Monday, November 29, 2010

Going Sky-ing at Thomas Jefferson High School

Just for the purpose of illustration, to give you a simple indication of the number of Jewish teenagers who once attended Jefferson and graduated in the pre-war years, here are a list of June 1937 grads whose last name ended in the letters -sky. We can assume that most all of these students were Jewish as indicated by their often used Jewish given names. Here are thirty-two -skys:

Antipolsky, Belsky, Biolostosky, Brodsky, Dolinsky, Cinensky, Kanefsy, Kanofsky, Kozimensky, Krinsky, Lubinsky, Miletsky, Mirsky, Natowsky, Olinsky, Orshansky, Ostrofsky, Patashinsky, Puhalsky, Razansky, Ruvinsky, Savitsky, Shetarsky, Sovronsky, Swidzensky, Tulchinsky, Turetsky, Uretsky, Wilensky, Wishinsky, Witofsky and Wolinsky.

Just imagine how many -skys can be found within the school's database of 47,000 graduates! Do your own search and see if you can find your own surnames of interest here.

June 1937 Thomas Jefferson High School Yearbook Now Online

I have finally been able to add another yearbook to my online searchable collection of Jefferson yearbooks, this one from June 1937. The graduating class numbered 764.

Thomas Jefferson High School is located in the East New York section of Brooklyn, New York. Jefferson was once (before World War II) one of the finest high schools in all of New York City. Especially during these times, due to the presence of many families of Jewish immigrants, a good percentage of the students were indeed Jewish.

You can either browse the yearbook cover to cover or do a search by graduate's name. There are now photographs of more than 47,000 graduates from seventy-four graduating classes. This represents sixty-five percent of all graduating classes from Jan 1927 (the first graduating class) to 2006. This is a great resource for Jewish genealogists, for those whose families once lived in this section of Brooklyn.

More yearbooks will be added in the future if and when they become available to the Museum.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pitfalls in Using Online Searchable Cemetery Databases

Now that I've introduced to you two new searchable cemetery databases, it is probably a good idea to review some of the reasons you might not find the burial record you're looking for. This is, of course, assuming that the person is truly buried in that particular cemetery. I may miss a few reasons why your search may result in a "false negative," but it may be interesting to you nevertheless to read what I have to say.

Remember that these cemeteries never thought in the many years they were in existence before the Internet that their records would ever be made available in this way to the public. Most of the cemetery from their inception used burial ledgers and/or burial cards which they file either by society name, year of burial, alphabetically by surname, etc. Many of the office help who wrote out these burial records over the years made errors in recording the deceased's burial information, which in fact was often taken from the death certificate or burial permit. The death certificate might have been filled out incorrectly for one reason or the other, either the fault of the person who filled it out (e.g. at the funeral parlor), or the person that gave them the information, family member or not, gave them the information. Then once the cemetery office recorded the information, this became the official record, not necessarily what appeared on the gravestone. Also while inputting or uploading the data into the new cemetery databases, errors could have been made.

Also, with a small percentage of records (in the case of Montefiore, more than 7,000 burials have no date of death associated with them out of a total of 140,000 or so burials, i.e. five percent) there are no dates of death listed within the database's records which probably occurred because there was no date on the burial card or it was illegible for some reason.

In addition, the name that is in the cemetery's burial records, whether it be the deceased's given name or surname, could be different (either by a letter or two, or in one place the name could be in English instead of Yiddish or vice versa with regards to the deceased's given name). You might find that in the cemetery database a woman's maiden name might be used, but on the gravestone their married name is used. Some cemeteries will list a woman's burial info twice, once with her maiden name and once with her married name....Go figure.

With the Montefiore databases you can't use Soundex, so you need to be spot on in what you enter a name into the search fields, although you can just enter the first two letters of a given name or surname and still be successful.

Just by reviewing one society plot, one of Montefiore's landsmanshaftn plots associated with Lomza, Poland, I've found at least a ten percent error or omission of names. Of course, this is just one plot, but I imagine that there are errors in most plots to one degree or the other for the reasons mentioned above. The Lomza society in question is abbreviated in the deceased's burial record, i.e. "Chev Poale Zedek An Lomze" whose full name is Chevera Poale Zedek Anshe Lomze. In one burial record one record "Lomze" was spelled "Lodge," so if one had the ability to search by society name (as one could with the other seven New York cemetery databases), one would miss this burial record, if you entered "Lomze" into the search field for society name and had all of the information exactly correct.

Other errors you may find that lead you to false search results include a difference of a single letter in a surname, usually a vowel (so if you can't find who you're looking for, change the vowel and see if that works); reversal of letters, e.g. Finkelstien instead of Finkelstein, or Sohn instead of Shon. There may be a double consonant in the database, e.g. Feller, and a single consonant on the stone, e.g. Feler. As mentioned earlier, a Yiddish given name may appear in the cemetery's records with one spelling, e.g. Chaia, while on the gravestone Ida may appear (or vice versa.)

