute free DIY DNA kits as part of their efforts to drum up tourism. Dr. John Gow, director of the Centre for Forensic Investigation at Glasgow Caledonian University:

"It is our intention to have DNA swabbing kits in all the tourist information offices and hotel lobbies across the UK, so people can go and pick up a kit for a few pounds then post it off to us and we will do the DNA tests for them.

"We are also hoping that during Tartan Week in New York and at international highland gatherings, the genealogy companies will take along our test kits and distribute them.

"Participants would not only find out which clan they belong to, they will also be contributing to a DNA database of Scottish and Irish clan groups. VisitScotland believes that DNA testing will be a draw for ancestral tourists who might want to “walk in the footsteps of their ancestors.”

What a great idea!

Imagine how our Jewish DNA databases would increase if Israel would sign on to something like this?

Israel: Chaim Freedman, June 20

JFRA Israel's next meeting of the Petah Tikvah branch will be held at the home of author and genealogist Chaim Freedman at 8 p.m. on June 20.

He will speak on "Misleads in Family Trees."

Freedman has written books about the Vilna Gaon, edited Gorr's book "Jewish Personal Names," and has a hand in many genealogical research projects. He has also written many genealogical articles.

For reservations, location and more, click here.

Italy: Calabria's Jewish past and present

Italy's first woman rabbi conducted the first Jewish wedding and Bar Mitzvah in Calabria, Italy, since the Inquisition.

Calabria is in the country's deep south, at the foot of the boot.

Local Calabrian historian Professor Vincenzo Villella has been instrumental in documenting the area's Jewish presence since ancient times. Prior to the Jews’ expulsion from Spain and subsequent forced conversions, Jews made up nearly 50 percent of Calabria's total population.

In 2004, Rabbi Barbara Aiello, whose Jewish ancestors were once 'crypto' or secret Italian Jews during times when it was dangerous to be overtly Jewish, became the first woman and first Progressive rabbi in Italy, based in Lamezia Terme.

In 2007, with the help of a grant from the Vuolo-Bernstein Family Foundation (U.S.), Rabbi Aiello established the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria (IJCCC) along with the first operational synagogue since Inquisition times.

On May 5, 2007, Synagoga Ner Tamid del Sud (The Eternal Light of the South) hosted the first Jewish wedding to take place in Calabria since Torquemada reached into Sicily and Calabria, forcing Jews to convert or be killed.

Andrew Ewart and Lupe Torres were married under the chuppa in the ancient Nicastro fort overlooking the Timpone (the Jewish Quarter), which dates back to the 9th century.

In mid-June, the Waldman family of New York City arrived in Calabria to celebrate son Tyler's becoming a Bar Mitzvah. It is the first held at the synagogue, which will include Progressive Jewish families from Turin and Naples.

With the IJCCC, Synagoga Ner Tamid and a rabbi living and working locally, the Jews of the region have the opportunity to reconnect with roots and traditions that characterize them as among the oldest Jews in the Diaspora.

For more, click here.

IAJGS conference: Matchmaker, matchmaker

Genealogy Film Festival coordinator Pamela Weisberger has organized an excellent line-up of films for the second annual GFF at this year's 27th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Salt Lake City, July 15-20.

The newest addition to the list of movies is "Match and Marry." Filmmakers Susannah Warlick and Michael Schwartz will introduce the film and take Q&A after the screenings at 4:45-6 p.m. July 17 and 10:30-11.30 a.m. July 18, in the seminar theater.

Did you ever wonder about the romantic life of your ancestors in Eastern Europe and their approach to marriage? Undoubtedly, they had little say in choosing their life partner, as matchmaking was the norm in the villages or shtetls where they were born. This film offers a fresh look into this ancient tradition, as the arduous task of matchmaking, dating back a thousand years, is explored and integrated into modern times.

Director Suzannah Warlick examines the philosophy of marriage and the roles of men and women within Orthodox communities in the 21st century. Filmed in Brooklyn and Manhattan, this documentary features the tales, anecdotes, and unexpected surprises of matchmaking, dating, and marriage in these tightly-knit worlds. Although the focus is on Jewish culture, the messages are universal.

For all details on the conference, including registration, click here. Don't miss out on this year's event!

A Morse sighting in Copenhagen

JGS of Denmark president Elsebeth Paikin reported that all the genealogical societies in Denmark and Southern Sweden participated in Steve Morse's recent well-attended appearance in Copenhagen.

This kind of teamwork among genealogical groups highlights a good idea for smaller genealogical societies.

