RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What are Crypto-Judaic Studies?

I am back at the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies (IAJGS) Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah for the second day. Most of my day will be spent helping out at the Utah Genealogical Association table in the Exhibitors Section of the Conference. Before the Exhibit floor opens, I have an opportunity to attend one class since the classes begin at 7:30 am. The class is entitled, "Crypto-Judaic Studies Panel, Part 1." It looks like I will miss part two. I must admit, I choose this presentation because I wanted to find out about the topic. So, what are crypto-Judaic studies? The presentation is being moderated by my fellow blogger, Schelly Talalay Dardashti. Here is the class description from the Conference:
This panel will bring together leaders in the field, as it raises awareness of specific issues. Panelists will include moderator Schelly Talalay Dardashti (Society for CryptoJudaic Studies board member), Genie Milgrom (JGS of Miami president Society for CryptoJudaic Studies vice president), Art Benveniste (JGSLA, Society for CryptoJudaic Studies treasurer), and Bennett Greenspan (FamilyTreeDNA.com CEO/president). Other panel participants will be added as confirmed.
Essentially, as I found out, the Cryto-Jews are explained as follows from the presentation handout:
While most crypto-Jewish communities are generally related to the Iberian Inquisition and the terrible events of 1391 and 1492, there are groups in other countries with no connection to Spain, such as the Mashadi community of Iran.
Part of the explanation also comes from the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies which states:
The Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies (SCJS) fosters the research of the historical and contemporary development of crypto-Jews of Iberian origin. Additionally, it provides a venue for the descendants of crypto-Jews, scholars, and other interested parties to network and discuss pertinent issues. The society was founded 1991 by Rabbi Joshua Stampfer of Portland, Oregon; Dr. Stanley Hordes of Santa Fe, New Mexico; and playright Rena Down of New York City.
These are Jews of sephardic origin who have practiced their religion and culture in secret due to persecution. Wikipedia defines crypto-judaism as follows:
Crypto-Judaism is the secret adherence to Judaism while publicly professing to be of another faith; practitioners are referred to as "crypto-Jews" (origin from Greek kryptos - κρυπτός, 'hidden'). The term crypto-Jew is also used to describe descendants who maintain some Jewish traditions of their ancestors while publicly adhering to other faiths. The term is especially applied historically to European Jews who professed Catholicism.[1][2][3][4][5] The phenomenon is especially associated with early modern Spain, following the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.[6] 
I left in all of the links to the sources.

Genealogical research in this community is difficult due to its secretive nature. The Sephardim are defined in a blog post entitled, "What do we mean by the term, "Sephardim." Here is the explanation:
Spanish Jews are called Sephardim; the singular is "Sephardi." The Hebrew "sephardi" or "sepharadi" refers either to a single Spanish Jew, or is used as an adjective meaning pertaining to the Sephardim. For example, Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) called himself Moses… the Sephardi. "Sephardic" is used in English as an adjective, not a noun: someone may be Sephardic, but the people should be called "Sephardim" rather than "Sephardics;" 
Up to the fifteenth century, "Sephardi" was used primarily to refer to the Jewish community in the Iberian peninsula itself, or to someone who was born there. Thus Maimonides called himself "the Sephardi," but his son Abraham, born in Egypt, did not. This changed in the fifteenth and especially sixteenth centuries, primarily as a result of the expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula.
If you are interested in pursuing this subject, you should begin by subscribing to the JewishGen website.  If you suspect that you have a Crypto-Jewish heritage, you also might want to investigate the JewishGen Sephardic SIG. See also Sephardim.com.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Online Digital Newspaper Collections by State -- The Lists by State

Thanks for your patience with this post. I had a trip to Canada and Alaska in the middle of writing this series and then a move to Provo, Utah and got behind. Now to the list of online digital newspaper collections by states. Here is the list (finally) bear in mind that this list is not intended to be comprehensive. I am still working on the list, but here it is through New Hampshire. I will continue to update the list until it is finished, so check back.

Anyway, I doubt that a comprehensive list could be accurate because of the constant changes. The longer I looked for content the more I found. Some of the websites still had microfilm content, but if there was no other digital online content, I listed the microfilm repositories.

Remember that there may be collections of newspapers from any particular state in the general links I had in my previous post introducing the links to the state collections. See Online Digital Newspaper Collections by State -- The Lists Introduced. I suggest that most of the states are in the midst of finishing paper collections, expanding microfilm collections or digitizing existing collections. I have included some statewide efforts even though there is no evidence that the newspapers in question are available online as yet. There may be more than one link to the digital collections since I found that there were other valuable resources listed in different places.

