Doing the happy dance!

We all like to read about genealogy “happy dance” moments!

From my dear friend Rosanne Leeson (Los Altos, California), comes this delightful email. She wants everyone to be as happy as she is now after watching the Matthew Broderick episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” and following a clue on the show to the solution to a Civil War family mystery.

Her family arrived very early in the USA (pre-Civil War) and she is an experienced and seasoned researcher of her Jewish family.

Wow! I am sitting here with tears in my eyes!

I have just had my first benefit from watching the “Who Do You Think You Are?” show!

Saw the last one with Matthew Broderick, when he finds his great-great’s grave in the Marietta GA National Cemetery. I never even knew that such a cemetery existed, or that they had moved Union dead there from Atlanta.

I had been hoping for ages to find out what ever happened to my great-grandmother’s youngest brother, who she had brought over to the US from Bavaria in the early 1860’s. I had gotten his record from NARA, knew when and where he had died (in a hospital in Atlanta of miliary fever).

Had asked someone in Atlanta to try to find out what had happened to his body. The only answer I got was that they had probably thrown his remains into a common or pauper’s grave. NICE!

He had only been in the US a short time, spoke very little English, but signed up to fight for the Union cause in NY, where my great-grandparents were living. He was 20 years old when he died. I always felt so sad that there was no closure for any of the family descendants.

Then I learned about the Marietta National Cemetery. Got online and found not only history of it, but a list of those buried there. BINGO! Great-Grand-uncle found!

I just called the cemetery and the gentleman was wonderful. They are sending out someone to see if he had a stone and, if so, to photograph it for me, and send in a week. He said that he thought there might be a stone or his name would not have been on the list. If not, I will order one. No fee for a picture! Their duty and pleasure to add closure after nearly 150 years!


Rosanne, a semi-retired librarian, is a consummate genealogist, specializing in Romania (RomSIG) and Alsace (has translated many records and visited over the years). She’s also vice president of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society.

What this points up is that even very experienced researchers can learn something every day!

We never know when a ray of sunshine will illuminate that lost record that has eluded us for decades. We never know when a resource may provide a missing link.

I’m sure all Tracing the Tribe readers join me in congratulating Rosanne on her achievement, and congratulating WDYTYA on providing the clue.

Our well-known colleague Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak noted this post in her most recent Huffington Post article. Thanks, Megan.

Hooray! WDYTYA-USA renewed!

An NBC press release dated April 5 indicated that the American version of “Who Do You Think You Are?” (and two other shows) has been renewed for the 2010-11 season.

Read the complete press release here, but the relevant parts are below:

Who Do You Think You Are?” from executive producer Lisa Kudrow is averaging a 1.6 rating, 6 share in adults 18-49 and 6.8 million viewers overall in “most current” results for its season thus far. In preliminary results for last Friday, “Who Do You Think You Are?” won the 8-9 p.m. ET hour in adults 18-49, marking the first time any regular competitor in this slot has beaten an original episode of CBS’s “Ghost Whisperer” in 18-49 rating since November 17, 2006. “Who Do You Think You Are?” has improved the time period by 23 percent in adult 18-49 rating versus NBC’s average for the traditional 2008-09 season in “live plus same day” results.

Thomas MacEntee over at presents each week’s stats for the show.

Genealogists aren’t surprised by the ratings – we knew it would be a hit – and we are all hoping that the show will “bounce” interest in our passion and sometimes-compulsive interest.

Wonder who the celebs will be next season?

Now, if those of us based elsewhere on the globe could see the episodes, life would be even better!

Shanghai: A Jewish walking tour

Today must be Shanghai day!

Tracing the Tribe has covered gravestones, a film and now a Jewish walking tour of the city.

Take a look at this interesting city tour, covering seven Jewish-relevant sites, complete with a nice map.

For more, contact guide Patrick Cranley from Historic Shanghai.

