Illinois: Midwest Jewish Genealogy Conference, June 6

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois has organized a one-day Jewish genealogy conference, “From the Shtetl to the 21st Century,” on Sunday, June 6, in Skokie.

The full-day event features experienced instructors on topics to expand knowledge of genealogical resources, including a two-part Beginners’ Workshop. Five time slots each feature three concurrent programs.

This event can also be considered a great lead-in and preparation for the main event of the Jewish genealogy year, the 30th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy – JGSLA 2010 – which runs from July 11-16, in Los Angeles.

Speakers at the Illinois event include Ron Arons (keynote speaker), Judith R. Frazin, Harriet Rudnit, Abby and Bill Schmelling, Ralph Beaudion, Leslye Hess, Robin Seidenberg, Irwin Lapping, Alvin Holtzman, Louisa Nicotera, Everett L. Butler and Mike Karsen.

Topics include: Beginners’ Genealogy Workshop, Using the Internet to Research Your Family History, Travel to Your Ancestral Shtetl, Find That Obituary Online, Holocaust Research in Libraries and Internet, Polish Translation Guide, Mining for Gold: Online Newspapers, Waldheim Cemetery, Basics of DNA Testing, Mapping Techniques, Cook County Genealogy Online, Genealogy Research Reasoning, Write Your Family History Now, Ask the Experts.

Before May 15, fees are: Members (of any Jewish Genealogical Society), $45; others, $50, Conference plus JGSI membership (new member only), $70. After May 15, each category increases by $10.

Download an event brochure, and find more program details, at the JGSIllinois website.

Around the world: Looking for Jews

When we traveled much more than we do now, Tracing the Tribe always looked for signs of Judaism.
Many years ago, when we lived in Iran, we visited Isfahan, from where my husband’s family had migrated to Teheran in the mid-1850s. Our itinerary included the various Jewish quarters and old synagogues of Isfahan and I convinced my husband to travel 30km on a gravel road in a mini-bus to the ancient Jewish cemetery at Pir Bakran (below). Unexpectedly, we even met a very distant cousin on the mini-bus that day and were invited to share eggs cooked over a fire, tomatoes and bread.

Some years ago, I wrote about our visit to this cemetery here for the IAJGS Cemetery project. For more outstanding photos of the cemetery, view here. One of these days, I will scan in my own photos of our trip.

In Shiraz, we visited cousins by marriage, walked through the old Jewish quarter, visited synagogues and community institutions.

In Teheran, I accompanied American visitors to the old Mahalleh – the old Jewish neighborhood – when it was really most unfashionable to go there.

In Guadalajara, Mexico, we ran the gauntlet of phone calls to be approved to attend a Shabbat service at the guarded Jewish club.

In Catalunya – Barcelona, Girona (see image right), Besalu, Lleida and elsewhere – we visited the silent stones of once important Jewish communities.

Massachusetts resident Lynn Nadeau does much the same, and detailed her travels in this story in the Jewish Journal Boston North. The story covers Rome, Palermo, Belize and Argentina.

— Split, Croatia: She found a third-floor room in Diocletian’s Palace that the only Jews in the city – six men – used as a synagogue. the nearest rabbi was 300 miles away in Zagreb.

“In Argentina (and wherever I travel), I look for the Jews. I go down streets called “the Jewish quarter,” but often the streets are empty of Jews and contemporary Jewish life. My Jewish tour of Palermo, Sicily, was paltry. Although there was lots of history, I was able to find only one Star of David and one candelabra in a Norman palace.”

— Hania, Crete: Nadeau walked through narrow alleys on Succot to pray with a handful of local Jews.

— Syracusa, Sicily: A closed abandoned mikvah – no sign of a synagogue.
She also finds existing vibrant communities, such as in Rome, in a heavily guarded Munich shul, in a Sephardic synagogue with a sand-covered floor on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, on Barbados, and in the third largest Jewish community in the world, Buenos Aires.

She describes the museum of Temple Libertad, built in 1897, with photographs, wedding gown displays, information on Jewish gauchos, and also covers the 1970s wave of anti-Semitism and the “disappeared,” as well the tragic bombings in 1992 and 1994.

Nadeau sums up her searches:

“But my searches have resulted in a deeper identification with Jews of other nationalities, in a feeling of pride because of the depth and breadth of our Jewish family throughout the world. My searches have added the excitement of a detective novel to my travels, and a deep satisfaction in finding that the spirit of Jewish studies and customs live on, despite all the global obstacles we have faced and overcome.”

What have you discovered on your travels?

Read the complete story at the link above.

Ohio: Cleveland’s cemetery database, May 5

Do you have roots in Cleveland, Ohio?  There’s a new database that may help you document individuals of interest in some 71,000 burials from 16 Cleveland-area cemeteries.

The project was carried out by the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland’s Commission on Cemetery Preservation. The Federation staff person coordinating the project is Susan Hyman and she will be the speaker at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland on Wednesday, May 5.

The program begins at 7.30pm, at Menorah Park, 27100 Cedar Road, Beachwood, Ohio.

