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.

Comments are closed.