16 August 2016

IAJGS 2016, Day 6

Renee Steinig and Judy Baston - "It's All in How You Ask: Getting the Most From Discussion Group Queries"

I was particularly interested Renee Steinig's and Judy Baston's talk because I, too, am a discussion group moderator for JewishGen. About 6-8 days each month I check the moderators' inbox for messages sent for posting on the main discussion forum: the "JewishGen Discussion Group."

Before sending messages on for posting, moderators must do some magic to the message headers and review content to make sure the messages are clear and acceptable within our guidelines. Renee moderates the Gesher Galicia mailing list and Judy, the JRI-Poland, Litvak SIG, Lodz, and Bialy Gen lists. For a list of JewishGen mailing lists, see this page.

Renee's and Judy's goals in this presentation were to help writers formulate inquiries that not only navigate the rules of all JewishGen mailing lists (thereby avoiding having one's messages rejected by moderators), but also generate the kinds of responses desired.

Moderated forums such as JewishGen's assure that no abusive, defamatory or indecent language is posted and that no one is subject to personal attacks. In addition, moderators review messages to ensure that copyrights are not violated in posted messages. All one has to do is read content in a non-moderated comment list these days to see why this is so important.

Moderators may change a subject line for a message or address capitalization issues, but they may not change the body of the message text. Therefore, if a message must be rejected for content, a moderator sends it back to the author and may suggest changes.

Additional reasons why a message might be rejected are the message:
  • was sent in plain text (the Lyris program will reject it);
  • was not related to Jewish genealogy;
  • included long quotations without permission (it is best to paraphrase long quotes and/or just provide a web link);
  • debates Jewish law or custom (Halakha);
  • discusses opinions on contemporary anti-semitism; 
  • should have been answered privately (usually for providing individual's contact information or for providing information that may only be of interest to one family researcher); and
  • (for SIG lists) is not related to SIG area of coverage 
If you would like to recommend a researcher of guide, JewishGen has a page specifically for this purpose in the InfoFiles area.

One thing I don't recall Renee and Judy mentioning is that moderators check all web links (URLs) provided in a message (including those for ViewMate messages). If one or more URLs do not work, that is grounds for rejection.

Renee and Judy provided guidelines for crafting quality messages/inquiries:
  • Make subject lines specific;
  • Do not include diacritical marks (accents) in your text - they are not supported by Lyris;
  • Use upper case letters only for surnames;
  • Full addresses/phone numbers of living people will not be posted;
  • Do not use abbreviations;
  • Provide enough information so readers know what sources you have already checked, but not so much information that readers will not read your message;
  • There is such a thing as too much information; and
  • When asking for help with a document posted on ViewMate, nclude surname, town, year (or approximate date).
In your signature block make sure to include:
  • Your full name and location;
  • Correctly spelled surnames and towns;and
  • A research (surname/town list) - limited to six lines.
I definitely like one of their helpful hints. If you have somehow missed the message from one day, you may request instant access to that day's digest for the main or SIG mailing lists. Put the following formatted information in your email subject line:
get [listname] (yyyymmdd]
Examples: get jewishgen 20160815
           get galicia 20160608

Send the message to lyris@lyris.jewishgen.org

You may also check message archives for the main discussion group or SIG groups.

Ron Arons - "Critical and Creative Thinking for Genealogy"

Ron Arons is a creative guy. He always seems to come up with new ways look at and analyze genealogical information.

He is also fearless. He knew full-well that he and I likely would have a difference of opinion about his topic, but he asked me to introduce him, nonetheless.

In this talk, Ron discussed two modes of thinking: critical and creative. Critical thinking is defined as deductive and focused. Creative thinking is inductive, divergent, diffused. Both are necessary and complementary when dealing with problem solving. Both are associated with skill sets that can be improved.

The Genealogical Proof Standard (© 2014-2016, E.H. Garber)
In particular, Ron was concerned that creative thinking been given short-shrift in the currently accepted genealogical methodology of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS): that the GPS requires critical thinking and is hostile to silent on creative thinking.[1] He argued that the GPS only allows focused questions and does not allow consideration of the question, "why?"

