27 July 2015

Razing Arizona*: AZ State Library to shed it 20,000-volume genealogy collection

Rhys Asplundh on Flikr
Arizona genealogists are being left in the lurch. 

First came the slowly developing story that the Mesa FamilySearch Library, initially closed for renovations that were to take about 6 weeks (from November 2014-January 2015), will not reopen until... well...no one is really saying, but I'm holding out for as early as 2016.**

Now comes additional unwelcome news that the Arizona State Library will move its 20,000 volume genealogy collection to the Arizona State Archives. The following statement was sent last Friday by the State Library's Digital Content Director to the Family History Society of Arizona:

The Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records is preparing to announce that the Polly Rosenbaum Archives and History Building will house the genealogy research center. Researchers will now have access to a rich portfolio of resources, including unique Arizona materials, online genealogical sources and expert staff for support. The former location of state genealogy resources at the State Library of Arizona, located in the Historic Capitol Building, will close to the public on July 31.
A few obvious questions. 

First: what the heck does this mean?!? This message is a little bit shy on the whys and wherefores. Does this mean that all of the more than 20,000 books, vertical file materials, periodicals, microfilm/microfiche materials and other physical items will be moved to the Archives? If so, how will the Archives, which does not have much space and does not have open stacks, plan to guarantee continued open access? If the State Library does not plan to transfer all the material currently housed at the State Library, what will happen to it?

Since the message sent to the FHSA was penned by the State Library's Digital Content Director, there is a concern that the State Library may be operating under the mistaken belief that everything necessary to do genealogy is online: books are no longer important.

Second, we in Arizona already thought we had access to "a rich portfolio of resources..." so, why the move? How will the research opportunity and experience be improved?

During the last year or so, in addition to my role as chair of the Phoenix Jewish Genealogy Group, I have become involved in the Family History Society of Arizona (FHSA). Each meeting at the chapter I attend, money is collected for the FHSA book fund. In consultation with the State Library, the FHSA uses this money to purchase books to donate to the AZ State Library Collection. According the the FHSA website, the book fund has provided over $10,000 in books to the Arizona State Library genealogy collection. Here is a list of books donated. Apparently, despite what seemed to be a good relationship, the AZ State Library did not deem it important to consult with FSHA or any other genealogy group before announcing its decision.

So, the third question is why the short notice about this? What is the rush?

The FHSA is asking these and additional questions and has requested that the State Library send a representative to the FSHA board meeting this Saturday, August 1. Of course, by that time, the collection will have already been moved.

Daniela Moneta, MLS, CG, CGL, former Arizona State Library Genealogy Librarian, posted this about the collection in the Transitional Genealogists forum on Rootsweb.com:

The Genealogy Collection started when Arizona was made a Territory by President Lincoln on Valentine's Day in 1863. The Governor of the new territory was assigned to purchase books for the Territorial Collection. This is when many of the genealogy books were purchased. These books were sent by buckboard to the new capitol in Prescott. The Territorial Collection moved to Tucson, back to Prescott, and eventually ended up in Phoenix where it is today. The collection built steadily from then on to include sets of the colonial records from all states. The largest collection of genealogy books in the Arizona Genealogy Collection  are for Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, etc. The Arizona books in the collection are the most complete in the country and available for reference by mail from the Genealogy staff. Many of these books still have the Arizona Territorial stamp in them.

The fear among those in the Arizona genealogy community is that the Archives will not be able to handle this influx of material and that the next decision will be to scatter the collection among several repositories.

As a Jewish genealogist, one might ask, "Why should I care? The collection does not hold many resources relevant to my family." 

This is the first question posted here to which I have a response. First, if your family arrived in the United States before 1880, there could be quite a few resources in this collection that are relevant to your research. Second, while there are some volumes in the collection that have been digitized by others and are online, the majority of resources are not available online. Third, since we are seeing more frequent attacks on open access to records, we must try to hold the line whenever and wherever we see that access to resources may become more difficult. 

While change is not always a bad thing, change without positive purpose, in my opinion, is folly. As an Arizona taxpayer (and as someone who has contributed to the FHSA book fund), I would like to know that our efforts at building this collection of genealogical resources are not for naught. This genealogy collection is not a random assortment of elements, but a well thought-out compendium of resources built over more than a century to serve genealogy researchers in Arizona. I hope that breaking the collection into separate pieces is not the goal.

