This Year in Jerusalem – The Final Curtain

It has been a couple of days since my last posting. The reason for not posting something was very basic – spending too much time socialising and going to bed late! Thursday was German SIG day pretty much. I spent the morning with my wife Jeanette Rosenberg and up to 80 other people interested in German research. Fritz Neubauer kicked off with Archive Documents Discovered On Additional First Names Imposed On German Jews in 1939″; followed by Jeanette’s talk on Are German-Jewish Community Histories Trustworthy Source Material for Your Family Tree?; then there was a talk on The Story of One Extended German Family During The Shoa by Dr Debbie Lifschitz. After these lectures we broke for the SIG Luncheon and a talk by Dr Yochai Ben-Gedaliah about German-Jewish Vital Records at the CAHJP. The CAHJP is the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, which is actually where I am now, writing this posting. The CAHJP is not exactly hi tech and the staff are quite old-fashioned about dealing with researchers and access to records, so there is a bit of a struggle between the customers and the “Guardians of the Records”. Back to Thursday now. I had to leave the German strand after lunch and take part in a panel presentation and discussion on developments on Jewish genealogy research in French speaking countries and in Western Europe. When I was asked to do this session I thought it was going to have translation from French to English but with so few French people signed up to the conference, French translation wasn’t provided. So what did we do? We got the French people to speak English! I moderated the panel, which also included Daniel Dratwa (Belgium), Anne Lifschitz-Krams (France) and Katharina Glass (Switzerland). Katharina speaks mainly German just to complicate things. Despite the language difficulties, the session went well and I learned a lot about what Cercle de Généalogie Juive in France was doing, including a lot of outreach to schools. I was very impressed by the work of all three societies.

I had a chance to take a break from lectures and get ready for the Banquet at the conference. The banquet was a buffet affair for well over 250 people, so chaotic at times and some lengthy queues to get to the food. The keynote speaker was Dick Eastman of the Eastman’s On-line Genealogy Newsletter fame. Dick talked about his view of the future of genealogy, which was generally very positive. I helped with handing out the Award certificates that IAJGS gives out every year. The winners this year were - Lifetime Achievement Award, Judy Baston; Outstanding Project, JGS of Greater Boston – JewishGen Memorial Plaque Database Contribution; Outstanding Publication, JGS of Long Island’s YouTube Channel; Outstanding Publication, JGS of Maryland’s Newsletter L’Dor V’Dor; IAJGS Member of the Year, Israel Genealogy Research Association; and Volunteer of the Year, Jan Meisels Allen. The Banquet ended at about 11 p.m. by which time the hotel bar had closed! So improvisation was the order of the day, with the leftover wine from several bottles being combined. Bad mistake! The result of several plastic cups of wine, talking about genealogy (including taking DNA swabs from the mouths of very recently deceased relatives) lead to going to bed at well after 3 a.m. Friday morning passed me by and I didn’t get down to the conference until about 1 p.m. Thus missing the Family Fun sessions where people brought in their children for some fun but educational activities. After that the conference came to a close and the final curtain was, metaphorically, drawn over it.

In the end about 1,000 people came to the conference across the week, there were so many people there that we knew from previous conferences or who we knew through our other contacts, it felt very friendly. Also at times it was easy to forget that we were in Jerusalem when we spent whole days in the conference rooms and the hotel. The final verdict on the conference by the participants appears to be that the lectures, tours, resource room, exhibitor hall and other genealogy activities were very good for the most part. There were hiccups with the programme and some of the lectures weren’t as good as we would have hoped but that is normal for any conference. The downside was very definitely the hotel not being up to scratch but at least we won’t be going back to it for a while.

So now for something different, genealogy research……at the CAHJP.

Maybe then a day or two of tourism and a holiday??

Mark Nicholls




This Year in Jerusalem Part 4

Does writing a blog posting at past midnight in Jerusalem constitute silliness? Not really given that a Jewish genealogy conference is an almost 24 hour a day thing. The bounds of the conference are not the rooms that lectures are given; nor the corridors that lead to the rooms; nor the conference lobby area; nor the hotel lobby; nor the hotel restaurants; nor the streets around the hotel; nor the bars and restaurants in the neighbourhood; and not even the city in which the conference takes place. Wherever we meet we think, breathe and drink in Jewish genealogy; at times we even dream about it. Why, you may ask, am I philosophisng about this? Well primarily because my whole day was taken up with IAJGS business and I didn’t get to any genealogy sessions at all.

Today was the IAJGS Annual Meeting day, which meant spending all of the morning preparing packs of papers for attendees and checking arrangements for the meeting. I had to make sure that all attendees had the right papers and various other bits and pieces in their packs and then hand some of them out. The IAJGS Annual Meeting is important for three main reasons, first is election of IAJGS Board Members or Officers, this year Officers, second because it is the place that the Board can present the achievements of IAJGS, and finally it is where the membership can hold the Board to account. Overall though it addresses the primary reason of why we are all there at all. The reasons why were were there was very plain in the Board presentation of achievements in 2014-2015. The presentation was, even though I am a Board Officer, impressive, especially given that almost everything was delivered by volunteers and also that the people on committees and undertaking technical work were also volunteers. IAJGS is about the people who put in the hours for no reward other than the joy and pride in seeing others benefit from the work that they do. There is, indeed, no other place that you can see this reward than an IAJGS conference. Even though the Jerusalem conference is being delivered through a professional organisation, lying at its heart is the massively long hours and dedication of the Conference Committee; staffed mostly by ordinary members of societies not just from Israel but from around the world. These are ordinary people like us all delivering something that they truly believe in – JEWISH GENEALOGY. It is something that is within all of us that makes us pursue this interest but it cannot be only an internal and selfish thing, We all have to contribute to the interest in some manner or form. We have to support fellow researchers; ensure that the organisations that deliver the knowledge we need to fulfil our needs, we have to also look to how we pass on what we have found. Organised Jewish Genealogy is the place for contributions. Get involved and help others.

Enough philosophising, now off to bed early in the morning in Jerusalem.

