Melbourne: The conference opens

Although Melbourne suffered from a 100-year rain, with flooded streets, damaged and leaking roofs, hail (from marble-size to much larger!), nothing stopped these intrepid genealogists from arriving at the Beth Weizmann community building in Caulfield South.

Sallyann Amdur Sack-Pikus gave the keynote address and focused on “Jewish Genealogy: Past , Present and Future,” as she detailed the history and growth of Jewish genealogy in the US and worldwide.

After a coffee break, I was up next with our “Iberian Ashkenaz DNA Project: So You Think You’re Ashkenazi.” It generated many questions and people were talking to me all day about their family’s stories. The point was to raise awareness of the possibilities and it certainly seemed to do just that.

I hadn’t known previously, but I was to lead a Sephardic SIG group next, with another group of interested people with even more interesting stories to tell and questions to be answered.

Following lunch (complete with felafel, potato salad and the rest), I then presented “The New Technology Frontier: Social Networks and Blogging,” which also encouraged questions and comments, as I covered Facebook, Twitter, Blogging and genealogy social networking sites. Several people at the session and ater during the day mentioned that their trees had been hijacked at Geni.

There were several concurrent sessions. I attended Jenni Buch’s Belarus session and Peter Nash’s excellent “China: Resources for Family Research,” which offered some rather amazing sources discovered by Peter. Attending Peter’s talk was our new friend Helen Bekhor of Melbourne, whose Sephardic family – originally from Baghdad – was interned by the Japanese in Shanghai. Peter attended the Kadoorie School in Shanghai and it sounded like they knew some of the same people way back then. Rieke Nash’s session on JRI-Poland was next.

What I missed: Krystyna Duszniak’s “Unearthing the Polish Past by Necessity: The Historica Journey to a Poish Passport,” Todd Knowles’ “British Holldings of the Family History Library,” Daniela Torsh’s “Finding Hilda: An Austrian Genealogy Story,” and Prof. Martin Delatycki’s “Genetic Disease Among Jewish People.” There were also SIG groups on researching early Australia, German research, Hungary and the Netherlands.

In the evening, a reception was held at the nearby Glen Eira Town Hall, complete with wine, sushi and more. A moving address was given by the young mayor, Steven Tang, who described his trip back to Poland and search for his mother’s Jewish roots, as well as his father’s Chinese roots. Awards were given to hardworking society members.

The society lost some time ago one of its major movers and shakers – Les Oberman – a good friend of mine. A meeting room was dedicated with a plaque bearing his name.

Ziva Fain and I are now out the door to day two of the conference.

Photos and more will be posted tonight.

Maryland: Ashkenazi genetics, March 7

Gary Frohlich will present “Whatever you wanted to know about Ashkenazi Jewish diseases,” at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington, on Sunday, March 7.

The program is at B’nai Israel Congregation, in Rockville, Maryland. It begins at 1pm with networking, registration and a business meeting. Frohlich’s talk begins at 2pm.

A certified genetics counselor, he is senior medical affairs liaison for Genzyme Therapeutics.

The goals are to discuss the “founder effect” among Ashkenazim and learn about 11 common genetic conditions. According to Frohlich:

“During the Crusades, many Ashkenazi Jewish communities were driven from England, France and Germany and migrated to eastern Europe, settling primarily in modern-day Poland, Lithuania and Russia, Ashkenazi Jews tended to select marriage partners from within their own community, which played a role in limiting genetic diversity.”

Many European Jews did not have surnames until various countries required them, in some cases as late as the early 1800s.

Frohlich will provide up-to-date information on genetic conditions which occur more frequently in Jews of Ashkenazi descent. Each can be devastating to the individuals and their families.

The program will explore the diagnosis, management and treatment of these conditions with a focus on the most common, Gaucher disease. Approximately one in 850 people may have Gaucher, and the carrier rate is approximately 1 in 16. Gaucher disease is two and a half times more common than Tay-Sachs.

A genetics counselor for more than 35 years, Frohlich has advised more than 26,000 couples and authored scientific articles and pamphlets on Ashkenazi genetic conditions.

