Category Archives: Genealogy

IAJGS 2021

It’s been a long, slow, and overwhelming year. But here we are again, summer, time for an IAJGS conference. This is the Jewish genealogy conference.

This year, as in most, I’m a speaker. I got my videos submitted late, but they were done well. And now we’re in the midst of the conference.

Unlike the other major conferences, this one is longer. It was always longer in person, but even virtually, it’s longer. Because it’s international, it could go for more hours of the day, but they’ve scheduled short days. The first day, there was a very long lunch break. Who needs a big lunch break when we’re home at our computers? Not to mention, the international attendees aren’t staying up all night to watch the live lectures because they’re being recorded and play back on demand. But they could have the lectures going for longer days for the international people and the Americans could be watching those on demand.

I’ve attended some of the live lectures and a couple of the SIG meetings so far. Because everything is on demand, I can watch more lectures and I’m going to some of the beginner level or random topics just to listen in. This is better than the in-person conference, where I choose lectures more carefully and try not to re-learn old stuff or learn things that I likely will never need to know.

It’s not the same chatting with friends. I’m mostly chatting with the friends I’ve been talking with for the whole pandemic. But they’re good to talk to. At a normal conference, I’d talk to a lot more people, talk to people I don’t even know, go out to meals with friends and strangers. Virtual is still missing the social part of the conference. It’s more like having a pile of webinars all at once. But that’s not too bad either.

I just realized that I haven’t blogged in a long, long time. I thought I’d touch base, and IAJGS is a good excuse for a blog post. Maybe I’ll write more about the conference. But even if I don’t, at least my readers still know I’m here.

Actual people, in person, at a real IAJGS conference, from 2017.


Well, that was a year. Or eight. I lost track.

When the pandemic shut us down in March, my brain kind of went with it. I’m still trying to recover.

But, time kept ticking along. I had to do some things the hard way as people ordered records. That got easier later in the year when I regained access to a lot of records I usually need access to and had lost in March. Then I started working again. I finished off some work that clients had been waiting for. Record orders got easier.

Everything went to hell more in July when my mother passed away. I had no idea it was coming. She didn’t die of covid. She avoided getting treatment for something diagnosed months earlier, avoiding the hospital to avoid covid exposure. So yeah, she died because of covid, but not from it. I didn’t go to the funeral in Florida just as the pandemic was taking off there. Since I wasn’t unexpectedly traveling, I claimed her Find a Grave page moments after the obituary went online.

I inexplicably stopped reading books for a few months at that point. I had a goal to read 12 books again. Last year, I fell short of that goal by one. This year, well, it depends how I count them. I read 11 physical books and one on Kindle, because it was the third in the series that I didn’t own. And I’m about 2/3 through another. I’ll get that finished in another couple days or so.

2020 Books

In genealogy, I haven’t done much work on my own family research this year, that I can remember. I’ve done some more indexing work and I did some work for clients. I also have 150 emails in my inbox, some are from people asking for research. If you’re waiting, sorry. I’m determined to get them dealt with sooner rather than later. You will eventually hear from me.

After the summer, Dad sent a couple boxes of photos (and some other stuff). I got the two big photo albums (1960s to 1981), the album with the photos other relatives gave her, and a whole bunch of loose photos that she had stashed all over the place. I have been digitizing them for months. I have finished everything but the second big album that I just started. Some of the loose photos were my grandmother’s and my great aunts’ that Mom had. There were some interesting finds. I have many new favorites, but one is of my parents before they were married. I never saw a photo of them before their wedding. (I mean, it was in the album and I might have, but didn’t realize it. It would have been decades ago if I did see it.)

Dad and Mom, September 1963

The stuff that made 2020 suck will continue at least until January 20th, so today isn’t a big turning point. And vaccinations will take longer too, before we can get out again. According to the Utah “plan”, I’ll be in February or March. We’ll see. I can’t wait to get out of here. I haven’t left my house for anything but food and a few other necessities since March 10th, my last trip to the FHL. Those were the days.

2021 Goals

What’s up for next year? Procrastinating is my enemy.

