Survey: Genealogists, historians and copyright issues

From the National Genealogical Society blog, comes this nugget:

Dear Genealogist,

A research project at the University of Maryland aims to learn more about how historians and genealogists deal with copyright issues when using online archival sources.

In particular, we are looking for genealogists who have used the online holdings of American archival institutions in their research, and who are willing to participate in a focus group or telephone interview to discuss how you deal with copyright issues that arise in your uses of online archival material.

Focus Groups: will be held on a weekday in the Washington, D.C., area will last for approximately 2 hours will consist of 5-8 participants. Participants will receive a $50 honorarium.

Interviews: will be conducted by telephone will last for approximately 1 hour. Participants will receive a $25 honorarium.

Interested? Contact Dr. Jean Dryden, principal investigator, College of Information Studies, University of Maryland College Park.

Cairo Geniza: Digitizing project underway

The Cairo Geniza, with some 200,000 documents and fragments, was discovered in the late 19th-century, in Old Cairo’s Ben Ezra Synagogue annex in Fustat.

It is a rich source of genealogical information as well as documents – from the 9th-14th centuries – which include rabbinical court records, leases, deeds, endowment contracts, debt acknowledgments, marriage contracts and private letters.

The collection demonstrates the history of Jews in the region during the Middle Ages as well as information on religious beliefs and practices, economic and cultural life.

Today, technology is making it possible for everyone to access these treasures as the collection is being digitized.

Autograph draft of Mishneh Torah, the legal code compiled by
the rabbinic authority, philosopher and royal physician
Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, 1137/8-1204)
MS.Heb.d.32, fols.50b-51a

Learn more here.

The project is important because pieces of the Geniza are today in many institutions; even manuscripts were separated by single leaves and located in different places, making it difficult to understand the importance or significance of the whole item.

One major collection of 25,000 items, is at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, which possesses liturgical manuscripts and rare Talmud fragments among its holdings. These are unusual because 16th-century Europe experienced mass burnings of Talmud manuscripts.

Technology contributes to the study of these fragments and major libraries are, or have completed, digitizing their collections. The goal is to generate a worldwide database of digitized images, thereby enhancing the accessibility of the various collections and bringing them together. Other institutions involved are Cambridge University, Jewish Theological Seminary, John Ryland Library and the University of Pennsylvania.

Digital communications pioneer and philanthropist George Blumenthal of New York ( president, Center for Online Jewish Studies) and donated his organization’s professional services to this project.

The ability to compare fragments in Oxford with those in Philadelphia, New York, Cambridge and Manchester will enable global scholars to access these collections and to identify matching fragments in different collections.

California: Imperial Russia Jewish geographies, Feb. 10

The Center for Jewish Studies at the University of California Santa Cruz will present a colloquium – “The Right to Remain: Jewish geographies in Imperial Russia” – on Wednesday, February 10.

The event begins at noon, in room 210 of Humanities 1.

Professor Nathaniel Deutsch (Literature, History and Jewish Studies) is the speaker.

Unlike others who became a part of the Russian Empire as a result of the partitions of Poland, Jews were not viewed as native to the newly colonized territories.

Many accepted their doubly alien status; however, there also emerged Jewish views that rejected the assumption that they were necessarily alien.

Professor Deutsch will discuss the significance of these views against the backdrop of internal Jewish politics and Russian policies.

The event is free and open to the public.

For more information, click here. See future events in the top bar – click the small red arrow at right or left to move back or forward.

Ohio: 18th century records online

More county documents are going online.

This time, Hamilton County, Ohio is in the news with its project putting documents – some back to 1791 – online.

The story detailed some 1.1 million Probate Court documents that will make research life easier for genealogists and historians.

To see the documents – including birth, death, marriage, estate, naturalization and other records – click here, then -> Records Search -> Archive Search.

Records and dates:

Estates 1791-1984
Wills 1791-1973
Trusts, 1791-1984
Guardianships, 1791-1984
Marriages, 1808-1983
Minister’s Licenses, 1963-1975
Birth Records, 1863-1908
Birth Registrations/Corrections, 1941-1994
Death Records, 1881-1908
Naturalizations, 1856-1906

Probate Court Journal Entries, 1791-1837
Physician Certificates, 1919-1987

Some records are only for the index books (some are standard alphabetical, others only by first letter of last name), others require a search by volume or other methods.

