Tag Archives: jewish

New Memorial Plaque Database

In the the run up to next week’s IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Boston, expect various groups to be releasing new databases to help Jewish genealogists. One new database that was just released is JewishGen’s Memorial Plaque Database. Organized by Nolan Altman, the database is an attempt to gather all the information on memorial plaques found in synagogues and other Jewish institutions. Many synagogues plague a plaque on their wall for each member who dies, to record their yahrzeit date (the day a family member says kaddish for them). These plaques contain very important information for Jewish genealogists, including the person’s name (in the US usually in English and Hebrew), and in most cases the name of the father of the deceased (at least in Hebrew).

When synagogues close, these plaques with their unique information are frequently thrown out, although sometimes are put up in other synagogues or institutes. Collecting the information from these plaques now is a great effort, and something whose time has come. There has been discussion for years about collecting this information from various people involved in Jewish genealogy, so kudos to JewishGen for taking up the gauntlet and getting the project started.

Section of a memorial wall from Lowell, MA

For the launch of the database, there are nearly 30,000 names listed. These come from the US, Israel and Canada. About half of the names collected so far come from the Boston area, whose local Jewish genealogy group made an effort to collect the names in the run up to the conference, and collected 16,000 names from 30 different institutions.

If you’re interested in photographing and indexing the memorial plaques in your local synagogue, you can do so and contribute the data to this effort. Synagogues who want to contribute this information to the database can add information about their synagogue to the memorial plaque web site, in order to get traffic from those people searching for family members.

My only concern with the database right now is that the images they provide are not big enough to read the information directly from the photographs. Many times relatives are grouped together in these memorial walls, and it would be useful to see the images in higher resolution so one could read all the plaques and see who is located nearby on the wall. Hopefully this can be remedied in the future.

For more information, go to the web site, or contact the project coordinator, Nolan Altman.

Jewish names, red herrings, and name changes

The study of one’s family history includes a large amount of dealing with names. Surnames. Given names. Maiden names. Married names. Nicknames. Name changes. While many of the articles I’ve written in the 2+ years of this blog have dealt with names in some fashion, here’s a look at the articles that focused specifically on them:
January 9, 2011
A look at the introduction of surnames in the Jewish community two centuries ago in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the government bureaucracy which forced many Jews to take the names of their mothers instead of their fathers, forever confusing their descendants researching their family history. A look at a specific case in my own family where birth certificates show the truth of what happened.
May 10, 2011
A look at names changes in NYC and the reasons behind them, as well as the myth and history of name changes at Ellis Island (or in my family’s case, Castle Garden). A look at a very interesting book documenting names changes in New York, and a interesting story of a family that lived and had children under the wrong name for years, before changing it later.
May 17, 2011
This article is a brief look at two common historic Jewish naming patterns, and how they intersect. The first naming pattern is the use of animal names from Hebrew and/or Yiddish. The second pattern is giving two related names to a child.
This article also looks at the historical role of the shem kodesh (Jewish religious name) and the kinui (secular name) among Jews.
June 17, 2011
A look at how given names of the same person can change over time, particularly if they moved between countries. This article has a great table of Jewish given names that shows the names in English, Hebrew, Transliterated Hebrew (i.e. Hebrew in Latin letters), Tranliterated Yiddish, and Polish.
This article also lists and reviews a number of important books on Jewish given names, and provides information on the Given Names Data Bases (GNDBs) at JewishGen.
March 21, 2013
Plane crashes, bigamy and global law firms – this article has it all! Seriously though, this article takes a look at how sometimes you can spend years pursuing a lead that turns out to have been a typo. Examples include a newspaper article that detailed a plane crash in Guatemala, a Rhode Island state census that shows a man with the same name, birth year and birth country as my gg-grandfather who is married to a different woman, and a global law firm that somehow seems to spell their own name wrong on occasion. In all three examples, a family whose name was Traurig was erroneously printed or displayed as the much more rare name Trauring, leading to endless pursuits of families that it turned out were not related at all.
April 15, 2013
Whereas the above article looked at three cases where a family named Traurig was erroneously listed as Trauring, this article looks at four families whose surnames started out as Traurig, but actually changed their names to four different surnames – Trauring (two families), Vesely and Smutny (one family), and Al Yagon (one family).
The article looks at families that started out with the name Traurig, and changed their names in Poland, in Australia, and in Israel.
I hope you like these articles. Let me know what you think. Is there anything else you’d be interested to hear about Jewish name, or names in general, let me know and I’ll see about adding a new article to this list in the future.

What does New Zealand have against Justice?
May 2, 2013

A somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at the different rules that some countries have restricting what parents can name their children, with a special look at the most-rejected name in New Zealand: Justice (which happens to have been the 512th most popular male name, and 529th most popular girls name, in the US in 2011).

Popularity of girls names in the US
June 6, 2013 (on lexigenealogy.com)

What girls names have been the most popular in the past century? What makes a name popular? What causes an old name to come into fashion again? Where did the name Aaliya come from? Layla? Why did Savannah come back after 50 years off the most popular name list?

Racism and Commonality as Reasons for Name Changes
June 9, 2013

A look at the reasons given for changing names in New York City, as recorded in a book that transcribed name change petitions filed between 1848 and 1899. On two ends of the spectrum, some people changed their names because they were too common, and some changed them because they were too ethnic (specifically too Jewish). A focused look at the most commonly changed names in the book – Smith, Levy and Cohen.

International Jewish Genealogy Conference in Boston

Once a year the the IAJGS partners with a local Jewish genealogy society to have the International Jewish Genealogy Conference. Last year it was in Paris. The year before it was in Washington, DC (where I spoke about Utilizing Belgian Archives for Jewish Research). This year, in partnership with the JGS of Greater Boston, it will be in my hometown, Boston.

The conference is taking place at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, and will be from August 4-9. This is same place that the conference was held the last time the conference was held in Boston back in 1996. The hotel is in an amazing location for those who have never been to Boston. There are tons of things to do and see within walking distance of the hotel, from the historic district in Boston (Freedom Trail), to the first public park in America (Boston Common), to the shopping district (Newbury Street).
There is a special conference rate at the hotel, available for up to two weeks before the conference in case you want to show up early and tour. To get the conference rate, you can book through the conference web site, until July 11.
For those who have never been to the annual conference before, IAJGS has put together a video on what you can expect:

If you’ve never been to one of the annual conferences, I highly recommend it. You’re sure to learn a lot, meet lots of people, and make connections with people and groups that are researching the same places and families you are researching.

Registration is now open, with an early registration discount available through April 30, 2013. One other date worth mentioning is that all additions to the conference Family Finder must be submitted by July 1, 2013. The Family Finder is a directory of family names and ancestral towns that are being researched by attendees at the conference. The top five names and towns can be displayed on your conference badge, and up to eight names will be put into the Family Finder book that is distributed at the conference.