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The topic of longevity resonates with me – perhaps because I am lucky enough to have many long-lived people in my family.

Eugenia (aka Gitel) Peckler gravestone textOn my mom’s side, although her mother died young as a consequence of childhood rheumatic fever having damaged her heart, her grandmother lived a long-full life. Great-grandma Eugenia was the oldest resident of the Jewish Home for the Aged in Chicago when she died. According to her tombstone, she was 97 years old. But other documents indicate she may have been as old as 108 when she died. Unfortunately, birth registers for Tiraspol do not seem to have survived the vicissitudes of history, so I will never know for sure when Eugenia was born.


On my dad’s side there are two centenarians. My great-aunt Bea lived to be 101. Unfortunately she died frail and demented. Bea’s sister, my great-aunt Sadelle, was a preemie when she was born in the winter of 1900, and was one of the first babies to be transported home in the newly-invented traveling incubator invented by Dr. Joseph Bolivar deLee. Sdelle was still dyeing her hair bright red and playing Rachmaninoff and popular tunes from her youth on the piano at age 103, died at 105. That’s the kind of life I hope to live in however many decades I have left.


Yogan's Children, circa 1910. Photographer: G. S. Zeilikovich, Tiraspol, Russian Empire.

Yogan’s Children, circa 1910. Photographer: G. S. Zeilikovich, Tiraspol, Russian Empire.

My 2nd cousin Margie Goodman, who was born in 1917, sent me this photo when I first started my genealogy research. We were talking on the phone when she mentioned that she had family photographs that dated back many years – so many that she kept them in black garbage bags [shudder!]. She said she had a handful that had Russian on them. I speak and translate Russian, so I sweet-talked her into sending those to me, promising to translate the writing, and to get them copied by a professional photographer, after which I would return the originals to her. Our local genealogy society brought in a photographer to copy old family pictures, and I got negatives and prints of these gems. I was packing up the originals to send them back to Chicago when my mother notified me that Margie had died. So the originals remain in my possession, duly-digitized at high resolution, and carefully stored in archival quality sleeves.

This picture was taken by G. S. Zeilikovich of Tiraspol, a town that was then in the Russian Empire, but is now in Transnistria, the breakaway Republic surrounded by the country of Moldova. My paternal great-grandmother was a Zeilikovich, so I suspect the photographer was related to her. He may even be the uncle that my grandfather, Jacob Kishinevsky, apprenticed with before he immigrated to Chicago and became a professional photographer.

Neither Margie nor I know who these young people are. The girl has a cloud of dark hair, like I did in my youth – so it resonates with me. She is wearing what is probably a school uniform – the dress perhaps brown, the apron perhaps black, as my grandmother on the other side of the family described the school uniform she wore in the early 1900s in another part of the Russian Empire.

The young man is wearing what is either a school uniform or a military uniform – I vote for school because it lacks any military insignia. He is turned 1/4 away from the camera, and his right leg is propped on an invisible support, hidden behind the girl’s skirts. He has the same deep-set eyes, forehead height, and deep indentation below the mouth as the girl – perhaps they are brother and sister. And, indeed, on the reverse side of the original photograph is written “Yogan’s children.” I have no idea who Yogan was. But I like to think that Yogan is also related to me, and that is why they ended up in the possession of a distant cousin in a distant land.

This project, 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, starts just as I am determined to revitalize my blog, which has been languishing for a long time. I have so much material about my personal research that I want to share more often than my once-a-year genealogy newsletter that I send out with my holiday cards.

This week’s theme is Start. Amy Johnson Crow suggested telling the story of how one started doing genealogy…

I’m the last person in my family I would have thought would embrace genealogy. My sister Laurie was the sibling who always knew the names of relatives that we would only see at family funerals, since we lived in New York, and my parents’ families lived in Chicago. She knew which woman was whose mother, and how everyone was related to us. I was usually in a corner with my nose in a book while she socialized.

Studio portrait of Sophie Klebanskaya taken about 1909 in Slonim, her hometown, when she was about 14.

