Thursday, October 27, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: An Envelope from Paris

This envelope is 5 1/8" x 3 1/2".  It's a yellowish, off-white color; it may originally have been white.  It has no return address but was mailed to Mr. Jean La Forêt, Vice Consul des Etats Unis, 30 bd Carnot, Alger.  The postmark is from Paris, XVI Arrondissement, Place Chopin, November 14, 1916.  The cost to mail it was 10 centimes.  In what appears to be Jean's handwriting, it has "Mason — Consular Reports, etc" at the top and "Answ'd 11/21-16" at the lower left.

The obverse of the envelope has "Mason" written in large letters sideways.  There is the barest hint of the postmark from when it was received in Algeria; "ALGER" can be made out (upside-down from this perspective), but nothing else.  The reddish-brown mark under the letter "a" in "Mason" feels and looks like a dried piece of rubber band that is stuck on the envelope.  I'm hesitant to try to pull it off in case it tears the paper.

And as with the four envelopes mailed to Jean from the "American Consular Service" earlier in 1916, this one is empty.

Looking at the writing on the address here, it is similar to that on the four previous envelopes.  Maybe they were sent by the same person.  And this envelope has what might be a name:  Mason.  Is that who mailed it?

Sometime between April 27 (the last of the four earlier envelopes) and November 14, Jean moved and/or the sender learned of Jean's new address.  And we've seen this address before.  Someone named Mason (I still can't read the first name) sent a postcard to Jean at boulevard Carnot.  I'm going to assume this is the same person.

So now I have five empty envelopes, from what I have to assume were letters mailed to Jean by Mr. Mason.  This time, however, Jean gave a clue as to why he might not have kept the contents.  If "Consular Reports, etc" referred to what was sent to him, those might have been filed and kept at the consulate.  If the previous envelopes held similar items, they also were probably kept at the consulate.  But then I have to wonder why Jean bothered to keep the empty envelopes!

I've discovered an interesting conflict about boulevard Carnot.  Google Maps told me it is the current avenue Taleb Messaoud, and that's what I posted earlier.  But French Wikipedia says it is now boulevard Zighoud Youcef in central Algiers.  On further investigation, avenue Taleb Messaoud is in the El Biar suburb of Algiers.  I'm leaning toward the location in central Algiers as being where Jean and Emma were living.

Monday, October 24, 2016

She Was the Informant for Her Own Death Certificate

It's October, the month of Hallowe'en and strange and scary things, so Elizabeth O'Neal of the Genealogy Blog Party asked people to write about the strangest things they had found during their research.  Besides my grandfather being registered as a girl on his birth record (which is strange in the sense of odd and confusing, but not particularly scary), the strangest thing I have found is the death certificate where the information was provided by the deceased herself.

I ordered this certificate while I was doing research for a friend.  As I worked my way down the page — past name (Taisia Swanson), birthplace (Russia), parents' names (Vladimir Gussakosky and Maria Akinfieva), occupation (self-employed vocal instructor), and usual residence (Ojai) — I reached the box labeled "Name and Address of Informant–Relationship", and found "Self Before Demise."

Say what?  This was the first time I had seen that on a death certificate.  Why in the world would she have given the information for her death ceratificate before she died?

My eyes had gone straight from the usual residence to the informant.  When I looked at the other information, I found that she had died in a convalescent hospital.  So she didn't really give the info specifically for the certificate; she likely provided it while she was filling in the intake forms that the hospital required, and the person at the hospital copied it from there.  But it certainly was startling to read, and I've never seen another like it!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Childhood Interest in Family and Genealogy

Ah, a subject near and dear to my heart!  For Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, Randy Seaver (via Jacquie Schattner) is asking whether we showed interest in genealogy as children:

Here is your assignment if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible music, please!):

When you reflect back, as a child, do you now see things that you did then that show your interest in knowing extended family and/or your future interest in genealogy?

(2)  Share your response in a comment on this blog post, in your own blog post (and provide a link in a comment on this post), or on Facebook or Google+.

I was interested in family history as a young child, because my mother and grandmother talked about family members all the time.  I knew names, birth dates, anniversary dates, relationships, and more.  My grandmother told me her father's original name (which made looking for him on a passenger list a lot easier).  My mother was close to her family, and I knew my grandparents, uncles, and cousins.  They all lived close enough that we saw them somewhat regularly.  I met more family members, including my grandmother's siblings and their children, on a visit to Florida for a wedding.  There was lots of communication back and forth with cards and letters.

