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




Paris Conference Post 4

Today was very busy for us.  It was the day of the UK SIG meeting and lunch and the GerSIG meeting and lunch. For those that don’t know, SIG stands for Special Interest Group, of which there are a great many at the conference.  They cover not just UK (United Kingdom) and Germany (Ger) but Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, Bessarabia, Canada, Belarus, France, Alsace & Lorraine, Hungary, Galicia, Latvia, Austria Czech, Romania, South Africa and many other places.  At the SIG meetings and lunches people who have research interests in the particular area receive updates on the activities of the SIG and presentations on relevant topics.  For the UK SIG I gave an update on the Jewish Community and Records UK website (www.jewishgen.org/jcr-uk/) explained the usefulness of the community pages on the website to find out more about the locality and associated records and data.  The JCR-UK discussion list (www.jewishgen.org/jcr-uk/subscribe.htm) was promoted as a good place to post questions about finding family.  We also discussed other useful sites such as Cemetery Scribes (www.cemeteryscribes.com/) and British-Jewry (www.british-jewry.org.uk) as ways of finding information or asking questions.  As part of the UK-SIG meeting, I had the privilege of presenting two JGSGB members with their Roll of Honour scrolls.  The members were both from Scotland, Michael Tobias and Harvey Kaplan.  Michael has been instrumental in the development of the JewishGen databases and website amongst many other things and Harvey has been one of the principal key people involved in the development of the Scottish Jewish Archives (www.sjac.org.uk/)

The UK-SIG meeting was followed by a paid for lunch and presentation on immigration to the UK by Dr Nicholas Evans, one of (if not) the most knowledgeable people on the subject in the UK.  As ever he presented information about many under-used resources and explained the migration process, including the fact that people often returned back to their homeland for visits or on a permanent basis.  We had a very good turnout for the UK-SIG meeting and for the lunch, with people from the USA, Canada, Australia and of course the UK.

The SIGs and the Birds of a Feather (BOF) are for most attendees major highlights of the conference and help them to meet people with the same research interests.

The UK-SIG lunch was followed by the GerSIG meeting, which Jeanette Rosenberg chaired along with Roger Lustig.  The SIG members were told about new developments and also reminded about the many different activities of the SIG.

Following on from the SIG meetings there was a sequence of UK-related lectures.  The first was delivered by Jeanette on UK Newspapers as a resource for genealogy research.  The benefits of using newspapers for research cannot be under-estimated and the UK is blessed with many thousands of historical newspapers that contain information about Jewish people, from the national dailies through to the local parish newspapers and on to specialist journals.  Many titles are now being digitised, which is making them far more accessible to people all over the world.

The final lecture on UK records we attended was given by JGSGB member Daniel Morgan-Thomas on records relating to deaths in the UK.  Daniel explained about death cerificates in England and Wales and finding graves, wills and other related records.  Daniel did extremely well in delivering his lecture considering that he is only just 18.

The recent late nights have taken their toll on us and tonight we have made it an early night, though I am finishing this blog post at 11.30 p.m. – better than trying to do it at 1.00 a.m.

So here’s to the next day’s events.

Mark Nicholls

Chairman JGSGB

Paris Conference 3rd Posting

So now the conference has started in earnest and lectures and meetings have taken place during the day and early evening.  The contingent from the UK has grown over the last day or so, with many JGSGB members arriving at the hotel.  It is nice to see so many familiar faces and say hello to them.  The feedback from some of the members has been very positive, with stories of finding useful information from the lectures and more importantly, to my mind, from the networking that is going on.  Chance conversations and overheard discussions are leading to breakthroughs in people’s research.

From a personal perspective, I have been engaged in what might be called management issues and events at the conference.  First event of the day was a round-table presentation from the main European Jewish Genealogy Societies about doing genealogy in each country.  What this showed was that there is little difference between each organisation and how they operated for their members but that there were very large differences in the way that records were accessed in each country.  The Swiss in particular have to deal with extremely high charges to obtain even basic information, whereas records in places such as France were free.

The theme of European genealogy organisations continued into the afternoon session, where I ran the first of the IAJGS Management Seminars.  This was mostly about how to create new Jewish Genealogy Societies in Europe.  We discussed the many issues that faced any new society in Europe, in particular how they faced up to political and cultural difficulties.  There were many contributions from the floor and at the end of the session we had a feeling that it would be possible for some new societies to get started.  There is a definite enthusiasm for having societies in some countries but there is a need for the right level of support to get things off the ground.

I attended a further management session on ethical dilemmas in genealogy.  This covered issues such as recording illegitimate births, divorces, criminal records, and many “skeletons in the closet” situations.  There is never one single answer to the dilemmas, and often no answer at all.  One thing that is clear though is that any one doing genealogy has to be prepared for the chance that they might find out things that could upset them or others.

The evening events were the IAJGS Presidents reception, which is social gathering for the IAJGS Board and the presidents/chairs of the Genealogical Societies attending the conference.  It was a chance to talk with colleagues and find out what was going on in different parts of the world.  The final formal event was the welcoming talk given by David Marwell, Director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.  David spoke about the museum and also about its association with JewishGen, which he believed would continue for a long time.

Mark Nicholls

Chairman JGSGB

Paris Conference Second Posting

Much to my surprise we have managed to spend more time out of the hotel than at previous conferences, albeit mostly in local restaurants talking to and eating with our conference colleagues.  Despite the conference being in France and with its obvious language differences, the pre-conference activity has been very much the same as other conferences.  We have gathered together in the hotel lobby and talked to our colleagues about genealogy and the expectations from the conference.  My morning was taken up with attending the International Association Board meeting and considering issues such as the future conferences in Boston, Salt Lake City and Israel.  So the Bastille Day celebrations were mostly missed by me but I understand many of the conference attendees did get out and about and see the day’s events.