  • Catch up on all those back-logged emails. This will also hopefully involve a lot of research for clients. And don’t let it get stupid out of control again.
  • Keep digitizing the photos and I have some plans for organizing all my photos better. And I need to scan in all of my own and pass some through MyHeritage to see if it can de-blur them.
  • Keep indexing records and getting them online. There’s always more.
  • Read another dozen books. More would be nice. I’ve already cut back on computer games, so I should have more time for that. Maybe start doing audio books to get in more.
  • Travel. I need to travel. I really want to go back to Europe and find more records. When can I get out of here?

Genealogy Still Happens

I think that many people have heard that it’s a Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. If we didn’t understand it before, I think we all do now.

These are interesting times. But we are lucky. We have the Internet. We have Skype and Zoom, Facebook and Twitter, email and more ways to keep in touch with friends and family and strangers. We have online games, ebooks, YouTube, Broadway stars making videos, Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals every weekend that we could never see before, virtual museums, operas from the Met, the arts are coming through for us after years of so many people trying to defund the arts in public schools.

And we have genealogy. Because there is so much available online, we can keep doing genealogy. We’re a little bit stunted. We still need records that are only available from inside the Family History Library, or others that need to be ordered from archives and courthouses around the country or around the world and those places are closed or just not filling orders right now because they are short staffed.

But there is a lot we can do in genealogy. So if you’re wondering if you should contact me about your research, yes you should. I always begin with what I can do online. I might get stopped when I need some records to move forward, but I can get started. If you want to work with me, instead of me working for you, we can do that too. I have one client who calls me regularly on Skype and we work together. Whatever your genealogy needs, there is still a lot I can do for you now.

If you want to get your family information online to share with relatives, I can help you with that too. Want your own custom site rather than just sharing on one of the big sites? I can help you set up a web site, or I can set it up for you.

Because when we’re isolating, family is important. What better time to learn more about your family history or share it with the rest of your family?

MyHeritage Colorizes Pictures

MyHeritage just introduced a new feature to colorize photos automatically. I logged in and had a new home page that I hadn’t seen before. I didn’t know where to look for the colorizer (today it’s at the top of the new home page; I don’t remember it there yesterday), but found it easily — and marked “new” — in the “Family Tree” menu.

I’m not the kind of person who ever wanted old photos colorized. If they were black and white or sepia, I was fine with them. But I tried it anyway for fun.

For the first few photos I tried, it really emphasized to me that we don’t need to colorize old photos because everyone was just wearing black, white, and gray, according to the colorizer. It applied more color to the backgrounds and the skin tones. Below is the first photo I tried.

Eventually, I found a photo where the colorizer added a bit of color in the clothes. And then I had one that really popped out some color. Look, red stripes!

My first photo had some green background, but when I tried another, it was even brighter. And is that really the color the uniform is supposed to be? That’s what I was looking for, but I don’t even know. Did the colorizer make it gray or khaki? The background skews it so I can’t even tell.

I tried a photo with water but wasn’t impressed with the color. A photo I took a century later from near the same place shows the water much bluer. (Taking a second look, I’d still like the water a little bluer, but it’s not as bad as I initially thought.) It did put some bright red on the flag, but it also put red on the blue field of the flag.

I went looking for a specific couple of pictures that I think were taken about the same time, one in color the other black and white. When I found them, they weren’t quite the example that I was hoping. However, I uploaded the color one for kicks. Whoa.

It looks like it lost the red in the plant, but the plant in the background doesn’t concern me here. In the same folder, I had a very orange photo, so I tried that one too.

Well now, that’s very interesting what it does with color photos.

I still didn’t have an example like I wanted, one where I knew the color it should be (besides green grass and blue sky). So I grayscaled a couple of my photos and tried them.

The colorizer did not get the colors in the clothes. It sort of kind of got the pink a little in a couple spots but did not use a solid color for some reason. It did not guess correctly on the green at all. And why is some of the skin color also gray in the bottom one? It doesn’t recognize that skin can be on both sides of a necklace?


All in all, not bad.

