Saturday, June 30, 2012

Auschwitz Prisoner Photos

In 1941 and 1942, when Jewish and non-Jewish prisoners were brought into Auschwitz, they were photographed similarly to mugshots: front, right, and left views.  The photos were identified by the person's camp number and what type of prisoner (Jewish, political, Jehovah's Witness, etc.) but not by name.  Photos were not taken of people sent directly to the gas chambers.  By 1943 photographs were rarely taken.

More than 30,000 of these photographs have survived, out of what must have been a much larger number.  They are held at the Auschwitz Museum.  There is no public inventory of the photos, but a little more than 2,000 have been shared with the International Tracing Service, Yad Vashem, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  The Auschwitz Museum also permitted Giuseppe Zambon to publish more than 600 photos in a book, Auschwitz: Abels Gesichter.

A searchable database with 2,255 names is now available on Steve Morse's One-Step Website.  This database includes the names from Auschwitz: Abels Gesichter and from the photos that have been shared.  The data were assembled by Peter Landé of Washington, D.C.  Information on how to order copies of photos is given on the site.

Mr. Landé hopes to add more information to the database when possible.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Can you read Mughal Persian?

I wrote recently about how archives contain unique documents that can hold important information for family history research.  A recent article in the Globe and Mail discusses some historical documents that remain from the Mughal Empire, which controlled the Indian subcontinent from the 16th to 19th centuries.  The 137,000 documents in the Inayat Jang Collection are from 1658 to 1774 and were retrieved from a fort in Andhra Pradesh.

The team of archivists cataloguing the collection was originally about 15 people when the task started in 1961.  Now only four archivists are left who can read the old Persian writing.  The documents includes information such as lists of castes in villages, land allotments to loyal subjects, the hiring of civil servants, and tax collection (some things never change).  The collection is considered to be extraordinarily complete for the time period it covers.

Unfortunately, as is common with many archives, the National Archives of India is underfunded and understaffed.  The documents are in an old building under less than ideal conditions.  One positive note is that the Inayat Jang Collection is slated to be digitized and made available online.  Perhaps individuals outside India will be able to read the old Persian script and will contribute to translating the material.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Photos for Father's Day

I called my father today to wish him a happy Father's Day, which got me to thinking about my grandfathers and earlier generations, so I put together photos of all my "fathers", or at least the ones I have photos of.  I actually have photos for three of my great-great-grandfathers, which was a pleasant surprise to me.  Now I need to figure out how to find photos of the rest ....

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Surprising Discovery in the New York Census

Meckler Family in 1915 New York Census
After my recent less-than-successful foray into the new New York censuses on I decided to give it a rest for a few days.  Today I was ready to face the databases again, so I searched some more in the 1915, 1925, and 1940 censuses for family members.

The first ones I found were my mother's parents in 1940.  I knew my mother wouldn't be listed because she was born in November 1940, and the census was taken earlier in the year.  But my grandmother was pregnant with her at the time of the census, so she was kind of there.

I found my grandmother's parents in 1915 in Manhattan, and my great-great-grandfather (my great-grandfather's father) was living with them.  He had immigrated to the U.S. just one year earlier, in 1914.  He died in January 1925, so I know I won't find him in that census.  My great-grandparents did not yet have any children in the household in 1915; during that census, my great-grandmother was pregnant with my grandmother's oldest brother, who would be born in December.

I also found my grandmother's other grandparents in 1915, again in Manhattan (they lived on Madison Avenue).  Of their seven children, two were still living at home.  In the 1925 census, I found the youngest child married and with a family of his own.

I found my grandfather with his family in 1925 in Brooklyn.  Five of the six children were in the household; the oldest daughter was already married and had children (haven't found her yet).  But the really interesting find was for my grandfather's family in 1915.

It took me a while to find the family.  The name was Meckler, but no matter what wildcards I tried in my search they did not show up.  So I tried using first names only, and voila!  There was the "Macklin" family.  When I looked at the page, I agreed that's what it looked like.  I don't know if it was a communication problem or whether my great-grandfather was trying out a different version of the name.  Family members at various times used Mekler, Mackler, and even Miller.

I was always told that my great-grandmother had had seven children, four born in Europe and three here.  My grandfather was the first child born in the new country.  I was told that little Rubin had died as a young child before the family had immigrated.  But what did I find in 1915?

The family consisted of Morris, Minnie, Sarah, Sam, and Harry, all born in Russia, and Abie (my grandfather) and Rubie, born in the U.S.

What?!  Rubin was born here?

See, I had figured I would never find any records for Rubin.  The part of Russia these family members were from (which is now in Belarus) saw almost all of its Jewish records destroyed during World War II.  There's practically nothing left.  I thought the fact that I even knew Rubin had existed put me ahead of the game.

But I always tell people to try to get every record you can, because you never know what you will find.  And as most of my friends can tell you, I am not one of those "do as I say, not as I do" people.  I definitely follow my own advice in this.  And I'm so glad I did this time in particular.

When I found Rubin with the family in 1915, I figured the gist of the story was still true, and he probably did die very young.  So I went to Steve Morse's Web site and used his New York City death index search.  Little Rubin died on June 11, 1915, just ten days after the census was taken.  He was one year old.

Of course I'm going to order a copy of the death certificate.  I have no idea where Rubin is buried, and that should be on the certificate.  I've searched in all the cemetery databases listed on the Museum of Family History Web site, on JOWBR, and on FindAGrave with no success.  Now that I've found him, I want to make sure Rubin is remembered.