Mark Nicholls

This Year in Jerusalem Part 3

So, the story continues about the conference. Some conferences don’t always work smoothly and this one is no exception. Some of the issues are about expectations of the attendees not being met and others are simply that things go wrong or are disorganised. I seem to think that a lot of the main issues that people have spoken and written about are about things not meeting expectations. Having been to Israel many times I know that there are big cultural differences in local attitudes and actions from those at home and I see the problems people experience being down to the cultural gap. Despite the fact that there have been complaints about the conference organisation, the content has continued to be top-drawer. Despite the speakers having to fit lots of information into shorter time slots than usual, they have delivered knowledge, insight and understanding to often complex subjects. As at every conference I continue to learn new things. One thing that I learned today was that Austria did not have civil registration of marriages until the 1930s. Prior to that all records were kept by the religious bodies and then transcribed to central registers. The transcriptions could take place many years after the actual event. This would of course create issues with how accurate a marriage record would be. Knowing this information would make me be far more careful about taking an Austrian marriage record as completely accurate than say a UK marriage certificate from the 1900s. This is what genealogy conferences are all about. We don’t know everything ourselves and listening and talking to others is important.

Missionary statement over now! Now back to the day job. Today (Tuesday 7 July), we got up late as we planned not to attend an early session. I finished off my blog posting for 6 July before going to breakfast. At breakfast we were joined by Bernard and Thea Valman and as many readers will know, I hope, Bernard was until last year the editor of JGSGB’s journal Shemot. An excellent editor though very, very modest about his achievements with Shemot. 10.00 a.m. saw Jeanette and I meeting with the leaders of JewishGen to discuss Special Interest Group issues, Jeanette being a Director of GerSIG (German SIG) and me as Co-ordinator for the UK SIG, aka JCR-UK. We talked about some general issues relating to SIG operations and finances. David Shulman, JCR-UK webmaster met with JewishGen at 11.30 to talk about the value of using the JCR-UK website model for other locations outside of Eastern Europe and the USA. David’s enthusiasm and belief in JCR-UK are wonderful. I hope that with support from colleagues in JGSGB and JewishGen he can achieve his vision. I did attend a session on Hungarian records at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, as I don’t know much about records for Hungarian Jews and hoped that it would help me if ever I had to deal with such records. The lecture by Megan Lewis was very informative about the Hungarian records available but also told me a lot about the general records of the museum. There will, it seems, be a lot more records from the museum being put on-line due to the recruitment of three people to start scanning documents and films. Many of the records go well beyond simple vital records data to much fuller records about the lives and activities of individuals before and after the Holocaust,

Most of my afternoon was spent working on the IAJGS table. There I spent time talking to David Shulman and other people. I used the table as an opportunity to sell copies of the JGSGB Jewish Ancestors? Guides on the UK, Poland, Latvia and Estonia and Lithuania. There was great enthusiasm among conference attendees for the guides and we sold about 14 of them. A great tribute to the people who wrote the guides and who have revised them. We will sell more over the coming days I am very sure.

At the end of the afternoon I attended the lecture from the Israel Institute of Jewish Genealogy, which was given by Neville Lamden. The lecture coincided with the 10th anniversary of the institute and it became apparent that IIJG was actually reaching a point of maturity and impact in the world of Jewish genealogy and the academic world. The Institute’s projects showed how genealogical research could go much further into social, political and geographical history than might have ever been thought possible. Several of the projects reported on are of immense help to both genealogists and general historians. It was very uplifting to see genealogy delivering serious outcomes.

The final event of the day was the JewishGen volunteers reception. This was not as well attended as previous years due to the lower number of JewishGen SIG leaders and volunteers at the conference but still a very useful chance for people to talk and network.

In coming blogs I hope to post some photos from the conference, if I can figure out how!




This Year in Jerusalem Part 2

Following on from yesterday’s posting I can only add a short summary of today. It goes like this, as reported to my sister-in-law “Shattering so far. Started at 6.00 a.m. getting up. Did a meeting at 7.30 a.m. then more meetings and sessions, spent 2 hours on the IAJGS advice table, Then talked to my President about the Annual meeting, followed by a meeting of the various JGS Presidents and then an opening address by the former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel.” The first meeting was the non-affiliated attendees meeting, where we talked to people from Spain, Hungary, Mexico/Chile and Cincinnati Ohio. There was definite interest from all participants in getting some sort of Jewish Genealogy Society started in each location. There will be follow up work and hopefully more societies will start up around the world. There was an introductory session to the conference for first time attendees where about 90 people learned about how the conference and the conference app worked.

Highlight of the day for me was the UK Special Interest Group meeting where David Shulman, JCR-UK webmaster, gave an interesting and informative talk about the communities pages on JCR-UK. The figures for the number of communities covered were astounding. Over 1,000 communities were listed and covered in the website, many in great detail. Following this session I attended one on the history of the Pale of Settlement. Then I had a two-hour stint on the IAJGS table to answer questions about Jewish Genealogy Societies and also about the next conference in Seattle. The table was quite busy throughout.

I attended a very useful lecture on sources for Dutch Jewish records given by Max van Dam. There are dozens of very good and very detailed websites out there. I hope to be able to post more information about the websites later.

Later I spent time with IAJGS President, Marlis Humphrey, to agree the running times for the Annual Meeting on Wednesday. We then went to host the Presidents Reception where JGS Presidents, JGS representatives and special guests came to mingle and get to know each other. There were about 50 people at the reception and a lot of good networking went on. From there we went on to the main opening session to listen to speeches from Michael Goldstein, Conference Chair, Gilad Japhet and the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau. All of the talks were interesting and entertaining. We then retired to the coffee lounge to finish the day. Again, networking took place as we sat around introducing people to each other and getting to know more about our old and new friends.


This Year in Jerusalem Part 1

So this year we are in Jerusalem for the 35th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy. A shorter than usual conference, as the lectures start on Monday morning and finish on Friday morning but still enough lectures, workshops, receptions and other events to keep anyone busy for months if you were able to do them all. Before the conference was due to start, the organisers had arranged for several trips to historic sites in Israel, such as Masada, Caesaria and the Old City of Jerusalem. There was also a Shabbaton that many people took advantage of, involving meals and talks being taken together in the hotel.