I don’t feel the need to make my black and white or sepia photos into color, but the colorizer was fun to try on them. Most of the time, clothes were black and white and gray with some mid-tone reds. Many times, the reds showed up in odd spots instead of coloring the entire solid colored article of clothing, which was weirder than just making it gray. According to the colorizer, no one has ever worn bright colors or blues and greens.

Feeding it sepia photos was hit or miss. Some looked pretty decent but others were not as good. I didn’t try to make the sepia into grayscale then upload them to the colorizer, which I’m sure would have changed the results.

Skin tones also missed sometimes, but only a few times. They were just off in a weird way; some had more white than peach. One photo (not included above) looked almost like it was a colorized painting, and it didn’t even make the dark lipstick look red. I’m in a white family, so I didn’t have other skin tones easily available to try.

Grass, trees, and sky did pretty well in the photos. I feel like water could have looked bluer.

The surprise to me was what the colorizer did with color photos, especially with washed out or oranged photos. I will probably try running more of those kinds of photos through it and keep them. Maybe MyHeritage should push this feature out more.

How did the colorizer do for your family photos?

IAJGS 2019, Part 3

Day Five

I began my day in Carole Vogel’s session about creating a town-wide genealogy. Currently indexing all the vital records for a city puts me in a good position to create such a project, so I’ve been considering it.

I continued to shmooze and whatnot until my second presentation in the late afternoon about CSI: Crowd Sourced Indexing. I was in the big ballroom this time and had ten people. I wasn’t expecting a huge crowd, so it was fine. If IAJGS actually had a society day like FGS or a society track, then I might get more people interested because CSI is for societies and SIGs rather than individuals.

Day Six

I started a little earlier than on other days for the last day of the conference, having found a few sessions of interest on the last day. Patricia Edmonson spoke mostly about dating photos and was interesting. Analyzing photos is not something I usually do.

I finished off sitting in on a session about the Czech Republic, but I pulled out my computer and tuned out the speaker, so I have no idea what he was talking about. I meant to listen.

There was some more schmoozing and saying goodbye, but I had scheduled my flight later in the evening. While trying to figure out what to do, another conference attendee somehow appeared, having almost the same flight time as me and wanting to share a ride to the airport, so we set out together for a few hours to see a bit of the city, hopping on the free trolley. It was good to have the company.

All Finished

And that was it. I fielded additional questions about CSI throughout the conference from a few people and I was some kind of rock star to some people over my first presentation.

I enjoyed seeing my conference friends and making some new ones, especially my cousin. I snuck out in the middle of the week and grabbed a few records I needed in from the courthouse across the street, a very convenient location for that. I got a bit from the Resource Room access, and some things I was hoping to get and din’t find. My flight left Cleveland almost two hours late, but my connection was just the right amount of late that I made it.

And now it’s weeks after the conference when I finally finish this post. I am back into my usual routine at home and the swamp cooler is still leaking. I still haven’t been through my Cleveland photos, so I have one more conference blog post in my plans.

IAJGS 2019, Part 2

Day Three

It was time to give my new presentation. I had a bad feeling about the room they put me in and I was right. When I got there, the room was already full, and I wasn’t late. My session was a fire hazard. I had people sitting up the aisles and standing in the back. I heard from several people that they wanted to attend but couldn’t get in.

So Lesser Known Online Resources was a big hit. I have already submit it to other conferences and maybe I’ll finally be accepted to speak at some of those. People have approached me since that time, for two days so far, telling me they either loved it or couldn’t get in.

I next went to the Litvak SIG luncheon. I have never been to a SIG luncheon before, but since I was forced to buy some hotel food, I chose that one for the speaker and topic, which was supposed to be about archives and digitizing. The overpriced buffet meal was a tiny salad bar. And the speaker had been switched for a different topic. I am not happy about that.

I skipped the next two sessions I’d planned to go to for schmoozing or visiting the Resource Room. I got the gravestone images I wanted but couldn’t find anything I wanted from ProQuest.

I finished the conference day listening to Judi Missel and her brother talk about seven cousins who survived the Holocaust.

