Category Archives: UJGS

UJGS Success! – March 2012

Last night was our first UJGS meeting of the year. We had a bad end to last year, with no one showing up to the meeting. One person emailed to let me know she didn’t like to drive on the ice. Another had to work. I heard no other excuses. I was disappointed to say the least.

I started to devise ways to change UJGS and make it grow. I want to get the members more involved. I want more members. We have an international conference coming up in Utah in two years and I want a good group of volunteers from here. And I want more people in the seats.

My three person board met once, but we didn’t manage a second meeting yet. We discussed things, and I think I made it clear to them that I wanted them to do more. For two years, I did almost everything, save for the treasurer’s job and some of the secretary’s job. It was time for others to take up some of the slack. If I kept it up alone, I would burn out fast.

I wanted to expand to webinars. One board member thought it would be too complicated, but I easily convinced him after he suggested I start a virtual society. “Do you think I’ll run both?” Then he said to try it. Our test run at the FHL went badly, but our second test run, during this meeting, went well.

One of my problems is getting the members more involved. I would ask for volunteers and no one would stand up. I would get stuck asking for volunteers for one or two things, when there were so many other things we could do that maybe they’d volunteer for instead. I’m going to try to make every volunteer opportunity available and hope that some of those positions are claimed. Maybe we won’t get a volunteer for years for some things, but hopefully other things will happen.

I was optimistic before our December meeting and it went badly. I think I was neutral for March and it went well. In one case, I asked what the members thought, having already decided we should do something, and they agreed. They actually agreed to to some volunteering.

Did I also mention we got three new members? Our new youngest member is 11 years old; he and his mother joined. Our other new member has been wanting to join but kept missing meetings. I was introduced to her via my mother and the wife of the rabbi I grew up with. She and the rabbi’s wife are cousins. I called her, and invited her to the meeting.

And so begins another year of UJGS. I have some more programming to do on the web site. I made some modifications to the design of the site, added a few bits, and started the blog. I finished everything but the members only section. But I may have our first members only webinar — some of yesterday’s presentation on the 1940 US Census.

The URL of this blog post is

UJGS Library Research Night

Tonight was the first Library Research Night for the Utah Jewish Genealogical Society. We had nothing else planned during International Jewish Genealogy Month, so it seemed like the perfect month for it.

I was expecting Todd Knowles to be around to help out, but he stayed down on the British floor, where he works, and said he was helping people down there. Seems to me that if he was doing that, he was just doing his regular job.

On the International floor, I had a few people come in for help with their research. Mary Ann Jacobs and her daughter arrived, and they pretty much worked together for the evening. Marelynn Zipser was also around, though she was struggling with difficult German. Margarita Choquette offered to help with anyone needing Russian help and Heidi offered to return to help with German. Since most people were asking for US help, I covered the room and didn’t ask them to come back.

Rich Laniewsky came in with a simple question: what was his grandmother’s name. Unfortunately, we didn’t have records for the town, but he learned how to use the catalog and the microfilm reader to look at some records for a nearby town. I suggested he order the SS-5, which he thinks he already has somewhere.

I have already forgotten what Gary Bowen needed help with. I helped him out a bit and he went to do some work at the computer.

Sue Bradley needed help in US records. I sent her up to the US floor for a Wisconsin birth index, but she couldn’t find anything. We did a bit of searching online for some more information, eventually finding a Los Angeles death record to look for. She had a little trouble with the index and had someone on the floor help her. Unfortunately, sometimes their help just wastes time. I think she had the right film, but will have to check it another time because I didn’t abandon the room until late and we didn’t have time to try again when I found her. Her Ancestry search of the California Death Index didn’t specify if the death was in the city or the county, or it would have made things easier. I’ve already had issues with the separate Los Angeles City and County films, so I’m not surprised there was some trouble.

Ruth and Dick Stone wanted some help locating someone born in Hungary. We weren’t entirely sure of the town, but in trying to find another document that mentioned it, they got the naturalization for her husband. It had her birth year far off and stated her birth location just simply as Hungary, so it didn’t help much. On the other hand, we noticed his last foreign residence and they are going to try searching there.

