Coming from OnBoard, September 2016

OnBoard: Newsletter of the Board for Certification of Genealogists is scheduled to publish in September 2016. We’re pleased to offer a preview of some of its content.

“Standards and Forensic Genealogy”

Forensic genealogists use genealogical skills and methods to help resolve legal problems. Most practitioners of the specialty provide expert opinions relied on by legal professionals. Giving us a look into the world of forensic genealogy, Michael S. Ramage, JD, CG, explains how adherence to the principles in Genealogy Standards underlies success in forensic work.

“Investigating and Evaluating Family Artifacts”

Genealogists who are lucky enough to have inherited a cherished heirloom may wonder about its background. Pam Stone Eagleson, CG, shows how thorough research and applying genealogy standards and guidelines used by museum curators and educators can reveal the stories behind our family artifacts.

OnBoard publishes three issues per year. A subscription is included in annual associate fees and is provided to applicants “on the clock.” Subscriptions are also available to the general public for $15.00 per year (currently) through the BCG website, here. Issues back to 1995 can also be ordered online, here.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Numbering Contest Winners!

Congratulations to Terri Wheeler and Joshua Hodge, first and second prizewinners in SpringBoard’s Numbering Modern Family Contest! Both are preliminary applicants and took time from their portfolio work to practice numbering. Terri has chosen the FamilyTreeDNA Y-DNA test and Joshua the Ancestry test.

Here’s how SpringBoard numbers the cast of Modern Family.

Important elements to note are

  • Individual numbers beginning with Jay (1). Note that Manny (5) follows Joe (4), even though he is older, because he is not a biological son of Jay Pritchett.1 Alternatively, the groups of stepchildren and biological children may be listed in chronological order.2 Manny would then be number 4 and Joe number 5, as in Alternative numbering below, after Generation Two.
  • Generation numbers. Note especially Manny (generation 2, but of a different surname) and Lily (generation 1 of her biological line with this surname).3
  • Child list numbers. Note especially that Manny and Lily do not have child list numbers, as they are not biological descendants of the lineage in question.4

Generation One

Generation Two

Alternative numbering of Jay’s youngest children

1 Joan Ferris Curran, Madilyn Coen Crane, and John H. Wray, Numbering Your Genealogy: Basic Systems, Complex Families, and International Kin, ed. Elizabeth Shown Mills, rev. ed. (Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2008), 19, bullet 1.

2 Numbering Your Genealogy, 22, Figure 7, 11. Muriel Mercer example.

3 For Manny, see Numbering Your Genealogy, 19, bullet 3. For Lily, see p. 20, bullet 5.

4 Numbering Your Genealogy, 18, bullet 3, also pp. 19, bullet 4, and 20, bullet 4.

5 “Jay Pritchett,” Wikia: Modern Family Wiki ( All web pages were accessed 15 July 2016.

8 “Claire Dunphy,” (; other information states her birth in 1973 or 1974, which is inconsistent with her being two years older than her brother Mitchell.

13 “Manny Delgado,” (  See also “Javier Delgado,” (


Diverse Communities: Researching Italian Ancestors Part 2

 Italian Genealogical Research: Part II

Melanie D. Holtz, CG

Italy is a land of beauty and contrasts, not only in its topography but also within its records. Yet that’s what makes this form of genealogical research so interesting! Knowledge of the major record sets is key to making sure your research is thorough. The five major record sets are:

  • Civil Registration – Italian civil registration is not just birth, marriage, and death records. It also includes municipal census records, records compiled from municipal census records, such as the Stato di Famiglia Storico [Historical State of the Family Certificate] or the Certificato di Stato di Famiglia [Certificate of Family Status, one of several forms of an Italian residency certificate], diverse acts [such as civil recognitions, births of abandoned children, adoptions, deaths of residents elsewhere, stillbirths], marriage banns, supplemental marriage, birth, and death records, and citizenship records.

If you wish to order civil records from an Italian town hall, it’s important to understand what formats the documents come in. Your purpose will determine what format of the record you order. For example, if you need the record because you are tracing the heirs for an estate, then you will need the “Certificato,” as other formats would not be acceptable in a U.S. court. Keep in mind that Italy has privacy restrictions that extend for seventy years after the creation of the record.

Two sets of civil registers are created each year. One set is conserved in the town hall and the other set is sent to the Tribunale (similar to a District Court) for use in legal proceedings. After seventy years, the Tribunale’s copy is sent to the province’s Archivio di Stato (provincial/state archives) for conservation. Understanding how these records were created may help find a record when one set of civil records has been destroyed.

FamilySearch currently has the largest and most accessible collection of Italian civil, ecclesiastical, military, and notarial records outside of Italy. According to their agreement with the Italian State Archives (Direzione Generale per gli Archivi or DGA), they are digitizing all civil records held within Italy’s provincial/state archives. Digitized copies of these records are then returned to the Italian State Archive, a key part of the digitization agreement. The DGA is placing these images on their website, Portale Antenati. These records will eventually be indexed by name, date, location, and record type. Ancestry also has a modest collection of Italian civil records.

  • Ecclesiastical Records – This record set includes baptisms, confirmations, death/burial records, marriages, marriage attachments, dispensations, and different types of ecclesiastical censuses. FamilySearch has some ecclesiastical records on microfilm but the great majority must be accessed in local parishes or diocesan archives.

In general, ecclesiastical records extend back to the end of the Council of Trent in 1583 or to the construction date of the parish the ancestors attended. Records of defunct parishes are often kept at the diocesan archives. In 1614, Pope Paul V prescribed the keeping of status animarum (State of the Souls) records, a census-like record used to track the vital statistics of all parishioners and the sacraments (baptism, confirmation, communion) they had received. They were also used for taxation purposes in some time periods and localities.

