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 – www.jewishgen.org) 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 www.iajgs.org/blog/memplaq/ 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 FamilySearch.org. 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 stevemorse.org  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 http://histfam.familysearch.org/searchform and there is a blog at http://knowlescollection.blogspot.com/.  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 www.iajgs.org/awards/awards-2013.html.

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 – www.alemannia-judaica.de/ - 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 www.alemannia-judaica.de/iajgs2013.htm

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 www.british-jewry.org.uk/.  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 www.jgsgb.org.uk/useful-links-and-information-sources.  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 – www.jewishgen.org/JCR-UK/  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 www.ancestry.com/jewish.  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 www.yiddishbookcenter.org 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: www.iajgs2013.org/live.cfm 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 (http://www.familyvillagegame.com/index.html)says 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 FindmyPast.com.  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 (http://rootstech.org) 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 – www.facebook.com/#!/groups/51853921646/

Mark Nicholls

Mixing with genealogy big-hitters

Technically the postings that I am going to be making over the next few days are not directly to do with JGSGB but are still worth expressing through this blog.  I should explain at the outset what this is about.  I am at the RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City, Utah as an individual delegate, along with my wife Jeanette.  RootsTech (http://rootstech.org/)  is a massive conference with 6,700 delegates now signed up to it and with practically every major star in the genealogy firmament attending, along with the major suppliers of genealogical data and technology exhibiting and giving talks.  This event is very much about the future of genealogy and about how the histories of our families will be researched, recorded, written about and passed on to future generations.  It will affect us all, not only as individual genealogists but also as genealogical organisations.  Hence the link to JGSGB.  What I hope to discover over the next three days of the conference is how JGSGB will need to adapt to fit into this new landscape.  What can we offer that the technology can’t provide; what aspects of technology can we adopt to improve what we do; and most importantly is there a future for us and many other existing institutions in the new technological world?  This may seem a bit doom and gloom but we should be prepared to make the best of what is coming along.

Having said all of this, the event itself is going to be terrific if this evening is to be the standard.  Having had a meal in a hotel restaurant we were about to leave the building when we saw a familar face to us and to many JGSGB members – Schelly Talalay Dardashti who wrote the Tracing the Tribe blog until recently (http://tracingthetribe.blogspot.com/)  and who has spoken at JGSGB conferences.  Schelly invited us to sit with her and when we looked around the bar we were in we saw we were in esteemed company indeed - Dick Eastman, of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter (http://blog.eogn.com/) - probably the most read genealogy blog in the world; Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings (http://www.geneamusings.com/), again one the best blogs around; Thomas McEntee who runs his own blog but also importantly runs the Geneabloggers website (http://geneabloggers.com/) listing and promoting thousands of genealogical blogs; and Cyndi Howells of Cyndi’s list fame (www.cyndislist.com/) amongst many others.

Just sitting there with so many of the “big hitters” of genealogy, with many more yet to meet during the conference, brought home just how big and important the event will be not just for those here but for everyone else involved in genealogical research.

I look forward with both excitement and trepidation to what will come.

Mark Nicholls


WDYTYA? Live 2013 Day 2

So day two of the 2013 show at Olympia is over.  Being Saturday it was expected to be much busier than Friday and we were not disappointed.  It was wall-to-wall, minute-to-minute, query after query until about the last 30 minutes or so.  Today’s queries made me think even more about the reasons that we were at the show and also more about why genealogy and family history societies are still relevant in a world where it seems possible do do everything by yourself from your computer.  The questions asked by people at our stand showed that there was still an enormous need for a dialogue between people to enable clearer understanding of the finer details of Jewish genealogy and also of genealogy in general.   With Jewish genealogy there are many special nuances that have to be understood, otherwise mistakes can be made.  These include where Jewish families originated from, names used at different times and places, occupations, entitlements to occuptations, broader political and historical issues, etc.

Societies such as ours provide an often needed reality check for assumptions .  Also a much required support network for individual researchers.  Researchers being able to ask questions of the hundreds of members of a society means that they can get the right answers or several different interpretations that open up more research avenues.  These answers and views don’t just help the individual but also gived food for thought to the rest of the membership.  A collective approach to genealogy has a multiplying effect.  This is one of the reasons why we read genealogy magazines, subsrcribe to blogs and discussion lists and so many other places where like-minded people gather.

