OneGreatFamily Blog

  • Internet Resources in Jewish Genealogy: Avotaynu and JewishGen

    Avotaynu is an organization that was founded in 1985 by two eminent researchers in the field of Jewish genealogy, Gary Mokotoff and Sallyann Amdur Sack. Avotaynu means "our fathers" or "our ancestors" in Hebrew, and the original purpose of the organization was to publish a journal on Jewish genealogical research. AVOTAYNU: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy has been published quarterly since 1985. In 1991, Avotaynu began publishing books as well. Between 1991 and 2003, Avotaynu published 26 books on Jewish genealogical research, including:

    Where Once We Walked, 1991, a gazetteer of 22,000 towns where Jews lived before the Holocaust

    How to Document Victims and Locate Survivors of the Holocaust, 1995

    Index to The German Minority Census of 1939, microfilmed by the Family History Library, 1996

    Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy, 2000

    History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, 2000

    The Avotaynu website ( also hosts the Consolidated Jewish Surname Index at The Consolidated Jewish Surname Index has information on 500,000 different surnames from 34 different databases; it is a consortium allowing you to search multiple databases with one search. One of the best things about the database is that it employs the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex System, a Soundex system designed to accommodate Jewish surnames.

    Another premiere internet resource for Jewish genealogical research is JewishGen at The website started in 1995, and in 2003 it became a division of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York ( Some of the databases on JewishGen include:

    The Family Tree of the Jewish People, a lineage-linked database listing more than 2.5 million ancestors contributed in family trees by more than 2,000 people

    Shtetl Seeker, a database of 500,000 Jewish towns in Central and Eastern Europe (the database can help you track towns even through boundary changes and name changes)

    Aufbau Survivors Lists, a database containing the names of 33,000 Holocaust survivors published in the German-language newspaper Aufbau, New York, 1944-1946

    The Yizkor Book Project, a database that preserves Yizkor books, which were written by groups of Holocaust survivors to honor and preserve the memories of their friends, family members, and neighbors who were killed during the Holocaust.

    There are also discussion groups, burial registries, and message boards hosted on this vast website.

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  • How To "Clean Up" Hints And Merge Data

    Hints are possible matches between your family tree and the family tree submitted by another OneGreatFamily user. By resolving Hints, you have the potential to add new generations to your genealogy

    Overview - Here's how it works: OneGreatFamily is constantly performing searches within the OneGreatFamily tree looking to match the ancestors you have entered with the ancestors entered by others. When a potential match is found, a Hint icon () will appear next to or on the name of the individual in your pedigree (Starfield). One of your key efforts within OneGreatFamily is resolving these Hints.

    First step - Make sure Hints are turned on: To use this valuable tool, start by selecting the "View Hints" icon () on your Genealogy Browser Toolbar. This will display a Gen-bulb () icon on every individual in your pedigree (Starfield) that has a possible match.

    Second step-Open the Edit Individual window: Select an individual with the Gen-bulb
    () icon in your pedigree (Starfield). That will load their information into the handprint on the left side of the screen and a Gen-bulb should now be showing next to his or her name in the box labeled "Selected Individual" in the upper left hand corner. Click on this individual's box once to bring up the "Details For:" dialog. Next, click the Hints () button on the right hand side of the box to view the possible match. You are presented with another window similar to the "Details For:" screen, showing the data from the possible match alongside the data for your individual.

    Third step - Deciding if these two people are one and the same: Now you need to decide if these two people are one and the same. Before you decide, be sure to check each of the tabs across the top of the window. You may need to check other records or talk with other family members. Once you have decided, you can proceed.

    Fourth Step - To Merge or not to Merge, that is the question:
    Understand that merging a person with your person doesn't destroy your data or overwrite it. The differences in data will be preserved and will be shown as Conflicts. Information about Conflicts can be found in the newsletter archive section or in the help section of the OneGreatFamily Genealogy Browser. At this point, you have four choices:

    1) Merge the two people by clicking on the button labeled "<< Merge".

    2) Decide not to merge the two people by clicking on the button labeled "Clear".

    3) Postpone making a decision by clicking the button labeled "Close".

    4) Choose to collaborate with the other OneGreatFamily user by clicking the "Collaborate" button. We'll talk more about collaboration in a future newsletter.

    The Power is in your hands: One of the great strengths of OneGreatFamily lies in its ability to allow multiple people to agree that their ancestor is the same person without agreeing to all the details of his or her vital records. Hints are the means to identifying those opportunities and resolving them.

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  • Famous Ancestor: John Adams

    Second cousin to Bostonian patriot Samuel Adams, John Adams also opposed the Stamp Act and similar measures on the grounds that Parliament did not have the authority to tax the colonies because the Americans were not represented in Parliament. John Adams represented Massachusetts at the First and Second Continental Congresses.

    In 1775, at the second congress, he nominated George Washington as commander-in-chief of the newly-created Continental Army. In June of 1776 when Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposed to the Congress of resolution for independence, Adams seconded the motion and continued to press for independence until the other members of Congress agreed. A committee was formed to draft a declaration of independence to send to London, and Adams was appointed one of the members. The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Congress on 2 July 1776. The following day, Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:

    "You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet, though all the gloom...I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph in that day's transaction."

    John Adams served as vice president to George Washington for two terms, and then succeeded him as president of the United States. He was in office from 1797 to 1801.

