Monday, November 28, 2022

JewishGen's Newly-Indexed Ukraine Records--Strategies to Increase Found Family

JewishGen's Ukraine Research Division just announced the spectacular news that they have added over 200,000 newly-indexed records to JewishGen's databases, with a promise of more to come.  For those of us with Ukrainian ancestry, this is huge!  The newly-indexed records are wonderful and will make these records more accessible to researchers--but there are some quirks I've seen that could inhibit searchers from finding records that have been indexed.  I'm going to talk about some of these and give you  strategies to find records impacted by these quirks--assuming they've been indexed, of course!

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Ancestry's Concentration Camp Collection - Town Searches

Ancestry has a collection of records from concentration camps.  These records can help you learn the fate of relatives, or at least where they were for a period of time during WWII.  Some also have significant genealogical information--parents' names, spouses names (with maiden names for the mother and spouse, when applicable), and at times there are photos.  Not everyone who was in a concentration camp has records included in this collection (especially those who were murdered upon arrival), but many are.

While searching just for surnames can help you locate relatives, I've found that searching for town names--with some caveats--can often be even more powerful.

Concentration Camp Intake Form; David Ruttner (my 4th cousin twice removed)

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Westernized Ancestral Names

My great-great grandfather was Yechiel Suttleman.  He did come to the United States, although his first two wives did not (as they had died in Europe).  On official papers in America, he used the name Charles or Charlie.  His first wife, Kreina, never left Europe or used any westernized name, same as wife #2, Chana.  But how do these three people appear on their children's records?

Death Record of Roza Zutelman Paciornik; Curitiba, Brazil; 1945

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

80th Yahrtzeit of Senkevichivka Ghetto's Destruction--Details per my grandmother

Tonight into tomorrow (18th of Tishrei) marks the 80th anniversary of the destruction of the Senkevychivka Ghetto.  On that day, thousands of my paternal grandparents' relatives, friends and neighbors were murdered.  Among those were three of my great grandparents, a great-great grandfather, great aunts and uncles, and many other relatives.  My teenaged grandfather was out of the ghetto on that day on a work detail, but my grandmother was there.  I've transcribed her life story before (you can read her nine-part story here covering her life before and during the Holocaust).  But today I'm going to repeat the chapter about the ghetto's destruction, from her perspective. 

My grandmother is on the right, with her arm on her grandmother's shoulder.  Her younger sister Malia is to the right.  And her parents are in the center.  Her grandmother had died before the war.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Check and Check Again / Town Searches

It's important to keep up-to-date on record sets that are newly digitized &/or newly indexed that might give clues about your family.  It's why I consistently re-do searches on JewishGen, Ancestry, FamilySearch, and more.  Just recently, a new batch of records was added to JewishGen which helped me to find out more about some branches of my family, and I found it re-doing a search I'd done many times before.  And while I did then search in that record set for some of my family surnames, searching for ancestral towns found even more branches than I would have discovered otherwise.

1930 Czechoslovakian Census; Fried Family; Kosice, Slovakia

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Eastern European Archives' Webpages / Finding more Diments

Eastern European archives historically did not have much of a web presence, and those that had webpages generally didn't have digitized records.  Well, that has changed over the last decade!  The Polish State Archives and the Latvian State Historical Archives are at the forefront of making records accessible by digitization.  But other countries are catching up--including Ukraine.  Despite the current war (and perhaps as a consequence, with archives realizing that physical records are in danger), Ukrainian archives continue to digitize records.  I keep a close eye on branches that would hold records for my ancestral towns, following their Facebook pages, and looking at their webpages to watch for newly-added digitized records. Most of those records aren't for towns I'm researching (but perhaps they cover areas of interest to you).  But some are.

Chaim-Lejb Diment & Family; 1920 Lutsk Census (page 1)

Monday, August 1, 2022

Ashkenazic Shared DNA Survey - August 2022 Update

Thank you to everyone who has contributed data about shared DNA in people with Ashkenazic ancestry!  I have 6455 data points to analyze, and that should help the entire genetic genealogy community  (I'm still collecting data--you can find out more about the project and how to contribute here).

This iteration looks at how shared DNA will differ depending on how much (documented) Ashkenazi DNA each individual has.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Probable Relatives Becoming Definite Relatives - Keep Track of Those Stray Branches!

I'll often find a family with the surname that I'm researching, in a place nearby where my family lived, but where I don't know for sure how (or even if!) they are actually related to me.  I keep track of these families and often can connect them into my larger trees later; other times I'm able to prove that they're actually not related to the family I've been researching.  I'm always glad later that I've kept track of these stray branches, because the information is often helpful.

