Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Upcoming Family History Presentations

I love teaching about genealogy.  I've had a pretty restricted schedule for the past few months, though, and haven't been able to schedule many family history talks (my last one was February 26).  But things have finally settled down a bit, and I now have several presentations planned through the end of the year, and even into next year!

I'll be teaching "Jewish Genealogy for Beginners" on Sunday, August 5, at this year's J-West.  I'll also be teaching a semester-long Jewish genealogy class for Midrasha, the East Bay Jewish community high school in Berkeley.  That class runs from September to December.

On September 15 I'll make a presentation to the San Mateo County Genealogical Society about the incredible details you can learn about a family if you follow them through newspapers for more than a hundred years.  That's a brand-new talk.  And sometime in September (I hope they tell me the date soon!) I'll talk about vital records (a new talk for me) for the California Genealogical Society and Oakland Family Search Library (formerly the Family History Center).

October is Family History Month, and I'm going to be busy.  Another new talk is the one I will be giving to the Mt. Diablo DAR chapter on October 9.  My ancestor was an American patriot during the Revolutionary War, but his brother ... not so much.  On October 14 I'll be at the Davis Genealogy Club, talking about how even when you start with very little information, you can still build on what you have step by step and find out more about your family.  Then on October 18 I'll teach how many ways newspapers can help in genealogical research to the Napa Valley Genealogical Society.  And on October 20 I'll be repeating the two latter talks for the Concord Family Search Library's annual Digging for Your Roots one-day conference.  Five talks may not sound like much for one month, but that's on top of my regular work!

November 14 will see me at the East Bay Genealogical Society with another new presentation, this one on techniques to find maiden names of the women in your family.  When a woman changed her surname to that of her husband, it can be very difficult to find that original name.  Without it, you can't find her parents.

And I just heard today that one of my submissions was accepted for the 2013 Ohio Genealogical Society conference!  The conference runs April 25-27 in Cincinnati.  I'll be talking about online historical black newspapers.

If you attend any of my talks, please say hi and let me know you read my blog!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

RIP Ruth Ellis Dunn, 1937-2012

Ruth was my father's first cousin.  They grew up together in rural New Jersey and were close in age, along with Ruth's brother.  I didn't get to know about her until 2003, when I started communicating with her by e-mail.  Of course, it all started because of family history!  I found out about a book someone had published on that family line, and Ruth's brother contributed some material.  That led to talking to Ruth and sharing information.  She was also very interested in family history.

I finally got to meet her in 2004, when I traveled to Indianapolis for a convention.  She and her husband Harold were loving and welcoming.  They invited me to stay with them when I was in town.  I was able to visit them again in 2005 and 2006.  They shared lots of family photos I had never seen before.  In 2006 I was fortunate to be able to see Harold before he passed away.  I was back in 2007 and 2008, and my then boyfriend and I introduced Ruth to Indian food.  Then a lot of things changed in my life and I wasn't able to travel very much, so I didn't get to see her again, but we still talked by phone and e-mail.  She shared my happiness when I became a grandmother.

Ruth had a caring and loving spirit.  She affected the lives of so many people in such a positive way.  She was a wonderful person, and I feel very privileged to have been able to know her.  Ruth died last week, on July 14.  I will miss her so much.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Family History at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

Sometimes as family historians, we are fortunate enough to have documents our family members left behind, and we invariably wonder how we can use them to help tell our family story.

Longtime San Francisco genealogist Judy Baston was able to preview some films from the upcoming San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (July 19-August 6) and told me that among the lineup are a quartet of documentaries that take as their theme family history, secrets, and the significance of what is left behind:  photographs, home movies, a memoir, letters, and even a family business in the old country.

In The Flat, Israeli filmmaker Arnon Goldfinger sifts through his grandmother’s apartment after her death and finds old German newspaper front pages with the story of a Nazi leader’s visit to Palestine in the 1930's.

British filmmaker Daniel Edelstyn’s discovery of his grandmother’s tattered journal takes him to their ancestral town in Ukraine and a vodka distillery that once belonged to her family, in How to Reestablish a Vodka Empire.

For Argentinian filmmaker Gaston Solnicki, hundreds of hours of home movie footage of his grandparents (survivors from Lodz) and other family members become the film Papirosen.

And Israeli documentarian David Fisher’s Six Million and One begins with his discovery of the diary that his father Joseph kept during his time in a labor camp in Austria.

