Posts Tagged ‘genealogy conferences’

In the span of one and a half weeks this month, I attended the Massachusetts Historical Society’s conference “So Sudden an Alteration”: The Causes, Course, and Consequences of the American Revolution in Boston and the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium’s biennial conference (NERGC 2015), run by a consortium of regional societies, held this year in Providence, Rhode Island. I have never done two conferences nearly back-to-back before (for me, there was a three-day break between them) and while it was a bit overwhelming to do, both events were fantastic. Since past experience has taught me that it will take me at least a little bit of time to turn my detailed drafts into blog posts, this post is my initial wrap-up of them.

For those that have never been to one of the Massachusetts Historical Society’s seminars, the basic format is that attendees read the paper in advance, the author talks a little bit, a commenter responds to the paper (and, if they wish, to what the author just said), the author is given the opportunity to respond to the commentary, and then the floor is opened to comments, questions, and suggestions from the attendees. Most of the MHS conference was in a similar format, except that there were two or three authors on each panel instead of just one, and the commenter responded to all papers before opening the floor to the audience. During most of the time slots, the entire conference was a single track, but there were two time slots when we got to choose which panel we wanted to attend.

Not surprising given the format and the mostly-single-track, some of the papers were of more interest and relevance to me than others, but I enjoyed every panel I attended. It was also great to see some familiar faces and meet some new people. The people in attendance seemed to me to be a mix of history professors and other historians, grad students, archivists/librarians, and interested third parties like me. I had prior exposure to the work of two of the panelists (Gloria Whiting and Serena Zabin) through MHS’s seminar series, and their papers were two of my favorites in the conference. I also got to hear Barry Levy speak for the first time; I cited his book Town Born: The Political Economy of New England from Its Founding to the Revolution in one of my articles.

In two and a half days, I got to learn about things as varied as the African-American community in colonial Boston, British soldiers renting from Bostonians, how Pennsylvanian society grappled with reintegrating Loyalists who stayed after the American Revolution, and Americans’ early efforts at trade in China alongside the behemoth that was the British East India Company. Much more to come.

As longtime readers of my blog know, NERGC 2013 (my first one) fell under the long shadow of the Boston Marathon bombing, which had been that Monday, and the hunt for the living bomber, which was occurring while I was at the conference. I’m pretty sure that not having the stress of, for example, so many of us spending our breaks on Friday standing around a hotel lobby’s TV for updates on the hunt for the bomber at least partially colored my different response to 2013 vs. 2015. But it’s not just that. NERGC’s speakers, attendees, and talk subjects were more diverse than they had been in 2013; there were more attendees, period (a record-breaking number for NERGC); and I know so many more people in the genealogical community than I did then, and met even more over the span of the four days I attended, including several people I’d known online for a while but had never met in person before.

I also was pleasantly surprised that nearly all the talks I chose to attend were excellent, as that had not been the case with the previous NERGC (though I had still had better luck in 2013 than many others I knew). For Tech Day (which 148 of us attended the day before the main conference started), we had to commit fully to one of two tracks so had no options for what talks we attended, but for the three days of the main conference, we had the option of eight talks in each time slot, with each day having eight thematic tracks. The schedule was so well-done that there was only one time slot for the entire three-day main conference wherein nothing seemed particularly of interest to me, so I volunteered at a booth in the Exposition Hall at that time.

This was also my first time volunteering at the New England Chapter of the Association for Professional Genealogists (NEAPG) luncheon of special-interest tables; volunteers from NEAPG moderate the tables. I did a table on “Researching in England’s Records” because I thought it was something that was likely to be of interest to enough attendees to more or less fill a table (and indeed, only one seat was empty at mine). For a while I’ve been slowly working my way up to speaking in public in front of total strangers, and I thought this would be a good next stepping stone, which it was. Handouts were optional but I chose to create one with a timeline I created myself and a bibliography of some of my suggested books. (I like handouts.) I thought that including a bibliography of websites would probably be superfluous, but I turned out to be wrong as a number of my questions were about websites.

In four days I learned about things as varied as how to turn my iPad from an expensive email checker into something I actually regularly use, that there were at least 45 different groups in the Hudson River Valley of New York before 1800, much of what’s in the amazing U. S. Sanitary Commission collection at the New York Public Library, the African-American community in pre-Civil-War Vermont, and speculation about where genetic genealogy will be in five or ten years. Again, much more to come.

Edited to add: If I’m calculating correctly, I attended 26 presentations and 9 panels within 11 days (including attending a presentation the day before the first conference and another during the three days between the two conferences).

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Can American genealogical conferences and other events embrace diversity? Back in 2013, I attended my first fairly large genealogical conferences, a regional one and an international one. After the first one, I started a post of suggestions for American genealogical conferences, which I expanded after the second one but have never finished and posted it. Prompted by DearMYRTLE’s discussions on her blog this week, I wanted to pull the point that I feel is the most important from that draft – the issue of diversity in topics and attendees – and expand upon it. Before (or after, if you really prefer) reading my post, I suggest you read Myrt’s posts and the many comments to some of them. Here are the links to her posts:

Following was one of my suggestions for American genealogical conferences that I wrote in 2013 a week or two after attending the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium (NERGC) 2013 Conference, which had been decidedly lacking in seeming diversity both in attendees and topics:

Reach out to organizations that are specifically focused on the history and/or genealogy of people of color, religions other than Christianity, and other so-called “minorities,” trying to get more speakers and attendees from these groups. Most lectures at most if not all American genealogy conferences focus by default on the experiences of white Christians, and while of course I cannot judge the heritage of someone else, most attendees at most of them appear to be white. Even most of the lectures that were focused on various “minorities” at NERGC 2013 and at other regional events that I have attended were given by people who do not personally identify with the group on which they are speaking. This is not to say that someone can’t become experienced at researching people other than their own self-identification; if that were the case, only people with a completely homogenous background would be able to successfully research their own family’s history and historians would only be able to do good research on people just like them. But after attending many lectures, I believe that people who are a part of the group being presented bring a different perspective to a lecture than people who are approaching it from an outsider’s perspective, and I also think that the best presenters are fully cognizant of this. Part of why I think this would be such a great idea – beyond the obvious issue of diversity or lack thereof – is because you cannot judge someone’s research interests based on how they physically appear to you.

