Sunday, October 25, 2015

Digital Genealogy and Privacy Issues

For anyone in genealogy who has invited relatives to view their tree online it is likely they have run across a few relatives who were less than pleased with family information being published online. I once had a cousin actually threaten to sue me if I didn't take the tree down (referring to For genealogists who are constantly reaching out to new found relatives this can be even more prevalent, especially if the family being contacted have had identity theft problems.

This summer at the 35th Annual Conference of the International Association for Jewish Genealogical Societies in Jerusalem, Randy Schoenberg presented his lecture "Privacy Issues with Online Family Trees" in which he discusses why there is little to fear when it comes to digital genealogy. He methodically and logically breaks-down the idea of privacy rights and how they apply to genealogy just as they do in every day life. In his introduction Schoenberg states -

"The right to privacy is a relatively recent legal construction, and one that is still evolving. As genealogists, people whose goal is to learn and write about personal details of other people, we often hear complaints about invasion of privacy. So it is worth exploring the issue in some detail to understand what rights exist at present and what might evolve in the future. Since much of our work is done online, I will also address privacy issues related to online trees on various platforms."

Click here for the published version of the lecture

Thursday, October 15, 2015

First Relative Found Through DNA

Just over 2 years ago I ordered the Full Genome Kit from Family Tree DNA. This included a Y-DNA 67 Test, a Full Mt-DNA test, and an Autosmal DNA test (known as Family Finder). My main goal with these DNA tests was to learn about my paternal ancestry, something that I knew little about, as well as locating relatives. When I finally received my results I was stunned at the amount of matches I had in Family Finder and every surname in my Y-DNA matches had completely different surnames, both being quite common results for those with Jewish ancestry.

I found a handful of relatives who I had already found through the paper-trail but it was nice to have DNA confirm what old documents told us. I couldn't find anyone linking into my tree otherwise and throughout the years have contacted different matches in hopes of finding the link. The big hope was to find someone who not only linked into my tree but had more information than I did on the family. I expected the first person I would find to be a 3rd-5th cousin because I've known a lot of about my 1st and 2nd cousins (assuming no one has hidden an illegitimate child).

Finally after 2 years I found a match who had a not so common Jewish surname which was also in my tree. As well they had listed that family being from the UK and Holland, which basically confirmed it for me there because I have yet to find any families in Holland with the same surname. After contacting the relative and explaining what I knew she responded and told me that her sister had focused on researching that side of their family but she knew there was little information of where their side came from. After looking up the names she sent me for their most distant ancestors on that line I was able to find her great-grandfather in my tree. 

After adding her in and doing some quick calculations I realized that she was my 8th cousin exactly. I would have never imagined that the first relative I found through DNA would be so distant in relation. Our most recent shared ancestors were born in 17th century Amsterdam. Although I should also mention her sister had taken a DNA test but we did not match. Either way, it's great to finally have found a relative through the use of DNA and hope that I find more success in the near future.

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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 an 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. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Consideration 3: Spain and Portugal Pass Sephardic Right To Return

Spain finally passed the law of return for Sephardic Jews this past June. The law goes into effect in October 2015 but expires after three years, although it can be extended for another year if deemed necessary. Candidates must apply to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE) and they must hire a Spanish Notary and pass tests on the Spanish language and history. The law has many different hurdles the candidate must get over and has been defined as some as a bit excessive. Most of these hurdles are in the second section of the law, stating;
Spanish Parliament applauds after approving law
to grant citizenship to Sephardic Jews

"2. The condition of Sephardic jews originally from Spain will be attested through the following means of proof, evaluated as a whole:
a) Certificate issued by the President of the Permanent Commision of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain.

b) Certificate issued by the president or similar position of the jewish community of the area of residence or birthplace of the applicant.

c) Certificate of the competent rabbinic authority, legally recognised in the country of residence of the applicant.

The applicant may attach a certificate issued by the President of the Permanent Commision of Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities that endorses the authority condition of the expeditor. As an alternative, to prove the idoneity of the documents mentioned on b) and c), the applicant must provide:
1st. Copy of the original statute of the foreign religious entity.

2nd. Certificate of the foreign entity containing the names of those designated as legal representatives.

3rd. Certificate or documents proving that the foreign entity is legally recognised in its country of origin.

