Anyone who knows my genealogy history, is aware that my flagship work is the single-surname project on my father's paternal line, the Pikholz family.
My mother's paternal side is Gordon and there are a number of people doing work on that large Lithuanian-Belarus family. Some of those share their work, some do not. Some of them agree with one another, some refuse to speak to one another.
I was fortunate enough to be able to begin recording my Gordon side with my grandfather's great-grandfather, so my serious research interests begin before Old Rachmiel was born, in 1811. I found one record pertaining to his father, but anything before that is from other peoples' research.
Foremost among those other people is Norman Carp-Gordon, whose connection to my mother's family also includes the Kugels of Pleshchenitsy.
To my regret, Norman shared some information, but almost no source material, so I cannot really accept it as part of my definitive family history. Nor am I properly armed for a discussion with other researchers who disagree with some of Norman's conclusions.
Norman died nine years ago.
There is a man who is also part of both the Gordon and the Kugel families and is a third cousin of mine according to autosomal DNA testing. He is a serious researcher and he too was in touch with Norman. Together we have approached Norman's sister about getting hold of his hard disk, but without success.
And this researcher-cousin has said to me on more than one occasion, "If only Norman's work were on Geni, we would have his data and his sources." And he is right. If Norman had agreed to put his data and sources on Geni, we would have it. But he didn't, just like he didn't share it with us when he was alive. And if he had put it on Geni, with his sources, perhaps we would be able to compare his work and conclusions with those of Nancy Holden and others and maybe we could have reached some agreed-upon results.
So in principle, I agree with this cousin-researcher that Geni and other platforms of its ilk can be useful, but even in this instance, where we are talking about serious people all around, I am not sure it would have advanced our research significantly.
By the way, some of you may know this cousin-researcher, descendant of Gordons and Kugels, DNA third cousin, promoter of Geni. His name is Adam Brown.
Last year in Boston, I went to hear Adam speak about Geni. He began with a discussion of the need to attract young people to genealogy to keep the field viable. Young people who thrive on technology, mobile apps, wikis and crowd-sourcing, interconnecting and directed collaboration.
And I nodded my head in agreement, for any Neanderthal inclinations I have are a function of age, not principle.
My initial response to the presentation in Boston and to the articles that followed in Avotaynu, appeared in Avotaynu last fall and is included here in the handout.
Today I shall touch both on some of the points raised there and on others. I do not plan to speak today about errors and other issues, so please have a look at the handout.
Also included in the handout is a link to a piece by the well-known genealogy blogger Randy Seaver, after being told by Geni that he is a fifth cousin nine times removed to Benjamin Franklin. Randy's pull quote is "This exercise points out the real problems of interconnect 'universal' world trees - almost anyone can make relationship connections based on some or no information."
Another item in the handout is a Facebook announcement which someone posted advising that "Israel David Pickholtz is Randy Schoenberg's wife's aunt's husband's fourth cousin's wife's sister's husband's nephew's wife's mother's husband." Six of those connections are either "wife" or "husband" which means there are seven distinct trees from Randy's to mine. Once we called that "Jewish geography" and later it was called "networking." This may be of use to attract newcomers, kind of like the bearded lady in the circus, but genealogy it isn't. And it gets in the way of real research.
Sallyann wants each of us to discuss how we organize our own material, how we present it to the public and how we use this to work with other researchers. In my case, I do all that, but the specific answer depends on which branch of my family we are talking about.
In the case of the families of my father's maternal grandfather Moritz Rosenzweig, my public presentation is simply a descendants report in traditional outline form for each of his parents' families, where the lowest person on the tree is my great-grandfather. I uploaded them to my own website pikholz.org.
Bob Hanscom found those descendants reports as two nineteenth century sisters in his family, married into my two families. Bob graciously provided me with extracts of other records he found at his Family History Center, which allowed me to expand my on-line presentations.
Cyndi Norwitz saw her great-grandfather in one of Bob's extracts on my site and filled out her branch of my Zelinkas. I accepted her data and she accepted mine and we are now recorded in each of our databases as fifth cousins.