My own experience of the conference started before the Shabbaton, with IAJGS (International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies) business in the form of the IAJGS Board meeting on Friday morning. Other IAJGS activity has included keeping track of representatives from the many Jewish Genealogical Societies who will attend the Annual meeting on Wednesday afternoon and also the Presidents Reception on Monday evening.

Today has been about registration for the conference, which due to computer problems, didn’t go as smoothly as we would have liked. There was a long delay while the problem was fixed but eventually registration started and people got their badges, bags and bits and pieces. During the delay I ended up helping on the hospitality desk in the hotel lobby. This involved giving people ribbons with titles on them, such as First Timer, Volunteer, Speaker, Expert, JGS President. The objective seems to be how many of the ribbons you can justify having. Currently, I have reached 9 ribbons and may be in the lead! Oh, that is a bit sad really. Other people working on the hospitality desk included my wife Jeanette Rosenberg and Susan Edel, an ex-UK person. We had the chance to meet so many people that we all know from other conferences, Special Interest Groups, Discussion lists and general reputation. I met many of the people who will be at the Annual Meeting and Presidents Reception and many, many old acquaintances.

My start tomorrow will be very early, with a 7.30 a.m. meeting with people who come from locations without an existing Jewish Genealogical Society. The aim is to try and enthuse people to start new societies. Being in Israel, with many people attending from Eastern Europe, we hope that we may get some new groups in places like Poland and Hungary.

Following on from the first meeting, we will have the start of the full business of the conference. Thinks will then be a hectic whirl, moving from talk to talk, event to event, conversations in corridors, learning new things and then learning more new things.

The programme highlight tomorrow for me will be the United Kingdom session at 9.15 a.m. where the Jewish Communities and Records – UK Webmaster, David Shulman, will talk about the website and its value to others. JCR-UK ( is our repository for information and records about UK Jewish communities from Scotland down to Cornwall and further beyond. If you have never looked at the site and have Jewish ancestors or family who were in the UK, you should go there right now.

So now to bed and up and early tomorrow morning.

Mark Nicholls



IAJGS and JewishGen Memorial Plaques Indexing Challenge

The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) and JewishGen (the premier on-line resource for Jewish Genealogy – have joined together to set a challenge to the Jewish genealogical world. The challenge is to index as many of the memorial plaques in synagogues and other institutions as possible during International Jewish Genealogy Month. Go to for details of how to join in and be a part of this massive endeavour.

Mark Nicholls
JGS of Great Britain and Co-Chair International Jewish Genealogy Month Committee

Final IAJGS 2014 conference blog, part 3 of 3, by Leigh

Day 5 – Thu 31st  July

Quite a British day was had, with a UK-SIG meeting starting the day. We workshopped with a number of attendees with British connections in their research, and a roomful of Brits, such as Jeanette Rosenberg, Sue Fifer, Jeremy Frankel and Michael Tobias were on hand to be experts. This was followed by Mark Nicholls and Laurence Harris presenting on the latest developments in British Genealogy, immediately after doing their bit as experts in the UK-SIG meeting. Michael Tobias gave an excellent session on his Scottish Research to end the day.

The only other session of note was Warren Blatt on Jewish Given Names, and I finally learnt how to pronounce the name of one of my great grandfathers, who does not have as unusual a name as I’d thought. According to WB, “Tunchem” and not “Tenachem” (which led to the English name “Tanny” for one of his grandchildren) was used traditionally in Poland.

There was a conference banquet tonight but I decided to skip it as it was expensive and spent 3 happy hours at the Family History Library instead, whizzing through Polish microfilms. It is so much easier to figure out the Polish compared to the Russian I’m used to!

Day 6 – Fri 1st Aug

The final day of the conference was just the morning, which was a bit tame by the high standard set earlier in the week. Pamela Weisenberger was on at 7.30am and went at a much better pace describing a tour of three countries and numerous archives. I’m sure we’ll be in for a treat at her talk at the JGSGB conference in October. My second session was cancelled at the last minute, which is a polite way of saying that the speaker didn’t bother to show. She was a filmmaker on the topic of the Jewish White Slave trade to Argentina at the turn of the 20th Century and was going to talk and screen her film. (I was particularly interested because I have a distant relative who disappeared to Argentina as a teenager and nobody in the family knows why… She came back in 1911 and married immediately but it was never talked about.) The final session was about finding missing maiden names for the women in your tree which was good fun if a little US centric.

There then followed a mass exodus down to the Family History Library,  and I personally spent another 8 hours in front of the microfilm whizzers, and have scores of new records to decipher when I get back home, in both Polish and Russian. Even so, I kept going until they threatened to turn the computers off as I was in search of one particular Polish record in Russian that proved elusive. My head is spinning now…

My overall impressions of the conference are that it was exhausting, educational, entertaining and very inspirational in terms of doing more to improve my genealogical research. Would I go again? Definitely, provided the location makes sense. Next year is in Jerusalem and I’d love to go if I can afford the time and money. My concern would be that it might not be well attended because there was a very large American contingent who may not all travel to Jerusalem. Just like the Family History Library here in Salt Lake City, there are places in Jerusalem that have to be visited, such as Yad Vashem. However, I probably wouldn’t attend a future conference if it was in Orlando,  or Paris, as Universal Studios and Disneyland don’t really do it for me. But I hear there are thoughts of future conferences in New York and Warsaw and I’d be first in line…

Early flight tomorrow back to Blighty. Time to pack…

Signing off from IAJGS 2014 – next year in Jerusalem!

Your roving reporter,

Leigh Dworkin

IAJGS 2014 report by Leigh, part 2 of 3

Day 3 – Tue 29th July

A slightly late start had me starting the day giving Jeanette moral support in her “Tracing Jewish relatives in the UK after WW2” talk. However she didn’t really need me, as there were a lot of heavy hitters in the audience such as Todd Knowles, Warren Blatt, Michael Tobias and Mark Nicholls of course. Jeanette bravely showed off her baby pictures in the JC and her wedding certificate as examples of our unique UK records. It was very well received and the intelligent questions were dealt with succinctly.