The Genealogical Proof Standard was developed by members of the Board for Certification of Genealogists and outlines best practices for the discipline. Meeting the standard requires five elements:
  • conducting a reasonably exhaustive research, 
  • citing sources, 
  • analyzing information and assessing the quality of evidence, 
  • resolving conflicts, and 
  • developing a soundly-reasoned, written conclusion

As I mentioned in my comments toward the end of Ron's presentation, I was pleased that Ron has been studying and presenting about thinking creatively in genealogical research. Our thorniest genealogical problems are best address with a marriage of creative and critical thinking approaches. But, I do not agree with him that the GPS does not allow for creativity. Quite the contrary, I believe the GPS provides a framework within which creative thinking flourishes.

While Thomas W. Jones, one of the main proponents of the GPS, argues in his seminal work, Mastering Genealogical Proof, that we must start our research process with focused questions to "...frame our research scope, lead us to relevant information and help identify evidence...," his identification, evaluation and analysis of sources that may provide information that bears on our research questions is nothing but creative.[2] In fact some of the most outstanding articles published in the National Genealogical Quarterly, undeniably the flagship of GPS, blow me away with how creatively they solve problems posed.

Now, one of Ron's issues seems to be that the research questions that Thomas W. Jones identifies do not include why questions. Jones states that genealogical questions have two characteristics:
  1. They concern a documented person, and
  2. They seek information about the defining characteristics of that person (relationship, identity or activity).
Ron seems to believe that why questions, which may require information regarding historical context, are not acceptable in GPS. I would argue that within GPS context is critical to consideration of the location of extant records, to analysis of the creation and development of records collected, and, ultimately, to resolution of conflicts (which involves comparing and contrasting evidence from records and the context within which information in those records was recorded). Even creating citations for records used is a process that requires often in-depth understanding of the historical context of record creation.

Thus, while the purely genealogical questions posed by Thomas W. Jones, may seem stifling, they are, in fact liberating. As we pursue some basic questions, we are required to ask, "why?" Genealogical proof as defined in the GPS requires understanding of context.

Ron offered an interesting case for asking why. He tells the story of his grandfather who was married to several women at the same time.

He asked how common was bigamy in the 1800s and early 1900s? By the end of 1800s, bigamy was an increasing problem in New York - probably due to immigrant men making new lives for themselves in New York when their first wives and families were still in the old country.

He also wanted to know if his grandfather's sentence for bigamy was consistent
with those obtained by others. It was.

I agree that perhaps historical context and social science tools may not be applied as often as they should in genealogical analyses and provided in written genealogical proofs. But I would blame that more on the background of researchers than the limitations of the GPS. In fact, GPS requires that these types of context studies be integral, when appropriate, to our understanding of the genealogical record.

There's my soapbox and I think I will stand on it!

1. Ron Aron has pointed out that I misrepresented his opinion on where creativity fits in the GPS. I agree my initial recollection was incorrect. I have, therefore, changed the text to more closely reflect his point of view.
2. Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013), 7.

15 August 2016

Serendipity? Nah! Google.

One of the topics I did not get to speak about in a formal manner at the recent IAJGS conference was blogging. I did have a chance, however, to talk with several people about why I am such a blog-reading junkie and blogging proponent.

Someone asked why I started my blog and whether it has been useful. I told them, honestly, the reason I'd started the blog was to generate interest and conversation with my relatives. And, it has been an utter failure as far as that is concerned.

But, then I told him about the power of blogs as cousin bait - especially via search engines such as Google that include blog content as they crawl the web. On 17 April 2013, I posted an article about my great grandfather Louis Liebross' sister Ruchel who I had just found. Ruchel Liberas Gottfried showed up in a Jewish Records Indexing-Poland (JRI-Poland) index. I used the link to a digital image of the original record in the AGAD Polish State Archive and determined that she was, indeed, the daughter of Mane and Tsiril (who were also Louis' parents). The challenge was figuring out where Ruchel had been living when this record was created in 1885. The community name read as Schulhanowka. There is no place with that name today and it took some research to figure out that it is now the town of Shul'ganuvka in Ukraine.