This afternoon, Saturday 14 July, we registered for the conference and received our conference documentation and the very nice conference bag.  There was the chance to see the final list of attendees and who had come from the UK.  In all there are about 40 delegates from the UK at the conference out of over 700 attendees, it would be nice to have seen more here from the UK.  So far we have either bumped into or seen half the UK attendees.  I hope that they really enjoy the event and get some really useful research ideas from it.  Sunday will be extremely busy for me, with several genealogy management events to attend and one that I will be running on developing Jewish Geneaolgy Societies in Europe.  The events and consequences of the last World War still play a major part in Jewish genealogy and historical studies in Europe and I hope that the sessions will show us whether or not there is a way forward for Jewish genealogy on the ground, especially in the eastern part of continental Europe.

Some of the UK attendees will be staffing a table at the SIGs and BOF (Special Interest Groups and Birds of a Feather) Fair on Sunday afternoon, answering queries about UK research and how JGSGB can help.  We have brought a large number of our JGSGB genealogy guides with us and hope to sell them at the fair and over the week.  These are really useful guides to doing research in the UK, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.  The guides can also be purchased online at www.jgsgb.org.uk/catalog/shop.

So now it is off to sleep to be ready for a very long and active day.

Mark Nicholls

Chairman JGSGB

Paris International Conference

Well here we are again at and International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) conference.  This time it is in Paris, France and much closer to our home than Washington DC.  Firstly, the weather, pretty much like London – dull, cloudy, wet and not that warm.  At least we won’t feel that we are missing out on nice weather and sight-seeing while holed up in the conference hotel!

The hotel is the Marriot Rive Gauche and is not too bad.  We arrived yesterday – Thursday and will be here until next Thursday.  The view from our hotel is towards the north and we can just about see Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur Cathedral in the murky distance.  The conference starts in earnest on Sunday but I have an IAJGS Board meeting to attend on Saturday morning – Bastille Day.  Already though the networking and genealogy talking has begun.  We have started to meet up with delegates we know through day-to-day contact and also with others we met at other conferences.  Once you get to go to one or two of these conferences you tend to get to know a lot of people.  Last night we went out to eat with Philip, JGSGB’s Treasurer and with Jeanette’s “DNA Cousin” Doris and her husband Dick.  This may have been the last meal outside the hotel before we return to London, though there are a few local restaurants we might get out to – depending on the weather and how busy we get.

Mark Nicholls

Chairman JGSGB



Are Blogs Worth It?

This may seem to be a bit of strange title for a blog posting but it was prompted by a recent posting by Randy Seaver on his Genea-Musings blog, where he posed the question “Are We Strangers in the Genealogy Land?”  (www.geneamusings.com/2012/06/genestrangers-in-strange-genealogy-land.html)

Randy’s blog prompted me to respond to him with the following message:

“As the Chairman of a genealogical society I find blogs useful in providing up to the minute information for my members. We have a very active discussion group (last count 467 members) where news of developments in the world of genealogy are posted. These keep members interested in being part of the group. We always quote the source of the information and hope that some of our members look at the sources. We also have our own blog as a means of trying to capture the interest of people who wouldn’t join a society. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook and others are now part of the landscape on which the genealogist/family historian walks. So far from being strangers in the land, I think we are the land. (www.jgsgb.org.uk) ”

I think many blogs act as streamed newsletters, constantly updating their readers about the latest developments in the world of genealogy in a way that static newsletters can’t always do.  Other blogs provide the general thoughts of the author about the world of genealogy and family history, things to get you thinking about researching your family.  The family blogs that exist help people connect with cousins.   Individual blogs may only get a small number of readers but collectively blogs are read by many thousands of people.  Blogs are worth reading, so have a look at a few and see what they offer.

Mark Nicholls, Chairman JGSGB


UK BMD – An Underused BMD Resource

I was recently working on a presentation about resources for tracing migrants to and through the UK and had a look again at the UK BMD website – www.ukbmd.org.uk/.  .

Like the FreeBMD website – http://freebmd.rootsweb.com/ - it is a volunteer project bringing public vital records onto the web.  The main difference with UK BMD is that the transcriptions come from more the detailed records held at some Register Offices rather than the main General Register Office (GRO) indexes.   The transcriptions are available through County BMD projects.  To find a County BMD select the County you are interested in using the sidebar menu of the main website.  Any County BMD project will be listed at the top of the table of websites for the County.  The County BMD records can be searched by surname, year and region within the County.  There are separate searches for Birth, Marriage, Death records.

As said earlier the records are different as they come from local registers and not just the indexes.  This means, say for a marriage, that the transcription will include not only the names but the place of marriage.  The names will also include the groom and the bride for each marriage, even before 1912 when spouses names were first included in the indexes.   As an example, a search on the Lancashire BMD site – www.lancashirebmd.org.uk/marriages.php - for Cohen for the year 1882 produces 18 results.  For each marriage you can see the place of marriage, mostly Manchester Great Synagogue but also Register Offices and in two cases Churches.  Not all Cohens are Jewish!  The first entry for 1882 is Abraham Cohen to Jane Levinson at Manchester, Great Synagogue.   For anyone who has struggled to find out which is the right record for a Cohen, especially before the indexes included spouses last names, this is an excellent resource.

The birth records on UK BMD are also useful, as sometimes the mother’s maiden name is included in records before September 1911.  For Cohen in Lancashire there are maiden names in maybe 5% of records between 1882 and 1900.  Other Counties have a much higher percentage of mother’s maiden names and some have none.

The death records are very similar to the existing indexes but they do include details of the sub-district.  In the case of Manchester deaths, some are listed as being in Cheetham, which I suppose is not that much of a surprise.

The principal downside to the UK BMD site is that not every county has an individual site, particularly in London and the South East where there are no substantial projects.  The coverage is variable also within counties, not all areas within a county will have records on the system.  Some areas will have birth records but not marriages or deaths included.  Even with these limitations, the UK BMD site and local sites offers a great deal of information not available elsewhere and can help break down brickwalls without having to buy lots of certificates.

As the UK BMD website says “This site provides 2229 links to web sites that offer on-line transcriptions of UK births, marriages, deaths and censuses.  A wide range of other indexes and transcriptions are also available for most counties, these may  include parish records, wills, monumental inscriptions etc.”