The initiative is that of Probate Court Judge James Cissell. This isn’t his first project using technology to preserve and make accessible public records.

In the 1990s, he was Clerk of Courts when that court created a Web site that made available online millions of pages of criminal and civil court cases and won national awards. Today, the site has further evolved, allowing access all the time to court documents, and also allows attorneys to electronically file suits and other documents.

Cissell, who took office in 2003, says the new site contains some of the oldest state records, such as birth, death, marriage, estate, naturalization and other records. Researchers may find anything from late-18th century guardianship records to personal moments of Hollywood stars, such as actor Spencer Tracy’s marriage license.

“There are many, many folks who wish to trace their genealogy. By doing this, people will not have to come to our office in Cincinnati,” Cissell said.

Prior to Cissell’s new project, only records from 1983 were online. Cissell decided to preserve 1,600 books (each weighed 30 pounds) with 1.1 million pages by digitizing them and putting them online.

The Probate Court is partnering with the University of Cincinnati, which had stored some of the old records after fires. The court staff did all the work to place the documents online except for $95,000 for the digitization.

According to Cissell, the documents will also have to be stored on microfilm because that’s the official way such records are to be kept.

“It’s going both directions. By the time we’re done with this, we may be the only court in the country that has all of the records in both formats, which, I think, is a hell of an accomplishment,” Cissell said.

More than 10 million pages must be digitized and microfilmed. Cissell further added that it was necessary as “all that microfilm is wasting away,” and that “we have 4,000 rolls of microfilm of records which are quickly disintegrating.”

Tracing the Tribe did a cursory check for naturalizations and found more than 30 for COHEN and COHN in the very first register. If your immigrant ancestors spent time in Hamilton County, Ohio, you might find interesting information in these newly accessible documents.

For excellent details on how to work with this collection, view Diane Haddad’s Genealogy Insider post.

Tel Aviv: Italian Jewish conference, Jan. 3-5

The Italia Judaica Jubilee Conference starts today (Sunday, January 3) and runs through Tuesday, January 5 in Tel Aviv. If you had family living in Italy, some of these topics may be of interest to you and your research.

The opening session begins at 5.30pm today in the Cymbalista Jewish Heritage Center, while Monday and Tuesday sessions are in the Gilman Building. All lectures will be in English.

Sunday, January 3
5.30-7.30pm – Session I
Chair: Dr. Simha Goldin

Prof. Ehud Gazit, Vice-President for Research and Development, Tel Aviv University Prof. Shlomo Simonsohn, Prof. Moises OrfaliMons.

Hebrew Books in the Libraries in Italy in the 17th-century (Professor Pier Francesco Fumagalli, Biblioteca Ambrosiana)


Monday, January 4
10am-12:15pm – Session II: Economy
Chair: Moises Orfali, Bar-Ilan University

— International Trade and Italian Jews at the Turn of the Middle Ages (Shlomo Simonsohn, Tel Aviv University)

— The Jews and the Trade in Wheat, Oil and Wine in Apulia, 15th-16th-centuries (Cesare Colafemmina, University of Bari)

1:45-4:45 -Session III: Sources and Archives
Chair: Manuela Consonni, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

— The Publication Project of Corpus Epitaphiorum Hebraicorum Italiae (CEHI): A Precious Archive on Stone and a Treasure of Jewish Poetry (Mauro Perani, University of Bologna)

— The Conservation of History: The Archives of the Jewish Communities in the Veneto (Ariel Viterbo, National Library of Israel)

— The Material Context of Hebrew Manuscripts as a Source of Information Regarding Jewish-Christian Contacts in 15th-Century Florence (Nurit Pasternak, Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

— Rhymes to Sing and Rhymes to Hang: Some Remarks on a Lampoon in Yiddish byElye Bokher (Venice 1514) (Claudia Rosenzweig, Bar-Ilan University)

The Types of Community Minute Books: Some Preliminary Conclusions (Yaakov Andrea Lattes, Bar-Ilan University)

5-7:30pm – Session IV: Jewish Literature in Italy
Chair: Marina Arbib, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya

— The Escape from Vasto: Complaints of a 15th Century Italian Rabbi (Dvora Bregman, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

— Re-creating Creation in Early Italian Yoẓerot: A School of Poetry in the Making (Yehoshua Granat, Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

— Azariah de’ Rossi and the Amaziah Tombstone: The Past in Medieval and Humanist Jewish Thought (David Malkiel, Bar-Ilan University)

— Italy: The “Breadbasket” of Hebrew Manuscripts (Benjamin Richler, National Library of Israel)

Dante’s Role in the Formation of a National Identity Among Jews in Italy (Asher Salah, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design

Tuesday, January 5
9am-12 noon: Session V: Jewish Art
Chair: Simona Cohen, Tel Aviv University

Jewish Book Collection and Patronage in Renaissance Italy (Andreina Contessa, Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Salom Italia and Maniera Italiana (Emily Bilski, Adi Foundation, Jerusalem/Jewish Museum, Munich; Sharon Assaf, Jerusalem)

The Order of Circumcision of Salomone Leone: Chronicle of a Ceremony in 17th-century Italy (Gioia Perugia Sztulman, Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

A Shrine within a Shrine: A Unique Depiction of the Motifs Symbolizing the Future Temple in Jerusalem on the Torah Ark of the Trino Vercellese Synagogue, Italy, Mid-18th Century (Nitza Behroozi-Baroz, Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv)

Changing Directions: The Synagogues in Piedmont, Before and After 1848 (Ariella Amar, Center for Jewish Art, Hebrew University)

1:45-3:45pm – Session VI: Intellectual Figures
Chair: David Katz, Tel Aviv University

About the Use of Hebrew in the Medieval Southern Italian Jewish Renaissance (Peter Sh. Lehnardt, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

Figures of Freedom in Don Isaac Avravanel’s Italian Works (Cedric Cohen Skalli, Tel Aviv University)

From Sicily to Rome: The Cultural Route of Michele Zumat, Physician and Rabbi in the 16th Century (Angela Scandaliato, AISG)

Joseph ha-Cohen’s Negative Attitude Toward R. Meir Katzenelenbogen of Padua (Abraham David, National Library of Israel)

R. Azriel Diena: Halakhist at the Crossroads (Jeffrey Woolf, Bar-Ilan University)

4-6.30pm – Session VII: Mobility and Presence of Jews in Italy
Chair: Benjamin Arbel, Tel Aviv University

The Mobility of Italian Jews between the Middle Ages and Renaissance (Michele Luzzati, University of Pisa)

The Angevines of Naples and their Jews (Joseph Shatzmiller, Duke University)

Jewish Presence in Sicily as Reflected in Medieval Sicilian Historiography (Nadia Zeldes, Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Towards Jewish Emancipation in the Grand-Duchy of Tuscany: The Case of Pitigliano through the Emblematic Figure of David Consiglio (Davide Mano, Tel Aviv University)

6.30pm Concluding Remarks

Maryland: University to drop Yiddish

Yiddish is on the budget chopping block at the University of Maryland.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the language, Yiddish dates to the 11th century and those Jews who settled along the Rhine River. It is written with Hebrew characters, uses German grammar and structure and its vocabulary incorporates German, Hebrew, Aramaic and Slavic.

While the 1,000-year-old language of Ashkenazi Jews has survived the likes of Hitler and Stalin, the switch to Hebrew in modern Israel and the assimilation of immigrants to America, there are few universities that offer it (Brandeis, Harvard, Columbia and a few others).

Not to get too far off track, but Tracing the Tribe believes it is even harder to find a Ladino course – anywhere – for today’s generation of Sephardic students. No matter the language – Yiddish or Ladino – it is a shame to lose any part of one’s heritage!

But in Maryland, funding is the problem.

I’m sad that our family lost both Yiddish and Russian in 1905, when my great-grandmother proclaimed to her children that they were now Americans and must speak English. While Yiddish remained the family’s “house” (and community) language and my grandmother and her siblings were fluent, my mother was fluent as a child but gradually – through disuse – lost her ability to speak it. She understood it, but answered questions in English. Our generation knows even less and is familiar only with a relatively small number of words that we use correctly.

