SNL Census Sketch  

Posted by Abba-Dad in ,

I ran across the following Saturday Night Live sketch with Christopher Walken and Tim Meadows which I thought was very good (unlike most of what SNL has done in the past decade):

If you're reading this through email or an RSS reader visit this link instead.

I wonder how many of our ancestors answered the census taker like this. 80 people in the residence? Or only 2? Including the plants and candy bars? And the bobcat wife?


Who Do You Think You Are? - Holocaust Edition (cont.)  

Posted by Abba-Dad in , , ,

Well, I did a little more soul searching and clear thinking and have a few more thoughts. I watched parts of the show again and read some other comments and blog posts and found a few things that were disturbing:

1. If you're going to touch the subject of the Holocaust and go into gory details of what happened in Ilya then you have to tell the whole truth. What I mean is that there is more than one side to this story. It's not as clear cut as the show makes you believe. There was a Jewish resistance. There were local Nazi collaborators. This happened in hundreds of villages around in Ilya. Some of the massacres weren't the Nazis themselves but were actually carried out by the non-Jewish population against their neighbors who lived side-by-sisde with them for centuries. There were a lot of unimaginable stories. But to make it sound like one day the Nazis showed up, gathered up the Jews and murdered them is not giving the audience the complete picture. And if the show decided to touch the subject, then tell the whole story.

2. I've read more than once that the show's producers (namely Lisa) had to fight with NBC to air what they eventually did. And that a lot of the show was edited down for the sake of "entertainment." I think that's the wrong way to do it. You can't edit history, because the result is that it fools a lot of people who don't know the truth and the real facts. If you want to read some of the comments on Facebook go here. You can see that most of the viewers 'liked' the show, but many missed the point.

3. I also read a comment about the research process of connecting with Yuri. I am sure that some research was done to make sure he was the right person, but it's too bad that none of it actually aired. Simple questions about the family connections would have solidified the relationship. Edited for time? Take out 2 minutes of re-caps and you have room to put that and lot more in.

4. Turns out that Lisa's great-grandmother came from the same town that my grandmother was from, Dolhinov, and was related to the Farberman family. I don't know who they were but I am not surprised, because all these villages were so close to each other. But that brings up the point that they could have done more research about the families before the Holocaust. Who were these people? What was their life like before it tragically ended? Instead of giving these ancestors a life, they are only remembered for how they died. The previous two shows (Sarah and Emmit) went further and deeper to try to understand how these people lived and what their lives were like. I think that was a big miss for the show on this episode.

5. One thing that struck me as odd (and I hope not to offend anyone with this view) is the story of the old woman in Ilya. I find it a little hard to believe that the one person alive from that period is the one who tried to help a little girl by hiding her under the bed. And that the girl was found and thrown in the fire, yet the woman survived to tell the tale. That's not how the Nazis operated.

Some of you reading this might be thinking that it's a one hour show and there is no room to give us more details, but here's a novel thought. Give us more footage online. It doesn't have to be edited like the on-air version. If they can do webisodes of The Office, why can't they give us more background from their research online? Why not start a WDYTYA? blog that gives more details, links and videos? That would not be hard to do, right?

Anyway, I am pretty upset about this episode in many ways. But I am done talking about it. I hope the show learns from it's mistakes and if it has a second season does it better.

Who Do You Think You Are? - Holocaust Edition  

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I watched the latest WDYTYA? episode about Lisa Kudrow as it aired on Friday night. I have a lot to say about this from many different aspects. As usual, my thought may be a bit scattered but I hope you can follow along.

1. I watched the show with my wife, who I have to say has been a trooper and has willingly watched the first two episodes with me. But I think this may be the last one she watches. I think it was just the expectation that this was going to be a family history and discovery show and not a grueling reminder of the atrocities of the Holocaust. I think the graphic descriptions of what happened to Lisa's family and the Jews of Ilya were a bit too much and may have missed the target audience. I can see this kind of discussion coming up in a Holocaust documentary, as it should. But on an 8pm, Friday night, national TV show? A bit much.

2. My first point does not in any way mean that reminding people what happened during the Holocaust is not important. It certainly is. And the best example of why it is important is Lisa herself. How can a descendant of Holocaust victims have absolutely no idea what went on? It could be the suburban, southern California upbringing. But in a Jewish family? I find that hard to believe. I hope for her sake her discussion with her father was staged for the show because otherwise she should be ashamed.