The genealogy society still has a place in the world and can add enormous value.  No one can know everything about a subject and we can all continue to learn from each other.  I learn at each event I attend, someone mentions a fact or a resource that I didn’t know about andI can then pass that on to another person.

Being involved in a society definitely helps, be a supporter, an expert and a learner at the same time.

Mark Nicholls

Chairman JGSGB

WDYTYA? Live 2013

This posting is being written at the end of a very long first day of the latest Who Do You Think You Are? Live (WDYTYA? Live) show at Olympia in London.  For those who don’t know what WDYTYA? Live is, it is simply the biggest family history and genealogy exhibition in the world.  Attended by over 15,000 people over three days each year, it is the place to be for researchers.  JGSGB has been at every show except the second one and we have seen and helped hundreds, if not thousands of people with queries about Jewish genealogy.

Today was no exception, the doors opened at 10.00 a.m. and the public poured through the doors.  Within 15 minutes we were fielding query after query.  The JGSGB team of volunteers were terrific dealing with every type of question about Jewish roots and research.  As ever there were the people who thought they might have Jewish ancestry and those that definitely knew they did.  Each of these presents their own unique problems.  Those who have Jewish ancestry are looking for ideas of how to solve the enduring and elusive problem all Jewish genealogists face – how to find records of their ancestors in a foreign land.  Our volunteers have to use their great breadth of knowledge to come up suggestions of where to look.  JewishGen (www.jewishgen.org) was often suggested as a place to look for possible family.  Websites such as JRI Poland (http://www.jewishgen.org/jri-pl/from_jewishgen.htm) for Jewish records from Poland and the LitvakSIG for Lithuania (http://www.litvaksig.org/) were frequently consulted.  Our aim though is always to give people the necessary tools and the ideas to use to find their ancestors after the show.

The people who think they have Jewish ancestry present a different set of issues.  That is mainly trying to get to the bottom of their research so far to see why they think that someone in their family was Jewish.  Sometimes it is a family story, other times because the names in the family seem to be Jewish in origin, or because there is something about the look of the family.  More often than not we found that family was not Jewish as marriages took place in churches and children were baptised.  Also we explained that naming patterns are important to Jewish families.  For Ashkenazi Jews the tradition is not to name a child for a living ancestor, so we asked people if the children had the same name as the father, often this was the case, again pointing to non-Jewish origins.  When these people left the stand we hoped that they had learned something about Jewish traditions and Jewish genealogy.

Tomorrow has the promise of more of the same questions, queries and assumptions and I look forward to it.



Paris Posting 6

This is a little late and being written well away from Paris but the last day at the conference was tiring and travelling back to London made it hard to sit down an compose something sensible.  The last posting told you about the JGSGB journal Shemot winning the award for Outstanding Publication but I should have said that JGSGB has won this award twice before.  Once in 1998 for Shemot and secondly in 2008 for the Jewish Ancestors? series of guides to Jewish genealogy.  These guides, written by members of JGSGB cover a range of topics, the United Kingdom, Lithuania, Latvia & Estonia, Poland, Reading Hebrew Inscriptions and Documents and so on.  The details of the JGSGB publications can be found on the JGSGB website at www.jgsgb.org.uk/catalog/shop.  Each of the guides provides detailed information about researching in the country or countries concerned.

The events of Wednesday mainly involved a lot of networking around the IAJGS table and the Annual Meeting of IAJGS.  The IAJGS President Michael Goldstein noted that there were people from 30 countires at the Paris conference and that more needed to be done to involve members from around the world.  I was formally elected to the IAJGS Board for the next two years.  It was reported that four new organisations had joined IAJGS and that three societies in difficulty were supported during the year and were now back on track.  Invitations were made for projects that need financial support through the Stern Grant award – The Rabbi Malcolm Stern Grant honors Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern, widely considered to be the dean of American Jewish genealogy, and his efforts to increase the availability of resources for Jewish genealogical research.   So if anyone knows of a project looking at Jewish records that needs financial support they should submit an application to the grant through JGSGB.