Todd told me he helped five people down on B-2, where he pretty much recruited them to show up for the night. I hope to get a full report from him. And next time, I want everyone to meet on the same floor, which should probably be the US floor. I sent people up there more often than I sent them out for international records. I wonder if we can get a computer and a film reader in a classroom the next time. It would make it so much easier.

UJGS June Meeting – Genealogy in the Round

My spirits were low when I headed out early for the UJGS meeting last night. I stopped by the Family History Library intending to do a few look-ups, but I never got to them. I headed down to the British floor to visit Todd Knowles and chat for a little while. I’ve come to consider him my only “co-worker”. I talk to others who work there, but I hang out at Todd’s counter for a while and we find that we have a lot to chat about.

I headed to the JCC for the meeting, after receiving only one RSVP, but assuming a few other people would also show up. With one person arriving a bit late, we had twelve. That’s not too bad for an average meeting. The JCC moved us to a smaller space, so we really couldn’t handle more this time anyway.

I didn’t have a lot of business or announcements and we went right into the show and tell. I still remember last year pretty well. I was getting over a cold so once I got the meeting started, I didn’t share any stories. This year I started. Only a few days ago, a “new” cousin found my web site and we traded a bit of information. I also sent her some pictures. She is the granddaughter of Sidney Wolfe and he’s a conundrum even to her. He was married three times and had two kids in each family. She came from the first marriage.

Louise was learning PowerPoint, so she showed print-outs of some slides of the family she’s working on. Mary Ann brought a framed ketuba that she (or husband Gerald) talked about at last year’s meeting. Robert had a small collection of books including one that his father wrote and he translated. Marelynn announced that she had just finished indexing the microfilms of Bratislava for JewishGen. Wilma recently returned from a trip to Pennsylvania and New York where she visited the National Museum of Jewish American History in Philadelphia and an ancestral cemetery in Queens that was overgrown with weeds. (It reminded me of my yard, but without the gravestones.) Ruth and Dick talked about a relative who wrote a memoir about her time in Dachau. Kahlile discussed FamilySearch, which turned into a discussion amongst the whole group concerning where they are filming and what. We like having someone on the inside to let us know what’s going on. Anne shared the chewing gum story about one of her ancestors. Fred offered up a story about finding things by accident. And John finished off with the story of an ancestor and what he did that made them all move to another town.

At the end, I reminded everyone of my intention to have the group photograph the gravestones at the local cemetery and got a willing volunteer. That’s exactly what I wanted: someone who hadn’t done anything before to volunteer to help. My faith in UJGS was restored. I don’t know why I lose faith in this group sometimes between meetings. I’ve apparently resorted to my pessimistic ways, expecting the least from people. They’re not that bad. It’s hard getting them to volunteer, but somehow they always come through just enough.

We’ve got a bit of a break before our next meeting in September, so maybe we can get that cemetery work done before we reconvene.

UJGS – April – A Hebrew Crash Course – Reading Gravestones

I conducted an experiment at the Utah Jewish Genealogical Society meeting in April. Somewhere between Daniel Horowitz’s presentation in February about Israeli web sites (generally all in Hebrew) and trying out the Rosetta Stone program to learn Polish (and still being able to remember some of the words months later) I had the idea to teach the Hebrew alphabet in a somewhat Rosetta Stone style way.

I never used flash cards as a kid to try to learn things, but maybe that’s one method I should have tried. The way Rosetta Stone teaches, it shows a picture, shows the word, speaks the word, and you have to choose the correct picture. Some rounds, as I recall, it spoke the word without showing it or showed the word without speaking it. Either way, it gave the word and you had to match it up with the picture. And it did this over and over and over again. It’s good that I didn’t watch the time because I wouldn’t be surprised if I spent multiple hours just on the first lesson.

Though I’ve given a few different presentations before, this was the first time I used PowerPoint. Previously, I used web sites or was teaching software, but this presentation needed a lot of slides and there was no better way that I could think of. After grappling with the title, I settled on A Hebrew Crash Course: Reading Gravestones.

I am by no means fluent in Hebrew, but I know the alphabet, a bit of vocabulary, and how to decipher the names and dates on gravestones. And after one of my members specifically asked me to teach the Hebrew dates, I went for it.

No English is allowed in this section of one cemetery.

