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.

Conclusion

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 (www.jewishgen.org/Sephardic/differ.HTM).

[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 (www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/zaludok/zhe081.html : 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 (www.jewfaq.org/jnames.htm).

[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” (www.jewishgen.org/InfoFiles/tombstones.html). 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 (http://www.stevemorse.org/jcal/jcal.html).

[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 (http://www.jewishgen.org/Communities/Search.asp).

[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 (www.familytreedna.com/landing/jewish-ancestry.aspx) > 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.

A Contest for the Genealogically Adventuresome: Number Modern Family

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

Win

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 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0]), via Wikimedia Commons

Rules:

  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 NumberingContest@gmail.com. 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.

Resources:

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.

 

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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.

 

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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: Giroux on Evidence Summaries

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.

S441, Amy Larner Giroux, CG, “Does the Data Fit? Using Evidence Summaries to Assist Your Analysis”

Reviewed by Melissa Johnson, CG

Amy Larner Giroux began her lecture by introducing the concept of a focused research question. She then discussed four genealogical terms—sources, information, evidence, and proof. This key information set the groundwork for the evidence summaries she discussed throughout the lecture.

Amy Larner Giroux, PhD, CG, CGL
Photo courtesy of Judy Fox

Amy offered insight into how she looks at the information she’s already discovered, figures out how the pieces fit (or don’t fit) together, and determines what the next steps should be in terms of research and analysis. She focused on several key tools—timelines, mind maps, spreadsheets, and organized Word documents—and how they help her visualize information and evidence in complex cases.

Using several examples, Amy demonstrated how she uses these tools to connect pieces of information, identify relationships, and figure out which puzzle pieces are missing. She engaged the audience with the humorous tale of the “alleged marked attention paid by Dr. Mangold to Mrs. Brambach,” and walked us through the evidence summaries that helped her arrive at her conclusion and form her narrative.

This lecture offered new ideas on how genealogists can look at the information they’ve already discovered, especially in cases that rely on indirect evidence and aren’t easy to piece together.

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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: Dunn on Convincing Proof Arguments

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.

S421, Victor S. Dunn, CG, “I Rest My Case: Constructing a Convincing Proof Argument”

Reviewed by Melissa Johnson, CG

It shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that Vic Dunn’s lecture on proof arguments began with an overview of the five elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard. Understandably, he placed particular emphasis on the fifth element, a “soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.” He stated firmly, “it must be in writing.”

Victor S. Dunn, CG
Courtesy of Scott Stewart Photography

Dunn walked the audience through the various types of proof discussions—proof statements, proof summaries, and proof arguments—and showed us examples of each from his own writing. He emphasized that proof discussions can be written for various reasons—as part of a larger work, for our own research files, as a client report, or for publication.

Dunn tackled a difficult task, instructing the audience how to construct and write proof arguments, the most complex of proof discussions. He emphasized to writers that proof arguments aren’t necessarily going to be constructed in the order that the research was done. He also pointed out one of the benefits of writing proof arguments: we often find holes in our logic and learn that we have more research to do.

Proof arguments are separated into several sections—the introduction, the body of the argument, and the conclusion—and Dunn offered a framework for how to approach each one. The beginning introduces the research subject, provides basic information about the person, and states any challenges or complexities involved in the research. The main body of the work lays out the argument, analyzes and correlates evidence, and resolves any conflicts. This section can include text, charts, timelines, maps and tables to communicate key information to the reader. The summary provides an overview of the main points, and sometimes explains the methodology used to solve the problem.

This informative lecture ended with several tips for effective genealogical writing: use the active voice, eliminate excess wording, use topic sentences, organize with headings and subheadings, discuss documents in the present tense, and proofread your work. For genealogists learning to write proof arguments, he recommends reading articles from the top five scholarly genealogical journals: National Genealogical Society Quarterly, The American Genealogist, The Genealogist, the New England Historic Genealogical Register, and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record.

Anyone looking to increase their understanding of genealogical proof and sharpen their writing skills would benefit from hearing Dunn’s lecture.

 

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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: Hait on the Logic of Source Citation

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.

S411, Michael Hait, “Citing Your Writing:  Models for Documenting Your Genealogy”

Reviewed by Darrell Jackson, CG

Although he stated that there is more than one way to do citations and that citations do not have to be perfect, the main point of Michael Hait’s lecture was that if we think of the way we learned in school to cite books, we will have a simple (or at least simpler) model for citing sources in genealogical writing.

