21 August 2009

Gold Rush Jews: Good changes

As Tracing the Tribe reported a few days ago, Victoria Fisch of Sacramento writes the new blog, Jews of the Gold Rush. She's now included more information.

An artist, writer and editor, she began researching the mysteries and myths of her own family:

...whether my uncle perished in Spain fighting against Franco, whether my grandfather really did run away from Russia to South Africa, and along the way became entranced by the larger collective Jewish history...
A graphic artist for many years, she's an editor for a Stanford professor and paints in oils.

Her most recent post focuses on the man considered the pioneer researcher of this historical period of Jewish history, Dr. Robert E. Levinson.

Most of his work is at the Western Jewish History Center at the Judah L. Magnes Museum (Berkeley, California), and was part of his PhD thesis in the early 1960s.

He created the Commission for the Preservation of Jewish Pioneer Cemeteries and Landmarks and the six cemeteries he found (and surveyed) are overseen by the group.

He combed local newspapers contemporary to the Gold Rush era, investigated county records, interviewed surviving descendents, and took meticulous notes, and while doing field work discovered six previously undocumented Jewish cemeteries in what is now known as the "Gold Country." His work was cut short in 1980 when he was killed in a car crash.
He wrote a 1978 book (reprinted in 1994), "The Jews in the California Gold Rush."

Another source is Susan Morris' 1996 book, "A Traveler's Guide to Pioneer Jewish Cemeteries of the California Gold Rush," which gives directions to the cemeteries, headstone transcriptions and community histories.

Victoria has photographed the Placerville Jewish Cemetery, and the others are in Mokelumne Hill, Jackson, Sonora, Nevada City and Grass Valley.

It was not uncommon for Jewish settlers to be buried in non-Jewish cemeteries, given the hardships of life and the difficulty of travel in those early days. Burial in a non-Jewish cemetery is also a reflection of the unique experience of the Jews in the mining towns - most miners were immigrants, and the Jews were usually not singled out, indeed, they were accepted as equals and lauded as worthy neighbors and citizens. Embraced by the community, they enthusiastically joined fraternal lodges, and sometimes were buried in lodge cemeteries. There are several Jewish headstones in the I.O.O.F Cemetery in Sonora that were documented by Dr. Levinson.
In Folsom, a Jewish cemetery has been absorbed into the larger Lakeside Cemetery and she has also photographed those headstones.

Her next post will focus on Jewish community members in Folsom.

Thank you, Victoria, for the updates and the photographs.

If you have Jewish pioneers lurking in your tree, bookmark Jews of the Gold Rush or subscribe!

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