Thursday, January 31, 2013

What Passes for Scholarship

<rant mode on>

Tonight I went to a presentation at a local historical society.  I will not grace the speaker by publishing her name, as I was, shall we say . . . disappointed in the information presented.  If you really want to know, you can probably Google and find it.

The speaker began the talk as a theatrical presentation, having the attendees clap while she sang.  This is a common tactic used to have an audience become emotionally invested in what is about to happen.  It creates an atmosphere more conducive to believing what the speaker will say.

And then it got worse.  And I'm going to quote directly from the presenter.

The speaker said she had read the many words her subject had written and then "strung them together" for her presentations.

The subject of the speaker's "research" is documented as having told several different versions of many events in her life.  The speaker defended the way her subject changed her stories as "spin doctoring" of "her own conflicting accounts."  But the speaker has been able to determine the true facts from all these versions.

The subject told several different stories about when and where she was born.  Our erstwhile "researcher" decided that seven testimonials of people who knew her some 35 or so years later, in an entirely different state, proved one of the stories was the true one.

As the presenter began talking about her subject's life, she warned us right up front that she wouldn't "bore [us] with great details" about how she had proved a lot of her information.

The presenter talked about how the research subject was supposed to have been born in slavery in Georgia, then somehow (before the Civil War) beame indentured in Nantucket for nine years.  How did that happen?  Well, it's a "long, involved story" and she "[wouldn't] go into it now."

We were shown four lines of an 1850 census page that was supposed to prove that the subject was married to a particular man -- except that the subject wasn't one of the people on the four lines.

Now, as almost anyone who knows me will attest, I have a very low tolerance for BS.  At the end of a work day, that tolerance is even lower.  So at this point I was having trouble keeping quiet.  I decided to go out to the lobby and look at the book that the speaker had available for sale (self-published, of course).

Well, that was a mistake.

The text of the book has no references.  No footnotes.  No endnotes.  No citations.  Nothing to indicate where the information came from to document any of the assertions in the book.

The book does have a reference list.  It is constructed as a list of sources that were "consulted."  Seven of the sources were the speaker's own works.  About twenty of the sources were interviews with octogenarians.  While these types of interviews are wonderful to use as leads for real research, they are not usually accepted as stand-alone evidence by themselves.  Other sources listed were incredibly generic, such as "city directories", "census", "archival documents."

While I was looking through the book, the speaker was talking about how her subject had often said that she had worked with and learned from a very famous person.  So how did the speaker "prove" that this was true?  She interviewed the subject's granddaughter, who said it was true.  Oh, so it must be, right?

The speaker is said to have a Ph.D.  This is not the quality of research I am accustomed to seeing from someone who has earned a Ph.D.

<rant mode off>

Genealogists often have a bad reputation for shoddy or questionable research.  If you present, or even do, historical research of any kind, including genealogical research, please take the time to use established best practices in your work.  Document your facts.  Use citations.  Resolve conflicting stories with facts.  Make sure that anyone who reads your work knows where your information came from.  If you have theories or beliefs that you are not able to prove, label them as such.  And as my friend Carol said, don't forget that the devil is in the details and people will be looking for that devil.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

2013 Jewish Music Festival

It seems to be a festive time of year!  The San Francisco Bay area's 28th Jewish Music Festival is on the horizon, from March 2-12, 2013.  Concerts will be in Berkeley and San Francisco and are accessible by BART.  There is a convergence of interest this year with Jewish genealogy because the festival is focusing on Jewish music from Poland, from which most American Jews have ancestors.

The opening night of the festival will be on Saturday, March 2.  The program will begin at 7:00 p.m. with a slide show and talk by Ruth Ellen Gruber, the author of Virtually Jewish:  Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe.  The concert, following at 8:00 p.m., will be from Shofar (Polish-Jewish jazz) and Polesye (joint Polish-Israeli Yiddish CD project).

One of the highlights of this year's festival will be a performance on Thursday, March 7, by Theodore Bikel (known worldwide for portraying Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof) with Yiddish singer Shura Lipovsky and Bosnian accordion player Merima Ključo.  There will also be a world premiere on Saturday, March 9, in commemoration of the 70th anniversarity of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising>.

A brochure about the festival is available online. General and ticket information are at the Jewish Music Festival site.  The festival offers discounts to seniors, students, and groups of ten or more.  For more information about the group discount contact Outreach Coordinator Lauren Weiss at (510) 848-0237 x118.

Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Latest Updates to Wikipedia Newspaper Page

These latest additions to the Wikipedia portal page for online newspaper archives have been posted:

• India: portal to newspapers and journals (mostly free) relevant to Indian research
• Israel: two new newspapers on the National Library of Israel site
• Russia: Tikva, an Odessa Jewish newspaper; the Starosti archive, an interesting collection of transcribed articles from 1901–1913 from multiple papers; and Old Gazette, another site with transcribed articles, from at least 1926–2010
• Massachusetts: The Jewish Advocate archive now goes to 1905
• Missouri: The American Jewess, published 1895–1899
• USA Multistate:, the new site from, including a link to the list of newspapers on the site (which is unfortunately alphabetized by name of newspaper and not sortable any other way, and each entry has a huge graphic, making the page far too long)

What interesting articles have you found in your newspaper research?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

2013 Days of Remembrance

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum leads the Days of Remembrance, the annual U.S. national commemoration of the Holocaust.  The theme for this year's week of observance, which will be April 7-14, is "Never Again:  Heeding the Warning Signs."  This theme focuses on the events of 1938 and the response, or lack of response, to them.  Many countries and individuals did not react to the warning signs of what became the Holocaust, yet a few chose to act.

In 2013 the museum is also celebrating the 20th anniversary of its opening.  In honor of the anniversary, the museum invites everyone to join in remembering Holocaust victims by organizing or participating in a Days of Remembrance event.  The museum has a national map on its Web site showing events that are planned.  You can search for an event or add one to the map.

If you want to organize a remembrance event, you can request a free CD/DVD Planning Guide and Resources for Annual Holocaust Commemorations from the museum.   Fill out the request form as soon as possible, because the museum has a limited number of the guides.

While Jews were the primary focus of the Nazis, other groups, including homosexuals, Gypsies, Catholics, and political dissidents, were also targeted.  It is important to remember the events of the Holocaust so that they will never happen to any group again.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Dr. Andy Anderson to Speak at California Genealogical Society

The California Genealogical Society is celebrating its 115th anniversary this year with a special luncheon event.  Dr. Andy Anderson, an executive vice president and the chief historian for Wells Fargo Bank, will make a presentation on "The Healing Power of Genealogy."  He heads a division at Wells Fargo that researches family history for some of their clients, as described in a 2007 Wall Street Journal article.  He also wrote "How to Find Your Family History & Cultural Roots: An Online Guide", a nice little reference that is available online for free as a PDF.  I have met Dr. Anderson, but I have never heard him speak before, and this certainly sounds like an interesting topic.  I used my research skills to close a rift between my father and his youngest sister, so I know from personal experience that genealogy can heal.

The anniversary event will take place on Saturday, February 9, 2013, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  It will be held in Oakland's Preservation Park, a lovely area of the city not far from my home.  A ticket includes free parking, a social hour, used book sale, luncheon buffet, and Dr. Anderson's talk.  More details and registration information are available here.  Tell me if you're coming also!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Research on the Migration of Lithuanian Jews

Nathan Shapiro, a student at Hofstra University in New York, is writing an honors thesis about the migration of Lithuanian Jews during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  As part of his research, he wants to interview the descendants of Jews who emigrated from Lithuania during this time.  Ideally, he is looking to interview people who are one generation removed from the emigrant.  If you fit these criteria, or if you know someone who does, please contact Nathan at  His research is not focused on any specific destination, so he is looking for interviewees from anywhere in the world!

Wordless Wednesday

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Researcher Forum at National Archives at San Francisco, January 28, 2013

This sounds like such a great opportunity, but I can't go!  (Let's see, at 4:00 p.m. I should be arriving at the West Oakland BART station as I operate the train on my return trip to Dublin.  I think someone would notice if I weren't there.)  I would love to hear from anyone who does attend on how it goes.

The National Archives at San Francisco (which is really in San Bruno) will hold a public researcher forum with National Archives Research Services Executive Bill Mayer on Monday, January 28, from 4:00-5:30 p.m.  Mayer hopes to meet researchers and constituents of our local National Archives branch and to gather feedback.  He oversees fifteen facilities of the National Archives nationwide, but this is his first visit to the facility in San Bruno.  This is an opportunity to meet our representative on the National Archives management team and to share customer experiences (positive, negative, and to-be-improved-upon).  Read more about Mayer at

* * * * * * *

National Archives at San Francisco
Researcher Forum with Bill Mayer
Monday, January 28, 2013
4:00-5:30 p.m.
Leo J. Ryan Memorial Federal Building
1000 Commodore Drive, San Bruno, CA 94066
(within walking distance of the San Bruno BART station)

Researcher forums are designed to gather feedback from researchers who visit National Archives facilities on a regular basis.  Mayer will answer questions and discuss issues related to the National Archives as a whole as well as the San Francisco archive specifically.

