New York: JDC Archival genealogy resources, May 16

The global archives director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee will speak at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of New York, on May 16.

The event opens with networking from 12.30-1.45pm, followed by the main program, at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street.

JDC’s director of global archives Linda Levi is responsible for archival centers in New York and Jerusalem. She is also assistance executive vice president for global archives. An NYU graduate, she holds an MA in contemporary Jewish studies (Brandeis University).
Since its inception in 1914, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC, known popularly as “the Joint”) has borne witness to the greatest events of twentieth-century Jewish history. The JDC Archives documents the organization’s operations, overseas activities and serves as a record of life in Jewish communities around the world.
Its extensive holdings include eye-witness accounts, correspondence, reports, logs, passenger lists, emigration cards, photographs, and much more. Participants will learn how the Archives are organized, see examples of rich genealogical records in the JDC archival collections, and find out how to conduct research at its repositories. New efforts to digitize the JDC collections will also be included in the discussion.

For more information, visit the JGSNY website.

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New York: Non-Jewish research in Jewish resources, May 13

Looking for new research resources? “Non-Jewish Research in Jewish Resources” is set for Thursday, May 13 at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society’s new location.

David M. Kleiman, president of Heritage Muse, is the speaker. The program starts at 5.30pm at 36 West 44th Street, 7th floor, in New York City.

Explore resources from around the world for Eastern and Western European research, often available for free.

Discover the research aids, books, and online content most often associated with the world of Jewish genealogy. These tools can open extensive research avenues for families of all faiths. Find surprising connections and general research sources in 17th-century colonial, and revolutionary American material, through to late 20th century immigration and burial data.

Publisher, researcher, folklorist and popular educator, Kleiman has been involved in family history works for more than 35 years. As president of Heritage Muse, Inc. and co-founder/chair of the NY Computers and Genealogy Special Interest Group. he is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and the Genealogical Speakers Guild, and serves on the Executive Council of the Jewish Genealogical Society of New York.

In 2009, he took on the duties of curator for the new Loeb Visitors Center at Touro Synagogue (Newport, Rhode Island), overseeing an extensive exhibit on the synagogue’s history, Colonial Newport, and the founding of America’s First Constitutional Amendment on Freedom of Religion. His company built the web site for both the Visitors Center and the sponsoring George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom.

Heritage Muse is a New York City digital publishing and research firm offering historical, genealogical, and design services to individuals, foundations, museums and corporations.

Fee: NYG&B members, $25; others, $40.

Visit the NYG&B website for more information and registration.

Israel: Already preparing for 2014!

Every 10 years, the International Conference on Jewish Genealogy is held in Israel and 2014 is the next one.

The Israel Genealogical Society is already preparing a list of documents to convert into databases to be available at the event.

IGS webmaster Rose Feldman says that many families or parts of families immigrated to Eretz Israel. Some remained and built their lives in the country, and some moved on to other places.

Databases available now may be viewed here. Those which have been completely funded are available for viewing by the public.

The Montefiore Censuses are being prepared as a joint project of IGS and London’s Montefiore Endowment.

The IGS is currently considering the following collections:

—  Names changes as published in the official government publication Yalkut Hapirsumim through 1954;

— 1928 Pinchas Habogrim –  which is the equivalent of electoral lists of those over 18 years of age. Currently, they have been located in Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

They are already working on some early 20th century Mukhtar Ledgers of Jerusalem’s Ashkenazi population.

Readers who are aware of any other documents dealing with Eretz Israel covering the early 19th-century through 1930, are asked to contact Rose.

Jerusalem Post: Tracing the Tribe, other gen resources mentioned

David Shamah, who writes on Internet and technology for the Jerusalem Post (print/online), published a roots column today listing various Jewish and general genealogy resources.

“Hi-Tech 101: At the roots of it all” noted that “If you’ve thought about the idea of putting together a family tree, the Internet can be a great friend.”

Sources mentioned for tips, information and how to peel away the layers of the past included:

Google’s cache, Google Earth and Google News
Genealogy Gems podcast and the regular site.
Cyndi’s List
Tracing the Tribe (happy dance!)
Roots TV’s Jewish Roots channel
Yad Vashem
JewishGen
Ellis Island
Tribal Pages

In my opinion, there were two major omissions: SephardicGen.com and MyHeritage.com.

Shamah noted links to a page of common genealogical research mistakes at ShoestringGenealogy. A link (broken) was given to a page that I hope refutes the myth that anyone’s name was changed at Ellis Island – if we only had a penny for each time this myth has been perpetuated by people who should know better.
 
Read the complete article at the link above.

Washington DC: Coming to America, April 18

What was it like for our ancestors to arrive at Ellis Island?

Learn about the experience with Barry Nove at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington, on Sunday, April 18.

The program takes place at Beth El Hebrew Congregation, 3830 Seminary Road, Alexandria, Virginia. The event begins at 1pm with the main talk at 2pm.

Barry Nove will share the story and the techniques he used to learn what it was like for his ancestors and many of our own to arrive in America through Ellis Island. He began his family history quest when he organized the first family re-enactment tour of Ellis Island, filmed by PBS as background material for a 1997 genealogy documentary series, “Ancestors.”

Nove received unique access to the Ellis Island Museum, worked with its archivists and gained understanding and appreciation of what his grandparents and great-grandparents experienced.

On his journey he gathered photos of the ships his family arrived on from Bremen, Danzig, Hamburg and Rotterdam; naturalization documents, passenger manifests and historical research.

Fee: JGSGW members, free; others, $5. For more information and directions, visit the JGSGW site.

Doing the happy dance!

We all like to read about genealogy “happy dance” moments!

