Friday, June 27, 2014

Journals, Journals, Journals!

Reading genealogical journals is a wonderful way to learn more about history, techniques, records, and family stories, all of which can help you advance their research.  I really enjoy being the editor of three journals.  It gives me incredible opportunities to read fascinating stories, and I learn something from every submission.  But it does keep me busy!

I was a little behind schedule (again!; I have to stop getting sick), and the most recent issues of all three journals ended up being published in less than a month.  While I'm catching up on the intended publishing schedule, I realized I hadn't told everyone about the articles in these issues.  So now I'm caught up on that also!

The March 2014 issue of The Galitzianer actually went out in late May (oops!).  In addition to the outpouring of information in the research column, the issue also includes articles about efforts to preserve Jewish history in Bolechów, how Jewish refugees from Galicia ended up being stateless after World War I, how someone learned his mother's original given name and then visited the site of his uncle's former hat shop in L'viv, and some of the revelations learned during twenty years of research into a family.  (I am catching up on The Galitzianer, and the June issue should be out in July.)

The May 2014 issue of ZichronNote went out the first week of June (pretty close!).  The president's column took a strong stand on an issue affecting almost all Jewish genealogical societies.  Other articles discuss a World War II refugee camp created in upstate New York, the discovery of a long-lost relative still living in Israel (just in time, as it turned out), genealogy resources available at the Portuguese Fraternal Society of America, and a report from the SFBAJGS treasurer on how the society spent its money in 2013.  (The August ZichronNote should definitely be out on time.)

The Spring 2014 issue of The Baobab Tree just barely squeaked in on schedule (hooray!), because summer didn't officially start until June 21.  The lead article is a stunning example of using traditional genealogical research, oral history, and DNA to piece together a family history reaching back to the 17th century.  The rest of the issue includes articles about newly freed slaves in Indiana enrolling in Freedmen's Schools, a personal retrospective on Black History Month, and a mystery photo taken during the fire after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and the popular Genealogy 101 column's take on the federal census.  (I"m going to try to get the next Baobab out in July; keep your fingers crossed.)

The only bad thing about these great journals?  You have to become a member of each society to receive a subscription.  If these article descriptions have piqued your curiosity, visit Gesher Galicia (for The Galitzianer), the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society (for ZichronNote), and the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California (for The Baobab Tree) to join and get your copies today!

Friday, June 20, 2014

The IAJGS Conference is Coming Soon!

I announced previously when I learned that my talk "Bubbie, Who Are You?:  Finding the Maiden Names in Your Family Tree" was accepted for this year's International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies 2014 International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah from July 27–August 1.  The preliminary program has now been posted online, and while adjustments might be made between now and the conference, the bulk of the schedule is likely to remain the same.

There are plenty of interesting topics scheduled throughout the conference.  Some of the talks I am particularly looking forward to are "" (which has great information but I have found an awkward site to use), "Jewish Life in Bessarabia as It Is Reflected in Bessarabian Newspapers, 1850–1930" (one branch of my family lived in Bessarabia from about 1894–1927), and "Sticking to the Union:  Using Labor Union Documents for Genealogical Research" (my great-grandfather was a strong union member and supporter).  I know I will learn a lot this year, as usual!

I discovered that my presentation is scheduled for Friday, August 1, the last day of the conference.  The last day is only a half day.  Traditionally, this is the day with the lowest attendance, and many people plan their trips to depart Thursday night.

That doesn't make Friday a throw-away day, however.  Last year's conference showed that IAJGS is trying to schedule interesting talks for Friday in an effort to encourage more people to stay through the entire conference.  One of the most useful sessions I attended last year, Vivian Kahn and Rony Galan's quick-and-dirty Hebrew for family history researchers, was on Friday, and the room was packed.  I hope I draw that many people to my talk this year!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Oops, I've Stepped on Someone's Toes ....

Image courtesy of digitalart/
Or at least that's the best explanation I can come up with.  Dick Eastman posted an article on Sunday, June 15, titled "Forensic Genealogy Explained."  I disagreed with several points in the article and posted a comment — which didn't appear online.  I thought, "Hmm, maybe my comment didn't go through.  I'll try it again."  And the second comment . . . didn't appear.  Then I received five comments from other people on the post, so the problem does not appear to be that the comment function isn't working.  The majority of the other comments agreed with my points.  And I know my comments to other people's WordPress blogs haven't had any problems in the past.  So I guess he didn't like what I had to say or how I said it.  I wasn't trying to tick anyone off, I promise.  But I am tired of people using the term "forensic genealogy" in whatever manner they choose.  My first career (which I still practice) was as an editor, and I still appreciate accuracy and precision in speech and writing.

