New York: Gesher Galicia spring event, April 18

The Gesher Galicia Spring regional meeting is set for Sunday, April 18, at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th Street, New York City.

The two-part program begins at 11am.

Part 1: Update on the Cadastral Map and Landowner Records Project, with Gesher Galicia president and research coordinator Pamela Weisberger.

Cadastral land records and property maps are an excellent source of family history information. Studied together, they can show the exact location where a family lived in a shtetl. They can tell the story of neighbors or siblings who resided near each other and demonstrate how close a family lived to the synagogue, cemetery, schools, or the market square. Using house numbers gleaned from vital records, a connection can be made between these physical locations and the genealogical data. Landowner taxation books show the size and value of the properties that Jewish families owned or rented, adding greatly to the history of a family. These records are invaluable when other metrical records are not available, and in some cases they may be the only documented evidence relating to your ancestors.

Examples of maps and records from Phase 4 of the project will be shown and discussed, along with examples from a 1765 Polish magnate “census” book showing the Jewish residents of Grzymalow and the first appearance of Jewish surnames as derived from the occupations of the Jews who lived on the estate grounds. The next phase of the project (June 2010) will be detailed along with the return of the Lviv Street and House Photography Project in July 2010.

2. A Galician Childhood Recounted – The True Story of Feige Hollenberg-Connors Feige, who was born in Korolowka in 1933.

In addition to a house on the market square, her family had farmland outside of town, inherited from her Rosenstock grandfather. She led an idyllic childhood until war broke out and her family had to go into hiding. Hear her first-hand account of what it was like to grow up in this shtetl, until at age 14 she was hidden by a Ukrainian family that later betrayed her, escaped from the ghetto andlabor camp, and survived in the forest until the war’s end.

Feige returned to Korolowka last summer with cave explorer Chris Nicola, who will be on hand to add a coda to her story involving his discovery of “Priests Grotto” the seven-mile long cave where 38 Jews from the town hid until the war was over, and his tenacious path to both discover the identities of those who survived the horrors of war and to successfully reunite them.

There is actually a Part 3 to this program. After lunch, the JGS of New York will meet with speaker Roma Baran to hear her story of rediscoveringher family’s true identities.

A JGSLA 2010 preview will also be offered.

The meeting is free to all. Invite anyone who might be interested. Click here for directions.

Montreal: Back to the Shtetls, March 15

Return to the shtetlach of yesteryear as John Diener highlights an emotional 2005 journey back to the Ukraine and towns previously in Galicia, on Monday, March 15.

The program begins at 7:30pm at the Gelber Conference Centre, 5151 Cote Ste-Catherine/1 Carré Cummings. It is sponsored by the Jewish Genealogical Association of Montreal in association with the Jewish Public Library.

In “Journey Back to the Shtetl,” Diener, who is the vice-president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Ottawa, will also cover the rewards of this kind of adventure.

He visited Grzymalow, Skalat, Kamenets Podilsky, Zhvanets, Sokolets and Hotin. All are today in Ukraine.

Tracing the Tribe’s paternal grandfather’s FINK connection is to Skalat and nearby Suchostaw.

Diener also visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Belzec camps in Poland, and spent time in Krakow and Warsaw.

If your roots are in Galicia, you might find this program very interesting.

Florida: When Leopold Met Lena, Feb. 10

Looking for juicy scandal from old court records and historic newspapers?

“When Leopold Met Lena” isn’t exactly like “When Harry Met Sally,” but will offer many scandalous details from old documents and records – from the old country to the New World – at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Palm Beach County (JGSPBCI).

The program, presented by Pamela Weisberger of Los Angeles, will be held at the South County Civic Center in Delray Beach on Wednesday, February 10.

The JGSPBCI event begins at 12.30pm with a brick wall session, followed by a business meeting and the main program. SIGs (Galicia and Ukraine) will meet prior to the main program, Pamela will also be the Galicia SIG speaker.

“When Leopold Met Lena: Marriage, Divorce and Deception in 1892 New York” will be brought to life with court records, newspapers and other resources as the fascinating story unfolds.