My father was not close to his family, but I did know his parents and two of his sisters, along with many cousins.  I don't think I ever met his oldest sister.  In contrast to my mother's family, I didn't even know my grandfather had siblings until after the second one had died.

When I was 13, a junior-high-school assignment to do my family tree back four generations cemented my already existing interest in family history.  I still have the original purple mimeographed tree and the notes I took while interviewing family members.  (One of these days I need to dig that out to scan it and show it off!)

So I've been addicted to genealogy for 41 years, and counting.  As a habit, I could have made far worse choices.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: Jean La Forêt Follows Developments in Nicaragua

This article, "How the United States Is Helping Nicaragua", was published in Dun's Review of April 1916.  Dun's Review was published by R. G. Dun & Company, prior to its merger with John M. Bradstreet's company, which created Dun & Bradstreet.  The article runs six pages, 39–44.  It appears to have been torn out of a magazine.  I can't find the article itself online, although this book includes it in the references.

The paper is 19.5 cm x 29.5 cm (approximately 7 11/16" x 11 5/8").  It's smaller than standard A4 paper and larger than A5; maybe this was a standard size in 1916.  All the pages are a little off-white, probably due to age.  When I received the article, it was folded into quarters.  The fold marks are obvious on the original, but they don't seem to show up that much on the scans.

The article was wrapped in a lined piece of paper with what appears to be Jean La Forêt's handwriting on it.

Jean wrote only a little on his cover sheet:

Treaty, canal, Railroads.
etc. etc.
Voted February 18th 1916
55 to 18 (Senate)

The opening paragraph of the article mentions that Nicaragua was under consideration for the canal that eventually went through Panama.  Perhaps that is part of why Jean kept the article, as he seems to have been interested in the canal (or at least he kept an article about the final connection between the oceans being made).  Other than that, the article is an overview of U.S. history in Nicaragua, occasioned by the ratification in the U.S. Senate of the Nicaragua Canal Treaty.

The Nicaragua Canal Treaty is formally known as the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty, for its principal negotiators, William Jennings Bryan and Emiliano Chamorro Vargas.  The primary provision of the treaty gave the U.S. rights in perpetuity to build a canal through Nicaragua.  The treaty was abolished in 1970.

In 1916 Jean was still a U.S. Vice-Consul in Algeria.  Did this subject have anything to do with his job?  Or was this kept due to a strictly personal interest in the subject?  With only his short synopsis written on the cover sheet, I'm afraid I'll never know why this was considered important enough to keep.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Frustrating Fate of the Record Books of the Jews from Egypt

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 edition of Kosher Koala, the journal of the Australian Jewish Genealogical Society.  It is reprinted with permission from the author to help spread word about the situation with these records.

Dani Haski, guest author

Community registers in Alexandria.
Photo credit:  Association
Internationale Nebi Daniel
In July 2016, the newspaper Egypt Independent reported the death of Lucy Saul.  Saul’s passing reduced the official Jewish population of Cairo to just six old and increasingly frail women.  In an interview with the BBC a couple of years ago, Magda Haroun, the nominal head of the Cairo Jewish community, voiced her anguish at what would happen to the cultural legacy of this once thriving community.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Haroun proved to be just as resistant as her predecessor, the late, formidable Carmen Weinstein, when it came to facilitating access to the large library of community registers housed in the various synagogues to those who have been fighting for decades to preserve this rich heritage, so her lamentations were somewhat disingenuous.

Then, in early April 2016, Mrs. Haroun gave the libraries of the Adly, Ben Ezra, and Abbasseya synagogues, in their entirety, to the National Archives of Egypt.  She did this without consulting any of the organizations which had been fighting to digitize and preserve these records.  Upon receiving these assets in Cairo, officials from the National Archives descended on the community in Alexandria, which had shown no such desire to surrender its heritage.  M. Ben Gaon, the community leader, was pressured to hand over its collections to the archives as well.  These included personal religious and civil identity registers dating back to 1830.  Placing these records with the Egyptian Archives has not so far improved access.  Those fighting to save them are concerned that the records will simply disappear into this vast collection, much like the Ark of the Covenant at the end of the Hollywood movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, never to be seen again.

