Tuesday, August 9, 2016

IAJGS2016, Day 2

I'll be blogging all week--you'll be able to see all my posts on IAJGS2016 here.

I started the day bright and early at 7:30 (after being awake since 4AM).  I'm a member of IAJGS's Membership Development Committee, which had invited conference attendees who do not have a local Jewish Genealogy Society (JGS) to come talk about the possibility of creating one local to each.  A similar meeting at the Boston conference in 2013 led to creation of JGS Maryland, so hopefully there will be some new societies forming from there!

Then off to my first talk of the day--listen to Schelly Talalay Dardashti talk about "The 'Other' Side of Jewish Genealogy: Sephardic Research."
Schelly Talalay Dardashti Presenting

She began by discussing the three main ways that Jews classify themselves--as Ashkenazic, Sephardic or Mizrachi.  Sephardim primarily migrated from land of Israel--with Roman Legions, with Phoenicians, etc, as traders and slaves.  Jews were in the Iberian Peninsula as early as 70CE.

Some of the stats she had were eye opening; in the twelfth century, Sephardim composed 90% of world Jewry; by 1700 they were only 50%.

She mentioned that some define "Sephardic" with a broad definition--those whose culture is non-Ashkenazi and non-Yiddish speaking; others' definition is more narrow--those whose roots can be traced to Iberia who settled in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, North Africa, etc.
The Mizrachi were dispersed by Assyrian & Babylonian exiles and went to Middle east & Asia.  Many Mizrachi lived side by side with Sephardim.  There are also RomanItalianate Jews who are their own culture and Romanioe--indigenous Jews of Greece; after 1492 these were mostly absorbed by the influx of Sephardim.

She then spoke about language.  Most Ashkenazim used Yiddish, Hebrew, and the local secular language.  Sephardim used many different languages--even different dialects of Ladino by city.  So languages spoken by Sephardim encompas many more languages than those spoken by Ashkenazim.

So this raises a question.  Why are all these communities lumped together as Sephardim?  Well, they in general have a similar liturgy, food, and other cultural issues.  In this manner, they are more similar to one another than to Ashkenazim.

She then talked about names and showed a list of Jewish women's given names and surnames in Seville.

But surnames weren't status.  There were surnames that were changed when Jews were forcibly converted during hte Inquisition era--and often documents link old names to new.  Up to 100 years post-expulsions, old names were used in various documents.  This changing of names due to forced conversions didn't end in 1492.  The Inquisition lasted for 350 years; there were forced conversions at late as 1821 in Mexico City.  In the New World, Inquisitions were established all over the place--and "New Christians" settled all around South and North America.  By 1630, they had settled in practically every town in the Spanish Empire.  The Mexico City Inquitsition Files are extensive.  List witnesses, crime, punishment ("burned at stake").

Many Jews fled Spain in 1391 & 1942, going to Sicily, Portugal and Italy as well as other parts of Western & Eastern Europe as well as all over the New World. Depending on where they moved, some were able to openly practice Judaism; others had to convert but often continued to practice Judaism secretly.

She mentioned multiple online resources.  While 10 years ago, there was nothing, now there is a plethora of online information.  The original site was sephardim.com which had indexed 65+ books and had a robust discussion group.  The site is now defunct, but the information from it is on SephardicGen.

Other online resources include:
  • Sephardicgen.com has diverse databases, country resources, etc.  Search engine is in English, French & Spanish.
  • SephardicStudies.org only traces those who originated in the Iberian Peninsula.
  • American Sephardi Federation has online articles and a wonderful newsletter.  Their information is from places as diverse as Rangoon and Calcutta.
  • JewishGen's Sephardic SIG--although most of what's there is covered by SephardicGen.
  • Sephardic Studies at HUC has a huge amount of information. 
  • CryptoJews.com has an annual conference, articles, quarterly journal, etc.
  • SephardicAncestry has a lot of information.
  • Saudades.org--Portuguese Sephardic resources 
  • Sephardic Horizons is a free online journal
  • Yad Vashem also has information about Sephardim.
She emphasized many times that a name is only a clue.  Many people think there's an official Sephardic name list.  There is not--you need to research the family.  And many Spanish/Portuguese Catholics had the same surnames as Jews.  Many Jews were identified as such in Spanish Empire documents, even long after 1492.

In addition, many Sephardim used aliases.  She gave an example where a father & son had 30-some aliases--Portuguese aliases, different Jewish names at different times--even the aliases had aliases.

She mentioned that many of the archives in individual countries including Spain and Portugal have documents back over 1000 years and pointed out specific archives that have a significant amount of Jewish-related records.  She showed examples of records on her family back to the 1300s.
In addition, she talked about the importance of Facebook groups, books, DNA projects, societies & groups.

