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'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  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?