Nearly two years later I received an email from a man named Eli in Israel. He was looking at the same record indexed by JRI-Poland and wanted to thank me for blogging about the current location of the town. He had Googled Schulhanowka, trying determine where it was. And there was my blog post providing the answer he sought! Turns out that Eli's family is related to the husband of another (previously unknown to me) sister of Louis Liebross, Rivka Liebross Schaffer. So Eli and I are, I guess, "shirt-tail" relatives (although I will definitely not try to explain that idiom to a non-native speaker like Eli!).

Some might call episodes like this serendipitous, I call them the results of good research practices. We know if we follow the Genealogical Proof Standard that we must conduct reasonably exhaustive research. But, I also think we should not just write up our research for posterity, but also publish it so it may be found by others using search engines. I want other researchers who are seeking the same families to find my research. That won't happen if all I do is post online trees on Ancestry or MyHeritage. Those websites do not allow this kind of content behind its login fire wall to be Googled.
So, did I tell you about the Thursday night banquet at the IAJGS conference? 

It was odd - er - great - er - interesting. Well, everything was typically pleasant until Judy Russell rose to speak - and then it got a tad weird.

I'd heard Judy's talk, "Don't Forget the Ladies - A Genealogist's Look at Women and the Law," this past spring when she was the featured speaker at the Family History Society of Arizona's Spring Seminar. I knew back in March that this talk had already been selected by the conference for her IAJGS Banquet speech and she and I chatted, then, about how she planned to add some Jewish genealogy-relevant records to her discussion for the IAJGS event.

So there I was Thursday night alertly listening for Judy's new material, when the New York City death record (at right) filled the two screens on either side of the ballroom. Judy announced, that this record of Sarah Morris who died in 1956 in the Bronx was particularly interesting because it provided not only Sarah's name, but also her maiden name, and her daughter's married name. Huh??!!

I was facing the screen that was actually further away from me and could not make out the small print (I've posted here a small image so you can see about what I saw from a distance). Did she say Sarah Morris who died in the Bronx in 1956? Why my great grandmother was named Sarah Morris and she died in the Bronx in 1956! I thought for sure that the informant on Sarah's death certificate would have been my great aunt Esther Blatt but I could not quite make out her name in that location on the form.

After the talk, while the everyone was eating I went over to Judy's table and tapped her on the shoulder, "I need to see that death certificate. My great grandmother was also Sarah Morris who died in the Bronx in 1956." The next morning I emailed Judy my Sarah Morris' death certificate. Match.

Here's a larger version to read:

Judy wrote a blog post about this titled "Serendipity in action:"
"...And guess whose great grandmother was that Russian woman reflected in that death certificate?
"It was Emily’s great grandmother’s death certificate I had happened to choose out of all the examples I might have had available to make that point..."
Serendipity. The term is often used by people who say that their dead ancestor was calling to be found. This is not an explanation that usually pleases my inquisitive nature. [I recall years ago taking a meditation course and having a strange visualization of light during one meditation. The instructor excitedly informed me that is was, of course, God (actually, he didn't say, "God" - he said, "Jesus."). Needless to say, I did not find that explanation as illuminating as my meditation experience. Perhaps I had just gotten into a place in my brain that I'd not experienced before. That was my explanation, anyway!] So, I commented on Judy's blog post:
Then, I tried a similar Google image search . . .  and there it was - the sixth one from the left on the top. 
Sometimes with Google image searching it is not always clear where the image came from. And the first time I located it, clicking on it took me to some odd webpage that had compiled bunches of death certificates from many websites with no links or citations. 

But let's get back to serendipity. Because I blog, my stuff is out there to find by good researchers. Judy found Sarah Morris' death certificate not because of serendipity, but because I blog my research for others to find and she is a good online researcher. That's it. Call it serendipity if you must (OK, I was in the audience). Google-accessible publishing and exhaustive research - two sides of the GPS coin.

IAJGS 2016, Day 5

On Thursday, the fifth day of the conference, I started my day with the Bloggers' Breakfast, a variation of an informal event I have organizing at IAJGS for the last several years. We met at 6:30 A.M. (that's dedication for you!) at one of the hotel restaurants. Our banquet speaker for this evening, Judy Russell - a prolific blogger -  joined us. Unfortunately, as usual, I forgot to take a photo before a couple of our group left. So, the following photo misses Lara Diamond and Janice Seller. The rest of us, however, were sated and celebrated: (l-r) Banai Feldstein, Emily Garber, Judy Russell, Steve Jaron, and Mary-Jane Roth.