In the Northwest U.S. the Jewish genealogy societies cooperate in bringing in speakers. Denmark's model is slightly different in that the non-Jewish genealogical societies cooperated with the JGS of Denmark to bring in Steve Morse, whose contributions and achievements are applicable to all genealogists.

The JGS of Great Britain is hosting Steve at 2.15 p.m. Sunday, July 1. Tracing the Tribe's readers who wish to find out about tickets, location and more, should click here.

FAQ for the Bad Arolsen archives

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will be receiving the data of the International Tracing Service/Bad Arolsen archives, and it has just added a link to a special Frequently Asked Questions section. It will be regularly updated.

The FAQ offers background on what the archive contains, how the USHMM will make the information available to survivors and their families, and how the process will be organized.

For other questions not answered in the FAQ, contact Ellen Blalock, eblalock@ushmm.org. She is director of the Survivor Affairs/Speakers Bureau at the USHMM.

11 June 2007

Oregon: Languages of the Jews, June 13

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Willamette Valley Oregon, in Eugene,will host veteran researcher Richard Sapon-White on "The Languages of the Jews," at 7.30 p.m. Wednesday, July 13.

The announcement included news that a member is planning to make a batch of chocolate truffles to bring to the meeting. (NOTE: This may be the answer to declining attendance at gen society meetings. How many JGSs feature a vice president of chocolate truffles on their boards?)

For location, information and programs for the next few months, click here.

Southern California Genealogy Conference

The regional Southern California Genealogy Society's Jamboree offered an opportunity to meet many old friends, those whom I've only known as email signatures and some former students.

Roots Television was busy interviewing speakers and "genealogists in the street" about their experiences: the wildest thing done in the search for information, fortuitous events which provided major breakthroughs and other topics. Watch for the upcoming videos on the website. I listened in on some as Marcy Brown filmed; viewers are in for a treat when the interviews are posted.

It was a great pleasure to talk with Megan Smolyanek Smolyanek and meet her husband.

Each time I visited the vendor room, people were lined up to speak with Family Tree DNA's Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld. Bennett's talk on DNA in 2007 was very well attended.

I enjoyed meeting Colleen Fitzpatrick who speaks on forensic genealogy and works with photographs and DNA topics. Colleen makes it all sound so easy. If you have a chance to attend one of her programs, don't miss it.

Drew Smith of the Genealogy Guys podcasting team, was there as well, although George Morgan was ill and couldn't attend.

There were some new technology items as well, including GENIE.com, which will also be at the IAJGS conference. Take a look at their site.

It was wonderful to meet with former genealogy class students as well from both our past classes at MyFamily.com and the new GenClass.com venture. My genealogy cousin (Mogilev, Belarus) Hilary Henkin, former president of the JGS of Georgia, is now back in Los Angeles and we had a pleasant time reconnecting.

The technology corner featured access to major subscription databases, including Footnote.com. I found some excellent information in their holdings for my familes of interest.

Many vendors brought books of interest. This was candy for confirmed bibliophiles. The Hispanic Genealogy Society had interesting books for sale, and I wish I had brought along Felix the Cat's magic bag to take them all with me. I'm working on my wish list of items. I also told them about Pere Bonnin's book Sangre Judia, an item which their library should stock.

I'm working on my notes now and will post on several programs.

Compliments to SCGS's Paula Hinkel and her team for a well-run, interesting conference.

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07 June 2007

Israel: Trisher Wilson, June 13

The Jewish Family Research Association Israel (JFRA Israel) will host researcher Trisher Wilson at its next Ra'anana branch meeting at 7.30 p.m. Wednesday, June 13.

She will speak on "Reuniting families of Holocaust Survivors," including her successes in tracking down and reuniting family members 60 years after WWII, demonstrate her methods using the Internet, Yad Vashem and other sources.

Additionally, a film will be shown of two cousins recently reunited by Wilson.

JFRA members, NIS 5; others, NIS 20.

The group meets at Beit Fisher, 5 Klausner St., Ra'anana. For more information, click here.

Philadelphia: Historian and writer, June 11 and 12

The JGS of Greater Philadelphia will host Rabbi Lance Sussman, PhD, on "A Jewish historian looks at Jewish genealogy." The meeting is at 7.30 p.m. Monday, June 11, at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park. Sussman has been the congregation's rabbi since 2001.

Sussman's expertise is both congregational and academic. Ordained in 1980 at HUC-JIR, he also has a doctorate in Jewish history. Previously serving Temple Concord in Binghamton, NY, he was an associate professor of American Jewish History at SUNY Binghamton, and has also taught at Gratz College, HUC-JIR New York and Rutgers University.

Non-members: $2.

