RootsTech 2014

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

Friday, August 1, 2014

IAJGS Conference: Sephardic Genealogy: Many Resources

This was a presentation by my friend Schelly Talalay Dardashti. This was the second presentation by Schelly that I attended, primarily because of my background in Latin American and Spanish language research. Here is Schelly's bio from the conference website:
Journalist, genealogist, international speaker and instructor, Dardashti has tracked her families across Spain, Iran, Belarus, Lithuania, Russia and elsewhere for 25+ years. A geneablogger pioneer with the award-winning Tracing the Tribe (since 2006), now on hiatus, she manages Tracing the Tribe On Facebook page (with 4,000+ active participants), three DNA projects at, including the IberianAshkenaz Project. The former Jerusalem Post genealogy columnist, her articles have been widely published in major media outlets. She is the US Genealogy Advisor for; board member, Society of Crypto-Judaic Studies; and Sandoval County (NM) Genealogical Society.
The presentation was introduced as follows:
Sephardic genealogical research has increased exponentially over the past few years. Just a few short years ago, resources could be counted on one hand. Today, there are a huge number of resources including books, blogs, organizations, societies, online databases, museums and much more. This presentation will offer a broad overview of resources used by researchers looking for their Sephardic ancestors. An updated, detailed handout will be provided.
The Jews in Spain were ordered to leave the country in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella, the rulers in Castile acting in accordance with the Spanish Inquisition. Ferdinand and Isabella had just concluded a war against the Moslems in the South of Spain. Coincidently, this was the same year Columbus set sail to India and ended up in America. Subsequently, these Jews have been referred to as the Sephardim. For more information about the expulsion, see Modern Jewish History: The Spanish Expulsion (1492).

Many of the Jews throughout the world and many people who do not even suspect Jewish ancestry are related directly to these expulsed Jews. This is a very important, and often neglected, area of research. Because of consistent and long standing persecution, many of the Jews from Spain and elsewhere, hid their ancestry and culture in a veil of secrecy sometimes for hundreds of years. This group of Jews are referred to as Crypto-Jews. I wrote about Crypto-Judaic studies in a previous post.

From my perspective, Crypto-Judaic studies and research bear a resemblance to many other persecuted minorities such as the African American and Native American populations of the United States. I feel a kinship with these minorities because my own ancestors were persecuted, mobbed and driven out of their homes. As a side note, I am concerned that my own descendants will forget or never learn of their heritage as they become mainstream and well-respected rather than persecuted.

Schelly has graciously allowed me to reproduce her list of references and resources here in this blog post for which I am very much indebted. Please acknowledge and thank Schelly for this very useful tool for research:

Tracing the Tribe – Jewish Genealogy on Facebook


Dicionario Sefaradi de Sobrenomes [Dictionary of Sephardic Surnames]
Guilherme Faiguenboim, Paulo Valadares and Anna Rosa Campagnan (Sao Paolo, Fraiha) (English/Portuguese)

The Forgetting River: A Modern Tale of Survival, Identity, and the Inquisition, Doreen Carvajal (Riverhead Books)

Guidebook for Sephardic and Mizrahi Genealogical Resources in Israel, Mathilde Tagger and Yitzchak Kerem (Avotaynu)

The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean: The Spanish-Portuguese Jewish Settlements in the Caribbean and the Guianas, Mordechai Arbell (Gefen)

Juggling Identities: Identity and Authenticity Among the Crypto-Jews, Seth D. Kunin (Columbia University Press)

Sangre Judia (vols. 1 and 2) Pere Bonnin (Flor del Viento) (Spanish)

Sephardic Genealogy: Discovering Your Sephardic Ancestors and Their World, 2nd edition, Jeffrey Malka (Avotaynu)

To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico, Stanley Hordes (Columbia University Press)

Les commerçants du roi: Tujjar al-sultan, [The Merchants of the Sultan] Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 1998. (French) Michel Abitbol