He holds a BA in Biology (New York University), and a MS in Human Genetics and Genetics Counseling (Rutgers University).

Those who plan to attend the program can submit their surname (original name in Europe or elsewhere) and Frohlich will check its connection to the Founders Effect. Only submit the surname, no personal information. He will use submitted names to illustrate his presentation. Send surnames prior to the meeting.

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

For more details, including directions, click here.

Sources for additional genetic information:

Jewish Genetic Disease Consortium:
Gene Tests:
National Society of Genetic Counselors:
Gaucher Disease:

WDYTYA: Changing the world of genealogy!

Are you – or your genealogy society – ready to ride the wave generated by the US-version of Who Do You Think You Are?

The show – we hope – will create as much buzz for genealogy in the US as it did in the UK.

The British version created – with a captivated audience of millions of viewers – an entire popular genealogy industry.

Tracing the Tribe said, early on, that once the US version hit the airwaves, the same thing would likely happen here. Many of us remember what happened following the airing of the television series “Roots.” WDYTYA may well create the Roots 2 phenomenon.

As genealogists, we (and our societies) need to be ready to ride the wave.

In addition to genealogical societies, historical societies, libraries, archives, our friends and neighbors – if not already “into” family history – will be looking for answers to their questions.

The show – and the other family history shows now being screened – offers the genealogy community an opportunity to grow societies, increase membership, bring in younger audiences (the next “Generation Gen”) as we help educate our communities and the general public on how to find information on their own unique family histories.

Writes Susanne, “this show presents the community with the opportunity to revolutionize, reshape and redefine family history as a whole.”

Here are 10 ways in which genealogy societies can spotlight themselves and their resources, and inform members, friends, families and communities:

— Post flyers, wallpaper, and more. just launched a Spread the Word webpage with downloadable flyers, computer wallpaper and other ideas for everyone to tell let everyone know about the show.

— Host a Who Do You Think You Are? premiere party. Invite members of your society and local community to watch the show’s premiere together on Friday, March 5 at 8/7c. Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers provides some great tips on hosting a viewing party. View those tips here.

— Hold a society open house or workshop for beginners. Newcomers who catch the bug from the show want to know how to find their own histories.

— Invite local media to your society’s premiere party, open house, or workshop. Local papers usually print news of community events.

— Send an email to your society members. Spread the Word has a simple pass-along email with a video that includes the trailer and Lisa Kudrow speaking about what prompted her to produce the series.

— Encourage society members to invite their friends. Who better to promote your event, the TV show, and your society than your society members – already passionate about family history -with networks of friends and family?

— Prepare getting started materials for beginners. Print a one-page “Getting Started in Family History” guide that beginners can pick up at your event. Post the same information on your society’s website, blog or Facebook page. See below for beginners’ tips.

— Share the Who Do You Think You Are? trailer. Post a link to one of the Who Do You Think You Are? trailers on your society’s Facebook page, Twitter account, website or blog.

— We all know the benefits of society membership. We just need to explain them to others!Programs, workshops, and community events – with enthusiastic audiences – will help understand why joining a society is a good thing. Consider membership discounts for those considering joining while the series is airing or for a specific time period following the series.

— Brainstorm more ideas with your society members.

Beginner Tips

Tracing the Tribe remembers what it was like as a complete newbie trying to get a handle on the resources and putting together the pieces of the puzzle. It can be overwhelming when you don’t really know where – or how – to begin. We can make it easier for newcomers with some “getting started” tips.

Start with what you know

The best place to start your family history journey is with information you already have. Create an online family tree (Tracing the Tribe recommends for many reasons, including privacy and safety, advanced features and more) and enter names, places and dates of birth for yourself, parents and grandparents. This is just the beginning – you can fill in the blanks as you go along.

Search historical records

We have so many online resources today, including, JewishGen, SephardicGen, Footnote, NewspaperArchive, Genealogy Bank and hundreds of other sites. Help members and newcomers find family in historical censuses, military and immigration records, newspaper articles and other sources.

Ask family for more

Family history provides an opportunity for you to really talk to your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. Ask for stories, photos and other information. If you have senior relatives, run – do not walk – to interview them!