From Czestochowa, Poland to Austria and to Manhattan ‘s Lower East Side and Little Rock , Arkansas, the tumultuous, romantic and litigious world of our immigrant ancestors unfolds as she demonstrates how present-day genealogical research is used to solve 19th-century mysteries.

Pam has documented her family’s history for more than 20 years, traveling through Eastern Europe visiting ancestral towns and villages and conducting research in Polish, Ukrainian and Hungarian archives.

One of her special interests is late-19th to early-20th century city directories, newspapers and court records.

She is a co-chair of JGSLA 2010 (the 30th edition of the IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy), set for July 11-16, in Los Angeles. Her other “hats” include JGSLA program chair, Gesher Galicia president/research coordinator, and has produced two documentaries.

She holds a BA in English (Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri) and an MS in Broadcasting (Boston University).

Fee: JGSPBCI members, free; others, $5.

For directions and more information, see the JGSBCI site.

Los Angeles: Litvaks, Galitzianers and Magyars – Oh my!, Jan. 28

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles is a brave group to bring together – in one room, at the same time – Litvaks, Galitzianers and Magyars, on Thursday, January 28.

On the other hand, how many times can you get three major experts together in the same place?

The event begins at 7.30pm at the Skirball Cultural Center’s Magnin Auditorium. Note that this meeting is on Thursday, a different than normal day for JGSLA meetings!

Are your ancestral roots in Lithuania, Galicia or Hungary? Don’t miss this unusual opportunity to learn about the special interest groups for these regions. Our ancestors moved around quite a bit, and some may well pop up in a surprising location. Learning about other geographical resources expands our knowledge and horizons.

This program will provide updates and information from Litvak SIG president David Hoffman, Gesher Galicia president Pamela Weisberger and Hungarian SIG coordinator Vivian Kahn, followed by an extensive Q&A session.

LitvakSIG is the primary Internet source connecting researchers of Lithuanian-Jewish genealogy worldwide. Its goal is to discover, present and preserve information about our ancestors’ lives in Lithuania, and to better understand their lives before some 95% of Lithuanian Jews perished in the Holocaust. David will explain the history and the goals of the group and tour its website, including the “All Lithuanian Database,” incorporating data from many sources into a searchable mega-database, with the largest number of Lithuanian Jewish records online. He’ll also elaborate on shtetl and surname research groups, articles and other materials of interest.

Gesher Galicia (GG) promotes Jewish genealogical and historical research in Galicia, a province of the former Austrian Empire that today includes towns in Eastern Poland and Western Ukraine. In 2007, Gesher Galicia began the “Cadastral Map and Landowner Records Project” to inventory and obtain copies of records at the Lviv Historical Archive in Ukraine. These are invaluable materials metrical records are not available. In some cases they may be the only documented evidence about your ancestors’ lives. Pamela will also provide more information on the project, demonstrate the new searchable databases and show how maps and landowner records provide a window into the history of the Jews of Galicia.

Hungarian SIG covers the history of and resources for the country’s Jewish community. Vivian will provide a short overview of the history and discuss the wide range of available genealogical resources including JewishGen’s “All Hungary Database.” The AHD includes nearly 1 million records for individuals in the current and former territory of Hungary, including areas in what is now Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, northern Serbia, northwestern Romania and subcarpathian Ukraine. She’ll discuss some of the SIG’s current projects, including the Ungvar/Uzhgorod Cemetery Index and identify other online resources.

More on the speakers:

David B. Hoffman, PhD is a clinical psychologist and former UCLA professor, who has been involved in genealogy for 16 years. He’s co-founder and current president of the LitvakSIG, on the JGSLA board and Roots-Key editor. He’s published more than 35 articles and spoken at eight IAJGS conferences and to groups in South Africa, Israel, Great Britain, the US and conducted research in Lithuania. David established the Jewish Family History Foundation which focuses on 18th century Jewish records of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, in territory that later became Belarus, Lithuania, and parts of Poland and Ukraine.

