Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Disappearance of a War Bride

An interesting but sad story was published in The Oregonian this week.  An Icelandic woman married an American soldier after the end of World War II and left her home to move with him to Oregon, where his parents lived.  Communication between her and her family was erratically received.  She had two children, then divorced her husband in 1951.  Then she disappeared.

Only recently have efforts made by the bride's relatives in Iceland produced information.  They hired professional genealogist Peggy Baldwin in Portland, Oregon, who found living relatives there.  Several people working together have pieced together much of the history of the woman's life and of her children.  One of the key facts still to be learned is the specifics of her eventual fate.

The five installments of the story can be read at http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2011/12/war_bride_esther_gavin.html.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December 2011 Issue of The Galitzianer

The December issue of The Galitzianer is at the printer and will be mailed out soon.  (We've recently changed the publishing schedule for The G.  It will now appear in March, June, September, and December.)  Articles in this issue include memories of a 1942 trip to Bolechow by an ethnic German born there who went back to see how things had changed; how the new All Galicia Database has already helped someone answer questions about her ancestors; a detailed update on Galician maps and records that have been examined in archives; and the discoveries someone made on an extended research trip in Europe.

The Galitzianer is available only to members of Gesher Galicia, a nonprofit organization focused on researching Jews in the former Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia.  If you join you get a subscription to the journal and help fund research projects, and you help support a hobby you enjoy.  One of the recent research aids that has been published is the All Galicia Database.

Wordless Wednesday

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Where did your ancestors live?

In family history research two of the most important things you need to know are where someone lived and when.  Location and time determine where you need to look for records and what types of records are likely to exist.  A good deal of research time is spent trying to locate your ancestors so you can then look for records.  Wouldn't it be great if your ancestor had written that information down for you, so you could save some time and effort?

That's exactly what my grandfather did!  My father recently found two pages where his father listed every place he had ever lived, from the time he was born to where he settled later in his life.  The last location on the list is where he lived until he passed away.  The list covers 92 years.

I learned some interesting things from the list.  Apparently he lived in New York state several times, for a total of about five years, which I had not known.  One of the more intriguing entries is for 1928-1929:  "Traveling thru west no perm. Add."  Besides the obvious curiosity factor -- where exactly was the "west" and what was he doing? -- at that time he was married and had two children.  Where were his wife and daughters?  Did he just up and leave them?  Did they go with him?

I'm not entirely taking him at his word, however.  I've already noticed that some of the information doesn't quite match up with other facts.  For example, the list shows him leaving the city my youngest aunt was born in the year before she was born.  Not impossible, of course, but it drew my attention.  He could have the year wrong; he could have moved to a new job before she was born and they followed afterward.

So now I have a lot more places to look for information and records on my grandfather.  I wish all of my ancestors had created a list like this!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life

Dr. Lara Michels, the archivist in charge of the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at Bancroft Library, recently spoke to the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society about the collection.  Since 2010, when the Judah L. Magnes Museum was absorbed by UC Berkeley and the Bancroft Library, Dr. Michels has been conducting a complete inventory and cataloguing of the Magnes collection, no mean feat for any archive.  Her presentation to SFBAJGS highlighted parts of the collection she thought could be particularly helpful for genealogical research.

One of the most significant parts of the archive is a massive collection of materials relating to Congregation Sherith Israel of San Francisco, dating from early burials in the 1850's (in cemeteries which are now part of Mission Dolores Park) to minutes and membership lists from the mid-20th century and later.  The history of the congregation can be followed in detail over a century and a half.  Another important item is a near-complete name index to The Emanu-El, a Jewish community newspaper that was the precursor to The J of today.  Dr. Michels is almost finished cataloguing the Magnes Collection; by early 2012 she hopes to have the complete inventory listed on the Web site.

Close on the heels of Dr. Michels' presentation, I read about the Magnes Fellowship in Jewish Studies, which was established to support for one academic year graduate students at the University of California at Berkeley whose research would benefit from the use of source materials in the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life. Recipients of the Fellowship, designated as Magnes Fellows, must be graduate students enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley who demonstrate high academic distinction and are beyond the first year of graduate study.  The amount of the award will cover fees and stipend for the graduate student for a year.

The applicant's statement of purpose must describe how the research project will make use of the Magnes Collection.  The selection committee, appointed by the Director of the Bancroft Library and including Jewish Studies Program faculty, will determine the recipient based on statement of purpose, transcripts of undergraduate and graduate coursework, and two letters of recommendation from instructors.  The application deadline is by 5:00 p.m. of the first Monday in February.  For 2012 the date is February 6.

All applications and awards will be made within the framework of existing fellowship programs.  For questions call Diana Vergil at (510) 642-3782.  Awards will be announced at the Annual Meeting of the Friends of the Bancroft Library held in the spring of each year.

For application forms and instructions see http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/info/fellowships.html.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

November ZichronNote Off to the Printer!

Somehow between getting ready for the Jewish Family History Open House, the Thanksgiving holiday, and just plain waiting for some articles to come in, the November issue of ZichronNote slipped into December before I knew it.  I have finally caught up on things, though, and the issue has been sent to the printer.  Articles to look forward to include an overview of Jewish refugees from Europe who came into the United States through the Angel Island Immigration Station; a Jewish mayor in 19th-century Texas; and why it is important to have your primary genealogical database on your home computer, not online.

