29    Dec 20094 comments

UK: New database for family surnames

Who says there's no money for genealogical research projects?

University of the West of England (UWE) researchers have received 800,000 British pounds to ask "what's in a name?" They plan to include the meanings and origins of some 150,000 UK surnames using resources dating to the 11th century.

In addition to UK and other "native" origin names, other names will be Norman French, Gaelic, Welsh and Cornish, as well as Huguenot, Jewish and later immigrant names. Information for each name will include where and when the names were recorded and spelled.

Professor Richard Coates of the UWE's Bristol Centre for Linguistics will carry out the research with visiting professor Dr. Patrick Hanks. They hope it will be a good resource for those researching their family history. For those who love maps, here's one of the town of Bristol in 1874.

Bristol 1874

The project will begin in April 2010, and a permanent publicly accessible database will be available by 2014. It is being billed as the "The largest ever database of the UK's family surnames," according to a UK site.
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23    Dec 20090 comments

Finding Family: The personal touch

Merry Christmas
Happy Chanukah

The holiday season is here.

Much of the world will celebrate Christmas on December 25, or January 7 (Russian Orthodox). African-Americans celebrate Kwanzaa from December 26-January 1, and Chanukah - the Jewish Festival of Lights - was celebrated December 11-18.

If you are "Seinfeld" fan, you'll remember Frank Costanza's holiday of Festivus ("for the rest of us") today (December 23); its symbol is a plain aluminum pole.

Regardless of what holiday you celebrate, this is when many people think about the new year ahead and make resolutions about how they plan to do better or become healthier.

Others see holiday family gatherings as the perfect time to finally begin researching their family history and they plan to ask questions and record information at the holiday. as they gather to celebrate.

One important component of this quest is finding where our ancestors are buried. Death records can provide many details and can often be found at either the cemetery office or at the funeral home that handled the burial.

I knew a relative had died in Springfield, Massachusetts and located the cemetery. If I had lived in the area, I would have visited the cemetery, but we were in Nevada at the time - too far for a weekend drive. I called the cemetery office, told them about our relative his date of death and asked them to see what they might have in their files from the 1950s.

That's when I learned so much more about my great-grandfather's cousin. Not only was the family well known, but the cousin had built the cemetery, the home for the aging, the synagogue, in addition to residential housing. A friendly woman pulled the 1950s file and copied as much as she could for me, including the obituary from the local paper. That in itself was a major breakthrough, as it provided the names and cities of many relatives and his daughters' married names.

Today, a simple Google search returns some 4.4 million hits for a "genealogy" search. The results include both free and subscription sites, family sites and pages, genealogical social networking sites - like MyHeritage.com - as well as hundreds of genealogy blogs of every possible description.

Where would we researchers be without the Internet, which makes it so easy and quick to find information, to share that information and collaborate with people around the world who are searching for the same families and towns of origin? Various databases can also help us find those important death records, pointing to the proper cemeteries and funeral homes.
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15    Dec 20095 comments

Saving the trees: MyHeritage.com, Beit Hatfutsot

As the Jewish Festival of Lights - Chanukah - is celebrated around the world, MyHeritage.com and Beit Hatfutsot (Museum of the Jewish People) have announced their new partnership to grow the Museum's Jewish family tree database and help to preserve Jewish identity.

Saving the Trees

Family trees built online at MyHeritage.com, via this special page: http://www.myheritage.com/BH or via our free software, Family Tree Builder http://www.myheritage.com/BeitHatfutsot - with the consent of the tree creators - will be transferred to the Museum for digital safekeeping.

MyHeritage.com has 35 million members, 420 million profiles worldwide, and has some 9 million family trees. It operates in 36 languages, making it ideal for families to connect around the world, as it offers easy and fun tools to enable sharing of information, photos, documents and videos among far-flung relatives. Most importantly, privacy controls can be set according to the wishes of the tree creator.

For 30 years, Beit Hatfutsot has been collecting digital information about the Jewish people in many categories. The goal is preservation for the future of these materials, including family trees with millions of records.

A few days ago, I had an opportunity to interview Museum CEO Avinoam Armoni (photo, below left) - a strong believer in genealogy - who understands Jewish identity as well as the important relationships between Jewish people worldwide.

Although our conversation covered future plans of the Museum and how technology will improve public access online to its digitized multimedia database - which includes Jewish genealogy, communities, photos, films and music - the main topic was saving the trees, Jewish family trees!

He believes that this partnership with MyHeritage will add millions of data elements to existing databases at the Museum.

"The immediate benefit of the new arrangement," said Armoni, "is to offer the public free software from MyHeritage.com to create family trees, with the option to share those trees with Beit Hatfutsot."

"MyHeritage.com - a site used all over the world - is the most popular genealogy Website in Israel and in much of the Jewish world, making it a natural partner for our project," he added.
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