She briefly mentioned Hidden Jews who are descendants of forced Conversos--some know much more than they share publicly, and there's more and more effort to understand their history.

Then I ran out for a latte (I'm in Seattle after all) with Liz Loveland who I've known via Twitter but only just met in person!

Then a quick meet-up of some of the JGSMD conference attendees.
Some of the JGSMD Conference Attendees
Then I went to a Media Lunch (writing this blog helped me to qualify) where they supplied kosher food (yay!).

They went over some conference highlights, including its Sephardic focus (Seattle is the third largest Sephardic community in the US).  There are nearly 1000 registrations from 17 countries.

We then discussed how to increase conference attendees in the future as well as how to develop JGS memberships and grab some of the casually curious genealogists.  (If you're reading this, are interested in Jewish genealogy, and are not a member of a local JGS, why is that?)

Then I went off-script for the conference.  I met with the guide/translator/guru who will be leading me on a Ukraine-by-train (and some car) trip in just a couple of weeks!!  (Follow my blog, and I'll be doing lots of posts about what I see and do.)  I'm so excited!

Then Brooke Schreier Ganz, the guru behind Reclaim the Records spoke.  I introduced Brooke who got straight into her talk.  (Her slides will be available on the Reclaim the Records site tomorrow, so I'll just cover some of her high points here.  Brooke loves to build websites to make records available to the general public.

She first talked about record acquisition--how to get records that you're told are unavailable.  She talked about how she won her first success which was getting New York City marriage license indices after a little lawsuit.  She started because she lives in California but needed many New York records.  New York has little online and quite difficult to deal with, particularly remotely.
Brooke loves New York--but sued them twice
Reclaim the Records shows you can be an activist, not a passive consumer of records.  They are public and want to make everything available.

You can keep up with their latest and greatest via (sometimes a bit snarky but always entertaining and informative) email, Facebook & Twitter.  Reclaim the Records' motto is "Put it online, for free, for everyone."  This includes the records themselves and tools to see the data.  No usage restrictions or fees.  Anyone can take these records and do their own projects with them.

They already have hundreds of thousands of genealogical records online; millions within the next few months.

Brooke talked how you can use federal FOIL & state FOIL laws to get records.  She emphasized teh difference between the way things are supposed to work vs. how things actually work with these laws.  Every state plus DC has different laws for FOIL which are generally the same but with differences.  Plus, if you can prove that records were withheld improperly, you may be able to get your money back in most states.

She talked about "open data" which is the philosophy where anything paid for with our tax money should allow us access to related data.  Open data laws are ambitious, but there are no teeth to them if people don't comply.

She talked about MuckRock which helps to make the FOIL/FOIA process easier.  They will send requests and follow up as well as make sure the right laws and people are addressed.
She then talked through the records already won (see website) as well as things in progress.  You can do this too--she encourages more people to identify records that may be relevant for FOIA/FOIL and file your own request!

Check out her site for way more inforamtion.

Then off to dinner--where I got a fortune that was quite appropriate for this week!
Genealogy-Themed Fortune Cookie

Then I went to JewishGen's update.  Avraham Groll talked about a recent success story, uniting families separated by the Holocaust.
JewishGen Presentation
Then Warren Blatt talked about what JewishGen is (multi-faceted website to facilitate Jewish genealogical research) and then focused on some particular features and new developments.

JewishGen's volunteer of the Year was named as Susana Leistner Bloch.

Ukraine SIG was Special Interest Group of the year (and I even got a bit of a shout-out!).

Warren Blatt discussed the Yizkor Book translation projects as well as KehilaLinks and JewishGen's Education program.  He did a quick overview of ViewMate and then listed some of the many other features.

He then talked about JewishGen's databases which range from JewishGen's FamilyFinder (contained more than 500,000 surnames and towns listed by 100,000 researchers worldwide) to All-Country databases.

There's a new tie between the All-Poland and Gesher Galicia databases, so if you search one and results are in the other, they'll now be displayed.

Then he gave an overview of the huge amounts of records obtained and transcribed within the past year.  These were huge numbers pretty much all around.  They acquired over 1,000,000 historical records in the past year, and adding in partner records like Gesher Galicia and JRI-Poland, it goes to almost 2.5 million records added to JewishGen in the past year.

Michael Tobias then talked about some of the new database features including Fuzzy Matches, links to FHL images, and the Poland-Gesher Galicia database referencing mentioned above.

Jam-packed day, and I still have the JewishGen Volunteer Reception to go!

I'm speaking Wednesday at 4:30.  If you're at the conference, come by and listen and then say hi!

Note:  I'm on Twitter.  Follow me (@larasgenealogy).

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  1. As far as I know in 1700 there were about 1250000 Jews in the world, 1 million of them Ashkenazi. That is, 80% Ashkenazi.