Malkhei Rabanan, [Biographical Dictionary of the Rabbis of Morocco] Jerusalem: 1932. (Hebrew) Yosef Benaim

Les Juifs d’Afrique du Nord : démographie et onomastique, [The Jews of North Africa : Demography and Onomastics] Algeria : 1936. (French) Maurice Eisenbeth

Les noms des Juifs du Maroc : essai d’onomastique Judéo-marocaine, [The Surnames of Moroccan Jews: Essay on Judeo-Moroccan Onomastics] Madrid : Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas; Instituto Arias B. Montano, 1978. (French) Abraham Laredo

Judíos de Toledo, [Jews of Toledo] Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas; Instituto B. Arias Montano, 1979. (2 vols.) (Spanish) Pilar Leon Tello

The Jews in the Crown of Aragon: Regesta of the Cartas Reales in the Archivo de la Corona de Aragon, Jerusalem: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1993-1995. (2 vols.), (Hispania Judaica; Ginzei Am Olam) (English and Spanish) María Cinta Mañé and Gemma Escribà (eds.)

Les noms des Juifs de Grèce [Names of the Jews of Greece] Jean and Elie Carasso (éds.), Gordes (France), 1990. Asher Moissis

Les Juifs de Salonique 1492-1943 [The Jews of Thessaloniki] Tarascon (France): 2000, pp.17-64. Elie Carosso (ed.)

The Jews of the Kingdom of Valencia; from Prosecution to Expulsion, 1391-1492, Jerusalem: Magnes Press, the Hebrew University, 1993 (English) Jose Hinojosa Montalvo

L’Histoire des Israélites de Salonique, [The History of the Jews of Thessaloniki] Thessaloniki: 1935-1978. (7 vols. in 6 books) (French) Joseph Nehama

Three Jewish Communities in Medieval Valencia, Jerusalem: Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, 1990. (English and Catalan) J. Doñate Sebastia and R.R. Magdalena Nom de Deu

The Sephardic Onomasticon, Istanbul: Gözlem, 2004. Baruh Pinto

Juifs du Maghreb : Noms de famille et société [Jews of the Maghreb; Surnames and Society] Paris : Cercle de Généalogie Juive, 2004. (French) Jacques Taieb

Histoire de familles ; les noms de famille juifs d’Afrique du Nord [History of Families; the Jewish Surnames of North Africa], Jerusalem: 1998. (French) Joseph Toledano

Sefer ner hamaarav [Book of the Candle of the West], Jerusalem: 1911. (Hebrew) Yaakov Toledano

Sefer shem hagdolim he-hadash, [The New Book: Names of the Renowned Ones], Warsaw: 1865. (Hebrew) Aaron Walden

Ottoman and Turkish Jewry, Indiana University (1992) Aron Rodrigue

Sephardi Jewry : A History of the Judeo-Spanish Community, 14th-20th Centuries, Berkeley : University of California Press 2000. Aron Rodrigue (with Esther Benbassa)

  • The Journal of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian Crypto Jews 
  • Sephardic Horizons Journal (online) 
  • Sefarad (Madrid, since 1941, bi-monthly, mostly Spanish)
  • Revue des Ėtudes Juives (Paris: Société des études Juives , since 1880)
  • Raices (Madrid : Sefarad Editores)

Be aware that websites frequently update existing resources and databases, or add new ones. Check back frequently to learn what has been added or updated.


Check each country for possibilities, using such search terms as Romania Sephardic or Italy Sephardic, or a family name of interest (insert name for X) and a country, such as X Italy or X Morocco.
Each book and website mentioned above contains extensive bibliographies and additional resource lists. Do check all of them for your surnames of interest.

The Master Genealogist Software Discontinued

I picked up a post from John D. Reid in his Canada's Anglo-Celtic Connections blog that the software program, The Master Genealogist published by WhollyGenes is being discontinued. I have been familiar with the program for quite a few years. At one point, I used the program for about three months but decided to move to another program. I am very interested in this development and additionally interested in the comments John made about some of the likely reasons that the program was discontinued.