While the forum is open to the public, the National Archives staff need to know if you plan to attend this free event.  Please RSVP by e-mailing if you're going and type "Researcher Forum" in the subject line of the message.

Photo identification is required to enter the building.

2013 East Bay International Jewish Film Festival

I just received a brochure for this year's East Bay International Jewish Film Festival, its 18th year, which runs March 9-17.  Films for the festival will be shown at three locations:  CineArts, 2314 Monument Boulevard, Pleasant Hill; Orinda Theatre, 4 Orinda Square, Orinda; and Vine Cinema, 1722 First Street, Livermore.  Several of the films being screened are relevant to Jewish family history research.

Playing at CineArts, the primary theater for the festival:  Numbered (2012), 11:50 a.m. on March 10, is a documentary about the numbers that were tattooed on prisoners, both Jewish and non-Jewish, in Auschwitz.  The First Fagin (2012), 10:30 a.m. on March 11, portrays the life of British convict Ikey Solomon (possibly the inspiration for the villain in Charles Dicken's Oliver Twist), including his transportation to an Australian penal colony.  The Flat (2011), 3:00 p.m. on March 12, was shown in Oakland and Berkeley this past November.  It is the story of a man discovering unexpected secrets about his grandparents when he cleans out their apartment after the death of his grandmother.  Disobedience:  The Sousa Mendes Story (2008), 10:30 a.m. on March 13, is about the Portuguese Consul General in Bordeaux, France, during World War II who issued visas, against his government's wishes, that allowed Jews to flee the country.  The Fire Within (2008), 12:30 p.m. on March 14, relates the story of Moroccan Jewish men who went to Peru in the 19th century for economic opportunity and who married local women.  Some of their descendants immigrated to Israel, while others have stayed in Peru to maintain the community.  Süskind (2012), 7:30 p.m. on March 14, a drama "inspired by" actual events, is about a man who organizes the deportation of Jews from Amsterdam until he learns what happens when they reach their destinations, at which point he decides to become a double agent.

One film to be shown at Theatre I in Orinda is of interest:  Besa: The Promise (2012), 11:00 a.m. on March 15, is a documentary about the rescue of Jews in Nazi-occupied Albania by local Muslims.

Tickets are available for individuals films or as a pass for the complete festival.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Great New (Mostly) Free Resource

JSTOR is an online database of articles from academic journals.  It is generally available only at major academic institutions and libraries, but it has started a new program called Register and Read (still in beta testing), an effort to allow access to JSTOR's materials to researchers not affiliated with subscribing institutions.

Register and Read includes approximately 1,200 journals from more than 700 publishers.  Content runs from the first volume through to "recent" (about three to five years ago, depending on the journal).  If you find an article of interest, you can add it to your online "shelf" and have it available for 14 days.  Some articles can be purchased and downloaded as PDF files.

Another way that JSTOR has made articles available is through its Early Journal Content database, which includes almost 500,000 articles from more than 200 journals.  This program begin in 2011.  These articles are totally free and were published before 1923 in the United States and before 1870 elsewhere (in other words, they are in the public domain).

Both Register and Read and Early Journal Content have a list of titles in the collection and a FAQ.

Searching for articles related to my genealogy research gave me such interesting results as "Arrival of alien steerage passengers at Havana, Cuba, during the week ended January 13, 1900", "Germany:  Report from Berlin, Cholera in Galicia", "A Posthumous Change of Name (Birkenthal not Bolechower)", and "On the Progress of the Population of Russia."

Patrons of the San Francisco Public Library are very lucky, because the library subscribes to the complete JSTOR database.  If you have an SFPL library card, you can access JSTOR from the comfort of your home.  And any California resident can go to the library and get a card.

So many articles, so little time ....

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

It's My Second Blogiversary!

How did that happen?  I blinked, and whoosh!, another year just flew by.  Today is the second anniversary for my blog!  (Yes, I know, the cake has only one candle, but I couldn't find a cake with two candles.  So there.)  I've actually managed to maintain about the same frequency as last year, posting on average almost every other day.  Who knew I had so much to say about genealogy?  And I have so much more that I want to say, but I somehow never have enough time to write everything I plan.  I'm going to work on that for this year.  In the meantime, I'm thrilled to have two years under my belt, and I appreciate the support from everyone who reads and comments on my blog.  Thank you!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Recent Updates to Online Newspaper Archives Page

I posted recently about the Wikipedia page for online newspaper archives, a portal with links to other sites with digitized newspapers, abstracts, and indices.  I just completed another round of updates and additions to the page:

• Israel: updated the list of digitized newspapers on the National Library of Israel site
• Missouri: updated the list of available newspapers on the State Historical Society of Missouri Digital Newspaper Project page
• Washington State: added newspapers on the University of Washington Library site, including four student newspapers and the Pacific Fisherman Journal (nope, not kidding, it's real!)
• General USA: added many links to ProQuest newspapers that allow purchase of individual articles.  Most ProQuest databases are for large institutions, but these newly added links allow consumers to access content from home.  Almost all of them are for more recent content, but that can also be helpful in family history research.  In addition, five new states were added to the U.S. list, plus Guam now has an entry.