Add context to family story

Add and share photos, stories and important documents to your online family tree. Create timelines. Record interviews with relatives by phone, video them if in person, and save them wherever you have placed your family tree online.

Share family history

Share your history and heritage by inviting family members to visit your online family site. Give charts and reports as gifts for lifecycle events (baby, marriage, anniversary, etc.). You could also create a family history book, calendar, poster or other items.

Tracing the Tribe’s personal tip for genetic genealogy. Submitting samples of Y-DNA and mtDNA to the largest database in the industry means more opportunities for you and others to find matches.

There is a reason that nine out of 10 Jewish genealogists utilize Within that largest sample database is also the largest Jewish database, essential for genealogists researching their Ashkenazi and Sephardic ancestors.

The more samples in the database, the more opportunities to find matches and family separated by history and geography. The company’s just-announced Family Finder will provide even more possibilities.

Until time machines become common household appliances, genetic genealogy is the best thing we have that to answer some questions about our ancestors.

DNA: FamilyTreeDNA launches Family Finder

Are you ready for the next revolution in genetic genealogy? has announced its new Family Finder. The test will be available in mid-March.

“This is the most exciting genetic genealogy breakthrough since the company launched its Y-DNA test, which uncovered relatives in the direct paternal line,” says Bennett Greenspan, FamilyTreeDNA founder and president, in an email to company project administrators today.

The science is simple: linked blocks of DNA across the 22 autosomal chromosomes are matched between two people. The degree of matching yields evidence for the relationship.

A limited number of the company’s current customers are being offered the Family Finder Test during the pre-launch. The company anticipates a general release of the test in mid-March for $249.

For more information, click here.

Here are some features:

While the Y-DNA matches men with a specific paternal line, and the mtDNA finds potential relatives only along the maternal line, Family Finder can look for close relationships along all ancestral lines.

You may now match to male and female cousins from any of your family lines within five generations. The science behind it uses linked blocks of DNA across the 22 autosomal chromosomes and matches them between two people. Based on this concept, our bioinformatics team has worked extensively to develop the calculations that would tell you the closeness of the relationship.

The possibilities include: Aunts and uncles, parent and grandparents, half-siblings and first, second, third and fourth cousins. Possibly even fifth cousins and beyond

When you take the Family Finder test, your results are compared against our Family Finder database. You will be able to: sort your matches by degree of relationship, view their names and e-mail address for immediate communication and download your raw data.

— Match with five generations of family

With the new Family Finder test, discover connections to descendants of all 16 of your great-great-grandparents! As it opens avenues for traditional research, discover hidden connections that could explain a family’s migrations.

— Adoptees discover their heritage

With the power of an autosomal DNA test, confidently match to male and female cousins from any of your family lines, which can provide clues to learn more about your biological parents’ families. Every adopted person, or those who know that one of their parents or grandparents was adopted, will want to order a Family Finder test to help identify close and distant relatives.

— Introducing Family Finder Projects

A new way of looking for cousins means a new type of project:

Family Finder Projects allow for analysis and comparisons between you and all members of a project. Compare all at once with the Family Finder “Viewer” and other genetic analytical tools.

The new test and project tools integrate with an existing Family Tree DNA project to take it to the “next level.”

Surname projects can use Family Finder to better define branches in a family tree. By using Family Finder testing, close Y-chromosome matches without traditional records may be assigned to a pedigree with greater confidence. Even more exciting, surname projects may now bring female cousins into the project as additional evidence.

Regional projects can discover real relationships. Explore lost family connections hidden behind migrations. New clues open avenues for more traditional paper trail research. Those with close or perfect Y-chromosome matches between different surnames can now untangle their relationships.

View a short presentation by founder and president Bennett Greenspan as he explains how the Family Finder test may open doors to the discovery of your close and distant relatives. WATCH NOW.

CAVEAT: For the company’s current customers, the new Family Finder test requires an untouched vial of DNA. If your kit does not have an extra vial on file, FamilyTreeDNA will mail a collection kit for a new FREE DNA extraction. After ordering the test, current customers will be notified by email if a stored vial can be used or a new vial is required.