My views on the future of stand-alone software programs is fairly simple. Unless they are strongly associated with a large online research database, the programs will not likely survive. This is not an observation on the merits of any of the programs that are still being sold. I believe this process is inevitable and has nothing to do with the programs themselves. This is a sad outlook for the reason that many very good programs will likely disappear. The main reason for this viewpoint is the importance of the availability of moving data from the online database to the local program. In addition, the larger online databases are developing very effective automatic document searches.

Do I think that all the independent software programs will disappear? This is highly unlikely because some of the specialized programs such as GRAMPs and Brother's Keeper, have sizable numbers of supportive users and do not depend on advertising and casual sales. There is an interesting list of genealogy programs in Wikipedia. See Comparison of genealogy software.

There are really very few of the local database programs that market their products to genealogists at conferences and through societies and other venues. You seldom see ads for these products even in genealogically related publications. In addition, gathering data on the sales of genealogy programs is essentially impossible. To my knowledge, none of the programs publish sales numbers or even give any other information about their sales although some claim to be "best selling" etc.

Another interesting aspect of the trend in genealogy programs is their availability on a variety of computer devices and platforms. There are still relatively few of the developers who have Apple OS X versions of their programs. In addition, very few have versions for iOS or Android devices. It is a fact that sales of tablets and smartphones now exceed the sales of desktop computers. If would seem very short sighted to ignore this major trend. It is also significant that some of the programs that are associated with large online database programs, also have apps for mobile devices, such as RootsMagic that exchanges data with's Family Tree. It is also important to note that three of the large online genealogical database programs,, and also have their own mobile apps.

If the developers limit their software programs to one operating system and one type of computer, their ability to grow in the future would also be very limited. From this type of analysis it is not difficult to see why a product such as The Master Genealogist would be discontinued.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

An Approach to Ethics in Genealogy

Ethics are either considered cultural or highly personal. Your personal ethics may have come from an intensely religious background or no religion at all. Whether you believe that the moral principles underlying your beliefs or actions arise from an absolute standard or are determined by the situation, there is still a need to define those values relating to human conduct that ensure the peaceful and orderly conduct of the members of any society.

In the narrow field of genealogical research and publication, ethical considerations arise in the context of activities that impinge on privacy, copyright, plagiarism, and historicity. There are (or should be) ethical considerations when genealogists alter facts, documents or images to suit their personal view of the past.

Let me start with a series of hypotheticals. Beware, some of the following are trick questions.

You are a beginning genealogist and in searching online in one of the large online family tree programs, you find a near relative has done a considerable amount of work on your own lines. Do you copy the entire family tree or only parts of it?

Changing the facts a bit, suppose that one of your relatives sends you a copy of his or her "file" containing all of your relative's documentation and notes. Would it be unethical to copy the entire file online and put your own name on it and leave out where you got the information? How much of the file can you copy without disclosing where you got the information?

In documenting your genealogy file, you run across some documents that indicate, for the first time to your knowledge, that your mother had an illegitimate child before she met your father and they got married. Should you immediately put this information in your online family tree? Should you share this information with your siblings? What about putting the information up on Facebook?

Let's suppose you are doing some research into your great-grandparents' family life and discover that your great-grandfather did time in the Federal Prison for fraud and tax evasion. No one else in the family has discovered these facts yet. Do you write about it in a blog? Do you include the information in your family file at all? If you do record the information do you tell the larger community?

Another hypothetical. You are researching your family and you find a wonderful story about them your ancestors in a blog post. Do you just copy the whole story onto your own website or family tree and forget where it came from? How much of the story can you copy without telling where it came from?

How much, if any, information should you put online about living people?

You can see that I could on and on with hypothetical situations such as those above. The reason is simple, these types of situations practically permeate genealogy. I can also say from experience, that I know of a serious conflict concerning every one of the situations highlighted by the hypotheticals.