Pamela Weisberger is JGSLA program chair, co-chair for JGSLA 2010 and Gesher Galicia president. She’s documented her family’s history for more than 25 years, has traveled throughout Eastern Europe, visited ancestral towns and villages and conducted research in Polish, Ukrainian and Hungarian archives. She has a special interest in late-19th to early-20th century US city directories, newspapers and court records. For four years, she’s organized the IAJGS conference film festival, and also produced the 25th-anniversary documentary of JGSLA (“Genealogy Anyone? Twenty Five Years in the Life of the JGSLA”).

Vivian Kahn is JewishGen’s Hungarian Special Interest Group (H-SIG) coordinator and moderates H-SIG’s mailing list. An experienced researcher, she has presented workshops on Jewish genealogy and researching Hungarian Jewish families at IAJGS annual conferences, for Lehrhaus Judaica and other San Francisco Bay Area groups. Her roots in pre-Trianon Hungary have taken her to Hungary, Slovakia, Israel and Salt Lake City. As JewishGen’s Vice-President for SIG Affairs, she serves on the organization’s Operating Committee. A San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society member, she has more than 30 years of professional city-planning experience in public and private sectors.

The Traveling Library will open at 7pm with special regional maps and books. Bring family documents, photographs and maps to share or to receive help.

Fee: members, free; others, $5. For more information, directions and future events, click the JGSLA site.

JGSLA 2010: Brian Lenius to speak

Professional genealogist and map expert Brian C. Lenius, co-founder of the East European Genealogical Society (EEGS) will speak at the 30th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy.

Brian is the author of “The Genealogical Gazetteer of Galicia.”

His 10 research trips to Poland, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Germany and Austria have resulted in greatly expanding resources available in North America.

He will speak on “The Lviv Archive Research Experience,” cadastral maps and landowner records found in Ukrainian and Polish archives.

Brian will also staff a table at the Market Square event on the conference’s first day, and demonstrate various Austrian Empire property maps and records which were created during three historical periods, 1785-88, 1819-1820, and 1817-1860s.

The last survey created property maps (cadastral maps) for the entire Empire.

These extremely detailed maps reveal individual houses, yards, barns, roads, fields, synagogues, cemeteries and more. Although they are considered technical resources, they provide rich detail for a genealogist or family historian who wishes to know more and trace their ancestors.

Along with vital records – or as a substitute if those records do not exist – the map can be a very powerful research tool.

With a house number and location, the researcher can see the routes his or her ancestors walked or rode by horse and wagon from home to fields, to school, synagogue, and learn about the family’s neighbors.

Brian’s expert knowledge will help researchers learn how to use these resources to uncover rich family details.

For all conference details, see the JGSLA 2010 site, and sign up for the newsletter and blog! Registration opens January 15.

New York: How to get Polish records, Jan. 17

Looking for Polish records? The Jewish Genealogical Society of New York will host topic expert Hadassah Lipsius on Sunday, January 17.

“Polish Records—What They Contain, Where They Are and How to Get Them,” starts at 2pm at the Center for Jewish History, in Manhattan.

Hadassah will discuss the various types of records and documents available from the Greater Poland area.

She’ll show examples of different vital record formats based on time period and governing ruler, demonstrate how to identify what records are available for your ancestral town, how to acquire them and how to use them to further your genealogy research.

The program will cover Congress Poland, the Russian Pale of Settlement (Bialystok area), Galicia and Prussia.

A JGSNY executive council member, a Jewish Records Indexing-Poland board member and a JewishGen Board of Governors member, Das co-chaired the 26th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy (2006, New York City).

Her family were city dwellers (i.e. Warszawa and St. Petersburg) for more than 200 years.

The Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute at CJH will be open from 12.30-1.45pm for networking and access to materials and computers.

For more information, see the JGSNY site.

Latkes: What do YOU put on yours?

While latkes are often considered to be a staple of Chanukah, European Jews had never even seen potatoes – that “New World” crop – until the late 16th century.

In fact, food columnist and author Matthew Goodman says latkes and other potato dishes weren’t popular in the Russian Empire until the mid-19th century, as the vegetable was rumored to be a carrier of typhoid and leprosy. It wasn’t until the failures of other common grains that farmers decided to try their hand at the new-fangled potato plant. (And aren’t we glad they did!)