Michael Hait, CG
Courtesy of Scott Stewart Photography

After briefly noting the way to cite sources in a bibliography, Hait explained what he called “the logic of citation” as it applies to footnotes and endnotes.

The book citation model consists of four elements:
1. Author or creator of the book
2. Title of the book
3. Publisher, place, and date of publication
4. Location of the information, usually a page number

Application of this model to a typical genealogical citation, that is, of a document or record of some kind, requires two major modifications. First, most documents are unpublished, so item three may not be relevant. Second, because the document is not published and therefore not readily available in libraries in many locations, it is necessary to include access information in the citation. Access information usually cites an archive or public office (for example, a recorder of deeds).

Another guide for the construction of a citation is to think of a citation as a sentence and to follow the rules for capitalization and punctuation that apply to sentences. This is particularly true of the use of the semi-colon. It is used, as in a sentence, to separate parts of the citation.

Using the citation and model and sentence construction guidelines, Hait went through several examples of how to construct citations. The examples included citations of vital certificates, patent record books, census records, and items in a manuscript file such as a deposition in a court case.

The most complicated citations are those pertaining to a digital image accessed in an online database. These should include the URL and what the online database itself is citing. As illustrated by Hait, such citations involve repetition of some information.

The lecture gave a good understanding of the logic of citation. It was perhaps an overstatement to say that application of this logic is simple.

 

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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.

Congratulations, Mary O’Brien Vidlak, CG!

Congratulations to Mary O’Brien Vidlak, CG, of Williamsburg, Virginia! A native of New York, Mary serves as Governor-at-Large and Corresponding Secretary of the Virginia Genealogical Society and is a past chairperson of the program committee for the Genealogical Research Institute of Virginia. She is the news coordinator for ProGen Study Group 15. Mary’s certification reflects a longtime interest in genealogy and history. She shares her journey with us:

Mary O’Brien Vidlak, CG

I was born in Queens, New York, and spent most of my life in Westchester County, a suburb north of the city. The suburbs never felt like home to me; there is a lack of history and roots because everything is new and always changing. Ten years ago my husband and I moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, because we love American history and feel a sense of home in this historic area. I had been working in human resources and planned to continue to do that in Virginia. However the position I wanted didn’t work out, and while I continued to look for a job in my field I took advantage of my time off to explore the areas of Virginia that had been the homes of generations of my maternal ancestors. This literally changed my life. I had always been curious about my ancestors and asked questions, but no one in my family—on either side—really had a strong interest or much specific knowledge. As is the case for most of us, the more I discovered the more I wanted to know.

I quickly realized there was a great deal of information that had no indication of the source. Based on past educational and work experience I knew I wanted to find professional organizations that could teach me how to figure this all out. I joined the National Genealogical Society (NGS) and started with their census course before moving on to the graded version of American Genealogy. In addition to the course material, I read all the recommended material. One of the graders suggested I consider certification, which led to my decision to participate in a ProGen Study Group to increase my knowledge and skill level. I also attended every local, state and national conference I could. My first national conference—NGS in Charleston—was amazing. I recognized how much there was to learn and how frequently incredibly knowledgeable individuals were board-certified genealogists.

Somewhere along the way I created my “strategic plan” and added institutes to my education. I began to pursue genealogy relatively late in life and found the courses themselves and the environment around them an excellent way to ensure I was learning the best practices of the discipline. I was fortunate to be in the final course Barbara Vines Little coordinated at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR): Virginia Land and Military Conflicts; also, oddly enough, to be in the final Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis course that Elizabeth Shown Mills coordinated at IGHR. I have attended the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) every year but one since its inception, where among other courses I was enrolled in Determining Kinship Reliably with the GPS and Advanced Research Methods, both coordinated by Tom Jones. I also attended the National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR) where I found material I used in my portfolio. I got to Salt Lake City for the first time when I attended the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) in January 2016—after submitting my portfolio. My education will continue this summer when I am back at GRIP!

In many ways my past work and educational experiences have contributed to my success. I was an English Education major at Fairfield University; I ran a small business when my children were young; I worked in human resources at a Fortune 500 company and did a lot of writing and speaking as well as analyzing and correlating information. I enjoy learning new things—and in genealogy I am always learning new things. I also like the challenge of taking research and writing it up in an organized, logical and persuasive way. And genealogy affirms the core belief of my life: every individual is unique, important and valuable, and every life has a story.