Once the regular day began, I took in a talk about digital resources available via the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and then prepped and delivered my third and last talk at his year's IAJGS.

Megan Lewis - "Using USHMM digital resources in your research or to plan a research trip"

Megan Lewis is Reference Librarian at USHMM. The museum's mission is to advance and disseminate knowledge about the unprecedented tragedy of the Holocaust and to preserve the memory of those who suffered.

USHMM has been digitizing as many records as possible, improving cataloging, recataloging previously acquired collections, and developing its Collections Search page as the access portal and delivery system for materials.

Right now they have 14,642 items in their collection and 463 of them online.
Their finding aids cover 1629 collections. Most of their photograph collections are not online due to the fact that they lack permissions. As far as oral histories, they have (with the Shoah Foundation) 10, 088 online. Oral history transcriptions online total 2303.

One may search USHMM catalogue at http://collections.ushmm.org
There is a geographical thesaurus that works with with Soundex so one need not worry about exact spelling for place names. For individual's names, however, there is no built-in Soundex. But, one may search names without regard to diacritical marks (e.g., accents).

Results of Google searches access USHMM finding aids and oral histories.

USHMM is concentrating on digitizing as many rare books as they can and hope to have 10% digitized by end of September 2016. OCRed. The books will be accessible via Internet Archive in the collection called "USHMM Rare Book Collection." Those accessing the digitized books will be able to search them via optical character recognition (OCR) technology.

There are three electronic indices of note:
  • Holocaust Survivors and Victims Database;
  • World Memory Project (a partnership with Ancestry); and
  • JewishGen Holocaust Database
The International Tracing Service in Germany is still scanning records (150 million pages) for delivery to the USHMM and the ten other over-seeing countries- closed archives for many years. 11 countries oversee ITS now each have copies of records. Scanning is still going on (about 150 million pages). Individual case files are still being scanned.

In addition to their other collection and cataloguing efforts, the USHMM is collection information in Ukraine on pogroms in 1919-1920 and the 1930s. In addition, they are working with Father Patrick Desbois, who has been research in villages and collecting testimonies from witnesses to World War II atrocities.

USHMM is building a new, additional 100,000 square-foot collections center that will have a state-of-the-art conservation laboratory in Maryland. It will include a reading room for visitors, but procedures for access have not yet been defined. The new building will open next Spring.

If one is planning a visit, one does not need an appointment to do research at museum, although Megan Lewis does recommend it.

Emily Garber - "Learning Our Craft: Online Opportunities for Improving Our Research Skills"

My talk started with the premise that we should aim to be improved genealogists by the time we return to the IAJGS conference in 2017.

There are definitely options with our local Jewish genealogical societies, as well as with societies that specialize in areas where our ancestors once lived. In addition, we should broaden our perspective and learn from those who may be dealing with genealogical challenges in non-Jewish settings. We can always learn from the challenges that others face. But, the main theme in this talk was online options for education.

There's so much to learn. I believe there are three main areas on which we should concentrate. We need to improve our knowledge of :
  • the context of our ancestors' Jewish lives by learning more about political and social history, religion, tradition and languages;
  • computer skills. If we don't have them, we need to learn them. If we have them, we need to improve them. And then, 
  • we need to embrace the skills non-Jewish genealogists have developed as they attack difficult problems (such as burned courthouses in the Southern USA and lack of surnames among those with slave ancestors). We may be able to learn and share techniques and methodologies developed in the most difficult of research challenges.
To do all this we should, of course be aware of Cyndi's List, wikis and other guides to genealogy. JewishGen features many InfoFiles on numerous Jewish genealogy subjects.

Among the other topics discussed:
FaceBook, Google+, and message boards;
Videos - FamilySearch, JGSLI and YouTube;
Virtual conferences;
Online courses and certificate programs.

My goal was to not only tell those in attendance about worthwhile websites, blogs, and podcats, but also give them the tools to find them themselves.

We ended by walking through training objectives and developing a training plan.

