The JTA writer spent several days at the Los Angeles conference investigating his wife's family story that they - SHEINBEIN - are descendants of the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797). It is a common claim and hard to confirm a connection to the famed Talmudic scholar of his age.
Read about his adventure here.
Rodman was among more than a thousand Jews who gathered desperately seeking not only Susan but Esther, Yankel and Morris. He was looking for Moishe Sheinbein, with whom the family tree starts, as created by cousin Fred and Judy Sheinbein.
"It's a family story passed down from generation to generation," Fred Sheinbein said of the Vilna Gaon descendancy. "We have a silver kiddish cup that we think belonged to the Gaon that has been passed down in our family from eldest son to eldest son. On Passover we use it as Elijah's cup."Among the people Rodman consulted for information on Moishe, who lived in the mid-19th century in Osava, Ukraine, was FamilySearch.Com's Dan Schylter, who told Rodman that Jewish Ukraine records in the Mormon Family History Library are not that good.
To begin, I checked out the Gaon's portrait. Looks can be deceiving, but staring back at me over the centuries were the same eyes, brows and nose familiar to me from our wedding photos of my wife's grandmother, Sylvia Bierman, nee Sheinbein.
Rodman learned - as most of us have - that tracing family depends on readable records, geography, spelling and a lot of mazal (luck).
In the computer room, he consulted Ina Getzoff of Delray Beach, Florida and accessed Ancestry.com's databases, but received too many hits. Adding in Osova and another location, Kolki, didn't help.
The conference appeared to be a virtual hotbed of genealogical serendipity.
As a result of computer searches, sessions like "Social Networking: New Horizons for Genealogists" and even genetic tests, the conventions foyer was with plenty of newly found cousins talking and hugging.
"I just found a relative I never knew I had," said Ellen Mark, the conference's translator coordinator, who discovered that her maternal grandmother had a sister through a recent translation of a Russian letter she had long kept.
She and others suggested I dig deeper into the conference's resource room.
In the vendor room, he saw Chaim Freedman's book,"Eliyahu's Branches, The Descendants of the Vilna Gaon." The cross-index of more than 20,000 names produced a Sheinfeld and a Sheingold- no Sheinbein.
Andrea Massion suggested DNA testing, and Rodman found himself speaking to FamilyTreeDNA.com's partner and vice-president Max Blankfeld. He was just one swab away but hadn't yet experienced the "happy dance" moment that others had.
When I spoke on the phone with Rodman at the conference, he did tell me of one serendipitious moment when he discovered his wife's Sephardic maiden name - HASSON - on a display of photos from the Los Angeles Historical Society. A 1928 photo of Victor Hasson showed him in a flower delivery truck. His wife's uncle Lou confirmed Victor's connection.
And, as so many researchers find, a thread of another hunt replaced his Gaon search.
Maybe Rodman will find what he's looking for at next year's 2011 conference in Washington DC?