One extremely valuable tool I used in educating myself was to purchase CDs from conferences and listen repeatedly to the lectures given by many experts. At times I feel as though I must know them since they spend a huge amount of time driving around with me! As I was working on my portfolio I listened many times to two lectures given at different conferences about preparing your portfolio. Each time I listened I heard something different that helped me with my work.

In addition to the greats of our profession, I have been inspired by people whom I met as classmates, in particular Jean Andrews, CG, and Nancy A. Peters, CG, who sent me encouraging emails and reminded me how much I wanted certification and how great it would feel when I got an email from the BCG Executive Director telling me my portfolio had been approved. I also have to thank Barbara Vines Little whom I ran into at the Library of Virginia one day when she told me to “just send it in!” Outside of genealogy, my husband Michael provided endless encouragement, and my father—who knows almost nothing about his family—fostered my interest in history, which led to my passion for genealogy.

Two suggestions I have for potential applicants—don’t make certification a new year’s resolution so that your deadline is December 31st unless you want to spend your holidays working on your portfolio, and remember that “done is better than perfect!”

Mary is a full time genealogist. She plans to expand her client work and continue to lecture.  She also intends to write and publish her own family research. Mary can be reached at movidlak@cox.net

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: Morehead on Finding an Ancestor’s Hometown

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.

S401, Shellee A. Morehead, PhD, CG, “Clusters and Chains for Genealogical Success”

Reviewed by Jean Atkinson Andrews, CG

Shellee lectured on using extended family groups and migration patterns to identify family relationships. She provided information that applies to every ethnicity, location, and time period. Explaining cluster genealogy as the tracking of whole families, Shellee presented a broad list of potential relationships and urged the audience to expand rather than limit their scope. Beyond family and extended family, she suggested considering shopkeepers, midwives, and people from the same town or parish. People who associated together prior to immigration would often be found in similar relationships in the new country or location.

Shellee Morehead, PhD, CG
Photo Courtesy of Jean Andrews, CG

“Birds of passage” are people who came to the United States then later returned to their homeland one or more times to bring others to America. Young men, often unmarried, were frequently the initial pioneers. Other family members followed. Constructing timelines helps identify these people; tracking their movements can show chains of subsequent migration and prevent errors of identity.

Shellee’s case study example used Italian immigrant Michele Lautieri, believed born about 1882 in a town whose records ended in 1865. His parents were unknown. Shellee analyzed passenger and census list details and triaged multiple passenger lists to reveal patterns of movement based on Michele’s relationships. Studying movements, associations, and knowing related family such as siblings is necessary to separate families of similar names. Naming patterns and the custom of reusing names when older children die young are significant and can provide hints to hometowns and family groups.

Although Shellee’s case study example used an Italian immigrant, the methods she demonstrated apply to any time and place where migration took place.

 

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: Evans on Negative and Indirect Evidence

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 6 May 2016.

F351, Stefani Evans, CG, “Doughnut Holes and Family Skeletons: Meeting the GPS through Negative and Indirect Evidence”

Reviewed by Nancy A. Peters, CG

At the start of her lecture, Stefani asked tongue-in-cheek, “Who doesn’t love a corrupt governor?” She went on to describe how the Matteson family story has all the elements of an antebellum soap opera—westward migration, political corruption, fraud, bribery, witness tampering, and the villain fleeing the country.

Stefani Evans, CG
Photo courtesy of Adrianna Ko

On the serious side, Stefani faced one of the more troublesome, yet common, genealogical problems—no direct evidence connects an early nineteenth-century female to her birth family. Nancy Matteson was not named in her putative father’s will or estate file. Was she or wasn’t she his daughter? Confronted with records created in two states, family skeletons, and doughnut holes in the evidence, Stefani explained how she relied on the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) to solve the puzzle of Nancy’s parentage.

An essential element in the solution was the “hypothesis-based problem solving approach” used to identify the problem, develop positive and negative hypotheses, and test them using the GPS. At first, the evidence seemed inconclusive. However, deeper analysis of the negative and indirect evidence taken from a Bible, obituaries, gravestones, newspapers, and land transactions; an understanding of cultural context; and rigorous application of the GPS yielded a reliable conclusion.

Any family historian who faces negative and indirect evidence could benefit from hearing about Stefani’s approach to solving the Matteson family mystery.

 

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.