The evening was taken up mostly with an IAJGS dinner and a chance top socialise with fellow board members.  The ordering of the food was probably the greatest communication problem that we experienced throughout the conference, trying to establish what Poisson au Marché were (Gambas/Shrimps – Fish that Walk) through to whether the vegetables contained Bell Peppers or not.  The meal and then packing for leaving meant that a Blog posting wasn’t possible.

Thursday morning was taken up with an IAJGS Board meeting followed by a quiet lunch at the same restaurant we went to on the first day.  We even sat at the same table and next to the same person as the first day.  I have to say that as with all these conferences the feeling is that you have spent a very long time at them because you experience so much but in reality it is such a short time in most people’s experience.  Arriving home the intensity of the week took hold and a feeling of exhaustion has set in but many things still needed to be done, including telling the whole of JGSGB about winning the publication award.  A short message of thanks to all of the JGSGB members who have sent in congratulation messages.

I have been told that the post-conference events in London have been well supported, with about twenty people coming to the JGSGB Library on Thursday and also for the talk by Laurence Harris.

I hope that many of the readers of this blog will consider attending the next conference in Boston, Massachusetts 4-9 August 2013.  I can only say that if you are interested in Jewish genealogy and also want a holiday in the USA, combining the both are an absolutely excellent thing to do.

Next year’s conference will cause some confusion though, as it is co-hosted by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston (JGSGB).

So this is the final posting to do with the Paris conference, unless I think of something else.

Mark Nicholls

Chairman JGSGB






Paris Conference Posting 5

Well a very interesting day at the conference today.  Firstly, I only managed to attend one lecture during the whole of today.  This was on DNA and how the process of deciphering how populations can be distinguished from each other and how Jewish DNA fitted in to the global picture.  The talk by Doron Behar showed that Jewish DNA tended to be associated with the DNA of people from the Middle East with various admixtures from local populations.  So the Eastern European Jews would have some genetic material from local populations but remained very much a separately identifiable grouping.  Some populations such as the Yemeni Jews, the Indian Jews from Cochin and Bene Israel had traces of typical Jewish DNA, mainly in the male line, with female mtDNA being mostly from the local population.

Apart from attending the lecture, I spent most of the day at the IAJGS table to deal with any queries about the organisation and also to handle any general queries.  I didn’t have to do much, which gave me a chance to catch up on JGSGB business and to talk to people in general.  With several people around the table at times we managed to talk about a lot of the things that were on our minds, such as how the conference was going.  In general we all feel that the organisers have managed to put on a very good event and that apart from the odd problem it has actually worked well.  These events are mammoth things to put on by volunteers.  We learned tonight that 850 people had registered, which is a lot of people to organise.  It also has to be borne in mind that many of the lectures are delivered with interpreters.  The organisers have had to cope with the bilingually-challenged such as myself but pretty much everything has felt like other conferences.

The conference organisers were thanked and applauded at the conference Gala event for their efforts.  The Gala is a formal dinner and celebration event, with a keynote speech and awards being made.  The key note speech this year was given by Father Patrick Desbois on the work of Yahad–In Unum, which works in parts of the former Soviet Union to uncover the story of the holocaust and to identify places where Jews were murdered.  This involves interviewing local people who remember the events and the details of the people who were killed; allowing names and the lives of people who were killed to be remembered.  The organisation also helps the relatives of the murdered to find the places where they were killed or lived.  It was a very moving presentation.

The awards were very great news for JGSGB – we received the Award for Outstanding Publication by a Member Organization of IAJGS for the JGSGB journal Shemot.  This was something that I have known about for about two months but have been sworn to keep secret.  It has been very difficult not to say something to the JGSGB Council, members and especially my wife but I managed it.  The Award was fittingly accepted by Bernard Valman, the Editor of Shemot, who I was only able to tell about the award five hours before the Gala.  I have to say that I am so very proud of the work that Bernard and his principle colleague Mike Gordon have put into producing Shemot, especially over the last couple of years, with the themed editions.  The themed content was something very much appreciated by the Awards Committee in reaching their decision.  I understand that there were about five different publications up for the award.

So now to bed, happy with a very good day at the conference and with a very great day for JGSGB.

Mark Nicholls

Chairman JGSGB