I’m afraid I selfishly offered no more support to our UK speakers, missing both Saul Issroffs talk on Jews and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Laurence Harris’s tracing WW1 ancestors talk, in favour of furthering my own research. Given how I am lost in Lithuania, I attended the excellent session by Emily Garber on how to pinpoint your Ancestral Origins. A session on writing your own Kehila page was rather disappointing but Steve Morse was great on explaining DNA to the masses of non-biologists. Daniel Horowitz of MyHeritage (and IAJGS webmaster) hosted a lunch for JGS webmasters covering technical matters and also webinars, and then gave a talk on the details of hosting a GotoMeeting Webinar. Both will be useful for the JGSGB.

The evening entertainment was a Jewishgen annual awards ceremony compered by Warren Blatt with demonstrations of future improvements to Jewishgen and JRI-Poland database performance by Michael Tobias. The final session was a really entertaining case study by Ron Arons, who managed to disambiguate the five Isaac Spiers he had researched using a mind mapping technique, to reveal the one Isaac Spiers who was his great-grandfather. It was particularly challenging because 4 of them turned out to be bigamists, including his ggf who spent 4 years in Sing Sing because of it!

Day 4 – Wed 30th July

Two presentations by Avrohom Krauss on Landsmanshaftn records and Jewish Social Services records were simply stunning, even though the first started at 7.30am after a late night on Tuesday. His obvious enthusiasm, expertise and passion for hunting down these less than mainstream records shone through and could shatter many of my brick walls.

A session on Litvak research by Judy Baston was informative, but topped by the fact that I met someone else researching the same Lithuanian town as me (Kavarskas). I had almost convinced myself that I was the only one! We share similar problems of lack of success finding our people due to the non-survival of all but a small percentage of vital records. However we both have found a strange connection between Kavarskas and Riga in Latvia that needs to be explored more.

Ron Arons was back on with his multiple Isaac Spiers conveniently recapping the short section I missed yesterday, but mostly talking about Family Systems Theory and genograms (family trees which display emotional relationships amongst relatives) to predict and explain behaviour such as criminality and divorce.

The evening entertainment was Pamela Weisenberger researching the reinventions of our ancestors, but as she intertwined three separate case studies and spoke incredibly quickly through what must have been 100+ slides with videos, I must confess to getting a bit lost! The final entertainment was open mic night, where the audience were invited to tell their genealogical stories in less than 3 minutes. Quite good fun, but just like karaoke I chose to leave it to the others to embarrass themselves…

Your roving reporter,

Leigh Dworkin

2014 IAJGS Conference – first few days, by Leigh

Day 0 – Sat 26th July

My long day travelling to Salt Lake City via Philly started at 9.30am. Despite an hour delay at Heathrow, 2 hours in the homeland security line and an extra 30 minutes trying to prove I really no longer had a green card, I just made my connection and safely arrived at my hotel by 9.30pm. I think that is 3.30am English time :-o

Day 1 – Sun 27th July

Jetlag woke me at stupid o’clock so managed to register at IAJGS bright and early before 8am. Bumped into Jeanette Rosenberg and Mark Nicholls straight away and handed over the JGSGB guides that I had hand carried. Sue Fifer appeared soon after, as did President Saul.

Quick orientation session given by Mark and his IAJGS colleagues was followed by loading the IAJGS app on my iPhone to schedule the sessions I wanted to see. There are way too many to attend that are vital to my research, so I’m having to make some tough choices. I really should have invested in the IAJGS LIVE! recording of the conference sessions so I don’t have to multitask so much.

My first session called “a pause in the journey” about pausing your research to write a book about it was cancelled – don’t know why – so I attended a session on Crypto Jews. I don’t really do Sephardi, but I learnt a lot. For example how South American crypto Jews play cards on Friday night but don’t really know why they have this tradition. It turns out that when being persecuted by the Inquisition in Spain or Portugal they used to have cards on the table while the prayer books were hidden underneath. Now all that remains is the cards…

After lunch I did booth duty on the JGSGB table at the SHARE Fair with Sue. Brisk sales of our guides was encouraging, with the new Polish guide flying off the shelves. Lots of questions about Jewish Genealogy in the UK were dispatched easily, before handing over to Mark and Jeanette.

This freed up Sue and myself to attend a session by Banai Feldstein on the Insider’s Guide to the Family History Library, which I fully intend to use later in the week. Then on to hear Todd Knowles on how to use the LDS It all looks so easy! Why do I always struggle to find any records for my people?. Still, I am enthused to try again and use their Wiki for the first time.

Day1 finishes with a keynote speaker with a world war 1 theme. He was plugging his book, but was a great speaker IMHO. Covered several stories of Jews impacted by world war 1, fighting on both sides. Could have used a bit more detail on how he did his research, but I think he has sessions on that later in the week.

Crashed out exhausted at my hotel after some free nibbles at the Opening reception – too tired to get some proper food. (Not like me at all!)

Day 2 – Mon 28th July

Jetlag meant a 3.30am start, but this enabled me to try out several tips picked up from Laurence Harris on the MyHeritage stand and I am searching the JC archives on the MyH website like a pro. I’m finding much more than I ever managed before using the JC archives directly.

First conference session was a 7.30am brainstorming over trying to get the New York authorities to release BMD records sooner than their paranoia over privacy currently allows. This resonated with some of the issues we face in the JGSGB in our efforts on Preservation of Records.

The rest if the day was a blur with talks by Michael Tobias on JRI-Poland, Pamela Weisberger on Polish and Galician records and Steve Morse on using his One step tools at  in a genealogical case study. Also an excellent session on Polish parish records by Warren and Mrs. Blatt of Jewishgen fame, on how to use the patronymic records to further your research back into the 1806-1828 period. Top class speakers that I would travel far and pay top dollar to see. Oh yeah, I did anyway… But really well worth it.

Final session was trying to make your JGS appeal to 21st century youngsters, but I struggled with that and skipped out to the history of DNA Genealogy by the pioneer himself, Bennett Greenspan of FT-DNA. I also invested in a Family Finder DNA test myself, which was on a decent show special.