Since typing the above and failing to ever post my draft, I have attended many more genealogical and historical events, including a second conference, the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies’ (IAJGS) 2013 Conference. I want to stress again that I cannot speak for others’ self-identification nor their heritage, but based on my perceptions alone, there were significantly more people who appeared to be persons of color at IAGJS than there had been at NERGC. There have also been more people who appeared to be persons of color at historical events I have attended that had to do with slavery in Massachusetts than there were at either genealogical conference, and as I noted in my most recent post, I think this speaks to the fact that if topics of interest are discussed and the event is advertised in a way where persons of color see it, persons of color will attend. This seems to me to be pretty basic, but based on my experiences as a white genealogist and the experiences of a number of genealogists I know from a variety of backgrounds and heritages, it seems to be beyond what the planning committees for many genealogical conferences/seminars and other genealogical events do.

In my humble opinion, these are some things that could be a good start at changing things for the better in the American genealogical world:

  1. If an organization hosting a conference/seminar/etc. comes up with themes or suggested proposal topics in advance, try to ensure that these include a wide variety of topics. While an organizer might think, “This topic wouldn’t be of interest to my intended audience” – how can they know for sure that it wouldn’t unless they try it? And how can they know what their future audience might potentially be unless they offer topics that attract a wide range of attendees?
  2. More widely advertise calls for proposals to reach a more diverse group, and take chances on proposals from speakers that aren’t already familiar to you.
  3. Similarly, advertise conferences, seminars, and other events in a wide variety of ways and places to reach as many potential attendees as possible. I feel that some genealogical organizations and groups create a self-fulfilling prophecy by trying to make everything appeal to their current or most recent attendees, so I feel that (1) and (2) are important for (3), because most people only attend things that they expect to find interesting and/or useful and which they expect to be worth the cost.
  4. As Eva Goodwin eloquently stressed in a comment on one of Dear Myrtle’s posts this week, the default in the American genealogical world seems to be that anyone who is a general genealogical expert speaker is someone who is perceived as white, regardless of the fact that most well-known white genealogical speakers are specialists in one or two “niche” kinds of research and despite the fact that, to use the specific example that Eva used in her comment, African-American genealogical research is difficult to do so anyone who is really good at doing it must also be really good at doing genealogical research in general. We need to work to change this – and by “we” I mean everyone in the American genealogical community.
  5. Please, please, please consider offering a discount on attending a single day of a multi-day conference. Many American genealogical conferences offer single-day registration that is nearly as expensive as attending the entire conference. How many more people could they be attracting if they offered reasonable single-day registration? Before you, dear reader, say “Then it would be overwhelmed on Saturday,” this August I attended the first-ever Celtic Connections Conference, which offered more affordable single-day registration, and there were a number of people who were more interested in Friday’s topics and only attended on Friday, so both days sold out in advance even though a number of people only attended one day or the other of the two-day conference. Without financially-reasonable options for people who are only interested in one day’s lectures or who work on weekdays and can only attend weekend events, an entire pool of people will skip a multi-day event entirely. And yes, I am already well-aware that “Genealogy is an expensive hobby,” to quote a common response to such suggestions. A lot of genealogists are at jobs whose paychecks help fund their genealogical hobby but which they can’t leave just to attend an event.

If we want to have a thriving American genealogical community, we need to embrace a diversity of people – from many different races, heritages, classes, religions, sexual orientations, and so on. The more voices we help to come through the din, the better our community will be for it and the better all of us will be as genealogists.

I want to thank Myrt for her posts as they prompted me to finally post and I also want to thank my Twitter friend who goes by The Descendant for encouraging me to finish and post my suggestions when she found out earlier this I’d been working on my original suggestions post – I’ve kept your encouragement in mind all this time, and hopefully you’ll feel this is better late than never!

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Last month I had the pleasure of attending the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference 2013 (IAJGS 2013) for the first time, held in Boston, Massachusetts, this year, very close to where I live. My most recent post discusses my Day 1 as well as some of the ways in which it was different from American genealogy events I’ve attended to date. On Day 2, Monday, August 5th, the first session began at 8:15, the way the schedule would start for the rest of the six-day conference. Overall Monday was what I think of in retrospect as “My New England Track Day.”

But I started my day with a second lecture by Megan Lewis, a staff member at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I had seen a talk by her the previous afternoon, as I mentioned in my most recent blog post. This one was titled “U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s New Collections Catalog and Holocaust Research.” Some of the material was repeated from the previous day’s lecture, but there was also a good amount of different material. Most important to note is that their main catalog does not cover everything. Major things she Lewis noted as not being in the catalog include ITS (which is on its own separate system and software), most of the Photo Archives (for permissions reasons), some historical film clips (again, for permissions reasons), and archives/manuscripts/books/etc. that are still being processed.

In my Day 1 post, I didn’t explain what ITS was, so I should do so here. “ITS” stands for “International Tracing Service.” Here is the (English-language) homepage of the ITS at Bad Arolsen, Germany. Here is the main U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s page on their ITS Archive, including a link to an online form where survivors and their families can request information from the ITS Archive.  (Requests of survivors and their immediate families are given priority.) As you can see at the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s page, they received tons of archival materials from the formerly closed records of the ITS starting in 2007 and opened the materials to researchers. The Tracing Services of the Allies was started in 1943. It went to a variety of other organizations from there, till it became the organization it still is today in 1955. I imagine that the name is at least somewhat self-explanatory, so I will simply quote from the Museum’s ITS FAQ:

The archive was established by the Allied powers after World War II to help reunite families separated during the war and to trace missing family members. The Allies placed in the ITS millions of pages of documentation that they captured during the war. Since then, the archive has continued to grow as new records, both originals and copies, have been deposited there. [. . .]