Two cousins on the Rosenzweig side saw their ancestors on pikholz.org, made contact and filled out new information for me. And I for them. The new fifth cousin in the US has now met both me and my new third cousin in Budapest. And thanks to my data, the third cousin in Budapest understands why his mother was hidden where she was during the Holocaust.
All that from those two simple descendants reports sitting on pikholz.org , found with traditional Google-type searches.
And while drafting these very words two weeks ago, I heard from another Rosenzweig fifth cousin. She saw my tree listed on H-SIG at JewishGen and followed the link to meet up with me. This kind of thing is the best of collaborative genealogy.
The family of my great-grandmother Regina Bauer, the wife of Moritz Rozenzweig, appears in a similar descendants report and in this case a man in Jerusalem (where I live) ran across his grandfather there. That man's father my grandmother's first cousin - died in 1975 and my grandmother never knew of him.
In another case, I had a post in my weekly blog allmyforeparents.blogspot.com about Cousin Leo the spy. This Leo had eleven brothers and sisters, most of whom I knew nothing about aside from their births. I listed them in that blog and mentioned one who was an opera singer. Some months later, a fellow in the UK googled his great-uncle the opera singer and came upon my blog. His grandmother was one of those for whom all I had was a birth record. Now I have more. Now he knows more.
This fellow has no interest in genealogy and would never
have stumbled across me if my data had been confined to a tree on a genealogy
I am getting nice results from the genealogy research
I put out on pikholz.org, from posts on my blog, from discussions on Facebook
and from discussion lists. Even from my inquiries to the International
Tracing Service in Arolsen, where each inquiry becomes part of their database,
available to future inquirers.
And an extensive web of DNA matches is about as collaborative
as you can get! Even among the endogamous. Let me say that again
for emphasis. An extensive web of DNA matches is about as collaborative
as you can get! That is where much of my work is concentrated these days.
That is where many of tomorrow's researchers can be found.
As Judi Zimmer wrote last week in a Facebook discussion on DNA "Everyone is related to Israel Pickholtz. In fact, he could well be the key to many of us not only connecting to long-gone relatives, but to each other!"
No one can tell me that I don't do collaboration!
Can I increase my exposure by displaying an online tree? Undoubtedly. But it must be under my own control, on my terms and in ways that fit my needs. Certainly not with a company that sounds like it thinks it is doing me a favor by allowing me to keep my "stand-alone tree."
For now, I have decided that my Rosenzweigs and Zelinkas are best served by simple descendants reports that come down to my great grandfather. But my mother's Rosenbloom and Kugel lines are so poorly developed that even reports like that are of little use. Trees in the Ancestry or Geni sense would be so small as to be meaningless. I have bits and pieces on my web site and have begun a bit of DNA collaboration for them.
The Kwoczkas, my father's paternal grandmother's family, are another story entirely. One line opened up and a great friendship as well - because I had a listing at the Diaspora Museum in Tel-Aviv. Isn't this collaborative? I have since built a tree in Excel, which I have placed online. That tree goes down to my grandfather's generation. There is also an descendants report that I keep current, but for reasons of privacy is behind a password. This too is collaborative.
Each of my families is presented in its own way depending on what we know about the family, how the family is structured and what strikes me as a good idea at the time. There is no standard solution, there is no formula. There really can't be.
In the case of my wife's Hammer, Scharf, Diamond and Buchhalters,
I have quite a bit of information, with enough of it online that I was
contacted by third cousins from three of those four families, all
on her paternal grandmother's side, in the space of six months.
The fourth family contact was at an IAJGS conference. Some of what is online
is password-protected. Getting it properly organized to put orderly, meaningful
trees online is more than I have time for, but in any case they won't go
onto a "collaborative site" until I have greater trust in the online tree
companies than I have now.
In case this point has not come through, let me say explicitly,
I do not envision ever putting "a tree" online. Each of my families is
its own distinct project and the company who cannot handle it that way
or who will forcibly stitch them together, will not get my business or
My wife's Baums and Zylberstajns have a more organized presence on pikholz.org, with trees of sorts, tables of memorial days and links to graves. Despite the fact that these families have more on line than some of the others, the contacts with new family members have been at my initiative. If they were higher priority for me, I would perhaps do them differently.
