Episode 279 - Ancestry Exec Reveals Record Set Releases For 2019/2020 / Melanie McComb Talks Jewish Records And Tips

podcast episode Apr 21, 2019

Host Scott Fisher opens the show with David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. The guys begin Family Histoire News with a pair of stories from Scotland. The first concerns seven women who were denied their proper graduation in the 1860s who are finally being recognized.  The second is a crazy entry in a christening book you’ll want to hear. Then David talks about a fascinating story about the first slave to successfully sue for freedom… in the 1780s! Hear some of the details. Then, an American Revolutionary hero, Casimir Pulaski, is getting a lot of new attention. It’s a fascinating story that is certain to change the historical narrative. Find out about a recent discovery. Then, FamilyTreeDNA has decided to “lean in” to the recent controversy about DNA and police investigations. Find out what they’re doing. The guys wrap it up with a recent confession of a nurse that admits to having swapped some 5,000 babies “for fun.”

Then, Fisher visits with John Ericksen, Senior Director of Products for Ancestry.com. John shares his passion for the pastime and reveals what’s coming our way in 2019 and 2020, as well as how record sets are chosen and indexed.

Melanie McComb, a genealogist with NEHGS, then talks Jewish records and shares some tips about finding a Jewish immigrant’s original name.

That’s all this week on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show!

Transcript of Episode 279

Host: Scott Fisher with guest David Allen Lambert

Segment 1 Episode 279

Fisher: And welcome genies! It’s America’s Family History Show Extreme Genes and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here your Radio Roots Sleuth on the program where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out and this episode is brought to you by BYUtv’s Relative Race, now in Season 5. Catch it Sunday nights at 9 o’clock Eastern, 6 o’clock Pacific. And coming up today we’ve got some great guests as always. First time I’ve ever done this actually, got a deep insider from Ancestry.com. He is John Ericksen. He is the Senior Director of Products and we’re going to weasel out of him what we can expect in 2019 and 2020 as they develop their products, and how do they develop, which particular databases that we’re going to get, and how they go through the process of digitization, and how long it takes to get it digitized and then out to us. It’s going to be an interesting visit with John, in two parts coming up, starting in about ten minutes. Later in the show also, we are going to talk to Melanie McComb from NEHGS about Jewish records and how to get those name changes resolved in some cases, so that is going to be a lot of fun as well. Right now though let’s head out to Boston and talk to David Allen Lambert. He is the Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Hello David.

David: Hey, Fish how are you doing?

Fisher: I am awesome and ready to hear your Family Histoire News because you have a grundle of stories today.

David: I do. I just want to quickly say hello to everyone from the New England Regional Genealogical Conference in Manchester, New Hampshire. All those genies from our show came over to say hi and want me to give a big hello to you. Okay, the first thing I want to talk about is how about a matriculation from college a hundred and a half years after you were supposed to graduate? This is the case of the Edinburgh 7. Seven ladies were set to graduate back in the 1860s, but they were ruled by 1873 that they shouldn’t have even gone to college, let alone have the right to graduate.

Fisher: What?

David: Yeah. So the university in Edinburg has now decided to right this old wrong and allow them to matriculate. Here’s the big thing. Do you think any of their descendants are around to block for them?

Fisher: Wow! They’re dead! This is crazy. [Laughs]

David: Hmm. Yeah. Better late than never.

Fisher: Yes!

David: I know that I thought college would always kill me before I finish, but never thought they would kill you, bury you and then decide to give you your diploma.

Fisher: [Laughs] Right?

David: Ahh, the stories you get from Scotland, including this one which is about a hundred and a half years older and this is on ScotlandsPeople, on their Twitter feed. I just had to share it because you know the way sometimes you wonder why the person has recorded something kind of weird. How about this one? This is from 1704 from a parish in Ochiltree in Ayrshire, Scotland where the registrar wrote down a baptism of a baby, or attempted to. “The child’s name was Something, George Something, lawful son of what ye-call-him in Mains of Barskimming was baptized on April 9th 1704.”

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: So, apparently too much mead in the drink the night before.

Fisher: Yeah.

David: He couldn’t remember who they just baptized. [Laughs]

Fisher: He punted apparently, yeah.

