Wednesday, August 31, 2011

LincolnArchives Digital Project: Free Access September 1-14, 2011

Another Web site with digitized Civil War-era information has come online.  The LincolnArchives Digital Project is granting a free two-week trial to view the Civil War, Lincoln administration, and Confederate records at  Use code 8AFC42CCC2 to take advantage of the free offer.  After the free access period the site will revert to subscription-only access.

The site gives three ways to find information:  a regular search feature, searching by NARA Record Group descriptions, and a site map with subject headers.  There are records related to prisoners of war, the slave trade, court martials, Lincoln's assassination, and more.  Photographs, political cartoons, and newspapers are also available.

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Historical Irish Newspapers Online

Irish Newspaper Archives says it is the largest online database of Irish newspapers, with more than 30 titles from all over the country.  The archive covers the 1700's through the present and offers researchers (including genealogists), students, and general users access to a wealth of Irish history and news.  The archive includes national, regional, and out-of-print titles.  Regional and local titles are a particularly good resource for those interested in genealogical research and local history investigations.

Most titles in the archive have never been open to the public in this format before.  Access will be free from September through December of this year.  For institutions, INA can provide usage statistics during the promotional period to allow an accurate gauge of usage.

This looks like a goldmine for research.  I'm going to be looking for family in Belfast and in the counties of Cork, Monaghan, Offaly, Sligo, and Roscommon.  How about you?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Women's Suffrage Centennial at San Leandro Public Library, September 24

U.S. women suffragists demonstrating
for the right to vote in February 1913.
The pennants read "VOTES FOR WOMEN."
Women gained the vote in California on October 10, 1911, nine years before the United States as a whole.  The San Leandro Public Library is commemorating the 100th anniversary with a program that honors the women who fought many years and endured terrible prejudice for the right to vote.  (Maybe your grandmother or great-grandmother was involved in the suffrage movement.)  The program includes a living history portrayal by the San Leandro Players of those fighting for the right to vote and their fierce opponents.  Then vocalist Rebecca Sulek and pianist Tania Johnson will perform a sing-along of suffrage marching songs. Next will be a screening of the film documentary One Woman, One Vote (film length is 106 minutes).  A "meet and greet" reception with cookies and tea will follow the program.

The program will take place on Saturday, September 24, 2011, from 1:00—4:00 p.m.
San Leandro Public Library
Lecture Hall
300 Estudillo Avenue
San Leandro, CA
(510) 577-3971

Project RestingSpot

Brett Atlas and Scott Kroeger of Omaha, Nebraska have developed a free app to map grave locations with GPS technology.  RestingSpot marks the location and then links it to, which has online memorials for users to share memories, pay respects, and post photos of loved ones.

Besides the obvious anticipated use by individuals, the app can be used by groups in a coordinated effort.  As an example, a rabbi in Omaha is organizing youth events before Rosh Hashanah to completely map all the Jewish cemeteries in Omaha.

They want people to use the app and give them feedback, positive or negative.  The free iPhone app is currently available for download:
An Android app is to be available shortly.

They have Twitter and Facebook pages so users can be updated on new features, etc.
Facebook page:
Twitter page:
Web Site:

If a cemetery is not currently in the database, the service will still work.  Mark a RestingSpot in that cemetery and send them an e-mail.  They'll add the cemetery to the database.

Project RestingSpot's goal is to map every resting spot in the United States by Memorial Day 2013.  They are looking for team leaders and volunteers to help them achieve that goal.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Who Do You Think They Were?"

You know who you are -- but do you know who THEY were? By "they" we mean the folks who came before you -- your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and of course all of their siblings also.  On Sunday, August 28, the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society meeting will be a research workshop.  Experienced SFBAJGS researchers will work with attendees and try to make sure that everyone leaves with at least one answer or lead to pursue.  Along the way we will help you figure out how to research and answer the "who, what, where, when, why, and how" of your family.