  • Military Records – Key military records consist of conscription records, extraction lists, service records, and discharge papers. FamilySearch has a limited amount of these records on microfilm or in digitized form. Some provincial/state archives have created databases containing the conscription records for their province, which can be accessed on their websites. For an example of one such project, see the website of the Archivio di Stato di Cosenza.
  • Census and Tax Assessment Records – Census and tax assessment records take many different forms in Italy, depending on time period, locality, and who created the records. Various forms of land or property taxation censuses existed into the mid-nineteenth century (for some areas into the 1870s). Often called catasti onciari, censimente, or riveli, they were usually created by ecclesiastical authorities. Many provincial/state archives are digitizing these records, which can be a valuable resource, especially when parish records have been destroyed.

Some forms of municipal censuses began after Italian Unification but were phased out with the onset of federal censuses. If the municipal censuses survive (registri di popolazioni, shede individuale, foglie di famiglie), they can be an invaluable source of information, as they often document the vital statistics of whole family groups, as well as immigration/emigration information. Federal censuses are usually not available for consultation.

  • Notarial Records – In Italy, notaries recorded all types of legal transactions. Therefore, notarial records can be an invaluable source of evidence. Some types of notarial records are mortgages, property sales/transfers (may include the sale of land, buildings, animals, trees or fruits thereof, wells/water rights), adoptions, atto di notarietà (sworn statement used to prove identity when there was no birth or baptismal records), wills, dowries and marital contracts. I once found an amazingly helpful property transfer that detailed three generations of a family and provided death dates and places for the initial couple on the deed, the client’s second great-grandparents. As access to parish records was not permitted in this area of Italy, this pre-civil registration information was especially valuable. To learn more about notarial records and their application to genealogical research, consider attending my BCG webinar this coming November, “Civil Law Notaries: Using Notarial Records to Build a Family History.” Watch SpringBoard for an announcement in October.

FamilySearch has a limited amount of these records digitized or on microfilm but their collection is increasing. The majority of these records need to be researched onsite in Italy’s provincial/state archives or notarial archives, depending on the province.

Other types of records do not have as strong a genealogical application as the four listed above. Italian newspapers are one of these resources. The great majority of emigrating Italians came from the peasant class, which was largely illiterate. Obituaries, wedding announcements, or “hometown happenings” sections in Italian newspapers for the majority of Italian citizens are not found until the later part of the twentieth century, long past the major immigration waves. However, Italian newspapers are a valuable resource for cultural, social and historical research. There is no centralized source for digitized historical versions of Italian newspapers, like one sees in the U.S. These records are being maintained on individual newspaper websites. For example, see the Italian newspaper, La Stampa, which has digitized all of its publications since its founding in 1867.

In contrast, Italian-American (Italian-Canadian, Italian-Brazilian, etc.) newspapers contain notifications of immigrant arrivals, wedding announcements, death notices, and many other types of valuable genealogical information. You can find these records in the collections of historical societies, as well as state and local libraries.

Further Study in Italian Research


There are several Italian courses available now or during the upcoming year.

  • The National Institute of Genealogical Studies has four Italian genealogy courses available, ranging from basic to intermediate, with more to come in the future.
  • The Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research will offer an Italian Genealogical Research Practicum in October 2016. The practicum is for the intermediate researcher with some experience in Italian research.


The list below is not exhaustive but does provide important resources for a genealogist learning to work in Italian genealogical research.1 Several language resources are included.

Amadè, Luca Sarzi. L’Antenato Nel Cassetto: Manuale di Scienza Genealogica. Sesto San Giovanni, Milano, Italy: Mimesis Edizioni, 2015. This resource is in Italian and contains handwriting samples of abbreviations seen in documents written in Latin.

Battelli, Giulio. Lezioni di Paleografia. 4th ed., second printing. Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2007).

Bischoff, Bernhard. Paleografia Latina Antichita e Mediovo. 2nd ed., Italian translation. Padova, Italy: Editrice Antenore, 1986.

Cole, Trafford R. Italian Genealogical Records: How to Use Italian Civil, Ecclesiastical, & Other Records in Family History Research. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Incorporated, 1995.

Holtz, Melanie D. “Evaluating the Evidentiary Value of an Italian Record.” Finding Our Italian Roots Blog, 21 May 2015. : 2016.

Holtz, Melanie D. “Genealogical Standards in Italian Genealogical Research, Genealogical Proof Standard (Part I).” Finding Our Italian Roots Blog, 23 November 2014. ( : 2016.

Holtz, Melanie D. “Applying Genealogical Standards to Italian Genealogical Records.” Finding Our Italian Roots Blog, 17 November 2014.  : 2016.

Holtz, Melanie D. “Adding Cultural Context to Your Family History.” Finding Our Italian Roots Blog, 29 July 2015. : 2016.

Mendola, Louis. Sicilian Genealogy and Heraldry. New York: Trinacria Editions, 2013.


Melanie D. Holtz, CG®
Specializing in Italian Genealogical Research and Dual Citizenship

1 The resources given in the first post on this subject have not been repeated.


The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Diverse Communities: Researching Italian Ancestors Part 1

Italian Genealogical Research: Part I

Melanie D. Holtz, CG

Between 1880 and 1920 more than four million Italians immigrated to the United States. During this same time period, there were significant Italian immigration waves to South America, Canada, Switzerland, France, England, and many other countries. Italians remain one of the largest ethnic groups within the U.S., and interest in Italian ancestry and culture continues to grow exponentially. Professional genealogists, especially those working in the U.S., Canada, or South America, may encounter Italian ancestors when researching an extended family.

Historical Considerations for Italian Research

The country of Italy was created from multiple city-states during a time period known as Italian Unification. Combining vastly different city-states with different cultural mores and dialects was especially challenging, and those differences are seen within the records. As not all areas of present-day Italy became part of the country during Italian Unification, understanding history can help locate hard-to-find records.

