Saturday, August 17, 2019

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Were You in a Youth Organization?

Randy Seaver has taken an idea from someone else for this week's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun posting challenge.

Here is your assignment, if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music, please!):

(1)
Did you join a youth organization such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Camp Fire, Job's Daughters, for example?

(2) Tell us about it in a blog post of your own, in a comment on this blog, or in a Facebook post.

Thank you to Lisa Gorrell for suggesting this several months ago.


I was in a few youth organizations at different times.  When my family lived in California, I was in Camp Fire Girls (today, apparently, simply Camp Fire), as was my younger sister.  My mother was our group leader (whatever the group was called).  That would have left my brother alone, so he was our (unofficial) group mascot and participated in activities with us.  We were in the youngest age group, which at that time was called Bluebirds.  I think somewhere I still have my Bluebird uniform.  The Wikipedia Camp Fire page says that kids can earn beads; I have no recollection if we earned anything or just did social activities.

The next group I was in was Girl Scouts, which was after my family returned to the States from Australia.  I must have been a Cadette Girl Scout, I think for all three years of junior high school.  I remember earning badges, particularly my cooking badge, for which I learned how to make authentic Italian food from the chef at a local restaurant.  I think my mother was their bookkeeper, so I had an in.  I still make my pasta sauces the old-fashioned way I was taught then.  I earned a sewing badge, too.  I also still have that uniform and my badges.

After the third year of Cadette Girl Scouts, we went on a big trip to Atlanta, which is about 325 miles from the tiny little settlement of Villa Tasso, Florida, where my family lived.  We visited Stone Mountain and Underground Atlanta, and probably a few other sites.  The main thing I recall from that trip, however, was how the driver of the car I was in got lost in the "wrong part" of Atlanta on our way to where we were staying. (Translation:  She was a "traditional" white Southerner, and we somehow ended up in the black part of town.)  She was freaking out and panicking, totally afraid of the people around her, even though they weren't doing anything.  This was well before the days of ubiquitous mobile phones, so no Google Maps or even being able to call one of the other driver/chaperones.  We were able to get to where we were supposed to be because I knew how to read a map.  I talked her through Atlanta streets block by block until we arrived.  I think I'm happy I don't remember her name.  And somehow I just never got excited enough to be a Senior Girl Scout.

The third group I participated in was 4-H.  I think that was only for one summer while we lived in Villa Tasso.  I have no memories of what we did, simply that I did it as a summer activity.

In college, my best friend was involved with the Future Farmers of America chapter in Santa Maria, California.  One weekend we went up to help out at an event.  I ended up in a hog pen, trying to convince a hog which direction it wanted to go.  As I recall, I was not particularly successful, and one of the kids had to help me out.  But the hog eventually ended up where it was supposed to be.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Where Were You in 2000?

For Saturday Night Genealogy Fun this week, Randy Seaver is asking us to reach back in our memories almost twenty years.  Let's see how I do compared to him.

Here is your assignment, if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music, please!):

(1)
Do you recall what you were doing in 2000?  Family, school, work, hobbies, technology, genealogy, vacations, etc.?  If this doesn't work for you, what about your parents?

(2) Tell us in a blog post of your own, in a comment on this blog, or in a Facebook post.


As usual, I am amazed at Randy's amount of recall.  This is what I could cobble together.

I was living in Oakland, California in the house I had bought in 1993.  I no longer had a housemate.  The friend who had cosigned with me to purchase the house had moved out in 1998.  In mid-1999 I had a friend who needed a place to stay, so I let him have the extra room.  By the time 2000 had rolled around, however, he was gone.  He had gone out drinking on New Year's Eve and had apparently spent the night with a young lady, who then took all of his money and disappeared — which is exactly what the housemate did for several months, being too embarrassed to admit what had happened.  I finally tracked him down three or four months into the year and got him to take all of his stuff out of the house.

