Australia: Bendigo family history expo

On Sunday, we drove up to Gold Rush country for the Bendigo Family History Expo, visited the famous Hanging Rock, saw my first wallaby, and saw the view from Mt. Macedon (left).

The easy ride from Melbourne went through gently rolling green hills, populated by cows, sheep and horses. There were many wineries, historic towns and mineral springs along the way, but no time, unfortunately, to stop and smell the grapes!

At the expo, there were some 60 experts, local groups and societies filling a large hall at the Bendigo Leisure Center (community center, in the US), but there were no classes or workshops as is usual at similar US events There was a steady stream of visitors all day.

Within 15 minutes of putting up two signs (Jewish Research and, and starting a MyHeritage overview looping powerpoint presentation, several people had come over to ask questions about both.

Questions included where to find more information about the families SIMEON (Liverpool, UK) and ISRAELOWITZ (Melbourne), while others shared information about postcards from Israel (pre-state)brought back by fathers and grandfathers who had served in the British and Australian armies.

I learned about Jews who had settled in Avoca, a small area community, and met a man who carried his 13,000-name family tree on his iPhone (using Reunion software).

One young woman stopped by to ask about her great-grandparents named ENGLANDER and MOVRIN (both from Germany). I offered various websites for her to access.

Margaret Brown told me about her JASSNIGER relatives from Vienna (see separate post).

Unfortunately, there was no Internet access at the expo or I could have helped more people directly.

As people came up and asked questions, I wrote down websites for them to access at home, including JewishGen and its many components, Ancestry and others. All public libraries in Victoria carry the Ancestry Library Edition, making it easier for researchers.

Here’s my first in-person long-distance wallaby (left). A mob of them were eating grass at the Hanging Rock racecourse.

Melbourne: Meeting the family – at last!

Thirty years ago, Alexander Katsnelson, his wife Jenny and toddler Nelly arrived in Melbourne from Bobruisk, Belarus.

Later on, his father and brother Leon arrived from Bobruisk. Alex and Leon’s mother was a TALALAI whose family was from Mogilev.

In the photo below are (from left) Leon, Schelly and Alex.

About seven years ago, members of the Australian Jewish Genealogical Society – notably the late Les Oberman – located Alex and Jenny after information from new-found Moscow cousins indicated they might be in Melbourne.

We communicated for awhile until I experienced a major computer malfunction and lost much data (including emails). Yes, I know. Tracing the Tribe always advocates backing up, backing up, backing up. I goofed and thus our family lost years during which we could have been in contact.

However, as soon as I landed in Melbourne, I told my hostess, Ziva Fain, that we needed to find them. Fortunately, we found L. Katsnelson in the online phone book (cousin Leonid), who gave me Alex’s number.

Today was cousin day.

Alex and Jenny came to take me to their home – which is very close to Ziva’s – where Alex’s younger brother Leon, their older daughter Nelly and granddaughter Miliana, 2, were waiting. Later that day I also met Nelly’s son Jordan, 5, and Nelly’s sister Fleur.

Nelly has a degree in journalism – is it genetic? – while Fleur is an attorney. Our daughter is Liana, Nelly’s is Miliana.

We went over family charts and photographs. Leon told us many anecdotes from his childhood. As the younger brother, he was closer to his grandmother and he remembered a large photo on the wall of his mother’s family in Mogilev.

When Alex and Jenny left, they could not take any family photos with them. When Leon left, he took many small photos, but was not permitted to take other family memorabilia. His mother’s sister went to Brooklyn later on and took other items, including the photo. She has since died; no one knows where the large photo of the Mogilev family is now, but Alex and Leon said they will try to find who has it (and many other photos) and have them scanned.

After lunch, Jenny showed me a Russian-language site that translates as “classmates” – sort of a Russian Facebook. We checked for TALALAI and were amazed to find so many, although some I knew. This could be a very valuable resource for genealogists. Names can be typed in English, but everything else seems to be in Cyrillic.

I showed Jenny and Nelly how to use both Ancestry and JewishGen. Everyone was surprised to see how many FamilyFinder entries for KATSNELSON from Bobruisk were listed. A few years ago, Leon had been contacted by a US researcher who sent him information and charts but they couldn’t see how they were related; he did not hear from that researcher again.

Many of the KATSNELSON researchers in the Family Finder are either deceased or have not logged in since 2004.

Jenny is also looking for her HEIMAN (sometimes written KHAYMAN) family of Bobroisk. Her grandmother lived in Bobruisk, but her family had moved to Riga, Latvia, where she grew up and attended school. How and why they moved to Riga is a story in itself.

Jenny and I later went to dinner and we didn’t stop talking all evening. There was an instant connection, as if we had known each other for a lifetime.

There will be more to tell. And this time we won’t lose the connection!

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 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.