1543–1563 The Council of Trent, a body of Catholic leaders, met in the city of Trent to reform various policies of the Catholic Church. After the Council’s adjournment in 1563, priests were required to maintain baptismal, marriage, and death/burial records. In 1614, Pope Paul V prescribed the keeping of status animarum (State of the Souls) records in his book, Rituale Romanum.
1559–1713 Spain ruled most of present-day Italy. Some records in this time period are in Spanish.
1713–1796 The Austrian Hapsburgs ruled most of present-day mainland Italy. German can be found in the records of this time period, most especially in the northern regions.
1796 Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France, conquered the Austrians and gained control of Italy.
1806–1815 Napoleon ruled most of Italy. In 1806 he implemented civil registration.
1808 The King of Naples introduced civil registration to the Kingdom of Naples (in general, those areas of mainland Italy south of Roma). Civil registration was called the Stato Civile Napoleonico (Napoleonic Civil Registration).
1813–1815 Civil registration ended in most areas of northern Italy, and the present-day Italian regions were returned to their former rulers. Southern Italy maintained civil registration from 1806. Sicilia did not begin civil registration until 1820 and continued it unabated.
1816–1865 Civil registration during this time period was called Stato Civile Restaurazione (Restoration Civil Records]) and kept by part of the peninsula between 1816–1865 and in Sicilia from 1820–1865.
1821–1831 During this time period there were many revolts against former rulers. You may find that civil registers for some years were destroyed, especially in the region of Sicilia.
1848–49 There were bloody revolts against Austrian rule in most major cities. New governments were established, and the Pope won back control of Roma.
1858–59 Most of northern Italy was united under the Kingdom of Sardinia.
1860–62 Sicilia and southern Italy were freed from French rule.
1861–65 Italian Unification: On 15 November 1865 King Vittorio Emmanuele united all city-states, except for the city of Roma, the independent country of San Marino, and the region of Venezia. After this point, civil registration was known as the Stato Civile Italiano (Italian Civil Records).
1866 The region of Venezia became part of Italy after the Prussians defeated the Austrians. Law now mandated civil registration.
1870–71 The French were ousted from Roma during the Franco-Prussian War. Italy took control of all areas except for the Vatican. The capital of Italy was moved from Torino to Roma.
1915–18 After World War I, Trentino and Trieste became part of Italy.
1946 Italians voted to establish a republican constitution.
1970 Civil divorce was made legal.

Getting started in Italian research is not as daunting as it might seem. There are many helpful resources available for free or at low cost. FamilySearch’s Family History Research Wiki on Italian Genealogy contains helpful information on all record types. They also offer a video course on beginning Italian genealogical research, genealogical word lists, and letter-writing and handwriting guides that are very useful.

Brigham Young University also has an Italian script tutorial that can be invaluable when reading the records.

The resources listed below are aimed at the beginner and intermediate researcher. They contain translations of the most commonly found documents, guidance on ordering documents from Italy, details on the various Italian archives, and other information.

Adams, Suzanne Russo. Finding Your Italian Ancestors: A Beginner’s Guide. Provo, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2008.

Colletta, John Philip. Finding Italian Roots: The Complete Guide for Americans. 2nd ed. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2008.

Nelson, Lynn. A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your Italian Ancestors: How to Find and Record Your Unique Heritage. Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books, 1997.

Is It Important to Know the Town of Origin?

It is essential to know the ancestor’s town of origin, as nearly all records useful for genealogical research were created at the town (commune) or parish (parrocchia) level. If the town is unknown the research should first focus on the records created by these ancestors in the place of immigration. Once the town of origin is known, research can proceed in the Italian records.

In large cities, like Roma, Palermo, or Napoli, knowing the neighborhood (quartiere) where the family resided is essential to effectively research the civil records. Large cities had multiple town halls so the civil records are separated by the neighborhood where they were recorded. Not knowing the neighborhood may require paging through thousands of records for each town hall and each year, a time-consuming process.

Italian military records are arranged by military district, with only a few military districts within each province. Each provincial/state archives (Archivo di Stato) conserves 19th century military records for their province. Where a researcher can find pre-19th century military records varies. Research in military records could determine, for example, the town of birth for a male ancestor born after 1855, even though all that is known is that he came from the province of Napoli.

Ports of Emigration

Understanding the major ports of Italian emigration is also important. Italian ancestors who emigrated out of Genova were usually from northern Italy. Ancestors who emigrated from Napoli were usually of southern Italian or Sicilian descent. While some immigration manifests show the port of emigration as Palermo, these ships also docked in Napoli to gather supplies and additional passengers for the transatlantic journey. Therefore, ship manifests that show Palermo as the port of emigration may also include immigrants from southern Italy.

Understanding the general area an ancestor may have come from could help determine the town of origin, as town names on immigration manifests are often abbreviated. For example, if an ancestor came from the town of Santa Maria, knowing the general area of origin may help narrow down which one of the twenty-plus towns in Italy that begin with Santa Maria is the correct one.

Tracing Italian Women

Italian women used their birth surname throughout their lives, even on their immigration manifests. Occasionally, you may find a record under her maiden and married surnames, with the word “in” between them. Ecclesiastical records may note only her first name once she reaches adulthood, and she may be designated as “the wife of [husband’s name]” or “the daughter of [father’s name].” However, while this was the practice in Italy and other Latin countries, after immigration to the United States Italian women were recorded using their husband’s surname.

In my next post, we’ll discuss the five most common record sets used in Italian research, the best places to find records outside of Italy, and additional educational resources on Italian genealogical research.

Melanie D. Holtz, CG
Specializing in Italian Genealogical Research and Dual Citizenship

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Elizabeth Shown Mills: How Long Do You Have to Practice Genealogy Before Becoming Certified?