Well, luckily for me, I have my own blog, where I am free to post whatever I want.  So below is the comment that Mr. Eastman declined to include as a response to his item.


The word “forensic” does not precisely mean “relating to the use of science or technology in the investigation and establishment of facts or evidence”, because the rest of the definition has been truncated, deliberately or otherwise.  It actually means “relating to the use of science or technology in the investigation and establishment of facts or evidence in a court of law” [added emphasis mine], which is an important distinction.  Forensic intrinsically means having to do with legal matters, not simply relating to scientific endeavors.

Because the complete definition makes it clear that forensic means relating to legal matters, the term “forensic genealogy” is not being misused when it is applied to heir searches.  Heir searches are conducted to determine the legal heirs to an estate and allow the disposition of that estate.  The legal implications of that should be abundantly clear.

Colleen Fitzpatrick's book Forensic Genealogy does not relate to actual forensic genealogy.  It deals in scientific and analytical aspects of family history research.  Using DNA to determine if I am related to someone else is scientific, but if there are no legal implications associated with that identification, it is not a forensic matter.  Looking at the edges of photographs to see if they match up is an analytical exercise, but unless I am doing that in conjunction with a legal matter, it is not forensic.  Magnifying a photo to see the detail is again analytical, but if there are no legal ramifications, it is not forensic.

Arbitrarily changing the definition of a word to suit one's own purposes is a habit usually attributed to governments and propagandists, not historians, family or otherwise.


Disclaimer:  I am a member of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy, which is concerned with laying a strong foundation for genealogists to practice sound forensic genealogy.  This post is my own opinion.

My own take on the incorrect use of "forensic" is that it's being done to capitalize on the current popularity of the term, with no regard for accuracy.  But the latter is also strictly my own opinion.

Central Park, Philadelphia, Stolpersteine, Abandoned Photographs, and More

Seneca Village Map
In an early example of government exercising eminent domain, the 19th-century community of Seneca Village was destroyed and became part of Manhattan's Central Park.  Now, historians and researchers are searching for verifiable descendants of former residents of Seneca Village.  The 1855 New York State census showed 264 people living in the village, most of African descent but also including Irish and Germans.  Is it possible that absolutely no descendants of those 264 people are alive today?  An NPR article has more information about the community and contact information for the researchers who are looking for descendants.

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The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia is looking for authors for its next series of articles.  Topics available include key historical events, holiday traditions, civil rights, literary works, and transportation, among others.  The scope of the project includes the city of Philadelphia and the surrounding region of southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and northern Delaware.  The Encyclopedia has support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Prospective authors must have expertise in their chosen subjects, as demonstrated by previous publicitions and/or advanced training in historical research.  Authors can choose to volunteer or receive modest stipends.  All submissions will be peer-reviewed.  Deadlines will be set in consultation with authors; it is expected that most will range from the end of the summer to the end of 2014.  To express interest, send an e-mail describing your qualifications and specifying your topics of interest to Charlene Mires, the editor-in-chief; no attachments.  Graduate students should include the name and e-mail address of an academic reference.  The list of available topics is available online, as are writer guidelines.

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Stolpersteine are memorial stones placed for individual victims of the Nazis.  Sixty-five residents of Thomasiusstrasse in Moabit, Berlin, are working together to organize and pay for the cost of Stolpersteine to be laid for 102 identified victims who formerly lived on the street.  Family names from this street are Asch, Badasch, Bader, Bimbaum, Brenner, Caminer, Cohn, Ehrlich, Falkenstein, Giballe, Glass, Goldschmidt, Goldberg, Goldstein, Grunwald, Herrnberg, Herzog, Hirsch, Hoffmann, Holländer, Isaacsohn, Israelski, Jarotschinski, Karger, Kahn, Kaufmann, Klein, Koppel, Kroner, Levy, Leyde, Löw, Manasse, Marcus, Markus, Mendelsohn, Nordon, Neumann, Nussbaum, Rittler, Rosenthal, Rosenwasser, Rothkugel, Schragenheim, Schwabe, Seckelson, Silbermann, Sonnenwirth, Strauss, Voss, Weisstein, Wiener, and Zoegall.