The above is the sidebar from a story I wrote in 2007 for the World Jewish Digest (a magazine that reached some 240,000 homes and is now defunct) on what people put on their latkes. Read on and see some familiar names in Jewish genealogy who contributed to the story. The frying latke photo is by Lisa F. Young.

In honor of the holiday, here it is:

You Are What You Eat
By Schelly Talalay Dardashti
(World Jewish Digest, November 2007)
Potato pancakes. Latkes. These golden delights of potato and onion appear in nearly every Ashkenazi frying pan during Chanukah, helping to honor that one small vial of oil that lasted for eight days. While the rest of the world crunches candy canes, decorates trees, sits on Santa’s lap or returns strange gifts, our people are frying.

I, of course, a seasoned genealogist, know the truth. (Well, part of it, at least.) No recipe is created in a vacuum and, sometimes, learning a family’s latke tradition is more like playing a round of Jewish geography than anything else. For instance, Galitzianers (Galicia was in the former Austro- Hungary, then in Poland, now in Ukraine and Poland) tend to like their food sweet, while Litvaks (Lithuanian Jews) tend to like theirs salty. Some genealogists surmise that sweeter cuisine resulted from cheaper prices of sugar, whereas saltier cuisine resulted from high taxes on sugar. But no one knows for certain. The question is: do these regional tendencies apply to latkes, too? And if so, what are the geographical boundaries?

The topic came up one day last year when I was cruising through the various online genealogy discussion lists I belong to. I noticed a post from one Shelly Crane, whose family comes from both Poland and Ukraine. Crane’s Polish relatives used sugar on their latkes and the Ukrainian ones, in turn, would tease them. Having come across other sugar lovers of Polish origin, Crane wanted to know whether the tie between country and condiment was a bubba meiseh (Yiddish for a grandmother’s tale) or not.

Crane wasn’t the only one thinking along these lines. Judy Baston of San Francisco, Calif., who moderates the Jewish Records Indexing-Poland list ( – which provided the framework for much of this story – found that “nothing brings people into the discussion as much as the foods served in their family homes…[it’s] a link to ‘old country’ connections.”

Old country connections indeed. Crane’s question seemed to awaken something warm and fuzzy in my fellow genealogists, whose discussion threads are generally limited to archival records, cemetery stones and translations of new records. A deluge of postings suddenly bombarded the discussion group, each regaling list members with the “right” way to eat a latke. Intrigued, and hoping to make some order of the chaos, I fished out a few of the more interesting stories. So, here to relieve your Chanukah kitchen angst is a peek into the lighter – and oilier – side of Jewish genealogy. But whatever you do this holiday – whether you serve your latkes with sour cream or sour pickles – just remember one thing: don’t use a store-bought mix. Traditional hand-grated latkes are best, no matter how scraped your knuckles may get!

1. Less is More
Hadassah Lipsius, who lives in New York but whose family roots are in Poland, likes her latkes plain. Her family’s holiday traditions include the annual guarding of the pan, whereupon those individuals who are quick enough snatch the latkes out of the spitting hot oil and wrap them in a napkin. Most of the time, says Lipsius, the latkes never reach the table – let alone any condiment. “Am I supposed to add anything else?” she asks innocently. Former Londoner Ingrid Rockberger, who now lives in Ra’anana, Israel, but whose family roots are near Lodz, Poland, also eats them naked. “Oh, the calories!” she adds.

2. The American Way
Hal Stein lives in Sacramento, Calif., but his maternal roots are in Kapyl (Kapulie), near Slutzk, in Belarus. He remembers eating his latkes thin, moist and crusty around the edges, served with sour cream, apple sauce or both. “I don’t understand how some of these concoctions of today, which look and taste like stringy hash browns, can pass as latkes. They’re an insult!” Sarah Lee Meyer Christiansen, who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, but whose roots are in Warsaw and southern Ukraine, says she never knew about sugar or sour cream on latkes. In her family, they knew only of applesauce. There’s another American classic – ketchup – but only one person publicly admitted to this tradition. He knows who he is and we don’t want to embarrass him…

3. A Pinch of Salt
With parents from Poland, Bobbie Fromberg eats latkes with salt. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t add a little salt to their potatoes. Sour cream or applesauce – feh! Just gimme some really good fried-in-schmaltz latkes with salt and pepper.” (If you’re dieting, Fromberg shares a great way to have your latkes and eat them too: in a non-stick waffle iron. “Yes, they look like waffles, but put a little salt on them and they taste just like latkes without all that grease.”)

