"Stories of Discovery: Films & Lecture on the Surprises and Joys of Genealogy" begins at 11am Sunday, April 13, at the Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills. The day includes a bagels and lox brunch from noon-1pm.
The show - which has just been licensed to NBC for a US version - has captured the imagination of British viewers, turning the nation into amateur family historians.
Each episode follows a celebrity tracing their family tree to reveal surprising, extraordinary and moving stories of their ancestors. I've seen both episodes scheduled for the day and recommend them.
The first to be screened follows shows actor/writer Stephen Fry tracing his UK family back to modern-day Slovakia (former Hungary) with stops in Vienna, as he learns the fate of relatives who did not escape before the Nazis invaded.
From 1-2pm, Jim Van Buskirk will speak on "My Grandmother's Suitcase: A Family Memoir."
Before his mother turned 80, she told him a secret: "You are Jewish." She then showed him the contents of his grandmother's suitcase, filled with photographs, letters, and documents. Not long before this, Jim had published an essay exploring his mysterious, lifelong attraction to Judaism. He continues to look for answers to his family's history - and his identity by researching his genealogy, talking to previously unknown relatives, and re-examining the contents of his grandmother's suitcase. Van Buskirk's essays have been featured in various books, newspapers, radio broadcasts and magazines — most recently Avotaynu. He is currently Book Group Coordinator at the Jewish Community Library of San Francisco.
From 2-3pm, another WDYTYA episode will be screened, this one with Nigella Lawson.
Nigella Lucy Lawson is an English journalist, food writer, broadcaster and television presenter. She traces her mother's side of the family, the Salmons (originally Solomons — owners of J. Lyons and Co.) to Ashkenazi Jewish ancestors in the Netherlands and the Rhineland of Prussia, Germany. She discovers that one of these ancestors, Coenraad Sammes (later Coleman Joseph), fled to England to escape a prison sentence following a conviction for theft! Follow her to Amsterdam as she explores possible Sephardic roots in the local archives.
Brunch reservations required by April 9; $15 per person. The lecture and screenings are free for members, $5 for others. There are even door prizes (one year's subscription to Footnote.com, Ancestry.com and an Ancestry DNA test kit).
For directions and more information, click here.