ZichronNote is available only to members of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Societeey. If you join (at the very affordable annual membership rate) you get a subscription to the journal and help fund research projects, and help support a hobby you enjoy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Central Library of Berlin Seeking Descendants of Book Owners

The Central Library of Berlin has inventories of books that belonged to Berlin Jews before they were deported by the Nazis.  The library is trying to find the descendants of the rightful owners of these books.  A list online shows the names of the owners as far as they could be identified through inscriptions in the books.

The Web site (in German; you can use Google to translate) is http://www.zlb.de/aktivitaeten/raubgut.

The list is at http://www.zlb.de/aktivitaeten/raubgut/namenliste10112011.pdf.

If you find the names of relatives or acquaintances contact raubgut@zlb.de (raubgut means "loot" in English).

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Cousin Found Me!

Earlier this year I put a page online with the many surnames I am researching.  It was one of those things I had been meaning to do for ages and kept putting off.  One of the reasons I was finally motivated to do it was that my genealogy society has a page where members can have links to their personal genealogy sites, and I figured that would give it extra exposure.  But I guess I never really expected anyone to just "find" it.

Well, today a cousin actually found me!  She was looking around online for her maiden name and found my page, then followed the link to my blog.  She sent me a message asking if we were related and included some of the names in her family.  I thought her name sounded familiar, and when I checked my family tree program she was there!  **cue happy dance**

She even mentioned my post about the documentary Jubanos.  She appreciated my acknowledgment of the special culture that Cuban Jews have.  She's from the branch of my family that ended up in Cuba when they were fleeing the problems in Europe leading up to World War II and the Holocaust.

We're distant relatives -- fourth cousins once removed -- which I hope doesn't turn her off from wanting to communicate.  I had that happen once with a cousin in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I had found him through research, and he was excited to hear from me until I told him what the exact connection was; I think it was about the same, something like fourth cousins.  Boy, did he shut down fast.  Just stopped talking to me, and has never responded to me since, not even to tell me what the problem was.  The best I could come up with is that maybe he didn't think fourth cousin really counted as a relative.

Well, fourth cousin or fifth cousin or sixth cousin definitely counts as a relative to me.  I hope my newfound cousin feels the same.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Passport Goes Home

My sister, who works in a university library, contacted me several months ago about an original 1921 U.S. passport that had been in her office for several years.  It had come with some donated materials.  She didn't know what to do with the passport, but she thought it was cool and knew it shouldn't just be thrown away, so she asked me for suggestions.  I told her I would try to find a descendant to whom the passport could be returned as a family heirloom.

The passport was for a married couple.  They had gone to China because the husband had a job teaching.  They had filed for an extension, and the extension included their baby daughter who had been born abroad.  I found the family in the 1930 U.S. census and discovered the couple had had three daughters.  Of course, I had trouble finding the daughters because they had married and changed their names!  I did discover the family had moved to California and found death dates for both parents and one of the daughters, but then got stuck.

I looked for family trees online and found three that looked credible.  I contacted the owners of the trees and all three got back to me, which was a pleasant surprise.  What also surprised me is that the first two to respond were not related at all to the families whose trees they had posted.  Is it common for people to post family trees of people they're not connected to?

On Thanksgiving Day I received a message from the owner of the third tree, who actually is related to the family.  Amazingly enough, the young daughter shown on the passport is still alive, now 88 years old!  Apparently, this passport may be the only surviving documentation from the time showing that she was born in China.  I'm going to mail the passport to her next week.

It feels so good to be able to send a piece of a someone's history back to her!  I don't know how it ended up with papers donated to a university, but I hope it stays in the family now.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

More "Immigrant Voices" from Angel Island

The "Immigrant Voices" feature on the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF) site is growing.  Volunteers read through files on the immigrants who passed through the immigration station and write narratives about their lives.  One of the recent additions to the site is the story of Max, Fanni, and Gertrude Rohr.  They arrived at Angel Island on June 16, 1940 after departing from Shanghai.  Their stated intention was to go to Brooklyn, New York to stay with Fanni's brother Max Popper, but apparently they enjoyed California, because Max Rohr became a U.S. citizen in Los Angeles in 1946, and Max and Fanni both died in Los Angeles, Max in 1986 and Fanni in 1990.

AIISF wants to hear from descendants of Max and Fanni, or from anyone who knew them.  Also, volunteers are needed to create more narratives based on immigration files.  If you can help with either request, contact AIISF at info@aiisf.org.

Jewish Family History Open House a Success

I really wanted to post about this earlier, but somehow the entire week got away from me.  The inaugural Jewish Family History Open House on November 13 was great!  I rushed back to California from Maryland, where I had been for my brother's wedding, to find that everything was set up and waiting for people to arrive.  (All those e-mails back and forth while I was gone were effective!)  Our first couple of researchers showed up early, and we then had a steady stream throughout the afternoon.  Altogether about 50 people attended, and we had about 20 volunteers, almost enough to keep up with the flow, with only a few slight delays in providing assistance.  The volunteers who so kindly gave up their Sunday afternoon were from the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society, California Genealogical Society, and Oakland Regional Family History Center.

