Avrohom Krauss taught a class on how landsmanshaftn records can add great background information about your family members. Landsmanshaftn were societies that Jewish immigrants started when they immigrated. A society was usually built around everyone being from the same town or area (a landsman is a person from the same town as you). The groups were organized to help newcomers integrate themselves into their new country while at the same time maintaining ties to the old country. They often offered insurance to members and charitable support. Krauss discussed the types of records created and the repositories with large collections. If your ancestor was active in a group, you can perhaps find his (membership was mostly for men) name in the society's records, and maybe even a signature. I have a photograph of my great-grandfather with a branch of the Workman's Circle, and now I feel inspired to look for him in their records.
Jeff Malka's session on Sephardic research was enjoyable and informative, and it didn't hurt that a lot of the resources he talked about are online, with the Dutch State Archive being particularly useful, so you can research from your chair. One of the more interesting things he talked about was how a person might have several variations ("aliases") of his name, most of which were based on translating the name from one language to another. So Aben Melec (Hebrew) is the same as Aben Rey (Spanish) and Aben Meleque (Arabic), and they are all based on the word maleque/meleq, which means "king" and comes from Aramaic. Keeping track of someone's aliases and proving that they are all for the same person is an important aspect of Sephardic research. Another tidbit was about the group of Jewish merchants who arrived at New Amsterdam from Recife. Pieter Stuyvesant, the governor, didn't want to admit them, but he was an employee of the Dutch West India Company, and company officials said they wanted the businessmen to be allowed to settle.
|1584 Map of the Azores|
The next session with a revelation was on Jewish American research before 1880, by David Kleiman. This again was focused on Sephardic research, because probably about 90% of the Jews in the U.S. for the first 200 years were of Sephardic origin. This time the aha was for research I had done for another woman I used to work with (yup, in the same office). She had always been told that her ancestor was Jewish. I had found him in a book of extracts for a county in Virginia, listed as "Daniel Joseph, Jew" (well, how much clearer can you get than that?), but hit a solid brick wall at that point. I found someone who looked like it could (should!) be him in Rabbi Malcolm Stern's book First American Jewish Families, which had been digitized and placed online, but I couldn't prove the connection, and it's been bugging me for years. Kleiman explained that an updated version of Rabbi Stern's family trees, with corrections, additions, and enhancements, is being built at the Americans of Jewish Descent Web site. Between that and the other resources Kleiman discussed, I think I'm finally going to be able to connect Daniel to Israel Joseph of Charleston, South Carolina. Then it's on to tracing their family in Europe!
The last aha was actually for my own family. Maureen Taylor, the Photo Detective, gave a talk called "Immigrant Clues in Photographs." She covered some of the same points that Ava Cohn had on Sunday, such as thinking about who is in a photo and who kept the photo, and some of the occasions for which people often had photos taken. Two of the most common times were when people were getting ready to leave to immigrate, and soon after they had arrived in their new country. And I realized that a photograph I have of my great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother with three other people (a woman and two teenage girls) had to have been taken just before my great-grandmother left Russia to come to the U.S. Now that I have a context for the photo, I'm almost certain that the second woman in the photo is my great-great-grandmother's sister. I still have to figure out who the other two girls are, but I'm making progress! It is amazing how it feels when several things you've learned suddenly click together.
The rest of Taylor's presentation was very entertaining. She showed several different photographs she has picked up over the years, with hairstyles, clothing, studio props, and other items that help determine when, where, and why a photo was taken. One photo had two men and a woman standing kind of between and behind them, and a broom on the floor. Taylor explained it was someone "jumping the broom", a tradition commonly associated with black Americans but which Taylor said was also a Swiss-German custom (though the Wikipedia page I've linked to mentions Gypsies but not Swiss-Germans). And a man in the audience identified the soldier in one of the photographs she showed, which really surprised her.
The last day of the conference is tomorrow, and only a half day at that. But I'm assisting at the 8:15 session, so I better get at least a little sleep.