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.