The sites detailed, with photos, include:

— An estate built in 1925 by a British Jewish trader, Ray Joseph.

— The building where author Rena Krasno (1923-2009) lived with her parents, who came to Shanghai from Russia in the early 1920s. Her father was editor of “Our Life,” a tri-lingual Jewish magazine; her uncle Gabriel Rabinowitz designed Ohel Moshe synagogue (now a museum commemorating Shanghai’s Jewish refugees).

— The villa home to one of the most prominent Sephardic families, the Ezras, who owned several properties including the Astor House Hotel.

— A luxurious apartment building (1936) built by and named for Ray and Hannah Joseph.

— The Shanghai Conservatory of Music was the former Shanghai Jewish Club. Behind it is a German-style villa under renovation. It was the old clubhouse for a Zionist youth group, Betar.

— In back of the Fudan University Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital is the original B’nai Brith Polyclinic building (1934), know in the 1940s as the Shanghai Jewish Hospital.

— The Ezra family built (1934) an upscale residential community in Xinkang Huayuan.

See the complete article at the link above and see the photos.

Lithuania: Vilnius project info

Researching ancestors who lived in Lithuania? There are some ongoing projects right now at the Historical Archive in Vilnius.

Readers interested in any of these records may make a qualifying contribution to the LitvakSIG District Research Group and will receive records soon after they are translated. It will take about 18 months before they will be added to JewishGen’s All Lithuania Database.

Remember to cast a wider net. Your ancestors may have lived in more than one nearby village.

Contributions help to get more records translated, so if your interests lie in these locations, you might hit gold.

These are projects currently being translated:

Translator 1
Balbieriskis (Suwalki) marriages – 1858-1870
Balbieriskis (Suwalki) deaths – 1858-1870
Balbieriskis (Suwalki) births, marriage, deaths, 1808-1857.

Translator 2
Stakliskes (Trakai) 1850s
Varena (Trakai) 1850s

Zasliai (Trakai) 1850s
Ziezmariai (Trakai)1850s
Merkine (Trakai)1850s

Translator 3
Plunge (Telsiai) divorces 1839, 1844-46, 1854-1860
Plunge deaths 1842, 1844, 1854-1855.

Translator 4
Vilnius (Vilna) 1875 Family List Book 1 is done, ow working on Book 2. Book 3 no longer exists. Book 4 will be translated if enough funds are

Translator 5
Kaunas births 1907-1914 ( total 2,777 records)

Translator 6
Kaunas deaths 1898, 1899, 1901-1906

Translator 7

Kaunas deaths 1907, 1913

To contribute, click here. For more information on records available and projects underway, visit LitvakSIG.

Seattle: Gen library treasures, April 12

Jewish genealogical societies often have excellent reference libraries built up over the years. Researchers in a locality where such a society exists should investigate the library’s holdings.

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington State will offer an overview of the hidden treasures in its library on Monday, April 12, at 7pm.

The venue is the auditorium at the Stroum Jewish Community Center, Mercer Island, Seattle. Wi-Fi is available, so bring your laptops.

The society’s library will be available in its entirety. The evening will be spent browsing books and researching. JGS “mavens” will be available to answer questions, and there will be some extra computers available for internet research.

For directions and more information, visit the JGSWS website. Fee: JGSWS members: free; others, $5.

Israel: "Shanghai Ghetto" film, April 14

The next meeting of the Israel Genealogical Society (IGS/JFRA) branch in Ra’anana will feature a screening of the “Shanghai Ghetto” documentary, which demonstrates the life of Jewish refugees who spent the war years in that city.

The screening is the branch’s program for Holocaust Remembrance Evening on Wednesday, April 14, at 7.30pm. The meeting is at Beit Fisher, 5 Klausner St. (near Ahuza).

Following the film, there will be a discussion and Q&A with Harold Janklowicz, who was in Shanghai from the age of 8, with his mother. They sailed from Berlin to the relative safety of China.

