Thursday, July 27, 2017

IAJGS Day 5: Resources and Queries

My last day at #IAJGS2017 began with another L-O-N-G visit to the Resource Room. Thank you to all the volunteers and vendors who made this possible! I found a newspaper mention of an ancestor's divorce in 1915 (a clue I'm going to follow up by contacting the courthouse for more details). Also found news items about an ancestor active in the early motion picture distribution business, as well as a sad obit for a young child in my husband's family tree. What a productive research session it was.

Next, I attended Judy Baston and Renee Steinig's session, "It's All in How You Ask: Discussion Group Queries." Sure, we've all been posting and answering queries for years, right? But Judy and Renee had some good pointers, based on their years of experience moderating discussion lists.

Takeaway #1: Just because Facebook is the new thing in town, keep your subscriptions to discussion groups on Jewish Gen and the SIGs. Having access to both FB groups and traditional discussion groups means you can tap the knowledge and advice of a large pool of people.

Takeaway #2: The message police (AKA Judy and Renee) say--Don't quote at length from print or online publications, don't "flame" others, and "go easy on the alphabet soup" in queries and posts.


Not every participant in every country will know abbreviations like SSDI (Social Security Death Index) or ALD (All Lithuania Database). For clarity, spell it out!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

IAJGS Day 4: Litvak, More Litvak, and Search Tips

My Litvak immersion day started with Carol Hoffman's outstanding session, "Your Litvak Roots," followed by Judy Baston's super-valuable session, "Enhancing Your Litvak Research."

Both my paternal grandpa (Isaac Burk) and paternal grandma (Henrietta Mahler) may have clues hiding in the Litvak SIG databases. This morning was my opportunity to get better at finding those clues! Carol also explained about the areas covered by these databases.

One great take-away from Carol's session was: When you use the search box on the home page of the Litvak SIG home page, remember that it does not search the All-Lithuania Database. Another useful tip: If you find an ancestor held an internal passport (issued between the wars), send for it because there will be 7 or more pages filled with personal details.

By the time Judy took the microphone, the room was almost entirely full. Her talk was also specific and practical, describing the databases and search capabilities, and the constant flow of new records being found, translated, and added. Judy reinforced Carol's suggestion to use the interactive map, blow it up to see tiny villages surrounding larger towns, and expand your search to these other villages in case ancestors recorded births or married there, for instance. (Her reminder: Use current spelling of the area, not the old-fashioned name.)

She also explained the various search possibilities, including "fuzzy," "fuzzier," and "fuzziest." (Really! And really good to know how these work!) In addition, Judy urged the audience to check out Miriam Weiner's Routes to Roots Foundation for the existence of records in Eastern Europe.

Then I crossed the foyer to see Banai Lynn Feldstein's "Search as an Art." One key tip: Don't assume that a particular site uses US Soundex for its searches. She reminded the audience that Jewish Gen, for instance, uses Daitch-Mokotoff, as does Ancestry's Jewish Collection. (Read more about D-M and Soundex here.)

Banai echoed what so many other speakers have said, over and over (with good reason): Indexing may be incorrect or incomplete--always read the original image! She showed a few examples of why indexers sometimes get it wrong, urging us to click and read the image for ourselves.

Just for a change, I actually left the hotel and walked around, despite the 95 degree weather. Now I'm taking advantage of the Resource Room (it's ProQuest day).

One final session of the day: C. Ann Staley's "A Gold Mine To Be Discovered," about many overlooked resources--often free--that can provide clues or actual info. Her handout is incredible, and the session was extremely valuable. One resource I've used and wish I could find more of is Brag Books, usually county "histories" with (somewhat inflated, at times) biographies of leading citizens. She reminded us that these were paid bios submitted by the citizens, so use with caution. Another top tip: Look for WPA Historical Records Surveys in state archives. These might have housing surveys, church records, all kinds of detailed surveys done in the 1930s, with clues and actual data for genealogists. One final tip from this session: When using period newspapers, browse/read the entire newspaper to get context for your ancestor's life. Very meaty session!