The attendees were almost evenly split between beginners and intermediate researchers.  Beginners had a short introductory class on family history and online research, and then everyone was assigned an experienced researcher to be a guide.  People came with questions about research all over the U.S. and in many countries.  We had several volunteers with special expertise in areas who were able to help with area-specific questions.  Almost every attendee found some kind of information during the day.  One man discovered he was indeed born in a concentration camp.  A woman was dismayed to learn that her father and his brother, both survivors, had each not learned that the other had survived and ended up living not far from one another but never found each other again, but she is going to contact her cousins and reconnect the families.

Almost everyone who came to the open house also attended Ron Arons' lecture, "Putting the Flesh on the Bones:  Researching Why Our Ancestors Did What They Did", which he gave twice during the event.  It is important to learn more about our ancestors as people, and not have them be merely names and dates on a page or in a database.  Ron's talk is a great example of the kind of in-depth research someone can do on a person.

I think we've started what could become a wonderful annual event here in the San Francisco area.  If we hold it again next year, I'm hoping to have representatives from local archives come also, to talk about records that area available right here that people can use in their research.  But right now I'm just looking forward to seeing the people who came to the open house continue with their research and learn more about their family histories.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A New Branch on the Family Tree

A wedding is a lovely event for everyone, but for genealogists it holds a special place in the heart:  You have lots of family members gathered in one place, and you are adding new members to the family tree!

This past Saturday I was in Maryland for my brother's wedding.  All four of my father's children were there, which made him as happy as can be.  Other family members also attended, and there was lots of catching up all around, along with plenty of photos (my father is a photograhy nut, and my nephew just got a BFA in photography).  Once I get copies I have to make sure all those photos are labeled!!

My mother passed away several years ago, but my brother included her in the ceremony in a way I've never seen before.  When he walked up the aisle, he placed a rose on a chair in the front row to symbolize her presence at the wedding.  I thought that was a wonderful way to remember someone who could not be there.

The choice of wedding date also was affected by my mother.  She was born on November 11, and that was one of the days considered for the wedding.  In deference to her birthday, my brother and sister-in-law chose to have the wedding the day after that.

My new sister-in-law is very sweet and I'm happy to have her as a member of the family.  As a genealogist, I of course took the opportunity to talk to as many of her relatives as possible to start building that new branch of the tree.  I'm lucky in that her father has a strong interest in family history and remembered quite a bit about his side of the family.  He also wants to do more research, and I said I would be happy to help him.

Because my father has good-quality cameras, I was able to bypass waiting to get a copy of the marriage license and certificate for my files.  Right after the minister signed everything, he allowed my father to take digital photos of the certificates.  Oh, the joys of modern technology!

Any family gathering is an opportunity to talk to your relatives and to find out more about your family history.  Sit down with older members of the family and let them talk about their memories.  Ask questions that you've been wondering about.  Bring a digital camera and get copies of things such as the marriage certificate or the photos that are being handed around.  If you take photos of the event, don't forget to note who is who in them, so that you're not looking at it five years from now and wondering who those people are.  And write down your memories of the event to add to the family story.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Armistice Day

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.  That is when the armistice ending World War I was signed.  I grew up hearing about Armistice Day (now called Veterans Day in the U.S., to honor all veterans) from the time I was a small girl because my mother's birthday was November 11.  She knew her birthday was special, and she shared that with us.

I was in England in 1996 on Armistice Day (they still call it that).  Everything stopped at 11:00 a.m. -- drivers pulled over, radios didn't play anything, and people stopped moving and talking.  For two minutes the country remembered the sacrifices and deaths it endured during World War I.  It was a very moving experience.

A friend of mine in Chicago goes every year on Veterans Day and places a flower on the grave of Zalman, the grandfather of a friend of mine in the Bay Area.  Zalman served from 1917-1918 and was in France during the Armistice.  He wrote to a girlfriend during the war, and when he returned he asked her to type up all the letters he had written to her, so my Bay Area friend has a fascinating collection of letters he wrote from the war front.  As much as he was permitted to, he included where he was writing from, so we have a pretty good idea of his movements throughout his tour and what he experienced.

On Veterans Day this year I particularly want to honor my stepson and daughter-in-law, who both served in the U.S. Army, but I also am thinking of all members of armed forces, past and present.  They sacrifice a lot in the service of their country, and they deserve our thanks.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ancestry Day San Francisco

Ancestry Day San Francisco went well today.  The numbers I heard for registration varied between 900 and 1,000, but counting all the volunteers it had to be least 1,000 attendees total.  Everything seemed to run very smoothly, and the California Genealogical Society had plenty of people around if you needed help.

I did several consultations with attendees who had questions on next steps in their research, I taught one class, and still managed to go to two talks myself, so it was a busy day.  Most of my consultations were on Jewish genealogy, and along with making suggestions for additional research I shared a list of resources for Jewish research in the San Francisco Bay area.  I also tackled questions about German research and a deadbeat husband in Oklahoma.  I think I was able to give everyone good advice on what to do next.

My class went incredibly well.  The ballroom was pretty packed with about 140 people, probably the largest group I've had for my online newspaper talk.  And it was the first time I've used a microphone for the class!  I'm still pretty sure everyone would have been able to hear me (many years of vocal training have taught me how to project my voice very well), but the AV guy convinced me he didn't want to catch any flak, so I gave in.  Several attendees came up at the end to tell me they really enjoyed the talk, including the senior reference librarian from the Oakland Public Library.  That was a particularly special compliment for me, as I respect her opinion very much.