Birth of Yerachmiel Diment; Torchin; 1926

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Chernigov Guberniya Jewish Community Records, 1839-1842

(ADDITION:  Please do not contact me asking me to search for your specific ancestral surname.  A link to the records are below, so you can search for as many names as you want.  And yes, I had to add this because of the number of personal requests I've received--there are over 1000 pages here!)

Two days before the Russians invaded Ukraine, I had sent money to Chernihiv Archives to get records that I thought would contain metrical (vital) records for the Nizhyn/Nezhin Jewish community.  Once the invasion happened, I (understandably!) didn't receive the records.  So I was very surprised to get a recent email letting me know that my records were ready to be downloaded.  And I was also surprised to see what was actually in this (huge) file.

A page of family lists

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Full Siblings Different Surnames - Important Austria-Hungarian Surname Impacts

I've mentioned before that many couples in Austria-Hungary never civilly registered their marriages, or only registered them years after the fact.  These couples had religious weddings, and their communities considered them fully married, but the government considered their children to be illegitimate, and therefore they were given their mothers' surnames.  Multiple successive generations of religious-only marriages could have a major impact on surnames used by children--and sometimes full siblings within the same family would use different surnames.  Without accounting for this, you could miss records and full branches of your family.  Here's how this phenomenon manifested itself in one family.

Judesz Stober/Kaufman Birth; 1892

Monday, May 30, 2022

Giving Them Names - Finding Names of Holocaust Victims

My grandmother was able to tell me about her mother's first cousin, Chaim Fine.  Chaim was killed in the Holocaust--as were his wife and their daughters.  But my grandmother couldn't remember the names of Chaim's wife and girls.  And after watching the Shoah Foundation video of one of her other cousins, he also just mentioned "Uncle Chaim and his children."  For more than three decades, Chaim's wife and daughters have been listed on my family tree as "Wife of Chaim Fine" and "Daughter1 of Chaim Fine," etc.  I've been able to identify and memorialize more distant relatives who were killed in the Holocaust, but these Fine cousins' names were just a huge gap.  But now I am able to give them names.

Fajn Family, 1932

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Look for Obscure Sources Too; How I Found a Written Mention of Shlomo Diment

My paternal grandfather was a Holocaust survivor.  From him and his surviving siblings, I knew they had a brother Shlomo who was murdered by the Nazis soon after his bar mitzvah.  Their older sister Kreina was also murdered, along with her husband and their young daughter.  I've found mention of Kreina in written documents--both her birth record and a form filled out by my great grandfather relating to her schooling.  But other than oral history, I've seen no written document with Shlomo's name.  But now I have.

Diment Family, 1932; 286.1.68 - Lists of residents of Czaruków gmina of Jewish nationality

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Yom Hashoah 2022

Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) starts this evening.  For the past six years, I have listed the names of the family members I've found who were murdered in the Holocaust.  In 2020, I listed 454 relatives.  In 2021, I listed 515.  And this year I list 642.

Every year, this list grows as I find new branches of my family--and then find that multiple members of those branches were killed between 1941 & 1945.  This year I found 127 more people--and many other relatives whose fates are as yet unclear.

Publishing this yearly list is my one small way to make sure they are all remembered--all 642 of those currently on this list.

Front Row L-R: Yosef Wollich, Mendel Chechman, Devorah Chechman; Back Row L-R: Sara Fine Wollich, Moshe Wollich, Chaike Chechman.  All were murdered in the Holocaust

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Chernigov Guberniya Records Indexed on FamilySearch

I've spent many many (many) hours paging through records from my ancestral town of Nizhyn/Nezhin and reconstructing my maternal grandfather's father's family.  Well, if you have family from what was Chernigov Guberniya in the Russian Empire, it's in the process of getting easier for you.

New-to-me marriage of my second cousin 3 times removed, Yosef Chatzkowitz, 1930

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Those Small DNA Percentages - They're Always Real, Right??

With the latest AncestryDNA update, I'm no longer predicted to be 100% "European Jewish," which had been unchanged for several years--and totally matches my paper trail.  (A while back I did have a random 1% Finnish, which disappeared.)  But as of this week, I'm down to 98% European Jewish, along with 1% Norway and 1% Baltics.  Does this mean that I need to start tracing where that 1% came from?  Are these small percentages always real?  Wouldn't it be the case that updates are more accurate than prior predictions?

My Ethnicity Estimate as of April 2022,

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Swapping Surname Confusion - The Impact of Religious (But No Civil) Marriage

In many parts of Austria-Hungary (including Galicia, Maramaros, Bereg, and many more megye), Jews would often have religious marriages but wouldn't register their marriages civilly.  This meant that while the community considered the couple fully married, the government considered their children illegitimate, and those children would generally have to use their mother's surname.  Sometimes people would marry civilly many years after their religious marriage because it was needed for some purpose, and this would retroactively legitimize their children.  (I saw this in my own family, when my great-great grandparents had a civil marriage after they were already grandparents.)

