Melbourne Conference: Writing Ancestral Stories

Following Ambassador Yuval Rotem’s family history journey, Australian author Arnold Zable discussed techniques involved in writing family stories.

His own family is from Bialystok; his books and stories reflect those roots.

At the heart of good writing, he said, is imagination. He clarified this by focusing on the meaning of “image,” and the process of creating and seeing the image – of a place.

“If you can ‘see’ it, you can write it,” he said. Walking the streets of that place, talking to people who came from there – all adds to the “image.” Newspapers of the time provide more material and photographs. “If I can’t ‘see’ it,” he said, “I know more research is needed.”

He described a Melbourne place called Cafe Scheherezade, named for the woman who told 1,001 stories. Zable said the place was once – it no longer exists – filled by people, each of whom could tell their own stories – just as many and just as well.

He discussed the scenes that Ambassador Rotem used in his own family history journey, describing vignettes and memoirs, all of which provide missing links in an ancestral chain, and help to explain the mystery of those missing links.

Zable advised researchers to look for their ancestry, to find where they come from and to share their stories.

Melbourne: State Library of Victoria

Tuesday was tour day for conference attendees.

While some visited the National Archives of Australia (NAA) and the Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV), others visited the State Library of Victoria (SLV).

SLV genealogy librarian Anne Burrows – who presented her institution’s holdings to conference attendees on Monday – was the guide for our group. Her colleague Grant led another group.

The SLV’s main reading room is a busy place, offering desks, computers as well as comfortable chairs for visitors. The room was full of people busily working away on their own laptops as well as the library’s computers.

Just off the main reading room is the Genealogy Library, which is located in a former outdoor courtyard, now roofed over. Once considered for a restaurant, the space features elegant marble floors and tall stained glass windows of the surrounding buildings’ exterior walls. Sunlight streams through the roof’s glass panes into the room which holds shelving units, microfilm and microfiche cabinets and readers, as well as computers.

In honor of the Australian Jewish genealogy conference, a dual-sided display of Jewish genealogy books, journals and newsletters was at the entrance to the room.

Standing by the book display (left) is an old genealogy friend – Dr. Albert Braunstein of Melbourne – whose family, like mine, has roots in Mogilev, Belarus.

Anne took us through the room describing holdings in more detail.

In addition to the display at the entrance, there are more Jewish genealogy books on shelves, including many of Avotaynu’s publications – even Jeff Malka’s “Sephardic Genealogy” – and the Avotaynu journal. Of course, there are extensive general genealogy reference works and materials.

Microfiche includes holdings of the Australian Jewish Historical Society and other resources as indicated on this drawer label.

Computers also hold reference materials for those searching Jewish genealogy, such as databases on this computer in the center. A search for Australian Jewish Historical Society pulled up hits in the manuscript collection.

Patrons and researchers have access to printers for microfilm and microfiche images; digital cameras are allowed or users may download images directly to their own flash drives or memory sticks.

There are numerous GenieGuides covering Australian states and topics, such as convict material. Each binder holds many pages of additional sources of information (including selected microfiche, microfilm, CD and online records in the Genealogy Center. Although now only in hardcopy, future plans include online accessibility to this information.

Although I’m focusing in this post on the specific Jewish resources at the SLV, its extensive holdings include immigration records, vital records and much more, including the Ancestry.com Library Edition, available to all library visitors.

While the SLV’s Genealogy Collection focuses on sources from Australia, the UK and New Zealand, it also reflects Victoria’s ethnic diversity with an expanding range of Italian, Vietnamese, Chinese and Jewish material.

Core sources include indexes to civil registration for all Australian states and territories (as they are released), Australian cemetery and immigration records, electoral rolls and directions, and much more, including collective biographies and “how-to” guides.

The SLV’s Newspaper Reading Room holds more than 91,000 newspaper volumes in its Newspaper Collection – almost every newspaper published in the state since 1882, as well as earlier papers 1838-1880 (with some gaps).

Mellbourne Conference: Day Two

Although it rained heavily all night, the morning was bright and sunny. Conference sessions began at 8.30am.

I’ve known Bubbles Segall (right) for many years. She lived in a remote area of Australia for some three decades and recently moved to Melbourne. Her excellent program on “Writing Family Newsletters” inspired several attendees to begin such a venture. (See a separate Tracing the Tribe post on her presentation)

Other concurrent sessions were Czech research and beginning genealogy.

