Monday, August 27, 2012

As If Genealogy Isn't Hard Enough!

I finally had a chance to look at the last three episodes of Who Do You Think You Are. They all have unique genealogical problems that need to be addressed. Rashida Jones is lucky to be here; Jason Sedeikis has skeletons in the family closet; and Paula Deen has to deal with the unexpected guilt that comes with finding the ancestor who owned slaves.

Rashida Jones' heritage is centered around African-American and Jewish research, being the daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton. Rashida's grandmother, Rita, came to America from Ireland in the 1930's and changed her name from Rosenberg to Benson. Many immigrants changed both their given names and surnames in an effort to sound more American and in some cases to hide their nationality.This despite the fact that America welcomed all immigrants to her shores. 

However, as Rashida eventually discovers, Benson was the original name given to Rashida Jones mother's family many years ago in Russia and that the family immigrated to Ireland from Latvia. And this brings us to the problems of Jewish research in Eastern European countries. Hopefully you paid attention in your high school history class. Otherwise you are going to have to borrow a textbook from your own kids or your grandkids. Also, you could pick up a copy of The Family Tree Guide to Europe at Amazon. It's a very informative book with a section at the end of the book about Jewish Genealogy.

Since I remember my mother telling me that her mom's ancestors were Russian Jews, I am going to be looking into this possibility next year. The problem with that is there are a lot of family researchers out there that have been told the same thing! But you should never overlook a clue or discard it just because you think it isn't true. Family folklore nearly always has a bit of truth in it. But, anyway, I have a small amount of knowledge concerning what I am going to be dealing with in the near future.

When you are researching ancestors from Eastern Europe, it is a good idea to begin with immigration records. You will be looking for a community rather than a country because of the the history of the region. Due to many wars, there were numerous border changes down thru the years. Many of today's locations did not exist until after World War I.

Another problem is the persecution of the Jewish community. Millions of Jews were murdered during the Holocaust which of course resulted in an abrupt end to many family trees. There are no graves or tombstones to search for dates. In Rashida's case she is definitely lucky to be here and owes that to Benjamin Benson who left Latvia for reasons unknown and inadvertently saved his family since the Nazies eliminated their entire community in Latvia.

The Holocaust created a brick wall in Jewish research, but there is one more. Jewish people did not begin to have surnames until after 1800!  Isn't that just wonderful?! I believe that this is going to be an extremely challenging research project, as if genealogy isn't already hard enough! 

When I was at the NGS conference in Cincinnati, I picked up a brochure from You have to register in order to search the site, but it is free. Jewishgen offers educational resources, a Holocaust database, and like Family Search, depends on volunteers to help build the site. I haven't been able to spend a lot of time on the website, but I do believe it is worth joining. 

The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies with many chapters throughout the world is another great resource. Make sure to visit this website whether  you are just getting started or are experienced in this area of research.

Since most Jewish people came to America after the late 1800's, most of your research is going to be international. This could take a lot of us out of our comfort zones. This is not a bad thing. Most genealogy beginners don't realize that one of the perks of family research is making history come alive. All of a sudden you have actual people that you are related to living during the colonial times or the Civil War or the Depression. Now you are going to have a chance to cross the pond and find out what really made them come to America. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

1940 Census Complete!

The entire US 1940 Census is now completely indexed on Family Search. What a tribute to the volunteers who made this possible. My one regret is that I never got to show my husband his family in the census  records before he passed away in May. We tried, but we just couldn't find the right address for his mom and dad. I have found the records now and, of course I can pass this information on to our grandchildren. Thinking back now on our last few days together, I realize that Chuck had finally come to appreciate the value of family history. I really believe that he was at that point where he wanted to know - not just the birth, marriage, and death information about his ancestors. He was at that point where a true genealogist is born. That point where you want to know what made your ancestors "tick". The 1940 census is a great way to connect our grandchildren to the past. Every ten years we have the opportunity to plant the seeds of family history in our grandchildren. Take advantage of this opportunity.