Lt. Col (res) Aviad ben Izhak is a professional genealogist, and a curator for the website GENI. With decades of computing experience under his belt, he founded a company called Yedaat several years ago, to research family histories and roots. Since that time, he has conducted research for thousands of people in exploring their ancestries and building family trees.
His research successes have found long-lost relatives, initiated new relationships, and unified families across the globe. Our story is unique, he claimed, because the Jews, after their dispersion 2000 years ago, and the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, as well as the decimation of the Holocaust, split families far and wide.
Aviad began his interesting talk to ESRA Modiin by asking the audience whether they are Sephardi or Ashkenazi in origin. He explained that things may not be as they seem. Once one looks into the details of each family history, the line is not so clear, and often it becomes apparent that the individual in question belongs to a different ethnic group.
Discovery of historic documents or photographs continues to prove the true ethnic ancestry of people. Names obviously have a direct bearing, but given the fact that these may have been changed (Ellis Island, Israeli names etc), linking Jews can easily mimic the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Aviad mentioned a document dated 1693 listing the taxes paid to a certain nobleman, by whom and where, and from this it was possible to identify Jewish ancestors. When the authorities forced its citizens to take on a surname, Jews usually based their surnames on the town or village where the family lived, or the occupation of the family patriarch.
We may ask how we are related to certain persons because the link has been lost. According to Aviad, there are many sources of information, such as Nazi (meticulous) records, town census counts, family legacies, gravestones, specialty websites where information can be gleaned, and other sources which either have databases or hold information such as Yad Vashem or the Mormons.
He also spoke about the emergence of DNA testing, and many surprises have resulted from research into the DNA of family lines. This is an important tool that can elicit so much evidence today that could not even be thought of 50 years ago.
The demographic movement of Jews throughout the centuries caused changes in outlook, attitude and mentality, as they migrated from country to country. A knowledge of history can also be very helpful in locating specific cities towns and villages along borders that changed over centuries, and explaining why people had to migrate due to war, or an anti-Semitic aristocracy or landowner in a given district.
Aviad's presentation was a great introduction to a fascinating field of research into family ancestry.
Further information may be obtained from www.yedaat.co.il