Note too that these searchable cemetery burial databases are especially useful for finding burial information on babies, whose gravestones are either non-existend, devoid of any inscription either by intent or because the material used for their small gravestone eroded very easily, or even that the ground "swallowed up" the stone as it sank into the ground either partly or fully over time.

There are also a number of double entries within these databases. Now remember that when someone loses an appendage, e.g. an arm, leg, foot, most often this is listed as a separate burial. The deceased's name is listed the same, but their burial record numbers will be different, and perhaps the burial location too (within the same plot of course). Sometimes, except for the burial record number, all the info is the same. So either this is a duplicate, an error in the burial record number so the burial was entered twice, once erroneously, or somehow on the same day they lost a body part and passed away and both are buried separately but near each other in the same society plot. Strange but probably true in some instances.

I am also not convinced that every date found under the Montefiore databases "date of death" field is the date of death or burial. But you can only search by month and year of death using their databases, so the day itself doesn't matter as far as searching is concerned. If the death was in the New York metro area, one can always check the death index at if the date of death was early enough, to verify a spelling or a date of death. Past 1965, give or take, you can also check the SSDI (Social Security Death Index) to verify spelling or date of death.

That's it for now. Remember I'm not in contact with these cemeteries per se and cannot request that they change the burial record of someone in your family. If you find an error, you will have to contact the cemetery yourself, and odds are, you'll have to supply them with an official document, e.g. the person's death certificate, to compel them to change their records.

You might also like to read a previously published webpage I've written about searching cemetery databases. If you'd like to read it, please click here.

If you'd like to begin searching the databases of the Montefiore cemeteries, click here and then on the appropriate cemetery name. Then click on the word "Locator" at the top of that page.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Montefiore Cemetery Searchable Database Now Fully Updated (More or Less)

This evening I checked the burial numbers per year for Pinelawn, New York's New Montefiore Cemetery and it seems that they have within the last day or so vastly updated their searchable database. Just three days ago the total burials online were more than 95,000; now the total number is nearing 149,000. Although we can assume that there will be tweaks to the database in the coming days etc., most of their burials should be online now. Not only are the New Montefiore burials for the 1990s and 2000s included now, but also for other years that were previously strangely underrepresented, e.g. 1936, 1954-6.

So now for those of you who became frustrated when you couldn't find your family member within their database, try again. Now I am just the messenger, so to speak, and don't represent the cemetery nor do I have anything to do with their database. If you think their is a misspelling or other mistake within their database, you must contact them directly. I'm just trying to keep you informed about newly formed searchable cemetery databases when I discover them.

I don't know if (Old) Montefiore Cemetery in Springfield Gardens, Queens, New York has been updated within the last couple of weeks or so since I first made the announcement about the Montefiore Cemetery databases. Besides a tweak here and there, I think the burial database for (Old) Montefiore Cemetery is mostly done, but I haven't fully checked it out yet and am not sure.

So to date, the Queens cemetery ("Old" Montefiore) has 133,402 burials online (more or less), and the Pinelawn cemetery has 148,704 for a total of 282,106.

So if you add this number to the number of NY metro cemetery burials that are currently online (along with Riverside and Mt. Moriah Cemeteries in New Jersey there are at least seven), there must be close to a million burial records available for searching, if not more (though one has to search each cemetery's online database individually.)

To search either of the Montefiore Cemetery databases, click here . Just click on the cemetery whose database you wish to search and then click on "Locator" at the top of the page.

Happy hunting!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Timeout for Rosh Hashanah on the European Battlefield during World War I

After much delay, the next article to be presented to you as part of the Museum's Newspaper Archive is now ready for your perusal.

Nearly half a million Jewish soldiers, the "largest number under arms since the children of Israel ceased to be a nation," laid aside their weapons of war in 1914 to observe Rosh Hashanah. The picture displayed here shows Day of Atonement services held by the Jewish soldiers in the German army during the Franco-Prussian War (which took place between 1870 and 1871). It presents a scene that was enacted by the rival armies of Europe more than forty years later.

You can read this September 21, 1914 article that appeared within Philadelphia's Evening Ledger. The article is entitled "Jews Worshipping Amid Din of Battle in War-Torn Europe" and can be found here.

The Museum's entire Newspaper Archive list with links to more than one hundred articles (most of them published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century) can be found here.

Notes on Searching the "Old Man's Registration" World War II Database

Now that for a time is offering free access to military records, it might behoove you as a researcher or interested party, to partake in this.

One does not have to always search this database by the registrant's name. If, for instance, you would like to know the names of all the registrants who were born in a particular town in the U.S. or Europe, e.g. Pultusk, Poland/Russia, all you would have to do is simply enter the word "Pultusk" in the "Location" field under the "Birth" section, and voila. Of course, you might miss some entries because the word "Pultusk" or other town name might have been spelled wrong on the registration card (and thus in the database).