As of this coming Friday, we will have the interesting situation where Phoenix, the sixth most populous city in United States, will have no genealogy library available until well into 2016. Now, I worked in government service for a long time and I know that sometimes it is tempting for agencies to make what may be unpopular decisions in a vacuum - it's less messy than asking our customers what they think and want. Shutting down general access to the State Library collection when the FSL is not available - that's not only poor planning, it's also lack of respect for patrons and partners.
The Records Preservation and Access Committee (a joint effort of several nationwide genealogy societies) brochure notes that 78% of the U.S. population is interested or actively involved in family history research and that genealogists are the largest single constituency of users supporting state archives. Apparently, the Arizona State Library no longer wishes to cater to this potentially powerful clientele.

Time to flex some muscle.

Please help by emailing Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan <www.azsos.gov/contact>,  Arizona State Librarian Joan Clark <www.azlibrary.gov/about>, Digital Content Director Laura Stone <lstone@azlibrary.gov>, and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey

Tell them about the importance of the Arizona State Genealogy Collection. If you have used the collection, explain its importance to your family history research.
- - - - - - - - - -
Late Breaking News: The Arizona Secretary of State's Office issued this news release this evening. The information about the free databases is a bit disingenuous. They are currently available at all libraries in Arizona.
* With apologies to the Coen Brothers and Judy Russell. For an additional take on this AZ State Archives issue, see the Legal Genealogist's post.
**I still have FSL microfilms (inaccessible to me) sitting in limbo somewhere is Mesa that I ordered from Salt Lake City in December 2014 with the (silly) notion that they would be waiting for me when the Mesa FSL reopened in January 2015. 

19 July 2015

IAJGS 2015, Jerusalem: Pre-Conference Day at Yad Vashem

On the Sunday before the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies conference started, I took advantage of a conference-sponsored full-day at Yad Vashem.

Prior to our Yad Vashem visit, we were instructed to select activities from a menu and develop a schedule for our day. As my intent was to look at the International Tracing Service (ITS) files, I made sure to sign up for the first presentation of Zvi Bernhardt's overview of onsite databases. After that I reserved a two-hour session for onsite research and two "behind the scenes" tours. I left the afternoon a bit free so I could sneak in a bit more research, as needed.

In 1943 the Allied Forces Headquarters along with the British Red Cross began tracing and registering missing persons in Europe. As the magnitude of the situation became clear, work continued and a more permanent repository for this information was established as the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany. The ITS documents information on Nazi persecutions, forced labor and the Holocaust in Europe. Eleven nations governed the collection of information and for years, the information was not available for researchers. 

That changed in 2007 and now each of the 11 countries governing ITS has one repository that is receiving and making available digitized copies of original records. The records are not, however, available on the Internet. In Israel the repository is Yad Vashem. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum houses the records in the USA.

I'm glad I took in Zvi Bernhardt's onsite database overview first. ITS information is digitized and available at Yad Vashem, but accessing the database is not intuitive - in fact, it's down right confusing.

The ITS collection contains information about people in displaced persons' camps in Western Europe after the War. There is a Central Names Index that allows one to search and quickly see if a survivor's records are in the collection. The digitized card for each survivor is a tracing document that contains a six digit number used to access additional digitized records for that individual.  

Yad Vashem will not allow researchers to use thumb drives on their computers. Fortunately, I had my camera and was allowed to take photos of the computer screen to capture images of the records I located within the database.

   I was able to locate records for my cousin Sally Eisner and her late brother, Abe Barath, from Zaleszczyki, Ukraine, as well as Sally's late husband Leon from Tluste. I have obscured Sally's birth date on the card shown above. The word "befreit" means free.

In addition, I found information on Bas-Szewa Szkaluk Liderman, who had been married to Feiga Greenfield's and Morris Lederman's brother Zanvel Liderman. Zanvel died before Nazi occupation and Bas-Szewa (who later became Sarah Lederman in the United States) and her daughter Lucia were on the run through much of the war. They made it to the United States in 1949 and settled near family in Cincinnati.

Since getting home and using some of the ITS information, I have been able to locate the passenger manifest from the S.S. General Blatchford for Sarah and Lucia Lederman's arrival in Boston on 7 July 1949.

Of course there is so much more to Yad Vashem than just a genealogist's wish list of documents. I had only a few minutes so I fairly ran to the other end of the complex to view the Valley of Communities. The 2.5 acre monument contains over 5,000 names of Jewish communities that were destroyed or nearly so during the Holocaust. It is a very powerful statement. 