When Elizabeth Shown Mills speaks, we listen. She graciously offers us advice and encouragement through BCG’s Facebook group. In case you’re not yet a member of that group or you missed this post, SpringBoard reprints here Elizabeth’s advice about how long you have to practice genealogy before becoming certified.1

When a new associate is announced, we here at BCG often hear this question: How long has she/he been a genealogist?

Here’s the inside skinny: “How long” doesn’t matter. What matters is whether we have learned the discipline of genealogy and how successfully we apply our knowledge to solving research problems. Contrary to the TV ads that do a wonderful job of bringing in new people, research is not a matter of searching for names in data bases and plugging together random findings to create families. “The name’s the same” does not mean the person is.

Correctly identifying people and assembling them into family groups require an analytical mindset, thorough research, and disciplined research habits. It requires thoughtful correlation and analysis of evidence and a commitment to genealogical principles and standards—not those of some other field in which we originally trained. Across the years, we’ve seen some individuals produce NGSQ-quality research within two years of being bitten by ancestral curiosity. We’ve seen a few certify almost as quickly. And we’ve seen too many portfolios that demonstrate scant awareness of genealogical standards, methods, or principles even though their preparers have been “doing genealogy” for twenty or thirty years.

If you’ve followed the BCG Facebook page for long, you’ve undoubtedly picked up on three things: (1) Educational prep helps. (2) That education can be virtually free or cost a fortune. (3) Success rate does not depend upon how much our education costs us.

Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA


1 Elizabeth Shown Mills, “The Board for Certification of Genealogists®,” Facebook ( accessed 21 June 2016), posting 24 May 2016.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Beyond the “Failed” BCG Portfolio

An insufficient portfolio means failure only if the applicant quits. Darcie Hind Posz, CG, submitted three portfolios before becoming board-certified. Each of her submissions represented a great investment of time and money. An evaluation of “insufficient” could have left her stunned, disappointed, or angry. She didn’t quit or appeal the decision. Instead she learned from the judges’ comments and tried again. Darcie had the courage to choose the harder pathnot once, but twice. She describes her journey for SpringBoard readers.

Three Portfolio Submissions, Two Failed, One Successful

By Darcie Hind Posz, CG

I submitted my first certification portfolio prematurely.  I was not ready, and my reasons for seeking certification were immature. I wanted to silence those who discriminated against me because of my youth. (I had heard, “Do you know what a census is?” one too many times.) I soon found out that my youth did not actually give me an edge. I had perused The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual, but had not studied or understood it.[1] I had only two genealogy books (on cemetery research) in my collection. I had not read any quarterly journals and had only attended a local genealogy conference. Because I did not know any better, I thought I was ready and submitted a clunky first portfolio. My kinship-determination project showcased only my ability to find direct evidence in vital records, obituaries and census records.

Darcie Hind Posz, CG

As that portfolio was traveling via postal mail to Washington, D.C., my husband and I were moving to that same city for my new job. City living is expensive. When my portfolio was deemed so far off the mark that it was returned unevaluated along with my check, I was elated just to have the money. I put certification on the back burner.

After that experience I knew I had deficiencies, so I attended lectures . . . but only those that reinforced what I already thought or knew because I did not want to feel challenged. I had subscriptions to quarterlies, but I only flipped through them. I developed a skill for over-researching to find that one piece of direct evidence that answers all questions. I did not understand indirect and negative evidence, let alone how to apply them to genealogical problems. I noticed that direct evidence only got me so far, but I ignored that feeling and went back on the clock.

Around the time that I submitted my second portfolio, I switched departments at work to a position where I reviewed lineages on an hourly basis. Comparing myself to nearly twenty other genealogists in that department, I quickly realized why I may not have been ready for certification. While these genealogists were verifying lineages, establishing proof, and resolving conflicts daily, I had only done lookups. I did not study the standards, I did not study the rubrics, and I did not read Evidence Explained.[2] I only used it as a reference for citations. After months of waiting to hear back from the BCG judges, I received notice that my portfolio had failed, but this time I had the gold mine: the judges’ comments, critiques based on the standards and the rubrics, and all the specific reasons for my failure.

I like to know boundaries, parameters, standards, routes, and rules so that I can assess how I have approached things, what did and didn’t work, and what to change the next time around. With both failed attempts at certification, I realized that I was putting about a third of my energy into it. I wanted a clear and obvious path, a “direct evidence” approach, as if certification could be achieved by pursuing this education or reading/studying that quarterly. Trying to copy what made other people successful prevented me from figuring out what worked for me. I was applying that approach to my career as well as my genealogical research. I needed to learn about indirect and negative evidence and standards so that I could apply them to my genealogical life.

After learning that my second portfolio had failed, I allowed myself to wallow in self-pity for two hours. I realized that it was important to get the proper education and to understand and apply the standards, so I started to weigh my education options. I signed up for a ProGen Study Group and the NGSQ Study Group.[3] I purchased the National Genealogical Society Home Study Course (currently American Genealogical Studies). I began attending lectures that I did not understand, that were over my head and made me feel uncomfortable. I read NGSQ during my lunch breaks. I made my own audio recordings of the BCG standards and the first two chapters of Evidence Explained and listened to them while walking or working. The standards became second nature, and I began to see them simply as best practices genealogists apply to their work, but with a number assigned to them.

My turning points were a workshop Tom Jones presented to my local chapter of the Association for Professional Genealogists; the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) Advanced Evidence Practicum; and the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis course by Elizabeth Shown Mills. I have known for years that classroom settings are a weak spot for me, so I had avoided institutes. The workshop presented the materials ahead of time, so I was able to work towards the answer in a controlled environment. It was gratifying to arrive at the correct conclusions by meeting the challenge to understand and apply the Genealogical Proof Standard. The SLIG Advanced Evidence Practicum hit on the same weak spot, and although I was uncomfortable the entire week, I was able to take the work home, take it apart and learn how it was put together in the first place. The Advanced Methodology course reinforced that I do not work well in classrooms, but I still learned on a deeper level. All of these courses provided binders that I consult to this day.