The presentation started with a few gravestones as examples. I explained the different things that may or should be written on them, with an emphasis on calculating the dates from the Hebrew letters. Then I went into the alphabet. Usually five letters at a time, I showed the letter and explained something about a few of them, then the monotony began. I reviewed the letters and those attending the meeting had to tell me the sounds or names of the letters. Some had taken notes thus had their own cheat sheets, one new attendee knew the alphabet, and some were a bit lost rather quickly. Almost half of them were active in identifying the letters. I tried to get the others involved a couple times, but they just sat back and watched.

As we went through the letters of the alphabet, I introduced the months and some Hebrew names when we had all the letters in them, and the attendees sounded out the letters, sometimes with a little help from me, and figured out almost every name perfectly. They had more trouble with some of the months, not familiar with the names of the Hebrew calendar months.

I was hoping for some more comments at the end about things they thought I might change or things I had questioned but they thought were good. For instance, I questioned if I should have explained the gravestone information after the alphabet instead of before.

While I didn’t expect everyone or anyone to learn all the letters of the alphabet enough to remember them a few months from now, I was hoping that they might learn a few and become familiar with many of the other letters so that they can decipher some of the Hebrew on gravestones themselves. One person was considering taking a course in Hebrew, so this gave him a head start on any beginner class.

It might have been better to do this before Daniel’s presentation because his all-Hebrew web sites to them probably looked a lot like Chinese sites look to me. I was asked if I had submit this to the IAJGS conference, but I don’t think it would work with a very large crowd with the participatory nature of it.

Overall, I think the presentation went very well. An email from member Wilma Odell said, “Thank you for your hard work — the presentation was really impressive. I appreciate the time that you spent. You’re a GREAT teacher.” So I think that says it all. Thank you, Wilma.

UJGS – February 2011 – Daniel Horowitz

Daniel Horowitz arrived in Salt Lake City direct from Israel for RootsTech. I had previously convinced him to arrive a day earlier than he planned so that he could speak to UJGS on our already scheduled meeting date, instead of moving it for him.

We had a regular sized crowd for our meeting, with a few new faces, but not nearly as many as I’d hoped. I guess the Israeli research didn’t garner the same attention as Do Genealogy in your Sleep, a paraphrase of his previous topic.

Having seen the handout, I thought we were going to get a bit of a lesson in Hebrew, but he just went through a couple of PowerPoint screens of “101 ygolaeneG rof werbeH”.

Daniel reviewed several web sites on which we could find Jewish and Israeli records, not leaving out his own site. Then he went into the Israeli sites. Some had English on them but many were entirely in Hebrew. Using Steve Morse’s site to transliterate names into Hebrew — although his sample didn’t result in the Hebrew spelling he used for his own name — he showed us the results of several web sites for a search on his surname. Many of the sites were burial societies in Israel, called Chevra Kadisha. I had clicked on a few from his handout the day before, but even with his translation key, I had trouble finding some of the search pages. His presentation had big, red arrows pointing at the link for the search pages, making them easy to find.

It was possible that only two other people in the room were familiar with the Hebrew alphabet during the session, so the web sites were not entirely foreign to me. To others, they may have looked the way Chinese does to me.

While most of the crowd left before and during our business meeting afterwards, we discussed a few things, including starting a society blog. I can only hope that more of our members will contribute if we do that, to both the blog and the newsletter.

Having dinner afterwards with Daniel and Schelly Dardashti (of Tracing the Tribe) was a nice end to the evening.

UJGS October Meeting

Gary Mokotoff was the featured speaker for the Utah Jewish Genealogical Society’s October meeting. Having spoken to our group last year, Gary drew a few extra people into the audience because they had heard such good things about his last visit. He presented The Paternal Genealogy of Bernie Madoff. While the title evokes a few chuckles, the content is serious. Gary used Bernie Madoff as an example of a fairly typical Jewish genealogy research project.

From the comfort of his own home (or wherever he was at the time), Gary researched the lineage of Bernie Madoff all from his computer.

Five Web Sites

Gary used five web sites to complete several generations of Madoff’s genealogy: Wikipedia, Ancestry, Steve Morse, JewishGen, and JRI-Poland.

