24 August 2007

Seattle: Family history, Jewish festival

Seattle, for the first time since 2001, held its Jewish community festival attended by more than 3,000 people - despite the very soggy weather. In the Northwest, this is likely to happen, so the entire outdoor festival was held under tents!

The program included a full program of activities for many interests. Some highlights were the Yiddish spelling bee, klezmer music, Israeli music star David Broza. The event also offered adjacent booths for Family Tree DNA, the Washington State Jewish Historical Society and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington State - which will soon celebrate its 10th anniversary.

Seattle's JT News has a story link here.

JGSWS president Lyn Blyden reported that their booth was on "high" ground and they had fun dressing it, although their plans for computers with access to Ancestry, World Vital Records and JewishGen had to be scrapped because of the downpour and possible water damage - "We didn't want to lose volunteers or computers," she said.

(Note: Ancestry, World Vital Records and other subscription genealogy sites are happy to work with societies who wish to provide computer access at similar events.)

In spite of atmospheric conditions beyond human control, Lyn reported that booth volunteers provided visitors with ideas of where to research. The historical society offered a jeopardy game and JGSWS displayed laminated maps. By asking people "where do you come from?," many people entered the tent to trace their heritage.

Manning the Family Tree DNA booth was JGSWS first vice president and program chair Nancy Adelson, who said "There was a constant flow of interested people from 11 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. when I finally left (we tried to close the booth at 4:30 p.m.).

"There were many times where it was three people deep in front of our booth asking questions and learning about Family Tree DNA and DNA for genealogical purposes. The questions ranged all over the place but I can say most visitors were very interested in the topic.

"Remember that our booth had no food and no gimmicks to attract visitors. Just our sign and smiling faces.

"An interesting thing that happened was that the genetic cousins of booth volunteer Yvonne Stewart visited her - they were discovered through Family Tree DNA testing."

"Many of the people I met were just beginning to think about researching their families," said volunteer Ellin Block. "They were interested to learn about the ways that JGSWS could help support them with resource materials, advice from experienced researchers and monthly speakers."

Congratulations to the JGSWS leadership for this great idea. It can certainly be duplicated by other societies. It is a method to present genealogy to many people at one event and inspire newcomers to explore family history possibilities. Outreach is always win-win!

On another point, teaming up with the local Jewish historical society was excellent. The three organizations provided multiple interesting places for attendees to visit and learn.

For more information, the Washington State Jewish Archives (WWSJA) has more than 350 photograph collections with more than 4,000 photographs dating from the mid-1800s through today. Subjects cover families, life-cycle events, education, merchants; community, religious and business leaders; congregations and organizations; immigration and emigration; Sephardic culture; World War II and the Holocaust; activism and Pacific Northwest history.


  1. Anonymous5:49 AM

    Great article Schelly! You captured the spirit of our three booths at the Jewish Festival very well. Thank you! Nancy Adelson

  2. Hi, Nancy

    Thank you! I hope that the JGSWS story inspires other societies to get involved in their communities as a step forward. Presenting a public face at large community gatherings means that JGSs can reach so many more people!