It not unusual for newly minted genealogists to approach the subject with a "copy everything for free" attitude. This is an extension of the recent phenomena of "if it is on the Internet, I can copy it" attitude. But fortunately, most genealogists have a sense of ethics. Although parts of the system are chaotic, genealogy as a whole observes some moderately strict ethics. I say moderately because there are no clearly defined parameters and genealogists as a whole are ethical but there are exceptions.

If I were to propose some ethical considerations for genealogists, I am afraid I would be much stricter in some areas and much laxer in others than the main stream majority. I would propose some very clear guidelines about copying the work of others urging all to stay within the guidelines set down by U.S. and International copyright law. But I have a very narrow view of privacy. I would not be overly protective of what most people consider private matters. On the other hand, I would be an extremist in the area of historicity. I feel there is no excuse for rewriting history to suit our own present feelings of correctness or simply to avoid offending people. History is history and it should be reported and recorded as completely accurately as possible.

One major difficultly, of course, is that using something like the copyright law to determine your ethics is a trap. The copyright law is arcane, inconsistent and in some cases contradictory. There are no clear standards for how much of a document can be copied for fair use, for example and there are also no clear guidelines for what is and what is not subject to copyright in many areas. In addition, some entities use the copyright law as a hammer to beat on their supposed competition or for other even less altruistic reasons.

All in all, there are serious inconsistencies in how "ethics" should be applied to the various areas of genealogical concern. Borrowing a statement from the medical community, first, do no harm. As much as possible decisions made in any of these areas should try to avoid conflict and hard feelings or even animosity. In some cases, genealogists may need more than the average folklore level of understanding of things such as the copyright law. In other instances they may also have to avoid publishing damaging information until the concerned parties have passed on to their eternal reward. But from my perspective, I think we do have an ethical duty to preserve history as completely and honestly as possible. In the course of doing research, if a member of the family makes a demand to alter the record to accommodate their particular view of the subject, then the researcher will have to decide which is more important, placating a relative or preserving the accurate historical record. I have already mentioned my position in that type of situation.

Since much of what we perceive as ethical is in fact culturally determined, I further suggest that we not be too fast in judging others' decisions based on our own set of morals. On the other hand, I do believe that there is a universal human morality and that when actions fall outside of what is universally accepted as good and moral, they are reprehensible and should be dealt with in the way the law of the country requires. We should, above all else, be examples in honoring the laws of the countries where we live. I will put off to another time, if ever, the discussion of what our responsibilities are if the law of the land is not ethically enforced or is immoral.

IAJGS Conference: Latest Trends in Publishing for Genealogists

This is the type of topic that you either see a need for or not depending on your views on how much you "own" your research. A small minority of genealogists are well known for guarding their research against the world and rejecting all pleas to share. But if you are in the majority of those who agree that sharing their research with others in their families and even their extended family. This presentation was described as follows:
Overview what is happening in the publishing industry in general that genealogists can take advantage of. Look at where technology is heading that may impact what you decide to do today (e.g., website, blog, Facebook, Flipboard, printed book, smartphone, tablet, eReader, and even ePaper). See how the next generation of readers consume books and media in different ways than in the past and have different expectations of what makes compelling content. Become familiar with the new tools available and formats. See it through the eyes of today's readers.
As with any overview there is a lot of room for speculation and generalization. The presenter, who I have written about before, is as follows:
Marlis Humphrey is the industry’s foremost expert on next generation family history publishing. She has applied her 20+ years experience in broadband communications and media and broadcast, technology, marketing, and strategic planning to the genealogy world. Not only a successful researcher, and as founder of myAncestories, Marlis has approached genealogy with a unique perspective on how technology advances in multimedia applications can enrich our sharing of family history and presents and teaches her ideas and methods, inspiring genealogists – whether beginner, expert, or professional, nationally and internationally.
If I were going to fast-forward through any discussion about publishing, I would be relying on the last 30+ years that I have owned and help manage a publishing company. More specifically, we would have been called a computer graphics design and pre-press company, although we did take some projects through to publication. This business began in 1984 as part of my retail computer store. We went from a printing environment dominated by traditional printing presses to print-on-demand and epublishing.