Doors will open at the Oakland Regional Family History Center (4766 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland, CA 94602) at 12:30 p.m.  The workshop will run from 1:00-4:00 p.m.  Bring copies of documents and photos, not originals.  The meeting is free and everyone interested is welcome to attend.  Light kosher refreshments will be served.  For more information visit

Friday, August 19, 2011

Goodies at the National Archives

I had a great day at the National Archives, though the research on my great-great-grandfather became a comedy of errors.  I had neglected to bring my copy of his compiled service record, so I did not have the names of the hospitals he had been treated at.  Before I went to the Archives I tried to find the information by looking on Footnote (now officially Fold3), but discovered that the Civil War service records for New Jersey are not available there.  I had learned, however, that the carded medical records for soldiers were arranged by unit and then soldier's name, and I had that information.  But when I had those records pulled, my great-great-grandfather had no cards.  So I figured I would look at his compiled service record on microfilm (which is faster than hard-copy records) and get the information that way, then request the hospital records.  Unfortunately, New Jersey is not microfilmed, which is why it isn't on Footnote, because Footnote digitized the microfilmed records.  So I had to request the hard copy of the service record, and by the time I got that, I didn't have enough time to request the hospital records.

What I did find was still enlightening and interesting.  Apparently some of the medical cards have now been added to service record files, because two medical cards which I did not receive copies of previously were included in the packet I looked at today.  My great-great-grandfather had been claiming that he had epilepsy and had had fainting spells, etc.  While he was in the hospital, however, he didn't exhibit any of the symptoms he had been claiming, which led to the "shamming" assessment, and he was returned to duty.  The really exciting item in the file, though, was a document signed by my third-great-grandfather, who had to give permission for his underage son to enlist.  I was holding a piece of paper signed by my great-great-great-grandfather.  It was an incredible feeling.

I had better success with finding documents for another person I was researching.  He enlisted in the regular U.S. Army infantry in 1890 and deserted in 1891.  I now have copies of his original enlistment paperwork (signed by him), his medical exam results, morning reports for his units for the entire time he stayed in the Army, and reports from a cavalry unit he was assigned to for a month (including everywhere they patrolled).  I learned that he was already in trouble before he deserted because he owed the Army money, and after he deserted there are notes suggesting that the Army tried to track him down to collect.  I was not able to get a copy of his official separation papers from the Army, because those records are currently being digitized.  I have so much new material to analyze and more records to request later.  I wanted to do the genealogy happy dance in the room, but there were too many grumpy people around, and I didn't think they would appreciate it.

Ah, well, time to pack my bags and get ready to leave tomorrow morning to head back to California.  I am scheduled to be back in the DC area in November, and I'm already making plans for more research.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fifth Day (and last for me) of the IAJGS Conference

Three excellent sessions in the morning today.  First was a panel discussion on how to get new family history researchers excited when they start, primarily by trying to ensure that they have success in the beginning.  The audience was board members and programming people from several Jewish genealogical societies, and everyone shared techniques they are already using and ideas for new approaches.  I talked about the San Francisco Bay Area JGS' plans for an open house this November.

Next was David Langbart, a 34-year employee at the National Archives, talking about State Department and consular records available at NARA.  He first explained the history of how records have been kept and destroyed over the years, mostly I think to try to prepare everyone for the fact that a lot of records we would like to have available simply aren't, because when decisions were made those records weren't considered important enough to keep.  (On the positive side, he also mentioned that archivisits now do take into account genealogical value when they assess whether records should be disposed of -- not a guarantee that they'll survive, but a vast improvement nonetheless.)  He then discussed what record groups are particularly useful for genealogical research -- mostly passport and visa applications and birth, marriage, and death records -- and how people should check with the Archives first to find out if any records exist for their relatives, rather than just showing up in College Park at Archives II.  I'm going to try to find out more about a relative on a collateral line who was with the U.S. legation to Cuba and then Honduras in the early part of the 20th century.

