Tuesday, August 9, 2016

IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy 2016 — Already Halfway Done!

I'm attending the IAJGS Jewish genealogy conference in beautiful Seattle, and it has certainly been an interesting three days.  The highlight of Sunday's presentations was, by far, the keynote address by Dr. Devin Naar, "Sephardic Family History as Jewish Family History."  He talked about how he became interested in family history when he was young and began serious research when someone sent him information about another family named Naar, wondering if they were related.  He traced the other family backward from New Jersey to the Caribbean, Netherlands, and eventually Portugal and Spain.  He has learned much more concrete information about the other Naar family than his own, unfortunately.  Though it is almost definite that his Greek Naar family came from Spain and is probably connected, he can't trace his family out of Greece, primarily due to a lack of records.  He integrated the stories of both families into the broader scope of world history, explaining events that affected them.  He even clearly explained the difference between Ladino and Spanish, which I have been wondering about for a while.  The fact that he is still stuck on his own family made his journey that much more realistic, because everything wasn't all wrapped up in a neat, pretty package at the end.  And he was an energetic, enthusiastic speaker.  I suspect his students at the University of Washington enjoy his classes a lot.

The most memorable line of his talk, however, wasn't actually about his research.  It was a translation of a Ladino saying:  the "relative of the heel." This is someone who is probably related to you, but you don't quite know what the relationship is, or he might be a distant relation, or perhaps an in-law of an in-law, or might really just be an old, old friend of the family with no blood connection at all.  It reminded me of Jeremy Frankel (the president of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society) and the "tenuously, absurdly distant" cousins he writes to, hoping that they have a photo or some snippet of information about the family.

On Monday I tended to a fair bit of business.  I went to a media lunch talk with the IAJGS president and other bloggers, a "birds of a feather" meeting for volunteers working with the JewishGen Yizkor Book Project, and the JGS Webmaster roundtable (standing in for the SFBAJGS Webmaster, who was not able to attend the conference).  But I was able to make time to see the documentary Havana Nagila:  The Jews of Cuba, which I really thought I should squeeze in, seeing as how my talk at this conference is about the research I did on my Cuban Jewish cousins.  It was an interesting movie, especially because it's more than 20 years old at this point.  I even recognized some of the people and locations from my visit to Havana last July.

Tuesday brought more variety to my schedule.  Two sessions I attended were all about research, in Australia and New Zealand (by Robyn Dryen, she of the oh-so-dry sense of humor) and in the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC, or "the Joint") archives.  My cousin's mother was from Australia, and I still want to hunt down some information on that branch.  And the Joint assisted so many people, I'm convinced I have to be able to find something on someone in my family.

Tuesday was also when I had consultations with representatives from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem, who brought laptops with specialized databases not available online.  Now that I know the names of more of my relatives who perished in the Holocaust, I was hoping to find documents about them.  There might be something in the ITS holdings for Maishe Eli Szocherman, who died in Auschwitz, but none of the other names appeared in any of the databases.  This means I have several names for which I need to submit Pages of Testimony.

Most of the intrepid SFBAJGS attendees
Of course, the conference is always a wonderful opportunity to network and see other genealogists in person.  In addition to the 40+ members of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society who traveled north for the conference, I've talked to Maris Bredt, Schelly Dardashti, Banai Feldstein, Emily Garber, Roger Lustig, Jeff Malka, Jeff Miller, Israel Pickholtz, Garri Regev, Mary Roddy, Janette Silverman, Joel Spector, Susan Weinberg, and Joel Weintraub, along with several others.  And there are still three days to go!

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