Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Irish in Brooklyn

If you are in Brooklyn this Saturday, December 1, you may want to join a free walking tour of "The Irish in Brooklyn Heights."  The New York Irish History Roundtable is conducting the walking tour of Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill.  John Ridge, the Roundtable president and a local historian, will lead the tour, which will focus on the impact the Irish had in the development of the two historic neighborhoods.

The tour begins promptly at 2:00 p.m.  Meet the group in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall, on Court Street, near Remsen Street.  To get to Borough Hall, take the 2, 3, 4, or 5 train to Borough Hall Station.

I wish I could go!  My half-sister's mother's family is all Irish, all day long, and they were all over New York City.

Wordless Wednesday

Monday, November 26, 2012

One Minute Every Day

It is often said that genealogists can spend so much time researching the past that they forget to save the present.  Someone recently told me the simple but brilliant (to me, at least!) way he has been preserving memories of his children growing up.  Every day since they were born, he has filmed them for one minute.  During that minute they could be doing anything -- sleeping, eating, singing, playing, whatever.  But he films them every day for one minute.  Can you imagine the incredible archive he has?  He and his family can look back over the years of videos and watch the day-to-day changes as his children have grown older.

And it's so easy to do!  Just one minute, every day.  Hardly any time at all.  You don't need to set up anything elaborate.  And you don't even have to have a video camera.  Most mobile phones nowadays can record video.  (But you will need to download regularly.)

So what's stopping you?  Start creating memories for tomorrow!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Celebrating the "Borscht Belt"

Grossinger's Hotel
The "Borscht Belt" was a nickname for the summer resorts in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York that were frequented by Jewish vacationers coming primarily from New York City.  Its heyday was the 1940's through the 1960's.  Many well known comedians either got their starts or performed regularly in the Borscht Belt hotels, including Mel Brooks, Jerry Lewis, Carl Reiner, Don Rickles, and Jerry Stiller, names I grew up listening to.  I was also told that one of my grandfather's brothers used to work in the hotels during the summer and met his lifelong sweetheart there.  So even though I am too young to have actually gone to the Borscht Belt, it was something I grew up hearing a lot about.

Next Saturday, December 1, at 7:00 p.m. I'll be attending a free screening of Rise and Fall of the Borscht Belt, a 1986 documentary by Peter Davis, at Congregation Beth-Israel Judea, 625 Brotherhood Way, San Francisco.  Though there is no admission fee, donations are welcome.  Havdallah and refreshments will be provided.

Monday, November 19, 2012

British World War I Pension Records Saved

The Western Front Association (WFA), a group whose purpose is to educate the public about the history of the Great War with particular emphasis on the Western Front, announced on November 8 that it had preserved an archive of 6.5 million British pension cards and related records from World War I.  The Ministry of Defence was no longer able to maintain the archive, and the possibility existed that the records would be destroyed for lack of a caretaker.  The WFA was able to step in, and the archive has been transferred to its premises.

Pension cards were created for each British soldier, sailor, airman, and nurse who was wounded and survived the war, and for dependents of those who were killed.  A card can have information such as birthdate and location, date of death, names and birthdates of children, service number and regiment, wounds suffered during the war, and more.  Some of this information might not be available otherwise, as many World War I records were destroyed during the Blitz of World War II.

The WFA plans to digitize the cards and create a searchable database.  It is looking at potential partnerships, so it is possible the database may appear on an already existing subscription site.  As it will take a while for the records to be digitized, there are plans to offer manual look-ups in the near future.  Check the Web site for updates.

More British Newspapers Now Online!

As a self-proclaimed newspaper queen, I am always excited when more newspapers are digitized and put online, because I think they are so important in family history research.  Yes, I know, not everything is online (nor will it ever be!), but it is convenient to have lots of stuff available from your computer keyboard.  The latest database is the addition of the British Newspaper Archive to the material available on  Currently about 6 million pages, covering 1710-1950, are in the database, with more to be added.  A list of the newspapers and years available can be downloaded in a PDF file.

I have to admit, I am still somewhat ambivalent about this particular collection.  The archive was created from newspapers that the British Library required publishers to provide, and now the papers have been digitized and the library is the one making money from them.  James Murdoch (son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and at the time the CEO of News Corporation) came out against the plan when it was first publicized, but that had no effect on the digitization.  That said, I will be using the database, but it feels just a little "tainted" to me.

And don't forget -- you can use FindMyPast at Family SearchLibraries (formerly Family History Centers) for free!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Reception to Celebrate New Emma Goldman Book

Emma Goldman c. 1911
Emma Goldman (1869-1940) was an important anarchist well known for her political activism and writing.  She was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Russia but became a committed atheist.  The Emma Goldman Papers Project at the University of California at Berkeley has collected, organized, and edited thousands of papers by and about Goldman since 1980.  This Sunday, November 18, the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life will host a reception to honor the project's publication of the third volume in the four-part series Emma Goldman: A Documentary History of the American Years, 1890-1919 (Stanford University Press, November 2012).  There will be readings of Goldman's work.  The reception is open to the public.