The archive contains more than 150 million digital images of documentation on approximately 17.5 million victims of Nazism—people arrested, deported, killed, put to forced labor and slave labor, or displaced from their homes and unable to return at the end of the war. Sixteen linear miles of shelving are required to hold all the files.

[From “International Tracing Service Archive | FAQs”]

As an aside, when I was studying abroad in Greece I saw artifacts showing a thriving Jewish community during Antiquity. My professors said that the Nazis had killed 99% of Greece’s Jewish population during the Holocaust, and that the Greek Resistance had worked from the mountains of Arkadia during the Nazi occupation of Greece. I thought of those moments in writing this post because I saw on the sites I linked that Greece is one of the participating countries making the ITS’s archives available to the public.

Lewis closed her lecture with a number of points and tips for those visiting in-person. They have brand new ScanPro 2000 microfilm readers; she said, “They have made some of our unreadable microfilms readable.” You can use a flash/USB drive to save microfilm. You can take non-flash photos. They also have scanning photocopiers, so you can scan book pages to a USB drive instead of making a hard copy. When visiting, you need to keep large bags (such as backpacks), food, water, and other drinks outside of the research area, but you can bring your own notebook into the research area, unlike at NARA. Lewis strongly advised the audience that the best time to visit was mid-September to February. The Museum is closed on federal holidays and Yom Kippur. And as at her lecture the previous day, Lewis stressed it is important to contact the Museum at least a week before you visit in person.

Lewis’s lecture was over quite early, with the explicit reason of allowing a lot of time for questions. After listening to a few questions, I decided to leave the lecture hall. I’d been considering going to the end of a nearby lecture, but instead, I ran into a friend who introduced me to someone else who lives locally and we ended up chatting in the hall. By the time we stopped chatting, it was close enough to the end of the time slot that I decided to look around the vendor hall again while it was less crowded.

There were only 15 minute breaks between most lectures. Next up, I attended “Looking at Boston Resources for Genealogists, 1850 to 1950,” by David Allen Lambert, whom I’ve heard lecture several times before. This lecture was sponsored by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), which is in Boston near the conference venue and is where Lambert works. The syllabus was very bare, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect at this one. It turned out to be more of a broad, basic overview than what I’d hoped.

The biggest nugget I got from the lecture was that if you are researching on NEHGS’s website, inputting a woman’s maiden name into their database search form in the given name field is a way to search for married women whose maiden name is included in their death record. [A bracketed further explanation for anyone who doesn’t understand what I’m talking about: For anyone who doesn’t already know, NEHGS’s website has scans of the Massachusetts state copies of death records from 1850 to 1915. (1916 to 1920 are on FamilySearch.) In Massachusetts, starting in 1850, towns sent copies of their vital records to the state; you can also request the town’s copy from the town, and a number of towns’ records are online at FamilySearch and/or Ancestry and/or Fold3.] Lambert also mentioned that early death records in Boston typically listed the cemetery where the person was buried, while the state copy typically did not list it until the 1930’s. Lambert also praised the Boston Public Library’s Microtext Department’s newspaper microfilm and microfiche collection, “the largest collection of Boston and Massachusetts newspapers in the world,” many of which have not been digitized.

Next, I decided to go to the lecture I’d been told about at the SHARE Fair the previous day, “Burlington [Vermont]’s Jewish Community: ‘Little Jerusalem’ 1880-1940,” a collaborative lecture given jointly by Jeff Potash, Ph.D., and Aaron Goldberg, J.D., who are Ohavi Zedek Synagogue Archivists in Burlington, Vermont. Most of the Jewish settlers in Burlington came from a single town, Lekiskes (Tsaykeshik in Yiddish) in Latvia. That was the only note I made at this presentation, but the presentation was an excellent one. Potash and Goldberg had used records, maps, and oral history interviews to reconstruct the Burlington Jewish community, and they showed us many maps of the area and read a number of quotes from their oral history interviews on a variety of subjects. Over time a number of the Jewish families had come to own businesses in the non-Jewish section of Burlington, with a large percentage of their clientele being non-Jews. Eventually the community fell apart and most of the families moved on by around 1940.

An old mural has been rediscovered at the former shul and is now part of a project called The Lost Shul Mural, where they are hoping to restore the mural, and they briefly mentioned the mural and the project at the end. The documentary about it was run on Vermont Public Television last year as a fundraiser for the project, and the woman who talked with me at the SHARE Fair said it was the most successful fundraiser Vermont Public Television had ever run; I said that I thought part of it was that Vermonters generally seem interested in the all-encompassing history of Vermont, regardless of whether it was their own family’s history, and she agreed that this seemed true.

There were several questions and comments from the audience at the end of the presentation, including whether the Jewish families that owned businesses in the non-Jewish section had faced antisemitism (yes and no: whatever people felt privately, these families owned businesses providing unique services in the area and most non-Jews in the town appear to have shopped there regardless of personal opinions), that an audience member’s ancestor had been recruited from New York state to move to Burlington to be a part of the Jewish community there, and whether there were connections between the Burlington community and the Jewish community in the Montreal area (yes, so much so that many of the families moved to Quebec when they left Burlington).

There were pay-to-attend lunches each day, but some days there was also a “brown bag lunch,” a session scheduled over lunchtime where you didn’t have to pay to attend it but had to supply your own food. Monday’s was the only one I attended, “Ask the Boston Experts,” and it was next up on my agenda. The experts were Marta Crilly, on staff at the City of Boston Archives; Meredith Hoffman, a professional genealogist specializing in Jewish genealogy, a fellow Bay Stater (Massachusetts resident), and a fellow alumna of Boston University Center for Professional Education’s Certificate in Genealogical Research; David Lambert, whom as I mentioned, is on staff at NEHGS; and an expert from the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston whose name I didn’t write down and unfortunately don’t recall. The panel sat at a table and we audience members sat below, many of us with lunches in our laps, and the moderator called on audience members to ask questions of the panel. The questions were a nice mix, from fairly basic to very specialized or very specific, and many of the questions were answered by at least two people on the panel. I didn’t take any notes on this session, but I enjoyed it.