Studio portrait of Sophie Klebanskaya taken about 1909 in Slonim, her hometown, when she was about 14.

But in 1989, it suddenly occurred to me that my grandma Sophie was getting to be really old – she was 94. And I asked her if she would be willing to talk to me about her life. So at my next visit to her retirement home, I set up a cassette recorder and started asking questions about what interested me.

During the course of that talk, Grandma mentioned having a photo album with pictures of her childhood. My husband and I had one of those early, monstrously heavy, video recorders and I asked if I could come for another visit and record her talking about the pictures in the album. She didn’t want to be on camera herself, but she agreed to me recording the pictures as she described who was in them.

And I was hooked…

Rollins_Jane IAJGS 2016 Russ talk2The IAJGS program committee originally scheduled me to teach this workshop last Sunday, August 7 from 3 to 4:15 pm. On the Tuesday before the conference, I was told the talk had to be rescheduled for an earlier time slot: 1:45-3:00  — they needed the large room I was supposed to be in for another event. I was concerned about how to notify people about the change, but was told not to worry.

Of course, when I got to the conference, I saw that the program planner that lists each session with its time slot and location still had the original schedule because it was printed so far in advance. I was told that the app showed everything accurately. I said that not everyone was likely to use the app. So a conference committee member posted an update to the app, I posted a notice on the IAJGS conference blog, and someone made a sign to put outside the new room that the class time and place had been moved.And more than two dozen people who had the app, found the right room at the right time, and I gave the talk to an enthusiastic and engaged audience.

Unfortunately, no one put  a sign on the door of the original room, so when people arrived for the class they thought started at 3, no one was there, and no sign said what had happened. And those people complained — loudly.

So I was asked if I would give the talk again, and I agreed. No hotel room could be found to give it in — so we set  up my laptop and a quickly rented projector in the back corner of the exhibitors’ hall. And I gave the talk to another two dozen people, including Steve Morse, whose head you can see from the back in the front row.



Brooke Schreier Ganz, IAJGS 2016

Brooke Schreier Ganz, IAJGS 2016

There are not many individuals who have taken on powerful bureaucracies and won.  Brooke Schreier Ganz is one of them. She has demanded open access to genealogically relevant documents that should have been publicly accessible from agencies of both the State of New York and the State of New Jersey.  Those agencies deliberately put obstacles in her way to prevent the release of said documents. So Brooke taught herself the ins and outs of the Freedom of Information Laws relevant to state-level documents, and sued the pants off them. And won!  As a result, genealogists now have access to the Index to New York City Marriage Applications, Affidavits, and Licenses, 1908-1929. They are at the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/nycmarriageindex

She is the Don Quixote of documents; no, the Robin Hood of records. She is, in fact, one bad-ass genealogist, and I am grateful to her.

I’ve been in Seattle at the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies annual conference since Saturday. The sessions — as always — are informative and thought-provoking. Connecting with fellow genealogists is always the best part — laughing in the halls or sharing family history stories over coffee or a meal. My cousin Diane attended the session I gave yesterday, “Learn Just Enough Russian for Genealogy,” along with about two dozen others. All my students laughed at the spots I hoped they would and many were engaged enough to ask questions afterwards. I would happily add a picture to this post, except that the hotel internet connection has been sporadic, and although I am finally connected, none of the photos I took with my phone will transfer via Dropbox or email.

Source: Southern California Genealogical Society

Source: Southern California Genealogical Society

Sunday, June 7

My friend Pamela Weisberger gave a fascinating talk called “Cartography for Genealogists.” The most fascinating aspect of this talk was the discussion of cadastral maps, large-format, town-level maps that show the names of property owners at each address. These types of maps exist for the Austro Hungarian Empire and other locations (I recently saw one for Southern France). When vital records for a town no longer exist (as is the case for many Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, where my roots are), these types of maps can act as a census substitute.