The JGSGP's Delaware County Main Line Affiliate will host Helaine Shoag Greenberg at 7.30 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, as she speaks on her book, "Voices from Vilna."

The creative, non-fiction memoir is told from the personal perspective of a first generation child, but speaks to those who had family in Europe 1930-40. It is based on letters found in her family home, describing life and events in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The group meets at Martins Run Life Care Community in Media, Pa.

More Galicia in SLC: Gesher Galicia SIG

Gesher Galicia SIG (special interest group) will meet at 3.30 p.m. Monday, July 16, at the IAJGS conference.

The program, according to research coordinator Pamela Weisberger, will include:

1.Updates on Gesher Galicia's research initiatives, including the cadastral map/homeowners lists acquisition project, Galician town and region research group work, research grant program and more.

2. Brian Lenius, author of The Genealogical Gazetteer of Galicia, will provide a short primer on conducting on-site research in the Lviv Historical Archives. Mark Halpern will discuss the new Lviv archive microfilms of vital records for Galician towns recently added to the LDS catalogue.

3. JewishGen yizkor book translation project update.

4. A documentary film presentation by Will Kahane: Rimalev, the Seventh House: Of the few thousand Jews who lived there before the war, only about 80 surviving Jews made their way back to Rimalev (Grzymalow) from all the surrounding areas in 1944. Kahane, born Velvel Yisroel, was the first and last Jewish child to be born there after WWII on September 7, 1945, following liberation by the Russians.

In 1996, he joined a group of Holocaust survivors on a trip to Skalat to dedicate a memorial on a mass grave site. He journeyed to his shtetl with a local Jewish guide, to find the house where he, his father and grandfather were born.

Built by his family generations ago, his goal was to see if the place still existed and to view it once more after leaving in December 1945 for a displaced persons camp in Germany at the age of three months. He also searched for the tiny village of Ostra Magilla, where his mother, her brother and several of the Skalat survivors were hidden during the war. Although small--only 10 houses--this village rescued many Jews.

Will continued on to Lvov and met, in a hotel restaurant, a black-robed monk who was a member of the Studite order of the Ukrainian Uniate Church, and knew the story of Kahane's great-uncle, Rabbi David Kahane, author of Lvov Ghetto Diary, who was rescued by Archbishop of Lvov Andrei Sheptytski who saved many other Jews during WWII. He led Will to the monastery where the rabbi was hidden for a time during the war. The massive walls and surprising human skeletons found inside of them hinted of an unfathomable world of mystery. Will is studying for his Masters in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Stockton College in New Jersey. He recently made two films: Auschwitz Memories and Lest We Forget.

A summary will be included in the The Galitzianer journal's summer edition, for those who cannot attend.

Have information to share with other Galician researchers? For more information, click here and here.

Brian Lenius at the IAJGS conference

If your roots are in Galicia, Austro-Hungary (Poland and today Ukraine), this is for you.

Brian Lenius will give two talks at the 27th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy: "Land Cadastral Records and Property Maps in the Austrian Empire" and "Jewish Registration Districts, ADs, JDs, and More: Using Historical Gazetteers to Understand Political Jurisdictions of Galicia."

Lenius' book, The Genealogical Gazetteer of Galicia (expanded data edition) for pre-WWI Austrian Crownland of Galizien (Galicia) will be available for purchase at the conference.

The 345-page book includes 14,000 place names and 22 maps and is based on 1896-1914 information including:

-6,300 communities and estates (Polish names), the Administrative and Judicial Districts, current country, Land Cadastral Community, Roman Catholic parish and diocese, Greek Catholic parish and eparchy, Evangelical Lutheran/Reformed parish, Mennonite circuit, and Jewish Registration District for each village, town, city, and estate.

-3,441 smaller places (hamlets, etc.) and alternate names.

-4,052 Ukrainian Place Names cross-referenced to Polish names of communities (villages, towns, and cities) and estates. Names are in transliterated Ukrainian and Cyrillic.

-List of German language place names including the official German names for larger towns and also the 18th-19th century German colonies.

-Map of Galicia's Administrative Districts..

-21 maps of Galicia.

-Sources for genealogical records including archive details, published articles and inventories.

If you will be at the conference, pre-order (before June 15) a copy at $40 and pick it up there. For more information, click here.

Maps on the menu in Salt Lake City

The resource room at the 27th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy will feature a great map display. And you can take home prints of the ones you need!

Generation Maps, an event vendor, will make it easy to do this.

Everyone wants maps of their ancestral towns and countries. Bring your digital camera, take a picture of the map in the resource room and Generation Maps will reproduce it in small, medium or large scale, for a fee.

