Sunday, August 4, 2013

IAJGS Conference, Boston - Day 1

Today was the first day of the 2013 IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy.  I haven't been to Boston in about seven years, and it's a great city, so just being here is part of the fun.  I've even started to remember my way around.  I've already seen many people I know -- Schelly Dardashti, Banai Lynn Feldstein, Ava Cohn, Kahlile Mehr, Gary Mokotoff, Eileen Polakoff -- including several from the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogy Society at home -- Rosanne Leeson, Lynn Rhodes, Jeff Lewy, Sita Likuski, Judy Baston, Vivian Kahn (definitely more of us than I thought were coming!).  And that is part of what makes these conferences enjoyable -- networking and seeing people in person.

The main reason to come, though, really is the opportunity to attend lots of lectures and soak up information.  I got a good start on that today.  A couple of the sessions I attended were kind of duds, where the handout told you pretty much everything that the speaker had to say, but at most of them I came away with new knowledge.  Ava Cohn, AKA Sherlock Cohn, talked about analyzing photographs.  She emphasized thinking about the four people involved in a photo (the photographer, the subject, the person who kept the photo, and the genealogist who is mining it for clues) and looking at details in the photo that can help you pinpoint a time, place, or other tidbit that could open the door to new revelations.  Gladys Friedman Paulin discussed U.S. ports of entry other than Ellis Island.  Some of the important points were what made a good port of entry, which ports were officially recognized by the immigration service, the primary ethnic groups that came through several ports and what factors contributed to that, and which ports have surviving records other than federal ones.  And I finally got to hear Judy Baston's talk about using the American Jewish Yearbook for genealogical research.  Not only did the yearbooks include officers of local organizations such as landsmanshaftn, charitable organizations, and educational societies; obituaries and necrologies; lists of subscribers; Jewish members of the armed forces; international information; and more, all of the yearbooks have been digitzed and are online and freely available.

The highlight of the day was the keynote speech by Aaron Lansky, the founder of the Yiddish Book Center.  I'm sure many of the stories he told are in his book Outwitting History (which I forgot to bring my copy to have him sign!), but he is an entertaining speaker and great storyteller. Besides hearing about the amazing story of the Yiddish Book Center and all the books that have been saved, some of the most fascinating information was about what more is expected to come in the future.  Around 11,000 of the books have been digitized and are available online.  Yiddish voice recordings that were recovered from the Jewish Public Library in Montreal are also being digitized and placed online.  Thanks to a "computational linguist" from the Pyrenees (who is really a rocket scientist), it is likely that soon OCR scanning of Yiddish will be possible.  And Lansky said that within ten years there should be comparable "scanning" of audio files, which will create searchable transcripts.  And to think that not so long ago people were saying that Yiddish was a dead language ....

I'm looking forward to another interesting day tomorrow, unfortunately starting at 8:15 in the morning!  But sleep is overrated, right?

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