The first class I attended was about Fold3.com, the new, modified verison of Footnote.com since that company was purchased by Ancestry.com.  I picked up quite a bit of useful information.  The most promising was that the acquisitions division is aware of the U.S. Army morning reports in Kansas City and is trying to work out an arrangement with the National Archives to digitize them.  These morning reports aren't exactly a substitute but can help with research where the records are missing due to the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.  These records have not been microfilmed, so currently you must travel to Kansas City to view them.

The speaker told us that the majority of the indexing on Fold3 is done manually, not by OCR scanning, which I think is a good thing.  He also mentioned that the indexing is done overseas, however, but didn't say if any quality control or checking was conducted.  The other interesting tidbit was that I learned what happened to SmallTownPapers on the site.  Apparently the original license was extremely favorable to SmallTownPapers, and they were not willing to renegotiate the terms, so the decision was made to drop the license.  That's a shame, as it was convenient to have that bundled with the Footnote/Fold3 subscription, but it was a logical business decision.  On the other hand, SmallTownPapers is now a free site, but I haven't been able to determine if they're offering the same content they did previously.  If they are offering the same content, and it's free now, then what was the point in Footnote licensing it before?  And if it isn't the same content, what happened to the rest of it?

The second class I took was a mixed bag.  Some of the information I was familiar with, some was new and helpful, but some I knew to be inaccurate.  It's always frustrating when a speaker gives bad information, but it can be more of a problem for beginners, because they tend to have less experience to critically assess that information.  Ah, well, such is life.  I did learn something new, so overall that makes it positive, right?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Where did Mabell go?

Sometimes you totally lose the trail of someone you're researching, and I've lost Mabell.  I know she was born about 1881 in California, probably in Redlands, San Bernardino County.  In the 1900 census she appeared with her family in Redlands.  In October 1900 she married George in Los Angeles, and they went to Santa Barbara County, where he had been living.  (How did they meet and marry?  Good question.)  Their son Thomas was born in 1901 in California, maybe in Santa Barbara.  By 1905 George was working as a gambler (according to a newspaper notice) and they were living in Reno, which is where Mabell filed for divorce.  In 1910 Mabell and Thomas were living in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Why did she move there?  Another good question.)  Mabell appeared in Kansas City directories from 1909 through 1911.  Then she just ... disappears.

I haven't been able to find her in the Missouri death or marriage databases.  I can't find her in the 1920 or 1930 censuses.  I can't find her in city directories.  I can't find evidence that she came back to California.  I haven't found her in the newspaper after the 1905 notice.  I simply can't find a reference to her after 1911.

I know Thomas was living with his father in 1920 and then pretty much stayed with him until George's death in 1952.  Thomas died in 1974.  Neither of their obituaries mentions Mabell.

Mabell's youngest brother died in 1937.  His obituary mentions two surviving brothers but nothing about Mabell.  The oldest brother, who died in 1942, didn't have an obituary that I can find.  The middle brother died in 1964; his obituary also doesn't mention Mabell, but it doesn't mention the two brothers who predeceased him, either.

Obviously, Mabell didn't really disappear.  She died or remarried, and I haven't been able to pick up the trail in online databases.  She moved around quite a bit, so I can't assume she stayed in Kansas City.  So what's my point?

The point is that I've only been using online resources so far.  You can do a lot with the information available online, but you can't do everything.  An estimate I have heard consistently is that only about 10% of records that genealogists use are online.  If I had limitless funds and time, I would probably take a trip to Kansas City and try to find more detailed information about Mabell there.  I would want to look at the actual indices of deaths and marriages, because there is always the possibility of mistakes and omissions in transcribing these lists into searchable databases.  Mabell's father was from Missouri; I could trace his family to see if it was from the Kansas City area, which would have given her a reason to go there.  I might try to get the divorce decree from Washoe County to see if it has any clues.  I would try to track down every living relative on both sides of the family and contact each person to see if anyone has any information.

The practicalities of family history research, however, are that we never have limitless funds or time.  We have to narrow our focus and pick and choose what we can spend time and money on.  In Mabell's case, I can't afford to go to Kansas City, so I'm trying to decide the next logical step after having looked at marriage, death, census, directory, and newspaper listings.

I think I'm going to try to find descendants of her youngest brother, who was the first to pass away.  I've already determined that her oldest brother had only one son and then divorced, so the odds are less of him having stayed in touch with his father's family.  The middle brother married later in life and did not have children of his own; his wife had children from a former marriage.  If any branch of the family remembers Mabell, the youngest son's is the most likely.  And he had five children, giving me more chances of finding a descendant alive today.

Friday, October 28, 2011

International Jewish Genealogy Month

Tonight at sundown International Jewish Genealogy Month (IJGM) began.  It is celebrated during the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, which in 2011 runs from October 29 to November 26.  The purpose of IJGM is to promote the hobby of genealogy and to make people aware that there is a local Jewish genealogical society that can help them get started on their research.  We also honor our ancestors through our family history research.

The San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society is holding three events to celebrate IJGM.  The first one is a Jewish family history open house at the Oakland Regional Family History Center (4766 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland, CA 94602) on Sunday, November 13, from 1:00-5:00 p.m.  Knowledgeable researchers will be on hand to help beginners and those with more experience.  Author and researcher Ron Arons will present "Putting the Flesh on the Bones:  Researching Why Our Ancestors Did What They Did" twice during the afternoon.  A representative from the U.S. Bureau of the census will have informational and promotional materials, and we are also hoping to have someone from the U.S. National Archives regional branch in San Bruno.