Day Four

I began the day at Jennifer Mendelsohn’s presentation. Hers was a beginner level session but had lots of Jewish Next Gen support in the room. It was interesting to hear what she taught from a journalist’s point of view.

I had very few things planned for the day but ended at the Webmaster’s Roundtable BOF. We had a small group, some interesting discussion, and finished early.

Quick Summary

Overall, sessions are going well. Speakers are interesting. Everything related to food is a disaster. Well, the conference food is. Going out to eat with cousins and friends is wonderful.

IAJGS 2019, Part 1

It’s summer again. That means it gets up to about 100 degrees for a while, the weeds stop growing making the yard work a little easier, the swamp cooler leaks and I can’t get anyone to come out to my house to fix it, and it’s time for the IAJGS annual conference on Jewish genealogy.

This year, IAJGS is in Cleveland, Ohio. I have some relatives here somewhere, but I don’t know who they are. I was in contact with one person from this branch of the family, but I didn’t get a response before the conference started to help me contact the ones who still live here. I didn’t leave myself extra time to visit people or tour the city or the cemetery anyway. I usually give myself a few days at these things.

Saturday was for acclimating, walking around the hotel to see what was here, trying to figure out where we could go for food all week. And the conference began on Sunday, as it always does.

As the years have gone by, I’ve tended to go to fewer lectures, but as we head in to the third day, I’ve gone to a few good ones, even some repeats from previous years.

Day One

Ron Arons has updated his lecture with some newer content and a new title. I first heard Avrohom Krauss talk about landsmanshaftn research years ago and I think this was the first time I went to his presentation in person.

The keynote was fun, as it usually is. One thing IAJGS seems to do well is find good opening keynote speakers. This year, Daniel Goldmark spoke about Jews in popular music. There were a lot of them.

The presidents’ reception was on the top floor of the hotel. It had a nice view.

The opening reception was different this year. It wasn’t right after the keynote or free, but at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I wasn’t impressed, with what I saw at the museum or the terrible way they served the food. Apparently there are six floors of the museum. Me and friends walked around one floor and then left for dinner.

Day Two

I began my second day in the Belarus SIG meeting where Miriam Weiner spoke about her research there. I worked for her in my first year of being a professional genealogist and was happy when see she remembered me at the reception the day before.

Walking around at random after, I found myself standing in front of my cousin. We just discovered each other a couple years ago through DNA. She’s my father’s second cousin on his biological side. We sat and talked for a bit before splitting up for some sessions. I’ll be seeing her more.

Cousins Elise Friedman and Hariette Gershon spoke about their Palevsky research and a global surname study. I was hoping for some tips on the ones I’m planning on. I have or have plans for three at this point: Mularzewicz, Nosatsky, and Feldstein. One of those names is going to be a lot more work than the other two, so it might get put off for longer. In the Palevsky case, they had more than one person working on it.

I skipped a couple meetings to see an Ava Cohn presentation on identifying photos. I keep missing her and she doesn’t get recorded, so I made sure to get to one this year.

I had dinner with a friend in the hotel and then back for the JewishGen session. They’re getting a new web site, finally, was the main take-away. That didn’t sound as exciting to me as people made it out to be. They announce the really exciting stuff when I’m not there. Or maybe it’s sitting through the whole meeting that makes it not as exciting and just hearing the highlights after is quicker. The reception after was on par with the opening reception, in how disappointing and disorganized it was.

Quick Summary

So far, so good. I’ve enjoyed all the presentations I’ve been to. The food has been a mess — I’ve heard other stories too. And it’s good to see some of my friends that I only see at genealogy conferences.

Getting To The Point With The Pikes

Years ago, someone on Twitter quoted Thomas Jones as he was giving a lecture at some genealogy event: “Genealogical proof is not a vote. The most censuses in agreement do not win.” I liked the quote and saved it. But I don’t completely agree.

I was working with someone who is almost my cousin to straighten out a family of her cousins. We had worked on this before, but her list of kids was a little different than mine, especially the order the kids were born. I had a bunch of vital records for them along with many censuses.