Egypt and the Jewish people have a history going back to before Moses.  In more recent times, Egypt was home to a thriving and successful Jewish community, numbering more than 80,000 through the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries.  In synagogues across the country, the day-to-day lives of the community—births, bris and bar mitzvahs, marriages, divorces, and deaths—were dutifully recorded by hand in hundreds of leather-bound registers.  No one foresaw the tumultuous turn the 20th century would take.  Sadly, after World War II and with the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the fall of the monarchy, and the Suez crisis in the 1950’s, the community was forced into what many today call the Second Exodus.

For individuals with roots in Egypt, it has been an increasingly frustrating and difficult exercise to access those vital genealogical records, records which are more than historical curiosities and can actually be crucial in matters of religious identity—often being the only way some people can verify their Jewish status for religious purposes.

Yves Fedida (left) of Nebi Daniel with
M. Farouk Hosny, former Egyptian
Minister for Culture, in 2010.
Photo credit:  Association
Internationale Nebi Daniel
The Association Internationale Nebi Daniel, based in France, has been working tirelessly for years for the opportunity to access, digitize, and preserve these record books.  It was close to success in 2010, having secured a letter from the then Culture Minister, M. Farouk Hosni, acknowledging the legitimacy of its claim.

And then came Tahrir Square.  The Arab Spring in Egypt threw the whole project back to square one. Hopes were once again raised with the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood administration, but after fruitless attempts to revive negotiations through official channels, Yves Fedida, from Nebi Daniel and the Heritage of Jews in Egypt Facebook page, initiated a petition addressed directly to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the current Minister of Culture, M. Helmy Namnam, exhorting them to urgently authorize:
  • scanning of all existing Jewish archives, particularly religious and civil identity records, and making the scans freely available;
  • donation to various Jewish community synagogues across the world of some of the 150 Torah scrolls which fall outside the 100 years Egyptian Antiquities rule;
  • restoration of the existing synagogues and cemeteries—in particular, the Bassatine cemetery in Cairo, one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the world—giving easy access both virtually and on the spot;
  • development of a comprehensive inventory of the remaining communal assets and of a plan for their preservation; and
  • creation, within one of the existing synagogues, of a museum of Egyptian Jewish heritage, which would encourage tourism.
A copy of the petition, which has, to date, gathered more than 1,500 signatures, was also sent to the Egyptian Ambassadors in France, Great Britain, Italy, Switzerland, Israel, Canada, the U.S.A., Brazil, and Australia.  Not a single diplomat has responded.  (I contacted the Egyptian Consul-General to Australia in Sydney for comment, but, at the time of publication, none has been forthcoming.)

The main concern of Egyptian authorities appears to be a perceived threat of reparations being demanded by descendants of Jews who were expelled and whose businesses and properties were confiscated.  The reality is that none of the registers in question has any connection to property ownership and cannot be used for this purpose.  Separate cases for reparations have already been prosecuted in the Egyptian courts and settled by individuals.  There is, in fact, no good reason to withhold permission for access to, and preservation of, these records, particularly when Nebi Daniel has committed to footing the bill for the whole exercise, ensuring positive PR and media coverage for the Egyptian government, and leaving the physical registers in Egypt.

The Egyptian government is not blind to the value of its Jewish cultural heritage.  In 2010, the government invested almost 8.5 million Egyptian pounds (US $950,000) in restoring the Maimonides Synagogue in Cairo and opening it to the public as a museum.

As recently as early September this year, a report in Al Monitor quoted the current head of the Islamic and Coptic Monuments Department at the Ministry of Antiquities (who is also responsible for Jewish antiquities), M. Saeed Helmy, as saying, “I know very well that the Egyptian monuments—including the Jewish antiquities—capture the attention of people all around the world. Therefore, I’d like to make it clear that Egypt pays considerable attention to its monuments, whether they are Islamic, Coptic or Christian .
. . . However, we need the support of the countries that are interested in cultural heritage in order to protect these great antiquities.”