Heavy rain meant most conference delegates scurried to the nearest restaurant next door, but after that I went back for a film called “Lost Town” on a Ukrainian village of Jews (the only one outside of Palestine at the time) which was wiped out in the Holocaust but rediscovered by the filmmaker whose father was from there. If I hadn’t been so jetlagged I would have stayed awake during more of it, but by 10pm I was done.

Leigh Dworkin

(Your IAJGS Conference Reporter)

Another Conference,…….Another Year – Posting 6 and Last

The conference is now over for another year.  I didn’t get to any sessions this morning as I was in the IAJGS Board meeting, dealing with the outcome of the conference and looking forward to next year in Salt Lake City.  So strictly speaking this posting should be another conference,…..another year,……..and another year.

People have been leaving the hotel all morning and this afternoon and we have said dozens of goodbyes to our old and to our new friends.  Most we will not see until Salt Lake City in 2014 at the next conference.  The conference is 27 July to 1 August and I really, really, really urge the readers of this post to consider going to it.  Failing that there is Jerusalem in 2015 from 6 to 10 July.

Well I just now need to give a report back on Thursday afternoon’s events.  I introduced the IAJGS Live! streaming session on the Knowles Collection and learned a lot more about the records.  One interesting point was that many early-American Jews went through the Caribbean islands and places like St Thomas have hundreds and hundreds of records for those people. The Knowles Collection has nearly 800,000 individuals documented in it from all around the world.  Todd’s talk was as ever very entertaining.  The Knowles collection can be accessed at and there is a blog at  Take a look.

After that session I went to a talk on early Jewish settlement in Europe but have to say that tiredness got the better of me and I couldn’t concentrate on it.

The evening was taken up mostly with the conference Banquet.  This is a big event with over 30 tables of 10 people and entertainment from the Zamir Choral.  The Choral sang several songs in Hebrew, Yiddish, German and English.  Then there were presentations of awards to individuals and organisations for their work and contributions.  The full list of awards can be found at

Well that’s all folks to quote my favourite rabbit.

Mark Nicholls

Another Conference,…….Another Year – Posting 5

Coneference burnout is now beginning to take hold.  The intensity of an International Jewish Genealogical Conference cannot be underestimated.  It is not just the meetings and lectures that you attend that tire you but the never-ceasing socialising and networking.  We have spent most of our free time in the company of friends that we have made over the years.  Catching up with their discoveries, talking about developments in Jewish genealogy and just chatting.  The days are long and eventually you reach that point where you need to have a rest.  So this morning I had a lie-in – bliss!

I am now in a session covering old Jewish communities along the Rheine in southern Germany.  The lecturer is Joachim Hahn, who is not Jewish but has been very much involved in Jewish research since the 1970s when he spent time on a Kibbutz in Israel.  Joachim runs the Allemannia Judaica website – - which contains lots of information about former Jewish communities mostly in southern Germany and links to many specific town and cemetery websites.  The presentation given can be downloaded at

The main event for me yesterday was the IAJGS Annual Meeting.  This is where the Presidents/Chairmen of Jewish Genealogical Societies and other organisations get together and receive reports on the activities of IAJGS and also elect Board members and Officers.  This year it was the turn of the election of the Officers and I was elected to be the Secretary to the Board.  This is a very responsible position and I hope that I will be up to doing it justice.  We are at a very important time of change in the genealogical world and the new IAJGS President, Marlis Humphrey, has many ideas for how IAJGS and its member organisations will move forward.  Social networking and greater levels of outreach over the internet are areas that will be explored.  It is going to be an interesting ride.

Immediately after the Annual Meeting I went to a session on using GoToWebinar.  This is one of the new ways of communicating that IAJGS and member organisations are using already.  JGSGB has been using GoToWebinar for a year now to deliver education sessions over the internet.  There are many ways in which this facility can be used and connect members to meetings and lectures when they are thousands of miles away from the actual meeting.

This afternoon I will be introducing Todd Knowles’ talk on the Knowles Collection as part of the IAJGS Live! streaming of the conference.  I do hope that some JGSGB members and other readers of this blog will have taken advantage of the IAJGS Live! streaming and will have seen how good the lectures are.

I encourage all those interested in Jewish genealogy to go to at least one Conference in their life just to experience how wonderful they are.

Mark Micholls


Another Conference,…….Another Year – Posting 4

The United Kingdom SIG meeting was held this morning and was attended by about 25 people.  Jackye Sullins of the British-Jewry website and list gave a presentation on the site, taking us through the very useful resources on the site and the way that the mailing list works.  The website for British-Jewry is  I then gave a run through of the JGSGB website and the Jewish Communities and Records UK site.  The benefits of using the useful links page on the JGSGB website under the Resources section was explained  Here is where we list most of the useful websites for exploring Jewish family history in the UK and elsewhere.  I would recommend it is a first stop for researchers.  The JCR-UK site was demonstrated, in particular the value of using the community pages to see what information and histories exist for each place that Jews live in or had lived in in the past.  There are hundreds of towns listed and many contain articles about the community and links to further information. The meeting went well and we answered many questions.

Yesterday I reported that I would be going to a talk by Jeanette Rosenberg on Tracing European Immigrant Jews in Official Records.  Not to be biased, because Jeanette is my wife, but it was a really good whistle-stop tour of most resources available for the doing genealogy in the UK.  The feedback from some of the 50+ people at the talk was really positive and again lots of questions were asked.

After lunch I had the pleasure of being the Master of Ceremony for the IAJGS Live! streaming of the talk by Howard Margol on Lithuanian records.  Howard is the doyen of Lithuanian research and talked through developments in transcription and acquisition of new records.  The main message was that there are still many, many thousands of records to transcribe and also to find.  The archives in Lithuania don’t know the content of all of there holdings so much of the work involves going through boxes and boxes of records to try and find useful ones for Jewish research.

We attended the JewishGen presentation at the end of the day.  Here we were treated to an update on JewishGen and also to the airing of a video about JewishGen.  I was most surprised to see a photograph of myself in the video, which had been taken in the hotel sports bar in Washington DC.  Fame at last!