4. A Spoonful of Sugar…
Susan Rosenthal grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Salt Lake City, Utah. Her family roots, however, are in a shtetl south of Bialystok, Poland. According to her, the family rule was cinnamon sugar, although she doesn’t know why or when the cinnamon was added. Yael Liber, a former Israeli who now lives in the U.S. but whose maternal roots are near Lublin, Poland, also sprinkles hers with sugar. “I knew of no other way to eat them until I arrived in the U.S. from Israel,” she says. Of course, 100 percent Litvak Jonina Duker, from Maryland, disagrees. “Sugar on latkes?” she writes. “Feh!”

5. Elbow Grease
Marilynn Handelman, from Laguna Woods, Calif., says her grandmother from Ukraine mixed together potatoes, onions, garlic, as many eggs as were available, matzo meal, salt and pepper, and then fried them in shmaltz until crisp. “We ate them right out of the pan – the greasier, the better! Oh, were they good! Gramma lived to be almost 100.” Today, Handelman makes her latkes much healthier, substituting egg whites for eggs, grilling them instead of frying and blotting with a paper towel—after which she freezes, reheats and blots again, lest there be a drop of oil. “My kids and grandkids think they are the best in the world. What do they know? They’ve never tasted those greasy latkes fried in shmaltz.”

6. Fish ‘n’ Chips ‘n’ Vinegar…
Jerusalemite Harold Lewin, who emigrated from Manchester, U.K., says his family from Lithuania always ate latkes with malt vinegar, as in the British fish-and-chips tradition. The vinegar was a U.K. invention, he says; he’s never heard of such a custom before.

7. If You Say So …
Albuquerque native Ken Rubin, a chef now living in Portland, Ore., and editor-in-chief of, has his own recipe. “I used to eat latkes with matzo brie [fried eggs and matzo with salt or sugar on top] and raspberry preserves were great on a crunchy, salty latke.” Rubin’s family, originally from Russia and Poland, was not quite as daring.

8. Cream Rises to the Top
Across the country, in New York City, Joel Maxman remembers that until he left for college, “latkes on the stove meant sour cream on the table.” Maxman’s mother was from Zalozhits, Galicia. Sandra Greenberg, from Denver, Col., says her mother-in-law – from Minsk, Belarus – was too poor as a child to eat sour cream. (Another reason for the paucity of sour-cream eaters is that, in the old country, most latkes were fried in chicken or goose fat. Since most Jews observed kashrut – and therefore could not mix milk with meat – sour cream was not an option.)

9. Pass the Gravy
Herb Huebscher, of Long Island, N.Y., says his parents were from Horodenka, Galicia, but lived in Vienna after World War I, until they immigrated to the U.S. in 1939. He insists that his mother made genuine authentic latkes, never putting a grain of sugar or a trace of applesauce or sour cream on them. “I remember always bathing them in gravy from the roasted chicken or the like and adding a little salt.” He maintains there is a latke Mason-Dixon line, along a geographical latitude north of Lviv, Ukraine.

10. Scarborough Fair
“I once flavored potato latkes with small amounts of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,” says Lisa Kahn Betros of Riverdale, N.Y. “They were delicious with sour cream.” Betros, who grew up in Dallas, Tex., says her father, whose family originated from the towns of Pultusk and Makow, Poland, was known locally as the “Lat-kuh Doc-tuh.” In spite of his expertise and Polish origin, he found her American concoction “acceptable.”

That’s it. Go make some latkes and put on your favorite toppings … or not!

Does your family do things differently?

Tell Tracing the Tribe. Everyone is interested in what YOU put on your latkes. and don’t forget to vote in the JGSLA 2010 latke topping poll