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.