3. 6 of my 8 great-grandparents perished in the Holocaust. My father grew up without ever meeting or knowing his grandparents. My mother only knew her maternal grandparents because they fled from Beltsy, Romania (now Moldova) to Tashkent, Russia. You grow up knowing these things, even though none of my grandparents ever talked about their parents. Not once that I can recall. You could see how painful it was for Lisa's father to bring up these memories and he had never met his grandparents either. But my grandparents said where they were from and did discuss a little about their families. I remember that my grandmother had an Yizkor book about her town, Dolhinov (Dolginovo). I remember reading it as a teenager. I guess growing up in Israel makes the Holocaust a lot more real than it does anywhere else.

4. Speaking of Yizkor books, the New York Public Library has the Ilya book. If you go to image 316 which is page 312 you can find the names of Lisa's Mordechevitz family:

Mordechovitz Mera
____"____ Liba
____"____ Avraham

If you go a few pages further to image 321 which is page 317 you can read the article that Lisa read in the market square. It's the testimony of David Rubin and it's in Hebrew (it was translated on the screen by Eilat Gordin Levitan who is a very active member of JewishGen, managed several of the shtetl pages and has many websites with wonderful photographs and other information). I couldn't find this specific translation on the Yizkor pages on JewishGen, but there are several others.

UPDATE: Miriam Robbins Midkiff, from the excellent Ancestories blog, left a comment with the link to the translated page that Lisa read. It's after the list of martyrs (which also lists the Mordechovitz family). Thanks Miriam!

4a. I am going to email Eilat and see if I can get a copy of the article she translated so I can share it with my readers or at least point you to a link.

4b. I am in touch with another Rubin from Dolhinov and I sent him an email to see if he is related to the David Rubin who wrote the chapter in the Ilya Yizkor book.

5. I wonder why Ancestry did not play up it's relationship with JewishGen for this episode. Strange. I think that would have been a huge win for all involved.

6. Now just to show how much this episode hit home for me, if you look at Eilat's website and check out the map, you will see that my grandmother's shtetl, Dolhinov (number 1 on the map), is right next to Ilya (number 19 on the map):

7. Doing the kind of research that Lisa did during this show in the Polish and other state archives is not as easy as it seems. From what I know, nothing is online and most records of anything less than 100 years old is not accessible to the general public. You would either need to go there in person and hire someone who's got the right connections or you may be able to do it remotely by hiring a local person, which is probably not something regular family historians can do.

8. I loved how the Polish archivist just plopped down a phone book in front of Lisa. There's no easier way to look for living relatives right?

9. I would have liked to see how Yuri/Boleslaw was related to Kudrow. They kept referring to him as a cousin, but only at the end did they say that Lisa's grandmother was his Aunt.

10. Another important part of the show was when Boleslaw said he wasn't there in Ilya to see the massacre. He only heard about it. But the family had lived for 60 years thinking that he witnessed it. This is a recurring theme with oral histories that are handed down through generations.

11. So how did Boleslaw escape the fate of the rest of his family in Ilya? He escaped to Russia and joined the army. This is pretty much what my own grandfather did. But my grandfather lived in Warsaw, not Belarus. So "escaping" from Warsaw was not going to be as easy. I will need to get to the bottom of this story on my next visit to Israel. I am not sure how much my grandmother will be able to tell me, but I have to ask.

12. I had more thoughts during the show, but I can't remember them now. Overall, I thought that while the subject matter was extremely dark (yet extremely important), the show itself was fairly lacking when it came to actual research. Why had they not talked more about Ilya's history? What about the generation of Jews who lived there for centuries before the Nazis ended it all? I also felt that the constant recaps and previews were too much. There was very little actual footage that wasn't reused several times.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the season of WDYTYA? but I have to admit that this format is starting to get a little tiresome. Maybe they can tweak the format if they get a second season going.

For shame Atlanta (Decatur)! For shame!  

Posted by Abba-Dad in ,

Thanks to the genius that is Casefile Clues (read my post about why you should subscribe to this wonderful genealogy tutorial resource) I have been looking at old deeds from the County Clerk's Office. This can be somewhat difficult because there is no easy way to look for really old records other than going through all the indexes and looking for the surnames you are researching.

Anyway, this is not the topic of this post. I found the following paragraph in one of these old deeds:

It reads:

neither said property nor any part thereof shall be used for negro tenements nor rented to negroes, nor sold and conveyed, either directly or indirectly to any negro or person of African descrent [sic], within a period od [sic] fifty years from the date of this instrument.