I fully realize that there is a significant part of the genealogical community that sees publishing a hard-bound printed book of their genealogy as their most coveted goal. From my standpoint, I see no use anymore at all for paper publishing. I would rather publish electronically and view the content on a tablet computer.

Marlis did a very good job of review not just the past but showing where we are presently in the digital online world of hand-held computers. Here again, I am mostly out-of-step with the majority. I am not at all ready to give up my 27" screen and my full-size keyboard. I am intrigued with products such as the Flipboard app and other similar products. She was recognizing the composition of the genealogy audience and talked about printing a paper-based book of genealogy, something I would not contemplate. One good reason is the pile of boxes of printed family history books I have sitting in my basement. I keep finding people to give them to, but I still have boxes and boxes of the leftover copies. Ebooks do not sit in piles in your basement.

There are a variety of companies online that will publish a traditional paper print book on demand. That means they will print only as many copies as you desire, thus avoiding the piles in the basement syndrome. But the advantages, as pointed out during the presentation, of publishing online or at least electronically, is the ability to link graphics to websites and enrich the content of the book.

If you want to pursue the world of online or electronic publishing, here are some links:

and many, many others. 

IAJGS Conference: Funeral and Mourning Ceremonies of Our Ancestors

The topic of this presentation at the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, reminds me of my Mesa City Cemetery Project. During the course of that project, I learned a lot about cemeteries and cemetery records that I never imagined. I realized that, as a genealogist, ignorance of the burial process and all the records associated with the burial process would lead us to be entirely unaware of the potential documents available for research.

The present topic is presented by Rabbi Gary M. Gans, described as follows:
How did our ancestors handle the reality of death and mourning? What laws and customs were they likely to have observed? Did they tear their clothes, eat certain foods, cover mirrors, sit on the floor, or say the Mourner's Kaddish for an extended time? Some stories were "Bubbe Meises," old tales of our grandmothers that were superstitions. But others had psychological and religious merit. Were these just nostalgic vestiges of life long ago? Many of us now identify with our previous generations and would hope to emulate their spiritual world. Perhaps we might want to reincorporate some of our ancestor's practices back into our own lives! Participants will also learn about regional differences and customs, & will also have opportunities to share personal experiences.
One of the impressive things about this particular conference is that all of the presenters have extensive credentials and Rabbi Gans is no exception:
Gary Gans was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and has been the rabbi of Congregation Beth Tikvah, Marlton, NJ since 1981.He earned his Doctorate from Eastern Baptist Theological seminary in Family Counseling, a rare honor for a Jew! Gans is also a licensed therapist in NJ, specializing in family relationships, grief, and the impact of life-cycle events.He is on the Board of Directors of the Crescent Cemetery, Pennsauken, NJ and past president of the Tri-County Board of Rabbis. Gary has presented at previous IAJGS conferences, as well as in the Southern New Jersey Jewish and interfaith communities.
Jewish burial tradition was that the body was placed directly in the dirt, so there are some traditional issues with the modern metal coffin styles. The important thing is that the body be put in contact with earth. There are such traditions in all cultures and it is important that the family select a funeral director that is sensitive to the cultural background of the family. In Jewish tradition, the body of the deceased was always covered. The body was washed and clothed in special garments.

I was struck by some of the similarities and many of the differences of the traditions with my own cultural background. It would be interesting to research how our own traditions arose and whether or not the common tradition in the rural parts of the U.S. in the 1800s had an effect on the traditions now present among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But I am sure that modern, commercial funeral practices have dramatically altered my own cultural traditions in many ways.

