Monthly Archives: January 2011

Jewish Genealogy Basics: Yizkor Books

It is a bit sad to have to include Yizkor Books under my ‘Jewish Genealogy Basics’ category on this blog, but unfortunately most Jewish people have relatives who perished in the Holocaust, and there is no getting past that fact. Yizkor Books are an important resource for those people whose relatives came from the towns and regions covered by these books, mainly because these towns don’t exist anymore or have no Jewish remnants in any case. These books are the last memories of the people who lived in these communities.

Yizkor Books were generally books put together by survivors of a specific community, usually a town or city, although sometimes books were put together for larger regions. These were Holocaust survivors who wanted to share what their community had been like before the Holocaust, and what happened to it during the Holocaust. In most cases the Jewish communities described in these books completely ceased to exist after the war, and the survivors made their way to different countries including the US, Israel and various South American countries. Thus these books were published in the years following the war, in the 50s, 60s and 70s mostly (although some were published even in the 80s and 90s), in a mix of languages that may include Hebrew, Yiddish, English and more. Many of the books list the names of those people from the town that were killed during the war (these are called necrologies).

It’s important to remember that Yizkor Books were put together by members of the destroyed community, usually only for members of that community. They were generally printed privately in small quantities, and thus most of these books are not widely available. Some libraries have made an effort to build collections of Yizkor books, to preserve them and to make them available to the public. JewishGen keeps a list of libraries with Yizkor Book collections, and lets you search for specific towns and see which libraries hold their Yizkor Books. I don’t know if any library has every Yizkor book published, although it’s a good bet that Yad Vashem (which lists 1040 Yizkor Books in their collection) is about as comprehensive a collection as you will find. I suspect the publishers of these books all donated copies to Yad Vashem to insure there was at least one copy available there.

In the US, one of the largest collections of Yizkor Books is at the NY Public Library, in their Dorot Jewish Division. The library has over 750 Yizkor Books available for viewing, but more interestingly for those who do not live in NY (or even for those who do), is that they have digitized some 650 of those books and made them available for viewing online. On the web site you can choose a book and browse through the pages of each book, but they are not searchable. Keep in mind most of these books are in either Hebrew (if published in Israel) or Yiddish (if published in the US). Some of the books have small English sections, but usually the majority of the books are in either Hebrew or Yiddish.

Some of the Yizkor books can be searched via the GenealogyIndexer.org web site, which indexes many books and makes them searchable online, including directories and Yizkor Books. Keep in mind that this search is based on computer software which tries to automatically transcribe each page, so it is not perfect, and although it indexes Hebrew and Yiddish, you will need to search in Hebrew or Yiddish to find those words in the index. If you’re searching for a last name, you can search in both English and Hebrew, for example, by including both the name in Hebrew and English and eparating them with the Boolean OR, for example:

Traurig OR טראוריג

Keep in mind that even if you know the spelling of a name in Hebrew, it may have been different in Yiddish.

In addition to the NYPL and GenealogyIndexer.org, JewishGen has an ongoing project to transcribe (English sections) and translate all (non-English sections) of Yizkor Books and place the text online. In addition, as books are transcribed and translated, all the names listed in the books are added to their Necrology Database which is searchable on their web site. Keep in mind that not all books have been fully translated, so even if your relative is mentioned in one of the books on their site, their name may not yet show up in the database. You can see which parts of each book have been translated so far, and which are still let to be translated. If you have a lot of family from a particular town that has a Yizkor Book, you might consider donating to the translation expenses for that Yizkor Book to help get it translated faster.

Lastly, I should mention that although many of the books are hard to find, it is possible to buy many of these books, either in used book stores or as reprints. Some specialist booksellers like Dan Wyman Books in Brooklyn, NY, Broder Books in Waterbury, CT, Henry Hollander Books in San Francisco, CA and Book Gallery in Jerusalem carry Yizkor Books, or can help you find them. The Yiddish Book Center, in Amherst, MA, which saves Yiddish books of all kinds has, with the help of Steven Spielberg, created on online library of 11,000 scanned Yiddish books, and also offers a specific service that sells reprints of the Yizkor Books in their collection for $48 each.

New versions of MacFamilyTree and FamilyTreeMaker for Mac

In the past couple of days both MacFamilyTree and FamilyTreeMaker for Mac have received updates.

MacFamilyTree was updated to version 6.0.11 which offers some minor web-output related fixes and some localization updates. You can download the update from their website, and for those who bought it via the App Store presumably it will show up there soon.

