23 March 2009

Identity in the digital age

The Internet brings people together as it helps genealogists access resources to help themselves and others to learn about their ancestors and their own identities.

Tracing the Tribe finds interesting stories in many sources, such as Rabble.ca, which publishes news, features, interviews, commentaries, columns and other items.

Earlier this month, the site published Jewish Identity in the Digital Age - focusing on Jewish identity and genealogy- written by students of the University of Western Ontario's MA journalism program.

Included in this excellent and richly-detailed story are:
-Lukasz Biedka: Psychologist, author, researcher of history and Jewish genealogy, contributor to David Semmel's Prezemysl Blog. For 15 years, Biedka been part of a psychotherapists' team working with Holocaust survivors and the second generation in Poland. His mother was a hidden child.

The Internet provides access to online databases and Jewish genealogy sites where people all over the world can search for a certain place or a certain name, and associate facts more quickly. He's become an expert - "a human database" - on Przemysl's Jews, collecting databases, memories, testimonies, documents and photos and connecting with people online for their shared history.

Those searching for Jewish ancestors, from a culture of secrecy or a recent discovery, it's more than just curiosity - it is searching for identity. The bigger the mystery, the larger the quest for meaning. We are always learning something new.

- Roma Baran: Her story appeared in the Prezemysl blog. Her Jewish parents completely hid their Jewish identity.

After receiving a genealogist's email hinting at her origins, she spoke to relatives, utilized JewishGen and its Family Finder, JRI-Poland and other internet resources to find information and discover the truth.

She is discovering a shared sense of belonging through the Internet, not only connecting with family but with the larger Jewish community and praises generous people for their time and assistance, making contacts, translating or making documents available.

- David Semmel: Creator of the Przezemysl Blog, which aims to bring together descendents of Jews driven out of the town during World War II. He had visited the town as a child with his grandparents and wanted to learn more.

Tech-savvy, he thought using the Internet to help other people with their genealogical research was an obvious choice to help re-establish a Jewish identity once lost or unknown.

- Donna Halper: Teaches communications at Lesley University (Cambridge, MA). She's been teaching Americans about Judaism for years.

The Internet, she says, has just made things possible that wouldn't have been possible in any other time in history. Her story links a Congo man with the Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda.

- Gary Mokotoff: Award-winning Jewish genealogist, Holocaust specialist, publisher of Jewish genealogy resource books.

He thought the Holocaust was something that happened elsewhere until he traced his family back five generations, found 1,700 descendants of his great-great-great-grandfather, and learned that 400 were murdered.

The Internet he says, plays a significant role in helping Jews make family history discoveries, and cuts down the amount of time necessary to find information by 90%.
These individuals cover the search for identity, Holocaust research, hidden children, secrecy, Jewish outreach, technology, and mention major websites and resources.

Read the complete story here.

It is part of Who R U? An Exploration of Identity at the Edge of Tech, a collaborative feature of the 2008 Online Journalism class, exploring how technology "is changing our identities and our idea of identity." Each of nine episodes will include a feature article, podcast and video segment.

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