By the way, here are a few more national or regional sources for newspapers online:
Alabama
Alaska
American Samoa
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
District of Columbia
Florida
Georgia
Guam
Hawaii 
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Northern Marianas Islands
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Puerto Rico

Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Virgin Islands
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming

Sharing genealogy online with family trees

In continuing the presentations at the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah concluded on Monday, 28 July, 2014 with a panel discussion entitled, "Internet Collaboration: How Do We Share Our Family Trees Online?" This presentation was described as follows:
Genealogists learn most when we collaborate and share information with others. At the start of organized Jewish genealogy, Gary Mokotoff created the Family Finder and the Family Tree of the Jewish People, and we shared our family trees via photocopies. A little later, we exchanged GEDCOM files on floppy disks. Today, we primarily share online either via Geni.com or on countless stand-alone, family-managed and moderated websites. This panel assembles three experience genealogists who have written widely, and often intently, discussed articles on the topic over the past year, with the goal of developing ideas to bridge the gap between the collaborative and the family-website models. Adam Brown will discuss the collaborative model; Israel Pickholtz will present the family-managed and moderated model; Gary Mokotoff will ofter a plan that combines the advantages of each model. Sallyann Amdur Sack-Pikus will moderate. Audience participation will be encouraged.
If you read my blog posts regularly, you probably recognize that I am clearly in the collaborative camp and I am advocate of FamilySearch.org Family Tree. None of the panelists suggested using FamilySearch Family Tree. All of the participants were well versed in genealogy and in the nature and use of online family trees. I reviewed the handouts and listened carefully to the presentations from each of the participants.

Israel Pickholtz summarizes each of the positions in his blog post "Genealogy as a Quilting Bee, Maintaining the Integrity of the Database."

There were three different viewpoints expressed:

  • Traditional Genealogy Model
  • Collaborative Family Tree Model
  • Family-managed Family Tree
It appears to me that there were some basic assumptions made about how online family trees function in the genealogical community and how a unified family tree should or does function. I agree with much of what each side of this issue has to say. But I believe there is a fourth possibility, I would add a unified family tree based on the moderated wiki model. I think the differences in the approach to online family trees stems primarily from different expectations and goals of the researchers and contributors. 

As much as any other genealogist, I have been aggravated by sloppy, poorly documented, copied without review, multiple family trees in a variety of websites. It further seemed to me that some of the concerns with a unified family tree model arise from actual or imagined issues with conflicts and controversies between family members. 

Because I will be here at the Conference for the rest of the week. I will take an opportunity after the Conference to elaborate on this subject. If you have a strong opinion on this subject, one way or another, you are welcome to write you opinion in a comment or in your own blog and comment on the link to your post. I will then considered all of the information received in my more in depth blog post.

IAJGS Conference -- A Short Course in Hebrew


It never hurts to learn a little bit more than you already know. I took a couple of years of Hebrew language while at the University of Utah. So, I was interested in getting the genealogical perspective on my rusty old Hebrew. So I decided to go to the class entitled, "A Very Short Course in Hebrew for Family Researchers" by Vivian Kahn and Rony Golan. I used to verify book orders in Hebrew for the University of Utah Library when I worked as a bibliographer. OK, so there is a connection and now I am doing genealogy and may have the need to look into records that are in Hebrew characters or script. I am privileged to have the opportunity to expand my research capabilities and go back to my early linguistic roots.

There are two basic kinds of Hebrew letters: DFUS and KTAV. DFUS are the printed or block letters on headstones and formal documents. KTAV is the cursive or handwritten letters. I have only the briefest knowledge of Hebrew cursive since my studies primarily were focused on Biblical Hebrew. If you need more information see the following:




IAJGS Conference -- Day One (for me)

The International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies Conference starts for me on Monday morning at 4:40 am as I get ready to go on the FrontRunner Train from Provo to Salt Lake City. Actually, this process goes extremely well and I am able to use the WiFi on the train to work during the trip to Salt Lake. This is much better than sitting in traffic on the Freeway. Also, no parking problems or cost. Double benefit.

The first class of the day is my friend, Daniel Horowitz, from MyHeritage.com. His presentation is entitled, "The Jews who left Spain and their genealogy." Now, why am I here. I frequently do Latin American and Spanish research. I also speak Spanish fluently. That alone is enough to be here. Here is a description of Daniel's presentation from the IAJGS website:
Since the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 d.e.c., Jews have moved all across the world chased by the enemy. In every place they were forced to embrace local customs and behave according to other people laws. This was not different for Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. This lecture will take us on a virtual journey in time and space looking at Jewish names and how they changed as Jews moved from place to place. Come and learn the origin of your relatives’ last names, the reasons for these names and in many cases, the trips and clues they can provide for your family research.
 This is a very good review of Jewish surnames and the history of the Jews in Spain. Here is one question, why would you want to know this information assuming your family did not come from Spain? Or were Jewish? The answer to this question is not simple. As I have said many times before, genealogy is genealogy. There is always the possibility that something I learn will help with the research I have in some entirely seemingly unrelated area.