From my dear friend Rosanne Leeson (Los Altos, California), comes this delightful email. She wants everyone to be as happy as she is now after watching the Matthew Broderick episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” and following a clue on the show to the solution to a Civil War family mystery.

Her family arrived very early in the USA (pre-Civil War) and she is an experienced and seasoned researcher of her Jewish family.

Wow! I am sitting here with tears in my eyes!

I have just had my first benefit from watching the “Who Do You Think You Are?” show!

Saw the last one with Matthew Broderick, when he finds his great-great’s grave in the Marietta GA National Cemetery. I never even knew that such a cemetery existed, or that they had moved Union dead there from Atlanta.

I had been hoping for ages to find out what ever happened to my great-grandmother’s youngest brother, who she had brought over to the US from Bavaria in the early 1860’s. I had gotten his record from NARA, knew when and where he had died (in a hospital in Atlanta of miliary fever).

Had asked someone in Atlanta to try to find out what had happened to his body. The only answer I got was that they had probably thrown his remains into a common or pauper’s grave. NICE!

He had only been in the US a short time, spoke very little English, but signed up to fight for the Union cause in NY, where my great-grandparents were living. He was 20 years old when he died. I always felt so sad that there was no closure for any of the family descendants.

Then I learned about the Marietta National Cemetery. Got online and found not only history of it, but a list of those buried there. BINGO! Great-Grand-uncle found!

I just called the cemetery and the gentleman was wonderful. They are sending out someone to see if he had a stone and, if so, to photograph it for me, and send in a week. He said that he thought there might be a stone or his name would not have been on the list. If not, I will order one. No fee for a picture! Their duty and pleasure to add closure after nearly 150 years!

WOW!

Rosanne, a semi-retired librarian, is a consummate genealogist, specializing in Romania (RomSIG) and Alsace (has translated many records and visited over the years). She’s also vice president of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society.

What this points up is that even very experienced researchers can learn something every day!

We never know when a ray of sunshine will illuminate that lost record that has eluded us for decades. We never know when a resource may provide a missing link.

I’m sure all Tracing the Tribe readers join me in congratulating Rosanne on her achievement, and congratulating WDYTYA on providing the clue.

Our well-known colleague Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak noted this post in her most recent Huffington Post article. Thanks, Megan.

China: A visit to Kaifeng

The one thing I really wanted to do, on my recent visit to Hong Kong, was arrange a visit to Kaifeng. It was impossible this time, but will be number one on my next visit – whenever that will be.

Matthew Fishbane recently visited the city and recounted his experience in the New York Times Travel Section, “China’s Ancient Jewish Enclave.” He also provides details for making a successful trip, mentions two guides and offers an interesting look.

One guide mentioned in the story is Shi Lei, 31, who studied at Bar Ilan University in Israel. We met when he spoke to a Ra’anana branch meeting that attracted nearly 100 attendees.

Through a locked door in the coal-darkened boiler room of No. 1 Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Kaifeng, there’s a well lined with Ming Dynasty bricks. It’s just a few yards deep and still holds water. Guo Yan, 29, an eager, bespectacled native of this Chinese city on the flood plains of the Yellow River about 600 miles south of Beijing, led me to it one recent Friday afternoon, past the doormen accustomed to her visits.

A mezuza at the doorway of Guo Yan’s house in Kaifeng, where traces of a thriving Jewish community remain.

The well is all that’s left of the Temple of Purity and Truth, a synagogue that once stood on the site. The heritage it represents brings a trickle of travelers to see one of the more unusual aspects of this country: China, too, had its Jews.

Ms. Guo, who identifies herself as a Jew, says she hears it from scholars, visitors and Chinese people alike: “ ‘You Chinese Jews are very famous,’ they say. ‘But you are only in the history books.’“

That seemed a good enough reason to come looking, and I quickly found that I was hardly alone.

Ms. Guo and I were soon joined by a 36-year-old French traveler, Guillaume Audan, who called himself a “nonpracticing Jew” on a six-month world tour of “things not specifically Jewish.” Like me, he’d found Ms. Guo by recommendation, and made the detour to see what the rumored Kaifeng Jews were all about.

Earlier, Ms. Guo had brought us into a narrow courtyard at 21 Teaching Torah Lane — an alley once central to the city’s Jewish community, and still home to her 85-year-old grandmother, Zhao Cui, widow of a descendant of Chinese Jews. Her one-room house has been turned into a sort of dusty display case, with Mrs. Zhao as centerpiece. “Here are the Kaifeng Jews,” Ms. Guo said, a little defiantly. “We are they.”

Fishbane says, as does my own research over nearly two decades, that for 150 years following the death of the last rabbi, there was still a spirit:

Grandparents told their grandchildren, as Mrs. Zhao told Ms. Guo: “You are a Jew.” Without knowing why, families avoided pork. And at Passover, the old men baked unleavened cakes and dabbed rooster’s blood on their doorstep.

Read the complete story, at the link above, which tells of the visit to Mrs. Zhao, Judaica, and the 50 or so descendants of this ancient Jewish community as they are relearning their heritage. Fishbane also provides a good capsule history of Kaifeng as well. Their synagogue, damaged by floods, was never rebuilt.

And, if this story inspires you, view the details, resource books and possibilities of arranging such a visit to Kaifeng. Most visit only for a day as there are few sites to see that exist, and a visit relies on how the visitor and guide explain what once was.

If you do plan a trip, you might want to do it sooner than later. The street where Shi’s grandfather lived – where Shi keeps a one-room mini-museum of photographs, documents and donated objects – is scheduled for re-development. We all know what that means and Shi doesn’t know where the museum will move. Read the story for details on a Kaifeng visit planned for October 2010 by a group that specializes in such trips.