Some of the links are to the main paid for websites but most are to smaller free websites.  It is a cornucopia of information, though a lot is not specifically Jewish.

So if you have a chance take a look at UK BMD and see what you can find!

Mark Nicholls

Chairman JGSGB


Who Do You Think You Are? Live Review

The 2012 Who Do You Think You Are? Live show at Olympia is now becoming a bit of a distant memory but it is worth reviewing this year’s show and previous years.  We have now been at several of the shows and have seen how it has developed into biggest fixture in the genealogy and family history world.  JGSGB went to the first ever show and we were quite astounded by the level of interest in Jewish Genealogy.  People came to us with details of an ancestor who was or might have been Jewish, anxious to find out if they were.  Others came with detailed family trees wanting to know how to take things backwards into Europe.  The level of interest in Jewish genealogy at the show did not diminish after the first show.  We have found more and more people visiting our stand each year, with the queries mainly being of the same type.

After the first show, we decided to have tables rather than a big stand, making it easier to afford to attend.  We also now have a set location at the show, which on the face of it doesn’t seem that promising – in a corner away from the majority of other societies and the away from the entrance – however, it is right next to the entrance of one of the main toilets and next to the Pizza Express outlet.  This guarantees a lot of passing traffic!

The JGSGB approach to being at WDYTYA? Live has always been proactive.  We don’t wait for the people visiting our stand to initiate contact, we ask open questions like “do you have any Jewish ancestors?”, “is there any specific area you are looking for ancestors in?”, or simply “can we help you?”.  This approach means that we can help people who have very little idea of where to start with researching Jewish ancestry.  It also gives us an opportunity to sell the benefits of joining JGSGB or buying one of our Jewish Ancestors Guides (www.jgsgb.org.uk/catalog/shop).  We also provide a lot of verbal information and do on-line searches there and then.  There are lots of funny enquiries, if we had a pound for every time someone asked, in all innocence, “do you think my ancestor was Jewish?  He/she had a a large nose and dark skin.”, we would make a lot of money.  This is something that we might take offence at but the enquirers are very sincere about finding out if they have Jewish roots.  A lot of time is spent letting people down gently by explaining that their ancestor probably wasn’t Jewish, even with a first name like Benjamin or a last name like Isaacs.  Quite a few people go away disappointed at not having Jewish ancestors.  What we are doing is educating people about what makes someone Jewish and how to establish the fact through vital records.

The stand is staffed by JGSGB members on a rota basis.  The volunteers get the chance to use their knowledge and experience to help visitors to our stand.  We also get the opportunity to explore interesting Jewish genealogies, working with the person to find areas that will take their search forward.  It has been very useful for me personally to learn on the spot where to find specific records and useful websites.  It is also an opportunity to be able to use knowledge gained from attending JGSGB educational events and talks and also the International Conferences to help people.

JGSGB manages to recruit about 20 new members at each show and also sell dozens of guides and also other people’s books about Jewish genealogy and history.

There is a lot of work done in preparing for the show, most of it falling on the shoulders of JGSGB Stand Manager, Jeanette Rosenberg, and then the physical setting up, falling a lot on my shoulders and one or two others.  After a few years doing it we now have it down to a fine art!

It is worth the effort, as we cover our costs and make a little profit on top, and more importantly, we get to help so many people.  JGSGB will be at the show again on 2013.  Hope to see you there.

The URL for this post is http://www.jgsgb.org.uk/blog/?p=442

Mark Nicholls

Chairman JGSGB

ITS Bad Arolsen Holocaust Records now in the UK

Yesterday evening I had the great pleasure of being at an event to mark the handing over to the Wiener Library of a digital copy of the International Tracing Service (ITS) Records to the Wiener Library in London.

This is one of the most important developments in the field of Holocaust research in the UK, as it brings to the UK the records of 17 million people directly affected by the Holocaust.  The event took place at the Foreign Office in the Locarno Room, with the Foreign Secretary William Hague giving an address to the audience about the importance of the records and also about the importance of remembering the Holocaust and its long-term effect.  The records will not be available immediately, as they have to be set up on the Wiener Library IT system and also a Researcher has to work on them to develop the search process.   It is expected to take 3-4 months to have them ready. The initial funding for this work has been secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund but more funding is needed for ongoing running of the archive.

For those that are not aware of the ITS records, sometimes called the Bad Arolsen records after the location in Germany where they are kept, they are a collection of 30 million pages of information on the victims of Nazi persecution.  The records are not only about Jewish victims but also Gypsy victims, Forced Labour workers, Displaced People of many different nationalities and religions.  The records were brought together after World War II at the ex-concentration camp in Bad Arolsen by the Allied Forces.  They contain original documents from the Nazis about individuals that were deported to camps and ghettos, killed or put into forced labour.  Also they contain details of how the Nazis organised the processes and ran the camps.  There are also records taken after the war of displaced people and their stories.  As a tracing service, ITS was run to help people find out what had happened to relatives and to try and reconnect families that had been separated by the war.  These included the many children who had no knowledge of their families and who were called the “Unaccompanied Children” in the hope that one day company would be found for them.  For more information see the ITS website at  www.its-arolsen.org/en/homepage/index.html.  ITS became fully open to the public in 2007, which is when a committee was set up by Anne Webber of the Looted Art Commission to bring a digital copy of the archive to the UK.  The Stakeholder Committee, comprising many UK Holocaust bodies, the Association of Jewish Refugees, The Wiener Library, Holocaust Education bodies, academics and also JGSGB (represented by Jeanette Rosenberg), worked to ensure that the archive came to the UK.

The handover event included first hand accounts from Holocaust survivors about their experiences and also about how the ITS records had helped them discover the fate of their family.  Eugene Black from Leeds, told of seeing the records of his time in four camps for the first time in 2008 and also the papers about how his two sisters had died while in Forced Labour during an allied bombing raid.  His granddaughter spoke about how ITS was so important to the family to understand what had happened to the family.