See some of the following references:

This entire week has been a wonderful opportunity for learning. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

IAJGS Conference: Creating a Collaborative Family Website using

This was my last class on Wednesday. I was at RootsTech when won the award for the 2013 Developers Challenge. In fact I was sitting next to Tammy Hepps when the awards were made (one of my claims to fame). The class is described as follows: is a website for collaboratively building family trees, sharing stories, and collecting pictures in a beautiful, low-key setting that appeals especially to the non-genealogists in a family. In this class you'll learn how to upload your existing family tree to Treelines or create a tree from scratch, how to add and edit people in your tree, and most importantly, how to create interactive, timeline-driven digital scrapbooks for all the meaningful people and events from your family's past. At the end of the class, you'll have a solid understanding of the unique ways Treelines allows you to present and share family history, and you'll be ready to invite family members to join in the fun with you.
I think you need to know a little bit more about Tammy,
Tammy A. Hepps is the creator of, a family story-sharing website and winner of the RootsTech 2013 Developer Challenge. With a degree in Computer Science from Harvard, she has fourteen years of experience in digital media, leading technology initiatives across the content, commerce, mobile, and social spaces. She has been working on her family tree for more than twenty years and combines in her depth in genealogy, technology, and storytelling. 
She serves on the Board of Directors for JewishGen and the Philadelphia Jewish Archive Center, and the Board of Advisers for the NY Family History School. is a story-centric program presented as a series of images and text accompanied by a timeline. Here is another screenshot of one of the stories showing how the text, images and timeline interact:

As Tammy says, "Treelines are storylines for your family tree." As I have said before in posts about Treeline, it is an elegant and very easy to follow way to present family stories. The process of creating a Treelines story is straightforward and the program also provides a format for creating a more traditional looking pedigree. The program is primarily private, but can be made public on the site. You may very well find Treelines to be just exactly what you have been looking for in an online format. 

Trees on Treelines can be expanded by adding interrelated stories. The program contains the full view of all records and images. Treelines is presently a free website.

IAJGS Conference: How did Jews get to Europe?

I know a fair amount of this history, especially as presented in the Bible, but this is another topic I couldn't pass up. It never hurts to have a little more historical background for research. The presentation was by Avraham Groll and was extremely well attended. It looked like every seat in the room was taken. Here is the class description from the schedule:
With the decline of Babylonian Jewry in the 9th and 10th centuries, Jews, in large numbers, immigrated to Europe. Yet there is evidence of Jewish settlement in Europe dating back more than 1,000 years prior to this point. This presentation will focus on early Jewish settlement in Spain, Germany, France and Italy. Using Biblical, Rabbinic and secular sources, we will explore why Jews chose (or were forced) to live in these countries, where they settled, and under what conditions they lived. In addition, we will discuss the dividing line between Antiquity and the Medieval era, and its ramifications on the Jewish settlement. This presentation is designed for beginners, and is not a workshop. Maps, pictures, and documents will be displayed. Handouts with further information and a bibliography will also be distributed.
Avraham Groll is the Director of Business Operations for JewishGen. After studying in Israel at Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim, he received a BS from Ramapo College, and an MBA from Montclair State University. He is currently pursuing an MA in Judaic Studies at Touro College. I include this information to illustrate what I perceived from attending the classes so far. Almost uniformly, I have found the same very high standard of education and competence. It is really a privilege to be here at this conference. There is also an intensity here that is not present at any other conference I have attended over the years. 

It would seem to me a very difficult proposition to trace a movement of a people based on a cultural affinity and a religious homogeneity irrespective of the surrounding political boundaries. This challenge is reflected by the controversy in establishing many of the very early locations in the Biblical account. The presentation began with a summary of the status of the Jews at the time of the Babylonian Empire. There are a very large number of books and other reference works on the history of the Jews. I decline to recommend any particular work, although I have several in my personal library. 

I cannot do justice to the details of the history in one blog post. But essentially, as reflected in the Bible, there were waves of conquest in which the resident population in Israel was forcibly removed. Avraham emphasizes the importance of the Jewish schools as a central part of the identity

The fact that a presentation at a genealogy conference is dealing with the history of the people involved should be noticed by other genealogy conferences. I sometimes find too much methodology and not enough history.