Afterwards I went up to Marta Crilly to ask a question in private. I’m researching a collateral line who lived in Boston in the late 1800’s through early 1900’s, and was wondering whether a tax record set she had discussed at the panel would be applicable to my research subject. It turned out that the tax in question was only for men, regardless of a woman’s income, though she said the woman might be in the Archives’ (separate) personal tax records. We talked for a bit and she told me about Married Women’s Business Certificates, which sounded fascinating but which don’t apply to my research subject as she wasn’t married. Crilly also asked if this woman’s work as a nurse was for the city of Boston (it wasn’t). Crilly mentioned that she would be giving a talk on the resources at the City of Boston Archives later that afternoon, and that she would be discussing more about the tax records, the Married Women’s Business Certificates, and other records they hold there. I’m glad she did as for some reason I thought it had already happened, and I ran into a number of other New Englanders between talking to Crilly and the time of Crilly’s talk and mentioned it to them as well.

With a brown bag lunch (or a pay-to-attend lunch, for that matter), you didn’t get much of a break before the first afternoon session, which started 15 minutes after the panel officially ended and less than that after I finished talking to Crilly. I was headed to one of the large rooms so I wasn’t particularly worried about finding a seat for this session despite the conference facility’s odd lack of middle-sized rooms. Next up on my agenda was “DNA Identification of Missing-Identity Children from the Holocaust” by Colleen Fitzpatrick, whom I’d heard speak on using background information to identify and date photos at New England Regional Genealogical Conference 2013 (NERGC 2013) [see my posts about NERGC if you are interested] and who had taught several people I know in the 2012 Forensic Genealogy course at Boston University Center for Professional Education and would be teaching two more people I know later that week, as the course and the conference were running concurrently this year.

I thought this lecture was really interesting, but I didn’t take many notes on it. It focused on two case studies of using DNA testing with people whose birth identity had been lost when they were young children via dislocation from family due to the Holocaust. Colleen Fitzpatrick recommended a book, Don’t Wave Goodbye: The Children’s Flight from Nazi Persecution to American Freedom, about the (sigh) only 1,400 children that the United States allowed to enter during the time period 1934-1945. The children had to be unaccompanied; had to be under 16 years (the youngest was 4 months); and had to come directly from Europe. A bill in Congress in 1938 would have allowed tens of thousands of children to enter the United States, but it did not pass. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a program called “Remember Me?” for former children who knew their birth identity and are trying to locate people who knew them as children, and there is a website called Missing Identity for former children who are Holocaust survivors, don’t know their birth identity, and are trying to find out what it is.

The above paragraph comprises most of my notes from this talk, but the bulk of the talk itself was after these initial remarks, focusing on the case studies. Fitzpatrick used mapping techniques to map the known locations of the ancestors of the people whose DNA test results matched those with unknown identities, trying to see where the matches were geographically located; she used different symbols for each match’s ancestor. She is working on developing software that will let her narrow it down to specific time periods so that she isn’t defaulted to seeing all matches’ known ancestors and locations throughout all eras, and which will allow her to filter results to only a certain level of match (say, 3rd cousins), and when Jennifer Shoer (@ScrappyGen) and I stopped at her table in the author’s corner later that day, Jennifer asked her if she’d be willing to let us (researchers) buy the mapping software if she’s able to successfully develop it and Fitzpatrick said sure.

I had run into Jennifer at the end of Fitzpatrick’s lecture, and from that lecture Jennifer and I headed to “Jewish Refugee Travel Across the North Atlantic on the Eve of the Shoah,” by Dr. Nicholas Evans of the University of Hull in England, sponsored by Latvia SIG. I confess that this lecture was not exactly what I was expecting from the title, but it was fascinating regardless. I’m recounting this in a different order than the order Evans used in his talk, grouping points thematically and relatively chronologically.

During the period 1921-24, the United States government decided that Eastern Europeans were “undesirable,” and thousands en route were left stranded at Easterly (near Southampton, England), in an encampment called Atlantic Park. The United States government’s decision had a big effect, causing the relative “demise” (to quote Evans) of passenger shipping lines. After this, UK ports shifted to the south, especially to Southampton. Lines also picked up some people in Le Havre in northern France. Polish lines generally sailed out of Gdansk. Movement of emigrants eastward was generally done overland, not by sea, and it was especially common to go to Shanghai.

“Paper walls” is a term used for using laws to limit immigration, particularly of certain groups. By 1930, “paper walls” had been introduced, in order of passing, in: Britain, the United States, Canada, and South Africa, all with a focus on limiting immigration of Jews and other Eastern Europeans. In response, shipping operations reduced the number of routes, further limiting the ability of people to move long distances. In the 1930’s in the United Kingdom, there was a period of increased right-wing politics; as a result, documentation for immigrants became more and more detailed. Unfortunately much of this detailed documentation has since been destroyed. Meanwhile, the 1930’s was “The Golden Age of Cruising” for those that could afford long-distance travel for leisure.

Starting from 1885 and especially so from 1894, Germans had overwhelming control over the Jewish ocean-travel market, particularly through the line known first as Hapag and later as Hapag-Lloyd. Hapag-Lloyd was based out of Hamburg, Germany. But within six months of Hitler’s rise to power, the Nazi government combined Hapag-Lloyd with the NDL and nationalized it. Hapag-Lloyd’s chairman was replaced by a pro-Hitler figure, and not surprisingly, immediately there was a vacuum in the market.