The topic is “Using 21st Century Technology To Find Your 19th Century Ancestors – Jewish Cleveland’s New Cemetery Database.”

She has been, since 2007, the Federation’s Information and Referral Specialist in the Community Planning, Allocations and Community Services Department. In addition to helping those affected by the economic downturn, sharing information about community programs and services, her portfolio includes cemetery preservation and other areas as well.

On March 13, a story – “A new database helps Jewish families find graves of ancestors” – by Grant Segall appeared on Cleveland.com detailing the project and successes.

According to the story, genealogists in Cleveland and elsewhere are networking via computers to share and collaborate on family history.

A California woman slogged through Cleveland snow this month and found more than 50 family graves.

In a way, the snow helped. Ricki Lee Davis Gafter of San Jose used handfuls to moisten headstones and make the letters stand out in her photos.

Gafter got much more help from a new database compiled by the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland’s Commission on Cemetery Preservation. A dozen volunteers, some of them from the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland, spent about six years compiling some 71,000 records of burials in 14 Jewish cemeteries and in Jewish sections at two other cemeteries.

“It’s been really helpful,” said Gafter, who spent a few days here in her hometown visiting the living and finding the dead. “My family came to Cleveland in the late 1800s, and no one knew where everyone is. There was no record.”

Using the database, she discovered not just stones but facts. “I just found my great great-grandma, who I didn’t even know had made it to the U.S. Now I know who paid for her plot.”

While some area Jewish cemeteries are professionally staffed, others are run by volunteers and there are no burial lists.

The project brought together data from cemeteries, synagogues and other sources. In one example, someone had filled a scrapbook with Jewish obituaries.

There are some estimated 85,000 area plots, so the 71,000 records in the database offer a good sense of history. Volunteers will continue to expand and update it, and it is expected to be online in a few months.

If your family comes from the Cleveland area and you’d like more information, email Hyman.

Chicago: ‘My Uncle, The Hollywood Producer,’ April 25

Robin Seidenberg will present “My Uncle, The Hollywood Producer: A Fabulous Tale,” at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois, on Sunday, April 25.
The program begins at 2pm at Temple Beth Israel, in Skokie.
Seidenberg, who will present this topic (with a slightly different title) at the upcoming JGSLA 2010, will demonstrate how she used online historical newspapers and other research tools to separate fact from fiction about her famous uncle.

Family whispers captured Robin’s curiosity about her uncle, the Hollywood producer. Having made millions in real estate and radio manufacturing, he was known as the zipper king when he arrived in Hollywood. Gregory Peck, James Stewart, Charles Laughton, Barbara Stanwyck, Angie Dickinson, Jane Powell and a future president of the United States starred in his productions.

Always amidst a bevy of beauties, he had several wives, including a Ziegfeld Follies star, a society heiress, and an actress called one of the most beautiful women in the world. Hear this fascinating story and learn how can research your family using online historical newspapers.
A former college French teacher, Seidenberg earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees (University of Chicago) and completed most of her PhD requirements (University of Illinois). A member of the Genealogical Speakers Guild, Robin has been researching her family history since 1997. She is the JGSI’s executive vice president and Lake County Area Computer Enthusiasts president.

The day begins at 12.30pm, so members can access the JGSI library, and receive help prior to the program.

For more information and directions, click here.

UK: 160 years of Illustrated London News now online

Researching your ancestors in the UK just became easier, with 160 years of the Illustrated London News now online.

Hosted by Gale, there are some 250,000 pages and about 750,000 photographs and illustrations, from its first issue on May 14, 1842 to the last in 2003. At a time when copper printing was expensive and took time, the ILN developed a fast, cheap woodcut print method for illustrations. Photographs first began to appear in print during the late 19th century.

“It was the multimedia of its day,” said Seth Cayley, publisher of media history at Cengage Learning, which has digitised the ILN archive. “In one sense, people didn’t know before then what the rest of the world really looked like. ILN was the strongest paper of its sort and helped shape the middle class.”

According to the Guardian, highlights include articles by such writers as Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Wilkie Collins and Agatha Chrstie. The first illustrated news publication included all the news of the day, such as wars, disasters, exhibitions and work by famed artists of the day.

While access is currently available only to subscribing institutions, there seems to be hope, as noted in the original Guardian story:

The online archive, which goes up to 2003, will initially be available only to libraries and educational institutions.

The archive presents articles both on an individual page, or to view in the original layout next to adverts and other editorial of the day. Pages are full-colour with both text and tagged images indexed for search, though the archive is not publicly accessible and has not been indexed by Google.

Cayley said the firm had improved the archive experience with each previous project, including its work on Times Online, the Economist, the British Library and the FT.

“The Times archive has been so successful it has almost distorted the way people research, because they assume that is the only newspaper archive. But more archives coming online will mean better representation of different reporting and a clearer perspective on the past,” Cayley added.

He said it would be ideal for all newspaper archives to be cross searchable in the future, and that Cengage is exploring that option.