4th. Certificate issued by the legal representative of the entity which proves that the signatory rabbi currently and effectively holds such condition in accordance with the requirements established in the statutory rules.
In addition, the documents referred to in the previous paragraphs, exception made from the certificate issued by the President of the Permanent Commision of Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities, will be, when necessary, appropriately authorised, translated into Spanish by a sworn translator and shall contain the Apostille (of the Hague) or the pertinent seal of legalisation.
d) Accreditation of use of Ladino or “Haketia” as family language, or through other evidence that proves they traditionally belong to that community.

e) Birth certificate or “ketubah” or marriage certificate indicating its celebration according to the traditions of Castile.

f) Report issued by a sufficiently competent entity proving that the applicant’s surname belongs to the Spanish sephardic lineage.

g) Any other circumstance that can reliably prove the condition of Sephardic originally from Spain."

Portugal passed a similar law in January which became effective in late February with the first 21 citizenships being given by March 3rd, 2015. The Portuguese law is less strict than the Spanish law, requiring candidates to obtain a document issued by a Portugal-based Portuguese community attesting to their Portuguese Sephardic ancestry as well as providing their criminal record and birth certificate. To obtain the document attesting to Portuguese Sephardic ancestry a candidate must prove 

"the tradition of belonging to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin, materialised, namely, in the family name of the applicant, native language, ancestry, and family memory."

or they must provide the following evidence;
  1. a)  Certified document, issued by the Jewish community that ther applicant belongs to, proving their usage of Portuguese expressions in Jewish rites, or as a language spoken by them in the heart of that community, the Ladino;
  2. b)  Certified records, such as registers from synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, as well as residence permits, property titles, deeds of will, and other pieces of evidence of family connection from the applicant, through direct ancestry or family relationship in a collateral line of a common parent from the Sephardic community of Portuguese origin. 
Now that both Spain and Portugal have passed laws, it is interesting to look at the history of Sephardic Jews, Spanish Nationality Law, and Portuguese Nationality Law. In 1492 the Alhambra Decree was signed and brought in the Spanish Inquisition, requiring Jews to either convert to Catholicism or leave the country. In 1536 Portugal followed suit and began their own Inquisition against the Jews. It is said that when the Inquisitions happened the leading Rabbis declared a cherem on Spain, or a ban on living in Spain (oddly enough I never heard or read about a cherem being placed on Portugal). The expulsion from Spain was viewed by many leading Jews as a betrayal and even some Jews who converted to Catholicism (or pretended to) - such as Don Abraham Senior Coronel - were considered betrayers of their people. Fast forward about 500 years to 2013 and the first draft bills in both Portugal and Spain are being put forward to "right the wrongs on the Inquisition" by giving descendants of Sephardic Jews "the right to return" by granting fast-tracked citizenship. 

As I spoke about in The Consideration 2, some see this as a political ploy to bring money to their dying economies. A little unknown fact many people miss is that Portugal had already passed a "Jewish Law of Return" in April 2013 which allowed Sephardic Jews to gain a 'fast-tracked' citizenship. The law of return in Portugal was a bit stricter than that proposed in Spain; requiring applicants to have "belong to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin with ties to Portugal" and to show Sephardic names in their family tree. Interestingly enough this is an amendment to the already established law "Law On Nationality" which was established in 1981 and determined citizenship by whether one or both parents are citizens of the state as opposed to place of birth. This is called Jus Sanguinis, or right of blood, and makes it so someone born in Portugal can't gain citizenship without at least one parent having citizenship or having held residence for at least 6 years in Portugal.

There are still a lot of questions with both laws and it will be interesting to see how many applications are accepted come October. Many are saying that Spain's law is too strict and they should lighten their requirements, similar to Portugal. A lot of people seem skeptical and believe that this is a ploy to just help the Spanish and Portuguese economies out of their recent slumps. I'd be interested to hear from anyone with personal experience applying for the citizenship and any problems they may have encountered. Now it's time to consider if I want to start the process.

Read the Other "Consideration" articles;
The Consideration: Obtaining My Spanish Citizenship As A Sephardi
The Consideration 2: A Step Forward For Obtaining Spanish Citizenship
The Consideration 4: Starting the Process for Portuguese Citizenship