The Resource Room will feature a great collection of maps on loan from the Family History Library. Among them: German Grossblatt series, Austrian Pre-WWI Military Map Series, and the Polish Series Mapa Polski from between the wars. Normally these are only available in microfilm, but the resource room will have the actual maps, which provide significantly detailed Eastern European coverage.

The room's computers will offer various map sites to search as well, and you can download them to a USB drive -- so don't forget to bring yours. You can also take your USB drive to Generation Maps' booth and they may be able to print from that as well.

For more information about Generation Maps, click here. For conference information, click here.

UK: Genealogy courses increasing

From The Guardian newspaper (UK), comes a story about the growing number of genealogy courses - some for credit, some not.

The current national obsession with genealogy has been fuelled by websites devoted to family history and the popularity of television programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? Colleges have responded, and genealogy and family history courses are booming.

Mandy Bennett, community learning coordinator with Dudley borough council, has seen an explosion in the number of family history courses. The council offers non-accredited courses for parents and children, designed to lead adults on to accredited courses at college.

"We take people off to the archives and archivists work with them, showing them how to look up information," says Bennett. "It's an excellent way to get disengaged learners using IT."

Tel Aviv: Yiddish Summer School

The second annual Yiddish Summer School at Tel Aviv University is the largest such program in the world - with more than 100 students enrolled. Program directors are Professors Hana Wirth-Nesher and Avraham Novershtern.

Many of the students are non-Jewish, and attendees come from as far away as Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, Poland and Germany.

The sessions include classes as well as Yiddish lectures, tours, theater, concerts, museums, films and cultural events.

The Jewish Museum in Warsaw is sponsoring three non-Jewish Polish university students who will interview Polish Holocaust survivors in Israel.

According to the Tel Aviv University site:

For someone like Gosha Koziel, a non-Jewish student from the University of Lodz, the study of Yiddish is bound to an interest in the Jewish people. "It's important for many Polish people to understand the culture of the Jews in Poland before the war," says Koziel, who attended the program last year. Meanwhile Alyse Nagele, a non-Jewish student from Lichtenstein, has an appreciation for the language itself. "I always felt very attracted to the Yiddish language," explains Nagele. "It's combination of High German, Polish, Russian and Hebrew is part of what makes Yiddish such a vibrant language.

For more, click here and here.

Ancient DNA in modern art

Many genetic genealogists are familiar with Oxford Professor Bryan Sykes' theory of the Seven Daughters of Eve, which says that, based on DNA studies, the majority of Europeans can trace their genetic lineage back to seven "clan mothers."

Ulla Plougmand-Turner, a Danish artist, has created portraits of the clan mothers using paint containing reconstructed ancient DNA.

Sykes met the artist when he was taking DNA samples from villagers, and he commissioned the exhibit, which is on display at Wolfson College, Oxford, through June 22.

Said Sykes in an interview in the Oxford Mail:

"I am not sure what the public will think as nothing like this has been done before. People will be able to buy prints of paintings and will get a free print if they want to get their DNA tested at the exhibition."

Prints of the paintings will be available at an art gallery whose owner is a former molecular biologist.

For articles about this art/science collaboration, click here, here or here.

Napoleon and the Grand Sanhedrin

GenAmi, a French Jewish genealogical society, offers an interesting article listing the participants in the Grand Sanhedrin, held in 1807. The page is in French and in English.

This Grand Sanhedrin was a Jewish high court convened by Napoleon I to answer questions submitted by the government. Its members included both rabbis and lay leaders.

For more information on the families of Sanhedrin members, researchers may wish to contact GenAmi, whose members have done considerable research about some of the individuals. The GenAmi page about the Sanhedrin includes detailed notes about the attendees (including geographical locations, wife's family, children and more.)

The Grand Sanhedrin was supposed to answer the issues raised by Napoleon and relate them to the future status of the Jews.

Among the conclusions listed in the group's report were:

-Polygamy is forbidden to Israelites;
-Divorce by Jewish law is valid only after previous decision of civil authorities;
-The religious act of marriage must be preceded by a civil contract;
-Marriages between Israelites and Christians are binding, although they can not be celebrated with religious forms;
-Every Israelite is religiously bound to consider non-Jewish fellow citizens as brothers, and to aid, protect, and love them as though they were co-religionists;
-The Israelite is required to consider the land of his birth or adoption as his fatherland, and shall love and defend it when called upon;
-Judaism does not forbid any kind of handicraft or occupation;
-It is commendable for Israelites to engage in agriculture, manual labor, and the arts, as their ancestors in Palestine were wont to do;
-Israelites are forbidden to exact usury from Jew or Christian.