Ceremonies to lay the Stolpersteine will take place on August 8, 2014, in October 2014, and in March 2015.  Judith Elam of Kihei, Hawaii, is working with the Thomasiusstrasse residents to find living relatives of the victims.  Many relatives contacted so far plan to attend the ceremony for the laying of their relative's Stolperstein.  Contact Judith at if your family name is on the list to learn if your relative lived on the street, or if you know your relative lived on the street and the family name does not appear above.

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The Polish Origins forum has begun a project to create a searchable database of the many names that appear in records that have been translated by the group.  Volunteers are needed to help with transcribing names for the database.  The project also accepts indices of other translated records.  For more information, including how to sign up as a volunteer, visit the forum page about the project.

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David Rafky of Miami, Florida, has found hundreds of family photos recovered from Sidney L. Binder's house after his death.  He believes they may have been taken during Binder's first marriage and knows that Binder had a daughter named Naome.  He is sure Binder's family would want the photos and is looking for contact information.  You can e-mail David at

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Barry Mill
Historic Barry Mill in Angus, Scotland, is looking for information on a former employee who scrawled his name on a wood beam in the mill.  The note says, “Stewart Kidd left August 1914, returned March 1918.”  And that's pretty much all they know.  The master miller was trying to find information about Mr. Kidd in time for the mill's 200th anniversary celebration, which has already passed, but better late than never!  An article in The Courier has more details and a contact e-mail address if you believe you can help.

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A petition on requests that the U.S. President enact an Executive Order to allow all adult adoptees access to their original birth records.  I realize this subject can be polarizing, and the mere act of my posting the link suggests which side of the debate I am on.

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Though it isn't directly related to genealogy, I'm helping publicize a good cause.  A new distributed computing project allows you to donate your computer power to help research Alzheimer's.  And Alzheimer's does have a genetic component, after all.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Father through the Years

Heavily weighted toward more recent years, but I was able to find photos with all three wives!  Happy Father's Day!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Loving Day

The judge who ruled against the Lovings when they were living as a married couple in Virginia in 1958 stated, "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay, and red, and he placed them on separate continents.  And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages.  The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

My not-quite-aunt Jean said, "We were married in 1968 [the year after the Loving decision by the Supreme Court].  We went to visit Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1968 without the fear that we could be put in jail for up to 25 years.  Resurrection City on the Mall was being dismantled and the smell of tear gas was hard to ignore."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Genealogy at "Antiques Roadshow"

I played hooky today.  I volunteered at the taping of Antiques Roadshow that took place at the Santa Clara County Convention Center in Santa Clara, California.  Instead of working on genealogy, I helped with production on the set, mostly by corraling lines of guests waiting for their appraisals.  I figured it was going to be a genealogy-free day.

But then I saw Ron and Pam Filion of SFGenealogy in the jewelry line and went over to say hello.  And a friend who used to be staff at the Oakland FamilySearch Library showed up in the collectibles line with her stepmother.  Then another woman in the collectibles line recognized me from a newspaper presentation I gave to the Santa Clara County Historical and Genealogical Society.  And a very sweet 91-year-old told me about her daughter, who used to be the director of the Santa Cruz FamilySearch Center.

On top of all that, David Gallagher of the Western Neighborhoods Project, with whom I worked on the committee that organized this year's San Francisco History Expo, was in the books and manuscripts line with a 1935 testimonial of some sort to "Uncle" Joe McLaren of the San Francisco Bohemian Club.  The oversize sheet was filled with signatures of people who wanted to say what a great guy Uncle Joe was.  The page had probably about 100 signatures.  What a fascinating resource to place those men in San Francisco in 1935!

Well, so much for my genealogy-free day!

I am a major Roadshow geek.  When I had time during my breaks I ran around and got autographs from almost all the appraisers.  I was sad that I wasn't able to get Kerry Shrives, because every time I went by she was busy doing appraisals.  And I didn't get Kevin Zavian, who kind of seemed to be in a grumpy mood anyway.  But I found out that Ted Trotta's mother's name is also Janice!

Volunteering to help at the Roadshow allows you to have two items appraised, the same as people who win tickets to attend.  I didn't do well with my jewelry items.  A brooch that my former boss sold me as early Victorian was appraised by Rhinestone Rosie as late Victorian and worth about only $50 (unfortunately, less than I paid for it).  A string of pearls the same boss had told me were cultured pearls from the 1920's Rosie and a second appraiser determined to be well made glass pearls with ground fish scales coating the outside to give a somewhat gritty texture, reminiscent of the texture of natural pearls.  She told me the sterling silver clasp was worth more than the pearls.  And this is the second time Rosie has told me my jewelry item was actually glass.  (I'm glad the pearls didn't cost me anything!)