The last session of the morning was a presentation about the free online news archive of the JTA Bulletin.  (JTA was formerly called the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, but since the telegraph is passé, they now go by initials, like KFC.)  JTA was founded in 1917; the online archive has material from 1923-2008.  JTA covered worldwide news events from a nonpartisan, fact-based perspective, with a concentration on those events that were particularly pertinent to the Jewish community.  From a family historian's point of view, probably the biggest value in this archive is the ability to get information in the context of the time period.  Another useful feature is that a somewhat regular column was the "Bulletin Calendar of Events."  Addresses of synagogues and names of rabbis and cantors appeared regularly in the event listings.  The JTA staff are working on trying to find the earliest years of the Bulletin and will add them when they can, along with news items from the Overseas News Agency.

Then the International Jewish Genealogy Month committee met for lunch.  We brainstormed several ideas on how to publicize IJGM better and make it a more important event for Jewish genealogical societies.  We're very enthusiastic about the possibilities and believe IJGM holds a lot of promise as a premier publicity event.  We plan to implement some of the ideas this year and add more next year.  We look forward to seeing the event grow.

Photo: The Washington Post
After such a stellar morning, I suppose it's only fair that the afternoon had to be calmer to balance things out.  I missed most of the only session I had been strongly interested in, which was the talk by Steve Luxenberg.  I heard him speak last year about the research he conducted while working on his book Annie's Ghosts. This year he talked about research in general and showed some examples of erroneous information on forms, and discussed how to handle them.  He is a very entertaining speaker, and I'm glad I caught at least part of the session.

Unfortunately, the few sessions scheduled for Friday don't hold much interest for me, so today was my last day at the conference.  Instead, I'm heading to the National Archives on Friday to see what information I can find on my great-great-grandfather, who was hospitalized twice during the Civil War.  I have learned that many hospital records still survive, and I'm hoping I can learn more about his hospital stays (especially the second one, where someone in the hospital noted that they thought he was "shamming"!).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Day 4 of the IAJGS Conference

Maina Chawla Singh
Today's high note was research.  The conference had arranged complimentary subscriptions to several ProQuest historical newspaper databases on the computers in the resource room.  I spent some productive time searching diligently and found several articles about people in Indianapolis and Connecticut, along with two significant articles about one person in Chicago.  Nothing on my English cousins, though, because for some reason the Jewish Chronicle login wasn't working.  I'm hoping that gets fixed for tomorrow.

I had a disappointing session in the morning.  In the first 20 minutes, the speaker talked 5 minutes on subject and 15 minutes on present-day politics.  In addition, the speaker was reading directly from a printed copy of the talk.  I got frustrated and left early, but since I went to the resource room and found some of those articles, at least it wasn't too much time wasted.

In the afternoon I went to a very educational session on the Familianten laws of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia.  These laws regulated how many Jewish men were permitted to be married and therefore in theory controlled how many Jewish families there were (theory being the operative word there).  An interesting side effect of the laws was that extremely detailed records were kept to track each man who was permitted to have a family, including when the right was transferred to another person.  These records are obviously a boon to family history researchers.

I heard a lecture on an unusual topic in the evening.  Maina Chawla Singh, author of Being Indian, Being Israeli: Migration, Ethnicity and Gender in the Jewish Homeland, spoke about her ethnographic research on Indian Jews who have immigrated to Israel.  The Indian Jewish communities are some of the oldest in the world, but now most Indian Jews live in Israel.  Nissim Reuben, who works for the American Jewish Committee and who is Bene Israel, talked about his experiences as an Indian Jew.  I'm glad I had the opportunity to hear both of them speak.

Now off to get some sleep, or I won't get up on time for tomorrow's morning sessions ....

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

IAJGS Conference, Day 3

My online newspaper class went very well this morning.  About 15 people attended, smaller than I usually have, but the conference charged a fee for the class, so not totally surprising.  First I talked about techniques, and then came hands-on practice.  Most people were able to find something, if at least a lead to possible information.  Overall pretty successful.