From a page at Gale, here’s more on access:

Please note: The ILN Historical Archive is only available for institutions to trial and purchase.The archive is not available at this stage for individual subscriptions, although a pay per view site may be considered at some future time. Users of the archive can share images and articles for non commercial purposes only.

If you have access, here’s what you’ll find.

The Illustrated London News Historical Archive gives students and researchers unprecedented online access to the entire run of the ILN from its first publication on 14 May 1842 to its last in 2003. Each page has been digitally reproduced in full colour and every article and caption is full-text searchable with hit-term highlighting and links to corresponding illustrations. Facsimilies of articles and illustrations can be viewed, printed and saved either individually or in the context of the page in which they appear. Wherever possible Special Numbers covering special events such as coronations or royal funerals have been included.

For more from Gale, click here, which notes that the new archive will be of interest to researchers in many fields:

Use this remarkable resource to support scholarly and enthusiast research in social history, fashion, theatre, media, literature, advertising, graphic design and politics, as well as those interested in genealogy.

The Guardian noted:

The archive includes an 1850s illustration of a “sea serpent” seen by sailors from HMS Daedalus on a passage from the West Indies – which they promptly tried to shoot – and a column by feminist Florence Fenwick Miller. She describes using cocaine drops to combat sea sickness. “All chemists keep it, and my readers undertaking a sea-voyage should have no difficulty in procuring a supply.”

Tracing the Tribe hopes for future access for all.

UK: Genealogists are ‘creepy, boring’

Remember a few weeks ago when the New York Times television reviewer made disparaging remarks about genealogy and genealogists?

Today, the UK’s Times Online writer and author Sathnam Sanghera says, “I can’t think of a single revelation produced by a single genealogist that hasn’t made me think: meh.

[As a non-Brit, I’m assuming “meh” is either the sound a baby goat makes (having seen them up close and personal with many making “meh” noises as they nibble at your clothing) or an uninspired remark indicating “so what?” Yesterday at the supermarket cheese counter, looking for sheep feta (the closest we get to real Bulgarian panir here in Tel Aviv), I forgot the word for sheep and said “b-a-a-a.” A helpful woman on line informed me that Israeli sheep say “meh” not “b-a-a-a.” In any case, I pointed to the correct cheese! But I digress.]

A little later in the story, Sanghera pronounces:

Show me a genealogist and I’ll show you someone who is basically obsessed with proving that they come from royal, aristocratic or celebrity lineage. Creepy and boring.

His other gems included:

And before anyone points out the hypocrisy of a memoirist [see his website above]slagging off genealogy, life writing and genealogy are completely different. One being the equivalent of an interest in music, the other the equivalent of an interest in hi-fi equipment.

Though perhaps a better way of putting it is that genealogy is the academic equivalent of endlessly googling yourself. Aficionados like to say their pastime is a good way of learning about history, but it strikes me as a highly solipsistic and narcissistic way of doing so.

Don’t know what “solipsistic” means? Solipsism, a philosophical term, means (1) The theory that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified or (2) The theory or view that the self is the only reality.

[Tracing the Tribe prefers the opposite view. Each of us are made up of pieces of all our ancestors, recombined genetically, throughout time. Our ancestors and their lives are who we are today. As genealogists, we want to know who our ancestors are, regardless of where they came from, how they lived and in what ways their experiences and history have contributed to who we are today. But I digress again.]

Sanghera’s article came out of a point made by Ricky Gervais in a Times magazine interview over the weekend:

Namely: “I don’t see the point really.” In reference to Who Do You Think You Are?, the genealogy TV show, he continued: “Who cares who the **** you are? I love it when they cry when they find out their great-great-grandmother was a prostitute. Really? It’s all come flooding back now, hasn’t it? Oh, the terrible memories of 150 years ago.”

Sanghera said this was his reaction more or less when reading about the Arts and Humanities Research Council funding a major new research project to create the largest database of the UK’s family surnames which will apparently be “of enormous interest to home genealogists and family historians.”

Although Sanghera states that genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies on the planet, he just doesn’t get it. His own research on his Punjabi-origin family indicates that the males were all farmers.

You may want to read his opinion on the Ancestry announcement that Madonna and Ellen DeGeneres are distant cousins, and his linking of Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards with the librarian profession.

Read the complete story at the link above. There were only two comments there when I checked it, and readers may wish to add their own opinions.

Chris Dunham – The Genealogue – provided his own take on Sanghera here.

Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak wrote more about Ricky Gervais’ comments in her latest Huffington Post piece, and provided a link to Tracing the Tribe’s recent “Doing the Happy Dance” post.

Footnote: Interactive Census free through April

Our friends at Footnote have announced that their Interactive Census Collection will be free to the public through the end of April.

To view images in this collection, readers only need to register (for free). Footnote currently has available the 1860 and 1930 US censuses, as well as parts of 1900, 1910 and 1920. They are planning to add the balance of the censuses, 1790-1930, by the end of the year.

For more information, click here.

Did you know that Footnote also holds newspaper archives, great historical comic strips, weird news and vintage ads (some of which are not exactly politically correct by today’s standards).

Click here to learn more about those interesting collections.