New York: JDC Archival genealogy resources, May 16

The global archives director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee will speak at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of New York, on May 16.

The event opens with networking from 12.30-1.45pm, followed by the main program, at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street.

JDC’s director of global archives Linda Levi is responsible for archival centers in New York and Jerusalem. She is also assistance executive vice president for global archives. An NYU graduate, she holds an MA in contemporary Jewish studies (Brandeis University).
Since its inception in 1914, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC, known popularly as “the Joint”) has borne witness to the greatest events of twentieth-century Jewish history. The JDC Archives documents the organization’s operations, overseas activities and serves as a record of life in Jewish communities around the world.
Its extensive holdings include eye-witness accounts, correspondence, reports, logs, passenger lists, emigration cards, photographs, and much more. Participants will learn how the Archives are organized, see examples of rich genealogical records in the JDC archival collections, and find out how to conduct research at its repositories. New efforts to digitize the JDC collections will also be included in the discussion.

For more information, visit the JGSNY website.

Iraq: Jewish archive’s return sought

Iraq wants its Jewish archive returned. What should be done? And who owns the materials?

Washington Post story, by Glenn Kessler, quotes well-known Jewish genealogist and former Defense Department official Harold Rhode was in Baghdad when the archive was found in a basement “floating in three feet of sewage water” in the Mukhabarat, the secret police headquarters, as a result of bombed pipes.

“They represent part of our history and part of our identity. There was a Jewish community in Iraq for 2,500 years,” said Samir Sumaidaie, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States. “It is time for our property to be repatriated.”


A high-level Iraqi delegation, led by Deputy Culture Minister Taher al-Humoud, met Thursday with senior State Department officials to press for the return of the artifacts.


But others, including many involved in saving the materials, say that they belong to the Jews who fled, or their descendants — many of whom live in Israel.

The Jewish archive contained Torah scrolls, Haggadas, marriage records, university applications, financial documents – the records of a community taken by the secret police from Jewish homes as the community fled the country under pressure and persecution. Many went to Israel or the US, while thousands also went to Teheran, until Iran’s revolution again forced them to move.

What should be done with these materials?

The soaked documents, some 3,500 tagged items, were taken out of the country with a vague promise of return after restoration. Today, they are stabilized (although with mold) in a Maryland office building, and the Iraqi government wants them back.

“I don’t see any reason for it to go back to Iraq, because if it is the patrimony of the Jewish community of Iraq, then wherever they are it’s theirs,” Harold Rhode, a former Defense Department official, told the Jerusalem Post last month. “When they left, they would have taken it with them had they been able to take it with them. You don’t abandon Torahs.”

The State Department doesn’t dispute Iraq’s claim. NARA takes no position on who owns them, but says the items need much more preservation work, and spent less than $1 million on stabilizing the materials.

The agency’s staff members recently completed an item-by-item assessment and are in the final stages of estimating the cost of a full preservation, including digitizing images of the pages. An NARA estimate in 2003 pegged the cost at $1.5 million to $3 million.

Sumaidaie said he thinks the items are stable enough so that no “further damage or decay can take place” and that Iraq can handle additional restoration.

Rhode, in Iraq at the time, received help from Iraqi exile leader Ahmed Chalabi, who provided equipment. At first, the material was placed to dry in the sun, but when Rhode learned that freezing kills mold, they were placed in a refrigerator truck. When Natan Sharansky and Vice President Cheney got involved, things moved quickly.

Eventually, and with the approval of the remnants of the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, the materials were taken to Texas, freeze-dried and transferred to Maryland for preservation and restoration. According to the State Department, when the Coalition Provisional Authority transferred sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004, it gave the Ministry of Culture the right to demand the documents’ return.

A former senior Pentagon official, during George W. Bush’s term, Dov. S. Zakheim is opposed to returning the items.

Sumaidaie said Iraq would consider individual claims for the documents but that giving them to descendants is “not for us a matter for dispute or discussion.” He also said that the documents would be made available in Iraq to researchers.

If NARA completes preservation and digitization of the items, that means copies of these precious records would be available to Iraqi Jews and their descendants outside of Iraq.

What do you think?
— Return them now although restoration is incomplete?
— Complete the restoration, digitize, keep copies and return them?
— Not return the materials?
— Make sure Jewish Iraqis and their descendants receive their records?

Read the complete story at the link above.

Boston: Daniel Laby’s Sephardic roots, April 25

Dr. Daniel Laby will share his family’s Sephardic journey from 13th-century Zaragoza, Spain to the New World with members of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston, on Sunday, April 25.

Read Tracing the Tribe’s post about the meeting, which also features Brandeis Professor Jonathan Decter, here.

The Canton Citizen’s story about Laby and his family is here.

The pediatric opthamalogist, also a professor at Harvard Medical School, also has family connections to Lerida, where Tracing the Tribe found the first document for our family.

His family’s journey has covered Spain, Hebron, Salonika, North Africa, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Dan began researching his family in high school when the earliest date he knew was his paternal grandfather’s 1904 arrival in the US.