In 2000 I had been working for the Seismological Society of America for two years.  I was the publications coordinator — at that point I was not yet editing one of the journals; my work was administrative only — and the "junior Webmaster" — I assisted the primary Webmaster with maintaining and updating the society's site.  I don't remember if I had learned HTML by that point or not.  I was probably doing only really basic stuff with the site.

The Seismological Society of America (SSA) is a scientific membership association.  Most members are seismologists and geologists, with a smattering of volcanologists and other geological specialties.  SSA holds an annual conference, as do many scneitific societies, where members and other attendees present talks and posters on recent research.  The 2000 conference was held in San Diego right after my birthday.  I remember there was a field trip of some sort to Old Town, which was enjoyable if somewhat touristy.  I also remember that was the year I met Shri Krishna Singh.

See, there was an international enclave of seismologists at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National University of Mexico).  Certainly there were scientists from Mexico, but they also had Kostoglodov from Russia, a Japanese man whose name I've forgotten, and Shri Krishna Singh from India.  I met him in San Diego when I heard someone speaking fluent Spanish behind me, turned around to see who it was, and was momentarily nonplussed when I saw a man who pretty clearly seemed to be from the Indian subcontinent.  It took a few seconds for my brain to process, and then I realized who it had to be.  I had communicated with him by e-mail prior to that but had never met him in person.

(Years later, when I was with my stepsons' father, whose father was born in India, I contacted Shri to find out if he had any advice for doing genealogy research in that country.  He told me that after he had been a successful scientist for several years, he went back to India himself to try to find some record of his birth.  He was dismayed when he could find absolutely nothing and learned that his brother had literally made up a birth date for him when he started school.  He told me I was pretty much out of luck.)

In August I'm prettty sure I was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for GenCon, the largest gaming convention held in the United States.  I don't remember whose booth I would have been working at.  It might have been Reaper Games or Pegasus Publishing.  I just learned from reading the GenCon page on Wikipedia that the 2000 convention was the first year that Hasbro owned it, having bought Wizards of the Coast the previous year right after the 1999 convention.

There's a good chance that I also attended the Origins Game Fair in Columbus in July.  That's another game convention, I believe the second largest in the United States.  Again I don't remember who I worked for.  If I did go, I probably visited my aunt's sister, who lives in Columbus.

It's almost guaranteed that I went to two of the three game conventions in Los Angeles run by Strategicon:  OrcCon over Presidents' Day weekend and Gateway over Labor Day weekend.  I don't know if I went to the Memorial Day weekend convention, Gamex; it was a significantly smaller convention, and it wasn't always cost effective to attend.

If I still had access to the e-mail address I used at that time, I could easily check on all of this.  Unfortunately, Eudora has not been supported for many years now, and I don't have access to the old files.

All of those conventions used to use up all of my vacation time, so I usually didn't do much additional travel other than that related to work.  I might have gone to one or two professional training seminars for SSA.

I was doing genealogy research back then.  As I recall, I had Family Tree Maker 3.0 for Macintosh (before Ancestry abandoned it!)  installed on my work computer.  I think I had upgraded my home computer to a 486 because I needed a hard drive to use the version of FTM I had discs for.

2000 was the year I began volunteering to help at the Oakland Family History Center, after having used the library for several years for research.  I kept helping people, so one day one of the staff asked, "Would you like to volunteer here?"  I said I wasn't Mormon, and he said it didn't matter, so I signed up!

That's about all I can recall for now.  Maybe something else will percolate up through my brain during the next few days.  If so, I'll post an addendum.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

I Love It When Cousins Call Me!

Ruchel Dwojre (Jaffe) Brainin,
one of the ancestors my
cousin asked me abour.
She is our great-great-grandmother.
I had a wonderful surprise on Wednesday.  Out of the blue, I got a phone call from one of my younger cousins!

He told me that his mother had given him all of the genealogy materials I had shared with her.  I haven't heard yet what prompted this, so I don't know at whose instigation this happened.  But he apparently started reading thorugh it avidly and then had lots of questions.  So his mother gave him my phone number.