In 1936 the Queen Mary was launched by the Cunard-Star Line, with a full kosher kitchen (though many observant travelers were suspicious of just how kosher it was and chose to eat vegetarian to be safe) and other amenities to woo Jewish travelers. Many other lines quickly followed suit. Many British, French, and Polish registered lines equipped both their aging and new vessels with kosher facilities by the end of 1936. The Jewish Chronicle assisted travelers by weekly telling them which lines had “the green flag,” meaning they were safe for Jewish emigrants to travel on.

Evans made the point that the lines could see there would be a demand – to wit, a big wave of Jewish emigrants and other emigrants/refugees fleeing Europe – and took this as an opportunity to make money by catering to the clientele. There were a number of ships, such as the St. Louis, that only allowed first-class passengers, and on those liners, only the richest could afford to flee Europe. The policies of British ships in the 1930’s showed who those lines expected to be in each class: First class had exclusively Anglican services; second class focused on Roman Catholic services; and third class focused on Jewish services.

During World War II, emigrants left atypical ports, NOT what we tend to think of as “typical” ports. Most refugees were listed as “stateless” on World-War-II-era passenger lists.

The University of Liverpool holds archives of the Cunard-White Star Line; the University of Glasgow holds archives of the Allan Line and the Anchor Line; and the National Maritime Museum [UK] holds archives of the Union Castle Line. Evans stressed that if you contact them for research, ask them a very specific question, not a generic one. On the National Archives [UK] site, you can search the shipping lists (what we usually call passenger lists here in the States) by name, ship, or date of departure. The University of Bremen has a lot of 1930’s information related to emigration from Germany. Lloyd’s Register of Shipping has been digitized.

Evans said: “Finding the individual stories is more difficult than illustrating the general experience.”

As a final note, many of the former Hapag-Lloyd liners, once the major way that European Jews traveled by ocean, became part of the Nazi “Work for Joy” program after the Nazis nationalized the line. This part of the “Work for Joy” program was where strong Nazi supporters were given “pleasure cruises” as a way to reward them for their support.

Next up – if you’re not keeping track, this was my seventh session of the day – I attended “Jewish History and Genealogy at the City of Boston Archives” by the aforementioned Marta Crilly.  There was a large regional contingent in the audience at this lecture, including a number of people I know. The lecture was unfortunately held in one of the tiny rooms and was packed, so many people who tried to come in late simply left again instead of standing. The person who introduced Crilly said that he goes to a lot of conferences and that this was by far the most crowded he had ever seen a 5:00 pm lecture, and he gave kudos to us all for attending one.

The City of Boston Archives has gotten a National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC) grant from the grant wing of the National Archives and Records Administration [US] (current grants being offered are listed here). The grant is to give a summary and a guide to all of their holdings. Fantastic!

After noting their grant, Crilly opened her main talk with a basic summary of Boston’s historical Jewish communities. In 1649, Solomon Franco arrived in Boston, its first known Jew. In 1796, only one (recorded) Jewish family was living in Boston. In 1840, there were 40 (recorded) Jewish individuals in Boston, with a community forming in Roxbury (one of the towns that was originally independent but has been gobbled up by the City of Boston; more on that shortly). In 1843, they organized as a congregation in Roxbury. In 1844, they requested a Jewish burial ground, which was denied. Later in 1844, they bought land and got approval to use the land they had bought as a burial ground. In 1852, Congregation Ohabei Shalom moved into their first building in Boston’s South End. By 1895, the North End was home to 7,700 Italians and 6,200 European Jews, many from Russia and Lithuania. In the West End there were 6,300 Jews by 1895 and around 40,000 by 1910. The Jewish communities began to shift to Dorchester and back to Roxbury by around 1910. Most Jewish emigres were under thirty and single when they arrived, but most seem to have married quickly after arriving in Boston.

After this introduction, Crilly spent the rest of her talk detailing a variety of records held by the City of Boston Archives that are likely to be of interest to genealogists and local historians. The Archives holds a lot of Tax Records, including Real Estate Valuations, Street Books, Assessor’s Records, Personal and Property Tax Records (which go to 1962), and a Poll Tax on males over 18 (regardless of citizenship status) that was collected from 1822 to 1918. Tax Records are usually organized by Ward, so it is helpful to know the Ward at the time before you begin searching, as well as the street address if possible. They also have Tax Records for most of the City of Boston’s annexed towns prior to annexation. Roxbury and Dorchester, mentioned in the previous paragraph, are two of the several towns that were annexed by the City of Boston. Crilly mentioned during her talk that most of the annexed towns also deposited their other records with Boston upon annexation.

The Archives holds Naturalized Voter Indexes, for people who became citizens and needed to provide details of their achieving citizenship to be allowed to vote in the City of Boston. They also hold Voter Registers, which contain names of men only; some register books just list the country of birth, but others are more detailed. The register books also list the person’s age, height, and weight. They also hold separate Women’s Voter Registers that start in 1884, as women were allowed to vote in school elections (only). While the Voter Registers (of men) are indexed, the Women’s Voter Registers are not.

The Archives holds Business Certificates from 1907 to the present; earlier business records are in the tax records. They also have “DBAs,” which are “Doing Business As” Certificates, which include the owner’s name and address as well as the business name and address. They also hold Married Women’s Business Certificates from 1862 to 1974; they include the woman’s name, her husband’s name, the nature of her business, and the location of her business, and these are indexed. Crilly noted that a large proportion of the Married Women’s Business Certificates are for Jewish women.

The Archives holds a number of institutions’ records, including (?’s are where I didn’t take notes fast enough):

  • Almshouse 1853-1914
  • House of Correction 1848-1979
  • House of Industry 1858-1904
  • Marcella Street Home 1877-1898
  • Children’s Institutions Department 1898-?
  • Lunatic Hospital ?-?
  • Temporary Home for Women and Children ?-?

They also hold a collection of atlases, including Bromley Atlases of Boston from the late 1800’s into the 1900’s; the exact dates they hold vary by neighborhood.