Darcie Hind Posz, CG

By varying educational formats I was able to focus on learning every day rather than waiting for an institute. I ordered audiotapes of genealogy lectures that were advanced and theory driven, and I listened to them daily. Beefing up my education became a priority. What I learned I put into practice in my day job. I worked at it on lunch breaks, evenings, and weekends. I had the rubrics on a bulletin board in front of me when I researched so I automatically checked to see if my work met the standards. The magical day when I realized I finally got analysis and correlation, I knew I was ready to go back on the clock again.

Once I was outside of my comfort zone and no longer insulated, I was able to figure out how I learn. Smart learning is a priority for me. It lasts longer than a course. Knowing how I process and retain information underlies how I research, how I analyze and correlate data, and how I write. Learning that was as important as certification. I knew I wanted to apply again one more time before I was thirty-five years old. Finally ready and with education under my belt, four months before my thirty-fifth birthday I became a  board-certified genealogist.


[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, an imprint of, 2000). This publication has been superseded by Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.:, an imprint of Turner Publishing, 2014).
[2] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 3rd ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2015).
[3] ProGen Study Group is based on Elizabeth Shown Mills, ed., Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001). NGSQ Study Group discusses articles from the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. Follow the links above for more information on each.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Diverse Communities: Researching Jewish Ancestors

Diverse Communities: Jewish Genealogy

Rhoda Miller, EdD, CG

Jewish genealogy has become increasingly popular in recent years. The reasons are multifaceted but largely relate to interest in Jewish identity. A good starting place is to dispel the major myths of Jewish genealogical research.

  • Records were all destroyed during the Holocaust; nothing is left.
  • Towns no longer exist.
  • The family name was changed, and no one knows the original name.

The information to follow will undermine these myths.

Historical and Cultural Background: A Brief Overview

History: Jews are the people of three notable geographic dispersals in modern history. The first relates to the Spanish Inquisition (1478–1834) whereby Jews were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula.[1] Generally this dispersal was to Mediterranean-basin countries as well as Central and Eastern Europe. The second dispersion was the mass migration from Eastern Europe (1882–1914) due to poverty and prejudice. The majority of people emigrated to the United States but also to South Africa, England, and South America.[2] The third dispersion was during the Holocaust era (1919–1945), when Jews migrated worldwide, including settlement in Palestine. Jewish communities are found throughout the world, so it should not be surprising if a paper trail leads to an unexpected location.[3]

Ashkenazic and Sephardic: In both religious practice and cultural tradition, there is a difference between Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews. The Ashkenazim largely emerged from Eastern Europe while Sephardim emerged from Spain and the diaspora countries of the Spanish Inquisition. One important difference relates to naming practices. The Ashkenazic tradition is to name a child after a deceased person, usually that of a grandparent. Therefore, given names tend to skip a generation. In the Sephardic naming tradition children are named after living people, and the full name can have a suffix, such as “Jr.” Sephardic surnames often sound Spanish or Portuguese and are not thought of as “Jewish.”[4] One can utilize the concept of a “Jewish name” as a clue, but it is far from definitive evidence.

Names: Jewish given names can be confounding, as they may have English, Yiddish, Hebrew, homeland language, and diminutive versions, as seen in the following example. Oral history claimed that a person’s given name was Louis. He has been found in U.S. records as Leopold and Harry. His name appears on a passenger ship manifest as Lipot. His gravestone records his Hebrew name as Asher Lev. Asher loosely translates to Harry while Lev becomes Leopold/Louis. No record has been found to date with the name Louis other than the back of a photograph.[5] Name changes, given and surname in the U.S., can be tracked using traditional sources: naturalization records, passenger ship manifests, and vital and military records. Random luck may play a role. Resources below list variations of names based upon custom and transliteration.[6]

It is difficult to trace Ashkenazim prior to the early- to mid-nineteenth century, as Jews largely did not have surnames. Then they were usually known by a patronymic—e.g., Isaac ben [son of] Abraham—or by a given name commonly associated with an occupation. For example, “Nissim the dyer” was Nissim to whom people gave their spinning to color.[7] The timeframe during which Jews were required to take surnames varied considerably among Western European countries and the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires.[8] Sephardic surnames, on the other hand, existed as early as the tenth or eleventh centuries.[9]

Languages: Language complicates research. Yiddish was the vernacular of most Eastern European Jews but not all. Hebrew is the language of religious worship as well as the official language of Israel. The two languages share the same alphabet but are distinct and should not be confused as one. Many diaspora Jews were also conversant in the local language(s) of the country in which they lived; multilingualism is common among Jewish immigrants of any period. Records for any given location may be in multiple languages depending upon the time period and ruling government.[10]

Cemeteries: Burial and gravestone practices are important to Jewish genealogy. Traditional burial occurs within twenty-four hours of death with the mourning period (shiva) to follow for typically three to seven days. Jewish gravestones are formally unveiled during a ceremony one year after the death. The traditional Jewish gravestone offers the deceased’s Hebrew name as well as the Hebrew given name of the person’s father, such as Asher Lev ben [son of] Moishe. Such a practice enables genealogists to go back one generation rather easily.[11] Unfortunately, as observance declines, an increasing number of modern gravestone inscriptions do not reflect this practice. Jewish graves can be found in consecrated Jewish cemeteries, consecrated sections of non-sectarian cemeteries, and randomly in non-sectarian cemeteries.[12]