David: [Laughs] You know, I read a lot of the Family Histoire News right from ExtremeGenes.com, so I really have to thank you for holding up those cue cards for me, but this one’s a great story. Right here from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Freeman was the first enslaved woman to sue for her freedom and actually win back in the 18th century. It’s a great story and it goes to show you, you know, that the rights of the African Americans had started up north. Massachusetts had slaves until 1783.

Fisher: Well, it’s a great story and you need to read it. It’s on ExtremeGenes.com.

David: Well, speaking of Revolutionary War-era news, you might have heard of the hero of the Revolution, Casimir Pulaski, the person who was recognized as the father of the American US cavalry. Well, they’re not saying that it’s possibly the father, but now maybe the mother?

Fisher: Yeah.

David: It’s a condition known as congenital adrenal hyperplasia which makes a girl more of a guy and a guy more like a girl. Well, in any event, they have dug up the great niece of Casimir and they have the skull of Casimir who died here in the States, and they’re doing the DNA, and it looks like the hero may actually be a heroine.

Fisher: Isn’t that interesting? Yeah, Casimir Pulaski and their counties and their cities and even a nuclear submarine David, they named after this guy.

David: Yeah. Stay tuned as more DNA results unfold on Extreme Genes.

Fisher: [Laughs]

David: [Laughs]

Fisher: That is pretty extreme, pretty interesting.

David: I really think it is, and more to follow on this one story. [Laughs]

Fisher: Yes, exactly.

David: Well, speaking of DNA, we’ve talked about FamilyTreeDNA and of course a lot of customers and a lot of DNA companies are concerned because the results are being given to law enforcements who identify potential matches. FamilyTreeDNA has recently reached out to Ed Smart, whose daughter Elizabeth Smart was abducted at age fourteen, in hoping to use uploaded DNA profiles to help catch a killer, and it’s an interesting marketing angle.  

Fisher: Well, it is because there was so much controversy surrounding it, and FamilyTreeDNA basically “leaned into” the controversy by running these ads, so we’ll see how it works for them.

David: Yeah, it’s really fascinating. Like I say, more to help people find their ancestors, but also find the killer of their immediate family. It’s terrible, but useful information. Did you hear about that Zambian nurse?

Fisher: Yes. [Laughs]

David: Oh my!

Fisher: This is a crazy story. I’m just going to summarize it here pretty quickly.

David: Yeah.

Fisher: There was this Zambian nurse who’s dying of cancer and she’s on her deathbed, and she’s confessing that over many, many years she swapped five thousand babies for fun.

David: Five thousand.

Fisher: Yeah, she said this is what she did for entertainment and it became kind of a habit. And so basically there are probably five thousand families or so out there that are actually raising or have raised children that belong to some other family that’s out there raising somebody else’s kid. So, it will be interesting to see if there might be some need for DNA testing going on in Zambia anytime soon.

David: MyHeritage needs to get down there and offer free DNA kits to see how many families they can help.

Fisher: Wow!

David: Yeah.

Fisher: Crazy story.

David: It really is. Well, I hope that all of our listeners remember are members of American Ancestors, and if you’re not, New England Historic Genealogical Society would love to have you as a member, and you can use the checkout code “Extreme” and save $20 on your membership.

Fisher: All right David, thanks so much and we’ll talk to you again next week.

David: Yeah, and have fun talking to Melanie. She’s a brilliant genealogist. Coming up soon. Take care.

Fisher: And coming up next, I’m going to talk to John Ericksen. He’s the Senior Director of Products for Ancestry.com. What databases and products do we have to look forward to coming up from Ancestry in the coming couple of years? We’ll find out next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 279

Host: Scott Fisher with guest John Ericksen

Fisher: Welcome back Genies! It is Fisher on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. You know, the aftermath of RootsTech brings us a lot of interesting interactions, and one of them for me at RootsTech was visiting with the Senior Director of products for Ancestry.com John Ericksen. And we’d never crossed paths before but it was fascinating to hear some of the things he did. And he is kind enough to say, yeah, let’s go on and talk about what they’re doing there right now, because as so many people have Ancestry accounts, it’s kind of good to know what the direction they’re going in and get to know some of the people behind the scenes there at Ancestry that have our best interests as family history researchers in mind. And John, welcome to Extreme Genes, great to have you!

John: Thank you so much Scott. It’s great to be on.

Fisher: How did you get started in all this?