On Monday, November 14, SFBAJGS treasurer Jeff Lewy will discuss how to create and publish a family history story without having to become a professional author.  In "Book 'em, Danno!  Publishing Your Family's Story", he will explain how he wrote down family stories, filled in some gaps with his own research, added photos, and used an online publisher/printer to make an inexpensive book his relatives are buying and telling others about.  Jeff's talk will take place at Congregation Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Road Room 5/6, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022.  Doors open at 7:00 p.m.; the program begins 7:30 p.m.

Finally, on Sunday, November 20, Dr. Lara Michels will present "Family History at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life" at Congregation Beth Israel Judea (625 Brotherhood Way, San Francisco, CA 94132).  In 2010 the Magnes Museum became a division of UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library.  Dr. Michels has been inventorying and cataloguing the museum's collections during the past year.  The collection has never before been fully catalogued.  She will provide an update on the Magnes Collection, paying particular attention to the ways in which it can serve the needs and research interests of genealogists and family historians.  Doors open at 12:30 p.m.; the program begins at 1:00 p.m.

All the events are free, and everyone who is interested is welcome to attend.  If you have been thinking about researching your family history, this would be a great time to start, and these talks will help get you going.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jews in Finland and Jamaica during World War II

I have recently come across two interesting chapters in Jewish history from World War II.  The Jewish Quarterly has a story about Finnish Jewish soldiers who fought alongside Nazis against the Russians.  Marshal Mannerheim, the commander of the Finnish army, worked with the Germans to further Finnish aims but protected Jews in his army and elsewhere.

A file recently discovered at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee documents 260 Jews who were given permission by the British government to escape Europe and stay in Jamaica during the war.  After the war the refugee camp was dismantled and the residents scattered around the world.  Now the man who discovered the file wants to know if any of those residents are still alive and is looking for more testimonials about life at the camp.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Up to 300,000 Babies Sold in Spain over Five Decades

This is horrifying.  A new BBC documentary, This World:  Spain's Stolen Babies, talks about an organized campaign between Francisco Franco's dictatorship and the Catholic church to steal babies from young mothers, many of them unwed, and sell them to devout but childless couples who could afford to pay high prices.  Even after Franco's death, the practice continued until the late 1980's or early 1990's.  The Spanish government does not appear to want to pursue an investigation.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blog Action Day 2011: Best and Worst Food Memories

I'm participating in Blog Action Day 2011.  This year's topic is food.

I love food.  I have been a caterer, a sous chef in an upscale California cuisne restaurant, and a kosher cook.  I enjoy preparing big holiday meals for family and friends.  But some foods stand out in my memory.

My absolute worst food memory is of my mother trying to make my brother and me eat liver.  He and I would spend hours after dinner pushing pieces of liver around on the plate, making designs with the ketchup we had drowned it with in a vain attempt to make it palatable.  My mother was absolutely convinced that we were just goofing off and that a sufficient number of threats (You're going to stay at that table until you eat that liver; if you don't eat it tonight you'll have it for breakfast tomorrow) would get us to eat it.  It took several years for my mother to figure out that we really just hated liver, and she finally gave up.

My favorite food memory is the time I made a perfect angel food cake from scratch.  I was about 7 or 8 years old.  I have no idea why I decided to make angel food cake, but I found a recipe and showed it to my mother.  She encouraged me to go ahead and make it.  (My mother was thrilled whenever someone else wanted to cook!)  I must have followed the recipe well, because it turned out perfectly.  Then my mother explained to me how difficult it is to make angel food cake, because of the egg whites.  I decided to stop while I was ahead, and I have never made another angel food cake from scratch.  Why mess with perfection?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Family History Day and Digging for Your Roots

I sure put some miles on my car today.  In the morning I taught my online newspapers class at Family History Day at the California State Archives in Sacramento.  Other than starting off the morning by forgetting the handouts at home in Oakland (but I've already e-mailed the file to everyone who attended the class), the session went very well.  More than 60 people were in the class, and we were standing room only at the end.  The classes at Family History Day are only 45 minutes long, so I had to show fewer search examples, but everyone was very enthusiastic about how they were going to use newspapers in their research.

I wasn't able to go to any classes myself amd only had a few minutes to visit exhibitors, because I had to turn around and drive to Concord for the annual Digging for Your Roots one-day conference presented by the Concord Family History Center.  There I gave my newspaper talk again, but this time without the PowerPoint, because we lost power in the building for about an hour and a half!   I was sorry not to be able to show the search examples, but I was able to give the rest of the class as a straight lecture, and it turned out okay.

The second class I taught was a new one about how to approach research when you have very little information to begin with.  The power had come back on by that point, which was good, because the visuals were more important for that class.  People gave me good feedback on what parts of the class worked and where it needed improvement, and said they had gotten some good ideas from it.  I've already been asked to give the new talk to a local genealogy society, so it must have gone well!

After the class was over someone asked for my advice on a project.  He is an officer with the California Highway Patrol and is trying to find photos of all CHP officers who have died in the line of duty, similar to what someone is working on for Los Angeles firefighters.  He is missing only five photos.  When he sends me more information I'll post it, and maybe we can help him find those last five.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What Is "Family?"