FamilyTreeMaker for Mac was updated to version 19.2.1.241 (yeah I don’t understand their numbering system either) and fixes ‘numerous stability issues’ and adds support for the GEDCOM 5.5.1 draft among other fixes. I’m surprised about the GEDCOM update, by which I mean I’m surprised FTM for Mac didn’t already support the 5.5.1 draft which was released in 1999 and has some very important updates like support for Unicode. If you have the retail version, this update should pop up when you launch the program or select ‘Check for Updates…’ from the menu. If you have the version from the App Store, again this will probably show up soon.

I own both of these programs, but do not use them very much because of two factors:

1) It’s hard to switch from one genealogy program to another, no matter how well they support GEDCOM.
2) As outdated as the Reunion is, and how much I complain about it, I still like the general user interface of Reunion and how it displays families in the program.

I’ve written previously about trying to switch to FTM for Mac, but I was unsuccessful mainly because of the difficulty of importing all the media files, and my general confusion over the user interface which I find very cluttered. In addition, I find the Internet features, while appealing, to be very slow.

I haven’t given MacFamilyTree its due I suppose, and many people like, but as I received it as part of a software bundle and didn’t actually buy it directly, I guess it hasn’t gotten enough mindshare from me. One day I’ll have to put it through its paces.

GRAMPS 3.2.5 released for Mac, but not ready for primetime

I really like the idea of an open-source genealogy program. The only real open-source genealogy program that runs on the desktop seems to be GRAMPS. GRAMPS stands for Genealogical Research and Analysis Management Program System. Yeah, I’ll stick with GRAMPS. Originally developed for Linux, it now has versions that run on Windows and on the Mac. I’ve tried it in the past but never really gotten it to work. When I saw a new version released today I installed it and tried again.

Unfortunately, I ran into error messages right from the beginning. I suspect this has to do with running the program on a Mac, a platform they claim to support, but which is not supported very well. After I got past the initial error messages (which prompted me to submit a bug report, but the bug reporter feature led to an error as well) I tried to import a GEDCOM, but found that the Import function didn’t do anything.

I suspect GRAMPS run significantly better on Linux, but alas most people don’t use Linux. As with most open-source projects, the development of the project is directed by those developers who choose to do the actual work. In the beginning, all the developers of GRAMPS were on Linux, and the goal was to create a genealogy program for that platform. It is common sense that under such a situation Linux would be the focus. Over the years GRAMPS has added developers who have chosen to make GRAMPS work on other platforms.

In a recent blog post by one of the developers in response to a post in their own forum about a two-year old blog posting on GRAMPS for Windows, the general ideals of this (and many other) open-source project is revealed, that the developers decide what is best, and if you don’t agree then become a developer for the project and then you can’t have an opinion. In this case, the original two-year-old blog posting was recommending a very specific technical route to take, which I would agree if you’re not going to contribute to the development efforts, is probably a silly thing to do. Developers don’t listen to outside suggestions – they listen to inside suggestions, so even if a developer working inside the project made the same exact technical suggestion, it would be better received than from an outsider. Why a developer decided to bring this up two years later, when the technical issues being discussed are very different than they were in 2008, however, is beyond me.

I would agree with the original sentiment of the two-year-old posting, however, that if you are going to port your application to platforms like Windows and Mac, you should be prepared to use the interface tools available natively on that platform. The look of GRAMPS on the Mac, while familiar to a Linux user, is totally foreign to a Mac user. If I was going to make a suggestion to the GRAMPS developers, it would probably be to look at a cross-platform GUI toolkit like wxPython which lets one use native GUI widgets for each platform, so on Windows the buttons are Windows buttons and on the Mac they’re Mac buttons. If they really wanted to support the Mac natively they could look at PyObjC, but that wouldn’t help them for Linux or Windows, so wxPython is probably a better choice. Of course, I’m not a developer, and I am not offering to become one, so my opinion doesn’t really count here.

The hopefully good news here is that in that same developer blog posting, he says the forthcoming 3.3 version has the best support for multiple platforms GRAMPS has ever had. It’s planned to release in March, so I guess we’ll see then how GRAMPS has improved. When GRAMPS 3.3 is released, I expect to try it again, and post the results here.

Anyone reading this using GRAMPS? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

[June 27, 2011 – I’ve posted a follow-up to this post on a newer version of GRAMPS, 3.3.0, which is improved in terms of stability, but is not yet ready to use on a regular basis on the Mac in my opinion.]