Although they were away from the horrors of Europe, the Shanghai Ghetto offered other hardships including primitive living conditions, food shortages, malnutrition, illnesses and bad treatment by Japanese occupying forces.

After the war in Europe ended, bombing by American warplanes missed their radio station target and bombed the ghetto instead, killing hundreds of civilians and 40 of the Jewish refugees.

Fee: IGS/JFRA members: free; others, NIS 20.

China: A visit to Kaifeng

The one thing I really wanted to do, on my recent visit to Hong Kong, was arrange a visit to Kaifeng. It was impossible this time, but will be number one on my next visit – whenever that will be.

Matthew Fishbane recently visited the city and recounted his experience in the New York Times Travel Section, “China’s Ancient Jewish Enclave.” He also provides details for making a successful trip, mentions two guides and offers an interesting look.

One guide mentioned in the story is Shi Lei, 31, who studied at Bar Ilan University in Israel. We met when he spoke to a Ra’anana branch meeting that attracted nearly 100 attendees.

Through a locked door in the coal-darkened boiler room of No. 1 Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Kaifeng, there’s a well lined with Ming Dynasty bricks. It’s just a few yards deep and still holds water. Guo Yan, 29, an eager, bespectacled native of this Chinese city on the flood plains of the Yellow River about 600 miles south of Beijing, led me to it one recent Friday afternoon, past the doormen accustomed to her visits.

A mezuza at the doorway of Guo Yan’s house in Kaifeng, where traces of a thriving Jewish community remain.

The well is all that’s left of the Temple of Purity and Truth, a synagogue that once stood on the site. The heritage it represents brings a trickle of travelers to see one of the more unusual aspects of this country: China, too, had its Jews.

Ms. Guo, who identifies herself as a Jew, says she hears it from scholars, visitors and Chinese people alike: “ ‘You Chinese Jews are very famous,’ they say. ‘But you are only in the history books.’“

That seemed a good enough reason to come looking, and I quickly found that I was hardly alone.

Ms. Guo and I were soon joined by a 36-year-old French traveler, Guillaume Audan, who called himself a “nonpracticing Jew” on a six-month world tour of “things not specifically Jewish.” Like me, he’d found Ms. Guo by recommendation, and made the detour to see what the rumored Kaifeng Jews were all about.

Earlier, Ms. Guo had brought us into a narrow courtyard at 21 Teaching Torah Lane — an alley once central to the city’s Jewish community, and still home to her 85-year-old grandmother, Zhao Cui, widow of a descendant of Chinese Jews. Her one-room house has been turned into a sort of dusty display case, with Mrs. Zhao as centerpiece. “Here are the Kaifeng Jews,” Ms. Guo said, a little defiantly. “We are they.”

Fishbane says, as does my own research over nearly two decades, that for 150 years following the death of the last rabbi, there was still a spirit:

Grandparents told their grandchildren, as Mrs. Zhao told Ms. Guo: “You are a Jew.” Without knowing why, families avoided pork. And at Passover, the old men baked unleavened cakes and dabbed rooster’s blood on their doorstep.

Read the complete story, at the link above, which tells of the visit to Mrs. Zhao, Judaica, and the 50 or so descendants of this ancient Jewish community as they are relearning their heritage. Fishbane also provides a good capsule history of Kaifeng as well. Their synagogue, damaged by floods, was never rebuilt.

And, if this story inspires you, view the details, resource books and possibilities of arranging such a visit to Kaifeng. Most visit only for a day as there are few sites to see that exist, and a visit relies on how the visitor and guide explain what once was.

If you do plan a trip, you might want to do it sooner than later. The street where Shi’s grandfather lived – where Shi keeps a one-room mini-museum of photographs, documents and donated objects – is scheduled for re-development. We all know what that means and Shi doesn’t know where the museum will move. Read the story for details on a Kaifeng visit planned for October 2010 by a group that specializes in such trips.