Beware of Intelius  

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A little off topic but still relevant to family historians. I'm sure that when you search for ancestors or living relatives you eventually end up on one of the many Intelius (no link scumbags!) pages out there.

A couple of days ago the Washington State Attorney General slapped this company with a bunch of fines and injunctions for using what's called "post transaction marketing" practices. I won't do the story much justice so go ahead and read the following articles on TechCrunch. Then go get your refunds:

May 29, 2008: Naveen Jain's Latest Scam: Intelius

Aug 9, 2010: Washington Attorney General Settlement Announcement Tomorrow: Let’s Hope It’s Intelius

Aug 10, 2010: Washington Attorney General Hits Intelius With Fine, Injunctions

Summer Trip  

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I had to head out to a conference in New York and decided to extend our family tradition of driving there and back. We've done it twice before when my oldest daughter was 6 months old and 1.5 years old. This time around we had both girls with us and we had a blast.

While I didn't have any plans to stop along the way and conduct any research, we did find out some interesting family facts. On the way north we drove through Spartanburg, SC where the Bishops and Brannons are from. It's good to know the drive up there is not that long and when I get my act together I will get out there again to try to figure out what happened to Calvin Rufus Bishop, who he married and what her maiden name was (my guess is Margaret Timmons). Then maybe I can figure out who her parents were and open up that branch in the tree.

We drove through Virginia from west to east on our way to DC and stopped at Luray Caverns. If you have never been, I highly recommend it. The line was not too long to get in and once inside, the caverns are just fantastic. But there was nothing of genealogical significance there so let's move on.

We didn't get a chance to see any of DC on the way up because we were already running late and just drove around in the rain. We decided to stop on the way back and visit the White House (which to my surprise is open to visitors only by appointment which can be made through your congressman up to 6 months in advance), the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and maybe one of the museums at the mall. It was a blazing hot day on the way back and we barely walked around the White House and made our way to the Natural History Museum. We then high-tailed it out of DC right smack into afternoon traffic. Lucky for us we were able to hit the HOV lane and zoom right out of the city.

We stopped to visit friends in Richmond and on our way out the following day we drove down Monument Avenue. When drove by the massive statue of General Lee, I commented to my wife and daughters that he was their cousin and then made a mental note to find the exact connection. I knew that one of my wife's great-grandmothers was Dorothy Lee who was married to Lodowick Tuggle but I wasn't sure how they were linked to the famous general. My father-in-law had scribbled something on an old family tree about being related to him but I have never made the connection.

We then stopped at Berkeley Plantation on the banks of the James River. Originally settled in 1619, where the first official Thanksgiving was celebrated, it is rich with American history. Benjamin Harrison who signed the declaration of independence lived there and his son William Henry Harrison, the 9th president of the USA was born there. Berkeley is one of several famous plantations in the area.

We then made our way along the east coast back to Atlanta. We drove through Greene County where Lodowick and Dorothy settled after moving south from Virginia. Lodowick sold his Middlesex County, VA plantation in 1769, where his family had lived for 100 years. There are a couple of Tuggle cemeteries in Greene County today that I need to visit at some point in the future.

So last night I did a little bit of research and found that Dorothy Lee, my wife's fifth great-grandmother, was the third cousin of Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee III, who was Robert E. Lee's father. So that makes General Lee my wife's fourth cousin, 6 times removed.

But there is another family connection there that I need to investigate further. Robert's mother was Anne Hill Carter Lee and was part of the Carter family of Virginia. Her father actually owned Shirley Plantation which is located right next to Berkeley Plantation. I've known that my wife's Carter branch is pretty big and in fact her 3rd great-grandmother was Sarah Whitehead Battle Carter Tuggle. She descends from more Virginia Carters.

So that's it for our trip report. I'll try to add some photos in a later post.

How to solve a family tree problem (video puzzle)  

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I know, I know. I have been away for a while. Nothing new is happening in my research as I don't have a lot of time lately. But I did come across this fun post and thought I might share. Spoiler Alert - If you want to try to solve the puzzle, don't read click the link yet.

BestWeekEver is a funny sarcastic blog that I read from time to time (when I have... time). In this post they decided to tackle a common genealogical dilema of trying to reconstruct ages of people in a family from an oral (in this case filmed commercial on YouTube) history. Can you figure out the kids age from the video below:

There's actually a second video with a few more details:

Ok, figure it out yet? Now go read the post on BestWeekEver.

Bad Blogger!  

Posted by Abba-Dad in ,

I have been slacking off from my blogging duties lately. Mostly because of vacation and work, but also because of a general malaise I think. Here's what's been going on lately:

1. I turned 40.
2. I spent Passover in Israel.
3. My mom arranged a surprise genealogy-themed birthday party and invited everyone in my Geni tree.
4. Part of the surprise was a video she produced for the event.
5. My wife snuck behind my back and got all our friends to participate in the video as well!
6. I published a children's book inspired by my grandmother Zipora Smorgonski. It's called 'Grandma Birdie's Red String' and you can buy it on CreateSpace or Amazon.
7. My wife wrote a book inspired by our daughter. It's called 'Nobody Likes Me' and you can buy it on CreateSpace or Amazon.

I have so much to write about. Just have to find the time.

SNL Census Sketch  

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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.)  

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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.