Because most genealogy projects begin with some basic knowledge, usually a person and their parents at the least, Gary began on Wikipedia, which conveniently (and often for many entries) listed the parents of Bernie and his birth year.

From there, Gary proceeded to Ancestry to find the 1930 US census for Bernie’s father, continuing to the 1920 and 1910 censuses tracing the family back in time.

Using Steve Morse’s site, he searched for the ship list of the first immigrant in the family. Having some trouble, he returned to Ancestry where he found the naturalization documents.

With more information, he was able to return to Morse’s site and find the ship list, now knowing the original name of the family and more information about the immigration.

Searching JRI-Poland, he found over 1000 entries for the surname. Back to the other documents and a visit to JewishGen’s Shtetlseeker, he located the name of the town he needed and only had to check a few of the JRI-Poland entries to find more information.

Good To Have Friends

The final part of his research was the networking section. Having published a story in Avotaynu about this research, he received an email from a colleague stating that the Kiecle-Radom SIG had indexed even more records, along with the information that was found in that project.

In the end, Gary presented the ancestry of Bernie Madoff going back to the late 1700s, which is about as far as the average Jewish Polish genealogy can go.

I thought that this was another great presentation by Gary Mokotoff. He got stuck on a couple of slides, not sure why he repeated an image, but that was minor; he probably hadn’t reviewed the presentation terribly recently.

Pet Peeves

My only concern about this presentation was for any beginners who may hear it. I still remember the and Ancestry commercials where someone types in their name and their entire genealogy pops up. “Oh look, we’re related to the Wright brothers!” Anyone remember those? It makes people think that doing their own genealogy is that easy — that there is no research that they have to do. In honesty, if you go to a site like that, type in your name, and your genealogy pops up, someone else did all the research. Unfortunately, some people believe those commercials and must be told not to.

Even with the presentation entirely about his journey into researching this family, if it had been my presentation, I would have added other information. Certainly a lot of information is online, with more every day, but still, not everything is online and research must be done elsewhere to complete the genealogy. Even so, there are many web sites beyond the five that he used that may hold information someone is looking for.

Also, Gary did not obtain any vital records for the family. Not one birth, marriage, or death record, which is crucial information to genealogy research and to verify that he was researching the right people. It all seemed to fit, but sometimes you find records that are similar yet not the right family. And where he checked the JRI-Poland indexes of vital records, he relied on the index and did not check the records themselves. Beginners need to be taught that while indexes are convenient, they are not to be entirely trusted and the original record must be consulted.


Even though I have concerns about the bits that were skipped over, the presentation was a fantastic example of how much information can already be found online and how one can research a family tree without having anyone to interview for information. It won’t work for every family, but it’s a good starting place for someone who is just starting their research.

NGS 2010 – Halfway Through

This year is my first year attending the National Genealogical Society conference. It is taking place in Salt Lake City, so I really didn’t have an excuse to miss it.


My week started on Monday when Michael Goldstein came into the city in advance of the conference and I met with him for lunch, some research at the Family History Library, and then dinner along with Daniel Horowitz, Kahlile Mehr, and his wife.


On Tuesday, I brought boxes to Ron Arons at the Salt Palace Convention Center. He had shipped his books to me in advance of NGS for his booth in the vendor room. This was beneficial to both of us as I had no idea where the conference would be in the very large Salt Palace. He thanked me with dinner and then we went to the FHL for a UJGS meeting where Daniel Horowitz spoke to a crowded room about MyHeritage. I only left 30 flyers at the FHL the week before and I was absolutely thrilled at the guest turn-out along with the large number of members in attendance.

Wednesday – NGS Day One

By Wednesday, the first day of NGS, my sleep deprivation was really catching up to me. I have two rare sleep disorders and one of them sometimes dictates that I am basically awake all night and asleep all day. I am in the midst of that one now, but forcing myself to stay awake during the day does not cause me to sleep at night anyways. I was working on only 3-4 hours of sleep each day.

I was only a few minutes late for the 8am opening session. Sitting so far in the back, I mostly listened as there were too many heads in front of me to see much. I was most interested in watching the video of the Granite Mountain Vault and was glad to see later that the FamilySearch booth in the vendor room was replaying it.

After the opening session, everyone crowded into the vendor room as the opening session room was set up for regular sessions. I walked around and spoke with people, picked up some snacks, and learned what some of the companies were about.