And remember, since this is Wikipedia, if you find an online newspaper archive that is not listed, you also can contribute to this growing resource.  If you don't want to get involved with Wikipedia, send links to me and I will be happy to add them to the page.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Researching a Slave Forward in Time from a Bill of Sale

The McWhite family in the 1880 census
The PBS program History Detectives continues to have interesting segments related to family history.  The most recent episode included the story of Jeanie Hans, a woman from Wichita, Kansas, who was going through some of her grandfather's possessions and found an original 1829 bill of sale from Charleston, South Carolina for a 17-year-old slave girl named Willoby.  She was sold by Asa Brown to Stephen McWhite.  Hans contacted History Detectives because she wanted to know whether Willoby had survived to see emancipation.

The research on Willoby began with a visit to Nichole Green, director of the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston.  Green had found the will of McWhite, the buyer.  He died in 1831 and had bequeathed Willoby to his sister, Mary Daniels.

To research Mary Daniels and her husband James, Pagán went to the Marion County Archives and History Center.  There archivist Maxcy Foxworth and Cynthia Greenlee-Donnell, a doctoral student at Duke University, had found James Daniels' probate and other documents relating to Willoby.  They also found Willoby and her husband (under different spellings), using the last name McWhite, in the 1870 and 1880 censuses.  So she did live past emancipation!

For the final scene Pagán met with Hans on some property that had belonged to Willoby's husband.  Foxworth and Greenlee-Donnell had found a deed indicating that he had purchased 160 acres from another Daniels for $150.

I know they keep these segments compact, but I wish they had gone backward in time with their research also.  Maybe we would have learned if Willoby (or her husband) had had a family name previously.

The Web page for the segment includes a transcript and viewable (but not downloable) images of several of the documents shown.

Wordless Wednesday

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Free Informational Webinars from ProQuest

ProQuest, the company that presents HeritageQuest and many historical newspaper databases online, also offers informational Webinars on how to utilize HeritageQuest (HQ) and Ancestry Library Edition.  The Webinars are free (yay!) and are stored online for later viewing, also for free.

The current list of upcoming Webinars is available here.  The list includes HQ Freedman's Bank and Serial Set records (coming this Monday, January 7, so register soon!), HQ Books and Revolutionary War records, Ancestry U.S. records, and Ancestry Canadian records.  Some of the previously broadcast Webinars available are Ancestry U.K. and Ireland records; HQ Census, PERSI, and Serial Set records; and Ancestry 1940 census.  You even have the option to download the recorded Webinars to your computer and view them at your leisure.  They require a specific viewer, but even that is available for free.

Sounds like an all-around good deal to me!  I'll be watching the Freedman's Bank/Serial Set Webinar on Monday for sure, and I've signed up for a couple more after that.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Bringing More History into Jewish Family History Research

Ahuzat Bayit letter
c. 1909
The educational philosophy of the Jewish Women's Archive (JWA) includes the idea that historical documents such as photographs, letters, posters, and sermons can provide an entry point into any aspect of Jewish life.  It is easy to see how how this can apply to genealogy.  Primary sources can provide fresh perspectives and help show the historical context of our ancestors' lives.  Some historical sources are in English, which can make them more accessible.

JWA's Webinars are geared primarily toward teachers, and if you teach Jewish genealogy, you are a teacher!  But the information is often useful to researchers also, and the Webinars are open to everyone.  I find these Webinars to be interesting educational opportunities at a very reasonable price (free!).

The second Webinar in JWA's 2012-2013 series is "Historical Sources in Jewish Education."  Registration is free.  The Webinar is being offered at two times:  Tuesday, January 8, at 1:00 p.m. EST, and Wednesday, January 9, at 8:00 p.m. EST.  Register here.

The first Webinar in the 2012-2013 series was "Butchers, Babushkas, and Consumer Activism."  It was about the 1902 kosher meat boycott in New York City, which I had not heard of previously.  I was very surprised to learn that a bunch of immigrant Jewish housewives, many of whom did not speak English, organized a boycott.  A recording of the November 13 Webinar is available on the JWA Web site.