We spent an hour and a quarter on the phone!  Mostly he seemed to want to know what I knew about any rabbis on the Brainin branch of my family (the line we have in common) and which members of the family were Orthodox Jews, but he also asked about anecdotes and stories, things that went beyond just the bare facts that are in the family tree information he already had.  I was able to remember lots of things (really good, since I didn't have any papers in front of me and I was totally unprepared), which seemed to satisfy at least some of his curiosity.  But some of what he asked about I still don't have answers for.  Now that someone else is asking, however, I feel a little reinvigorated about researching that line.  Maybe that was just the motivation I need to make some new discoveries!

I met this cousin and his family in person in 2013, when the IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy was held in Boston.  I actually stayed at their house for the week.  One of the amusing things about the phone call today is that my cousin didn't seem to remember having met me, even though that was only six years ago and at the time we made a big deal about the fact that we share the same birthday.  I don't feel so bad about some of my forgetfulness if someone 34 years younger than I am is forgetting things also!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

IAJGS Cleveland: Wrapping Up and Heading Home

By the time Thursday rolled around at this year's IAJGS conference, the temperatures in Cleveland had taken a serious dip, and it didn't get over 79° for the rest of my visit.  I wasn't quite happy enough to go dancing in the streets, because that would have gotten me overheated again, but it was a great relief.

The first session on Thursday was my third and final presentation of the conference.  My talk about finding the maiden names in your family is one of my most popular, and the room was pretty full.  Near the end of the talk, one of the suggestions I make as to why people change their names is to gain an inheritance.  A gentleman in attendance actually had an example of that from his own family, where the man writing the will included a provision requiring potential heirs to change their name to his if they wanted the bequest.  I asked him to contact me after the conference, because I would love to have an image of that will to include for the future.

Since none of the topics in the second time slot really grabbed my interest, I headed back to the Resource Room to see what other goodies I could find.  Along with being able to use ProQuest databases, several genealogical societies provide access to resources that are normally behind password-protected member areas.  I took advantage of the opportunity to obtain copies of several society journals/newsletters that I didn't have.  I left with a loaded flash drive and a satisfied smile.

Thursday was also my last volunteer mentoring session.  I was surprised and happy to see that someone who had been in my maiden names session actually followed through on her statement that she would see me later.  I helped her with several questions and then stayed an extra hour to be available, because for a while there was a back-up of people wanting assistance.

I did drag myself away for Alex Denysenko's talk about "Alternative Sources for Jewish Genealogy."  Even though he was approaching the idea from a Russian/Ukrainian perspective, it turned out that a lot of his "alternative" sources are the same types we use here in the United States, such as land records, passports and visas, voter registration lists, school records, and newspapers (hooray for newspapers!).  Some that were different were notary records (common in many locations in Europe), work registrations, Judenrat records, Extraordinary Commission records (unique to the former Soviet Union, I believe), land distribution in Poland, and debtors' lists.

The last session I attended on Thursday was Jane Neff Rollins' discussion of "Translation Tips for Foreign-language Documents."  Jane and I were both members of a short-lived APG special interest group for translators, and I definitely wanted to see her presentation and show support.  She provided a lot of good resources and discussed the pros and cons of using volunteer translators, trying to do it yourself, and paying for a professional.

Friday is the short day of the conference, with the "afterthought" sessions.  I've been scheduled in the last time slot, and I know what it's like to look at an empty room, so I make an effort to find talks to go to on the last day.  I lucked out and again was able to attend a talk that will be presented later this year for the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society.  Robinn Magid, an SFBAJGS member and the chair of next year's conference in San Diego, spoke about "American Jewish Family Clubs and Family Circles."  The impression I got was that most of these didn't have lots of documentation, but some of them are goldmines of genealogy information.  I know my family members used to get together, but I don't know if it was a formal "family club."  I doubt there's any paperwork to find, unfortunately.

And then I couldn't resist the siren call of the Resource Room and went back one more time to see what else I could discover.  This time I visited a different genealogical society's site and found several pieces of information about family members in its member area.  Another successful foray!