The importance of these records for Holocaust Survivors, their children and other descendants cannot be underestimated nor can the significance for academic research of the Holocaust. It is also an enormous educational resource.  As it was said several times during the evening, the very existence of the millions of pages is testimony to the fact that the Holocaust happened.

So, finally the money question.  Are you, the reader of this blog, able to put your hand in your pocket to help sustain the ITS Records in the UK?

If you are, you should contact the Wiener Library directly at 29 Russell Square, London  WC1B 5DP. Tel: +44 (0) 20 7636 7247,  Fax: +44 (0) 20 7436 6428.  E-mail form: www.wienerlibrary.co.uk/contactus.aspx

Mark Nicholls

Chairman JGSGB


Washington Conference Postscript

The IAJGS Conference has now been over for nearly a week but we are still here in Washington and finding links back to the conference.  We are also, of course, experiencing some ground-breaking events (well more ground-shaking).

Coming to Washington we already knew that we would be meeting relatives who live in the area in social settings.  So, after the conference, we spent the weekend at two different houses with two sets of Jeanette’s relatives from either side of her family.  One set live in Virginia and the other in Maryland.  We were treated really well, as guests at the family homes.  Having the chance to talk to not only the fellow genealogists in the families but their brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and cousins is one of the great outcomes of genealogy.  We see parts of other countries we would never experience on a holiday and meet and make friends with people we would probably not come across either.  Jewish genealogy almost always means making links with living cousins, no matter how distantly related, and developing long-lasting relationships with them.

Following our weekend socialising we began to finally have a go at seeing more of Washington DC than the vicinity of the hotel.  So we went on a sightseeing trip on an open top bus.  The trip also included a boat trip up and down the Potomac River, which runs through DC.  We saw a lot of the older parts of Washington DC and many of the key historic sights.  But as genealogists, we could not leave the research side of things alone for too long.  So our lunch was at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, followed by a visit to the Museum’s library.  Once in the library we started to look at the records and books available for a branch of Jeanette’s family.  The Museum’s resources are enormous , so more than an afternoon was needed for the research.  While in the Museum we saw four other people from the Washington conference, two people from Australia who Jeanette had spoken to during the week, one person with a conference bag who we didn’t recognise and finally another conference delegate doing research in the library.  So we were not alone in not being able to leave the research alone.

The following day, Tuesday, Jeanette went to the Holocaust Museum again to do research and I went off to be a tourist and see some of the cultural side of the USA’s capital.  Little did we know how the day was going to go when we went our separate ways.  The morning was uneventful but just before 2 p.m. we experienced our first earthquake.  A 5.9 earthquake on the Richter Scale happened in Virginia and sent shockwaves through Washington DC.  I was in the Museum of American History and experienced a slight movement of the floor and saw displays wobble.  Jeanette was in the Holocaust Museum and exprienced a much longer shaking of the building.  We were evacuated from the buildings, along with the thousands of other visitors and many thousands of Federal staff.  The streets were lined with people as I made my way back to the Holocaust Museum to meet up with Jeanette.  The mobile phone network was severely disrupted and I could not get hold of Jeanette, so I had to try and find her in the crowds.  Eventually, we met up and were able to make our way back to the hotel.  Who says genealogy isn’t full of excitement!

Today was far more normal and Jeanette once again went to the museum to continue her research.  This included looking at the 1938/39 German minority census records on microfilm to find details of relatives recorded in them.  The details of many relatives have been extracted and will be included in the family tree.  It is a great pity that such records have to be used to find out about relatives.

I think we are now both looking forward to getting back to the UK, as it seems an age since we were there.

I do hope that people have enjoyed the blog about the Washington DC IAJGS conference and are inspired enough to continue their research or even start their family tree.

Signing off from Washington DC

Mark Nicholls

Chairman JGSGB

Washington Conference Day 6 – The Last Day

Well the conference has now come to an end and everyone has started making their weary ways back to their home towns and cities around the world.  Most will be going back to their home US state, I am sure every state was represented here; others will be going to Canada, Australia, Germany, France, and many other countries.  The UK contingent has also mostly left, just Jeanette and I are still here in the hotel, others have gone to see cousins and family in the States or gone off to the airport.  Goodbyes have been said to friends both old and new and the last physical vestiges of the conferences have evaporated away.  However, the memory of it all will always remain.

There was one more piece of news from last night that happened after the blog had been written.  Michael Tobias, a long-standing JGSGB member and also a Vice-President of JewishGen received the IAJGS Lifetime Achievement Award for all his work in setting up the various JewishGen databases such as the JewishGen Family Finder – that indispensable tool for finding your cousins.  JGSGB had nominated Michael for the award but unfortunately, I did not go to the Gala dinner where he received the award.  However, I did get to see him afterwards and was able to offer him JGSGB’s congratulations.  Michael has also done an incredible amount of work for JGSGB on our databases and records over the years and for that alone I feel he deserves the award.  Well done Michael.

Today’s events were much shorter, as they came to an end at 12.15 with the final two presentations.  I spent the first part of the morning helping one of the conference organisers, Sue Isman, with trying to trace the birth records for her family in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire.  They proved to be most elusive, with no combinations of search terms being able to through out a record.  Only one birth for a child in Birmingham, Warwickshire came up.  Hopefully, Sue will have better luck with them when she has time to take a longer look.  I should say a very big thank you to all of the conference organisers at this stage for having put on a very excellent event.  The complexity of an IAJGS conference cannot be underestimated at all, nor can the capacity of delegates to find fault.  The stress and strain of running the conference is enormous.  So thank you to the three conference co-chairs Marlene Katz Bishow, Vic Cohen and Sue Isman for a wonderful time.

