05 May 2008

Seattle: Family tree display

A forest of family trees traced the roots of Washington's Jewish community at an event sponsored by the Washington State Jewish Historical Society, which hopes to eventually build a Jewish heritage museum.

More than 400 people wandered through the genealogical woods — an exhibit, actually, of hand-painted pedigrees commemorating clans whose local branches span six generations.

"We are building public awareness of the importance of keeping our history," said Lisa Kranseler, executive director of the Washington State Jewish Historical Society (WSJHS), sponsor of the event. "These are families who have been here since the beginning of statehood."

Organizers expected about 20 families to participate in the project. They got 74.

According to a WSJHS member who helped compile lists of names, dates and offspring, "You just mention family, and there couldn't be an easier topic to get people excited about."

Mercer Island's Robert Rogers extended tribe covered three canvases in the exhibit held at the Sephardic Congregation Ezra Bessaroth. His grandmother, Eva Abrams Rogers, arrived in the late 1880s.

Although many of the state's early members of the tribe arrived between 1880-1920 from Eastern Europe, Seattle's early Sephardi immigrants from Rhodes, Turkey and other locations created a major close-knit community that continues today.

Shelby Halela, 15, and her cousin are descendants of immigrants from Rhodes; their ancestors settled there after the 1492 Expulsion from Spain. "Today, she jokes, it seems like everyone she meets in Seattle is a relative."

The teenager said she's committed to keeping track of her own family, past and present: "In the younger generation, somebody has to keep it alive."

Rogers summed up the feelings of many Jewish genealogists' essential problem rather well: "A person doesn't get interested in genealogy until the people who have all the answers have died."

Read more here.

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