Gravestone artwork may be an important clue contributing to evidence of descent. Hands with fingers spread as in the blessing practice (also the hand sign used in Star Trek) symbolize the ancient religious patrilineal distinction of being a Kohen (priestly caste). The designation HaKohen is usually inscribed in Hebrew after the person’s or father’s name. It is a mistake to infer that the surname Cohen, or any of its variant spellings, means the same as being HaKohen. The patrilineal designation of Levite (helper to the priests) is symbolized by the image of a pitcher which was used to pour water over the priest’s hands during the traditional hand-washing ceremony. The designation HaLevi is usually inscribed in Hebrew on the gravestone. Every other male is considered an Israelite, which is typically symbolized by an image of the Star of David. Females do not have such designations, but their gravestones are commonly inscribed with candelabra, which symbolize the woman’s role in lighting the Sabbath candles.[13]

Locations: Identifying towns of origin presents a problem similar to that of personal names, as town names are often spelled differently in different languages. The identification is further compounded by the confusion of changing national borders. These towns are different today in that most (if not all) of their Jewish residents were murdered during the Holocaust.[14] Towns (shtetls) that once held major Jewish populations may still exist, but no longer “exist” in the hearts and minds of survivors.

There are a few larger cities in Eastern Europe that still have a Jewish population. The JewishGen Communities Database is extraordinarily helpful in sorting out the problem of identifying current town names.[15] For example it lists the following alternative appellations for the city with the modern name of Mukacheve, Ukraine: Mukačevo (Czech, Slovak), Munkács (Hungarian), Munkatch (Yiddish), Mukachëvo (Russian), Mukaczewo (Polish), Munkacz (Polish), Munkatsch (German), Muncaci (Romanian), Munkačevo.[16]

Holocaust: The Holocaust created unique research problems and strategies. While there was certainly loss of records, many did survive. In some cases, care was taken to hide and protect archival material during World War II. Many valuable resources for Holocaust research were produced by Nazi efforts to document transports, arrests, concentration camp inmates, ghetto inhabitants, etc. After the war, many newspapers and agencies published survivor lists and notices seeking missing persons. The Russian government undertook an extensive project, the Extraordinary State Commission to Investigate German-Fascist Crimes Committed on Soviet Territory, which documented events in every town and produced extensive name lists. Yad Vashem, the prominent Israeli museum and archive of the Holocaust, has an extensive online database of Pages of Testimony. These are forms, completed by survivors and others, that document the people who disappeared or who are known to have been murdered during the Holocaust period. The database has English transcriptions of the forms as well as images of the original documents, which can be in any number of languages. The United States Holocaust Museum and Memorial (USHMM) has extensive historical information, a library and archive catalog, and a names database. The International Red Cross Tracing Service has the most complete documentation of Holocaust victims. Their database and records, which have been provided to Yad Vashem and USHMM, are searchable onsite and by written request.[17]

DNA: DNA studies may provide evidence of Jewish origins. Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder test, for example, has an ethnicity category labeled Jewish Diaspora. Y-DNA (male-line) results may place an individual within any number of categories under study by Jewish researchers, including rabbinical lineages.[18]

Other Resources

The primary online source for Jewish genealogy is JewishGen. The FAQ and InfoFiles on a wide variety of topics are a good place to learn specific research, cultural, and location information. This site offers an extensive number of databases organized by country as well as topic. Topical databases include the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR), Holocaust Database, and a bibliographic database of Yizkor Books, memorial books written about Jewish communities that were destroyed during the Holocaust. There are also extensive tools such as the JewishGen Communities database and ViewMate, which provides volunteer translation assistance for brief documents. Additionally, there is a Family Finder (JGFF) and Family Tree of the Jewish People (FTJP) that connects the researcher with others researching the same surname or town. The site also hosts independent organizations that provide databases and other resource information. Jewish Records Indexing – Poland (JRI-Poland) has transcribed a substantial number of vital records from Poland as well as other resources. The project has begun providing images of original records online. Litvak SIG offers a database and information about the Jewish communities of what is largely modern Lithuania.

Stephen P. Morse’s One-Step Webpages contain tools for finding immigration records, census records, vital records, and for managing calendars, maps, foreign alphabets and numerous other applications.

The Jewish Genealogy Society of Long Island has an expanding series of YouTube tutorials that provides easy to understand information about general records as well as Jewish-specific topics.

Miriam Weiner’s Routes to Roots Foundation website includes an Archive Database which consists of a searchable town-by-town inventory of surviving Jewish and civil records in the archives of Belarus, Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Moldova.  Also included is an image database as well as articles written by Eastern European archivists and historians.

The International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies (IAJGS) is the umbrella organization for over seventy Jewish genealogy societies worldwide. Local groups may be contacted for resources and assistance. Every summer, IAJGS hosts a major international conference devoted to Jewish genealogy.

The Israel Genealogy Research Association has extensive information and resources for research in Israel. Its website offers a searchable database of its holdings.

The Center for Jewish History in New York City serves as home to five major Jewish organizations: the American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum, and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. The website offers a combined library catalog and electronic finding aids to collections. The Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute at the Center for Jewish History provides a wealth of genealogical resources through the partners’ collections and a variety of fact sheets for the beginner to advanced researcher.


Jewish genealogy requires unique resources and strategies. Mastering these specialized skills dispels the myths and leads to an enriched genealogical research experience.

Selected References

Beider, Alexander. A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Kingdom of Poland. Teaneck, NJ: Avotaynu, Inc., 1996. Print.

———. A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire. Revised ed. Bergenfeld, NJ: Avotaynu, Inc., 2008. Print.

Feldblyum, Boris. Russian-Jewish Given Names. Teaneck, NJ: Avotaynu, Inc, 1998. Print.

Gilbert, Martin. Atlas of the Holocaust. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1993

———. The Atlas of Jewish History. New York: William Morrow, 1993. Print.

Gorr, Shmuel. Jewish Personal Names: Their Origin, Derivation and Diminutive Forms. Ed. Chaim Freedman. Bergenfeld, NJ: Avotaynu, Inc., 1992. Print.

