Category Archives: Resources

Newly searchable newspapers in Belgium

The Royal Library of Belgium has scanned and indexed ten historical newspapers from Belgium, and set up a search interface for them called BelgicaPress.
flemish-newspaper-1918
The newspapers currently include:
  • Courrier De L’Escaut (Le)
  • Echo De La Presse (L’)
  • Gazet Van Brussel Handelsblad (Het)
  • Indépendance Belge (L’)
  • Indépendance Belge (L’) (Edité en Angleterre)
  • Messager De Gand (Le)
  • Nieuwe Gids (De)
  • Nieuwe Standaard (De)
  • Nieuws Van Den Dag (Het)
While I don’t have a breakdown of the ranges of each paper, the database of all the papers together ranges from 1831 until 1950 – with a big caveat. While you will get search results for all matches in the database online, all results from 1919 until 1950 are only viewable from within the Library itself, due to copyright issues.

That caveat means the database is almost useless for me (at least online), since although I had a lot of family in Belgium, almost all of it arrived there in the 1920s.

That said, if you have a fairly unique surname (that isn’t translatable into Flemish or French), and you get many results from the 1919-1950 period, you might at least know its worth checking into and ask someone in Belgium to do a search in the library for you.

Of course, there are other things that would be interesting to search besides family names. You could search for your ancestral town name, and see if other people from your town are mentioned in the newspapers. you could also search for information on the Jewish communities there, by using search terms like Jew or Jewish (Jood and Joodse in Flemish, Juif in French). If there were major news items concerning the Jewish communities in other countries (such as pogroms) it’s possible those might also show up.

One final note. The site is, as would be expected in Belgium, is available to use in Flemish (NL) and French (FR). I discovered, however, that secretly it also works in English. While there’s no link from the Flemish or French versions of the site to the English version, use the link above and it will indeed go to an English version of the site. Sometimes it might forget you’re using it in English, and not everything is translated, but it’s not bad. It was definitely developed to work in English, even if they haven’t active that yet on the site. I wouldn’t be surprised if they make the English version available one day directly from their main site, but until then, the above link works.

If you find yourself on a page that is in Flemish or French and want to see if it’s in English, look at the URL in the address field at the top of your browser and see if it says “lang=FR” or “lang=NL” in the string. If so, just replace the FR or NL with EN and hit return.

Free access to 23andMe – if you have Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease

While researching my previous post about MyHeritage’s new integration with 23andMe, I came across a new study being done by 23andMe on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBD) and its related diseases – Ulcerative Colitis and  Crohn’s Disease (two very common diseases, particularly among Ashkenazi Jews). The study is being sponsored by drug company Pfizer, and it seeking 10,000 participants.

23andMe-IBDStudy

To join the study you must have been diagnosed with either UC or Crohn’s by a doctor, live in the US, have access to the Internet, and be at least six years old (from 6 to 17 you must have parental consent). If you qualify, they send you a saliva collection kit with a return envelope, and you must send back a saliva sample and fill out some online surveys related to your condition.

There’s actually one more qualification for the study, or rather a disqualification – if you are already a customer of 23andMe, you cannot participate in this study. If you are already a customer you can fill out some surveys, but it’s not clear if your DNA data will be included in the study.

Interestingly, both Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease are significantly more common among Ashkenazi Jews than the general population. This probably means that Jewish participants in this study will outnumber their percentage of the general population. It also might mean that if you have the genetic markers that predispose you to these diseases, joining this study might connect you to a large number of potential relatives, since the group is self-selecting, and if the genetic markers are familial, then you’re more likely to find genetic relatives than on average when there are 10,000 other people with the same condition as you.

So what do you get for joining the study, besides knowledge that you are helping further scientific research that might one day benefit you personally?

Well, for one you get lifetime access to 23andMe’s Personal Genome Service. For the moment that only deals with genetic genealogy, not the health information that 23andMe previously offered (and still offers to customers who signed up before the ban), but that might return in the future. However, if you’re reading this post, chances are you are interested in genealogy, and if you have one of the very common diseases they are researching, and have not yet signed up for 23andMe, this will save you a $99 sign up fee for their service.

The only thing different about the account on 23andMe you receive compared to a regular 23andMe customer who would sign up at the same time, is that it seems you cannot participate in the customer forums. The other difference is of course that you know your DNA is being contributed to a specific study on a disease you have.

So if you have Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease, and have not yet signed up for 23andMe, this is a good opportunity to further science and to get access to 23andMe for free. Go check out the 23andMe IBD Study page for further information.

Historical Maps of the Hapsburg Empire

Recently I came across an interesting web site, called Mapire, which displays historical maps of the Hapsburg Empire. The maps currently correspond to three military surveys carried out in the time periods 1763-1787, 1806-1869, and 1869-1887. These periods cover different geopolitical periods, when the areas under control were variously called the Hapsburg Empire, the Austrian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The military maps were created at a scale of 1:28,800. What’s really neat about the maps on Mapire, is that they are all synced to current digital maps, so when you zoom in on one of the military maps, it shows on the left side of the window, while the current digital map is shown on the right. An example, for the town of Kańczuga:

Map of Kańczuga from the Second Military Survey (1806-1869)
Map of Kańczuga from the Second Military Survey (1806-1869)

Cadastral Maps, another kind of state-created map, were created at a scale of 1:2,880, or ten times the resolution. This site does not yet have Cadastral Maps, although some Cadastral Maps for the Galicia region can be found in the Gesher Galicia Map Room.