Then there is the Pikholz Project. As a single-surname project it is quite a different kettle of fish. We have over two dozen family lines going back to two east Galician towns, most to about 1820-35, some a bit more, a few a bit less. Add to that an assortment of unattached people or small families. This does not lend itself to the traditional tree structure and I am not willing to create a person called "Original Pikholz" to hold them all together.
The Pikholz Project website stands alone on pikholz.org and includes pages that are specific to each family, as well as pages that are relevant to all the families together - emigration, Holocaust victims, IDF casualties, yahrzeits, translated graves, an analysis of given names and more. I began building those pages on Netscape Composer fifteen years ago, after a JewishGen online course given by Mark Heckman.
None of this lends itself to the Ancestry- or Geni-type tree. But it serves its purpose to present the families in an organized way where other members of the research team can get at whatever they need and where "new" people can find us.
Here too, the trees name only dead people. Each family has a password-protected descendants report which comes down to the present and which I update as necessary.
There are other examples of how my online information led to my being found, in the handout.
There is a critical aspect of the way I do things which is overlooked in this discussion.
Back in the old days, most of us organized our genealogy in databases. The current FAQ on JewishGen lists a number of these including Family Tree Maker, The Master Genealogist, Legacy Family Tree, the Israeli DoroTree and Brother's Keeper, which is what I use.
These databases are full of names, dates, places, relationships, source citations and usually offer the possibility to attach photographs and documents. And of course comments. Lots of space for comments.
In the old days, we would enter our information and use these programs to keep them organized.
The programs also provided an assortment of reports, both on-screen and printed. Trees, charts, descendants reports, statistics.
Putting all of this online where others can see it required a place to put it and a way to get it there, in addition to improvements in graphics to make it all work as a website.
This website would essentially be independent from the database and that was considered a bug that the online collaborative sites like Ancestry and Geni were designed to solve. The idea was that your database would flow directly into the website dynamically, so that the two would be completely in tandem.
The bug the website separate from the database is to me a feature. And a critically important one at that.
In the world of my genealogy, the database is definitive, while the website is illustrative.
The database is restricted to demonstrated facts as I choose to define them. It has or should have source citations and references to documents. If I am pretty sure of something, I can mention that in the comments. The database is the reliable touchstone, where everything has been fully vetted.
The website, on the other hand, tells a story the way I want to tell it. It eliminates some of the speculative bits by including them in the family structure.
For instance, we have a number of children born to Mordecai Pikholz in the 1800s in Skalat. We also have an 1864 Skalat death record for 59 year old Mordecai Pikholz. I am pretty sure this is the same man. On my web site, the Mordecai who had the children is marked "~1805-1864" as though it is fact. In my database the death record gave rise to a new individual, so I have two entries for what may be the same man. For each there is a comment saying "Almost certainly (or probably) the same as "
Or for instance, my father told me that his grandfather had an uncle named Selig Pikholz. This bit of information has proven extremely important in my research, even though I haven't a shred of what would normally be called proof that my great-grandfather had such an uncle. There is one man named Selig Pikholz in the Skalat records and I list him in my database with the note "Probably the son of " On my website I have the option to list him differently, because I am quite sure who his parents are. What is my evidence? My father said so, even though this is weak hearsay evidence which would not pass muster with the formalists and the credentialed genealogists.
There are of course dozens of other examples but my point is that when the database and the website are as one, you lose accuracy and flexibility. When the website IS the database, you have compromised the integrity of the database and perhaps of the website as well.
Then there are the DNA connections I am learning about. Some appear more definite and others less so. I have not yet decided how to handle them, either in my database or on my website. But I am sure that there will be no one-size-fits-all formula. I will make my decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Some of our younger researchers get caught up in the interactive technology, the ease of data entry, the idea that all we need is the online presentation and I am talking about standalone trees here, not merged and collaborative trees.
I think they are making a mistake. The definitive database
is different from the illustrative website. Combining the two harms both.