After all of the meetings and talks it became time for that most important activity at any of these conferences….schmoozing with other genealogists and having a really good time and a laugh.

Tiredness is kicking in now but have to get on.  Will post again tomorrow if I’m not asleep all day!



Another Conference,…….Another Year – Posting 3

It is Tuesday morning at 7.00 a.m. and I am in a meeting already.  This meeting is about planning for next year’s conference in Salt Lake City.  There are lots of things to do in planning any conference and there are about 17 people present.  All have different tasks allocated and we are going to talk through what we have to do.  Many similar meetings happen at each conference as often it is the only time all of the people can be in the same place at the same time.

Yesterday’s activities after my last posting included a meeting with JewishGen to discuss how things were going with JCR-UK, the United Kingdom SIG –  Things are working well with JCR-UK and new data is being added all the time.  If you haven’t checked the records there take a look or if you haven’t visited for a while take another look.

Speaking of taking another look, I went to a talk on Jewish Records on Ancestry given by Crista Cowan (also known as the Barefoot Genealogist, a world-renowned blogger).  What I found interesting was not necessarily the records but the information that is available on Ancestry to help people learn about particular aspects as genealogy and family history.  There is the Ancestry Wiki, which contains thousands of pages on every aspect of researching, including histories of places and countries.  The wiki can be found under the Learning Center on the Ancestry home page.  There are also collaborative volunteer transcription projects such as the World Memory Project, which is aiming to transcribe and index all of the records of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.  The USHMM records will not be fully available to view due to sensitivities over the information but anyone wanting to see the full record will be able to request a copy from the USHMM, who will mail it out for free.

An underused resource is the State and Country pages.  These list the databases specific for each place and again historical information.  Ancestry has a similar name and place matching system to JewishGen’s Family Finder (JGFF), which is worth exploring to increase your chances of finding relatives.

Ancestry’s main Jewish records and information are on  This is a “landing page” for all things Jewish on Ancestry.  80% of Ancestry’s Jewish records are free to access, with many coming from JewishGen.  There is the JewishGen “Shtetl Seeker” duplicated on the Ancestry site as well.  However, there are more records than just from JewishGen.  One very useful service is the First Name Variations database.  This is a way of finding out what a name used in one country such as the UK or USA might have been in say Lithuania.  The example used was Rebecca in the USA and variatons in Lithuania.  There were hundreds of different possible names, including Beila, Bela, Brindle, Rela, Rifke and so on and so on.  This is a very useful tool for finding records in the “old” country.  People anglicized their names from the original one they used and this tool is really good.

One very important message that Crista gave was don’t just rely on indexes but look at the original records and understand the information that is contained with in them.  Get the record, look at it, see who else is mentioned, etc.  The record can often contain the key to a locked door, remember that.

Now off again to join the conference proper.  This morning I will be helping on the JewishGen table in the Resource Room, then going to a talk on UK records being given by JGSGB member Jeanette Rosenberg and I have to be there! Jeanette is my wife!!

Keep researching


Another Conference,…….Another Year – Posting 2

Day two of the conference started early with a meeting with delegates from places in the USA, Canada, South America and Japan to talk about setting up new Jewish Genealogical Societies.  The meeting was very good and we are looking forward to soemthing coming out of the discussion and seeing new societies at next year’s conference.  Moving backwards to yesterday we had a busy day.  I didn’t attend any lectures but was involved in one as a presenter, long with Jan Meisels Allen and Marlis Humphrey of IAJGS.  That was on managing Jewish genealogy societies and it was well received.  We put forward lots of ideas for people to consider and showed where useful information and advice could be found.  At the same time there was a Share Fair, where there was a United Kingdom table to help delegates with their queries about researching in the UK.  I managed to spend about an hour on the table along with Arlene Beare.  Todd Knowles and Jeanette Rosenberg also helped on the table during the afternoon.  We dealt with a lot of queries and were able to point people in the right direction to do their research.  The Share Fair was also part of the IAJGS Live! stream, with Jordan Auslander and Dick Eastman interviewing attendees and stand members.  Look out for postings from Jrodan and Dick about the IAJGS 2013 Conference!

After the Share Fair I attended the IAJGS President’s reception, meeting the Presidents of various other Jewish Genealogical Societies and people from Special Interest Groups.  This was a chance to find out how things were going in other organisations and I found that the Ukraine SIG was making strides in accessing and transcribing records from the archives there.  Following the reception we all went to the official opening session where the Conference Co-Chairs and the IAJGS President welcomed us to Boston and the conference.  There was also a Keynote speech from Aaron Lansky about the work he and others have done on rescuing and making Yiddish language books available.  The speech was very entertaining and also very informative and uplifting.  There were stories about old Jewish people passing on their books to Aaron and wanting him to eat each time.  So several visits during a day meant having to eat lots and lots.  He learned to bring along two other people, with one of them being made the “Designated Eater”.  The work done by Aaron has resulted in the setting up of the Yiddish Book Center – see for what they do and what is available.  The work on translation and electronic searching of Yiddish literature will be of great interest to genealogists and historians as many of the books include memoirs and factual information.

So far the conference is working well (apart from the queues for the lifts/elevators!).  Delegates are taking to going down to go up…

Now I am in a session on Records Access as a facilitator, introducing the speakers.  The topic is a very hot one, with big things happening in Europe on unifying Data Protection legislation across the EU and also about Social Security Death Index in the USA.

More later…..


Another Year,………Another Conference – Posting 1

Well, here we are again at an IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy.  Time has flown since Paris and now we are in Boston Massachusetts USA.  The venue is the 1920s hotel the Boston Park Plaza, full of architectural niceties and art deco features.  It is Sunday morning and a great many of the 1100 delegates have arrived and the place is beginning to buzz with genealogy-filled talk.  So many familar faces are here and every few steps or minutes an old acquaintanceship is renewed.  People we met in Paris, Washington DC, and elsewhere stop us and say hello.  There is encouraging news of discoveries and progress made from those that the JGSGB and UK SIG members have helped at past conferences.  The joy of hearing someone having made a breakthrough in their research after you have pointed them in the right direction is great.