Krasner-Khait, Barbara. Discovering Your Jewish Ancestors. North Salt Lake, UT: Heritage Quest, 2001.

Kurzweil, Arthur. From Generation to Generation: How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Personal History. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004 (updated edition).

Malka, Jeffrey S. Sephardic Genealogy: Discovering Your Sephardic Ancestors and their World. 2nd ed. Bergenfeld, NJ: Avotaynu, Inc., 2009. Print.

Menk, Lars. Dictionary of German-Jewish Surnames. Bergenfield, N.J.: Avotaynu, 2005.

Mokotoff, Gary. Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy: 2015 Edition. New Haven, CT. Avotaynu, Inc., 2015. Print.

Sack, Sallyann Amdur and Gary Mokotoff, eds. Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy. Bergenfield, NJ: Avotaynu, 2004.

Segal, Joshua L. A Field Guide to Visiting a Jewish Cemetery. Nahsua NH: Jewish Cemetery Publishing, LLC, 2005. Print.

Spector, Shmuel. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust. 3 vols. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem. New York: NYU Press, 2001.

Weiner, Miriam. Jewish Roots in Poland: Pages from the Past and Archival Inventories. Secaucus, NJ: Routes to Roots Foundation, 1997.

———. Jewish Roots in Ukraine and Moldova: Pages from the Past and Archival Inventories. Secaucus, NJ: Roots to Routes Foundation/YIVO, 1999.

Wynne, Suzan F. Finding Your Jewish Roots in Galicia: A Resource Guide. Teaneck, NJ: Avotaynu, Inc., 1998. Print.

Rhoda Miller, EdD, CG, has been a Certified Genealogist since 1998. She is Past President of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Long Island with whom she has co-authored Jewish Community of Long Island, a recent addition to the Arcadia Images of America series.

[1]  For detailed information regarding the historical background, locations, and naming information for Sephardic Jews, see Jeffrey S. Malka, Sephardic Genealogy: Discovering Your Sephardic Ancestors and Their World, 2nd ed. (Bergenfeld, N.J.: Avotaynu, Inc., 2009).

[2] See Sallyann Amdur Sack, “Modern Jewish Migrations,” in Sallyann Amdur Sack and Gary Mokotoff, eds., Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy (Bergenfeld, N.J.: Avotaynu, 2004), 73–76.

[3] Both references for Martin Gilbert’s atlases provide geographic detail regarding Jewish dispersions.

[4] For further detail regarding Sephardic naming practices, see Jeffrey Malka, “Differences in Sephardic Ashkenazi Genealogy,” JewishGen (

[5] Miller, Rhoda (Babylon, New York), personal research file, GROSS binder.

[6] See Shmuel Gorr, Jewish Personal Names: Their Origin, Derivation and Diminutive Forms, ed. Chaim Freedman (Bergenfeld, N.J.: Avotaynu, 1992). Also, Sack and Mokotoff, Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy, 48.

[7] This example is derived from Gittel Pomerantz, “Orlowe, My Birthplace,” trans. Rhoda Miller, in Sefer Zoludek ve-Orlowa; galed le-zikaron [The Book of Zoludek and Orlowa; a Living Memorial], eds. A. Meyerowitz, Tel Aviv, former residents of Zoludek in Israel and the USA, 1967; digital images, JewishGen Yizkor Book Project ( : accessed 10 April 2016).

[8] See Sallyann Amdur Sack, “Jewish Naming Practices: Family Names,” in Sack and Mokotoff, Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy, 30–34.

[9] For a primary-level overview of Jewish surnames, see “Jewish Names,” Judaism 101 (

[10] Foreign language alphabets with descriptive guides for commonly used languages in Jewish genealogy may be found in Sack and Mokotoff, Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy, “Appendix A: Alphabets,” 577–83.

[11] Considerable detail for Jewish gravestone interpretation and translations is provided on the JewishGen’s InfoFile “Reading Hebrew Tombstones” ( The Jewish calendar, different from the Gregorian and Julian calendars, is also discussed on this page. Jewish calendar dates are used for religious purposes. There is an excellent conversion tool at Stephen P. Morse, “Jewish Calendar Conversions in One Step,” One-Step Webpages (

[12] For more detail see Joshua L. Segal, A Field Guide to Visiting a Jewish Cemetery (Nashua N.H.: Jewish Cemetery Publishing, LLC, 2005), 27-33.

[13] Ibid., 49–58.

[14] For further detail on locating towns see Gary Mokotoff, “Shtetl Geography: the Changing Face of Europe,” and Randy Daitch, “Holistic Geography,” in Sack and Mokotoff, Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy, 16–22 and 23–29, respectively.

[15] “JewishGen Communities Database,” JewishGen (

[16] Ibid., search for “Mukacheve.”

[17] For further information regarding Holocaust research see Gary Mokotoff, “Holocaust Research,” in Sack and Mokotoff, Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy, 61–67.

[18] For an overview of what FamilyTreeDNA has to offer regarding the discovery of Jewish ancestry, see “The Family Tree DNA Learning Center,” FamilyTreeDNA ( > Expert’s Handbook > Jewish Ancestry.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

For the Genealogically Adventuresome: Number Modern Family

Create a numbered genealogy of ABC TV’s Modern Family.


a DNA test courtesy of AncestryDNA

or a 37-marker Y-DNA test courtesy of FamilyTreeDNA

or a copy of Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones, courtesy of the National Genealogical Society.

The Contest: This past month’s series of SpringBoard posts on numbering a genealogy has highlighted complex family structures. It’s dense information, and now it’s time for some fun!

ABC’s TV series Modern Family features a blended family like those we encounter in real life. SpringBoard challenges readers to number a genealogy of Modern Family’s characters as if they were a real family. The first-place winner may choose among the three prizes above. The second- and third-place winners will choose from the remaining two prizes. The first-place entry will be published in a future SpringBoard post.

