Sunday, July 20, 2014

What? A New Issue of "The Galitzianer" So Soon?

What's this, you say?  Another issue of The Galitzianer has gone to the printer already?  How could that be?  Could it be that Janice is catching up on her schedule again?

Yes!  I'm actually almost caught up!  The June 2014 issue of The G went to the printer last week and will be mailed this week.  That's pretty good when you consider that the March issue went out in June (one of these days I swear I'm going to be healthy again).

So I'm obviously excited that timeliness is re-entering my life.  This issue has some great articles, too.  Tony Kahane discusses upcoming legislation in Poland that will affect access to vital records.  The death record of a man in a specific house starts genealogist Israel Pickholtz on a search for how he might be connected to the family living there.  A woman contacted by a cousin via Facebook ended up taking a trip to Israel to meet cousins from a branch of the family that had been out of contact since World War II.  And we had permission to reprint a story by Robin Meltzer which publicly quashed, at least for a while, the age-old myth about names being changed at Ellis Island, this time in conjunction with the great Sid Caesar (may he rest in peace).

Members of Gesher Galicia receive The Galitzianer as a benefit of membership.  Gesher Galicia is a nonprofit organization focused on researching Jews and Jewish life in the former Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia.  Information on becoming a member is available here.

Articles for The Galitzianer are accepted from both members and nonmembers, and I love to read them all.  If you submit an article that is published, you will receive a copy of the issue with your article even if you are not a member.  Submissions may be articles and/or graphics, both original and previously published, and must be relevant to Galician Jewish genealogical research:  articles about recent trips to Galicia, reports on your own research, historical and recent pictures, etc.  Electronic submissions are preferred, though not required.  If you wish to submit material for consideration, please contact me at  I accept submissions year-round, but the deadline for the September 2014 issue is August 20.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Indexing (Transcribing, Really), British Maps, Scots, and Australians

Will you be participating in the FamilySearch Worldwide Indexing Project?  (Even though it's actually transcribing, not indexing, as any true indexer will be happy to explain to you.)

All of the searchable databases for the genealogy records available on are thanks to volunteers who transcribe information from digitized microfilm.  In 2012, FamilySearch had a 24-hour marathon session where 49,025 volunteers participated by transcribing or verifying records.  This year, on July 20 and 21, FamilySearch is trying to beat the record number of volunteers that was set in 2012.  They hope to have 50,000 people participate this time, which actually shouldn't be that difficult, since they were so close last time.

How about getting a bunch of people together and making a party of it?  That's what we're doing here in Oakland!  Several staff members from the Oakland FamilySearch Library are having an indexing party on Monday.  We're getting together for brunch and transcribing.  And we'll probably have lots of chocolate to munch on while we're working.

It's really easy to get started.  Everything you need to know is right here.  To be counted in the official total, all you need to do is submit one batch of records.  Of course, if you want to do more, no one's going to complain ....

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Similar to the New York Public Library appeal to crowdsourcing to identify details in 19th-century atlases that have been digitized and placed online, the British Library has uploaded more than 3,000 maps from 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century references to Flickr and is now asking volunteers to help identify locations on the maps.

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The Gordon Highlanders' Museum has photographs of unidentified Gordon Highlanders from World War I.  As an experiment, the museum has teamed up with ScotlandsPeople to see if they can find anyone who can identify the men in a small number of photos.

They have created a Web page that showcases six photographs of the 7th Battalion (the Deeside Battalion) of the Gordon Highlanders.  The photos depict the 7th Battalion in the UK:  in Scotland, leaving for Bedford in August 1914, or training there until May 1915.  None of them depicts the 7th Gordons in France.

If you think you can identify anyone in the photos, please send a message to the e-mail address listed on the Web page.

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A research project at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne is focused on Alfred Bergel (1902–1944), an artist and art teacher from Vienna.  He was one of the important figures in the cultural life of Terezín.  He was used by the Nazis to forge famous works of art.  He also worked as a painter and taught children and young people drawing, art history, and art appreciation.  He died in Auschwitz.  Today, his name and works are mostly forgotten.  If you have any information to contribute to this project, or want more information about it, please contact Mareike Montgomery at

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The Destination:  Australia Web site, a project of the Australian National Archives, wants to draw on the stories of the people and family members featured in the photographs showcased on the site to create an in-depth history of Australia’s postwar immigration.  They are looking for people to share immigration stories related to the more than 21,000 photographs from a promotional series taken by the Department of Immigration since 1945.  You can tag people you know, tag where they came from and went to, add descriptions and comments, and comment on others’ contributions.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Did the 1918 Flu Pandemic Affect Your Family?