I had allowed some free time after the conference ended in case I found someone to talk with before I left for home.  I ran into a man who had gone to two of my talks, and we had a lively discussion about families and research for about an hour before he headed off to find lunch and then drive to Fort Wayne, Indiana for even more genealogy.  And as a coda to the conference, when my airport shuttle arrived, I was amazed to discover that the two people with whom I was riding recognized me because they had also gone to my presentations, each of them a different one.  So we talked even more about genealogy the entire way to Hopkins, barely letting the driver get a word in edgewise to ask us which airlines we were flying on.

I really love going to these conferences.  As the SFBAJGS president likes to say, who wouldn't want to be stuck in a hotel for a week with 1,000 other people equally obsessed about genealogy?  I can hardly wait until next year's conference, especially since I don't have to go east of the Rockies.  It isn't Cleveland's fault, but San Diego will probably have weather more to my liking.  And I won't even have to change time zones!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

IAJGS Cleveland: Tuesday and Wednesday

The best news about the IAJGS conference is that the temperature here in Cleveland has dropped quite a bit.  Today, for example, the high was only 79°, and there was even a breeze!  As I walk back and forth between my hotel and the conference hotel, I really appreciate that.

My Tuesday began slowly.  I hadn't been that enamored of any of the sessions in the first time slot, and I somehow just didn't manage to make it to even one.  Next, I wanted to go to Banai Feldstein's class on "Lesser Known Online Resources", but right before I was about to walk into the room, someone called out to me that she had something important for me.  It turned out that all she wanted to do was to introduce me to a new person in a local genealogical society, but by the time that had happened, I turned around and the room with Banai's session was already overflowing with people.  There was no way I was going to get in there.  I'm lucky that she (finally!) uploaded a handout to the conference site, so at least I have that now.

For lunch the Jewish genealogy bloggers got together.  We introduced ourselves, talked about our blogs, and generally had a great time hanging out with each other.  The only bad thing was that we were arranged in a not very comfortable fashion on some random seats in an open area.  Next year the blogger get-together coordinator said she just might break down and try to get us on the schedule for a regular room.

We look like a friendly bunch, don't we?

After lunch, I heard Jane Neff Rollins speak about the Clarion agricultural colony in Sanpete County, Utah in the early 1900's.  She used the colony as a way to demonstrate things to think about during research and reasons not to get into a research rut.  It was an interesting but sad story about the colony.  Most of the research suggestions she made were ones that I use regularly, but there were a couple I could think about more.

Then came my second presentation of the conference, apparently the only methods session that was scheduled.  I talked about why everyone should use source citations in their research, even when it's just your own database on your computer that you don't intend to share with anyone, and the various style guides available to help you construct those citations.  One of the points I emphasized was that if you already are familiar with a style guide, such as from college research or professional work, you will be much more likely to start doing citations if you just use that rather than force yourself to learn an entirely new style, such as one that is heavily pushed in some circles.  I consider it far more important to get the citations done, and that's more likely to happen if people feel they can use a tool they already know than try to convince them to do the citations in a style they will have to learn from scratch and therefore will put off doing.  Not only did it seem that attendees enjoyed the talk, one person came up at the end and specifically thanked me for my approach.  I have to admit, I felt pretty good about that.

My last learning opportunity of the day was Judy Baston's talk about "Documenting the Vilna Ghetto Library."  She is scheduled to give that presentation to the SFBAJGS later this year, but I won't be able to attend now that I live in Oregon, so I jumped at the chance to hear her.  It was fascinating to hear the history of the library and learn what documents existed in the Lithuanian archives regarding the library and its patrons.  I am constantly amazed to discover what types of material have survived and are available for researchers.

The last event of the day, however, was SFBAJGS attendees meeting up for our new tradition.  We try to get a photo of members at the conference to share online.  I think this time we have a total of about 18 members here.  We didn't manage to get everyone into one photo, but most of us have been captured for posterity.