Characters Alex, Manny, Luke, Cameron, Lily, Mitchell, Phil, Haley (Not pictured: Jay, Gloria, Joe, Claire)
By Roderick Eime (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0 []), via Wikimedia Commons


  1. Contest is open to all persons eighteen years and older. You need not be Board-certified to enter or win. Trustees of the Board for Certification of Genealogists are not eligible to win.
  2. Contest will run from 1 June 2016 to midnight 1 July 2016, Eastern Daylight Time. Email your entry in a stable format to Include your full name and mailing address.
  3. Void where prohibited.
  4. Watching Modern Family is not required. Online resources are offered below. No purchase is necessary.
  5. Entries must follow the NGS Quarterly System as demonstrated in Numbering Your Genealogy (Joan Ferris Curran, Madilyn Coen Crane, and John H. Wray, Numbering Your Genealogy: Basic Systems, Complex Families, and International Kin, ed. Elizabeth Shown Mills, rev. ed. [Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2008]). This system is also used for the examples in the SpringBoard numbering posts (links below) and in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.
  6. Jay Pritchett is the starting point person, individual number 1.
  7. All regularly appearing characters in Modern Family must be included.
  8. Entries must include genealogical sketches comprised, where appropriate, of a character’s
  • name
  • individual number
  • generation number
  • birth-order number
  • parenthetical summary of descent
  • birth and marriage information (with missing or unknown information indicated by ellipses [ . . . ])
  • spouse information
  • child list
  1. Extensive biographical information is discouraged.
  2. Accuracy of numbering relationships will determine the winner. Accuracy of formatting, interest of presentation, and earliest date of receipt of entry will break ties.
  3. Decision of the judges is final.


All contestants will win the best prize of all, experience writing a genealogy for a complex family.

 SpringBoard: News and Notes

Board for Certification of Genealogists

P.O. Box 14291

Washington, DC 20044

Skillbuilding, NGS 2016: Koford’s Brick-Wall Sledgehammer

SpringBoard, an official blogger for the 2016 National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference, is pleased to offer a review of this BCG Skillbuilding lecture, presented 7 May 2016.

S451, Rebecca Whitman Koford, CG, “How I Built My Own Brick Wall and the Sledgehammer of Experience”

Reviewed by Angela McGhie, CG

Rebecca Koford’s fun presentation entertained and educated, a challenge for the late Saturday afternoon session. Her positive approach suggested ways that attendees could expand their knowledge and overcome brick walls.

Rebecca Koford, CG
Photo Courtesy Scott Stewart Photography

Rebecca shared fourteen points that keep us from solving difficult problems. She illustrated each with a story and a suggestion how to overcome the issue. As an example, researching only on the internet is point number seven. Rebecca used the comparison of a microwave and a stove. The microwave is fast and efficient, but it is not for cooking everything. Sometimes we need an oven or a stove to properly cook the food we want to eat. We do not want our family tree to be the equivalent of a TV microwave dinner when we could have a Thanksgiving feast!

When discussing the Genealogical Proof Standard, Rebecca observed that the acronym GPS could also stand for “Genealogical Problem Solver.” Those who consistently follow the five steps of the GPS are more successful in solving tough genealogical questions.

Rebecca ended her session by suggesting that we use writing as a method for solving our brick walls. She wants us to write about our research like we have been telling others about it orally. We can write it out just as if we were explaining it to another genealogist. Many times by putting our work on paper we see it differently or see the holes and can solve our own problem.

Rebecca’s personable style, fun sense of humor, and illustrative stories made this presentation an enjoyable end to an enjoyable conference.


Click for more information.

A recording of this lecture may be previewed and ordered from PlaybackNow.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Skillbuilding, NGS 2016: Mathews on Evidence Evaluation

SpringBoard, an official blogger for the 2016 National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference, is pleased to offer a review of this BCG Skillbuilding lecture, presented 5 May 2016.

T201, Barbara Jean Mathews, CG, “Evidence: Let’s Get All Sherlock”

Reviewed by Angela McGhie, CG

Barbara Mathews began her presentation by posing the question, “How do we know if we have proof?” When working with research questions and records in genealogy, we can’t hold the proof in our hands or photograph it, so how do we know if we are coming to the right conclusions? She then shared a simple example. Barbara had a death record, and she searched for other records that may be in agreement with it to provide support for her hypothesis. One by one she discussed the documents she found, describing each one’s characteristics and evaluating their reliability. It seemed natural to look at the details of each record.

Barbara Mathews, CG
Photo courtesy of Scott Stewart Photography

From this introduction Barbara made a comfortable transition to the terminology for evaluating evidence. She described and gave examples of the different types of sources (original, derivative and authored narratives). She continued with examples of information (primary, secondary and indeterminable) located in the records, and then finished with the types of evidence (direct, indirect and negative). Barbara related each of these concepts to the actual records and research question in her example, so the terminology was understandable and not intimidating at all.

To further illustrate the concepts and terminology, Barbara shared a second example, this one about Charles and Anna Anderson. She thought the marriage records of Anna’s children might help find Anna’s maiden name. However the six marriage records provided three different maiden names, confusing the situation. Barbara created this chart showing the information from the marriage records and two records created at the time of Anna’s death. This conflicting information actually helped her locate the correct information. Through thorough research and understanding Scandinavian naming patterns, she was able to explain the differences in the maiden names and show that there was truth in each record.

Barbara’s chart showing information suggesting Anna’s maiden name

Barbara’s two examples teach effectively how to evaluate records for reliability. She successfully demonstrated how to analyze each record, and she made the evidence evaluation terminology seem logical. To hear the details of the Barbara’s examples about coming to the right conclusions you can order the recording from PlaybackNow.


Click for more information.

A recording of this lecture may be previewed and ordered from PlaybackNow.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.