I attended some of Laura Murphy DeGrazia’s Prove It! Evidence Analysis for Genealogists, and stepped into Thomas Jones’s Five Way to Prove Who Your Ancestor Was, which was standing room only. Unfortunately, the sleep deprivation was catching up to me and I was wiped out. I headed home early.

I obviously missed a couple sessions I wanted to attend on Wednesday, and the Ancestry presentation, but I learned about the major points overnight from Twitter.

Thursday – NGS Day Two

On Thursday, I again arrived late for the first session I wanted to attend, but this time I could partly blame the weather. Claire Bettag’s Research Reports: Meeting the Standards was not quite standing room only, but I stood outside the door with a small group instead of trying to find the few remaining empty seats.

Again spending time in the vendor room, I spoke to Ron Arons for a while and several other vendors. I stopped at the Genlighten booth (many times during the week) to speak with Dean Richardson and his wife, and the MyHeritage booth to see Daniel Horowitz. I somehow spent enough vendor room time that I didn’t go to an 11am session. I had nothing marked in my calendar, but I’m surprised while typing this blog entry that I don’t recall attending any sessions.

During the lunch hour, Ancestry had a session to speak with bloggers, which I attended. I saw mention on Twitter of the Geneabloggers meeting in the vendor room but never found this elusive location. So I finally saw a few of my tweeps (Randy Seaver, Lisa Alvo, Ancestry Insider, among others) at this meeting.

Afterwards, I sat with Tony Macklin for a while to discuss the Ancestry web site. We ended up looking at the new search and trying to find my great-uncle’s 1930 census page, which caused a great deal of difficulty. Did the transcription get changed (incorrectly) since I first found it years ago or did I have such a hard time finding that one record? In the end, we did find it, and submit the transcription correction.

At 4pm, I went to Thomas Jones’s Organizing Evidence to Overcome Record Shortages. This time, there were still some seats left. I was on time and actually heard the introduction, which he gave himself. I stayed for most of the session, leaving only when he was on his second example near the end. Again, the lack of sleep was catching up.

I wanted to go to the Conference Center for the evening concert but knew that it was unlikely I would be able to stay awake while sitting still in a darkened room for two hours. I checked in again with Ron and, while realizing that I’d be driving home in rush hour traffic, he suggested dinner again to wake me up a bit and delay the drive. (It worked. Thanks again Ron.)

Upon arriving home, I started to catch up with Facebook and Twitter, only to leave that unfinished to go to sleep. I woke up around midnight, but went right back to bed to wake up around 5am. Finally, some sleep! (And in the dark, almost like a normal person.) I don’t suppose I’ll be without the feeling of sleep deprivation all day, but it should help.

Two more days to go at NGS. What do I hope to accomplish? I’d really like to talk to my Geneablogger friends some more and get to know them a little. I only have a few sessions marked in my schedule, but I’m sure I’ll drop in on many of the others.

UJGS Needs Volunteers

Tonight was the first Utah Jewish Genealogical Society work meeting at the Family History Library. It was mostly planned by ex-co-President Lane Fischer and society member Louise Silver. Since Lane’s resignation, I knew he wouldn’t be attending. And a recent email from Rochelle Kaplan said that she couldn’t make it.

Though I wasn’t planning on being in charge, I did plan to attend, if just to see what might happen. Nothing did. Louise picked out a table for us and I sat there with my computer for about three hours. She kept coming over periodically but spent most of the time working on a computer or helping library patrons; she brought one over to see if I could help. Nobody else showed up. At least, nobody showed up and found us.

So apparently the work meetings were a bust. However, I haven’t completely given up on the mentoring idea. We’ve been trying to put that into motion for years but no one ever wanted to volunteer. All we really need are a couple of our members to volunteer to be mentors. I’m thinking that we could do specialized mentoring, with one beginner matched to one society member with more advanced skills, find a time to suit both of their schedules, and just let them work together for a little while without any hoopla. There’s no need to bring together a group of people; just one-on-one help at a time that suits those two people. I think we can do it. We just need a few volunteers.