John: Yeah, so that’s a great question. So, I’ll split that into two parts. First was my kind of interest in family history, and then second was what brought me directly to Ancestry itself. My parents were both avid genealogists and continue to be. And there were two things that really stood out in my mind in my youth that really blossomed an interest in family history for me. The first of them was an opportunity I had when I was young to be able to go overseas with my parents and travel to Wales. I was very fortunate to be able to go with them, and we did a week long houseboat trip on the Brecon Beacon Canal, and stopped in little towns along the way where we were able to go down into the town go to the local cemetery and be able to look at gravestones for people that were in my direct ancestry. And that experience really highlighted for me the value and understanding of the paths that we came from. So, that was one experience that really drove this interest to me. The other was when my grandfather passed away, my mother’s father. He died in a plane crash in St. George [Utah] in the early 1990s. And it was then that I really began to understand not only the people that were in my tree but the stories behind them and really got to know my grandfather better through the stories of the family that got together and came together to celebrate his life. And that really had a profound impact on me. And so, I carried that with me through my career in product management and over the course of 10 or so years working in product management, specifically in health care. The opportunity came up for me to be able to join Ancestry.

Fisher: Wow.

John: And I jumped at the opportunity because Ancestry and family history in general is such a mission-driven enterprise. And I had been in healthcare for so long because that was important to me. I wanted to be able to work on problems that were really important to helping an individual’s new quality of life, and that’s where healthcare really stood out for me. And then as I said, the ability to join Ancestry, which was a completely different problem-set but still very mission-driven was something that I jumped at. So, I made that move about 10 months ago and have not looked back since.

Fisher: Boy, I’m looking at this and I’m thinking you’re our kind of person. You’re a genie first and foremost, and then you have the skills to kind of figure out exactly how to get a hold of some of these record sets. Now, you oversee in all the product lines and things that are happening at Ancestry. How do you select what record-sets you go after?

John: Yeah, so great question. So, I work closely with the family history product line here and with our content team, which is an absolutely extraordinary team, and they are really focused on kind of three tiers content to go after. First and foremost are what we call our kind of core records. Basically, these are records around birth, marriage, death, and census records, the records that are so vital to being able to uncover our past.

Fisher: Um hmm.

John: And so, we have an extensive effort in continuing to find records like that so we can digitize and bring into our system. We also have records that expand on the story of the people’s lives. So, birth, marriage, death and census are great to be able to find individuals to find their parents and to be able to research back in their trees.

Fisher: Sure. Extend the tree, right. 

John: Exactly. But then there’s a whole record set that really adds richness to the story of those individuals lives. So, those are things like immigration records, military records, records around directories and things like that that provide that context to the time and place the individual lived in. And then the third record set that we have, are records that help individuals in areas where we don’t have lots of historical records to better understand the time and place of those populations. So, if we can’t because of whatever reasons find birth, marriage, death, etc. but we have people who have done their DNA and have ethnicity, or communities in certain regions the BMD records might be spars, we try to find records that might add color and understanding to that time and place and region that they may be from.

Fisher: So, it’s a little historical background kind of thing?

John: Exactly. Yeah, things that provides insights for those populations.

Fisher: So, you know we hear this a lot, people are thinking “well, if it’s not online, it doesn’t exist, or, I shouldn’t even make any effort to look at it, or, it’s going to appear somewhere.” What is your guesstimate to what percentage of the records are still out there that nobody has gone and digitized up to this point?

John: I wish I had a number for you. I don’t. We have not tapped out on those resources at all. There are some records that we know are available and that for some reason just have not been made available from a digitization perspective, and so we’re actively pursuing those record sets to try and get of those where sometimes it’s just a matter of the clock passing long enough where government agencies can release those things. For instance, censuses are a great example of that, where every ten years we can add a new census collection based on the legal requirements of that set. There are others that we are unsure of the status of when we would be able to get those. We’re in constant contact with organizations to try and get updates on those statuses and work with them to get those. And then there’s some that probably have not been discovered but we’re actively looking to discover    

Fisher: Sure.

John: I wish I had a number to put on that, but the number is substantial enough that we’ll be doing this for quite some time.

Fisher: [Laughs] For quite a long time. I mean, I don’t think there’s any risk of you being out of work anytime soon when it comes to finding records, is there?

John: Exactly. No there’s not.

Fisher: And what about indexing? I’m sure people will be curious exactly how it is you obtain these records, and still in order to become searchable there has to be a process that you go through.

