Technology transforming genealogy research
1 out of
- The Web site of My Heritage, an Israeli firm that
is turning on younger people to genealogy research.
PHILADELPHIA (JTA) -- In genealogy research, crumbling documents and
high-speed Internet connections often go hand in hand.
So it goes for Schelly Talalay Dardashti.
At a workshop she ran a few years ago in Barcelona on the role of technology
in conducting genealogy research, Dardashti met a former attorney, Maria
Jose Surribas. Surribas now works as a freelance genealogist and has
helped Dardashti research her roots in the Catalonian town of Lerida.
Dardashti now can trace her family there to 1353, to Moshe Talalaya,
a kosher winemaker.
“If not for technology, we’d be doing what we used to: dealing with
the dust and the creepy-crawlies, like Maria does in Spain, wearing
a face mask,” said Dardashti, of Tel Aviv, who writes the Tracing the Tribe: The Jewish
Genealogy Blog. “Technology has made it possible for people interested
in the same topics to share, collaborate and learn.”
The ever-expanding research opportunities enabled by technology was
a central theme at the recent conference in Philadelphia of the International
Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies, which drew nearly 900 people.
Last year’s conference session on using Google for genealogy research
proved so popular that three Google sessions were held this time.
Speakers, including representatives of companies specializing in technology-assisted
genealogy, covered such matters as constructing digital family trees
and sharing them online, searching databases, choosing genealogy software,
collaborating with other researchers via social networking sites and
utilizing face-recognition technology to identify relatives in photographs.
“Until now history and genealogy, which are related, are things that
old people were said to be doing,” said Daniel Horowitz, manager of
genealogy and translations for MyHeritage,
an Israeli software and Web company that operates in 36 languages.
That reality is changing, he said, as modern tools make learning about
the past cooler.
“Definitely, technology plays a very important role in bringing young
people into genealogy,” Horowitz said. “Once the computer and technology
are used to research or share information, young people are attracted
to it. The amount of young people getting involved in things like Facebook
-- it’s incredible. In Israel, there’s a Facebook for kids 12-15 years
old. That’s a very good catch to bring young people into genealogy.”
While few teenagers and 20-somethings attended the conference, some
spoke of their young children catching the genealogy bug.
Barbara and Richard Wissokur came from Boston with their daughter,
Amy Wissokur Graham, a Philadelphia librarian. When Barbara periodically
updates the family database, she e-mails Amy, who shares the information
with her three children for their class assignments.
“They’ve been working on this so long,” Amy said of her parents, “that
my mother is counting on me to move this forward."
Technology has proven itself to Ruth Epstein-Glicksberg and her husband,
Moshe, retirees in Haifa. Ruth has compiled much of her family’s history
by hand on assorted scraps of paper. She started transferring the data
onto a computer program, Family
Tree Maker, but said she is thinking of switching to MyHeritage’s
Family Tree Builder after hearing a session about it at the conference.
“It’s terrible because it’s a mess,” she said of her scattered notes.
“It’s lots of work, it’s inefficient and it’s not organized. This computer
program is good for me because it gives me many possibilities to organize
my material and search other databases. Technology triggers the possibilities
The couple already has visited Salt Lake City twice to search the vast
Mormon collection of microfilmed European records. Ruth perused thousands
of documents and discovered death records for her grandparents and other
Moshe does Internet research of people whose names are written on the
back of old family photographs. To learn more about the branch of his
family that left Belarus and Lithuania for the United States, he often
conducts online searches of U.S. census records and the Social Security
New opportunities continue to open up.
The International Tracing Service archives in Bad Aronson, Germany,
is a font of newly declassified information. MyHeritage now links researchers
to 1,536 databases around the world.
Ancestry.com says it spends millions of dollars per year digitizing
records that can be searched online. Even before records are indexed,
said the company’s indexing manager, Crista Cowan, Ancestry.com users
can browse such digitized documents as naturalization papers much like
scrolling microfilm spools.
Many software programs also enable the posting of family trees online,
which allows relatives to share and edit each other’s information. For
privacy reasons, users can restrict access to the trees; some sites
limit what information can be viewed.
“What all this means is, if you have an Internet connection and are
sitting in a yurt in Mongolia, you can find out information,” Dardashti
said. “What we always say is, if you don’t find what you’re looking
for today, try tomorrow.”
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