Sunday, October 4, 2015

Origins of the Nunes Vaz Family of Amsterdam

The Nunes Vaz family of Amsterdam traces it's documented roots back to Livorno, Italy in the late 17th century. Jacob Nunes Vaz is the patriarch of the Nunes Vaz family of Amsterdam and was born in 1697 in Livorno, Italy to Abraham Nunes Vaz. Jacob's father Abraham was born around 1670 but there have been no records found on Abraham. It is believed the family originally hailed from Portugal and there is even a family story that there were originally 4 Nunes Vaz brothers who left Portugal and all went to different parts of the World.
Marriage Record for Jacob Nunes Vaz (1697-1746)
and Judith Falcao (1703-????) - Dec 23rd, 1723

Back in Italy the name also was spelled as Nunes Vais and some records in Amsterdam even spell it as Nunes Vaes. It doesn't seem like anyone else from the Nunes Vaz family came with Jacob to Amsterdam, although there is a possible sister named Lea who is listed in the cemetery records at Beth Haim as Lea Nunes Vaes of Esther and died in 1748, 2 years after Jacob. I haven't found any records of an Esther but I suspect it's possible Esther is the wife of Abraham Nunes Vaz, which if so would make Lea the sister of Jacob and Esther his mother. The family left back in Italy became quite prominent with many Rabbis and famous artists including Italo Nunes Vais and Mario Nunes Vais. The patriarch of the branch that stayed in Livorno is Isaac Joseph Nunes Vais who died in 1768 and was most likely born around the same time as our Jacob Nunes Vaz. It is my belief that Isaac Nunes Vais and Jacob Nunes Vaz were 1st cousins who shared Nunes Vaz grandparents, making their fathers brothers (but this is all speculation). Even more interesting is the fact that both Isaac and Jacob were printers, making it possible that printing was a family trade.
Record for Raphael Nunes Vaz (1734-1802) at
Beth Haim of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel

Jacob Nunes Vaz married Judith Falcao on December 23rd, 1723 in Amsterdam and they had two known sons; Aaron (1733-1745) and Raphael Nunes Vaz (1734-1802). Jacob worked as a printer and it is believed his father also worked as printer, most likely gaining their skills in Livorno which was considered the center of Hebrew printing in Italy. Jacob died in 1746 at the age of 49. Jacob's son Raphael Married Simcha Querido on November 10th, 1758 and had a lot of children but because Jacob's other son Aaron died at the age of 12 all members of the Amsterdam Nunes Vaz family trace their roots back to Raphael.

Of Raphael's descendants all of them come from two of his son's; Jacob Nunes Vaz (1759-1813) or Abraham Nunes Vaz (1769-1832), both of whom marred women from the Senior Coronel family. Between these two brothers there are more than 3000 known direct descendants with about 1000 living descendants scattered all over the World. The number seems to constantly go up as more descendants are found but because of the horrors of the Holocaust, especially in Amsterdam, many branches in the Nunes Vaz tree end in the 1940s.

A portrait of Jaap Nunes Vaz
painted by his friend Meijer Bleekrode
One famous figure in the family is Jaap Nunes Vaz, a co-founder of the newspaper Het Parool and a member of the Dutch resistance. He was arrested by the Gestapo on October 25th, 1942 and deported via Westerbork to Sobibor where he was murdered on March 13th, 1943. He has a street named after him in Amsterdam. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Quantifying Genealogy

As I have progressed on my genealogy journey I have constantly wondered of ways to quantify how much I know about my own genealogy. Was there a way I could determine how much of my family history I knew? After looking at random statistics and doing different calculations there were two things I found very interesting in terms of quantifying my genealogy; the number of ancestors I knew about (at least a name, a birth date, or a death date) per generation back and the total number of ancestors I truly had in each generation. I could easily put these together to find out an assumed percentage of how many ancestors I knew about in each generation. I decided to make a post about it although it could be considered rambling by some.

Here is what I have in basic knowledge for up to 8 generations

Parents - 2/2 = 100%
Grandparents - 4/4 = 100%
Great Grandparents - 8/8 = 100%
2nd Great Grandparents - 12/16 = 75%
3rd Great Grandparents - 12/32 = 37.5%
4th Great Grandparents - 8/64 = .125%
5th Great Grandparents - 15/128 = .117%
6th Great Grandparents - 24/256 = .094%
7th Great Grandparents - 41/512 = .08%  
8th Great Grandparents - 65/1024 = .063%

Looking over it this seems pretty straightforward but when you interpret what it means it really puts things into perspective. For example lets take my 8th great grandparents who were all mostly born between 1650-1700, about 365 to 415 years ago, I know about only 65 completely different ancestors living at that time. Yet those 65 almost make up 2/3 of only 1 percent of the ancestors I had alive at the time throughout the whole world. As well it shows just how much information I lack and how much there is for me to try to obtain, so it gives me inspiration to knock down those brick-walls to discover all that information I don't know about the ancestors I come from.

Now if I go back two more generations things get very interesting because this is the first generation where I know I have ancestors show up multiple times.