Thursday will be another exciting day. Can't wait.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

IAJGS Day 3 - Blogging Breakfast and Much More

Day 3 began with a bloggers' breakfast, sharing ideas and chatting about the blogging experience. Lots of conversation and friendly tips. Thank you!

After breakfast, my first stop was Hal Bookbinder's "Why Would Our Ancestors Leave a Nice Place Like the Pale?" He reviewed the history of the Pale (including why it's called 'pale,' from the Latin 'palus,' a stake marking boundary). Why leave? Pogroms (into the 20th century), lack of opportunity, travel more possible, and other immigrants beckoned relatives and neighbors to the new world.

Mid-morning was my scheduled mentoring time, and I chatted with several attendees about their brick walls.

Then I scampered off to Emily Garber's "Beyond the Manifest." She took the audience along on a really interesting journey through the Genealogical Proof Standard and how she was able to determine (via research and up to proof standards) where her family came from. Lubin or Labun? I won't spoil the ending. Let me quote what she told the audience: "Trust no one! Records lie!"

Next, I visited with Sherlock Cohn, the Photo Genealogist, in the midst of the Exhibit Hall. Got a question about an old family photo? Sherlock can help! Although she didn't have a deerstalker hat or a pipe today, she did have ideas and suggestions for wringing as much info as possible from an old family photo. Her talk is tomorrow at 9:45 am.

And the day's not over yet! I admit, the Resource Room tempted me to spend time using all the databases that I don't have at home. Found a few records and newspaper articles.

And then it was time to see my distant cousin Mark Strauss's talk, "The DNA of Family: The Strauss Experience." He told the moving story of visiting ancestral towns in Slovakia, finding clues to possible Strauss relatives, and then a couple of years later, discovering the actual links via DNA matches.

One take-away: Check vital records in the surrounding towns, because sometimes births and other events were recorded in the next town, not the home town. A second key take-away: Never give up. Mark said that when he finds good DNA matches, he writes an email with specific details, requesting a response. If he doesn't hear from the match, he writes again in a couple of months. And persistence pays off.

Monday, July 24, 2017

IAJGS Day 2: Research Tricks and Preservation Tips

Day 2 of the Intl Jewish Genealogy Conference has been as busy and productive as Day 1. Bright and early, Mindie Kaplan spoke about researching common Kaplan (or Kaplin or Caplan--you get the idea). Alternative spellings can help us find the right person in the haystack.

One top take-away: Find one ancestor in a city directory then use that address to search for who else lives there! Great idea.
Next was Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer, "For Future Generations," a nuts-and-bolts session about preserving photos and documents for the future. She had some fabulous suggestions, including making sure that all media is readable. Who has a projector to view 35 mm slides any more?

So move media to the most recent technology and keep upgrading to avoid being unable to see something just a few years in the future. And do keep trying to view technology, just to be sure it's there.

Then I wedged myself into the audience of Marion Werle's "You Found the Records, Now What?" No wonder it was so crowded. Records analysis is a hot topic and Marion showed us, step by step, how to pick a record apart and figure out what type of source, how reliable the content might be, and how to reconcile conflicting info. Of course, look at the original record whenever possible.

Another take-away: Formulate a specific research question you want to answer, to guide and focus your efforts.

My session, "Planning a Future for Your Family's Past," drew well and included some good questions and comments from the audience. One question that came up: What if none of the descendants wants to continue to research the family's history? My answer: As long as a descendant is interested enough to agree to be custodian of the genealogy collection that you've put together over the years, that's a start. Even if that descendant isn't passionate about genealogy now, he or she may become more intrigued later (a decade or more from now). We want our research and photos and artifacts to survive for future generations, no matter whether the research goes on after we join our ancestors.

More posts soon!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

IAJGS Day 1: From Railways to DNA

Day 1 of the Intl Jewish Genealogy Conference has been exciting, informative, and friendly. My morning began on a high note with Phyllis Kramer, "The Immigrant Voyage." In addition to discussing the reasons for immigrating out of Eastern Europe, she showed a fascinating slide "Ironways and Ports of Euope" which helped explain how my ancestors actually got to the ports where they boarded steamships for America. Top take-away was that after 1911, arrivals had to be verified with a Certificate of Arrival before an ancestor could be naturalized.