14 August 2016

IAJGS 2016, Day 4

This morning I presented my second conference talk:

"Beyond the Manifest: Applying the Genealogical Proof Standard to Confirm One's Ancestral Origins"

In this talk I address a situation common to Jewish genealogists researching families from Eastern Europe: there are several similarly-named communities from which one's ancestors may have come. How does one determine which one was the community of origin?

When facing this situation, knowing my family's Yiddish name for the community - a name not found on any map or gazetteer of the area - and finding several conflicting notions, I chose to research exhaustively in line with the precepts of the Genealogical Proof Standard:

·      Conduct reasonably exhaustive search for information;
·      Cite sources of all information;
·      Analyze information & assess quality as evidence;
·      Resolve conflicts in evidence; and
·      Develop soundly reasoned, written conclusion.

The journey took me from manifests, to gazetteers. In the gazetteers (compiled sources), I drilled down to find the sources the authors' used to build their gazetteer. This took me to a 1912 work now digitized and online and a 1902 work found in the Jewish Theological Seminary's library. While this research did not provide the answer I sought, it did provide information that, combined with other findings eventually added to my evidence.

Landsmanshaft cemetery plots full of burials of immigrant families associated with the same town, provided a population of 60 immigrants for whom I was able to locate immigration records (manifests and, often, naturalization papers). I thought that a study of records from these associated individuals might provide additional information about the location of their town of origin.

Overwhelmingly, the immigrants identified one town name that is easily located on a map of the Russian Empire and another that matched the Yiddish community name used by my family. In six cases, different, independently-derived records for the same individuals yielded examples of both community names. Further analysis showed that it was likely that people from this town used both town names interchangeably.

The final study included records from the American Joint Distribution Committee's Archives. These eight letters were created in 1923 when the Joint completed a landsmanshaft-funded project in the community. My great great uncle, Myer Myers, was secretary of the landsmanshaft project organization and was recipient of one of the letters from the Joint. In addition there were letters and reports about the status of Jewish community in the town that used both terms to identify the town name.

Further confirmation was provided by comparing names of townspeople identified in the Joint's papers with Yad Vashem's Pages of Testimony for those killed in the Holocaust.

I published an earlier version of this study in Avotaynu: "Using Landsmanshaft Burial Plots to Discover and Confirm the Location of a Family Shtetl," Avotaynu 27 (Spring 2011): 1:3-9.

IAJGS 2016 Annual Meeting

I had a couple conflicts this afternoon (actually, three conflicts if one counts the fact that I could not attend the Board for Certification of Genealogists Workshop - something to which I had been looking forward). So, as Chair of the Phoenix Jewish Genealogy Group, I attended the first part of the IAJGS meeting. I had to leave mid-way to introduce another talk.

The IAJGS has been concentrating on promoting their member societies. They are working on branding and developing a consistent look and feel to their promotional material. They had a presence at most of the major genealogy conferences this year, including five Genealogy Road Show venues.

They plan to continue their branding efforts during the next year and are developing "Conference in a Box" to help societies create their own small events, outreach tools, website templates and recorded presentations from the IAJGS conference that may be shared with societies in their regular meetings in lieu of invited speakers.

Ekkehard Hübschmann - "Buried Treasures: Hardly Known Files of Genealogical Significance in German Archives - 19th Century"

Ekkehard was, unfortunately, ailing, but he soldiered on and presented information of interest to those conducting research on German ancestors.

He first explained the organization and locations of archives in Germany - not small task consider how many there are. This is partially a function of the diverse and complex history of the area now included as Germany.

Judenmatrikel records were created as a result of partial emancipation of Jews in 1813. Jews, at that point had to have inheritable surnames. They could then own land and had access to more career opportunities, but still were limited to where they could live. The registers kept track of and limited the number of Jews in each community. No one could be added to a town list for residents unless someone else was taken off the list.

For most of the 19th Century vital records for te Jewish community were kept with Parish records. In 1876 Civil registry Offices were started. Residency and marriage required approval and inheritance depended upon those approvals. These files contain good genealogical information, including inheritance, marriage, house numbers. For residency, men had to prove they had completed military service.

The 1828 Royal Bavarian Property Tax Cadaster was created as a base for land taxes. Historical maps are accessible online and include the ability to switch among modern, old and aerial views - great for locating ancestors' homes in today's communities.

