15 September 2006

At the IIJG: Ashkenazi Research

At the IIJG, well-known historian Dr. Ladislau Gyemant of Cluj, Romania gave a talk about Ashkenazi research priorities, and was just the latest of the speakers at the event to demonstrate the overlap of Ashkenazi and Sephardic research, as many so-called Ashkenazi geographical areas had Sephardic communities.

He indicated that a successful family history project includes three conditions: General and local history, knowledge of area registration systems and preservation and access to records. Important fields are demographic and immigration aspects, institutional structure of communities and status of the inhabitants.

During the first centuries of the second millenium, Eastern European populations expanded because of expulsions elsewhere, said Gyemant. All these countries had flourishing Jewish life from the mid-17th century to the early 18th century. Geographically, the area underwent political changes.

To do genealogical research, said Gyemant, researchers must understand history and migration, need to know what records are where, how to access them, and which community leaders were responsible for record-keeping.

From the late 18th century, he said, records are available for communities and individuals, including army, census and vital registers. For each town in Romania, for example, there are vital records for all inhabitants from 1865 (in other places, late 1700s, but for more contemporary records, 100-year privacy rules apply.

Among Gyemant's suggestions:

* Index Romanian archive resources.

* Inventory/index/publish official statistical records, census, etc. and begin to publish.

* Ashkenazi and Sephardic cemetery data is now available. Locations are known, but they must be organized by country and inscriptions deciphered.

* Inventory/index/publish school records, registers, Jewish soldiers’ names of wounded, decorated or who died.

Some communities, said Gyemant, had Ashkenazi and Sephardic groups, with respective institutions and organizations. One community has preserved registers in Ladino, Yiddish, Hebrew, German, Hungarian and Latin.

He added that Bucharest was first a Sephardic settlement, although today Sephardim are the minority, and that Southern Romania had a strong Sephardic community in the 18th century. In one town there were 116 Sephardic families and only 12 Ashkenazi families; today the majority are Ashkenazi.

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