The conference schedule is packed and sessions identified to attend.  Preparations are being made for the talks that we are giving and the various other events that are happening.  Almost every minute of each day is accounted for.  This is full on wall-to-wall genealogy.

This year there is a chance for people not attending the conference to get to hear and see many of the lectures, with IAJGS Conference Live!  Several sessions will be streamed live over the internet each day.  Full details are at: This is a charged service to cover the costs of running it but for those unable to afford to travel to Boston it is terrific value.

There will be more to report later on as the day progresses.  Now off to talk to more people.

Mark Nicholls




The First World War – Commemoration and progress and Jewish genealogy

A Guest Blog Posting by Daniel Morgan-Thomas

Anniversaries are ever popular. We have just celebrated the 65th anniversary (or birthday) of the creation of the State of Israel; this year sees celebrations too of the composers Verdi and Britten, and half a century since the creation of television classic Doctor Who. Much anticipation then has been caused by the prospect of next year’s centenary of the start of that calamitous world event, the First World War. There has been much discussion from the corridors of power to the newspapers as to how the occasion should be commemorated: speculation ranges from the manner of public ceremony to the nature of television coverage. It may well, however lead to all sorts of opportunities and further questions for Jewish genealogists.

As with other historic occasions, large commercial data providers like Ancestry or Findmypast are likely to promote their military records; the National Archives have already completed digitising the War Diaries of the period – numerous further records are due to be added by the summer of 2014. Though many of these records will have been open to the public before, there will be more available, and more easily accessible, than ever before, which will be very handy if you do have any family members who served. It remains to be seen whether the national establishments of the other countries that took part in the War will do similar things; there would be much of Jewish interest in German, Austrian or Russian records should they exist.

As the nation as a whole comes to re-examine World War One and its legacy, it is worth reflecting on its impact on the Jewish community in Britain. The last Jewish veteran of the conflict died some time ago now, and indeed this year is the first that sees no British survivors. Perhaps understandably, it seems that the Second World War has overshadowed its predecessor in the popular imagination, but nevertheless now seems a good time to bring the latter back. Are there 1914-18 medals languishing in a drawer somewhere in your house? This is the ideal time to find out the story behind them. We are also in danger of losing as a community the vital memories of the war; commemoration boards and plaques in synagogues have failed to be recorded and photographed as Church or civil memorials have been by local authorities; some may have been lost in demolition or renovation since. Sadly, even graves of Jewish servicemen in Jewish cemeteries in this county have not always been well maintained. Whatever the symbol, it is surely worthy in this year of being restored and remembered.

Genealogically, such efforts would bear fruit for future generations of family historians. Some of the most exciting parts of genealogy are to be found in the First World War: stories that are exhilarating and heart-breaking in equal measure; a greater understanding of the social effect of War on the lives of our families past; rediscovering our ancestors’ connections with sometimes alien ideas of militaristic patriotism. As a Society, perhaps we could theme our 2014 conference, or have a World War One based Shemot? I believe it would help Jewish genealogists connect with the key historical event of the time. For, whatever our reactions to the War itself or to the military and state commemorations that will inevitably surround the centenary, there is genuine genealogical interest to be found in it for many of us.

Daniel Morgan-Thomas

Review of RootsTech Final Day

RootsTech is now over, having finished effectively at about 3.30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.  The final day was dedicated to young genealogists.  Nearly 2,000 young people attended, aged between 11 and 18 and ready to learn about tracing their family trees.  Many were from the Boy Scouts of America, earning their genealogy badges.  It was interesting to sit near these young people and listen to how they were being introduced to their ancestors.  One boy was being tutored by his father and having the basics explained to him, such as what records should be used – birth, marriage and death certificates, censuses and so on.  In answer to a question from his father about what a “life event” was the boy said “drinking this coke”.  I was sure he was joking!  The father suggested the birth of the boy’s brothers as life events but he didn’t like his brothers and felt they weren’t important!  It was good to see so many children there and hopefully some will continue with the journey they have just set out on (and will include their siblings in their trees).

Much of the last day was spent further watching, listening to and talking to fellow delegates rather than attending talks and visiting stands.  The variety of stories being told and research activities being undertaken was fascinating to witness.

One final thing that I did was to sit on the very big plush white seats in the demonstration area and listen to a couple of talks about software.  One was on Snagit, a very powerful tool for cutting and pasting from documents and webpages.  The very interesting tool in Snagit was one that made it possible to capture the whole of a webpage or document through scrolling down from the top to the bottom.  Traditional cut and paste tools tend to only allow copying of what you see on the physical screen in front of you.  I plan to have a more in-depth look at Snagit, particularly in how it can improve educational presentations.

The second demo was on Family Village, a free game accessed through Facebook.  This is aimed at making family history fun and for involving a new generation of family historians.  The text from the website ( the following “In Family Village, you’ll build a thriving village populated with avatars representing your family and ancestors. You’ll build businesses, assign jobs, and collect profits  to earn money for your village to grow. You’ll build homes, buy cars, pets, and decorations from the time in which your ancestors lived, all while learning about your heritage.

As your village grows, Funium will be working behind the scenes to find family connections and interesting documents such as newspaper articles, yearbook photos, census records, marriage records, maps and many other interesting items that will allow you to know much more about your family. You will be able to save these documents in your library and share them with other friends and family as you wish.”

The very short demonstration of the game intrigued me and I think that it actually encapsulates what the whole of the conference was about – finding, organising and sharing family histories but I am not sure how it will preserve things.  That needs looking into.

So then it was all over as quickly as it began and we are now on our way back home.  We will miss our old friends and also our new new friends but will keep in conact through the many on-line tools at our finger tips.

Mark Nicholls

RootsTech Bits and Pieces from Day Two

Having just posted about the exhibition at RootsTech I should mention a few other things that happened on Day Two.  Jeanette and I had been invited by FamilySearch to a VIP breakfast event at 7.00 a.m.  This was a who’s who of genealogy event, so we felt very privileged to be in the same room and on the same tables as some very important people in genealogy.  Jeanette sat next to the D Joshua Taylor, Business Development Manager for  Josh develops and evaluates US content for FindmyPast and fosters partnerships between FindmyPast US and the family history community.  Joshua is very much involved in the digitisation of British Newspaper by brightsolid, the parent company of FindmyPast.  I was on the same table as David Rencher, FamilySearch’s Chief genealogist, as well as with an application developer and others.