Oh, remember the two pregnancies I mentioned earlier?  In the 1915 census, my great-grandmother Minnie was pregnant with her next child, Florence, who would be born in December of that year.

"Ask a Genealogist" on Juneteenth in San Francisco

Tomorrow, Lisa Lee and I will be conducting one-on-one "Ask a Genealogist" sessions from 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m. at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. This is part of their Juneteenth event (on Father's Day) and is free and open to the public:

To guarantee a time slot with a genealogist you should preregister by e-mailing  Walk-ins will be accepted on an as-available basis.  Come on by and let us help you start learning about your family history!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

ZichronNote Is at the Printer

I'm still running behind on my schedule, but it's getting closer to being on time (at least I'm finished with my training schedule!).  The May issue of ZichronNote has been sent to the printer and will be mailed soon to hard-copy subscribers.  Articles in this issue include a cautionary story about contacting possible relatives during your research; a name survey of the British censuses; and reviews of the San Francisco History Expo and a presentation about the Angel Island Immigration Station.

ZichronNote is available only to members of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society. 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, June 12, 2012

Loving Day

Read about Loving Day here.

Free Library Access to Historical Jewish Newspapers in June

For the month of June only, Proquest is providing free access to libraries to its Historical Jewish Newspaper project.  Go to for more information.  The instructions are to join the ProQuest Discover More Corps social network, then click on the tab there for Database of the Month.  Librarians may also request a longer free trial and other products from ProQuest.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Update on Central Library of Berlin Efforts to Identify Book Owners

In December I posted about the efforts of the Central Library of Berlin to find descendants of the owners of books that were confiscated by the Nazis during World War II.  On Friday I received a message from Peter Prölß of the library, who informed me that the library has published a new site that provides images and descriptions of the books, their provenance marks, and the names of the (assumed) previous owners. At (the site is in German) you can search the database by name and other options (an English-language page at has a basic search, but the German-language search is more robust).

Llibrary staff believe more than 200,000 suspect books are within their holdings.  New books and names will be added to the Web site on an ongoing basis.

You can read about some cases when books have been returned at:

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Frustrated with

I received a lovely e-mail update from a few days ago about the 1940 census for New York.  The whole state is completed!  Start your search now!  And at the bottom were come-ons for the 1925, 1915, and 1892 New York state censuses -- Just launched!  Search now!

Okay, I have lots of relatives who were in New York, and New York City in particular, so I dove in.  I started looking for dozens of names.  I actually found several.  But in the 1892 census, I wasn't anywhere near as successful.  No matter what permutations of a name I tried, I wasn't finding the people I was looking for.

Then I noticed that none of the results was for Manhattan.  Hmmm.  I decided to search just for New York County -- no names, dates, nothing.  And what did I get?  Zip.  Zilch.  Zero.  Bupkus.  The big bagel. put the 1892 New York census up without bothering to note that Manhattan isn't there.

Now, I can understand that it isn't done.  Ancestry has plenty of record sets it's working on, and they really wanted to get 1940 New York finished before did.  That's fine.

But one of the things that has always annoyed me about Ancestry is that it doesn't tell you up front what isn't there.  And unless you do a search the way I did and confirm the missing parts, you might think your people weren't there after all, or maybe the census taker missed them.  I also know that the description below the search fields says that New York County is not there.  My point is that the come-on teaser is misleading and misrepresentative.

I'm so glad I don't pay Ancestry for a subscription.  If Lexis-Nexis ran a subscription service this way they'd have been out of business years ago.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Using Archives for Your Research

Do you use archives for your research?  Archives generally are established for permanent storage of records that are unique and often unpublished.  They may contain manuscripts, diaries, original records, letters, and other items that are considered to have lasting value.  One example is the U.S. National Archives, which keeps and maintains original records dating back to before the establishment of this country.  When I visited National Archives I in August 2011, I had the opportunity to hold a piece of paper signed by my third-great-grandfather.  That's the kind of experience you usually have only at an archive (unless you are lucky enough to have family heirlooms like that!).

To help researchers use archives more effectively, the Society of American Archivists has published a free guide.  Using Archives:  A Guide to Effective Research describes the function of archives, how to locate archives that have materials relevant to your research, how to use tools such as finding aids and databases, and how to plan a visit to an archive.  You can use the guide online or download a PDF version.

I hope this inspires you to look for material about your family in archives.  If you find something, tell us about it!

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Indian Maharajah Who Helped Save Polish Orphans during World War II

the Good Maharajah
Politics makes strange bedfellows, indeed.  Prince Jam Sri Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja (no, I have no idea how to pronounce that) was the Maharaja of Nawanagar from 1933 to 1947.  This was when India was still controlled by Great Britain.  After World War II began, the Maharaja became a member of Winston Churchill's Imperial War Cabinet.

When Germany and the Soviet Union carved up Poland in 1939, Stalin had several hundred thousand Poles, including women and children, deported to the inner depths of the Soviet Union.  But when Hitler turned on Stalin, Stalin was forced to ally with Great Britain and the Polish government-in-exile.  Amnesty was declared for Polish prisoners in the Soviet Union.  The Maharaja offered to help Polish children who had been deported to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and other locations.

As many as 500 orphans were brought to the Maharaja's summer palace at Balachadi, on the coast of Nawanagar.  The children remained there throughout the war.  Delegates of the Polish government-in-exile even set up and ran a school.

And now, the Warsaw City Council passed a resolution on Friday, June 1, to name a square in the Ochota district of central Warsaw after the prince.  Apparently I am not the only one who has difficulty pronouncing his name -- the square will be called "the Square of the Good Maharaja."