30 October 2007

London: JGSGB conference, part II

Before discussing another two of the sessions, I'd like to say thank you to the JGSGB board for an excellent day, including of course Lorna Kay, Martyn Woolf, the technical experts and all the volunteers.

It was wonderful seeing fellow Sephardic researcher George Anticoni, Antony Joseph of Birmingham (who so long ago connected me with my London Talalay family and thereby half our shared history), JewishGen's Michael Tobias, who came down from Glasgow, author Doreen Berger and so many others.

Jenny Thomas
The Making of the BBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?"

I must confess that Thomas sat in the front row as I gave my talk, and I wondered who she was - she was so enthusiastic.

She's now working on her fifth series of the popular show.

As a fan of the show (which we do see in repeats in Israel), I enjoyed her session on how the show is organized, how it deals with sworn-to-secrecy relatives, and how they insist on not telling the celebrities anything until the person sees the records.

She covered celebrities who insisted on bringing their dogs - one jumped into the National Archives fountains for a swim - to all shooting sessions, to the required search for a leech-wrangler for one episode, to hoping celebrities were dressed appropriately for outings.

I really wanted to know who reserved the parking places at the archives the celebrities visited, as there always appeared to be a nice spot right in front, but I didn't get a chance to ask.

She discussed what genealogy is and how it is related to sociology, history, economics, the best and worst of humanity and is intergenerational.

Thomas stressed the social history experience. Perhaps because the future is uncertain, she said, many look back to define their roots, to draw comfort in understanding a changing world. We understand the present from the past, she said, and our ancestors collectively made our history.

"We all have a past," she said, and we begin to question our own ideas in a new context.


Author/researcher Susan Fifer
Research Poland and Writing the new JGSGB Polish Guide: Taking My Own Advice

Sue Fifer has been researching her history since 1994, when she bought a computer program and entered details on her mother's many cousins. A former teacher, now in retirement, she maintains her interest in computers and family history. She teaches computer skills to older learners and has remained obsessive - aren't we all? - about genealogy.

A Shtetl Co-Op Coordinator for Kalisz which produced some 28,000 entires for the JRI Poland database project, Fifer is understandably very proud of this achievement.

She wrote the JGSGB's Research Guide to Poland, one of the society's neat compact guides. Today there is a great series; some older ones are being revised. She added that as soon as the Polish guide was printed, she began work on a revised edition because so many new resources are appearing.

Fifer compares old-fashioned genealogy to modern: "It's like harvesting a field by hand and then getting a combine harvester as a Chanukah present."

Additionally, her talk covered top tips for family historians:

-Ask family members for papers. Be specific, as they don't always understand a document's significance.

-Don't assume spellings are correct.

-You don't have to be a linguist to do Polish research, but you have to give yourself a fighting chance by acquiring old dictionaries and travel guides and other helpful resources. She recommends searching through the books at various charity organization thrift shops (particularly mentioning Oxfam, which UK readers will recognize).

-Review your old research. Taking a more modern look may reveal that you now know more or have more resources to access.

-Make use of others' expertise, but also volunteer yourself.

-Become familiar with new technology and resources.


Again, congratulations to the JGSGB for a very interesting day!


  1. Anonymous11:29 AM

    As one of the 150 audience I just want to say how much we enjoyed Schelly's presentation. It was a great talk and formed a significant part of an excellent day. Thank you Schelly.

  2. It was a great day, and I was very happy to participate. Thank you for your kind comments.