Canada: Jewish genealogy at ShalomLife

Tracing the Tribe was interviewed by Toronto’s writer Dan Verbin.

The first of a two-part article is here.

It covers many Jewish genealogy topics, including trends, myths, online resources, Sephardic genealogy, DNA genetic genealogy, technology, opening of Eastern European archives, JGSLA 2010 and more – and that’s just in part one!

Egypt: More Jewish restoration projects

In an article forecasting announcements of major archaeological discoveries in Egypt, mention is made of additional restoration projects for Jewish sites in that country.

The story appeared on

Zahi Hawass, Egyptian Supreme Council for Antiquities secretary general, noted that these announcements will be made over the next three months.

Most importantly for Tracing the Tribe readers, he said that Egypt is currently working on the “restoration of Jewish temples, including three temples and the restoration of five other temples would start soon.”

Other topics addressed were DNA test results on the lineage of Tutankhamun:

“Egypt will announce the secrets of the family and lineage of Tutankhamun on the 17th of February in the Egyptian Museum through the announcement of results of scientific tests conducted on the mummy of the king after the completion of DNA analysis and CT scan.”

Other announcements to be made soon will include important discoveries in the area of Saqqara and the Pyramids. Robots will be sent into the corridors of the Great Pyramid of King Khufu.

Hawass added that the Council’s work on antiquity restoration includes Pharaonic, Coptic, Jewish and Muslim within the cultural heritage of Egypt, such as the Coptic monastery of St. Anthony and restoration of Cairo’s Hanging Church.

Read the complete article for much more.

Miami: Steve Morse, Feb. 7

Super Bowl Sunday is even more special when genealogy superstar Steve Morse comes to town. He’ll be in Miami, at the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami, on Sunday, February 7.

Spend the morning with “super” Steve and JGS members, who will also be celebrating the group’s 21st anniversary. The morning program starts at 10am at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, 4200 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami.

Steve is the award-winning creator of the One Step Genealogy Website. He’s received many genealogy awards for his innovative contributions and has informed international audiences with his talks.

South Floridians who may have missed him at previous IAJGS conferences or those snowbirds or anyone visiting the area should come along. On this trip, Steve will only appear at the Miami JGS.

He will give two very interesting talks.

— “Beider-Morse Phonetic Matching: Alternative to the Soundex with Fewer False Hits.” This new system was developed by Steve and Alexander Beider.

Searching for names in large databases containing spelling variations has always been a problem. One solution, known as soundex, is to encode each name into a number such that names that sound alike will encode to the same number. The search would then be based on finding matching numbers, which results in finding all names that sound like the target name.

Soundex is based on the surname spelling, with no regard to how the name might be pronounced in a particular language and has been a problem. The phonetic encoding described in Steve’s lecture incorporates rules for determining the language based on the spelling of the name, along with pronunciation rules for the common languages. This has the advantage of eliminating matches that might appear to “sound alike” under the pure spelling criteria of soundex but are phonetically quite unrelated.

— “From DNA to Genetic Genealogy: Everything You Might Want to Know, But Were Afraid to Ask.”

The study of genetics that started with Gregor Mendel’s pea experiments in 1865 has now entered the genealogy field with Megan Smolenyak’s coining of the term “genetealogy” in 2000. To understand the genealogical aspects requires an understanding of some of the basic concepts.This talk introduces genes, chromosomes and DNA, and goes on to show how DNA is inherited. That knowledge of inheritance can be used for finding relatives you didn’t know you had, learning about your very distant ancestors, the routes they traveled, and
determining if you are a Kohen (descendant of Jewish high priests).

Tracing the Tribe heard Steve present this one at a past Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree conference. It explains things very well from a non-scientists’ point of view. It’s a great introduction to understanding DNA genetic genealogy. Hopefully, it will encourage and inspire more people to get involved with testing and projects!

Come along and celebrate the JGS of Greater Miami’s milestone anniversary. There is no fee and special refreshments will be saved.

For directions and more information, such as secure parking, click on the JGSGM website.