Hübschmann also spoke of several additonal record types including emigration files.

Lara Diamond: "Your Ancestral Town May Not Have Been So Ancestral!"

Lara's mission in this talk? show that our ancestors sometimes moved a great deal more than we tend to think. She used her awesome family research as her as examples.

Part of her family Lived in Shpikov for a small time (although none had been born there). They were registered in Kuna. Before Kuna, they had lived in Uman. Shpikov is 30 miles from Kuna and Kuna is 40 miles from Uman.

She located six generations of one family and every generation was born in a different village.

At the same time, there were people who stayed in the same locale over several generations.

Why did people move? To take advantage of job prospects, avoid the military draft, respond to government incentives, avoid taxes, escape persecution, and marry.

In Lara's work it seems to her that it was about 50-50 as to whether a wife move to her husband's town or vice versa.

IAJGS 2016, Day 3

Today was Ukraine Special Interest Group day at the conference and, since I am on its board, I was busy much of the day in Ukraine Special Interest Group (SIG) meetings.
We cannot be blamed for the confusion: the SIG just manages the area it was given(!). For many people, however, the boundaries of the area we manage is confusing. Basically, JewishGen used WWI boundaries to define the Russian Gubernia part of today's Ukraine (including Crimea). Galicia (to the west), a crown land of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, is covered by Gesher Galicia and JRI-Poland (both databases are now accessible when searching JewishGen's "All Ukraine" and "All Poland" databases - see JewishGen's report in my previous post). The gubernias included in Ukraine SIG's area of research is shown on the above map taken from Ukraine SIG's homepage. On the homepage, individual gubernias are clickable and link to further information about uyezds and communities within gubernias.

As with most SIGs the main occupation is acquiring and indexing archival records for the Eastern European communties we are researching. Ukraine SIG acquires records from two main sources: the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP) and the Family Search Library.

Most of the records collected thus far have been collected via agreement with the Central Archives for the Jewish People in Jerusalem. They send a researcher (Benyamin Lukin) to Ukraine each summer to work with the archives and acquire records. The archives, themselves, do the digitization - so, it can take a while to get the images.

The most recently acquired data set is from the Zhitomyr Archives. This summer we have received about 13,000 new pages/images of data.

For the records already microfilmed by the Family History library, we access films that have data on them from towns in Ukraine SIG area and scan images. The priority has been vital records from towns with a large group of Jewish researchers listed on JewishGen. There 210 microfilm reels of interest. Ukraine SIG volunteers have aleady scanned 78,000 images. FamilySearch is, apparently doing some digitization of records that of are interest to us. We are discussing further digitization and access to the records with FamilySearch.

Documents may be in Russian, Polish, or Hebrew. Translations are running about $4-6/page for translation.

Because of agreements with repositories, Ukraine SIG cannot provide researchers with images of records. Those must be acquired directly from CAHJP, FamilySearch microfilm, or Ukrainian archives. 

Recently, 56,000 lines of data from the Odessa births index were uploaded to JewishGen and are now searchable.

A couple of project leads shared their experiences and thoughts.

Phyllis Berenson talked about fund raising for a project. A project is a set of documents (a book, pogrom records, vital records, census record) - how do you obtain it, translate it?

The first step is to prepare a proposal for review by Ukraine SIG and, then, JewishGen. Once approved it will go online and people will be able to donate. She suggested locating people with an interest in you town to donate. The JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF) is perfect for that use. She also posted a message on the Ukraine and JewishGen discussion lists. The money is used to not only purchase digital images of the documents, but also to fund professional translators. The translator must provide the translation in a spreadsheet form we provide. Then the information is reviewed and, ultimately provided to JewishGen for upload into the All Ukraine database.

Mary-Jane Roth discussed the Polonnoye communities project. This project has already received approval, paid for and acquired the images of the records. The biggest challenge has been getting translators. Some of the records are in handwritten Yiddish, some in Russian, some in both. Finding translators who can do both has not been a winning strategy.

Chuck Weinstein discussed becoming a Town Leader and/or Kehilalinks Owner. The SIG has people who can help those who wish to create a Kehilalinks webpage on JewishGen.