Digitize and Save Your Research – summary of JGS Toronto workshop from Feb 2019

The following documents / handouts are available from the workshop. A full summary of what was presented is below.

The workshop was held on Sunday, Feb 23 at Darchei Noam. Neil Richler spoke about and demonstrated how to set up an electronic filing system and then went through online research examples. These includes searching for passenger lists on ancestry.ca and the Ellis Island websites and finding vital records on JRI-Poland. Henry Wellisch spoke about how to do Holocaust research. Les Kelman spoke about how to find the real family name back in Europe.

When setting up an online system, it’s common to make comparisons to storing the equivalent data on paper. A recent article written by Dick Eastman, https://blog.eogn.com/2019/02/21/preserving-documents-digitally-versus-on-paper-alone/ was a good starting point for the workshop. Many people say that digital storage methods are dangerous and will not last for a long time. This is a fallacy as with proper maintenance and storage of the data, it can theoretically last forever. This includes keeping multiple copies and being prepared to transfer to new types of storage media and possibly converting the data to different formats. There was talk about some cloud-based storage services such as Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive. A good part of the talk was about folder structures such that it becomes easier to find data that was stored. This includes folders by country and subfolders for different categories such as census records by year.

An example of searching for an ancestor on a passenger list was run through on ancestry.ca. The search process showed how you often have to try different spellings of a name and to use the ‘sounds like’ option as transcription of names is not always consistent. In fact, often times you need to search by only a last name and then to review the results. Tying back into the first part of the talk, the process for saving the resulting passenger list in a cloud service was shown, including naming the files in such a way that that can be searched and found in the future. In addition to saving the actual passenger list, saving the source information is important in order to effectively cite your sources.

The same search process was shown for Ellis Island records. One difference on this site was that it is not possible to save the images as easily as in ancestry.ca. Utilizing screen capture tools and copy/paste into a Word processor allows for saving the records in a digital filing system.

The final piece of online searching was with JRI-Poland. First there was a review of the JewishGen Communities https://www.jewishgen.org/Communities/ in order to learn more about the shtetl before diving into the records search. One point worth making is that genealogists need to do research not only with the old name of a town but also the current name of a town/shtetl and the province it is in. The search process for JRI-Poland was shown, including narrowing down by location and then viewing and saving the image and source detail for the birth record.

For Holocaust research, Henry talked about several sites that help you to find details about victims and survivors of the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem is a major repository for names and biographical details of millions of victims. Pages of Testimony are still being filled out today and the collection, going back over 60 years, is searchable on the site.

The International Tracing Service has been performing research since the end of WWII and has helped with tracking down survivors.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has become a major resource for both learning about the Holocaust and tracking down information about victims and survivors. The Museum also houses many artifacts related to the Holocaust. Henry told us about his personal connection to the museum. He had suitcases that his parents had used when escaping from Europe. When the Museum approached him about donating these suitcases, he did so and now they are searchable and can be seen through the website.

The JewishGen Holocaust Database is an amalgamated search across 2.75 million records in several databases. These include lists of victims from different sources such as concentration camps and ghettos.

The New York Public Library has a large collection of Yizkor books. Many of these have been digitized and are viewable through the website. Henry also pointed out the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto has a large collection.

Les talked about finding a family name as it was in Europe. This is to answer the question of what if there is no trace of the family by the known name prior to their arrival in North America?  Les gave two case studies and talked about four possible techniques:

  1. First name search on JewishGen
  2. Headstones on graves
  3. Naturalization records
  4. Who did my family marry?

Les went through each of the techniques that he used and talked about the effectiveness of each. He found that tracking marriages was often most effective in determining family names in their original form. Naturalization records were effective about half the time with gravestones being somewhat less effective. First names on JewishGen provided results about 30% of the time. His advice was to never give up and to continue trying creative variations.

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