This is from Decatur, DeKalb County, Georgia. What year do you think this is? Take a guess in the comments. I will write an update after a couple of days with the answer.

Not sure why I was so surprised about this. I guess I have never actually seen it in writing before. In a real live county document. How could this kind of discrimination take place out in the open? How is that possible?

I found another deed for the same property dated six years later and the same paragraph was in it except now they changed the limitation from 50 years to only 40.


WDYTYA? The Aftermath  

Posted by Abba-Dad in

I watched WDYTYA? last night with my wife (and almost 7 million others) and have to admit, we had a pretty good time. If you didn't get a chance to watch the first episode with Sarah Jessica Parker, you can do it right now:

I've been reading a lot of different reviews today and have to agree with most of them, but here is what stuck in my mind:

1. Wait a second, she comes from this big family and she's all about family and yet she had no idea who her great-grandmother was until the taping of this show? I find that hard to believe. I think this was just a setup for the show to be able to go and "discover" SJP's American roots.

2. The first thing I thought when they brought out the obit was that if the son was born in late September 1850 then his father couldn't have died in 1849. That would have been my first question when presented with the evidence and not "was he part of the gold rush?"

3. published a family tree for SJP before the show aired. It had about 9 people in it. Today it looks like this and includes all the Hodges and Elwells:

You're going to need to click the image to see the a larger view of the tree. But I am surprised that the show didn't show a tree like this instead of the single vertical line that only showed parent-child relationships.

4. The funny thing is that a lot of the "findings" are pretty easy to replicate.

5. I wish they had followed the GPS to show why John S. Hodge in the 1850 census is the right one.

6. Only took about 11 minutes to mention by name.

7. I wish they would have shown how they located the old letters detailing how John S. Hodge died.

8. I love some of the grandiose declarations such as "you find hundreds of documents like these."

9. One of my frustrations with is that a lot of the database have no images. Here's the entry for Esther Elwell in the Salem Witches database:

Seriously, what does this give you? And I couldn't figure out how to find this entry through the regular search results. Because there are 348 results for the exact search of Esther Elwell and none of the categories are going to point me to the Salem Witches database:

10. By the way, if you do a Google search for Esther Elwell the first 5 pages of results (all I really checked) point you to a malware site. All the same site. Why would Google allow that to even happen? Someone did a great job of blasting the search engine and hoping people end up clicking one of those 50+ bogus links:

11. At some point in the show they show an search and for some reason they use "old" search. I wonder why?

12. I wonder if they try to see if SJP's husband's tree (Matthew Broderick) overlap at all since they are both on the show.

13. I am surprised that the "young man with so much old information" couldn't have told SJP that Esther Elwell was not executed. I guess it's smart editing to make for good television.

14. I wish they would have said something about collaborating with other researchers because if you go to GenForum and look at the Elwell Family Forum and search for Esther Dutch you find this:
On page 12 of the Rev Jacob Thomas Elwell book "The Elwell Family in America", it says that Rachel Elwell was born Feb 21, 1688 (doesn't say where) and that she married Peter Lurvey. The timing is right.

Her parents were Jacob Elwell and Abigail Vinson. Jacob born Gloucester MA 8/10/1662.

Jacob's parents were Samuel Elwell and Esther Dutch. Samuel was born 1635 or 1636 in Dorchester MA. Esther was taken to Ipswich MA for examination on charges of witchcraft, but was released a week later.

15. They could have toned down the un-be-lievables and the wows a little. I wish I had a way (or time) to count the number of "incredible" and "amazing" that were said.

Anyway, I have a lot of other thoughts but I'm going to have to stop at this point. I loved the show and thought it was really well done. It captivates the audience and will probably encourage a lot of people to check out their own genealogies, so everyone wins. Sounds like had a huge surge in traffic after the show with slow search times and general sluggishness.

Can't wait for next week!

Who Do You Think You Are? - BBC Version  

Posted by Abba-Dad in

Yesterday during scanfest, some people said they were going to sadly miss several of the episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? starting March 5th on NBC. Aside from the funny comments about setting up a DVR or (yikes!) a VCR, I mentioned that if the show was popular enough someone will do us all a favor and upload it to YouTube. So I figured I would go search the site for some of the BBC episodes and found them all there broken up into several short segments.

I have to say that none of the names of the people on the show rang a bell except for Stephen Fry. So here's the entire episode:

I've read that the US show will be significantly different than this in format and length (a lot of wasted time on commercials and previews of what we're going to see after the commercials), but this gives us a flavor of what's to come.