In the afternoon I went to a session about the Boards for Special Inquiry that discussed the laws that created them, how they functioned, how they processed immigrant aliens, and how to try to find surviving information if you find an immigrant who went through the process.  I recently discovered that my elderly great-great-grandparents were questioned by a Board of Special Inquiry for eight days when they arrived in New York in 1922; they were noted on the ship manifest as likely public charges and physically feeble.  Apparently the fact that their son had a successful business and was available to pick them up was not enough to prevent the inquiry.  They were admitted eventually, which actually makes it less likely there will be any surviving paperwork.  But that won't stop me from looking!

I had an enjoyable dinner this evening with two fellow ProGen alumni, Meredith Hoffman and Michael Hait.  I finally got to meet Michael in person after several e-mail conversations.  We had a lively discussion about several aspects of being professional genealogists and managed to stay just this side of polite the entire time.

I ended the day watching a documentary called Jews and Baseball (2010), which took an interesting approach to the idea of cultural assimiliation through enjoyment of and participation in the national pastime.  Sandy Koufax is aging very well.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Day 2 at the IAJGS Conference

Philip Trauring taught an excellent class this morning on using Belgian archives for Jewish research.  Any foreigner who was in Belgium for more than two weeks had to register with the police, and many of the records have been preserved.  This is useful in Jewish genealogy because many Jews passed through Belgium on their way out of Europe and may appear in the records.  Philip demonstrated how he was able to put together the information he found on people named Trauring (admittedly a very uncommon name) and work out five generations of a family tree.  One of the best things about the archives is that most people's files have photographs.  These photos are often the only surviving pictures of many people; more than 25,000 Jews in Belgium were deported to Auschwitz.  Philip has an informative page on his Web site about these records, with instructions and an index.

Another highlight of the day was the film Jubanos: The Jews of Cuba. This was a short documentary about the Jewish community in Cuba and how it has survived and is now trying to rebuild itself.  One event discussed in the film was Fidel Castro's 1998 visit to the community to learn about and celebrate Chanukah with them.  The younger generation is helping lead the rebirth of the community.  I am always interested in learning more about Cuban Jews because I had cousins who went to Cuba from Europe.  Some left Cuba and immigrated to the U.S., and I am researching whether some of them are still in Cuba.

I'm looking forward to my online newspaper class tomorrow.  This will be the first time I've taught it as a hands-on computer workshop.  Should be fun!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

IAJGS Genealogy Conference, Washington, DC

Today was the first day of the 2011 IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, being held in Washington, DC.  I found something worthwhile to attend in every time slot.  The most interesting talk of the day was by D. Joshua Taylor, who spoke about attracting younger attendees to genealogy events.  He emphasized connecting through social networking venues and trying new types of programming.  I'm going to share my write-up with the SFBAJGS board of directors to start a discussion about what we can do in our society to get the "younger crowd" interested in researching their family history.

I also saw lots of familiar genealogy faces today -- Schelly Dardashti, Banai Lynn Feldstein, Ava Cohn, Dale Friedman, Rosanne Leeson, Roy Ogus, Gary Mokotoff, Steve Morse, Jan Meisels Allen, and plenty of others I can't remember right now because it's after midnight.

Now I have to get some sleep.  Sessions start at 8:00 in the morning, and I have to commute back to DC bright and early.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Jewish Genealogy Open House

The San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society will host a Jewish Genealogy Open House in honor of International Jewish Genealogy Month. IJGM falls during the Jewish month of Cheshvan, which this year runs from October 29 to November 26. The Open House will be held on Sunday, November 13, from 1:00–5:00 p.m. at the Oakland Regional Family History Center, 4766 Lincoln Avenue, Lower Level, Oakland, California. Light kosher refreshments will be served.

Members of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society and staff members of the Oakland Regional Family History Center will be on hand to help people with research. The goal will be for all attendees to gain some new information about their families.