The Archives also holds an extensive photograph collection, including (but not limited to):

  • Traffic and Parking Photos – 1948-49
  • ISD Takedown Photos – 1908-84 – the records of individual buildings that were taken down
  • Urban Renewal Photographs – starting in the 1950’s – photos of neighborhoods that were destroyed for urban renewal, including the West End and the “New York Streets Area” of the South End.
  • Landmark Commission Photos – begin late 1800’s and run through the 1900’s – already-digitized holdings include the North End and South Boston; their Roxbury collection will be going online starting this autumn.

The Archives has digitized over 3,000 images and placed them on the photo website Flickr.

The Archives holds a variety of School Records, including a wide variety of Student Records as well as a number of Teacher Records and Administrative & Building Records. Their School Records are only for public schools and only for Boston. The majority of the records are from the late 1800’s to the present, as well as a small collection from the early 1800’s. To access School Records, you have to fill out a form certifying you area descendant of the person whose records you are requesting, unless they are in the oldest portion of the record set, in which case the archivists may choose to allow you to view them regardless of whether you are a descendant. The Administration & Building Records include Manuals from 1869-1973 (with gaps), Building Photos, circa 1920-1960, and Publications.

The Archives also holds records of City Employees, 1905-1966 (plus one list from 1888).

Crilly then took numerous questions from the audience. Here are some of her answers: Yes, Poll Taxes included residents at hotels. Their website has a number of Finding Aids already on it, including for many of their institution records. They also have a separate website of “Web Exhibits.” On Tumblr the Archives posts a new document or image every single day. The Archives keeps all of their digitized photos on Flickr, and you can keyword-search their photos. They have two Ward maps from the 1840’s and 1850’s; the later Bromley Atlases also show Wards. Scott Andrew Bartley also did a list of the wards and how they changed, which Crilly said has been digitized. She didn’t know the URL offhand and to date I have not located it, though perhaps I have used the wrong web searches or perhaps it is digitized somewhere where search engines do not easily find it.

The City of Boston Archives section of the City of Boston website is here. The City of Boston Archives is also very active on social media, including a Tumblr account, a Twitter account (@ArchivesBoston), and a Facebook fan page, in addition to their aforementioned collection of digitized images on Flickr. For visiting in person to research, Crilly stressed to call in advance and make an appointment, as though they technically have hours of operation, the archivists sometimes go off-site to do things like take custody of records or advise other locations on record management. She also said that it is by far easiest to reach them by car, but that the 36 bus goes past their Roxbury building if that is one’s only option.

After the 5:00 pm lecture slot, some of us in attendance at the conference who had completed BU’s genealogical research program gathered in the hallway to chat and take a group photo. Some couldn’t make it to dinner, but others of us went out to eat together. Those of us that ate together then headed back to hear the evening klezmer music program, “Taking Extreme Measures: The Ongoing Rescue of Jewish Music,” with a few of us who were commuting in every day planning to leave the long evening program early. The auditorium was already packed when we got there, though the program had yet to begin.

The program was much more lecture-leaning than I expected from a music program which had been called a “concert” by some other attendees in advance, though the background information was interesting. The main speaker, Hankus Netsky, talked about some possible strategies for reintroducing rescued klezmer songs, one of which was possibly introducing them in schools. I thought of how, long ago, I had spent a semester of college living on a Reservation and I had been told about how someone had done all the work on compiling their native language 20 years before I was there, but no one taught it; it was just sitting in a cupboard in the Reservation school, and everyone on the Reservation spoke English. There are two steps to rescuing anything cultural – one is the vital task of ensuring that it is preserved, since there can be no further steps without that step having been done, but then there is also the important step of passing on what has been preserved so that it will continue to be a part of the culture or be reintroduced as a nearly lost part of the culture. Each culture has to choose for itself what the best way(s) is(are) to do that. My phrasing may make it sound like culture is passive – something that happens to people – but of course a culture is comprised of individuals, and in the end the individuals making up the culture are the ones who need to determine how to preserve and pass on their heritage.

When I noted that one of us had gotten so tired they had stopped being alert enough to clap, I suggested that those of us that were planning an early exit do so. I arrived home around 9:30 pm, needing to be back in time for the next day’s 8:15 lecture. Commuting to a multi-day conference is not for the faint of heart or, I suspect, for those that don’t drink copious amounts of morning coffee. Or maybe that last part is just me.

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Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference 2013 (IAJGS 2013) for the first time, held in Boston, Massachusetts, this year, very close to where I live. With over 1,000 attendees, it is the largest multi-day genealogy event I’ve ever attended, and also the largest IAJGS Conference so far. It is also the first international genealogy event I’ve ever attended in person. There were a lot of ways that it was different than an American genealogy event.

Three of the major differences bear noting immediately. One is that when registering you could request to have your self-chosen top surnames and locations placed on your badge, so that anyone else at the conference could read them; most attendees had at least a few surnames and/or locations listed on their badges. Another is that these lists were compiled into a book called “Family Finder,” along with the contact information of any attendee that didn’t opt out when registering, as well as a tiny section at the back for people that chose to list their haplogroup(s) from mtDNA and/or Y-DNA test results. This allowed attendees to make connections with people beyond running into them and happening to find out that they were doing some of the same research, and also allowed people to meet without having to stress about giving out contact information the first time or perhaps never meeting again. You just had to remember the person’s name or their location or some of their research interests to be able to find them in the Family Finder and contact them later. Additionally, the list of research interests allows people to go back and consult the Family Finder again if they find a new surname or location in their own family tree, another way it is useful beyond the immediate conference. And the last major difference is that the standard time slot for a lecture was 1 hour, 15 minutes, not the 1 hour typically allotted at American events, and that some of the multi-slot workshops were free, so that you could attend some of the workshops that took two time slots for no extra charge.

