November 20th, 2020

storyteller doll

IAJGS Conference: Days 1 and 2

The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies annual conference was in August. It had originally been scheduled to be in San Diego but, like everything else in the year of the plague, moved on-line. I thought it was still worth using four days of vacation time for and I was right about that. They had live sessions (some of which were recorded), as well as several pre-recorded sessions, with recorded sessions available for 60 days after the conference ended. Which is why I am only writing about it now, which is, admittedly, still over a month after the recorded access ended.


Day 1 started with a plenary session. They talked briefly about the conference logistics and announced that next year’s conference will be August 2-5th in Philadelphia, G-d willing. Then Arthur Kurzweil and Sallyann Sack-Pikus gave a retrospective talk, discussing what has changed in Jewish genealogy over the past 40 or so years. I particularly liked Arthur’s comment that our deceased ancestors are often easier to get along with than our living ones. He also had an amusing anecdote about somebody looking for a Lithuanian shtetl called Unk-anowan. That was, of course, a misinterpretation of “unknown” on a record.


After that, I had to make decisions about what to listen to live, vs. recorded. I chose Introduction to DNA Research for Jewish Genealogy, but that proved to be rather more basic than I needed. There was still useful information, but I am still prioritizing more conventional genealogy techniques and focused on what records are newly available.


They had a longish break, which I used to watch a recorded session by Avrohom Krauss about Landsmanshaftn. I usually think of these in terms of burial societies, but he noted several other functions, e.g. workers’ compensation, health insurance, and old age homes. Nor were all of them associated with specific places, with some being (for example) political. There are still some administrative records at YIVO, but they aren’t on-line. So there is another thing for me to spend some time with, since I know that much of my maternal grandfather’s family is buried in the plot for a landsmanshaft for Tiktin (i.e. Tykocin, Poland). He also suggested looking at societies for nearby communities.



I put a high priority on the sessions for Special Interest Groups and other research divisions, since those were not being recorded, though several of them had handouts available. I went to the Belarus Research Division meeting and to the JRI-Poland session. The latter was more useful, with a focus on upcoming website updates. There was also a lot of opportunity for making potential connections with other attendees via the chat function, some of which I still have to follow-up on.


The highlight of Day 1 was a presentation by Scott Genzer on Using Facial Recognition to Identify Unnamed Ancestors for Genealogical Research. The idea is that one could compare an unidentified photo to a large collection of known photos. The catch is, of course, that one needs that large collection of known photos, but I think that, in the long run, this could be as revolutionary as DNA research was a few years ago. He did also bring up various ethical considerations, e.g. privacy issues. But this is still exciting research.


The final presentation I went to on Day 1 was Memory and Mystery: Breaking Down Family Lore by Emily Garber. I think I may have heard a version of this presentation before, since I seem to remember examples she had of stories that don’t hold together. Her basic point was that you need to identify the source of a story and research the component parts of it to see what does and doesn’t make sense. I have some good examples in my own family, particularly the claim that my great-great-grandfather was murdered on his 10oth birthday by Hitler personally. There’s just this little catch that he was shown as already deceased when my great-grandmother married quite a number of years earlier. (Nor is there any evidence that Hitler directly murdered anyone.)


I started day 2 with the Litvak SIG meeting. I’ve probably mentioned before that Litvak SIG has been my most useful source for research on my father’s side of the family, particularly within Kaunas Gubernia. The main thing I learned is that thee is a life membership, which includes access to all District Research Groups. That is something I need to get around to doing.


The presentation on the Jewish Record Collection on Ancestry was fairly basic. I don’t think there was a lot that I didn’t already know, though there were a few tidbits here and there, particularly related to newly added collections. There was also good information on using wild cards.. So it wasn’t useless.


I have more reservations about Deborah Glassman’s presentation on Researching Whole Jewish Community to Better Research Your Ancestors because I think she was mistaken on a few points. For example, she said that in 1805, only one family in a given town could have a particular surname,, while I am fairly sure I have seen counterexamples. She also referred to several types of records (e.g. ones re: people sharing the same occupation) without providing information about how to find these. None of this was helped by her having a glitchy internet connection. So I found this presentation disappointing.


The Jewish Genealogy Portal presentation came across as largely a commercial for geni.com, combined with an attack on other Facebook groups for Jewish genealogy. Blah.


The JewishGen.org annual meeting included the usual plea for money. There was a mention that a search button on the mailing list would be useful, but I couldn’t tell if that means they plan to add one. There was also a mention that the Latvia Research Division updates include part of Vitebsk Gubernia, which is of some interest to me, wince part of my family lived in that area.


I finished Day 2 with the panel discussion on Finding Our Ancestral Towns. While there were a couple of good points (e.g. setting aside 1-2 hours a week for research), I can’t say there was much I didn’t know. And the panel was particularly plagued with internet connectivity issues. I will choose to believe that one panelist, who only managed to stay connected long enough to answer one question, would have been brilliant.



This is getting long, so I think I will continue this write-up in another post. Or, more likely, two other posts, since there were several presentations I listened to after the formal conference was over. This entry was originally posted at https://fauxklore.dreamwidth.org/476630.html. Please comment there using OpenID.