Ron Arons, a well known Jewish author and lecturer, will speak about “Putting Flesh on the Bones: Bringing Your Ancestors to Life.” His presentation will be given twice during the afternoon so that all attendees have an opportunity to hear him.  Representatives from the U.S. Bureau of the Census will have a table with promotional and informational material about the census.

Other talks being presented by SFBAJGS during International Jewish Genealogy Month are "Book 'em, Danno! Publishing Your Family's Story" on Monday, November 14, at 7:00 p.m. at Congregation Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Road, Los Altos Hills; and “Family History at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life” on Sunday, November 20, at 12:30 p.m. at Congregation Beth Israel-Judea, 625 Brotherhood Way, San Francisco.

For more information contact Janice Sellers at or visit

"You Don't Need to Know What You're Looking For ..."

You know the ads.  An actor talks about researching family history, following leaves, and an amazing revelation, then says, "You don't need to know what you're looking for.  You just need to start looking."

Well, if you don't know what you're looking for, how will you know it when you find it?  How will you know that the person you're linking to is actually your ancestor?

Those ads remind me of Alice in Wonderland and the Cheshire Cat:  “One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don't know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn't matter.”

If you don't know where you want to go--don't know what you're looking for--then it doesn't matter which person you link to.  Anyone will do.  But if you want to find your family, you need to have a plan.  You need to know what, and who, you're looking for.

Talk to your family.  Call your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, your parents' best friends.  Look on the backs of old photos, because information may be written on the back.  Look in the family Bible for names.  Once you know who you're looking for, it can actually be easier to find them, because you know where they probably will be and who will be with them.

Do the research to find your family members.  Take the time to document and prove each connection in your family tree.  Don't just blindly follow a twitching leaf that someone else has posted and take that person at his word.  You might end up climbing someone else's family tree instead.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Search for Photos of Fallen Firefighters

Tim Werle, a Los Angeles firefighter, is looking for photos of seven L.A. firefighters who died in the line of duty.  The Los Angeles Fire Department training center has photos of all its fallen except these seven.  Here is his message:

I am a firefighter in the City of Los Angeles and over the years of our existence a number of great men have lost their lives in the line of duty. We have a hall at our training center that has photos of them all with the exception of just a few. I am wondering how genealogy, record searches, and the Internet can help us find a photo of these great men so that we may give them the honor they are due.

The names of the fallen (each name has a link to the stories and newsprint associated with the individual):

Fireman Monroe C. Karn
Engine Company No. 54
Appointed April 1, 1924
Died July 21, 1944
Market fire
6700 West Boulevard
At 11:33 p.m. on March 28, 1944, Engine 54 responded to a fire in a large market.  All members suffered severe exposure to ammonia fumes, heat and smoke.  Karn went off-duty ill April 1 and died July 21.

Fireman Elin Imbs
Engine Company No. 46
A Platoon
Appointed August 21, 1914
Died July 2, 1940
Cardiac arrest at fire.
4710 South Vermont Avenue

Auto Fireman Paul M. Shapro
Engine Company No. 22
Appointed August 7, 1918
Died April 5, 1936
Cardiac arrest while sliding pole responding to false alarm at 41st Street and Broadway.

Fireman Harry Louis Tree
Truck Company No. 4
at Engine Company 29
Appointed June 16, 1922
Died March 21, 1929
Fall from Truck 4
Intersection of Beverly and Western

Fireman Harry C. Powell
Engine Company No. 9
Appointed March 1, 1918
Died November 19, 1922
Crushed between apparatus and Pacific Electric streetcar while laying a line at fire.
808 West 10th Street

Fireman Adolph Hermanson
Engine Company No. 10
Died December 30, 1906
Fell from fifth floor window during structure fire.
216 South Los Angeles Street

Call Fireman Sam Haskins
Engine Company No. 2
Appointed 1892
Died November 19, 1895
Died of injuries sustained while responding to fire.

If you can help, leave a response at the blog of Susan Farrell Bankhead, Tim Werle's mother.  My thanks to Susan for posting this request and telling people about it.