The final session that I attended was on mapping again, as I like looking at maps and atlases and have done since I was a small boy.  The presentation showed the value of old maps in undertaking research, particularly maps such as cadastral maps.  Cadastral maps are detailed plans of towns and villages mostly which show who owned what land and houses or lived in the houses.  The equivalent in the UK would be tithe maps.  Most of these maps were produced in the Austro-Hungarian empire.  The presenter then moved on to the Rumsey maps, which were mentioned in the Google Earth presentation yesterday.  David Rumsey is a map collector – he has 250,000 of them! – and his own map library.  He has put 28,000 of these maps on-line using high-resolution images. They can be seen at www.davidrumsey.com as well as on Google Earth.  He was also put the maps into the website called Second Life, where it is possible to move over and through the maps and dip into them.  The effects are incredible and David Rumsey produced a 20-minute lecture on his work in Second Life.  I wasn’t sure how you access the Second Life video but If I find out I will try and remember to let you know too.  The Rumsey maps cover many places all over the world and the software used allows all sorts of ways of viewing them.  Have a look and see how wonderful the maps are.

There were other websites mentioned, such as Hypercities http://hypercities.com/, with its collection of old maps, the Sanborn insurance maps from 1867 to 1970 (available on the pro-quest paid website I understand) http://sanborn.umi.com/, the Lviv interactive website http://www.lvivcenter.org/en/lia/map/, the Federation of Eastern European Family History Societies (FEEFHS for very short) Map Room http://www.feefhs.org/maplibrary.html, and finally the 1900 Collection http://www.discusmedia.com/.  There are of course many other collections of maps out there that can be found by searching Google and other search engines.  Gesher Galicia, a JewishGen SIG also has a collection of the cadastral maps that can be searched, so take a look there http://www.jewishgen.org/galicia/CadastralMapProject.html.

I hope that this blog series about the IAJGS conference has whetted the appetite of many of its readers to go to an IAJGS conference.  For the UK-based readers there will be a really great opportunity to do so next year, as it is being held in Paris from 15 to 18 July.  The conference will be bilingual, so no need to be fluent in French, though the ability to say s’il vous plait and merci will be helpful.  Take a look at the conference website at http://www.paris2012.eu/.  It looks like a really exciting event, just as this one has been.

So here is to another year and meeting old friends and making yet more new friends.  But most of all, to learning and knowledge.

Goodbye from Washington DC.

Mark N

Chairman JGSGB



Washington Conference Day 5

It is hard to believe that we are now at day 5 of the conference and that all that is left is the Friday morning sessions tomorrow.  We have already started to say goodbye to our old and new friends who are leaving tonight.  The time has flown by and so much has been done in so little time.  We managed to get some photos taken of most of the UK-SIG people together, and we hope to post them and other pictures for people to see somewhere.

Today was a lot less strenuous than the first few days and has been much more relaxed.  My first session today was on Google Earth and using it for genealogy.  Jay Sage gave the talk and showed how Google Earth worked and also how it could be used to improve the presentation of genealogical location information.  Some of the presentation was technical, well most of it was, but not that difficult we shouldn’t all be able to use it to some extent.    The really interesting parts were about being able to overlay old maps onto Google Earth images and then to see how places had changed over time.  This is really useful for finding the true locations of streets that had changed names or had been removed.  It was possible to create and record a journey around the world or a country or a town based on life events.  A person’s birth place, where they lived at different ages, where they married, where they died and where they were buried could be a timeline transformed into a journey.  Images can be associated with different locations, and also text can be added.  The possibilities are enormous with the technology, such as being able to clearly identify cemeteries or being able to work out the exact position where an old photo had been taken.  It was even possible to associate Google Earth images with family tree software.  I really want to have a go at this when we get back.  Maybe, we will even be able to do some things with it on the JGSGB website to add a wow factor!

Our next activity was a meeting with Neville Lamdan of the International Institute fo Jewish Genealogy, who I wrote about earlier in the week.  Jeanette and I had the chance to talk to Neville about the possible involvement of JGSGB and our members in an academic project.  This was the Scottish Jewry project and helping with finding the England-based records needed for it.  Neville will be providing us with the details of the project so that we can decide if we want to get involved.  Jeanette and I think it is a really good project and hope to see JGSGB involved in it.

The next session was on Jewish DNA research and was a very popular session.  When I got there a few minutes after the due starting time there were no seats and I had to sit on the floor.  It was worth it to learn about the use of DNA as a tool to ascertain Jewish lineages.  The first part was about research that had been done into the Cohen lineage.  For those that don’t know, the Kohanim or Cohanim (depending on you spelling preference) are the priestly line descended from Aaron about 3,300 years ago.  The DNA analysis of the Y chromosome of Kohanim published in 1997 showed that there was a definite difference between them and non-Kohanim going back at least 106 generations.  This would take the lineage back between 2,500 and 3,100 years depending on the years per generation.  The difference was seen in both Ashkenazi and Sephardi populations.

The DNA talk also confirmed that the Jews of the Diaspora were descended from middle-eastern populations going back over 2000 years ago.  This was despite there being some non-Jewish DNA entering the lineage through marriage.  Work on the Ashkenazi DNA lineage had shown that around half of the Ashkenazi population in the world were descended from four women who lived about 1000 years ago.  This was a bottleneck in the Jewish population that had lead to a number of genetic diseases coming about.  The talk confirmed some things that I had heard before but also provided new and interesting information.  There had been tests on Ethiopian Jews, which showed that they did not have middle-east lineage, so they had probably adopted Judaism sometime in the past.  The Lemba of southern Africa on the other hand had markers for middle-east descent.

Before I could go to lunch there was another meeting to go to.  This was about a new committee of IAJGS to look at supporting struggling genealogy societies and also to get non-affiliated societies, historical societies and so on to join with IAJGS.  We had a short chance to through around some ideas for supporting societies and also for increasing membership participation.  Tomorrow we will learn if the IAJGS Board will approve the committee.  I really feel that there has to be a support network for fellow societies that means they don’t feel they are on their own.  This will also help us in JGSGB to get ideas for making sure we continue to grow and deliver relevant services to members.  The meeting went on a little longer than expected, so that I arrived at lunch after Jeanette had eaten.  Jeanette’s lunch was also a meeting about planning for the International Jewish Genealogy month in November.

My plans to attend an afternoon session were sidetracked by responding to e-mails, so I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out with other people.  We had arranged to have the UK people together briefly at 3.30 p.m. for a photo, which we did.