John: Yeah we have quite an extensive process for the digitization of our records. We begin by identifying the records that we want to acquire, working with the appropriate agencies to get the appropriate contracts in place, and then we begin the digitization process, which includes all the necessary work to take photographs of it, clean the records up, do the indexing for those, add relevant information to make those records searchable, get those records in various sizes to be appropriate for different consumption platforms like desktop versus mobile, etc. and then publish those to our site, stitch those into our database to make them searchable and to make them a part of our hint system. So, there’s quite an extensive process that get people going.

Fisher: Wow!

John: You’re working night and day to get these records to our customers.

Fisher: Hey, I’m just hearing a lot of meetings in my mind. [Laughs]

John: [Laughs]

Fisher: When you talk about that it’s like, “I don’t think so. I don’t think I’d want to do that.” So, let me ask you about the timeline, so from the time say you digitize something, maybe onsite, maybe you’re in New York, maybe you’re in Los Angeles, maybe you’re in the south some place, from the time you actually digitize something till the time you’ve cleaned all this up, you’ve done the indexing, you get it online, what is the usual timeline for this?

John: Yeah. So, it’s completely dependent upon the size of the record set. We will get something like a census, which will be rather comprehensive, and then we’ll get smaller records that are for a specific parish for instance. So, it really is dependent on the size of the collection. It can range from months to over years.

Fisher: Wow.

John: Yeah. We have really tuned that experience to be as efficient as possible, and we continue to work to improve it so that we can make that as fast as possible, but it is a pretty comprehensive process as you can imagine, especially our larger record sets, it can take quite some time. 

Fisher: So, do you ever see a time where handwriting will be done automatically when it comes to the indexing, or even translation of old records in foreign languages.

John: Yeah. Handwriting is a fascinating topic and it’s something that we are actively working at. As you imagine, as anyone who has ever sat down and done any sort of indexing for old records, handwriting across decades and centuries go through quite dramatic changes. And so, it’s a very complex problem but one that we hope to be able to solve. That would definitely be the desired end-state for us is to be able to scan those handwritten records and be able to get with strong accuracy, be able to digitize that and translate that into searchable text.

Fisher: Is that done at all yet to any degree at all?

John: On handwritten records, not from a production, not a large production scale for us at this point in time.

Fisher: Okay. So, over time. What about with foreign languages?

John: In what perspective? Will we be looking at that as well?

Fisher: Do you think you would be able to translate those as well? Obviously some languages like with the Russian for instance, is completely different than what the characters are in English. Do you think that that would be probably much even further down the road, yeah?

John: Yeah. So, definitely English would be where we would start to tackle the problem, but the goal would be to be able to do that for multiple languages.

Fisher: Wow. It just kind of blows my mind. Do you ever take input from some of your customers as to where record sets might be that you would be able to go get? 

John: Always. Yeah. So, we have in the past surveyed customers in terms of what records they would like from what countries. We also keep very close track on the searches that people are performing, and what countries that we have significant representation of within our trees. So, we track data from as many points as we can to try and get a sense of where we can bring more record sets in to be able to help people bust their brick walls and be able to further the research on their trees. So yeah, we look at all sorts of data to be able to do that.

Fisher: All right. We’re going to take a break John. We’re going to be back with John Ericksen. He is the Senior Director of products at Ancestry.com. We’re going to talk about ties of records into DNA, some of the things going on there. Census records coming up again here pretty soon, what’s going to happen with that project, when we return in five minutes on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.  

Segment 3 Episode 279

Host: Scott Fisher with guest John Ericksen

Fisher: All right, back at it on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth and I’m talking to the Senior Director of products at Ancestry.com. He is John Ericksen and we’re finding out about some of the things we can anticipate coming out sometime soon. Well, John this year and next year are in your perusal at this point. What you can tell us, okay, what can I pry out of you [Laughs] about this coming 12 months or so? 

John: [Laughs] Yeah. So, I would say there are two things that are coming this year, or I’ll say three things coming this year that I think are extremely exciting. First one is something we talked a little bit about at RootsTech which is our obituary collection. We are working with all of the content available on Newspapers.com, to be able to scan through every page of newspaper content that we have and to use machine learning algorithms that our data science team has come up with to be able to extract the obituaries from every single page of Newspapers.com content. So, that’s over 400 million different pages.

Fisher: Wow!

