Posts Tagged ‘Open Records’

A good Reason to have more Open Records

This posting is not about Upstate New York Genealogy in particular, but emphasizes why it is so important to have totally open records access. Our recent discussions about the New York State Vital Records has created quite a lot of interest in how to access Birth, Death and Marriage Records in NYS, and this announcement from our friend, Sharon Sergeant in Massachusetts details how some open records allowed herself and some other genealogists, historians and detectives to uncover an International fraud.

Genealogist Cracks Holocaust Hoax, Discovery Highlights Need for Open Records.

Sharon Sergeant will speak about how she cracked a hoax at the Massachusetts
Genealogical Council Seminar on April 26 at noon, at the LaCava Center,
Bentley College, Waltham, MA. Sergeant is the genealogist who uncovered the
twenty-year multinational fraud by Misha Defonseca, author of “Misha: A
Mémoire of the Holocaust Years” and “Surviving with Wolves”, an
international bestseller and the subject of a French feature film,

The European press was rocked when, on February 28, the beloved author
confessed that her story, translated into eighteen languages, was a fraud. The
author had claimed to be a Jewish “hidden child” who had lost her identity
in the Holocaust.

“The international scope of this case underscores the need for open records
available to the public for inspection. Without this right, researchers are
not able to protect the public from frauds of this type,” according to
Barbara Mathews, CG, President of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council.

Defonseca’s native Belgium closed vital records in 1955. When open records in
Massachusetts provided new information, they pointed a pathway to Belgian
records that were not sealed. When the combined records showed the fraud,
Belgian officials decided to release additional sealed documents.

“Once we began releasing the records we had found, the Belgian press took it
from there. Within days of receiving the correct name, date and place of birth
of the real Monique De Wael, journalists contacted several people who
remembered Monique well.” The author wasn’t Jewish and had spent her
childhood in Belgium, not wandering across Europe, witnessing the historic
tragedies of other people’s lives, as she had claimed.

“She had no choice but to confess,” says Sergeant. “There was a solid
trail of who she really was.” The documents included a baptismal record and
first grade registration with De Wael’s first husband’s sister, unearthed
through the efforts of Sergeant and her team.

“The genealogical methods used are the same techniques that can be used to
uncover other frauds or solve every day mysteries in anyone’s family
history,” Sergeant explains. “We were guided by a photo time line,
verified by photo detective Maureen Taylor of Norwood, Massachusetts and
California based forensic genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick. We worked with real
Jewish hidden children. The internet allowed us to work quickly with people on
the ground in Belgium and access the records in public libraries and

Among the many other speakers at the Conference who will be discussing
genealogical tools and methods are Joshua Taylor and Michael Leclerc from the
New England Historic and Genealogical Society; and Michael Brophy and Bernard
Couming from the Massachusetts Genealogical Council.

The Annual Conference is an all day event sponsored by The Massachusetts
Genealogical Council and is open to the public. The registration cost of $75
includes a continental breakfast and luncheon buffet. Registration forms for
the presentation are available at the Massachusetts Genealogical Council’s


Michael Brophy, Publicity Director
Massachusetts Genealogical Council
FAX (781) 878-0720

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