The second plenary session featured three archivists from local and national archives: Kim Burrell (National Australian Archives), Anne Burrows (State Library of Victoria) and James McKinnon (Public Records Office of Victoria). Each provided information on what the institutions hold and what researchers might find. Tomorrow (Tuesday), we will tour both the NAA and the SLV.

The most moving session was with Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem (Frenkel), who described his family history search (see separate Tracing the Tribe post), which all began with his son working on a family tree project, and Australian author Arnold Zable who spoke on “Writing Our Ancestral Stories.”

Following lunch, there were concurrent sessions of the Israel SIG (with Sallyann Amdur Sack-Pikus, Ziva Fain and myself), “Caring for Your Family Records” (Shauna Hicks) and “Jewish Naming Traditions” (Lionel Sharpe).

At a combined session, Sallyann presented “Resources for Holocaust Research,” covering resources at Yad Vashem, USHMM and ITC-Bad Arolsen.

An “Ask the Experts” closed the second day with some good audience questions on dating photographs, Austrian military uniforms and more.

On Tuesday, we’re off to visit archives and libraries.

Melbourne: The conference opens

Although Melbourne suffered from a 100-year rain, with flooded streets, damaged and leaking roofs, hail (from marble-size to much larger!), nothing stopped these intrepid genealogists from arriving at the Beth Weizmann community building in Caulfield South.

Sallyann Amdur Sack-Pikus gave the keynote address and focused on “Jewish Genealogy: Past , Present and Future,” as she detailed the history and growth of Jewish genealogy in the US and worldwide.

After a coffee break, I was up next with our “Iberian Ashkenaz DNA Project: So You Think You’re Ashkenazi.” It generated many questions and people were talking to me all day about their family’s stories. The point was to raise awareness of the possibilities and it certainly seemed to do just that.

I hadn’t known previously, but I was to lead a Sephardic SIG group next, with another group of interested people with even more interesting stories to tell and questions to be answered.

Following lunch (complete with felafel, potato salad and the rest), I then presented “The New Technology Frontier: Social Networks and Blogging,” which also encouraged questions and comments, as I covered Facebook, Twitter, Blogging and genealogy social networking sites. Several people at the session and ater during the day mentioned that their trees had been hijacked at Geni.

There were several concurrent sessions. I attended Jenni Buch’s Belarus session and Peter Nash’s excellent “China: Resources for Family Research,” which offered some rather amazing sources discovered by Peter. Attending Peter’s talk was our new friend Helen Bekhor of Melbourne, whose Sephardic family – originally from Baghdad – was interned by the Japanese in Shanghai. Peter attended the Kadoorie School in Shanghai and it sounded like they knew some of the same people way back then. Rieke Nash’s session on JRI-Poland was next.

What I missed: Krystyna Duszniak’s “Unearthing the Polish Past by Necessity: The Historica Journey to a Poish Passport,” Todd Knowles’ “British Holldings of the Family History Library,” Daniela Torsh’s “Finding Hilda: An Austrian Genealogy Story,” and Prof. Martin Delatycki’s “Genetic Disease Among Jewish People.” There were also SIG groups on researching early Australia, German research, Hungary and the Netherlands.

In the evening, a reception was held at the nearby Glen Eira Town Hall, complete with wine, sushi and more. A moving address was given by the young mayor, Steven Tang, who described his trip back to Poland and search for his mother’s Jewish roots, as well as his father’s Chinese roots. Awards were given to hardworking society members.

The society lost some time ago one of its major movers and shakers – Les Oberman – a good friend of mine. A meeting room was dedicated with a plaque bearing his name.

Ziva Fain and I are now out the door to day two of the conference.

Photos and more will be posted tonight.

Melbourne: Shabbat down under

The weather report indicated possible showers today, and the heavens have really opened up, with thunder, rain and hail. Glad I’m inside today!

After nearly two weeks of travel, jet lag has finally hit.

This past week was spent kicking back, frequently napping and getting the travel fuzz out of my brain.

My hosts, Ziva and Sam Fain, couldn’t be nicer, and their two pooches are wonderful.

Last night, for Shabbat dinner, I cooked up a Persian Shabbat meal of abgusht, gonde, khoresht-e-lubia sabz, rice and golden tahdiq. None of the guests had ever eaten Persian food before and it seems this was a big hit.

For readers unfamiliar with the cuisine: abgusht is a chicken soup flavored with handfuls of mint and parsley, carrots, parsnips, onion and lots more. Gonde are meatballs of ground chicken, grated onion, roasted chickpea flour, cardamom, turmeric, pepper and salt, cooked in the soup.