John: We can find an obit and be able to extract the data from that obituary and provide that to our Ancestry subscribers. So, as you know these obituaries are mini family trees by themselves. They don’t just contain information about the deceased. They contain information about the deceased’s children and the deceased’s parents, and other relationships that are really core to being able to make those discoveries. So, when this project is done we will release that and be able to claim the largest obituary database or index in the world.

Fisher: Wow! And then, ultimately you could see it through Newspapers.com.

John: Yeah, exactly. So, the relationships that are extracted will be a part of Ancestry. So, you will be able to see the name of the deceased. You’ll be able to see the relationships and be able to add those discoveries to your family tree on Ancestry. If you want to read the actual obituary itself you can go to Newspapers.com, to be able to read the obituary.

Fisher: And that’s so fun to actually have the image of it as well. So, what else is coming out?

John: So, obits is our first collection. The second one is an expansion of our year-books collection. The thing I love about yearbooks is, I’ve been able to find pictures of my parents, my grandparents, and even my great grandparents in our yearbook collection which has been just an amazing set of discoveries for myself. What we’re doing with those is we’ve completely revamped our algorithm to be able to identify the faces and connect those with names. We will be adding about a hundred, thousand additional yearbooks to bring the total to about 420 thousand. That covers almost all of the 1900s, from 1900 up to the 1990s and then potentially some into the early 2000s. So, an expansive addition to that record set, as well as increased usability and increased discoverability within those records themselves.

Fisher: So, they’re actually using facial recognition now with the old year-books?

John: So, it’s not facial recognition because facial recognition is more specific to being able to say this face belongs to this individual. What we’re doing is being able to scan through and be able to tie the written text in the yearbook with the face itself, a bit better than they currently do, so continuing to refine those algorithms. So, when you search for an individual you’ll be able to be taken to a picture of that individual from the yearbook with a box around it, just to help you hone in on that.

Fisher: Wow!

John: Right now, when you search it will bring you to the yearbook page but you’ll then have to kind of hunt around to see if you can recognize the individual that you’re looking for. So, this will work to make that even more accurate going forward.

Fisher: So, this thing is going to figure out, okay here’s the back row, fifth from the left, that’s phenomenal. [Laughs] This has got to keep some of your scientists up at night.

John: [Laughs] Exactly. It will start with the individual photos that we have but then we’ll still be looking at ways that we can do that with the group photos that we have.

Fisher: Unbelievable.

John: One more in 2019 that we’re looking to do before we get to 2020 will be a significant set of records from New York City. So, the New York City certificate indexes for births, marriages, and deaths, those we’re digitizing and those will be about 20 million records we’ll be adding. They range from about 1862 to 1949. Also, very excited to be able to add those and then actually on top of that there’s a lot for 2019.

Fisher: Wow!

John. On top of that we’ll be finishing the digitization of the World War II draft cards. There’s 33 million of those. We just released 4.6 million from southern states just a month or so ago, six weeks ago. And by the end of the summer we plan to have all 33 million of those complete. As well as some digitizing US naturalization records from California, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Fisher: Wow! You’re a busy man.

John: [Laughs] Our teams are busy for sure.

Fisher: [Laughs]

John: All of this is made possible through our amazing content organization which is just absolutely dedicated to bringing these records to life for individuals as quickly and as accurately as possible.

Fisher: That’s awesome. All right, 2020.

John: So, 2020 we’ll continue core investments in both US and international records. So, I could say right now we’re currently working on projects in multiple states. We have work going on in Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, several other states, active digitization projects going on there that will be added to the database through 2019 into 2020. We also have work that’s going on census and BMD records in 15 different countries. So, Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Mexico, Netherlands,  New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. So, all corners of the globe that we are undergoing current digitization and indexing projects that you will see pop up on the site over the course of the next 18 months.

Fisher: So, what story have you heard John, that’s come back to you from some record set you guys have discovered that really touched you that you just went, wow! Aren’t we doing a great thing here?

John: Yeah, great question. I’ll share two stories that have touched me specifically. Both of those actually come through the content that we have at Newspapers.com, as I’ve been seeking to add that richness to my family tree. So, they come from a sister site but they’re really important stories for me and I’ll tell you why. So, the first one was as I was working to build out my father’s profile on Ancestry. I did a quick search and found an article in which he had won a flower arranging competition at a county fair when he was growing up. He was about 14 and I just thought that was the most interesting thing.