Xiaoming's search for her Jewish ancestor opens the door to broader definitions of "family" than those that are strictly defined by genes.  Based on the information from her mother's DNA test, this elusive great-great-grandfather may not have been a blood relation.  Most people I know also have some relationships that are not so easily categorized.

Sometimes it strikes me that I am so involved with family history when I'm not married and don't have a partner or any children.  Though I have no children of my own, I have two not-quite-stepsons I love dearly.  I'm not only researching their father's family, but also their mother's.  (I'm totally nondiscriminatory when it comes to genealogy!)

I have a half-sister, from my father's first marriage, whom I adore.  I also knew and was friendly with my sister's mother, and I research her family for my sister.

I'm very close to my aunt, who married my mother's brother.  I've done a lot of work on her family history and have shared the information with her sisters, both of whom I know.  One of her sisters asked if I would be willing to research her husband's family.  Of course I said yes.  So my extended family has extended even further.

I consider all of these people to be part of my family, and I include them in my ever-growing family tree.  My point is that "family" is a flexible word, which different people define in different ways, and almost everyone has people in their family who don't fit the normal mold.  That doesn't mean that they aren't important, or that they don't belong.  And if they belong, then they can be documented and researched, and they have a legitimate place within the family tree along with everyone else.

Chinese and Jewish

This past July I met Xiaoming Jiao, who was a surprise attendee at a San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogy Society meeting.  She is Chinese, so of course she immediately attracted attention and queries.  She told us her great-great-grandfather was Jewish and she wanted to learn about that part of her ancestry.  We welcomed her to the meeting, and several people suggested resources for her research.  Since then she has been exploring some of those resources and has jumped head-first into Chinese-Jewish relations, and we have been communicating regularly.

Recently she suggested her mother have a DNA test done.  The results were not what she expected, and while we were discussing them she asked if I would be a guest on her blog and talk about some possible reasons.  I was happy to do so, and she has posted my initial thoughts on the situation.

Xiaoming's discoveries highlight a basic truth of genealogy:  You can't guarantee what you're going to find when you start looking, but you need to know where to start.  Groups (like SFBAJGS), organizations (like Family History Centers), and people (like me) can give you ideas on where to start digging.   Xiaoming's puzzle is far from complete, and she isn't sure what the full picture will look like, but piece by piece it will come into focus.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Second Black Family History Day

The second Black Family History Day put on by the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California (AAGSNC) and the Oakland Regional Family History Center was very successful.  We had 64 participants this time, as opposed to the roughly 175 people who attended in February, but we had three times as many volunteers as last time, and we were able to give much more focused assistance to the people who came (but we still could have used more volunteers and more time!).

Nicka Smith of AAGSNC had organized a good flow for the attendees.  They went from registration to a short introductory workshop for beginners, to assistance in filling out a basic four-generation family chart, to one-on-one assistance in research and looking for information on their families.  (I already warned Nicka that I am going to borrow her ideas for the Jewish genealogy open house being planned for November 13.)  I heard that a couple of people were not able to find any records, but most people found something -- I saw lots of census records, some draft registration forms, and a few additional records.  I helped four attendees in the one-on-ones and lent back-up assistance to a few others.

Nicka plans to continue to have these family history days twice a year, in February for Black History Month and in October for Family History Month.  I'm looking forward to the next one, and to seeing these new researchers come back to the Family History Center to continue their research.  I hope they don't put their new finds on a shelf and wait until February to take the next steps!

Friday, October 7, 2011

2011 Northern California Family History Expo

I had an interesting time at the Family History Expo today.  This was only my second Expo, but the show appeared to be substantially smaller than last year in Pleaasanton.  Attendance seemed significantly less, and there seemed to be fewer vendors and fewer classes offered.  While the decreases are probably in part due to Ancestry.com's withdrawal of support (now that it is producing its own genealogy events), this is the second time that the Expo was scheduled while other local events are going on.  This may not be the best time of year to hit the Bay Area market.

That said, my class on using online newspapers for research went very well, after I finally browbeat the projector into working.  About 25 people attended, and they all said it was a great class.  I volunteered for a little more than an hour at the "Ask the Pros" booth and gave several people research advice.

The one session I was able to attend was "19th Century Cased Images and Tintypes: Discovering the Picture's Date", presented by Gary Clark of PhotoTree.com.  He explained the different types of photographs clearly and had very informative slides to accompany his talk.  He will generously be posting a PDF file of the presentation (and tomorrow's, "19th Century Paper Photographs: Discovering When the Picture Was Taken", which I unfortunately can't attend) on his Web site.

I also had the opportunity to visit with all of the vendors.  With two different vendors I discussed the usefulness (or lack thereof) of DNA testing in family history research, particularly for people who are just starting their research.  I find a lot of the DNA marketing to be misleading, because the results usually don't connect you concretely to other people, yet that's what purchasers tend to expect when they do the testing.  One vendor offered to pay for an autosomal test for me -- possibly in an effort to convince me how great it is?  I figured it wasn't much different from someone offering to buy me a reference book, so I said yes.  I admit I'm curious to see what the results will be, but I'll be very surprised if they create any breakthroughs in my research.

Monday, October 3, 2011

LincolnArchives Digital Project: Call for Volunteers

The LincolnArchives Digital Project seeks volunteers in the Washington, D.C. metro area to help digitize the Civil War military service records located at the National Archives facility in Washington.  The records, along with the pension files, have been selected to be moved to the St. Louis facility within the next five years.  Volunteers will receive free subscriptions to the LincolnArchives Digital Project site.