    To view John Adams' Family Tree, login to OneGreatFamily, launch Genealogy Browser, and enter OGFN#593888133. You can also see whether or not you are related to Samuel Adams by going to the Relationship Calculator on the Family Dashboard Page when you login to OneGreatFamily.

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  • The Jewish Diaspora

    Despite being spread all over the world, Jews have managed to preserve their cultural identity and religion, and even thrive in the face of oppression and persecution. To begin our month-long series of articles on Jewish genealogy, this article focuses on the history of the Jewish Diaspora.

    The word diaspora means "dispersion" or "scattering." The Diaspora began in 586 B.C. when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonian empire and large numbers of Jews were deported to Babylon. In 539 B.C. Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem, but in 70 A.D. Jerusalem was conquered again-this time by the Romans. By that time, the Jews were living all over the Mediterranean world. With the fall of Jerusalem even more of them were scattered-to Spain, North Africa, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and present-day Iraq.
    Today's Jewish population can be grouped into three groups: Sephardim, Ashkenazim, and Mizrahim.


    Sephardic Jews lived in Spain under Muslim rule from the 8th to the 12th centuries. They were granted complete religious freedom as long as they paid taxes to the Muslim political leaders. Jews, Muslims, and Christians coexisted peacefully in cities like Toledo, Córdoba, and Granada. The Jewish population in Spain was one of the largest in the world during this time; they spoke their own Judeo-Spanish language known as Ladino or Judezmo. This era was also known as the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry because of the many advances made in architecture, literature, and scholarship.

    All of that came to an end with the Reconquista. Christians from the northern part of the Iberian peninsula moved down, re-conquering Muslim Spain one city at a time and driving Jews and Muslims out before them. The Reconquista culminated in 1492 with Ferdinand and Isabel's expulsion edict; Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism or flee. Many fled to Portugal, Italy, and Morocco.


    Jews on the European continent came from a different branch of Judaism, the Ashkenazim. Throughout their history, they faced considerable persecution. In 1290, Edward I of England banished Jews from his realm and confiscated their property; most fled to France and Germany. Throughout the Middle Ages, Jews were banned from trade guilds and were not allowed to own land. Since they could not be engaged in crafts or in agriculture, many became financiers and moneylenders (hence Shakespeare's stereotype of Shylock, the wealthy moneylender in The Merchant of Venice). At a time when literacy was a mark of social class and only the clergy and the nobility were literate, Jews were educated and taught all their children to read and write, even their daughters.

    In Germany in the 1100s Yiddish was developed; the words were mostly German but written with Hebrew letters. By the 1700s it was widely spoken by Ashkenazi Jews. In the face of increasing persecution-Jews were accused of causing the plague and of using the blood of Christian children in Passover rites-many Jews from Germany fled east to Poland, Lithuania, and Russian or west to the Netherlands, where they could apply for Dutch citizenship. Most European and American Jews today are Ashkenazim.


    The third branch of Judaism are the Mizrahi Jews, descended from the Jewish communities of the Middle East and Central Asia. Today the Mizrahim include Iraqi Jews, Syrian Jews, Persian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Indian Jews, and Pakistani Jews.

    Today Jews are as diverse as the many nations they inhabit, but "wherever they have wandered, Jews have always carried with them strong faith, and independent spirit, and a high regard for work and education." ( Jay Schleifer, A Student's Guide to Jewish American Genealogy (Phoenix, Arizona: Oryx Press, 1996), page 36.).

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  • Have More Success By Standardizing Places

    One of the features of Genealogy Browser is the ability to automate place standardization when you are entering data about your ancestors. However, the system is not foolproof, and so automatic place standardization in some circumstances won't occur.

    This can really hinder your efforts at OneGreatFamily because non-standardized place names may cause individuals to not match, blocking a merge that could bring more leads to your attention.

    For example, I was researching an ancestor of mine when I found that my father had abbreviated some places when he entered the data, causing them not to match.  For example, he listed my great-, great-, great-, great-grandmother as being born in Hull, Ykshire,, England.  In doing some research, I have confirmed that this was actually Hull, Yorkshire, England.

    There are several reasons why Genealogy Browser may not be able to automatically standardize a place.  Keep these in mind when you are entering or editing your family tree information:

    • Don't use abbreviations in the place of city names.  For example, use "Salt Lake City" instead of "SLC", use "New York" instead of "NY" or "NYC" and use "Baltimore" instead of "Balt."
    • CA can be interpreted as either Canada or California and DE can either be Denmark or Delaware.  So please, even if you are sure you are using a standardized abbreviation, please spell it out.
    • There will always be 4 elements separated by 3 commas in every place name, as shown here: city, county, state, and country.  Genealogy Browser will automatically try to break down each location appropriately.  You should double-check that it does it correctly.
    • Don't write in the actual street address in the place box. You can put addresses or buildings in the notes section.
    • If you don't know, leave it blank.  Often people will put "???" or "unknown" or "unk." You should avoid doing this because the site will search for matches to fill blanks for you.
    • Make sure and always put the country. It may be obvious to you and others which country it is, but not to the OneGreatFamily system. The more information the better when entering information.

    We have a tool to help if you have any questions on whether you're entering the place correctly. To the right of the birth, death, and other places, you'll see this pencil icon. Click on that icon and Genealogy Browser will show you how it breaks down the current entry into city, county, state, and country. Look in there to make sure your places look correct so you can have your records standardized with the rest of OneGreatFamily's records.

    By cleaning up your place names, your will increase the likelihood of OneGreatFamily finding additional ancestor leads for you, which means you could see more ancestors added to your family tree.

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