Back to Daniel's presentation. Very interesting to find out the number of Jewish surnames of the crews of the three ships taken by Columbus to America. It is interesting, as Daniel points out, that Columbus left Spain exactly at the time the Jews were ordered out of Spain by the Spanish rulers. The story of the movement of the Jews is shown by the changing surnames as they moved from country to country.

Take a lesson from this. Showing the history of Jewish surnames is similar to the same history of surnames in general throughout Europe and elsewhere. This is important history to understanding early genealogy. It is interesting to see the earliest dates that surnames began to be used or were mandated by the ruler or rulers in any given country. See Wikipedia: Family name for an introduction and some links. For Jewish surnames see How the Jews Got Their Last Names see also Wikipedia: Jewish surname.

Web Basics for Genealogists -- String Searches


A string, in computer language, is a sequence of characters. If you need an example of this, try searching for random sets of characters on Google. You will soon see that the Google search engine (as do many others) will find any set of characters in any text online. For a further example, here is a screenshot of a search on "xyz123:"


This result should suggest that using Google to do searches for names and places for genealogical research would be profitable. In fact, it is. I usually suggest that people look for names and places and any other information about their ancestors. Since the number of websites for any given search is effectively infinite (no one has the time to look at every single results of a general search), you never know what you will find. You search for names by putting the search terms in quotation marks, like this: "John Doe." You can add qualifying terms such as a location, occupation etc. There is no need to put in a "+" sign between terms. Google assumes concatenation.

In a previous post, I discussed searching in a catalog. The differences between a catalog search and a string search are significant. A catalog is an arbitrary scheme of organization into categories. Further organization is usually accomplished by organizing the items in alphanumeric order. Online catalogs are usually a hybrid between a string search and subject headings. It is sometimes difficult to tell whether or not the string search applies to the entire catalog or only to the presently selected catalog area.

Some people assume that a string search is automatically superior to any possible catalog system. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Successful string searches depend entirely on ability of the researcher to "guess" words or character strings (mixtures of words and numbers) that can be found in the target document. In addition, general searches, such as searching for a very common name, can return an overwhelming number of results. The ability to guess the right search terms is a skill that is acquired by searching over an over again.

To illustrate the difference between a string search and a catalog search, I will use a hypothetical search for an ancestor with with a relatively common name. Let's assume that you have identified at least one place where an event occurred in your ancestor's life. This step is necessary because otherwise either type of search, a string search or a catalog search, will be unproductive. Without the anchor of a geographic location, it is nearly impossible to distinguish between individuals of the same or very similar name. OK. so now you start your search. The catalog search will likely produce a series of documents or collections of documents that relate to the place you identified. You will then search in the individual collections for your ancestor.

Now, let's suppose that you simple use a string search, without the benefit of the organization of documents imposed by a cataloging system. You are at the mercy of the documents. If the any document has the name of the individual you are searching for and the place, then it could be found by a string search. You should also remember that the string search will not find the content of images, whereas a catalog system may identify documents that are only available as images. Are all the contents of the catalogs subject to string searches? Unfortunately, not. Most entities such as libraries, do not allow access to their data storage to Google or anyone else.

Is this an either/or situation? Not really. A reasonably comprehensive search or exhaustive search would require a search online with a search engine such as Google, but would also require a search of the contents of any relevant repositories. Sometimes neither method is adequate and it is necessary to do a physical or manual search of the contents of any given repository. For example, if I am researching at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, I will commonly go to the shelves and look at every single item on the shelves for an entire state to make sure I am not missing something that may contain the information I am seeking.

It is also important to remember that much of the world's genealogical information is not yet online or is still locked up in images and that there is no substitute for pursuing research on location.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Off to the IAJGS Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah

As I mentioned in previous posts, courtesy of the IAJGS, I will be attending the Conference the next five days in Salt Lake City, Utah. I plan to travel to Salt Lake from Provo on the FrontRunner train. I will see how that works out. If I drive, it takes about an hour or so with parking and all, I can ride the train and not have a parking issue and work while I am on the train (hopefully). I am not really aware of some of the logistics of the Conference so that part of the experience will probably be an adventure. One thing in my favor is that I very well acquainted with downtown Salt Lake and should have no trouble in that regard.

I am certainly looking forward to saying hello to friends at the Conference and making some new ones. If any of you were wondering if I would get involved in genealogy after my move to Utah and particularly to Provo, I can set your minds at ease, I will be just as busy or busier here in Utah than I was in Arizona.

I hope to blog regularly about the Conference. Depending on the WiFi availability, I may be writing at the conference and then posting when I get a connection.