The Grand Sanhedrin members listed by GenAmi were:

Joseph David SINZHEIM, Josue Sauveur, Benoit SEGRE, Abraham Vita de COLOGNA, Ventura FOA, Isaac Raphael FINZI, Elias SPIRE, Jacob MEYER, Moise SELIGMANN, Moise KANSTAD, Jacob OURY-LEVY, Wolf EGER, Isaac SAMUEL, Salomon DELVECCHIO, David Moise GUNZBURG(ER), Bonaventura MODENA, Seligmann LEVY, Jacob CRACOVIA, Michel SELIGMANN, Lazare Nephtali HIRSCH, Abraham ANDRADE, Moise ARON, Samuel Wolff LEVI, Judas BLOCH, Prosper Moise ARIANI, Aron WORMS, Baruch GOUGENHEIM, Jacquia TODROS, Jacob CALMANN, Nathan SALOMON, Lazare WOLF, Mardochee COHEN, Joseph/Jasse ROCCA MARTINO or ROQUEMARTINE, Samson LIEBERMANN, Moise MILLAUD, Mardochee ROCCA MARTINO, Bondi ZAMORANI, Abraham Isaac SAMUEL, Gracciadio NEPPI, Samuel LION, Emmanuel DEUTZ, Abraham MUSCAT, Elis Aro LULLIS, Jacob Israel CARMI, Jacob BRUNSCHWIG, Samuel Marx LEVI, Abraham MONTEL, Saul CREMIEUX, Aron LATIS, Benoit FANNO, Berr ISAAC-BERR, Abraham COHEN, Israel COHEN

Substitute rabbis included Mendel PRAGUE, Moise Hertz MOSBACH, Betsallel MILHAU.

Lay substitutes were J. Emmanuel OTTOLENGHI, Samuel GHEDILIA, Emilio VITA, J. DREYFOSS, Jeremie HIRSCH, Felix LEVI.

Scribes were Michel BERR, BLOTZ, Jonas VALLABREGUE.

Late arrivals included Carel ASSER, J. LITTWAK, H de H. LEMON, Salomon TREVES, HILDESHEIMER, Jacob LAZARD.

Genealogists on screen?

Gen blogger Randy Seaver's newest posting asks about genealogist characters in film.

One reader noted a recent Simpsons' episode that had Lisa doing a family tree homework assignment.

Seaver lists:

-James Bond (George Lazenby) in On Her Majesties Secret Service (1969) played a stuffy genealogist who was overwhelmed by the ladies in the villain's Swiss chalet.

-Strega in Amore (Italian, DVD in 2005). A romantic horror movie, in which a family hires a genealogist to help them assemble the late patriarch's papers. While there, the researcher falls in love with the daughter.

Seaver also points to an Ancestry article on movies and TV shows covering family history in some ways. Click here for some lists which, of course, include Yentl, Fiddler on the Roof and more general titles.

Of course, Tracing the Tribe could add Everything is Illuminated and others. Post your favorites for our own Jewish genealogy short list.

Long Island: Risa Neuwith, June 9

The Italian Genealogical Group will host Risa Neuwith, founder of Life Story Productions, as she uses years of experience in film, television and video production, to show you how to preserve and record your family stories and history.

The meeting will be at 10.30 a.m. Saturday, June 9, at the Bethpage Public Library. For more information, go to www.italiangen.org.

06 June 2007

On the road again!

I'm a bit jet-lagged after the trek from Tel Aviv to New York and then to Los Angeles, but that's to be expected. The beautiful weather in LA is helping to overcome the impact of traveling through many time zones.

I'll be at the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree this weekend, June 8-10 and will be the breakfast speaker on the special Writer's Day event on Sunday.

My talk, "Creating Hope," will center on how the work of so many individuals in regional and topical specialties helps to connect families separated by time and tragic historical events. While this part necessarily focuses on Jewish genealogy, the underlying subject is writing about genealogy for a general readership of non-genealogists to raise awareness of our passion to find out about our families' unique history. Such writing also informs a global audience as to how they can begin their quests down Discovery Road.

In Los Angeles, I'll be seeing friends and family. Next week, I'll be in the San Francisco area to see gen friends and attend the American Jewish Press Association conference. Then on to Seattle to see friends and family,. I'll be speaking in Vancouver BC on Sunday, July 8, at a joint event of the Jewish genealogical society and the Jewish Museum, and then back to Seattle for a talk to the Jewish Education Council on Monday, July 9.

Then it's off to Salt Lake City for the Federation of European Jewish Historical Societies conference, followed by the 27th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, where I hope to see many Tracing the Tribe readers.

I will be blogging from the Southern California event and the two Salt Lake City events, so stay tuned.