I’ve had the opportunity to take an elementary Yiddish class and also a beginning Russian class, so perhaps I recognize more than most, but nothing near the level I’d like to have achieved.

Growing up in New York City, of course, many Yiddish words are part of New York-speak, and many immigrants of other ethnicities don’t know the origin of words they may use every day.

This Baltimore Sun story by Matthew Hay Brown covers the University of Maryland situation.

At the University of Maryland, which has stood alongside Harvard and Columbia as one of the nation’s few schools to consistently offer instruction in the Germanic tongue, the recent announcement that the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies would be dropping it in the fall shocked area enthusiasts.

“U- Maryland has had the biggest commitment to Yiddish as a language anywhere in a hundred-mile radius,” says Harvey Spiro, president of Yiddish of Greater Washington, which organized a letter-writing campaign. “We’re not a particularly political organization, but this kicked us in the gut.”

The center now has cobbled together the money to pay its longtime instructor through the next academic year. But after that, director Hayim Lapin says, it is unlikely to continue funding a full-time faculty member dedicated to the language.

Said Lapin, it isn’t about the language but about the budget crisis resulting in fewer visiting faculty, less Bible, less history and less or no Yiddish.

Born in postwar Germany where Yiddish was her first language, Professor Miriam Isaacs has taught elementary and intermediate Yiddish at Maryland for 15 years:

“We’re at a critical point in that the generation of Holocaust survivors, my parents, they’re not around anymore,” she says. “Or if they’re around, they can’t do a lot of translating. So if nobody learns it, you know, the Holocaust Museum archive is full of Yiddish materials. The University of Maryland has been acquiring Yiddish books galore. Who is going to read them? Who is going to be able to have access to them?”

And what about those Yiddishisms currently in use in English? Spiro says that because so many comedians used the words, people believe the language is funny or for dirty jokes, while he says, that isn’t his Yiddish:

“The Yiddish that I read and the Yiddish I speak is a language for everyday communication. I read novels in Yiddish. I read the Yiddish newspaper.”

Yiddish culture incorporated an active press, popular theater and literature – it wasn’t just the world of Borscht Belt comedians. World War II decimated Yiddish speakers. Prior to the Holocaust, there were some 11 million speakers. Half were killed, others lost in pogroms and immigration. Today fewer than 2 million live in mainly Orthodox communities in a few cities.

However, in some communities, it is considered a way for today’s generation to connect with their heritage. In Poland, the US and in Israel, there are language programs and summer institutes to help them learn.

Isaacs says that, at Maryland, mostly Jewish students register. These include students who have Yiddish-speaking relatives and want to see it remain alive. She says the intensive elementary fall course fills, but a much smaller number continue with the spring intermediate class.

The language has fallen victim to budget problems derived from lower returns on endowments. The center is trying to at least schedule the classes on a per-course basis for those interested. According to experts quoted in the story, Hebrew is required in a serious Jewish studies program, although Yiddish isn’t, but should be.

On the other hand, for Sephardim, it is even harder to find a Ladino course than for Ashkenazi to find Yiddish courses.

Read the complete story at the link above.

Poland: Open Jewish University launches

The Shalom Foundation announced on Friday that it was launching the Jewish Open University in Warsaw, Poland. Classes in Jewish literature, culture, music and philosophy will begin in January 2010.

The part-time two-semester program has already enrolled some 30 students, with room for 60. It is backed by Warsaw University.

The joint Polish-American-Israeli foundation is dedicated to reviving Jewish traditions in Poland and preserving the lost culture of what was Europe’s former Jewish heartland.

The Shalom Foundation organization was created in 1988 mainly by graduates of the I. L. Perec Jewish School (which no longer exists) in Lódz.

Before the Holocaust, Poland had some 3.5 million Jews. Following the Holocaust and the killing of some 6 million European Jews, there were only 280,000 Jews in Poland. Today, the estimate is from 3,500-15,000 in a mainly Catholic general population of 38 million.

It is however almost impossible to say how many Poles have some Jewish ancestry. According to Jewish history, western European Jews first emigrated to Poland to escape 11th century pogroms. During the war, Jewish children were hidden with Polish families and some in these and other situations are also rediscovering their roots.

One version of the story appeared here. Read more about the Foundation’s many activities.