It might also have been that the town name was left out and only the word "Poland" or "Russia" was written on the registration card. Whatever the case, a search such as I've suggested might lead to some interesting results, familiar surnames, etc., so it's worth looking into.

The records available here for searching are for the draft registration of 1942 (the "fourth registration") and were generally for men who were outside of the age range for active duty, but were required to register I believe just in case the U.S. Government needed them for the war effort in some way.

This fourth registration is the only one that is currently available to the public(because of privacy restrictions.) This "old man's registration" was for men born betwen April 28, 1877 and February 16, 1897 (men between ages forty-five and sixty-four) who were not in the military at the time.

One can learn the name of the registrant, their age, birth place, place of residence, who their employer was (name of company/person, work address), the name and address of the person who would always know where the registrant was, as well as the physical characteristics of the registrant.

It should be noted that registration information is only available for twenty-three states and one territory. Still definitely worth checking out!

One can search the database for this fourth registration by clicking here.

For those of you who would like to see the list of 115 Pultusk-born registrants, click here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Synagogue of Lubaczów, Poland

A magnificent synagogue, built in the eighteenth century and rebuilt in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Lubaczów Synagogue was burned down by the Germans between 12 and 15 September 1939. Used in this newest film of Tomek Wisniewski, "The Synagogue of Lubaczów", were photographs taken by German soldiers.

Lubaczów today is located in southeast Poland and was once part of Galicia/the Austrian Empire (until 1918 when Poland was declared an independent state.) At that time Lubaczów became part of an independent Poland.

The film is set to music and is less than ten minutes long. It is composed of slow scans of both the interior and exterior of the synagogue and its surrounds.

You can find the link to the film on the Museum's Tomek Wisniewski Film Series page. The films are listed alphabetically by town association.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Grajewo, Poland: A 2010 Meeting between Pole and Jew

Now available for viewing at the Museum of Family History is a new film of fifteen minutes created by Tomek Wisniewski about Grajewo, Poland. This film includes color film of Grajewo taken this year, scans of old family photos, as well as film taken in Grajewo of a meeting between Poles and Jews on May 18th. The meeting was also attended by members of the Israeli government. An interesting film to see.

If you have any comments about the film after seeing it, feel free to send them to me and I will forward them to Tomek.

You can find the link to this film "Grajewo: Poles and Jews" on Tomek's Museum webpage. The films are listed alphabetically according to town association.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Burials per Year at the Montefiore Cemeteries of New York

With my recent announcement of the online availability of the two searchable burial databases for Montefiore and New Montefiore Cemeteries in New York, many have flocked to these databases in search of family members. These databases have been a boon to many, yet for others who know that there are family members buried in one of these cemeteries but have to date been unable to locate their burial records, they are understandably frustrated.

Within each cemetery lies more than five hundred society plots, not only landsmanshaftn (mutual aid) societies, but societies formed within synagogues, fraternal orders, labor unions, community centers and other organizations, not to mention family plots and plots unaffiliated with any particular organization. The landsmanshaftn are associated with many countries, especially those from Europe, such as Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, Austria-Hungary et al.

The reason that burials are not found within these particular databases most often is that the data for every burial has not been entered yet; it is an ongoing process whose completion date is unknown. This is especially true of the database of New Montefiore Cemtery. One often tends to look for reasons why one relative can be found, e.g. from 1930, but not of a family member who died more recently. Of course, there may be data entry errors, differences in spellings between a headstone, death certificate, etc., which would lead one to a false negative result, so one must use one's imagination when searching for information via these databases.

What I have done for you is create a table and webpage that lists the number of burials currently listed on each cemetery's database per year, from 1900 to the present. You might like to visit this page and see where the "gaping holes" are in burial numbers, so to speak, especially with regard to the New Montefiore Cemetery database. As a side note, you might find a burial that occurred before the cemetery officially opened; this can be either because of a typo in data entry or because of a disterment from one cemetetery into this one, and of course, the date of death would remain the same.

In order for me to determine how many burials per year there are currently listed on each database (as of Nov. 1 of this year), I simply entered the full year in the "year of death" field and the number of burials on the current database appeared at the bottom of the page. Certainly if someone periodically wishes to search the New Montefiore Cemetery database, for instance, and search under the years most seemingly deficient in numbers on either database according to my aforementioned webpage table, please feel free to do so. If you happen to discover that the number of burials for a particular year and cemetery have increased significantly, please contact me and I will notify all of you.

The webpage I created with the numbers of burials per cemetery per year can be found here.

The two online searchable cemetery databases can be found by clicking on either cemetery name here.

You can find overall grounds maps for each cemetery within each cemetery's website or you can see them (along with dozens of others) here.