Khoreshts are stews with meat and vegetables and/or herbs. Lubia sabz are green beans. This particular dish uses very lean stew meat, sauteed fresh green beans, lots of carmelized onion, crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes, lime juice and cinnamon. Shirazi salad – finely diced tomato, cucumber, red onion dressed in lime juice, salt, pepper, and a little olive oil – was also on the table.

Ziva has a beautiful herb garden, and there is nothing like the taste of fresh-picked herbs (two kinds of mint, flat-leaf parsley, basil, oregano and more). It really made a difference. She also has a small vegetable garden, and a big fig tree in her front garden.

Dessert included watermelon and cantalope slices, strawberries and blueberries.

This week, we visited the new Holocaust museum that is just opening – school groups are already going through it. I met many of the volunteers, and some of the JGS people, including Lionel Sharpe, on our quick visit.

The conference starts tomorrow, so I’m trying to kick back and go over materials.

I’ve connected with my long-lost cousins from Bobruisk who have lived in Melbourne for quite some time – they are still in shock over my phone call and one of the brothers and his family live only a few blocks from my hosts! They are Katsnelson and their mother was a Talalay. We will spend one day next week together. Another day will be spent with Bene Israel friends from India, who have lived here for many years.

On Sunday, March 14, the plan is to be in a place called Kangaroo Flat for the Bendigo Family History Expo. My hosts are planning a visit down to Phillips Island to see the penguins (I love penguins). Sydney is also on the list as I will be seeing my cousins, Bob and Di Conley.

Stay tuned for the conference first day report!

Australia: Jewish genealogy conference, March 7-9

The weather in Melbourne couldn’t be better, sunny and breezy. Tracing the Tribe is blogging away and getting ready to speak at the second Australian National Conference on Jewish Genealogy, March 7-9.

The Australian Jewish News reported on the conference in a story on February 22.

The story focused on Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem who will also speak at the conference and describe his search for long-lost relatives in Australia.

Rotem, 50, was posted to Canberra in 2007; he spoke at the first conference in 2008, which the Australian Jewish Genealogical Society held in that city. The embassy hosted a reception for attendees at the conference.

Lionel Sharpe, secretary of the Australian Jewish Genealogical Society (Victoria) said in the story that the conference theme is “Our Jewish Roots,” and that it will look at ways that genealogists – from beginners to experts – can use today’s resources most effectively.

One important point that Lionel stressed is that there are so many new sites appearing and more archives are becoming accessible. Many experienced genealogists did a lot of work decades ago and couldn’t find anything then, but they are not aware of the new sources.

He says that the conference will recommend that researchers start looking again, but through different glasses.

Dr. Sallyann Amdur Sack-Pikus and myself are among the international speakers.

Other speakers include:

Writer-lecturer Arnold Zable (media as a resource for finding family); researcher Krystyna Duszniak (locating relatives in Poland); journalist-filmmaker Daniela Torsh (genealogy in the Czech Republic and Austria); Holocaust researcher Jenni Buch (Belarus); and Gary Luke (Australian Jewish colonial period.

Tracing the Tribe is very excited to be here and to take part in this event.

Hong Kong to Melbourne

Tracing the Tribe landed in Melbourne, Australia late in the evening on Monday, March 1.

While we are down under, posting dates and times will be local for Melbourne and Sydney. Now, it is 11am on Wednesday, March 3.

After a long flight, it was great to stretch out and get a good night’s sleep at the home of Ziva and Sam Fain in Caulfield South.

It was my first flight on Cathay Pacific and very enjoyable. Although completely full, it was comfortable and the service was excellent.

The seats were the best part of this long flight. In most aircraft, the seat back reclines – generally into the face of the person sitting behind – making it very difficult for that person (the “squashee”) to get up, open the table or work on a laptop. On Cathay Pacific, the seatbacks themselves do not recline, but the cushion section itself slides forward. It was quite comfortable.

Long flights are great for catching up on movies and I managed to see such recent productions as Up in the Air, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and the new Twilight sequel.

Business and First on Cathay Pacific are wonderful – wish I had managed an upgrade! Each seat becomes a flat bed, a luxurious creature comfort on long flights.

Tuesday was spent catching up on email. This morning – Wednesday – I’m trying to get posts up on Tracing the Tribe, and will also be going over to the new Holocaust museum (more on that later).