The reception will be held from 2:00-4:00 p.m. at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, 2121 Allston Way, Berkeley, California.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Two New Time-Life Online Photograph Collections

Children at Ellis Island
Time-Life recently added two photograph collections to its online holdings.  "Gateway to a New World:  Rare Photos from Ellis Island" was posted on the anniversary of the closing of Ellis Island in November 1954.  It consists of 30 photographs by Alfred Eisenstadt, one of Life's best known photographers and an immigrant himself.  Eisenstadt went to Ellis Island in 1950, when American laws had again put heavy restrictions on immigration.  Some of the photos appeared in the November 13, 1950 issue of Life, accompanying a story about the new immigration laws; many have not been published before.

The second collection is "The Brink of Oblivion:  Inside Nazi-occupied Poland, 1939-1940."  These are photos taken by Hugo Jaeger, a German and dedicated Nazi who traveled with and photographed Hitler in the late 1930's and early 1940's.  On the anniversary of the official establishment of the Warsaw ghetto in October 1940, Time-Life posted this collection of 22 of Jaeger's photographs of Warsaw and Kutno (a small town about 75 miles west of Warsaw) from 1939 and 1940.  There is also a link to the story of how Time-Life acquired Jaeger's photo archive.

My thanks to Jan Meisels Allen for sharing information about these photographs.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Two DNA Studies for Holocaust Survivors

During World War II thousands of Jewish children were separated from their families, often placed with non-Jewish families to hide them.  Many of these children who survived were very young and had little to no information about their birth families.  Two DNA projects are trying to remedy that and reunite child survivors with relatives.

The DNA Shoah Project is building a database of DNA from Holocaust survivors and their descendants to try to reunite families separated by the Holocaust (Shoah in Hebrew).  The project's aims are to match relatives, provide Shoah children with information about their biological families, and eventually assist in the forensic identification of Holocaust-era remains.  The project also teaches about the Holocaust in schools.  The DNA Shoah Project seeks DNA submissions from prewar immigrants, survivors, and second- and third-generation family members.  There is no cost to participate.

The second project is a collaboration between Identifinders International, 23andMe, and  Their pilot study is using autosomal DNA testing to try to help Holocaust child survivors recover their birth identities.  They are starting with a focus on two individuals who have little chance otherwise of learning about their birth families.

Though their approaches are different -- creating a general database of information versus focusing on specific individuals searching for family -- each of these projects is extremely important.  Holocaust survivors are at a minimum 67 years old, and many are significantly older.  Many of them pass away without ever finding that missing piece of information that could connect them with other relatives who survived.  These studies have the potential to help them find information about the families they were separated from in World War II and connect with living relatives.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Honoring the Veterans in My Family

The earliest veteran I know of in my family is Moses Mulliner, my seventh great-grandfather, who served during the American Revolution as a drummer for a New Jersey unit.  I spoke about him recently to a local DAR chapter.  As far as I know he was a practicing Quaker, and that is probably why he chose to support the revolution as a drummer instead of fighting.  He was one of many veterans who found themselves in dire financial circumstances late in life, and he had to work his way through government bureaucracy for a pension that finally arrived the year before he died.

After Moses I move forward almost 100 years to the American Civil War.  My great-great-grandfather Cornelius Gottschalk Sellers volunteered to serve in another New Jersey unit.  Cornelius was underage, so his father Franklin had to sign a note granting him permission to volunteer.  His unit was at Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, and even at Appomattox for Lee's surrender, and he was in the hospital twice.  He did not survive long after the end of the war, passing away in 1877 at a young age.

On a collateral line are the only career military men I know of in my family.  Edwin Elias Sellers served in the U.S. Army.  He fought in the Civil War and was one of the Guard of Honor over the remains of President Lincoln while his body lay in state in Philadelphia from April 22-24, 1865, en route to Springfield, Illinois for burial.  I don't know if he was miffed when his son David Foote Sellers joined the Navy, but David had a long career there.  He participated in the Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars and World War I, and served as Commander in Chief of the United States Fleet and later as Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy.

Neither of my grandfathers was able to serve in the military.  My paternal grandfather had a leg amputated when he was 13 years old, and my maternal grandfather had flat feet.  But my maternal uncles were both in the armed forces, one in the Army and one in the Air Force.  And my stepfather was in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.

My stepson served in the U.S. Army for nine years, which included three tours in Iraq.  My daughter-in-law was also in the Army.

These are the veterans who are particularly dear to me, but everyone who serves has earned our thanks today.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Butchers, Babushkas, and Consumer Activism: The 1902 Kosher Meat Boycott

On November 18 the Jewish Women's Archive is presenting a Webinar on an early and little-known story of Jewish immigrant activism.  In 1902 in New York City the price of kosher beef jumped 50% overnight, and immigrant Jewish women organized a boycott against the butcher shops.  Dr. Judith Rosenbaum, Director of Public History, and Etta King, Education Program Manager, will host this inaugural program in the Jewish Women’s Archive 2012-2013 education Webinar series.  The Webinar is being offered at two times, 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Eastern time.  Registration is free.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Contest for Premium Subscription to Saving Memories Forever

First, what is Saving Memories Forever?

