23 July 2009

Philadelphia: Hi-tech aids genealogy buzz

Philly 2009 was a lead feature today in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.

Conference program co-chair Mark Halpern informed me last week that writer Hillel Kuttler had interviewed both he and conference co-chair David Mink.

The story - read it here - focused on how technology has contributed to the popularity of genealogy pursuits in the US and around the world.
Three years ago, David Mink began volunteering at the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center, helping to index its microfilmed collection of ledgers from the city's long-defunct Rosenbaum, Blitzstein, Lipschutz and Rosenbluth banks. The early 20th-century banks doubled as agencies to facilitate immigrants' money transfers to relatives in Europe to book ship passage here.

A fellow volunteer eventually pointed out some interesting information to Mink: A March 26, 1923 entry had been made for $98 that Mink's grandfather, Jacob Pseny, had paid to bring over a cousin, Fraitel Szklarz of Moselle, France. Another entry showed Pseny's transfer of $104 to his grandmother's brother, Avrum Gruber, of Siemiatis, Poland. Neither relative bought the ticket -- probably because of U.S. immigration restrictions, Mink speculated -- and Pseny received a refund.

"I was absolutely flabbergasted," Mink said of the discoveries.
Due to the ever-expanding Internet, researchers today can find many resources while sitting at home. More and more resources are available each day on JewishGen, Ancestry.com and many other websites which hold Jewish records and collections of diverse documents.

A focus of the story is the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, which runs August 2-7, in Philadelphia. The story will likely encourage Philadelphia-area newcomers to attend.

Technology is always on the menu at these annual events and, according to Mark, this year there are sessions on using Google to the max, as well as Google Earth and Google Translate to aid in searching, tracking and contacting family around the world.

Social media is also helping family researchers - who have been successful using Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other sites.

Genealogy in the US received a major break with the televising of "Roots" in the 1970s. Although it concentrated on an African-American family, other ethnic groups soon caught the bug.
Such books as Arthur Kurzweil's From Generation to Generation and Finding Our Fathers by Philadelphian Dan Rottenberg soon sent Jewish genealogists to the National Archives, Ellis Island and municipal offices throughout Europe to document their ancestors' lives.

Jewish genealogy societies quickly developed throughout North America, Israel, Europe and Russia, and international Jewish genealogy conferences were convened.
The fall of communism in Eastern Europe made archival research much more accessible. Access combined with the rise of personal computers and digitized Internet resources and databases have made genealogy even more popular. Additional collections will continue to fuel increased interest.

The participation of archival directors from previously off-limit archives is something researchers look forward to each year.

Philly 2009 will feature, for the first time, the attendance of the Romanian national archives director Dr. Dorin Dobrincu, which was confirmed while I was in California - although it had not yet been confirmed when the Exponent story was published.

Tracing the Tribe will be the first to interview Dr. Dobrincu, so look forward to that fascinating post from the conference.

In the past, archive directors from Minsk and elsewhere have provided unique insight into their particular resources.

Dobrincu's appearance, according to Mark's comments in the story, would be an opportunity
"for him to see what we're doing, and for us to talk to him about the need to open up the records for Holocaust research, Jewish genealogy and historical research," explained Halpern. "This is something that researchers of Romania should be excited about."
The story also touches on DNA genetic testing.

Read the complete article at the link above.

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