After Pam’s talk I hurried to change into my “Dress as Your Favorite Ancestor” costume, so I could appear as my grand-aunt, Manya Klebanskaya. (A big thank you to Jean Hibben, who made a wonderful lady’s maid when I needed someone to pin a brooch on my shirtwaist). I had spent weeks trying to duplicate a photo of Manya taken in 1910. I doctored some existing wardrobe items, and used my millinery skills (that date back to junior high) to trim a chapeau so that it looked authentic to the period. There were about twelve contestants, and I did not win. My friend Linda Harms Okazaki was a knockout in a gold lamé flapper dress, and her winsome imitation of her flirtatious grandmother made her the audience favorite.

Source: Linda Harms Okazaki

Source: Linda Harms Okazaki

After the contest, I headed for another of Pamela Weisberger’s talks, “Jewish Geography/Jewish Genealogy.” Anyone who is just starting out researching Jewish roots would benefit from buying the DVD of this session, which was a concentrated introduction to the processes and record sets that are important for newbies to the field.


A shout-out to all the organizers and volunteers who make the Genealogy Jamboree possible. I have been attending every year for the better part of 20 years (since it was small enough to fit in half of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium), and it continues to offer opportunities for learning, research, networking, and making friends for the most reasonable price imaginable.


Saturday, June 6

Source: Southern California Genealogical Society

Source: Southern California Genealogical Society

In “Epidemics and Pandemics,” Craig Scott covered basic public health terminology to give attendees background enough to distinguish between normal disease occurrences and epidemics. He also described a dozen different conditions that we don’t see often in the United States today, but that were routinely experienced in earlier generations.

Paula Stewart-Warren described record sets pertaining to people who were poor enough to receive services from faith-based or government poorhouses/poor farms, children’s homes, and orphanages. Examples she gave ranged from Florida to New England, Arkansas to Wisconsin, and beyond. Although I have worked with orphanage records, I was not familiar with most of those mentioned, and now have some new paths to trace.

Another intriguing talk was “Civil War Matrons, Nurses, Laundresses, and Cooks.” Many women took part in the Civil War in a civilian capacity, and Angela Walton-Raji described the documents that confirms that service. These stories are not often told, and they need to be.

I am a DNA cousin (who isn’t?) of AJ Jacobs, who held the World’s Largest Family Reunion in New York on June 6. An enthusiastic crowd of AJ’s cousins celebrated virtually in the Burbank Marriott Convention Center lobby by singing “We Are Family” along with Sister Sledge, who were streamed onto a large screen. Beach balls were flying among the dancers and singers. Check out the video! https://www.facebook.com/SouthernCaliforniaGenealogyJamboree?fref=nf.

I also attended “Sprocket to Me,” which was given by Rhonda Vigeant. It was not listed as a sponsored lecture, but it was basically an exercise in self-promotion interspersed with some cute family home movies digitized so that people today could see and appreciate them after they gathered dust for 50 years.

How does Michael Lacapo pronounce his name? Inquiring minds want to know. It’s Lah’-kuh-po. His after-dinner speech at the SCGS banquet drew tears and cheers, as he tracked down his biological father and mother using DNA and traditional, shoe-leather genealogical techniques.


Source: Southern California Genealogical Society

Source: Southern California Genealogical Society

Friday, June 5

Friday morning found me at one of the giant tents pitched out in the parking lot for a talk given by my friend Thomas MacEntee — “Creating a Community Indexing Project.” I had signed up to be the door monitor, making sure that everybody trying to come in had registered, ensuring that everyone filled out an evaluation form, and shushing attendees who were loitering with the previous speaker taking selfies. While monitoring, I heard Thomas talk about managing an indexing project. I have worked on community-based projects as worker bee, but it was informative to hear about what happens on the organizer’s side of the fence.

That afternoon, I headed for an enticing title: “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: The Emotional Side of DNA Testing” by Bernice Bennett.  As someone who has been involved in DNA testing since 2004, I had dealt with some of the emotional overtones that Bernice mentioned. But the most meaningful outcome of this talk for me was discovering a fellow genealogy researcher and lecturer with a similar background to mine. Like me, Ms. Bennett has a degree in public health, has been immersed in the impact of emotional and mental health issues, and speaks Russian (she spent 10 years building sister-city relationships between US hospitals and their counterparts in the former Soviet Union; I majored in Russian in college). We spent a good 20 minutes sharing our life stories, and I treasure the opportunity to build a professional relationship with her.