Fisher: [Laughs]

John: My dad who I would not put flower arranging in his skill set at all, not only competed but won $5 in this competition in Riverside, California. So, that discovery in itself was fun and exciting but what really made it interesting to me was I shared that story with my daughters. I have three daughters and a son. I was talking to two of my daughters about family history and I told them this story and we got on the phone with my dad to ask him about it and the conversation that we had really sparked in my kids that interest in family history. The other story was the discovery of my great, great grandmother and finding an article or interview about her life. She had crossed the plains and was an early settler in Utah. She talks about when her family got their first gas lamp and how they would sit around the table at night in awe over this gas lamp. She also talked about in kind of the same vane her early fear of the automobile, when the automobile first came out. And how it took her years to gather the courage to be able to sit in an automobile but she finally gathered the courage.

Fisher: [Laughs]

John: So, those two things not only brought context to the kind of time and place she lived in but also to know that she was this tough person and that drove home to me this really important message which is, our ancestors are not dates. Our ancestors are people that had lives, that had stories, that had experiences, and that’s my quest to really get to know these people that I never knew and to find that richness in each of their stories and to help our customers find that richness in their ancestors as well.

Fisher: He’s John Ericksen. He is the Senior Director of products at Ancestry.com. Great stuff John. Thanks for all the information and the great work. We look forward to seeing what you come up with next.

John: Thank you so much Scott.

Fisher: And up next in three minutes, I’ll be taking with Melanie McComb about Jewish research and tips for your journey, coming on Extreme Genes America’s Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 279

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Melanie McComb

Fisher: All right, back at it, talking family history on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. I am Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And it’s time we head out back to Boston to talk to my good friend, Melanie McComb. She is a genealogist for the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. She specializes in Jewish research and Irish research. I mean, she is a specialist in all ways! And welcome to the show, just thrilled to have you.

Melanie: Oh, thank you. I'm thrilled to be here.

Fisher: You know, I've been thinking about Jewish ancestry, because we haven't spent a lot of time on that over the years and I think it’s really important to touch on it, because of the fact there have been a huge number of Jewish immigrants, especially in the last 100 to 125 years. Obviously there have been Jewish Americans really here from the beginning, even back in colonial times, but the bulk of people coming over from Jewish background have been in that last century, a century and a quarter.

Melanie: Absolutely. With World War I, World War II, especially with World War II is really where we started seeing people that were fleeing especially Germany and Austria and the other annexed areas that were being taken over. You know, they were fleeing for their lives, coming over to America. So we definitely see a large volume of people come over to ports like Boston and New York.

Fisher: And what are the best records then for people who are researching these fairly recent immigrants?

Melanie: Sure. So one of the first lines I like to point people to is looking at some of the earlier census records, so roughly around 1910, because that give you an idea with when they came over. You want to get a rough idea of when they came over to America to narrow down the possible year to find any kind of passenger records. And then from there, you want to see if they actually became a citizen. And those are noted as well in the census records. If they had filed their first papers, you'll see that commonly. And that's usually when they submit their declaration of intention that they declare they want to become a citizen and they plan to go through the naturalization process. Those papers are usually done either shortly after they came off the boat or usually in about two years of coming to America.

Fisher: Now for the more recent ones, like those you mentioned earlier who came over later, just before World War II or just afterwards, is that a fairly easy thing to find as well without a census available?

Melanie: Yes, absolutely, even if you don't have the census available. What's really nice is they can usually use websites like FamilySearch or Ancestry and you can actually look in the county records for any of the petitions and naturalization certificates that were done to see if the family did become a citizen at some point. So that's one way to look at it is, you can actually go into the county records and then see if they ever applied to become a citizen. And if they didn't apply, you can still find the family through passenger manifest records if you have an idea of what port they might have came through. There's a lot of great places out there, like Steve Morse’s site, you know, where you can actually do a search and it will actually search across the different microfilm or different passenger records and actually see if you can find the family in the passenger list. And if you have an idea of what port they came in, that's really the key, because the port ultimately where they came from and also where they ended up will drive what kind of records you find. For example, here at the Wyner Family Heritage Center here at NEHGS, we have a number of different files that are actually done when people came over. There actually is a landing card section where you actually see an index card of the person coming over. And it will say, you know, what port they came from, who they're ultimately going to meet in America, the name of the ship, maybe occupation, full details about their name, age, gender.

Fisher: And when you mention the name there, that makes me think immediately about a lot of the name changes the Jewish people went through when they got here. Do these cards give some clues to what the names may have originally been?