9th Great Grandparents - 59/2042 = .029%
10th Great Grandparents - 43/4084 = .011%

If you look closely you will realize that instead of 2048 9th-great grandparents I only list 2042. This is because I have 3 sets of 9th great grandparents who I descend from twice. Each subsequent generation back in time will now go from this number until another generation with ancestors who I descend from more than once changes the number again. I find it an interesting concept because it relates to the pedigree collapse theory, that over time you will eventually have more ancestors than people living in the world. So lets say you have a set of 2nd great grandparents you descend from twice you would have 14 sets of 2nd great-grandparents instead of the usual 16, then take that back 5 more generations to 7th great grandparents and you've got 456 ancestors at most instead of 512, a difference of 56 ancestors. Take it back to your 10th great grandparents and you've got at most 3648 ancestors instead of 4096, a difference of 448 ancestors. Then once you consider that each generation you go back there is an even higher likelihood of more common ancestors within your own tree the actual number of ancestors you descend from could be quite less than you truly anticipate. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Politically Correct Transparency: Ben Affleck and Finding Your Roots

One of the most disappointing things in the genealogy field lately is the whole Ben Affleck debacle with Finding Your Roots. It is one of the most publicly talked about genealogy related discussions since the article about 'every president but one descends from John Lackland'. For those who are unaware of what happened Ben Affleck was a guest on the 2nd season of Finding Your Roots, a show hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. featuring the ancestry of all types of celebrities. During Affleck's segment he discovered he descends from slave owning ancestors. After the filming Affleck contacted Gates and asked that the slave owning ancestors be left out of the final cut, which was the final result. Fast forward a few months later when a massive leak of emails brought this to light and people began to cry foul over the decision to omit the information about Affleck's slave owning ancestors from the episode. After an internal investigation on the matter PBS decided to postpone airing the 3rd season, initially set to air in September, citing Affleck's 'improper influence' and would not reschedule the airing until the show did staffing changes including the addition of another fact-checker and an 'independent' genealogist. As well a possible 4th season is up in the air and PBS will yank the episode with Affleck from future airing. 

Now for my opinion...

It is such a shame as Finding Your Roots is the best genealogy show out there. Much better than any of the Who Do You Think You Are programs, most especially the US version. And for it to all be knocked-down in the name of politically correct transparency because one guest out of the 30+ asked to keep his slave-ancestor out of the program. I'd be curious to see how many people who are so up-in-arms about this who have actually watched this show, let alone this specific episode. One girl I know posted a very berating post about the subject, claiming that had it not been omitted from the show it could have started a discussion about the history of slavery in the United States. To me this shows she has never seen the show because not only has Finding My Roots discussed the history of slavery in the United States at length but every Henry Louis Gates Jr. program has investigated the history of slavery in America more than any other historical or genealogical subject. As well it was a good episode and now they are yanking the episode without consideration (as far as I can tell) to Ben Jealous or Khandi Alexander, the other guests featured in the episode with Affleck. The shows lack of inclusion about his slave-owning ancestors took away nothing from the episode as it was full of interesting information. 

Anyone doing genealogy also knows that there is an absolute abundance of information learned when doing a tree, especially starting from scratch, and to cut all that down into 1/3 of an hour long program leaves a lot out. Not only do they have to condense all this information into 20 minutes but they have to also include the introduction of the guests, talk about their childhood and immediate family, and discuss the DNA of each guest (although some episodes have left out the DNA for some guests), leaving less time to discuss each guest's ancestors. Knowing there is such a small amount of time in each episode, how do we know Affleck's slave owning ancestor wouldn't have been left out without his request? Maybe it wasn't that interesting of a section other than the fact that the ancestor owned slaves and being Affleck requested this info to be out they figured it wasn't a big deal to leave it out (I would do the exact same thing had this been the case).

Seems to me that all these people jumping on the 'hate band-wagon' are hurting the potential this show gives genealogy. Programs like this can actually inspire people to look into their family histories and become interested in genealogy. And as a young man who enjoys genealogy a bit too much I know first-hand how few people my age - and younger - show very little interest in the subject. With that said, I'm curious as to what is to be gained by this witch-hunt against Ben Affleck and Henry Louis Gates Jr.? I understand the show should be held to a high standard, especially being a show that prides itself in uncovering historical information, but they never falsified any information so I don't see what is to be gained from this. What are people looking for other than the sheer drama of calling people out on supposedly 'not doing the right thing'? And another question, would people have cared so much if a guest had requested to leave information out on an ancestor being connected to something else such as the Donner party or descending from a tory family? 

In the end I think most of the people complaining really don't care about the show and just want to be part of an angry mob. Today PBS announced the 3rd season would now be aired in January but didn't mention a possible 4th season. One thing I've found interesting is the lack of input from other guests from the show. After two seasons with two to three guests a show as well as a myriad of other famous guests on Faces of America and African American Lives 1+2, it's surprising no one has spoken up for Henry Louis Gates Jr. Especially when you are talking about celebrities like Oprah, Chris Rock, Stephen Colbert, Corey Booker, Ben Jealous, Anderson Cooper, and so many other people who make a living talking and discussing topics of race and politics. Maybe they are scared of the politically correct social media machine which seems to have made such an impact in our society today that it destroys careers and families within mere hours of post. But in the end that's what this seems to be about, politically correct transparency.