It's an Internet-based service that allows people to record, share, and save family stories.  It uses an iPhone app, and the recording and uploading processes are easy to use.  The company's site is; you can find the app on iTunes listed as Saving Memories Forever.  There's a demo on the Saving Memories Forever home page that you can try out.

Recordings are focused stories with short (5-10 minute) respones.  They are organized on the site by question and date and are designed to be easy to retrieve and share.  They are maintained in a secure location and remain private.  The premium service allows you to have unlimited stories and storytellers, a search-by-tag feature, and the ability to upload photographs and documents such as recipes.

So what's the contest?

I have a one-year premium subscription to give away to one of my readers.  I want to know what the farthest is that you've gone to get original data for your research.  This could be something like obtaining records from a repository, taking a photo of a tombstone, or visiting a town named for a family member.  To enter, reply to this post with a short description of your journey, including both endpoints of the trip.  If you wish to keep any specific information private, please let me know in the reply so the post can be edited before it is made public.  The deadline is November 14, 2012.  Distance will be judged by Google Maps.  I will make the final decision.

I'm looking forward to some good stories!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

"I See Beauty in This Life"

The current exhibit at the California Historical Society (CHS) in San Francisco is I See Beauty in This Life:  A Photographer Looks at 100 Years of Rural California.  The exhibit was curated by photographer Lisa M. Hamilton under the auspices of Curating California, a new program that encourages researchers to explore the collections of the society.  The photographs on display are a combination of ones taken by Hamilton during the past two years as part of her own work, Real Rural, and of ones she chose from the CHS collections.  The CHS photographs are from the 1880's through the 1960's and even the 1970's.

The exhibit shows an interesting variety of almost 150 images from many definitions of "rural."  Not only are there photos of operating farms and 4H events, but also logging, rodeos, wilderness, and simply people from rural areas.  Hamilton's modern images are fully identified (and I recognized several, which have appeared on the BART trains I operate), but unfortunately most of the historical photos from the CHS collections are not.  For many even the photographer's name is not known.

There are wonderful photos of so many people who are not named.  To me, each of those photos represents someone's family history that has been lost.  Every photo I saw that was unidentified made me wish that by some chance a descendant who would recognize the image comes to see the exhibit.  I know the odds aren't good, but I can hope, can't I?

The exhibit opened October 28 and will run through March 24, 2013.  On Friday, November 16, CHS will host Poetry and Photography:  Five Poets on "I See Beauty in This Life".  There will be a walkthrough with curator Lisa Hamilton on Thursday, December 13.  And on Saturday, January 12, I plan to attend Rural California in Farm Records, Letters, and Ephemera, which will probably draw on more material from CHS' collections.

The California Historical Society is at 678 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105.  The gallery is open Tuesday–Sunday from 12:00 noon to 5:00 p.m.  The library, from which the historic images came, is open Wednesday–Friday from 12:00 noon to 5:00 p.m.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Two Upcoming Jewish Presentations in San Francisco Bay Area

A couple of interesting things are coming up around here.  On Friday, November 2, a limited release of the film The Flat will begin in San Francisco and Berkeley.  The Flat (Hadira) is an award-winning Israeli documentary.  The synopsis sounds intriguing and describes the movie as a puzzle and a mystery:

At age 98, director Arnon Goldfinger's grandmother passed away, leaving him the task of clearing out the Tel Aviv flat that she and her husband shared for decades after immigrating from Nazi Germany in the 1930's.  Sifting through a mountain of photos, letters, files, and objects, Goldfinger undertook the complex process of making sense of the accumulated ephemera of a lifetime.  In the process, he began to uncover clues pointing to a complicated and shocking story:  a chronicle of the unexpected yet inevitable ethical ambiguities and repressed emotions that arise when everyday friendships suddenly cross enemy lines.  He follows the hints his grandparents left behind to investigate long-buried family secrets and unravel the mystery of their painful past.  The result is a moving family portrait and an insightful look at the ways different generations deal with the memory of the Holocaust.

The Flat will be playing at the Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, (415) 346-1124; and at Shattuck Cinemas, 2230 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, (510) 644-2992.  The information I received does not specify whether the movie is subtitled or dubbed, but the promotional poster shows the title in Hebrew, so I'm guessing subtitles (which is better anyway), but I could be wrong.

The other event is a presentation at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 7, at Temple Sinai in Oakland.  In his talk "Greek Jewry and the Little Shul That Could", Jim Mavrikios will discuss the history of Greek Jewry and of Kehila Kadosha Janina, the Greek Romaniote synagogue in New York City.  Romaniote Jews were neither Ashkenazic or Sephardic.  Mavrikios has spoken about Kehila Kadosha Janina previously but has made new discoveries.  Information about Greek Jews is especially significant because most Greek Jews (more than 80%) were killed during the Holocaust.  And they'll be serving ouzo!