Of this quartet, to Judy, The Flat and Six Million and One are the two stand-out films.  Along with the newspaper articles detailing the trip to Mandate Palestine of Nazi official Leopold Von Mildenstein, accompanied by German Zionist leaders Kurt and Gerda Tuchler, filmmaker Goldfinger found caches of old letters sent between the Von Mildensteins and the Tuchlers and tried to come to grips with how his grandparents and the man who was Adolph Eichmann’s predecessor in the SS could have had what appeared to be a cordial--and even warm--relationship.  The film includes a trip to Austria in which Goldfinger’s mother meets Von Mildenstein’s daughter, both of whom are trying to fit their own personal perceptions of their parents into the broader historical context.  (July 26, 3:50 p.m., Castro Theater, San Francisco; July 29,  4:25 p.m., Roda Theater, Berkeley; August 2, 4:20 p.m., Cinearts Theater, Palo Alto)

In Six Million and One it is also a trip to Austria--scene of the former Gusen work camp detailed in Joseph Fisher’s diary--that provides the film its strongest scenes.   It is not the visit itself that makes the film unique and important, however, but rather our opportunity to eavesdrop on the exchanges between four of Joseph’s children who make the trip:  David, his two brothers, and a sister. They each bring very different perceptions--of their father, of the Shoah, of their relationship to history--to the trip, and it is the exchange--sometimes hesitant, sometimes angry, eventually heartfelt--between the second-generation members of this family that makes this a “don’t miss” film for family historians.  (July 21, 12:00 noon, Castro Theater, San Francisco; July 28, 11:30 a.m., Cinearts Theater, Palo Alto; July 29, 12:00 noon, Roda Theater, Berkeley; August 4, 12:00 noon, Rafael Theater, San Rafael)

The festival will have showings around the Bay Area, in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, San Rafael, and Palo Alto.  For a complete schedule of showings, visit http://www.sfjff.org/.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

No! Don't throw them away!

A friend of mine is helping someone else go through that person's mother's stuff.  The mother passed away recently.

My friend sent me a message because she knew I would be crestfallen to hear that her friend was tossing out lots of her mother's photographs, because "there's no one around anymore to ask who these people are."

It's sad that she did not ask her mother about the photographs while she was alive.  But it's also sad that she made the decision to just throw them away.  There might have been cousins, aunts, uncles who could have identified people in the photos or who might have wanted to keep them -- but she wants nothing to do with her cousins.  The photos might have been of interest to a historical or genealogical society in an area where the mother was from -- but now it's too late.

I wish my friend had grabbed the photos and saved them.  I would have taken them.

Another small part of history has died.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

New York Times Ad from 1907

Well, I guess none of my New York relatives would have been eligible to apply for this job.  At least, I can't think of any other way to interpret this want ad.  Nice to know there was opportunity for advancement, though.  It certainly is interesting what you can find in the newspaper.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Images of the Jewish Atlantic World

Rocking horse, Gomez House,
Marlboro, New York
An interesting and eclectic collection of images called "Jewish Atlantic World" is available on the Reed College Web site.  Laura Leibman, author of Messianism, Secrecy, and Mysticism: A New Interpretation of Early American Jewish Life, amassed the images while researching her book.  They represent not only the history of Jews in the New World but also comparison items from non-Jews to place the Jewish items in context, both culturally and historically.

The Browse page breaks down the collection into categories of time period, geographic region, ethnic group, religious affiliation, and cemeteries, and also by type of artifact (including family trees and wills!).  There is also a search page.  By far the largest group of images relates to Sephardic Jews, but there are significant numbers for Ashkenazi Jews, Black Americans, and Anglo Americans, along with smaller collections for Dutch and Venezuelan.  The site is freely available for viewing and requires no registration.  The images are copyrighted and may not be used without permission, except for fair use as defined by copyright law.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Documents Discovered in Brooklyn Basement

In 1890 a travel agency named Modern Tours opened in Manhattan, owned by a man named Isaac Berman.  He apparently advertised to the local Jewish community for helping people immigrate to the United States, along with transferring money and making loans.  At some point he moved Modern Tours to Brooklyn.  His brother David was a partner in the business.

At the beginning it probably was a legitimate business, but in the 1930's and 1940's something changed.  An 8-year-old boy recently discovered boxes of documents in his grandparents' basement in Brooklyn.  The boxes contained hundreds of passports, immigration documents, and requests for more documents from people in war-torn Europe and Mandate Israel, wanting to immigrate to the United States, all sent to Modern Tours.  But during the 1940's people began to complain that they were sending their money and not getting results.  It looks as though Mr. Berman continued to solicit business and accept payments but he was no longer following through on processing people's requests.

The documents are now in Israel, though I can't tell where.  I have had to rely on Google Translate to be able to read this story, which was published in Hebrew.  It seems from the translation that information is being sought on what happened to Isaac Berman, and perhaps on the people whose documents have been found.  Google Translate does what it can, but it is not the same as a professional translation.  Perhaps someone can read the original Hebrew and give us more information.

Wordless Wednesday