The final thing this afternoon was to help a fellow delegate to find the details of a family in England.  He had some basic details about them up to the late 19th century but needed to find marriages and deaths for them.  So, after a week at a genealogy conference, I finally got to do some.  It felt really great to find the information on FreeBMD (http://freebmd.rootsweb.com/)  and findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk/) and to be able to show how straightforward it could be.

Tonight, most people will be at the Gala Dinner but we had not booked beforehand so won’t be there.  In the past we have avoided these dinners as we haven’t really known that many people who go to them.  Maybe next time we might just go – especially as it will be French cuisine!

So after a rest we will be off out to eat at a local restaurant.  Then one more morning to go.

Mark N

Chairman JGSGB



Washington Conference Day 4

The main part of the UK and German parts of the conference are now over and we can think seriously about getting some time in at other sessions.  The morning started off with a GerSig breakfast Q&A session run by Jeanette and Roger Lustig.  I didn’t stay long at the breakfast for two reasons, one was that I was helping Laurence Harris set up for his talk on UK records 1870-1930, the other as that I forgot I was going to the breakfast part and had breakfast in the restaurant as usual.  The exhausting schedule from yesterday was obviously taking its toll.  Laurence’s talk was very good and he covered all sorts of civil and Jewish records that could be used to trace many of the people who stayed in the UK or transmigrated.  The talk was held in the Independence Ballroom, a massive room so that the 60+ people who turned up were very thinly-spread out.  Laurence’s talk was very well received and there were many questions about individual research needs.  Laurence had covered record sets ranging from the standard ones of birth, marriages and deaths through to Jewish communal records.

At this point I would like to say thank you to all the people who had helped out with UK-SIG events.  Michael Hoffman, Jeanette Rosenberg, Laurence Harris, Todd Knowles, Michael Tobias and Jackye Sullins

I then went on to the talk about Village Jews in the Pale of Settlement.  It was very useful to learn about the differences between the Jews living in towns and villages and how the records could differ about them.  Neville Lamdan explained that between 25 and 33 per cent of Jews in the Pale were living in villages but had been rarely studied to the degree of town Jews.  This is was because the villagers were not in positions where they left extensive paper trails.  The Jews in villages were more likely to interact with the local landowner than were town Jews.  They would often be tax collectors or run different aspects of the landowners lands such as forests.  Village Jews ran small businesses such as inns, flour mills, blacksmith forges and so on.  Initially, when Jews took surnames after 1804, the villagers would often take the name of their village.  Later on they would change to different names to fit in with town Jews.  Many of the Jews in villages did not appear on early censuses to try and avoid being recorded officially.  There were many reasons for this, such as avoiding conscription and taxes.  However, the village Jews were more proportionally likely to appear in tax records than town Jews.  This was because they were more likely to be working and earning enough to qualify for taxation.  Neville explained that all Jews had to register in the place that they were born and had to return there to pay taxes, no matter where they had moved to in the Pale.  Overall, it was a fascinating insight into the different aspects of Jewish existence in the Pale of Settlement.

My next session was one on Germany again, which meant that I got to meet up with Jeanette again.  The talk was another one by Gerhard Buck, this time about his research into the Jewish families in Nassau in Germany – not Nassau in Bermuda or elsewhere.  Gerhard had started his research mainly due to the poor quality of existing histories of Jews in the area where he lived.   One of the projects he had been involved in was to show how long an old synagogue in the town of Camberg had been owned by Jewish people.  This was very important in the process of ensuring the building was preserved and restored.  The research showed that it had been owned by the same family going back to 1773.  Gerhard was able to use many different documents in other research such as a Schutzjuden register of 1665, which had details of the family of Mayer & Guetel and their children Seligman age 6, Perle age 6 months, Bele 12, Hebe 10 and Hegel age 8.  There were other books such as tax records and civil registers.  Unfortunately, I did not get to hear all of Gerhard’s talk as I must confess that I fell asleep a little, as did Jeanette.  Definitely, a case of yesterday’s schedule catching up.

Lunch was definitely in order now to get the energy to face the rest of the day.  We had been invited to lunch in the posher restaurant in the hotel by Allan Hirsch, a long-standing member of GerSig and now a member of JGSGB once I enter his details into the database.  Allan is an amazing person, as he is now 91 years old and still going strong with his family history research.  We had a really nice chat about our research and life in general.  Allan recounted the time the family got its first radio set – way back in 1927 – long before most of the conference delegates were born.

After lunch, Jeanette and I split up again to go to different events.  I went to the IAJGS Annual Meeting to represent JGSGB and the UK.  This was my first IAJGS Annual Meeting, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  It was a good meeting, with a lot of humour going on throughout, as well as talking about serious issues.  The election of the IAJGS Officers meant that a position had now become vacant for a Director on the IAJGS Board.  The situation with the 2014 conference was explained, which was that the Israel Jewish Genealogical Society had been unable to submit a confirmed contract for a conference hotel by 14 August.  IAJGS wanted other societies to come forward with bids for holding the conference from 2015 onwards.  Various issues around the hosting of conferences were discussed and there were many things that had to be considered by anyone taking on a conference.  There were suggestions that an Eastern European conference might be held in somewhere like Warsaw, which would be very different.  There were concerns about the cost to delegates of attending conferences and ideas were sought for ways of reducing he cost.

Alisa Fishbein a younger member of a JGS put forward a proposal for involving younger people in genealogy and in JGSes.  This included setting up a youth division of IAJGS and inviting young people to training sessions in places such as archives but this would be based in the USA.  So there would be issues for how the UK and other countries could take part.

The winning design for the International Jewish Month poster was announced.  The winning design came from a member of the Long Island Jewish Genealogical Society.  The task now is to promote Jewish Genealogy month in November this year.

The final important issue discussed was the way that budget cuts and legislative changes were affecting access to records.  There were many bills being passed in the USA to restrict access to vital records because of fear over identity theft.  JGSes were encouraged to oppose restrictions, as identity theft did not tend to come out of vital records access.  I spoke about the problems with access being restricted to archives in the UK through budget cuts and that JGSGB would be doing its best to try to ensure there was sufficient access to records.