The conference opened on Sunday morning, August 4th. American genealogy events tend to start out with a keynote speech or another speech to all attendees, but this immediately opened with multiple tracks. I readily admit that a number of my sessions on Day 1 don’t really make for the greatest informative retellings (I realize in writing this post that I didn’t mention any of this day’s talks in my conference recap for my in-person genealogy group, though the only reason I didn’t mention the Holocaust research talk is because as far as I know, everyone doing Holocaust research who was at the meeting was also at the conference), but if you bear with me through today, I promise there is more information ahead.

Unsure what to pick first, one of my friends and I headed to Nancy Adelson’s lecture, “Jewish Genealogy Research Essentials Part 1,” billed as an introduction to Jewish genealogy. We had hoped it would specifically be an introduction to Jewish genealogy, but almost all of the lecture could be applied to any kind of genealogical research and was thus way too basic for us. Better titled “An Introduction to Genealogy Research,” most of the information in it will be familiar to anyone who’s read good advice to a genealogy newbie or advised one – start with what you know and the family materials in your possession/access; interview living relatives; from the beginning, keep track of your sources and put an organizational system in place.

Next we went to “The Old German Script of the 19th Century,” given by Gerhard Buck, a German. He had some clear difficulty lecturing in a non-native language (English) and was also trying to fit what he’d proposed as a two-slot workshop into the one-slot lecture that had been approved instead. However, I found the information in the workshop useful for reading 19th-century German handwriting, something that I am thus far not very skilled in doing. Much of it consisted of demonstrations of the standard way to write letters and various ways that might be found in practice, so I am not sure how to reconstruct what I learned here, where I can’t write longhand. There are numerous guides and self-tutorials interested persons can view online, such as on the Federation of Eastern European Family History Societies website here [link to PDF]. What I found most valuable about the lecture vs. trying to self-educate is the variety of examples from records that Buck had collected in his decades doing historical and genealogical research and showed to the audience. As anyone who’s done research with documents written in old handwriting in any language knows, the way a letter was “supposed” to be written is not necessarily the way an individual actually wrote it, and an individual’s style can vary quite dramatically from what one might expect from guides.

The conference sessions started a bit later due to giving people who arrived on Sunday time to register, so this was the only day of the conference where we only had two sessions before the lunch break. During the lunch break we stopped in the vendor hall. A good number of vendors were packed into a very small space, and it was somewhat difficult even to navigate. There were several book vendors, some with bookshelves crammed with books, as well as a number of other vendors. The area outside the vendor hall had a couple of tables where authors, most of whom were also speaking at the conference, would be selling and signing their books for limited time slots on a set schedule. The area is apparently usually used as a coat closet, presumably for the nearby ballroom, as that’s what it was called on the schedule.

After lunch, we attended Hal Bookbinder’s “The Changing Borders of Eastern Europe.” Hal Bookbinder had been recommended to me as a speaker, and I wanted to attend some sessions specifically about Eastern Europe. I’m not really sure what to say about this session. Bookbinder used maps to illustrate the changing borders, and quotes to discuss various influential Russians’ opinions on Jews. While the information in the talk is good information to have, I’m not really sure how much of it I’ll retain on my own vs. having to consult something to remember, say, what country took over what part of what other country when. He mentioned that most of the maps he used in the lecture were from Atlas of European History, published by The Times [of London] in 1994.

After that I split up from the person with whom I’d attended the first three lectures. The SHARE Fair, a fair for societies, non-profits, etc., to have tables and answer attendees’ research questions, was running from 1:30 to 5:00 – rather inexplicably to me, nearly fully concurrent with the afternoon lectures – so they wanted to go to the Fair instead of attending one of the sessions in the next time slot. I decided to go to “245 Telegrams to a Wedding in Vienna 1907” by Thomas Fuerth. The description sounded fascinating, but to me the lecture wasn’t really about what the description suggested it would be. Much of the lecture was statistical analysis of various things about the telegram senders – such as where the senders lived, which side of the family they were associated with, and to whom they addressed their telegram – and only a few minutes was devoted to what I can only assume was the incredible task of the research involved in tracing the senders, which the description had implied to me would be a major part of the lecture.

I went from there to the SHARE Fair, where I ran into two people I know tabling for the Massachusetts Genealogical Council, a group dedicated to monitoring and preserving records access in the state and the country as well as to a smaller extent internationally. After chatting with them a bit I wandered around, with stops including the tables of the Jewish Women’s Archive, the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Britain, the Jewish NextGen Network (for genealogists in their 20’s through 40’s), and the Lost Shul Mural of Burlington, Vermont, where I chatted for a while with one of the people staffing the table. It was also her first IAJGS conference, and she seemed a little relieved to be talking to someone else for whom it was their first. I had no idea that there had been a Jewish community in Burlington at all, though some of my Christian relatives had lived there in the 1800’s. She told me that the other two people at their table would be giving a talk at the conference about Burlington’s former Jewish community and the mural. The staff unceremoniously began dismantling the SHARE Fair while I was still wandering around, as it turned out that ‘ending at 5’ meant they were supposed to be packed up and heading out at 5, for the room to start being set up for the next event.

So I went from the SHARE Fair to “Finding Information about Your Family in Postwar Resources at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum” by Megan Lewis, who is on staff at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She repeatedly mentioned during her lecture that many of the links/etc. that she was putting on screen were also in her handout, which I was glad for since I had missed the beginning of the lecture. The Museum has staff actively going to other countries to collect materials, and Lewis summed up, “It makes us a one-stop shop for you.” They have a tremendous amount of material, not all of which is in their (multiple) catalogs and only some of which has finding aids to date.

The impression I got from this talk and the talk by Lewis that I attended on a different day is that by far the best way to do in-depth research is to visit the Museum in person in Washington, D.C., and that if you do that, it’s by far best to contact them a minimum of a week in advance and tell them what you want to research, as much of their huge collection is in off-site storage and the staff also may be able to advise you of further records beyond the ones you have found in the catalog. However, if you know what you are seeking and are researching long-distance, the staff can do limited amounts of copying for you. One collection that Lewis stressed is extremely well-indexed is the oral histories conducted by the Shoah Foundation Institute, which are indexed by name, place, and experience. The catalog of these oral histories is online at vhaonline.usc.edu; you do have to register to use it, but registration is free.

