19 August 2008

Chicago 2008: Logan Kleinwaks

The hotel's fifth floor lobby is a busy place - registration, seating areas, organization tables, vendor room. Many old friends and new readers of Tracing the Tribe pass through this area so it is a great place to meet.

Logan Kleinwaks, one of Jewish genealogy's young stars (I don't think he's 30 yet!), and I sat and talked about his newly updated Genealogy Indexer site. Logan specializes in OCR technology - optical character recognition - and its application to many kinds of documents.

He creates fully searchable, soundexed (Daitch-Mokotoff system now, with other formats to be added), full text databases from various printed sources, such as historical city directories, yizkor books (memorial books of communities) and more, including page images.

He launched the beta version of the site only a day or two ago for this conference. The current bare-bones interface will be improved quickly, but a single searchbox makes it all as easy as possible. He wanted conference attendees to see what is contained in this resources.

Logan is adding yizkor books using images from the New York Public Library website, and has added some 10% already. "If I wasn't at the conference," he said, "I'd be able to add about 10 books a day."
Currently, some 70,000 pages are included; when all the yizkor books are included, the total will be a quarter-million pages.

What this means for researchers as that a search, for example, for a specific name or town or both, will produce results containing the highlighted name, the volume it was found in, the page numbers, etc.
Many yizkor books are not indexed; some are 600 pages long, and few are written in English, with most in Hebrew and Yiddish. He has a virtual keyboard where the Hebrew, Yiddish, Cyrillic and other symbols are available, so searches can also be made in those languages for even more results.

Among the available lists are Polish Army Officer lists of the 1920s-30s, including many Jewish officers.

Although I searched for Talalay, none were found ... yet; for my Fink line, it was nice to see initials so results could be sorted. Searching for my grandfather's shtetl of Suchastow, there were a number of hits to be examined later. Logan's search for a family and place - bornfeld rohatyn - produced results where both search terms came up in the hits.

Other parameters can be any phrase (in quotes), including addresses. For example, a researcher might have an address from an old letter or passenger index (for family left in Europe). Type in the address and see what else pops up at that address (a business, other families, etc.)

Currently listed: General Polish resources (including 19th century), Galicia, Romania (Bucharest phone directories), as well as a 1913 general trade directory for South America.

For researchers of Sephardic families, the site offers some interesting and rare resources: The 1894 Commercial Director for Jews in England, includes many Sephardic names; Library of Congress digitized Bulgarian directories; and notary records from Amsterdam for traders and merchants in Danzig - many of whom were Sephardic.

One of the first searchable directories Logan completed was a 1924 or 1925 Bulgarian one, others include the 1917, 1919, large 1945 and 1947 (only for Sofia); languages, depending on date include German or Cyrillic. A Bulgarian diplomat was visiting the Library of Congress and was shown the collection. He found family references and became so excited that he called his staff to cancel all his appointments back at the office.

Eventually, Logan plans to be able to offer geographical distances: For example, hits within a certain distance of a specific town.

What sort of of materials can be successfully added to the site? Any printed text or images is fine for this process. Says Logan, "Private collectors of directories have contacted me for ways to get them scanned and working some institutions."

He is actively looking for material on his own and says that any images, printed text, large documents - as long as the permissions (for copyright) have been secured. And if anyone has hard copies of rare material they want to see online with the searchable ability, contact him at loganATgenealogyindexerDOTorg..

Also stopping by was opening keynote speaker E. Randol Schoenberg. His connection with Logan - besides the fact they both went to Princeton University - was that Schoenberg's grandfather had a suit made in 1940 by Logan's great-grandfather in New York, and found in the Schoenberg archives:
1 black double-breasted suit as tried in New York and  I want to see samples.  Send samples of fabric by airmail.
More detail is added; he wrote the letter on December 8 and wanted the suit by Christmas!

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