There was another Keynote session, which included a speech by Tim Sullivan of Ancestry.  Tim used the speech to talk about the many aspects of Ancestry’s offerings but also to make some announcements, including that Ancestry is committing at least $100m over the next five years to acquire and digitise records.  In addition they will be working with FamilySearch to digitise and index over 140 million pages of U.S. probate records covering 1800 to 1930.  Ancestry also published over 1.7 billion records in the last year, including over 1 billion names from city directories.

Following on from the conference Jeanette and I went to dinner with IAJGS Preisdent Michael Goldstein and discussed various things including the merit of including the word ‘unknown’ or leaving a blank against a fact in a family tree.  My preference was for ‘unknown’ or blanks, Michael’s was for including something even if based on assumptions, so long as the assumption was explained in the sourcing.  After a while I think we agreed to disagree (or not in Michael’s view)!

After dinner, Jeanette and I went to the Family History Library for a special extended library session to do some research.  Over 1700 people had booked for the session and for free pizza (we didn’t have the pizza as we’d already eaten).  Having gone onto the British Isles floor of the library, I overheard a discussion at the enquiry desk about whether a family from France that went to Haiti were actually Jewish.  Not the sort of conversation one expects to hear in the British Isles section but an excellent chance to jump in and help out all the same.  After looking at the family tree and then at JewishGen’s Family Finder (JGFF) we concluded that there was a good chance of the family having been Jewish back in the early 1700′s and having been a family expelled from Spain or Portugal.  We also were able to suggest people on JGFF that the person might contact.  Another act of random Jewish genealogy kindness done.

Mark Nicholls



Friday RootsTech

After spending the first day at RootsTech attending talks and doing general networking, I decided that I should spend time at the exhibition to see in detail which companies and technology suppliers were here and what they had to offer for new and existing genealogists.  As I said yesterday the exhibition is similar to the Who Do You Think You Are? Live show but without the presence of the family history societies, archives and other physical data providers.  Almost all of the exhibitors are technology and on-line data providers.  The big companies such as Ancestry, Find My Past, MyHeritage, Mocavo and of course FamilySearch are all here.  They are showing many of the probably lesser-known aspects of their offerings, as well as the general data such as census records, birth, marriage and deaths and so on.  The lesser-known resources include applications that help match records and family trees and also applications for sharing research and trees in different ways.

Many of the other companies represented offer much more specialist or niche technologies and datasets.  One of the big things at the show is the capturing of images, data, records and artifacts and bringing them together in on-line stories.  These companies are looking to bring family history to life through putting individual stories about people and the events in their lives alongside the plain facts of their lives.  The applications are also aimed it seems mostly at people using mobile technology, principally iPhones and iPads.

Judging by the exhibitors and what they have to offer the future of genealogy is going to be quite different from what the older generation of genealogists has experienced.  This raises serious questions for organisations such as our own.  How are we going to fit into this new landscape?  Do we have to change our approach to attract new members?  Are we going to change our approach to education so that people can see more on-line and less in a lecture room?  Are we going to embrace the technologies for sharing family histories and the associated stories?  How will we survive financially in this new, virtual environment?

These are serious questions that not only JGSGB needs to consider but also all family history societies and groups.  I do think that there is still a place for us as suppliers of knowledge and educators.  Knowledge is not just data, it is the wisdom of our collective experience of family history and also of our culture both local, national and internationally.  The technology may allow people to acquire data easily; it may allow them to organise it in ways that we can only dream about; it may allow them to publish the data and stories quickly and impressively; and it may allow them to then share the data and stories with enormous ease.  However, there also needs to be a knowledgable community out there to guide them and to give them the very necessary nudges and tips to ensure that they are going down the right track.

The thoughts that I have had and shared here are very similar to those from a recent posting made during the Who Do You Think You Are? Live show.  RootsTech is just reinforcing things.



First impressions of RootsTech 2013

We are half way through the first day of the RootsTech conference 2013 ( and I am seeing that it is a sort of hybrid event encompassing large elements of Who Do You Think Your Are? Live and the IAJGS international conferences.  WDYTYA? Live is mostly about the exhibitors and the very many Family History Society stands and has a small lecture content and the IAJGS Conference is mostly lectures with a small exhibition content.  Walking round the exhibition hall here it is easy to feel as if you are back at WDYTYA? Live but without the local societies and archives being there.  Looking at the schedule of lectures feels like being back at the IAJGS conferences, lots of different topic strands, lots of talks at the same time making choices difficult to make.  The type of talks I am interested in are mainly about the underlying architecture and techniques of genealogy and ethical issues.  It is not a place to come and expect to hear a talk about how to find Aunt Bessie in Poland but about how to discover and consider new tools for making that discovery.  The technology and on-line networking opportunities that genealogy still has to embrace are massive.  How we manage to develop those opportunities and come about is not immediately evident.  By pulling so many developers together along with the end-users, RootsTech may go some way to achieving this.  We have to wait and see over the coming months and years.

Like all conferences of this nature though, the one-on-one networking element remains the same.  People are meeting old friends and making new ones.  They are also exchanging their research and discoveries.

The Keynote session this morning looked at the main themes of the conference, finding, organising, preserving and sharing family histories and stories.  For those that missed the live streaming of the session on the internet, the keynote speakers presented a compelling case for the last theme of sharing stories.  There were excellent examples of the types of stories that can and should be told.  The message was that, to leave knowledge about ourselves and our forebears for posterity, we need to consider what our descendants would really want to know about us.  This is true for many of us about what we would have liked to know about our ancestors.  What were their lives really like? What sort of individuals were they? How did they deal with life? And so on.  It has made me feel a little guilty about not having put down in writing or on video much of what I know and have learned about my family.

We are also posting short messages about the conference on our JGSGB Facebook page if you want to pick up odd bits and pieces –!/groups/51853921646/

Mark Nicholls