Next was Hal Bookbinder, "Ships of Our Ancestors," continuing the theme of the travails of travels from ancestral homelands to America. He confirmed that after 1874, all immigrants arrived from Europe on steamships, making the voyage much, much shorter than earlier. My top take-away was to search immigrant banks for a sign of ancestors putting away money to pay for tickets to bring those still in the homeland to America.

After lunch, Hal Bookbinder's session "The Changing Borders" gave me a solid appreciation of how often and how drastically borders in Eastern Europe/Russia changed over the last 1000 years. No wonder my maternal grandfather sometimes said he was born in Hungary and sometimes said he was born in Czechoslovakia. The maps were fascinating and Hal's historical knowledge made this a really interesting session. Take-away: Don't confine searches to "Russia" or an area we think we know as the homeland--look at historical maps and keep an open mind.

Next was a great session listening to Lara Diamond show "Real-World Examples of Endogamy." As she says, all is not doom and gloom, even if it seems we all have thousands of close cousins. She gave a lot of excellent tips for closely examining DNA matches and trying to find out how these people might be related to me. My take-away: Look at the large shared segments, not just overall cM numbers.

Final session for me was Phyllis Kramer again, "Found the Town, Now What?" Phyllis is such an engaging speaker that I had to see her again! Of all the excellent sessions on Sunday, this had it all--great advice, insider tips, and specific search techniques to try, plus lots of links. Thanks to Phyllis, now I know that JRI-Poland has Lithuania and Ukraine info too, which I need for my research! More genealogy adventures tomorrow.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Sorting Saturday: Benjamin's Woodcut Portrait Lives On

Always looking for ways to keep ancestors alive for future generations, I consulted with my sis-in-law, a savvy sewer. We wanted to put the 1890s woodcut portrait of her 2d great-grandpa, Benjamin McClure (1812-1896), onto a T-shirt for the youngest relatives.

Her solution was to use iron-on fabric transfer paper. The process is fairly easy, and you'll find many types of iron-on transfer papers in craft stores.

At right, two types of transfers I've used (among many other good brands). Some transfers are actually fabric with a paper backing to go through the printer, be cut to size, and then be stitched onto a T-shirt or other fabric item. Others are paper with special coating that adheres to fabric when ironed on.

Before you buy, read the package to decide which transfer paper is right for the fabric or T-shirt you'll be using. Check whether the transfer requires a laser copier/printer or inkjet printer. And find out whether the final product can be washed.

The directions vary slightly from brand to brand. Some transfers require you to create a mirror image of your image (via software, printer, or copier) if text is involved or you want the fabric version to look exactly as the original. This is important! Unless you begin with a mirror image, any text on the image will be reversed and unreadable (see photo above for "mirror image" version of Benjamin McClure and his name/dates, before he was ironed onto the T-shirt shown at top).

I'm sorting other portraits to see which we want to put on T-shirts, aprons, or other fabric items as holiday gifts for the family--keeping the memory of our ancestors alive into the next generation and beyond.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: Photo Captions with Context

Identifying the people (and their relationship) in old family photos is a must. But often that's not enough to convey the what, when, where, and why of the photo. That's why it's important to include some context when captioning photos, with future generations in mind. I often write a page of explanation to file with the photo, and when digitizing, I add info right on the image.

For example: When I captioned the photos from my parents' wedding, I included not only their names, but the hotel/city, date, and a description of what was happening in the photo. (In my printed version, I explained more about their ages, occupations, my mother's gold lame dress, and everything else I know about the wedding.)

In this photo, Mom and Dad were reading congratulatory telegrams they received during their wedding luncheon. Telegrams? Yup, I labeled the activity, because with ever-changing technology, younger relatives don't ordinarily encounter telegrams in daily life. How could they know what's happening in this photo? So I added that context.

Now future generations will have an idea of what a telegram looks like, and the light bulb will go on (an LED light bulb these days).

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mystery Monday: How Can I Find the Elusive Nellie Block?

Great aunt Nellie Block, late 1940s
Nellie Block (abt 1878-1950) is my elusive great aunt, the older sister of my paternal grandpa, Isaac Burk (1882-1943).