Wednesday started with bouncing from one session to another.  In the first one, the speaker was pretty much reading from his handout, and that's never exciting, so I snuck out the back and went to Jennifer Mendelsohn's talk, "Think Like a Reporter."  While mostly a revisiting of several successful genealogy searches she has made, she did give several morsels of advice about how to approach research, not to rely on unsubstantiated information, and all-around good ideas.  Plus she is a very entertaining speaker!  So it was a lot of fun.

I went from there to the Resource Center, because Wednesday and Thursday at an IAJGS conference mean we have access to all the ProQuest databases, including the historical newspapers.  Woo hoo!  I found several little nuggets in newspapers, including the Minneapolis Tribune and the Chicago Tribune.  I was very happy with my new discoveries.

I had another group lunch on Wednesday.  This time it was for people who have finished or are currently going through the ProGen (Professional Genealogy) study group, which is set up for people who want to learn about how to be a good professional genealogist.  Getting together is good for networking and just to talk with other people who have similar interests.  Half a dozen of us had an enjoyable (and not horribly overpriced) lunch at the Hilton restaurant and got to know each other.

After lunch was another disappointing talk.  The speaker had very fractured English and poor spelling on his PowerPoint slides, plus the talk didn't really flow and was kind of like random thoughts strung together.  Plus, with a talk focused on an online site with records, he never included the URL.  And instead of lasting for an hour and fifteen minutes, the talk petered out at barely half an hour.  Oh, well, I had plenty of time to check my e-mail before the next session!

The next presenter wasn't very dynamic but was more on point with her subject.  I learned about the types of holdings that the Western Reserve Historical Society has, with an emphasis on Jewish records, of course.  One of the most interesting to me was the collection of records from the Bellefaire orphanage.  I remember helping someone research his family members who had been in the orphanage for some years.  At the time, I didn't know about the collection at the historical society.  Now I want to go back and find out who that research was for to see if these records might be of interest to him.

And the last item on my agenda for the day wasn't even for me, but for the SFBAJGS Webmistress.  As usual at the conferences, Banai Feldstein had scheduled a meeting for JGS Webmasters.  I try to go because Barbara doesn't usually attend the conferences.  This meeting didn't have any great revelations, but I covered the bases.

Now to rest up for Thursday and my last talk!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

My Uncle Gary

Gary Steve Meckler, February 12, 1951–July 24, 2019
Photo: Hot August Nights, Reno, Nevada, August 12, 2018


Last week, on July 24, my aunt called me to let me know that my uncle Gary had died that day.  He had been ill for some time, more than he had let on.

My mother was the oldest child, so both of her brothers were younger than she was.  Gary was the younger of the two, born seven years after his older brother and eleven years after my mother.  I asked my grandmother about that age gap once, and she admitted that Gary had been a little bit of a "surprise."

Gary's Hebrew names were Gershon Sholem.  Gershon was for his father's maternal grandfather (my great-great-grandfather), Gershon Itzhak Nowicki (Novitsky here in the United States).  Sholem is more complicated.  That was for his mother's sister-in-law's mother, Scheindel.

These are a few of my favorite memories of Gary.

My mother was close to her family, so my siblings and I grew up knowing her side of the family well.  Gary visited us several times while we lived in California.  He was kind of like an older brother for my brother, my sister, and me because the age difference wasn't that big.  He taught us to eat ketchup on our scrambled eggs and gave us the phrase, "You don't cheat fair!"

Gary even visited us while we lived in Australia.  He brought us a present, a book titled 101 Alphabets.  It was mostly alphabets in different fonts and styles, but one of the examples was the Greek alphabet.  So I learned the Greek alphabet when I was 10, because I thought it was pretty cool, and because my uncle gave us the book.  I think I still have the book.

One of my favorite photos of Gary is from when he was stationed in Vietnam with the U.S. Army.  I love snakes, and I still think this is a fantastic photo.  I don't know if Gary had a copy of this of his own, because when I posted it on my blog several years ago, he saved my digital copy and posted it to his Facebook page.

We will all miss Gary very much.