There are many implications for this in genealogy.  It means that yDNA, which generally follows the surname line, does not do so in these cases.  Sometimes, children of such a marriage would vacillate between using their father's surname and their mother's surname.  Sometimes an individual who used his or her mother's surname in Europe would immigrate to America and begin using his or her father's name.  An example of a confusion I've seen in my own family was with my great grandmother's first cousin Roza.  Her surname use teaches an important lesson for making sure that you don't overlook records for an individual from this part of the world.

Marriage of Roza Fuksz to Jakob Steinmetz, Maramaros-Sziget, Hungary (now Sighetu Marmației, Romania), 1914

Friday, April 1, 2022

Diamond Emigration Anniversary - and Diamonds' First US Census

On April 1, 1947--75 years ago today--my Diamond grandparents and my Baich/Bajcz great grandmother came to America.  And today, April 1, 2022, the day that the 1950 census became publicly available, I was able to see them on their first-ever United States census, along with my father's older brother Abe, age 2.  (The census becomes publicly available on the April 1 that is 72 years after the census was taken.)

Diamond/Baetz in the 1950 Census (Paul Diamond inserted from end of previous page).  Baltimore, Maryland

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Nizhyn & Kozelets 1836 Metrical Records

I've written about my family who lived in and around Nizhyn, Ukraine (then Nezhin, Russian Empire), which has been in the news lately in a not-good way.  Right before the Russian invasion, I was working with the Chernihiv archives (another town unfortunately in the news) to get digitized versions of the few years of metrical (vital) records for the Nizhyn Jewish community that hadn't yet been digitized by FamilySearch.  (If you want to look at the incredible set of already-digitized records, check out my quick guide here.)  About a week before the Russian's invasion, I received Nizhyn's 1836 birth records as well as all 1836 metrical records for Kozelets.  I was working on getting 1841's, but those will have to wait until the Russians are beaten and things settle down for the people working in the archive.

A sample page of Nizhyn metrical records

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

One-Day Workshop to Benefit Ukrainians/Jewish Roots in Ukraine: Context and Connection

I'm thrilled to partner with Tammy Hepps, Brooke Schreier Ganz and Jennifer Mendelsohn to offer a workshop on Jewish roots in Ukraine, with all proceeds going to Razom for Ukraine and the American Joint Distribution Committee, who are assisting Ukrainian refugees.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Jewish Eviction from Towns within the Russian Empire

My second cousin four times removed was Feiga Lefand, who lived in Drozdovka, near Nezhin in Chernigov Guberniya, Russian Empire (currently Drozdivka, Ukraine).  My 5th great grandparents (and Feiga's great grandparents) had received permission to move there based on an 1853 request (which led to the authorities trying to draft Lefand kids and multiple years of petitions that I've written about here).

In 1885, Feiga married Meir Lieberman, and they lived in Drozdovka as well.  In the 1888 census, they had two young children, Simon and Dvora.  But then in 1889, Meir was evicted from Drozdovka because he didn't have permission to be living there.  He appealed his eviction and left us some insight into what Jews needed to deal with when living in the Russian Empire in the 1880s.

Part of the case related to Meir Lieberman's forced eviction from Drozdovka

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Using DNA Painter - When You're Jewish

DNA Painter is a very cool tool that allows you to visualize DNA that you inherited from specific ancestors.  But when you're from an endogamous population like I am, there are some potential pitfalls for which you need to account.

DNA I Inherited From Different Ancestors

Sunday, January 16, 2022

My Great-Great Grandmother Voted - How I Discovered That and Her Birth Year

My grandmother Sonia was close to her paternal grandmother Ronia.  In fact, when Sonia's parents moved to the village where her maternal grandfather lived, my grandmother and her sister remained in the city of Horochov with Ronia.  Ronia was a city woman who did not want to move to a village, and the girls stayed with her to continue at their school.  (You can read my grandmother's perspective on that time here.)  In any case, I had no documentation of Ronia's life, other than what my grandmother had told me about her.

Recently on JewishGen, there was a post about "Documents from Volyn, Ukraine."  Since my father's parents are both from Volyn (Volhynia), I took a look.  This post mentioned a site ( with indexes of various documents from this area.  The site lists surnames included in each set of documents and in the list of those registered to vote in Horochov in 1938 there was a Bajcz--my grandmother's maiden name.  I reached out to the site owner and asked if this was Avraham Bajcz, my great grandfather.  He said it wasn't--but it was a woman named Bronia.  Hmmmm.....  Bronia/Ronia were very very similar.  I ordered a copy of that record.

Bronia Bajcz Voter Registration