So, that was the end of business for the day and we have now spent the evening sitting around with friends and having dinner.  It has been a quieter end to the day in terms of activities but not necessarily in terms of laughter.  Tomorrow will be the last full day of the conference and I hope that we will get to go out in the evening with as many of our friends as possible.

Washington Conference Day 3 part 2

I should now explain that I am writing this part of the blog at 11.50 p.m., as we moved from the discussion on involving younger people to a social event being run by JewishGen. More on this later.  Please read the previous post first, as this post will not make that much sense (do any of them I wonder).

So, the UK-SIG meeting continued with information about the revamped JGSGB website and the various new and updated sections on it. Again, I showed two new databases in the members area on the website. These were the Colney Hatch Asylum Records and the The Royal London Hospital (Endowments) databases. The first database is a transcription of the records from an asylum that many Jewish people were sent to due to mental health problems. The records show the name, age and location the patient lived at and also the basic details of the illness. This database will be put on JCR-UK in a few month’s time for public use, as will the Royal London Hospital records.  The full details of any patient’s record will only be available on application to JGSGB, as the information in them can be very distressing.  The other database showed a different side of Jewish communal life, with details of the people who provided financial and active support for a hospital.

The rest of the UK-SIG meeting involved a run through of the many different sorts of records and websites available to do research in the UK.  The website addresses will be sent to people who asked for them, along with any that Laurence Harris will mention in his talk tomorrow morning (now actually this morning).  I think that the audience got some useful information to take away from the SIG meeting, and I hope that some will join JGSGB having seen what we do.

So a very busy morning was over but much more had yet to happen.  First, Jeanette and I went to lunch in the Grand Slam bar in the hotel.  This is a sports bar with a burger and bar food menu.  The quality of the food is quite good and the service is excellent.  We have now eaten there three or so times.  The Manager of the bar is called Eric and is a nice guy.  Today, Eric paid for our lunch, which was really unexpected and very welcomed.  After lunch we went back down to the conference area to get ready for the afternoon’s events.  However, I felt really tired at this point and decided to go back to the room for an hour’s sleep.  This was a good move given the rest of the day that was to follow.

The reason for only having an hour’s sleep was that at 3.45 p.m. it was Jeanette’s really big moment at the conference.  Jeanette was to deliver her first full presentation on German Jewish genealogy at an IAJGS conference.  The topic was about what was changing in German archives and how the changes impacted on genealogy.  I cannot really go into detail about the presentation as it involved a lot of German words and many of them far too long for a inclusion in a blog, even as long as this one.  The room was packed, with some people having to stand up throughout.  Lots of the people there knew Jeanette well, others were experts in their own right.  The whole thing must have been very daunting for Jeanette, given the audience but she did not show it and delivered probably the best talk that I have ever seen her do.  The subject was technical and complicated but she pulled it off brilliantly.  So far everyone I have spoken to has been impressed by what Jeanette did.

No sooner had Jeanette delivered her talk than we were off to do the next thing.  This was a reception for the donors to the GerSig speaker fund.  We had to go and get the food and drink from our room where it was being stored, take it to a suite on the first floor and set up ready to receive the guests who had contributed to bringing Gerhard Buck to the USA.  I was the barman and photographer for this event.  Now I had a chance to relax and have a drink as well – very much needed to keep going.  Jeanette also had a chance to simply socialise with her fellow GerSiggers, including her GerSig “sister” Nancy Adelson, with whom she had been working for months on preparing the SIG’s events at the conference.  So then we finished the reception and cleared up before moving back to the conference floors for the JewishGen presentation – see part 1 of today’s blog.  Sorry if it is confusing time wise – just think how confused we are.

So, now more on the JewishGen social event.  This was a chance for those that contribute to the JewishGen website in many ways to meet and to talk about genealogy issues and also to get to know each other that little bit better.  I was able to talk with some of the JewishGen and IAJGS key people about issues that affect JGSGB and also to find out more about them personally.  So now another 50 minutes has elapsed and it approaching 12.45 a.m. so I have to go to bed.  After all there is yet another early start this morning – a GerSig breakfast and Q&A session – luckily, I can sit back a bit during the Q&A, Jeanette on the other hand has to answer all those questions…….

Here’s to this morning.

And they say that this is just a hobby!

Mark N

Chairman JGSGB

Washington Conference Day 3 part 1

Today I am writing the blog during an evening session on the generational issues in genealogy, which started at 8.00 p.m.  Young genealogists are talking about how they have got involved in family history research ad also suggesting ways in which younger people can be involved.  These include getting children or young adults to help with the technology side of doing research or setting up a Facebook page to draw in the younger generation.

The session before was all about JewishGen developments, which included news about additions to the JewishGen records and also about changes to databases – www.jewishgen.org.  The biggest news was that Shtetllinks was being renamed to KehilaLinks.  Kehila is Hebrew for community and the decision was taken to use this rather than shtetl because shtetl had mainly Eastern European connotations, but the dataset included communities in places like the USA, UK, Germany and so on.  The JewishGen education offering was increasing, including a course on navigating the JewishGen website.  Screencast videos about JewishGen were also now available.  The JewishGen databases now included 20 million records.  The JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF) has 90,000 researchers looking at 119,000 different family names.  We were told that JewishGen was doing more to unify the spelling of place names, including changing Vashincktin DeSea to Washington DC.

The JewishGen ShtetlLinks database was being renamed the JewishGen Gazetter, for the same reasons the Shtetlseeker was being renamed.  The number of countries covered would be moving from 45 to 54 and encompass over 1 million places.  The JewishGen resource mapping facility for each community with Jewish people in it had also been improved.  There were many other facts and information provided in the presentation which I haven’t the space to include here.  I will make a more detailed report separately to JGSGB Members.

I have started with the end of the day, rather than the beginning because it has been the longest, busiest and most exhausting day so far.  We started at 7.30 a.m. preparing for the UK-SIG Q&A session that started at 8.00 a.m.  This was a chance for people to ask our UK experts direct questions about their research problems.  We had seven experts who helped about thirty people with resolving problems.  We also had the chance to promote JGSGB publications and events.

