Sunday, August 3, 2014

IAJGS Conference Wrap-up: Days 5 and 6 (only a little delayed)

As always, I had the best of intentions.  I was going to work on this post while I was waiting in the airport to return to California on Friday, and it would be all finished by the time I got back, so all I would need to do is upload it.  But apparently I looked suspicious when I was going through security at the airport, and I got the full-blown, take-you-to-the-side-room inspection.  They kept me so long I was in danger of being late for boarding my plane.  And when I did arrive, I was sucked back into my regular schedule immediately.  But there were some pretty good sessions (and no duds!) the last two days of the IAJGS conference, and I wanted to share the information.

The most interesting session for me from the final two days was the presentation on (but then again, I am the newspaper queen).  I have had some real frustration working on this site, so I was hoping there would be good information.  The speaker, Peter Drinkwater (who mentioned that he used to work for before it was bought by Ancestry), did a thorough job of going through the entire site, showing ways to search, options that are available, and generally explaining things very clearly.  Newspapers that are on Ancestry were brought over to, but they will also stay on Ancestry. has added many more papers and has some larger newspapers, such as Atlanta Constitution, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, and San Francisco Chronicle, albeit only for the years 1922 and earlier (the public domain years), but that makes the site a more approachable option then the ProQuest databases, which are institutional subscriptions only.  While most of the newspapers are from the United States, a smattering of papers are from Canada, the UK, Ireland, and Panama.  The newspapers on the site are scanned with OCR; Drinkwater did a good job of explaining how that works and the fact that the search database is just a big bunch of words.  One nice thing about the site is that you can register directly for a free account, with no need to give them a credit card number for a trial and then cancel.  Registering gives you better search results than if you search without signing in.  Another feature is that if you do have a subscription and later cancel/don't renew it, any clippings you have saved to your profile are still accessible.  Drinkwater invited attendees to submit suggestions of newspapers that the site could add and mentioned that they prefer to work with microfilm rather than printed newspapers, the latter being much more expensive to image digitally.  One think Drinkwater couldn't explain, however, was the decision to use so much space on the site to show the top half of a random issue of each newspaper in the list of newspapers available.  (As a side note, one of the attendees was someone who also does presentations on newspapers, though less focused on teaching others how to use them effectively; she mostly talks about her own family stories.  She made snide remarks throughout the presentation.  Near the end she commented about getting too many "false positives" when she did her searches, but amazingly enough Drinkwater was not able to replicate those results when he used her search term.)

We had a two-fer on Thursday and Friday.  Oleksiy and Nadia Lipes, a husband-and-wife research team from Ukraine, gave presentations on the types of Jewish genealogical records available in Ukrainian archives and on how documentation of Ukrainian pogroms that occurred between 1917–1921 can be used in genealogical research.  Some of the document types they showed examples of in the first session were metrical and rabbinical records, business reports, Soviet registration documents, census/revision lists, householder lists, tax books, refugee letters, passports, and notarial documents, and several types of documents related to pogroms in the second session.  So the good news is that lots of documents of many different types are available.  The bad news is that most of these are not indexed, so any research can take a long time.  But there is a wealth of information in the archives.

Other speakers I heard were Joel Spector, who showed the growth of the Jewish population in Russia by analyzing data through the 1897 census; Rony Golan, who talked about how to communicate better with Israeli researchers and relatives (in great measure to help promote next year's IAJGS meeting in Jerusalem); and Mike Karsen, who volunteered to help a friend tie up a loose end in his family research and ended up spending several few months tracking a woman acquitted in a Chicago murder trial across the country and through several marriages.

Oh, yeah, and my talk on searching for maiden names was on Friday morning. :)  I was pleasantly surprised that I had about 40 people attend my presentation.  I figured between my talk being in the last time slot on the last day of the conference, and the scheduled tour of happening at the same time, I was going to have half a dozen people show up.  But everything went well, attendees asked some good questions, and someone suggested an excellent resource I'll add to the presentation the next time I give it.  So it was a great finale for the conference.

I don't think I'll be able to go to next year's conference, unfortunately; it's probably a little more than I can afford.  I hope everyone who attends has a great time, though.  I'm thinking ahead to 2016, when the conference will be in Seattle.  That's just up the West Coast from me!

Earlier commentaries on the conference:
Days 1 and 2
Days 3 and 4

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