Garri Regev
Garri Regev

When Technology Meets History

It is almost two weeks since we finally arrived back in Israel and it’s incredible that there are still Israelis stranded and waiting to come home. The government in its continuous flip-flop policy forced arriving citizens into sub-par hotels, some far from their residence, only to finally release them – at midnight many days later – with only a couple of hours warning. There is only one constant in the policy decisions, the upcoming elections. Here’s hoping everyone wanting to return to Israel is allowed to do so, and soon!

But I digress. With all its faults, there are also sparks of hope and progress in Israeli society. There are many areas where special contributions occur on a regular basis. People here strive to excel, invent, improve and contribute in so many areas that touch us all – alternative energy sources, military, medicine, simplifying our daily travel needs and so much more.

Another area worthy of mention is the increasing interest and focus on genealogy, with new technologies made available at a staggering pace that have totally changed the field. I have been involved in genealogy (researching family history) on a variety of levels since the 1990s. At that time in order to locate records about your family one needed to visit municipal or state archives in each state your family lived, visits to the National Archives (NARA), trips overseas to the original communities of your family, or perhaps a visit to the FamilySearch archives in Salt Lake City.

In those days the closest options to digitization were microfilm and microfiche. How far we have come! More and more of the vital records (birth, marriage & death), censuses, immigration, naturalization, etc.  are available digitally on a variety of online platforms. Some of these records can be seen without a subscription, others require payment.

What’s it all about? From the time we were small there were stories told around the family table about places far away where the family lived, and we heard the how and why of their travels to a hopefully brighter tomorrow. For many the curiosity becomes intense to learn and understand the circumstances surrounding these travels, who else we might be related to and how much of these stories can really be documented. Hence – genealogy – the study of families, family history, and the tracing of their lineages (Wikipedia).

Following the recent passing of my father and sorting through saved papers, photographs and family cassette recordings I realize that I came into this “hobby” quite naturally. Without knowing it was genealogy, perhaps, those before me ached to know their family story and did their best to document it all. Listening to the voices of those family members long gone telling their story is thrilling.

And here we join genealogy and Israeli ingenuity. MyHeritage (myheritage.com), an Israeli start-up, has produced so many technological firsts in the last few years that it is hard to keep track. They began by presenting a platform where people could upload their family trees and allowed them to be viewed over the internet. In the last 15 years they have introduced ways to match people across those trees and help people connect to relatives, bring in historical records that can be used to fill out the family story, and make use of DNA to help pinpoint a geographic area of reference and possible connections to family members.

Lately they have been in the news with their Deep Nostalgia “magic” taking photographs that you can upload and then using their new technologies of enhancing photos, colorizing those in black & white and now taking the next step and providing a short animation of the person’s face. The results are incredible. You can even do all of this, and more, with the MyHeritage app for your smart phone or tablet.

While you are experimenting with this, take a look around at the enormous quantity of data they now offer as well. Many countries are represented with records from unique sources. There are, however, also records that are presented elsewhere but now available on MyHeritage taking on new opportunities for discovery such as the newly added “Lithuanian-Jewish Records from LitvakSIG, 1795-1940”. LitvakSIG (Lithuanian-Jewish Special Interest Group) has its records available on its own website – litvaksig.org and on the JewishGen portal (jewishgen.org). However, by using the new technologies mentioned earlier, now almost overnight, MyHeritage will bring this newly added information to hundreds of users and connect these records with family trees.

MyHeritage has another geographic area they cover that I would like to mention at this point. Israel. There are resources dealing with Israel and/or Palestine (for their purposes Israel is part of Asia). One collection is unique – “Mandatory Palestine Naturalization Applications, 1937-1947” (the data is from the Israel State Archives). If you are lucky enough to have a relative in the 206,000 records this is an amazing resource. The other is a partial index of records from IGRA (The Israel Genealogy Research Association) genealogy.org.il.

IGRA, a group of dedicated volunteers, has been digitizing, transcribing and making data available to the public for the last ten years. They are the primary resource for records in Israel and the Mediterranean Basin. Records are a sampling of what may be available in the various archives and new additions are made almost monthly. With close to two million records there is a good chance for you to find your relatives as they spent time in Israel.

Time to catch the genealogy bug! Learn what you can from older family members, document their stories, ask questions and identify people in those old photographs – then corroborate their stories and record it all for yourselves and the future generations. It is important to know from where we came – to know where we are headed.

Disclosures – Some of the services of MyHeritage are only available for paid subscribers. You may host your family tree with up to 250 family members for free and their software, Family Tree Builder, can be downloaded for free from their website and used on your laptop.

The IGRA website requires free registration. Many resources are available at no charge, others require a yearly subscription.

Whereas I am not an employee of MyHeritage, I am the volunteer President of IGRA.

About the Author
Garri Regev made Aliyah in 1978. She serves as President of the Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA). Garri has the wonderful perspective of being a daughter, wife, mother and savta. Her family keeps her hopping between her home in Jerusalem & her family in the US.
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