Saturday, August 13, 2016

IAJGS 2016 — Conference Wrap-up and Looking Ahead

How time flies!  It's hard to believe, but the IAJGS 2016 International Conference on Jewish Genealogy is already over.  The second half of the conference had several useful sessions, plus we had not one, but two days of ProQuest databases (but more on that later).

Wednesday was a good day for some socializing.  One of the sessions I attended was the Professional Jewish Genealogists Birds of a Feather meeting.  The professional genealogists at the conference try to get together to talk about what’s going on in our field, how we can help each other, and things along those lines. About a dozen people came, and we had some productive discussions.  Then for lunch, three of us at the conference who have participated in the ProGen Study Group (Susan Kaplan, Janice Lovelace, and me) actually went out of the hotel (!) and had lunch together, in a real restaurant, no less.   It was an enjoyable break.

From the regular sessions I went to, I was surprised that the one I found most informative was on  I’ve been to one of the talks before (a thinly veiled sales pitch), but I always want to keep up-to-date on what’s happening with digitized newspapers.  I learned that for its new digitization efforts Ancestry has partnered with ProQuest, and this time it’s better for the newspaper publishers than in previous times.  Publishers actually get a copy of the digitized papers, which apparently didn’t always happen before.  I remember the sad experience I had trying to find the Poughkeepsie Journal online after it was dropped from Fold3.  It was digitized by ProQuest, and when the online agreement expired, the Journal didn’t even have a copy of the images of its own paper.  With the new agreements that apparently shouldn’t happen to other publishers.

Wednesday was also ProQuest database day in the resource room, which I always look forward to.  For several years the conference has been able to arrange access to many ProQuest databases for attendees.  Along with about 40 historical newspaper databases, some of which I had not seen at previous conferences — Austin American Statesman, Boston Globe, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, South China Morning Post — there was a database I hadn't heard of before, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.  I had a field day!  I found files and reports about Jewish, Japanese, Chinese, and Sikh immigration into Ellis Island, oral interviews from 185 people who had immigrated through Ellis Island or worked there, even a series on INS investigations into prostitution and white slavery.

Thursday morning started far too early for my taste.  Because my talk was at 7:30, which I wasn’t happy about to begin with, Emily Garber organized a bloggers breakfast for 6:30(!).  I actually managed to get there early, which meant I had time for a nice cup of Earl Grey before everyone else arrived, and I was almost awake.  It’s nice to see people in person with whom you normally interact only in cyberspace, so it was worthwhile to be there.

I had been joking all conference that I was expecting about five people to show up for my 7:30 talk about the research I have done on my Cuban cousins.  I admit, it's a pretty narrow topic.  I was so happy to see thirteen people there!  My talk went well, although I finished sooner than I had expected, for which I apologized.  There were several questions afterward, though, and everyone seemed to enjoy it, so I think it was successful.

After my talk I was finally awake enough to notice that there were signs around saying that we had an additional day of ProQuest database access.  Yippee!  I was able to download the remaining oral interviews I hadn't had time for on Wednesday, plus find some additional newspaper articles.  ProQuest has never given us an extra day before, so this was a great treat.

Judy Russell’s presentation about being an ethical genealogist was straightforward:  Her three rules are tell the truth, play nice with others, and don’t tell tales out of school.   If you keep those in mind when you’re doing your research, sharing information with others, and posting family info online, everything should pretty much be fine.  That seems like a good approach for genealogy to me!

One big negative on Thursday was the session that was really nothing more than a sales pitch for research services.  The substantive information was easily shared in less than two minutes; everything else after that was the pitch (in a 75-minute session).  Someone not at the conference suggested to me that maybe what we need are to have some presentations clearly labeled as “vendor sessions.”

Friday morning, the last day of the conference, is always a mixed bag.  Many attendees leave the conference early, and sessions tend to be small.  I’m sure it’s difficult to decide what to schedule for those conditions.  A talk about proving the Jewish ancestry of a Catholic family was short on documentation (as in, none was shown) and lasted only 25 minutes.  Judy Russell spoke about some situations in which DNA has been used successfully when documentation did not exist.  And in the last time slot of the day, Michael Strauss gave an interesting presentation on the life and family of Levi Strauss (who is no relation, as he pointed out).  And then everyone began saying their good-byes and drifting away as they headed home.

I caught the end of one additional session on Friday, where two of the organizers of the IAJGS 2017 conference were seeking input on what attendees liked and didn't like this year and what they would like to see next year.  I heard some people say they have already decided they don’t plan to attend next year’s conference, which will take place July 23–28 in Orlando, Florida, the first time the conference will be held in the South.  While I agree that Florida in July is not exactly my idea of perfect weather conditions, I do hope to be at the conference.  Some research areas the organizers plan to emphasize are Jewish life in the South and in Colonial America.  Now I have an incentive to push myself to prove that the Daniel Joseph I have been researching in 1760’s Virginia is indeed the brother of Israel Joseph, a big macher in the Jewish community of Charleston, South Carolina.  I better get back to work on that research!

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