I attended two sessions by Craig Scott on Friday, with time out for volunteering with APG. I had heard Scott before, and the combination of his deep knowledge of record sets at NARA and his wry wit make him riveting. His first talk was “Civil War medical research.” My own family had no one involved in the Civil War, but I recently started working with a client who has deep roots in Virginia, and I am just getting back in time to the Civil War period.

Scott’s second session was “Researching a World War I Ancestor.” My cousin, Bernard Sicoff, was supposedly an aerial photographer in World War I — back when airplanes were seemingly made of balsa wood and chewing gum — but I have been unable to document the family story so far. Scott recommended Gorrell’s History of the American Expeditionary Force Air Service 1917-19, which has been microfilmed and is also available, in its entirety, on Fold3. I get the feeling that one of my brick walls is about to crumble.

Friday ended with dinner at the hotel restaurant with friends old (Linda Harms Okazaki) and new. Conversation flowed easily and the food was delicious. A wonderful way to end a full Jamboree day.


Throughout the Jamboree, I volunteered to provide one-on-one research assistance (along with other members of the Association of Professional Genealogists) to attendees. For some sessions, I signed up in advance, but I think I had the most fun when I just dropped in to help when my poor overworked brain couldn’t absorb one more thing from a lecture. I helped people with questions about World War I service in the Coast Artillery, resources in Chicago and Oklahoma, and how to confirm whether a cigar-making ancestor who lived in New York and Philadelphia may or may not have been a rabbi.

I also helped my friend Ted Gostin by baby-sitting his Generations Press exhibit booth while he gave three (count them, three) talks. I enjoyed the chance to interact with visitors to the Exhibit Hall and with exhibitors at adjacent booths. It reminded me of the times I tried to catch the attention of attendees at Comdex, the monster trade show for the computer industry, while I was a marketing manager for a software company 20 years ago.

DNA Day – June 4

Source: freedigitalphotos.net/jscreationzs

Source: freedigitalphotos.net/jscreationzs


This is the third year that the Southern California Genealogical Society (of which I am a proud member) sponsored DNA Day. These sessions attract genealogists who are just starting to have their DNA tested, to veterans like me who first had relatives test over a decade ago. I have a good grasp of the basic science, and even give a lecture about the delights and disappointments of DNA, but even I learn something new at every DNA Day.

For my first session, I chose Diahan Southard’s talk, “Organizing Your DNA Matches,” because I administer almost a dozen sets of DNA results, and I wanted tips to keep track of them better. The first advice that I am going to implement is to set up a separate email address just for DNA correspondence (As it is, some of my correspondence is on my Hotmail account, some on a Gmail account, and some on an old Yahoo account that I hardly ever check). Then I shall follow Diane’s suggestions for using Gmail’s contact feature to capture info that is relevant to DNA. If I need more than that, I’ll set up an Excel spreadsheet with the column headings that she recommends.

Next I attended the session entitled “X Chromosome for Genealogists” by Kathy Johnston. Johnston pointed out that, genetically speaking, we are a patchwork quilt of all of our ancestors. She gave us the scientific background we needed to understand how analyzing the X chromosome can help genealogists, and then presented case studies, including one about identifying biological parents for adoptees.

Kitty Cooper described a DNA comparison process known as triangulation. I had learned the basics of the process by analyzing my own DNA matches based on what I learned from previous lecturers at DNA Day. But this lecture went several levels deeper, and I can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned.

I have two adult children who have expressed no interest in genealogy. But the lecture by Blaine Bettinger at his talk “DNA and Pop Culture: Using Harry Potter and Star Wars to Teach DNA” may change that. Blaine showed descendancy charts for the fictional characters in movies (Star Wars”), television (“Game of Thrones”) and books (“Harry Potter”) as a way of enticing younger folk into developing an interest in genealogy. I know my kids love HP, and my husband and daughter have watched “Game of Thrones,” so I will definitely try Blaine’s suggestions.


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