Lewis discussed postwar newspapers as a resource, and mentioned that their collection is simply commercial microfilm of various newspapers and thus long-distance researchers may be able to find a closer location that holds the paper of interest or can order it. Most of the newspapers are in Yiddish. For years after the end of the War, many of the newspapers ran “pages and pages” of classified ads of people looking for their relatives. Lewis showed a couple of example classified ads and mentioned that after years of working on staff at the Museum, the ads still bothered her. An audience member asked her why. Lewis responded, “No one should have to place an ad looking for where their mother is.”

After this time slot, there was a dinner break and then the plenary session by keynote speaker Aaron Lansky and a dessert reception sponsored by Ancestry. Aaron Lansky has rescued many books of Jewish history. I wish I could say I had gone to the plenary session, but I had slept extremely poorly the night before and was feeling so awful I headed home. The session was supposed to be recorded (as a good number of other sessions were), but somehow the audio failed and it was not. I have been told by many people that it was absolutely fantastic and regret not being there to hear it.

Stay tuned for my post on Day 2.

The following (and final) paragraph is about me and some of why I attended IAJGS 2013, so please feel free to just skip it.

I was not raised Jewish, though there is some evidence that at least one of my lines may have converted from Judaism to Christianity after moving to North America, which was unfortunately rather common for families to do early on; however, that is a complicated question for some future potential post. I have many Jewish friends and doing research on some of their families was a good amount of the first pro bono genealogical research I ever did, many years ago now. At the time I had the skill set to confidently find information on their families in the U. S. A number of them know few specifics about their ancestry, and some are not even sure whether the relatives their families left behind survived the Holocaust and the War. The biggest reason I decided to take advantage of IAJGS while it was near me was to try to build up the skills to be able to provide more answers for my friends, especially by building up more skills in Eastern European research and Holocaust research. When Day 1 began, I felt somewhat nervous at being out of my comfort zone and felt worried that I may somehow unintentionally offend someone. By the end of Day 1, some of my nervousness had already begun to fade. By the end of the conference, I was very glad I had chosen to do something that was out of my comfort zone.

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This year for the first time I attended a full genealogy conference, the New England Regional Genealogical Conference (NERGC), held in Manchester, New Hampshire. [See my previous three posts for my three days there.] I wanted to take the experiences of myself and of people I knew there and met there to provide some advice for genealogy conference attendees. If you are an old hat at conference-going, these may seem basic to you; that’s OK.

My tips:

  1. Take along business-sized cards to give to people you meet. It doesn’t matter whether you are a professional in the industry or not; these are a fast way to ensure you are able to keep in touch with people that you meet there. I recommend that, at a minimum, you include your name, email address, and (if applicable) the URL of your blog and/or your other genealogical/historical website. Many people include such additional items as their phone number, their mailing address, and/or ways to contact them on social media. Some people compile a list of major surnames and/or areas of research and include it on their card, which I think is great, but my research is so scattered and the number of surnames I am researching so large that I personally would never be able to fit it all on a business card.
  2. Don’t hesitate to give your card or other contact information out the first time you meet someone in person. There were a number of people at NERGC for whom I did not do this, assuming I would see them again, but then I didn’t.
  3. Bring along some of your research for connecting with possible mutual researchers. This can be as basic as a brief list of the major surnames, locations, and time periods you are researching or as comprehensive as your entire computerized database on a device you have brought with you.
  4. Wear layers. While many advise that U. S. venues tend to run cold year round, in my experience at NERGC, some of the rooms were stuffy, some were chilly, and some alternated between stuffy and chilly depending on whether the air was on at any given moment.
  5. If you have a technology device on which you plan to take notes, bring a back-up pen/pencil and paper just in case. You never know when or how technology might fail.
  6. Circle your “must-attend” talks in advance, and then discuss the talks you are considering attending but undecided with others before and during the conference. There’s little better than getting a glowing recommendation for a specific talk or speaker from another attendee!
  7. Don’t be afraid to sit a session out. If there’s a time slot when no lecture seems compelling, or you’re just feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to skip a session to socialize, visit the vendor hall, spend time updating online, and/or simply recharge your mental and physical batteries.
  8. Keep in mind that the only way to be relatively sure (though still not 100% sure) that you will not run into others who want to talk is to completely leave the venue. A number of people I know who were staying at hotels in Manchester took breaks by literally returning to their hotel rooms. As someone who wasn’t staying over, I didn’t have that option. The one time I tried to find a quiet place to take a break by myself, in the most out-of-the-way spot I could find, I still saw several people I knew. Accept this as an innate possibility beforehand.
  9. Take as little along as you think you will need, but also be careful not to weed out too much. Someone I knew at NERGC felt they’d had too much in their bag on their first day there, and had taken a lot of papers out of their bag before their second day. They discovered after arriving at the conference that they had accidentally removed the schedule they had made for what they wanted to attend at the conference. They said with a rueful chuckle that their hotel maid would know where they had planned to be during each session that day.
  10. Bring along a reusable water bottle. Many people got very thirsty at NERGC, and the water dispensers kept running out of water. Others asked me to help, but a number of people I asked did not even know whether the venue or the conference was responsible for refilling them, and kept deferring me to others to deal with it. The easiest thing is to just have a reusable water bottle along so that you can refill it at a water fountain or sink and carry it with you.
  11. Bring your checkbook along. Most vendors at NERGC took personal checks and, at least at NERGC, many expressly preferred it to a credit card.

For those of you that have attended genealogy conferences before, what would you add to my list? For those of you that are planning to attend your first one within the next year or hope to attend one sometime in the future, what is going into your planning?

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