UJGS January Meeting

Last night’s meeting of the UJGS was the first meeting when I was the President. I had the agenda planned out and I brought a lot of business to the table so we had to rush through a lot of it. I really wanted to bring some more structure and discipline to the group, but alas, that didn’t quite happen.

While I was wasting time fighting with the projector to get it to work, my co-President discussed his workshop idea with the other members. We are finally beginning our mentoring program, though we’re calling it the UJGS Work Meeting. Put simply, we will meet at a designated time at the Family History Library to do our research and be available to help each other where we can. The first meeting will be from 5-9pm on Wednesday, February 10th on the B1 floor.

We amended the bylaws and I passed around a few samples of flyers and business cards I had created. All the generic business cards were claimed by members before the meeting was over, so I’m glad that idea was adopted so quickly. I’ll need to have a lot more printed.

Since the 2007 IAJGS conference, we’ve had a small collection of genealogy reference books but hadn’t put them to use. Rochelle Kaplan graciously donated some books this meeting and we decided to split our library. “Let’s be shell-fish,” Rochelle said. After the meeting, she checked with the synagogue board meeting, which was coincidentally happening in the room next door, and they were discussing their library. So we will have a shelf or two in their library, and the reference books will be with the librarian (me) and we will offer a look-up service for members with those.

When it came time for my presentation, I had less than an hour. Having rehearsed the whole thing early in the morning, I was probably more prepared than for any previous lecture or computer lab I’ve given, which was good, since I had to rush a bit through the presentation titled Social Networking: Facebook and Twitter and Their Genealogy Uses. The comments afterwards were positive, so that’s always a good thing. I stuck to explaining the basics of both services and then went back and reviewed some specific genealogy uses. I was aiming for beginners, those who had never signed up before or who signed up and didn’t use it because they didn’t know what to do with it.

And now for my critique of myself. The fact that the projector blurred everything (and we didn’t really try to fix it) didn’t help, as I repeatedly mentioned it, except that it prevented me from clicking many things which would have taken time that we didn’t have. But actually showing what I was talking about would have been better. I didn’t take the time to stop and ask for questions at several places where I had planned. I’m still not sure if the four parts were in the right order. I gave a quick introduction to Facebook, then Twitter, then covered genealogy uses in Facebook, and then Twitter. Would presenting one service at a time have been better? Should I switch to the basics of Facebook, it’s genealogy uses, then do Twitter, and it’s genealogy uses?

I’m looking forward to our Work Meeting in February. I think I will use that opportunity to reserve that time to do my own genealogy research. I always do client work first so I rarely get to my own family research. I hope the meeting works out well and we repeat it every other month as we seem to be planning.

Hello World.

Welcome to my blog. I am Banai. That’s pronounced like B’nai Brith, or B’nai Israel, or B’nai Torah, or if you haven’t heard of any of those or don’t know of any synagogues with those names, it rhymes with Renee.

I have been a genealogist since birth, but I got serious in 1998, moved to Salt Lake City in 2003, and soon became a professional.

I had been debating starting a blog for years. What would I write? Would anyone read it? Would I make the time to keep it up? What would I call it?

Well, the last question was answered first. I came up with the title somewhere in the middle of watching British TV shows last year. Even more recently (like, while editing this post) I added on the third word of my title, from the Ginger Jew to the Ginger Jewish Genealogist. I thought that might be going a bit too far, but I’ve decided to go with it for now. Any comments about that?

I finally decided to just go ahead and try it. So on New Years Eve, between the ball drop and midnight (’cause the ball drops in NYC two hours before midnight in SLC), I installed the blog, adjusted the design, and figured out how to use it. I have blogged every day this year so far. No, you can’t read what I wrote because I marked all the entries private. I was kind of testing the waters.

But now I’ve decided to go public with my blog. So here it is!

Just like my Twitter account, this will likely end up to be about more than just genealogy, but since that’s my profession and my hobby, I expect it to show up a lot. Other topics that will appear often will include UJGS, the Utah Jewish Genealogical Society (I am the president, newsletter editor, and webmaster); IAJGS and each annual conference; David Tennant, Doctor Who, and anyone else associated with the show; Hugh Laurie, House, and any other corresponding shows or people; any other TV show or celebrity that suits my fancy over time (those are just the current ones); and any home improvement projects that may be happening.

Let the fun begin.