It was time, once and for all, to straighten it out. So I opened up a blank spreadsheet and charted them. I started with the censuses, just looking at the kids who were living with the parents.

Pretty quickly, I could see where I had gone wrong. My database was following the 1900 census, where the birth dates were listed in more detail, rather than just the age. But that was the outlier of all of them. The other censuses all agreed on the ages, showing each kid aging between four and six years between censuses, each census five years apart, whereas 1900 was all over the place in comparison. Nathan and Gussie were the biggest problems, as Nathan was far out of order and Gussie didn’t exist in any other record.

I then went on to look at other records I had. There were some kids who never showed up in the census because they died young in between the years. I had several birth and death certificates and one or two other records with exact dates for ten of them. Nathan’s death certificate matched with his age in 1905. And everything matched with the later censuses. The 1900 census was the outlier.

It turned out that my cousin had the kids’ birth order more correct than I did because I had used the earliest census more, and that one turned out to be quite wrong. When I work on families with no vital records, or people that didn’t know their actual birth dates, I tend to use the earliest information I can find, figuring it’s maybe the most accurate. In this case, that was a bad idea.

So the four censuses, along with more than ten other records, outvoted the one. The most censuses in agreement won.

Maybe Thomas went on to say that you need additional supporting documentation along with the censuses, which is what I did. Maybe I need a better source for his quote.

An Unusual Certificate

I found a most unusual certificate yesterday.

A good amount of my genealogy research in the US is attempting to find the origin location of immigrants. One of the best documents for doing this is naturalization records. It’s best if they naturalized after 1906 when the federal government standardized the forms, providing much more information.

Many of the documents I see contain a certificate of arrival along with the declaration and petition. Someone had to look through the ship lists and find the immigrant’s arrival. They marked the original ship list page and filled in a certificate saying they found it, the name the person arrived under, the ship, date, and port.

But yesterday, I found something new. It was a certificate of arrival that said a record of his arrival couldn’t be found. This was a first for me.

Ship list not found
Certificate of Arrival – Ship list not found – “No record of his arrival could be found for the reason that the Immigration authorities are unable to locate it from the information furnished.”

Also of interest, the Declaration listed the same ship as his wife’s naturalization years later. (She had no certificate of arrival and I haven’t found her on the ship either.) The Petition listed “SS Unknown”.

An additional detail: he was about 21 years old for his arrival. So it’s not like he arrived as an infant and had no memory of the event. And his naturalization was in 1924.

The next question is, can I find the ship list that the immigration authorities couldn’t find when the guy was alive? Well… I may have already found it. It needs more research to verify if it’s really him.

Warsaw, Poland – Summer 2018 Trip, Part 6

I didn’t mean to take this long to finish blogging about my summer trip, but at least it’s still during the same year. My trip ended back in Warsaw. I stayed in a hotel near the Old Town.

I went out to the Jewish Cemetery on Okopowa street, passing Umschlagplatz on the way. This cemetery was in better condition than Łodz, and was also actively being cleaned up and worked on.

In 2012, the POLIN Museum was still under construction and surrounded by fences, so I couldn’t see all the memorials that were immediately around it. This time, I got to see those and the museum. I spent four hours in the museum, but I rushed some of it because I was hungry for hours. Clearly I needed to prepare more time as there was so much to see and learn. I found two things in that museum that directly affected my own genealogy research.

There were crowds at the Jewish Ghetto Memorial outside of the POLIN Museum. On the way in, there was a row of people holding Israeli flags and a shofar blowing. On the way out, a group sang Hatikvah.

I wanted to go to the Jewish Historical Institute for some Belarus research, but the RtR site implied they had records that the JHI site did not have. instead, since I’d already seen the building, I headed to the Old Town and, on the last day of my visit, I joined the walking tour. I had seen almost everything on the tour already, but I got to hear some great stories about the Ikea castle and the bell, among others. The Warsaw Museum was free that day, so I spent some time in there too.

I ate in the Old Market Square, the tourist trap restaurants, but they were good. And then finally, I had to leave.

As a bonus on the flight back to the US, we flew over Greenland.