I located the town of Sally's birth, Zaleszczyki, but did not find my father's family's community, Labun, or any of the surrounding small ones in their area of what had been the Khmelnitsky Oblast, Soviet Union (now Ukraine). I wonder how/if I can get these communities recognized in the monument?

IAJGS 2015, Jerusalem: Day 5

I am an avid Friday (last day of conference) presentation attender. One, I feel badly that anyone has to be scheduled the last day - and risk having few in the audience; two, some of the best presentations are given on the last day; and three, the audiences are always at rapt attention - they really want to be there to hear what is said. It always seems that these last-day presentations - even when well-attended - wind up being a bit more informal with a great deal of fairly intelligent give and take with the audience.

"Teaching Jewish Genealogy to Teenagers"

I applaud anyone trying to teach anything to teenagers. Arnon Hershovitz and Rony Golan not only took the challenge but prepared a creative and fascinating elective course for their teenage audience: 12-13 year old gifted students.

The course was thirteen sessions of 1.5 hours each. They designed it with what they described as a spiral curriculum: designed to revisit core material at periodic intervals and build on previously introduced material. 

Herskovitz and Golan described each of the 13 sessions. This course was amazing and took vast amounts of teacher preparation. The children prepared genealogy charts for television and cartoon families, did interviewing with video recording, visited a cemetery (the teachers visited the cemetery before-hand to note interesting stones), listened to guest speakers, and met with the deputy mayor (whose genealogy the children prepared in advance).

Not surprisingly (considering the teacher time commitment), this course has only been taught once. Although it is clear that it had a great effect on many of the students.

"Yad Vashem Resources for Advanced Level"

I had attended the full-day pre-conference tour/research opportunity at Yad Vashem, so I was interested in hearing what else Zvi Bernhardt would offer.

The Shoah Names Database is not just pages of testimony about people killed in the Holocaust. POTs are only about 40% of the database. It also includes information from the Soviet Extraordinary Commission; post-war Jewish memorial projects (tombstones and plaques); records about anyone who did not survive WWII, and information about those who were evacuated from Eastern Europe in advance of the Nazi occupation.

One of the frustrations with searching broadly in the database is that it will not return results in excess of 1000 records. They do this to avoid stressing their computer system. To overcome this difficulty, Bernhardt recommends that researchers use the updates fields - updated since. . .up-dated until - to search smaller chunks of the database and, therefore, return fewer results for each search.

Other online resources include:
  • The Untold Stories
  • Transports to Extinction database - includes deportations, maps and testimonies
  • Righteous Among Nations - one may search by righteous or rescued person 
  • Online photo archive and documents archive - only a small percentage of collections are online yet

"Search as an Art" 

Banai Feldstein, my hotel roomie during the conference provided, I think, a much-needed summary of the issues one should consider when searching in a variety of genealogy websites. Unfortunately, she was a victim of the last-day-of-conference syndrome and the conference did not provide anyone to introduce her. So, I jumped up to do so. Luckily, I knew enough about her background to provide an adequate introduction. 

Banai said we should not assume that particular websites use American Soundex. In fact, Ancestry and FamilySearch have their own name search parameters. JewishGen, of course, uses Daitch-Mokotoff and Beider-Morse Soundex. [And, as I know from previous Crista Cowan talks, Ancestry will apply Daitch-Mokotoff if one specifies "Jewish" under the Collection Focus drop down menu at the lower part of their search boxes.]

Banai covered the tried and true search strategies that beginners don't always appreciate: search without a surname, use a child's name to locate the family, add or remove details when there are too many of too few results. She also shared that genealogy databases often present their results in weighted lists. So, for example, Ancestry's results list may be ordered by most popular data collect (such as the 1940 census). Page through the results to locate the records you may find more interesting. 

IAJGS 2015, Jerusalem: Day 4

Well, it's a week after the conference ended and, after a week of travel in Israel, I am jeg-lagged and trying to acclimate to my Pacific Daylight Time schedule. I'm getting back to posting my day-by-day impressions of the conference.

Since I was prepping for my presentation at 3 P.M., I limited my attendance at sessions Thursday morning.


"Multidisciplinary Academic Research in Genealogy"

There were several talks presented and I wish I could have heard all of them. I did take in "Genealogy and heritage Tourism" by Dr. Amos Roth and Dr. Dallen Timothy and "Jewish Daily Life in Eastern Europe in the Modern Age" by Dr. Judith Kalik.

Roth and Timothy examined the links between heritage tourism and genealogy. Genealogy tourism is multi-generational.