Two scanners are available at the Archives I facility.  Approximately four service records can be scanned per hour.  Records are being scanned at 600 dpi, 24-bit color.  Each military service record will be burned to a DVD.  One copy will be given to NARA to use as they see fit.  Those who have laptops with DVD burners and scanners that can do 600 dpi color scans are welcome to bring their own equipment.  The goal is to digitize at least 300 service records per week, starting with the state of Illinois.

Contact Karen Needles, LincolnArchives Digital Project Director, at (240) 462-9802.

The Archives building is open 9-5 Monday and Tuesday, 9-9 Wednesday-Friday, and 9-5 on Saturday.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Map Your Ancestors

Sample Map
A new beta Web site allows you to map your ancestors' paths.  F!ND allows free access to many constantly updated maps from reputable sources, such as the British Ordnance Survey and Google.  The site offers a toolkit which allows you to draw on the maps and to insert text and graphics.   It also allows you to measure, style, and color and to print finished maps or save them as PDFs.  The "Your Google Map" tool allows you to custom color every map feature.

After you select a map and a location, you can examine an area in which your family members lived or create personalized maps showing, for example, the geographical movements of an individual family member, the distribution of different family members, or the locations of graves.

The Help page shows some sample uses of the site's customization features.  Map layers also contain additional information, such as administrative districts.  Most of the features appear to be only for the UK, but you can create maps for other locations also.  This site, which is for noncommercial use only, is a free offering from a commercial mapping company.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

October Is Family History Month

It's easy to tell that Family History Month is here -- several special genealogy events are happening in the San Francisco area this month, complementing the regular meetings and lectures hosted by local genealogical societies.  Events I will be participating in:

Northern California Family History Expo, October 7-8:  This two-day event will take place at San Mateo County Event Center, 2495 S. Delaware Street, San Mateo, CA 94403.  Paid registration is required, and many classes are being offered.  On October 7 I will teach a class on using newspapers for genealogy research.  I will also be blogging from the Expo.

Black Family History Day, October 8:  The African American Genealogical Society of Northern California and the Oakland Regional Family History Center are presenting this event, which runs from 2:00-5:00 p.m. at the Family History Center, 4766 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland, CA 94602.  This is a follow-up to the family history day that was held in February.  The event is free, but you can reserve a consultation time.  I will be available for consultations and to assist with research.

Family History Day at the California State Archives, October 15:  This free event is presented by Root Cellar Sacramento Genealogical Society and the California State Archives.  It runs from 8:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. at 1020 O Street, 4th Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814.  I will be teaching a class on newspapers here also and will help at the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society exhibitor table.

Digging for Your Roots, October 15:  This is presented by the Concord Family History Center.  It runs from 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the LDS Church, 1590 Denkinger Road, Concord, CA 94521.  Registrations are still being accepted, but a syllabus is no longer guaranteed.  I will be teaching two classes:  newspapers for genealogy research, and a case study on researching when you start with almost no information.  The schedule shows that I will teach the newspaper class twice, but the 3:30 class has been cancelled.

Just looking at the schedule makes me tired already!  I'll have a couple of weeks to rest up, and then more big events are coming in November.  It's a good thing I love what I do!

Whoops! Forgot Where I Was

Sometimes I get so caught up in research that I don't remember to take into account how nongenealogists might react to what I'm saying.  A patron had come by the Oakland Family History Center to ask for my advice on how to research a relative of hers in newspapers.  I wasn't there, but someone took down her phone number for me, and I called her the next day while I was around people who have nothing to do with genealogy.  She told me that a family story said that sometime during the 1920's the relative had driven a brand-new car off the manufacturing plant grounds, picked up his two children (for whom he did not have custody) from school in the middle of the day, and headed out west.  So I said, "Okay, he stole a car and kidnapped the children."  Apparently my voice carried, because one of the women near me became extremely concerned and suggested I take my "very personal call" away from other people!  When I realized what my end of the call must have sounded like out of context, I apologized profusely.  It is interesting how 80-some-odd years can change the way you look at a situation, isn't it?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Films of the British Empire

Heart of an Empire (1935)
Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire has information on more than 6,000 films showing images of life in the British colonies.  More than 150 of the films can be viewed online.  The online catalog can be searched or browsed for films by country, date, topic, or keyword.  More than 350 of the most important films in the catalog have extensive notes written by the site's academic research team.

As an example, I did a catalog search for India and got 685 results, ranging in time from a cricket practice in Australia in 1897 to a 1993 history of the State of Kotah.  Restricting the search to entries with videos gave 43 results, one of which was an 1899 panorama of the Ganges.

The film project is a joint effort by two universities and three archives.  The introduction on the site states that the aim is to "allow both colonizers and colonized to understand better the truths of Empire."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Black Genealogy through the Eye of An Artist

"I Am America: Black Genealogy through the Eye of An Artist" is an exhibit that will run from November 5, 2011 through February 2, 2012 at San Francisco’s Main Public Library’s African American Center.  The exhibit is created and curated by Kheven LaGrone.

The Main Library is at 100 Larkin Street, San Francisco, CA 94102.  A genealogists/artists reception will take place on Sunday, November 20, 2011 from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. A program will follow from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. in the Latino Hispanic Room.