Since then, he’s reached back into the 13th century. Family members worked as financiers, diplomats and doctors for the Kings of Aragon.

A few years ago, three generations of his family visited their ancestral family home in Zaragoza and other cities in Spain. He put together an excellent multimedia presentation on the family trip which he shared with JFRA Israel members.

Research on his grandfather’s family, from Hebron, was furthered by a book on the history of that community. It included detailed land deeds which helped him trace back several hundred years.

“I think to really understand what your future is going to be … you have to understand where you came from and what your past history is,” Laby said.


“I think anyone could do it,” Laby said of tracing ancestry. “You just have to have curiosity and patience and determination.”

It was interesting to see Dan’s quote, that he was “fortunate to have an obscure name.” This is in line with my own views. Dan says if he was looking for Cohen or Levy, it would be more difficult to find the documents for his ancestors.

Tracing the Tribe feels much the same; hunting for Talalay and Dardashti makes it much easier!

While we can trace with probability our kosher winemaker ancestor in Lerida mentioned in a document dated 1358, Dan has gone back to 1202 for his prominent family, which helped arrange the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella, as well as funding for Columbus’s trip to the Americas.

Dan and I have joked that our ancestor made the wine his ancestors drank way back when.

Using ancient property ownership maps in Zaragoza, he was able to visit the site of the ancestor’s home during his trip to Spain.

His family, along with other Spanish Jews, was expelled in 1492. Family members went to North Africa, Italy, Greece and Israel. Through his research, he’s met relatives and, in Israel, met the Alazar descendants, whom their ancestors had known in Spain.

“When you do this kind of family history you learn those small details, which makes it real and makes it personal, which is what is fun about it,” he said.

His documents include arrival records, passenger logs, land deeds, maps, and a 1435 ketubah (a Jewish marriage contract).

The Internet has helped, of course, and he aso worked through reams of microfilm at the National Archives, Washington DC. He also uses DNA to help,

How far back does he want to go? “To Abraham,” he jokes.

UK: 160 years of Illustrated London News now online

Researching your ancestors in the UK just became easier, with 160 years of the Illustrated London News now online.

Hosted by Gale, there are some 250,000 pages and about 750,000 photographs and illustrations, from its first issue on May 14, 1842 to the last in 2003. At a time when copper printing was expensive and took time, the ILN developed a fast, cheap woodcut print method for illustrations. Photographs first began to appear in print during the late 19th century.

“It was the multimedia of its day,” said Seth Cayley, publisher of media history at Cengage Learning, which has digitised the ILN archive. “In one sense, people didn’t know before then what the rest of the world really looked like. ILN was the strongest paper of its sort and helped shape the middle class.”

According to the Guardian, highlights include articles by such writers as Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Wilkie Collins and Agatha Chrstie. The first illustrated news publication included all the news of the day, such as wars, disasters, exhibitions and work by famed artists of the day.

While access is currently available only to subscribing institutions, there seems to be hope, as noted in the original Guardian story:

The online archive, which goes up to 2003, will initially be available only to libraries and educational institutions.

The archive presents articles both on an individual page, or to view in the original layout next to adverts and other editorial of the day. Pages are full-colour with both text and tagged images indexed for search, though the archive is not publicly accessible and has not been indexed by Google.

Cayley said the firm had improved the archive experience with each previous project, including its work on Times Online, the Economist, the British Library and the FT.

“The Times archive has been so successful it has almost distorted the way people research, because they assume that is the only newspaper archive. But more archives coming online will mean better representation of different reporting and a clearer perspective on the past,” Cayley added.

He said it would be ideal for all newspaper archives to be cross searchable in the future, and that Cengage is exploring that option.

From a page at Gale, here’s more on access:

Please note: The ILN Historical Archive is only available for institutions to trial and purchase.The archive is not available at this stage for individual subscriptions, although a pay per view site may be considered at some future time. Users of the archive can share images and articles for non commercial purposes only.

If you have access, here’s what you’ll find.

The Illustrated London News Historical Archive gives students and researchers unprecedented online access to the entire run of the ILN from its first publication on 14 May 1842 to its last in 2003. Each page has been digitally reproduced in full colour and every article and caption is full-text searchable with hit-term highlighting and links to corresponding illustrations. Facsimilies of articles and illustrations can be viewed, printed and saved either individually or in the context of the page in which they appear. Wherever possible Special Numbers covering special events such as coronations or royal funerals have been included.

For more from Gale, click here, which notes that the new archive will be of interest to researchers in many fields:

Use this remarkable resource to support scholarly and enthusiast research in social history, fashion, theatre, media, literature, advertising, graphic design and politics, as well as those interested in genealogy.

The Guardian noted:

The archive includes an 1850s illustration of a “sea serpent” seen by sailors from HMS Daedalus on a passage from the West Indies – which they promptly tried to shoot – and a column by feminist Florence Fenwick Miller. She describes using cocaine drops to combat sea sickness. “All chemists keep it, and my readers undertaking a sea-voyage should have no difficulty in procuring a supply.”

Tracing the Tribe hopes for future access for all.

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
contributed.

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.