The first time I spotted Nellie was in Isaac's 1904 border crossing from Canada to US, when he said he was going "to sister Nellie Block, 1956 3rd Ave., corner 107th St." The address was familiar, because Isaac's future bride and her family lived in that apartment building!

In the 1905 NY Census, Nellie (a furmaker) is living as a boarder with a family on Henry Street. She's still single, and boarding with a different family on Henry Street in the 1910 US Census (occ: operator, furs).

The paper trail nearly ends there for Nellie. So far, I haven't found her in the 1915 NY census, 1920 US census, 1925 NY census, 1930 US census, or 1940 US census.

I know Nellie received an invitation to a UK cousin's wedding in 1934, because it was passed down in the family. Alas, no envelope with address. Did she go? No one knows.

Nellie is wearing a corsage and a smile at my parent's wedding in 1946. That's how I can date the photo at top, because Nellie looked very much the same at the wedding as she does here.

The final record I found for Nellie is her death notice from the New York Times, paid for by the family. It states: "Block--Nellie, devoted sister of Abraham Birk, Meyer Berg, Max Birk, Jennie Salkowitz, and the late Isidore [sic] Birk. Services Sun, 12:30 pm, Gutterman's, Bway at 66 St."

Nellie Block died on Christmas Eve, 1950. I haven't yet found her burial place, and can't yet get a copy of her death cert from New York (too recent).

Where in the world was Nellie Block hiding between 1910 and 1950? My next steps, part of my Genealogy Go-Over:
  • Use Heritage Quest and Family Search, plugging in different spellings of her name to search US and NY Census records. Each site transcribes and indexes a little differently, so I may have some luck with this approach. Will also look for naturalization papers, if any.
  • Do a more thorough search of Social Security applications. If she was working, and remained single, surely she filed for retirement benefits, right? 
  • Check NY marriage records, just in case she married at some point. By 1934, however, when she received the wedding invitation, her name was still Block and she was about 56 years old. I suspect she didn't ever marry, since her death notice is "Block."
  • Recheck Find a Grave (so far, I haven't found her there) and all the NY/NJ cemeteries where my NY-area paternal ancestors were buried. My really quick first check was unsuccessful, so now I have to do another check to be sure.
  • Any other ideas? 
UPDATE: I searched census and naturalization via Family Search, no luck (yet). Also did a search on the easy-to-search 1940 NYC directories on NY Public Library site, borough by borough, but no luck. In addition, I checked for naturalizations, but no luck. And I redid my Soc Sec search via Ancestry for claims and application, no luck. Darn.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Sympathy Saturday: Linking Farkas Siblings on Find a Grave

It's taken a bit of clicking to link my maternal grandma (Hermina "Minnie" Farkas Schwartz) to her family on Find a Grave, because she had so many brothers and sisters.

Now, thanks to the other contributors who accepted my edits, Grandma Minnie shows up with her parents, spouse, children, and siblings.

So many people use Find a Grave for genealogy research that I wanted to be sure my Farkas family was not only completely represented on this free site, but also linked to each other.

It's one way I honor my ancestors and share a bit about them with future generations.

For more ideas about sharing family history, please see my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wishful Wednesday: More DNA Adventures Ahead

My mom, about 1939
Yesterday I checked for new DNA matches on Ancestry, and happily, a new match appeared. One I wished for and waited for. Finally!

My cousin L's DNA results confirm the paper trail and photo evidence linking us. He's my 2d cousin, 1x removed. His parents were at my parents' wedding (the photo shows them sitting at a table with other cousins from the Farkas family).

Just as important, he is also a close match with other relatives who I know are from my mother's side of the family.

Next step: Ask cousin L to upload the results to so I can analyze in more detail and look for additional matches. By the time I speak at the International Jewish Genealogy Conference later in the month, I should have a number of kit numbers to compare with other attendees.

More DNA adventures are ahead as I dig deeper into cM values and chromosome details.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Max Birk Arrived 111 Years Ago Today

My great uncle Max (Motel) Birk (1891?-1953) arrived at New York City aboard the SS Ryndam exactly 111 years ago, on July 9, 1906. Born in Kovno, Max was one of four brothers and two sisters who came to America.