The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed millions of people throughout the world.  In the United States, one of the groups hardest hit was servicemen drafted into the Army for World War I.  One member of my family probably caught the flu this way, and he passed it on to his sister and almost prevented my grandmother from being born.  At least, that's how the family story goes.

Velvel Brainin was the second-youngest brother of my great-grandmother Sarah.  He was born about 1892 in the Russian Empire, possibly in or near Kreuzburg (now Krustpils, Lativa).  He immigrated to the U.S. sometime between 1904 and 1910, most likely with his mother, Ruchel Dwore Jaffe Brainin (my great-great-grandmother), and the two youngest children, Pesche (later Bessie) and Benjamin (I still haven't found that ship manifest).  By 1910 the entire family was in the U.S., and everyone except brother David was living in New York City.  (David was in San Francisco, but that's another story.)

Velvel went by the name of William after his arrival here.  He registered for the draft on June 1, 1917 in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he was working as a tailor with his brother Max.  According to his draft registration card, he was of medium height and build and had dark brown hair and eyes.  Once when my grandmother and I were going through boxes of photographs, she identified one photo as "my Uncle Willie in his Army uniform", but that photo sadly seems to have disappeared.

"Willie" died in New York City on January 26, 1920.  The death certificate lists the cause of death as influenza.  Since he apparently did serve in the Army, either by being drafted or by enlisting, there is a good chance he caught the flu while at boot camp, as many soldiers did.

Most of the above information is pretty straightforward.  Now comes the family story.

My grandmother told me that while her mother (the aforementioned great-grandmother Sarah) was pregnant with my grandmother, she caught the flu from her brother Willie.  Sarah became seriously ill and had to go to the hospital.  Both her life and that of my grandmother were in danger.  She supposedly had a lung removed.  When my grandmother was born and they both proved to be healthy, my great-great-grandfather the rabbi went dancing in the streets in celebration.

One interesting element to the story is that my grandmother always said that her uncle died before she was born, which was in 1919, so I had not put much effort into looking for him in the 1920 census.  When I finally found the Brainin family in the census, however, William was there, still alive and kicking.

To make sure I actually had the right guy, I searched in the New York City death index and found a likely candidate, who had died shortly after the family was enumerated in the census.  When I obtained the death certificate, it showed he was the right person.

So with one part of my grandmother's story disproven, what about the rest?  Medical records are pretty taboo in this country, so it is unlikely I would be able to gain access to them, if they have even survived (I have been told that medical records need only be kept for 20 years; most are destroyed after that, and my great-grandmother died 50 years ago).  So much for verifying the lung removal.  There might be an obituary for William in a local paper, which might mention the family story, but it would probably be in Yiddish—which I don't read.

Willie was certainly enlisted, not an officer, so his service file was probably burned in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center, but I should try asking for it just in case.  I'm not a direct descendant, however, which will limit what I can receive.  But if I can find out what unit he was assigned to or where he went to boot camp, I can try to track down morning reports that might mention Willie becoming ill with the flu and when it happened.  Then I could at least verify that part of the story.

Willie said on his draft registration that he was a naturalized citizen.  I also should try to get a copy of his naturalization file.  He doesn't seem to have become a citizen in New York City (or at least his name doesn't show up in the Italian Genealogical Group index), so it's possible he was naturalized while stationed somewhere else with the Army.  That would be another possible way to learn his unit and then look for morning reports.

The great thing about family stories is that they give so much texture to what otherwise can easily be a dry list of names and dates.  But not everything in family stories is necessarily true; sometimes things are "misremembered" over time.  It's good to try to verify the accuracy of as many facts as possible, because knowing the accurate information can affect your future research.  Don't just dump the story, though.  Record it as the impetus that started you researching in that direction.  After all, if you hadn't heard the story, you might not have looked for that information, right?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Latest and Greatest in Newspaper Archive Links

I have learned about a lot of new newspaper links!  Even though it means there's always more work to do, I think it's great that more and more historical newspapers are showing up online.  I don't mind adding links to the Wikipedia online newspaper archives page when it means that much more information is easily available to researchers.