They see genealogy tourism related to visiting relatives, family reunions, return travel, diaspora tours, hobbyists (WWII, coin and stamp collectors), and religious tourism.

Nothing hugely new here for those of us who can be accused of being the genealogy tourists, but interesting none-the-less.

Dr. Kalik described the rural Jewish community in Minsk Gubernia prior to and after peasant emancipation in 1861. Prior to emancipation, many were lease-holders - mostly innkeepers. The provided guest houses and some locally distilled alcohol.

Rural Jews had some advantages in times of change because they were among the few who had first-hand knowledge of both nobility and peasants. They became middlemen in the economy. The coming of the railroads and increasing opportunity for grain trade meant decline for the local liquor industry. May rural Jews became farmers or grain traders.

The size the rural Jewish family before and 1861 reflected these economic changes. In the early 1800s, there were 3.2 people/family. By the 1897 census and the advent of the industrial age, families were much larger. 

"Jewish Vital Records From the Period of the Holocaust in Eastern Galicia (1941-44)"

There was a short period of time between rule by Poland and rule by Nazi Germany when Galicia was under the authority of the Soviet Union. Tony Kahane laments the lack of records from the Soviet period and documents where collections from this period, though meager, are found (mostly in Warsaw where they are not yet publicly available due to the Polish 80-year rule for withholding death records). 

Other researchers may be heartened by the collection inventory tables Tony provided. I guess I was hoping against hope for some revelation, but my area of main concern in Galicia - Zaleszczyki (and Torskie, Ustechko and Tluste) - were not, as I should have expected, included among the collections in Warsaw. My Galician communities are a big black hole for any vital records. 

One important point Tony made: the lack of records from this period could be a function of the Soviets taking records with them as they retreated. If so, then archives in the Soviet Union may ultimately yield Galician treasures.

"When it Takes a Village: Applying Cluster Research Techniques"

I was pleased with the turn-out at my presentation (and also pleased that the time and venue had been changed from the original conference schedule because the new room was larger than the first one, which would not have accommodated this group).

My talk dealt with using resources and information about collateral relatives (i.e., going beyond one's ancestors), friends, associates, and neighbors to break through on difficult genealogy problems.

The example I used was my pursuit of Feiga Grinfeld. Feiga was a possible relative only identified on two NY manifests from 1922 - once as the relative left behind in the old country and then as the passenger accompanying my great grandfather to NYC in November 1922. If she was a relation, how? I'd not located her where expected from her identified intended destination on the manifest. Without much to go on, I eventually located Feiga (turned Fannie Greenfield) in Cincinnati by tracking possible associates from her hometown of Baranivka, Ukraine. I used standard genealogical records and DNA results.

A written version of this talk will be published in the next issue of Avotaynu. I will be giving a longer version of this presentation on Monday, 4 April 2016 for the Jewish Genealogyl Society of Conejo Valley and Ventura County

"The History, Adoption, and Regulation of Jewish Surnames in the Russian Empire"

I was particularly interested in Jeffrey Mark Paull's (and Jeffrey Briskman's) presentation because my Feiga Grinfeld research had led me, ultimately, to questions about how Jewish people in this area of the Russian Empire had acquired surnames in the nineteenth century. 

The adoption of hereditary surnames (versus patronymics) was imposed on Russian Jews. The first edict was in 1804. The next in 1835. By 1850 Jews were no longer switching their surnames at will. Kahals often developed lists of Jewish surnames.

According to Paull, historical evidence suggests that member sof the same families, if living in different households, had to adopt different surnames - perhaps to avoid conscription of taxes. He provided Revision List records from 1804 and before from Slutsk showing brothers adopting different surnames.

A paper of the same title by Paull and Briskman may be viewed online at academia.edu.

16 July 2015

IAJGS 2015, Jerusalem: JNS.org news article

JNS.org published a news article about the recently completed Jerusalem International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies conference.

The article quotes several conference luminaries including Michael Goldstein, Crista Cowan of Ancestry, Neville Lamdan, Marlis Humphrey, Michael Tobias and yours truly. 

My minute of fame is in a side bar: "Tips for budding Jewish roots-searchers." These tips were, apparently, taken from my beginning Jewish genealogy presentation delivered on Monday, 6 July 2015.

I am pleased to be included in this article. My only complaint is that one bit of my purported advice involves downloading family trees. Noooooo! Did not say that - would not say that - especially not to a beginner. [Sigh]