Immediately after the Q&A we had to get the room ready for the GerSig meeting that Jeanette was chairing and I was taking the note of.  The GerSig meeting had a very large audience and they heard about many developments in the world of German Jewish genealogy, including the launch of the Name Adoption database, which records the details from name adoption lists where Jews in Germany were required to take last names instead of patronymic names.  There were also other research projects discussed and volunteers were signed up for transcribing and organising the projects.  Taking the note reminded me of my previous occupation as Head of Secretariat taking notes of board meetings – I thought I had left all that behind.

Once the GerSig meeting finished there had to be yet another quick changeover in the meeting room to get ready for the UK-SIG meeting.  Thank you to the conference organisers for putting all the meetings in the same room!  The UK-SIG meeting had fewer attendees than the GerSig meeting but that reflects the different nature of migration from Europe to the USA and the UK.  Few people in the USA, Canada and many other countries have family in the UK and if they did they may have only stopped off here for a few years.  Even so we had a reasonable audience for my presentation on the JCR-UK and JGSGB websites and new developments.  I explained that there were a few new databases on JCR-UK, including the Gorbals Public School database and the Wolverhampton community records.  The Gorbals Public School database is based on the pupil admissions to the school between 1885 and 1905 and has details of most of the Jewish pupils in that period.  The details of the pupils included their names, dates of birth, parent or guardian, address, date of entry to the school, their last school and date of leaving plus the reason for leaving.  I showed how the information could be used to fill in information about migration, birth in another country, reconstruct families and so on.  There are many of these registers in archives around the UK and some others are on-line such as one from Hull on the JCR-UK website.

More in the next posting……

Mark N

Chairman JGSGB


Washington Conference Day 2

The conference is now well and truly underway with the back to back sessions on almost any genealogical topic you can think of.  The start of the day for me was a session on the US National Archives, their record holdings and how to use the archives.  The US National Archives contains federal records and the collections date back to around 1780.  The archives are very similar to the UK National Archives at Kew in the way that records are organised, however, the system for accessing records does differ from Kew, with less on-line material and no on-line ordering system.  The history of the archives was fascinating, as they were only set up in the early 1930s and had to acquire records from all over the federal government.  This meant going to places like the White House garage to retrieve files that were on shelves in the walls of the ramps between garage levels.  There are around 9 billion records held by the US National Archives – a lot of research there I think!

The next session was on reading old German script, which is very important to Jeanette’s research when we go to Germany to look at records.  The speaker was Gerhard Buck, who had been brought over from Germany by GerSig, explained how the old script had developed into a different form from the rest of Europe.  His explanations of how to read individual letters were really useful, as so many of the letters look the same.  The talk was packed out, with people having to find seats from other rooms to join the meeting.  The 19th century script was actually easier to read than that of the earlier centuries, which is better for looking at vital records but from experience still very difficult to read.

The German theme continued with the GerSig luncheon.  This is a regular event at all the International Conferences and involves, obviously, a meal plus a talk from someone.  The talk this time was given by Henry Morgenthau III.  Henry is the son and grandson of two other Henry Morgenthaus, which in Jewish Ashkenazi naming terms is very unusual.  His father and grandfather both played important roles in the US government and diplomatic services.  There were stories about the links with Franklyn D Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.  It was a very fascinating talk and was well received by the audience.  The only downside was that the meal was a buffet rather than a set meal as in previous years.

My next session was on Polish Court Records.  This was a very educational session, as it pointed to another really useful source of information for genealogy research.  The speaker, Ania Wiernicka from the Warsaw archives, showed how detailed personal data was included in the records, such as names, dates and places of birth, parents, education level, physical characteristics, as well as the details of each court case.  Records were about crimes but also about employment claims and reconstruction of birth, marriage and death records following World War II.  Ania explained that the types of records from different parts of Poland were affected by what administration was in power at the time.  Some records, such as those from Bialystok, were poor due to having been taken away by the Russians and when they were returned in the 1960s most were missing.  The records that do exist for other places, which are many, are not indexed by name but by place.  They seem to be a really good place to look.  The website http://www.archiwa.gov.pl/en/state-archives.html is available in English but the record types are in Polish, so you need to be able to read some Polish to understand what you are looking for.

Talking about Poland, there was news from the JRI-Poland What’s New session that an agreement was expected to be signed within a month or so that people will be able to order birth, marriage and death certificates on-line, with payment by credit card.  There will also be access to further records for indexing through the agreement.

I didn’t get to go to my next planned session, as I got involved with trying to help a delegate with finding the records for her grandmother, who had lived in London from the age of 7 to 17 before going to Montreal to get married in 1903.  We explored the various ways of trying to find the grandmother on the Internet, including immigration records.  Although we could not find the records we wanted, the delegate said that she would join JGSGB there and then.  So, a great success for us and I hope for her.

The final session we attended on Monday was an update on the work being done by the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy based in Israel.  The IIJG has been pressing for Jewish genealogy to become an academic degree-level course but as yet no university has been able to set up such a course.  IIJG has now set out guidelines for the running of BA and MA courses.  The Institute has funded several research projects, which are helping to develop the academic level of research.  There is going to be a project which will aim to record and document the Jewish population of Scotland over the last 200 years, tracing the development of the Jewish population over that time to see how families inter-link and have changed.  Hopefully, JGSGB members will be able to assist with their fruits of their own research to help the project build up the data.

After a long day, we finally got to go and have dinner in the hotel.  As usual, we had an eclectic mix of people joining us, including an American and an Australian.  Tiredness, finally overtook us and we retired to our room.  Jeanette fell asleep fairly quickly and I started writing this latest installment of the blog.

Tomorrow is the really big day for the UK-SIG.  We have our Q&A session at 8.00 a.m. and then our main UK-SIG meeting at 11.00 a.m.  I hope we get a lot of people turning up and that we make a good impression.

Now for my beauty sleep before a stressful day.


Mark N

Chairman JGSGB