• Namibia:  New Era newspaper is online and has an archive going back about twenty years.  This is a pay site.
• United Kingdom:  The Isle of Wight County Press now has an archive of its entire historical run, from 1884–present.  This is a pay database.
• United Kingdom:   Someone has created a very cool index of online British newspapers sorted by county, and which collection you'll find each newspaper in.  He says where you'll find the subscription databases based on the UK, but you can also use the British Library 19th Century Newspapers database at FamilySearch Centers and Libraries through the FHL portal.
• Arkansas:  Two links have been added for Yell County obituaries.  One site has images.  The other has more obituaries but has transcriptions.  Both are free.
• California:  Almost the entire historic run of The Collegian, the student newspaper from the California State University at Fresno, has been digitized and is now online.  Only four years appear to be unavailable.
• Georgia:  The Signal, the student newspaper at Georgia State University, has been digitized in its entirety and is available free online at the university library Web site.
• Idaho (new state):  The Boise Public Library has a free online index for obituaries.  The page does not include information about the range of years, newspapers, or area covered, though it likely covers Boise and Ada County.
• Illinois:  The Geneseo (Henry County) Public Library has an online collection spanning 1856–1977 that includes more than a dozen newspapers.  And it's free!
• New Mexico (new state):  The Santa Fe New Mexican has an archive of several historical newspapers ranging in coverage from 1847–2013.  This is a pay database.  The newspapers are also available through
• North Carolina:  Duke University has digitized almost a complete collection of DukEngineer, the student publication of the Pratt School of Engineering.  It's available free online.
• South Carolina:  The York County Library has posted two databases, both free.  One is scans of newspaper clippings from the 1930's to 1970's.  The second is an index to news and obituaries from several local newspapers; the years covered range from 1823–2012, but there are several gaps.
• South Dakota:  The Rapid City Society for Genealogical Research has posted an obituary index in PDF format for the Rapid City Journal for 1968–2012.  The society will even e-mail you a copy of the obituary!
• Tennessee:  The Williamson County Public Library has an online index to obituaries from 1920 to the present.  Some of the index entries include transcriptions of the obituaries.  This is the first free link under Tennessee!
• Texas:  The Burnet County Genealogical Society has a free obituary index for 1876–1910.
• Texas:  The Fort Bend County Libraries have an obituary index that includes images of the obituaries for many of the entries dating from August 1, 2007 to the present.
• U.S. National:  Stars and Stripes is available in a pay database for the years 1942–1945 and 1948–1999.

 And remember, Wikipedia allows you to add links to the page also!  If you don't want to, send me new links that you find and I'll be happy to post them.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Down the Curiosity Rabbit Hole

Sometimes you run across something particularly fascinating, and even though it doesn't have anything to do with your research, it piques your curiosity enough that you have to follow up on it.  That's what happened to me at an exhibit at the California Historical Society.

The exhibit, which recently ended, was about Juana Briones, a resident of California who lived under the control of Spain, Mexico, and the United States.  In an era when women had few rights, she procured a separation from her abusive husband, ran a successful business, was a well known and respected healer and midwife, and defended her property against multiple attempts to take it, all while remaining illiterate.

While I found the story of Briones very interesting and learned quite a bit, the item in the exhibit that truly captured my attention was a reproduction of a painting of sixteen couples, each with a child.  Each group was identified with the race of the father, the mother, and the child.  It was a well defined list of racial classifications that reminded me of New Orleans, with its mulattoes, quadroons, octoroons, and more.  But this list was of successive combinations of different "races" and was amazingly detailed.  It was called a pintura de castas ("casta painting").

The California Historical Society has created an online exhibition with most of the information from the Briones exhibit.  After searching through several sections of the site, I found the pintura de castas and was able to look at it close-up.  These are the combinations it shows:

Español con India = Mestizo
Mestizo con Española = Castizo
Castizo con Española = Español
Español con Mora = Mulato
Mulato con Española = Morisco
Morisco con Española = Chino
Chino con India = Salta atras
Salta atras con Mulata = Lobo
Lobo con China = Gibaro
Gibaro con Mulata = Albarazado
Albarazado con Negra = Canbujo
Canbujo con India = Sanbaigo
Sanbaigo con Loba = Calpamulato
Calpamulato con Canbuja = Tente en el Aire
Tente en el Aire con Mulata = Noteentiendo (No te entiendo)
Noteentiendo con India = Tornaatraz (Torna atras)

When I translated the Spanish, some of it didn't exactly make sense.  How do you get a Moor from a mulatto and a Spaniard?  How do a Moor and a Spaniard produce a Chinese child?  And if the intention was merely to describe the child's complexion, what does it mean to have a Chinese and an Indian "jump back?"  And how do a "jump back" and a mulatto have a wolf?

So then I decided to Google some of the terms from the combinations.  I discovered that Wikipedia has a page explaining castas, which were an attempt by the colonizing Spanish to classify mixed-race people in the Americas.  (The page even shows the same painting from the exhibit.)  It mentions that some of the terms used were a little "fanciful."  It also explains that chino was not Chinese but came from the word cochino, "pig."  (Of course, that now means that a Moor and a Spaniard produce a pig for a child, but remember the word "fanciful.")

So I ended up learning quite a bit by attending the exhibit and then following the trail of that painting.  And a fascinating journey it was.