Collection of the Jewish community registers might have been an unwritten part of this response, as on June 11, the Ministry announced the formation of a special committee, with Helmy as its chair, to take stock of Jewish antiquities and register them in the ministry’s records—an activity undertaken several times already by previous Antiquities ministers.  But he admitted that, with the drastic fall in tourism revenue, the country had scarce funds to achieve its goals.

Community registers in Alexandria.
Photo credit:  Association
Internationale Nebi Daniel
But should the community registers be classified as antiquities or as artifacts?  Their importance lies more in the information they contain than in the physical books themselves.  Unfortunately, the Ministry has consistently ignored repeated offers of financial assistance from Association Internationale Nebi Daniel specifically to preserve these books and to help raise money for other preservation activities.  It appears that this very public show of attention to part of Egypt’s recent history might simply, once again, be mere lip service, as it coincided with Helmy’s meeting with the U.S. cultural attaché in August 2016.

So what is to be done?

Egypt claims it wants to preserve these artifacts and records but cannot afford to.  Members of the diaspora have repeatedly offered to help raise money and to pay for the preservation, digitizing, and indexing of important community registers, on the proviso that these records are available to the international community.

Are the Egyptian authorities deaf?  Have the messages been lost in translation?

Or is the Egyptian government simply telling the international community what it wants to hear while continuing to do absolutely nothing?

Disclaimer:  My father was a refugee from Egypt. I have a personal stake in wanting to access his records, along with those of his parents and grandparents, so that I can understand more of my family’s history.

©2016 Dani Haski. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Will the Real Mrs. Sellers Please Stand Up?

Mary Lou in 1964
My family was "blended" decades before that became a common term.  In 1968, and maybe a little before and/or a little after (I don't know the exact dates), not only was my father on his second marriage, but his first wife and his daughter from that marriage (whom I always have called simply my sister) were living with my family in Southern California.  For a while my sister and I attended the same elementary school.

Mary Lou, the aforementioned first wife, told me a story about a contest at the elementary school.  It was for the "best mother" in the school.  One day she was at the house when the phone rang.

"May I please speak to Mrs. Sellers?"

Mary Lou answered, "Which one?"

This threw off the woman from the school a bit, but she recovered enough to say, "The one with a daughter at Rorimer Elementary School."

And again Mary Lou answered, "Which one?"

The woman on the other end of the phone became a little more disconcerted.  "The one who submitted an entry for the best mother contest?"

You guessed it:  "Which one?"

By that point the woman from the school was totally confused.  Yes, my sister and I had both submitted our mothers for the contest.  After a few more details, Mary Lou discovered that she had won the contest.  (I guess my sister, being five years older, could write a better essay.)

Funny, but now that I think about it, it's interesting that Mary Lou told me that story, but my mother didn't.

I'm posting this story in honor of Mary Lou's birthday, which was yesterday, October 16.  If she were still with us she would be 78 years old.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: What Were You Doing in 1995?

This week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun assignment from Randy Seaver is an update from one he did last year about this time, when he asked everyone what they were doing in 1985:

Here is your assignment if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible music, please!):

(1) Do you recall what you were doing in 1995?  Family, school, work, hobbies, technology, genealogy, vacations, etc?

(2)  Tell us in a blog post of your own, in a comment on this blog, or in a Facebook or Google+ post.

At least we know why Randy can remember so much about what he did — he sent out a Christmas letter (which he obviously has a copy of)!  I don't think I'm going to do as well.

• In January of 1995 my mother, my grandfather, and an uncle passed away.  That pretty much shot the rest of the year for me.

• In April 1995 I turned 33.  I don't remember anything exciting happening for my birthday or any holidays that year.

• I was working for Chaosium, a small press publisher in Oakland, California.  I was an editor, I think on two fiction lines, along with being the company "convention schnook", which meant I handled the paperwork for our convention appearances and convention support.  I may have gone to one or two conventions myself for the company that year, but I had just started working there in October 1994, so that's the most I would have attended.  I think I went to GenCon on my own that summer, but I'm not sure.  I also did a lot of freelance editing for R. Talsorian Games.

• I was still working with a game convention in Southern California, so I must have traveled to Los Angeles over Presidents' Day weekend and Labor Day weekend for the four-day events.  I believe I also went to the Memorial Day weekend convention.

That's about all I remember.  I don't think I took any regular vacations, just my "working vacations."  It was not a great year.