I did much better with a gorgeous green silk cloak that was sold to me as having been worn by Maureen O'Hara in the movie Ten Gentlemen from West Point.  Two appraisers at the textiles table agreed that even without authentication of the provenance from the movie the cloak is worth what I paid for it (hooray!).  If I can find a still from the movie showing O'Hara in the cloak and get a certificate of authentication that the cloak was worn in the movie, however, the value goes to several thousand dollars.  I guess I gotta watch that movie sometime soon.  And O'Hara is still alive!  Maybe she remembers the cloak ....

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Skeletons in the Closet: A Criminal in the Family

This is the third in an occasional series of posts about subjects often not discussed when you ask family members for information.  A page listing other posts in the series is here.

Treason.  Robbery.  Bigamy.  Even murder.  Sometimes when we research family history we may be surprised to learn that family members committed crimes of various types.  What do you do with this type of information when you discover it?  Here are some examples I've come across in my own work and that of others, and what happened when the information was shared.

When I was researching a friend's family, I found the death certificate of a cousin.  The cause of death was listed as "shock, traumatic" due to "hemorrhage and concussion of brain" and "multiple injuries of head", with a finding of homicide.  That definitely caught my attention!  I did some quick additional searching and found two newspaper articles about the case, from which I learned that the woman's nephew was the person who had killed her.  This appeared to be quite a bombshell to lay on family members, but then I had another surprise — almost everyone already knew about it and talked about it quite matter-of-factly.  I'm sure that the fact that it had happened decades ago contributed to the calm discussions on the subject, but I was still surprised at how little the discussions seemed to bother anyone.

Twice I've uncovered bigamy without any warning, by finding that a second marriage occurred before the divorce for the first marriage.  What made these particularly interesting is that the research in each case was for an inheritance, and in both cases the person who was thought to be the heir was the unknowing spouse in the second, bigamous marriage.  Under these circumstances, the disappointment over losing out on a large estate might have overshadowed the shock of learning that the marriage was invalid.  Either way, I'm glad I wasn't the person who had to break the bad news.  The actual bigamists had passed away in both cases and apparently never paid any price for their crimes.  Of course, if you discover bigamy when the person is still alive, you're going to have a very different situation on your hands.

Once someone asked me for help in trying to determine which of two men was her friend's ancestor in the 1870 census:  the one in Ohio, or the one in jail in Pennsylvania.  I found a newspaper article (hooray for newspapers again!) that made it very clear that the man in Pennsylvania was the right individual — the town, the wife's name, and other details were absolutely correct.  But even though this had happened almost 150 years previously, all the friend's living relatives were mortified at the possibility and flatly denied that the man in jail was their ancestor.

An interesting story developed when a friend was researching his own family.  He had always been told that the family had had a very successful business that had failed during the Great Depression.  He discovered, however, that one of the family partners had embezzled money, before the Depression, and that's why the business failed.  He learned this through extensive use of court records, not available online.  The embezzlement apparently had also (understandably) caused a rift in the family at the time.  When he contacted cousins on the embezzler's side of the family, they were happy to hear from him and to learn what had actually happened.  The embezzlement had been covered up in their branch of the family also, and they had had no knowledge of it.

In my own family, I learned that the brother of my Revolutionary War patriot ancestor was not only a Loyalist, he did not go to Canada but stayed in the new United States and became a thief and poacher, and was eventually hung for treason.  Everyone in the family I have shared this information with has thought it interesting and even cool, but of course those events happened more than 200 years ago.

Just look at the range of crimes and reactions in this short list!  The most serious crime, murder, which was also the most recent, had the least reaction, because everyone already knew about it.  Information about the embezzlement was actually welcomed by the cousins, because it explained a lot that had been covered up over the years.  The relatively minor jail time from 150 years ago actually caused the most distress and was hotly denied.  And the story about my treasonous relative has been enjoyed by my siblings, not least because it makes us eligible for the International Black Sheep Society.

As with all skeletons, though, tread carefully and be discrete!  Generally speaking, the more recent the event, even if it's relatively minor, the more likely that people will be sensitive about the subject, because the events will have often occurred within living memory.  The more serious the crime, the more sensitive you should be.  And make sure your documentation stands up to scrutiny — you certainly don't want to risk upsetting everyone and not be able to back it up.