Monday, July 29, 2019

IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Cleveland, Ohio

So here I am in lovely Cleveland, Ohio.  I think it hit 89° today, with something like 90% humidity.  I really, really hate weather like this.  Then why have I come to Cleveland in July?  For genealogy, obviously!

Yesterday (Sunday) was the first day of this year's IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy.  It is the 39th conference, although it hasn't been held every year.  Even though it is Cleveland in July, I can deal with that more than I could the expense of last year's conference in Warsaw, so I'm glad I am able to attend.

I unfortunately had a late start on Sunday, so I missed both of the morning sessions, which was very disappointing.  I had particularly been looking forward to hearing Vivian Kahn's talk about Hungarian Jewish immigration into Cleveland, especially since both sides of her family lived there.  I did have an enjoyable time walking through the exhibitor hall, visiting vendors and many research groups that had tables for the afternoon.  The highlight of the day was the keynote address by Daniel Goldmark, Director of the Center for Popular Music Studies at Case Western Reserve University.  His presentation was about Jews in popular music, ranging from Sophie Tucker and Al Jolson to the Beastie Boys, Gene Simmons, and more.  He sometimes regretted playing snippets of songs, as most people in the audience started singing along almost immediately.  It might not have been the most genealogically oriented keynote I've heard at a conference, but it sure was fun!

I wrapped up the day with a meeting of Jewish genealogical society newsletter and journal editors.  I always try to schedule one for the conferences I attend.  This year we had six people representing five societies (and two people were unable to attend but spoke to me about the meeting).  As usual, it was a combination of networking, brainstorming, and kvetching.  There's still one society that does print only, with no electronic version of their publication.

Monday began with the first of my three presentations.  I was so happy that the first session of the day began at 9:15, instead of 7:30, as it was at one conference!  The topic was "Jewish Genealogy:  How Is This Research Different from All Other Research?"  Rather than being an introduction to genealogy, it focuses on the aspects of Jewish research that are unique and different from researching other groups.  About 50 people were in attendance, which was nice to see.  One of the attendees was a lovely woman who has been researching her family for 40 years but only recently discovered she has a Jewish line.  She and several others told me at the end that the talk was very helpful and informative, which I am always gratified to hear.

I went to the Belarus Special Interest Group meeting because the well known Miriam Weiner was scheduled to be the presenter.  I've never heard her speak before, so I don't know if today was surprising or not, but all she did was show how to use the Routes to Roots site.  On the positive side, I did get a copy of a 1937 map of Grodno, which will be helpful for research.

IAJGS offered its mentoring program again this year, where they ask speakers to volunteer some time to help attendees with research questions.  The mentoring area is really cramped this year, with a small number of tables and lots of volunteers, but I found a table with two attendees who came up with lots of questions for me.  They have several new avenues of research to work on now.

I was able to fit one DNA talk into my schedule.  It's the first time I've heard Bennett Greenspan of Family Tree DNA talk.  He is an entertaining speaker, even on the (somewhat boring) technical aspects of Y-DNA that were his topic.  I'm not sure if what I learned is going to necessarily help me in my research, but I do understand how the matches work much better.

For some local flavor (since I missed Vivian's talk), I next went to a session on the Jewish presence in central Ohio.  The presenters discussed Jewish immigration into the area beginning in the 1830's and going through Soviet Jewish immigration late in the 20th century, and showed images of many documents and artifacts held at Ohio History Connection and the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, including a mohel's record book covering 1873 to 1904.  Both repositories hold a wide range of items that would be helpful and beneficial to many genealogists researching their families.

Today ended with a get-together of professional genealogists who are at the conference.  We introduced ourselves, talked about our research specialties, and did a lot of networking.  One of the few (I think there are two?) Jewish Certified Genealogists was actually in attendance.  One topic that came up was how it would be beneficial for attendees at the IAJGS conference if there were more sessions on methods and foundational topics, rather than everthing being focused on Jewish genealogical topics.  It has been learned over the years that few people who attend IAJGS go to general conferences where they would learn more about those other topics.