I just found Max in the passenger manifest, arriving at the Port of New York from Rotterdam via the S.S. Ryndam. It took a bit of creative searching because the transcription showed his surname as "Brik" rather than "Birk." But knowing the date and name of ship was a big help! Also, Soundex is our friend. If possible, try Soundex searching (note the "620" on the naturalization index card above--the Soundex code for the category that "Birk" fits).

Max told authorities that he was 16 (his math was off), he was a butcher (not an occupation he pursued in America), and he had $1.50 in his pocket.

Most important: Max was being met by his brother "I. Burk" (my grandpa Isaac), c/o "M. Mahler" (my great-grandpa Meyer Mahler).

Max arrived only one month after his brother Isaac married Henrietta Mahler on June 10, 1906. Sounds like Isaac Burk and his bride didn't yet have their own place and remained with her father for a little while after the wedding--along with Max, possibly.
Years later, Max's naturalization papers from Chicago listed two witnesses, including a "Moses Kite." This was intriguing, because one of my DNA matches on is a member of the Kite family. Could this be a clue to a cousin connection?

I checked with this gentleman, who told me that Moses Kite worked at city hall in an administrative capacity and was probably a witness because he was on the spot, not because he was a cousin.

Welcome, great uncle Max.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Tombstone Tuesday: 7 Steiner Ancestors in Old Mission Cemetery

A number of hubby's Steiner ancestors are buried in historic Old Mission Cemetery, Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Among them are 7 of the 9 children of Edward George Steiner (1830-1880) and Elizabeth Rinehart (1834-1905), my husband's maternal great-grandparents.

Above, the headstones for hubby's grandmother and five of her siblings:

  • Orville J. Steiner (1856-1936) 
  • Adaline "Addie" Steiner (1859-1879)
  • Etta Blanche Steiner Rhuark (1864-1956) 
  • Minnie Estella Steiner Halbedel (1868-1947)
  • Carrie Eileen Steiner Traxler (1870-1963)
  • Floyda Mabel Steiner McClure (1878-1948) - Grandma Floyda
Below, the unusual footstone in Mission Cemetery for the seventh Steiner buried in Old Mission, hubby's great aunt, Margaret Mary Steiner Post (1861-1913), who married a painter.

The two eldest children of Edward & Elizabeth Steiner are buried elsewhere. Their first-born's stone, marked "Infant son of Steiner, October 23, 1852," is in Oceola Cemetery #2, Crawford County, Ohio.

Their first daughter, Elveretta (1854-1855), is also buried in Oceola Cemetery #2, a small cemetery that hubby and I were able to visit and photograph only because a kind Find A Grave volunteer provided very detailed directions. Thank you!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Memories of Expo 67 on Canada Day

The first time I visited Montreal was as a student taking a school trip to Expo 67 during Canada's centennial. Here's the guide book, saved all these years and in good shape!

By 1967, I was a young veteran of giant expositions like this, having visited the New York World's Fair in 1964 and 1965 at least a dozen times. My father, a travel agent, received complimentary entrance tickets. All we had to do was hop the subway from the Bronx to Queens with family or friends, carrying pocket money for sodas and snacks. Lots of fond memories!

So when the Expo 67 trip was announced, I was ready for the adventure. And it was an adventure, starting with the first day. After a long, long bus ride from the Bronx to Montreal, we arrived at what was supposed to be a brand new motel, built to accommodate Expo visitors.

I'll never forget teetering off one of the two buses and staring at the motel building, which had walls and a roof, but not much else. It was dusk, and our group was standing at what was clearly a construction site. The motel simply didn't get finished in time, and we had no place to sleep for four nights.

Somebody scrambled to make other arrangements, and after a delay, we wound up in a different, newly-built motel far, far away from the expo itself. But at least we were in Montreal! The Expo exhibits were fascinating and sometimes futuristic, the fair food was fun, and we had stories to tell when we returned home. Plus souvenirs like this guide book.

Happy Canada Day, and happy 150th to a special country.