"I Am America" commemorates the black individuals and families who contributed to the making of America immediately before, during, and after the Civil War.  The exhibit also revisits the role of the continual slave revolts in the making of America.

For the exhibit, genealogists provided family stories, black and white photographs, marriage certificates, land deeds, census records, military papers, narratives, and other documentation on their families.  Artists then used this information to reimagine the stories and images.

Artists participating in "I Am America" include Alice Beasley, Inez Brown, Marion Coleman, Nate Creekmore, Todd King, Karen Oyekanmi, Makeda Rashidi, TaSin Sabir, Malik Seneferu, Nicka Smith, Nena St. Louis, Tomye, Morrie Turner, and Orlonda Uffre.

For more information or for images, contact Kheven LaGrone at kheven@aol.com.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

150 Half-siblings?

Though sperm donors remain anonymous, they have unique identifying numbers, and registries exist where parents of children conceived through sperm donation can contact each other.  One woman created an online group for children fathered by the donor for her son.  There are now 150 children in the group, and apparently more children are on the way.

Ethical and practical questions are being raised regarding children of sperm donors who father many children.  Besides the possibility of genetically transmitted diseases being passed along, the odds of accidental incest between half-siblings increase.  The United States, however, has no laws limiting the number of children a donor may father.

A recent article in the New York Times discusses these issues.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Recently Published Genealogy Journal Issues

The August issues of the two genealogy journals for which I am the editor, The Galitzianer (the quarterly journal focused on Jewish research in the former Austrian province of Galicia, published by Gesher Galicia) and ZichronNote (the newsletter of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society), recently were published.

The articles in the August issue of The Galitzianer are a list of 1938 Ropczyce, Poland, industrial permits; a report on Jewish vital records that have been preserved in Warsaw; a memoir written by a man born in 1886 in eastern Galicia; analysis of an early 20th century photograph; and two reports about recent visits to Europe, one to Dąbrowa Tarnówska and one to the L'viv area.

In the August issue of ZichronNote you will find an article that brings a different perspective to the question of Napoleon's (yes, that Napoleon) views on the Jewish people; a woman's search for her great-grandfather's missing artwork, which was hidden in many places in and around Warsaw at the outbreak of World War II; and a review of an online gazetteer of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Both The Galitzianer and ZichronNote are available only to members of the respective organizations. If you join either (or both) you get a subscription to the journal and help fund research projects, and you help support a hobby you enjoy.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fall Program at Sutro Library

Adolph Sutro
Sutro Library, the San Francisco (and genealogy) branch of the California State Library, will have two evening programs this fall, to be held on the last Thursdays of September and October.  The featured speakers are two National Park Service experts who will share their knowledge of Adolph Sutro:

September 29, 2011
Grounds for Pleasure: The Archaeology of Adolph Sutro's "Merry Way" Amusement Park
Speaker:  Leo Barker, National Park Service Archaeologist

October 27, 2011
My Family Experiences Working at Sutro Baths
Speaker:  Tom Bratton, National Park Service Docent

Both programs are free and open to the public.  Receptions with light refreshments will begin both evenings at 7:00 p.m.; the lectures will start at 7:30 p.m.

Sutro Library is at 480 Winston Drive, San Francisco.  For more information, contact Sutro Library at (415) 731-4477 or Sutro@library.ca.gov.

A flyer is posted online at http://www.library.ca.gov/SutroLectures%20011_Flyer_Final.pdf.

These could be the last talks focused on Adolph Sutro.  Next year the holdings of Sutro Library are scheduled to be integrated into those of the California State University at San Francisco library, and Sutro Library will be no more.  The building and land are valuable and ripe for development.  Accessibility will probably become an issue, because parking at Cal State San Francisco is difficult at best.  The situation reminds me of what has happened to the holdings of the Judah L. Magnes Museum, now the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, part of Bancroft Library at the University of California.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Civil War Conjugal Visit?

Nashville National Cemetery, 12/2006
Well, that's not what the telegram actually says, of course.  But that seems to be what happened.

In researching a Union soldier from Kentucky, I found his compiled service record on Footnote.com (now Fold3.com).  One of the items in his folder was a telegram from his wife, dated June 19, 1863, that said, "Please grant me pass to Nashville to visit my husband ... on important business."  There is no approval for the visit or note that it occurred in his service records online.  I reviewed his service folder when I was at the National Archives on my recent trip, and I did not find anything of the sort there either.

I also had requested the pension file for his widow.  I had found her in 1870 with three young children, apparently still a widow after her husband's death in 1864.  I thought she probably had received a pension benefit or she would have remarried.  In the pension file she stated (multiple times, on multiple forms; gotta love the government) that she had had two children, both of whom were minors, from her marriage to the soldier.  The birthdate of the younger child, her son, was consistently given as May 5, 1864.  That is coincidentally not much more than nine months after that telegraph.

I know there are many, many Record Groups relating to the Civil War.  I don't know if any of them might help me determine whether the request in the telegram was granted and find out if the woman was able to visit her husband, say around August of 1863.  But it should certainly be interesting to try to find out.  And now I'm wondering who are the parents of the third child in the household in 1870, who is several years younger than the boy ....

Sadly, the soldier died of smallpox on March 3, 1864.  He never got to see his son.  He is buried in Nashville National Cemetery.