Oct 30, 2014

Memorial Plaques Indexing Challenge

The JewishGen Memorial Plaques Database is a database of names and other identifying information, such as years of birth and death and father’s given name, from Jewish synagogues and other institutions that maintain memorial plaques (also known as Yahrzeit plaques) worldwide. 

It acts as a virtual global Yahrzeit database, where records will be permanently housed for researchers and family members to access information on memorial plaques. 

JewishGen launched this database in 2013. 60,000 plaques have been entered into this database, from synagogues (and other institutions) throughout the world, including the USA, Israel, Morocco and Canada. 

During International Jewish Genealogy month, we hope to significantly increase this number by challenging the community of Jewish genealogists worldwide to join in and preserve these important records.

Oct 28, 2014

Finding Your Roots TV

The show, hosted by Henry Gates is having a Jewish episode. You can read about it here:

Gates got lucky in obtaining Russian marriage records that enabled his research team to trace Carol King’s family back to the 18th century.

“It’s always very challenging to trace Eastern European Jewish ancestry because there are so few documents. These are a people who were oppressed for centuries and seen as less than human. Many were illiterate. As a result, very few records of their lives were kept, and very few of those records were saved,” Gates explained.

“Also, they lived in a region marked by shifting borders and countless wars, which made written records even harder to trace. A few townships actually have excellent records, but not many. And the tragedy of the Holocaust erased even more evidence of their lives.”

Such revelations deeply affect the series’ participants, Gates consistently finds. “They’ll call me or email me weeks later and tell me that they’re still thinking about what they learned, or that they want to know more. They are very proud of what their ancestors accomplished, even if their accomplishment was just to survive. And they are very grateful that their ancestors made sacrifices that laid the groundwork for their own success.”

“Carole King remembered her grandmother as a tight-lipped, severe woman — someone she had never felt close to as a child. When she learned that her grandmother lived through a vicious pogrom that killed over 30 Jews in her hometown, she felt like she understood her better. It meant a lot to her.”

King, born Carol Joan Klein in Brooklyn, also learns that her paternal grandparents had eloped and arrived at Ellis Island illiterate and with $2 between them. With no means of support, they were detained and would have been denied entry had a cousin, Sam Kline, not vouched for them.

Earlier this season, former WNBA basketball star Rebecca Lobo learned via DNA analysis that she has more than 10 percent Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry from one of her great-grandparents (it couldn’t be established which one). Actress Gloria Reuben got confirmation that her Jamaica-born father, who died when she was a child, was Jewish: His forebears had fled the Spanish Inquisition and its persecution of Jews."

In the Nov. 25 finale episode, which focuses on DNA, actress Jessica Alba is surprised to discover that she has Sephardic Jewish ancestry on her father’s side. “I don’t think she’d ever even considered the possibility before that she had Jewish ancestors,” Gates confirmed.

He has already lined up such celebrities as Jamie Foxx, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jimmy Kimmel and Gloria Steinem for season three.

Complicated genealogy research can easily cost $50,000, depending on the availability of records and the amount of original research required, he noted. “But we’ve done people for a lot less.”

Gates suggests that people who want to investigate their own roots start with Ancestry.com, which sponsors the series, by searching for their grandparents’ names.

For Jewish genealogy, he said a good starting point is a website called JRIPoland.org.

Oct 24, 2014

Free Breast Screening For Ashkenazi Women

At Women's College Hospital in Toronto.

From 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Oct. 30 at WCH’s main lobby at 76 Grenville St.

Open to all Ashkenazi Jewish women, from across the province, between 20 and 70 years of age.

Dr. Narod’s research team will be handing out about 150 study kits and speaking with women interested in participating.

To participate, women will be required to submit a saliva sample and complete study questionnaires (which are included in the study kits that will be provided to women).

Also, study participants must be Ontario residents who have never undergone screening for BRCA1/2 mutations.

Within a year of submitting a sample, participants will be notified of their results. If a woman’s results are positive for a BRCA1/2 mutation, the researchers will contact her to arrange a genetic counselling appointment to review individualized cancer risks and management options will be arranged.

“Ultimately, we would like to identify women with a genetic predisposition to developing cancer who might otherwise not come to the attention of the medical community. If detected early, these women can benefit from preventative care and screening,” said Dr. Narod, director of the Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit at Women's College Research Institute.


Oct 8, 2014

Can You Inherit Trauma From Your Ancestors?

Pick had no idea her father’s family was actually Jewish and had been keeping it a secret for generations. The author, 39, grew up going to Church with her parents and sister and did not discover until she was a teenager that her ostensibly Christian grandparents were Czech-Jewish Holocaust survivors who had hidden their background from everyone — including their own son, Pick’s father.

Some who have read “Between Gods” dismiss as far-fetched the notion that Holocaust trauma can be genetically passed down to subsequent generations but this is a phenomenon has been well documented among second and third generation families by psychologist Eva Fogelman and author Thane Rosenbaum, among others.

Now, the behavioral epigenetics is proving the scientific basis for the anecdotal evidence and case studies. Molecular biologist and geneticist Moshe Szyf and neurobiologist Michael Meaney, both at McGill University in Montreal, have conducted research on rats showing that traumatic experiences in our past, or in our ancestors past leave molecular scars that adhere to our DNA. The changes are not caused directly to our DNA in the way of mutations, but rather to the expression of our DNA.

Genealogy in Toronto Election

When intoxicated, Mayor Rob Ford made an uncouth remark and everything he does is captured on video. So, to ward off claims of anti-semitism, Doug Ford claimed that his wife is Jewish and some enterprising people traced her heritage.