Melanie: So typically the cards are going to be the name that's actually recorded on the ship manifest. So one common myth we hear is that when people came to Ellis Island and other ports that their names were immediately changed and that's a myth.

Fisher: Okay, let's hold it right there then, because we're going into a whole new area here. Let's continue this line, because I think name change is a big hurdle for a lot of Jewish families, and we're going to talk about that more, coming up in three minutes when we return on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 5 Episode 279

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Melanie McComb

Fisher: We are back for our final segment this week of Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show and ExtremeGenes.com. Helping you to figure out how to find your ancestors and learn their stories. And we're talking Jewish ancestry right now with Melanie McComb, she's a genealogist for the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org in Boston, Massachusetts. And Melanie, we were just talking about this idea of the name changes, and I actually had a friend of mine reach out to me at one time, his name is Hyman. And we discovered that his ancestors actually named Heimovitch. And we were able to put together a lot more information about his family tree as a result of it. How do you counsel people to figure out what the name was originally and what that can mean to their research overseas?

Melanie: Sure. Yes, so I can give an example from my family. When I recommend people do is to look for the naturalization paperwork for those partition. And typically why I recommend that is, they will actually list the original name that someone came over on the boat in addition to the name they're filing under.

Fisher: And that's exactly what we found when I helped my friend.

Melanie: Exactly, yes. And it can be a really great find. To give you an example from my family, my great grandfather, my living grandmother's father, when he came over from Lapia, we always thought his name was always Eddy Gale. That was always the name that she knew him by. She never knew him by any other name. And I actually did some research and was actually able to find his certificate for naturalization and it listed his original name, and it was Anton Galuna. And Galuna was a very Lithuanian name. Lithuanians were going to Lapia based on the pogroms and the persecution they were finding and more opportunities. So that kind of opened up like another way of looking for it. And that was clearly spelled out on the partition.

Fisher: Wow!

Melanie: And sometimes that might be the only case you see that name change, because a lot of times what was happening was when immigrants were coming to America, they were trying to assimilate. But they weren't required to go through a court necessarily to change their name. They might have just changed their name so that they could fit in amongst their community, and not necessarily be distinctively showing up as being a foreigner.

Fisher: Right.

Melanie: And that's what happened with my great grandfather. He was ultimately a jewelry engraver in New York City, and he ultimately just decided to change his name and went by Eddy Gale. So, completely changed both his first and last name, which I can see that happen sometimes.

Fisher: Well, it’s interesting you mention that, because as we identified this man's name, he went by Hyman, but his siblings continued to go by Heimovitch. And now that we knew that, we were actually able to start putting together family groups and extract their history collectively and tie them together. And that made a really big difference in being able to sort this all out. This man had looked for years, could never figure it all out, but once we got that intention, it really changed everything. And I think to some extent, its rather unique to Jewish heritage.

Melanie: Absolutely. I do find that that's more common amongst Jewish population compared to other populations. Like in my family, I also have the Irish side, my father's side. And you're right, they didn't really change their name so much. They might have swapped out their middle name for their first name. But you're right they didn't really holistically change their entire name. But we do see that with other populations. I have seen that with Italians and other groups coming over from Europe where that actually was very common to just anglify the name over time. But you're right Jews definitely did participate very actively in that practice.

Fisher: Yeah. Well, that's very helpful and we appreciate you sharing your expertise here, Melanie. And we're going to have to have you back on and talk about Irish history at some point down the line as well. [Laughs]

Melanie: Happy to always share some Shamrocks with you. [Laughs]

Fisher: Hey, I love the sound of that! She is Melanie McComb, she's a genealogist with the New England Historic Genealogical Society and AmericanAncestors.org. Thank for coming on, Mel, and we will talk to you again soon.

Melanie: Great. Thanks so much, Scott.

Fisher: Hey, that's a wrap for this week! Thanks once again to John Ericksen, Senior Product Manager for Ancestry.com for coming on and giving us a little insight as to which record sets we might be seeing here over the next couple of years, some exciting things happening in that realm. Hey, don't forget, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can join us in our Patron Club and support the show and get some bonus podcasts each month as well as early access to the podcast. And don't forget to sign up for our Weekly Genie Newsletter as well. We give you links to great stories and past podcasts and of course a blog from me each week. Thanks for joining us. Talk to you again next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're a nice, normal family!

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