Monday, July 24, 2017

IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Florida (in July!)

Here I am at the 37th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, in Orlando, Florida.  (Who schedules a conference in Orlando in July?)  As expected, it's miserably humid, but the air conditioning in the hotel is working perfectly.  (Some attendees think it's too cold, but I'm very comfortable.)  As I told everyone before the conference started, people in Florida take their air conditioning seriously.

The conference started bright and early Sunday morning.  The first session I attended was "Outreach for Societies and Organization Leaders", one of a series of eleven, running through the conference, aimed at genealogical societies.  Outreach has been one of the issues lately for my society, so I headed over there.  I got some good ideas and a handy worksheet to take home and discuss with my board.

I'm giving five talks here at the conference, the most I've ever been scheduled for.  I'm very happy to say that they are spread out over the conference, with only one on a given day.  The first one was "Jewish Genealogy:  How Is This Research Different from All Other Research?", on Sunday.  After two time changes, it ended up at 4:30 in the afternoon (which was much better than the original 7:30!).  I'm happy to say it went very well, with several good questions from attendees.  One woman found me on Monday to let me know that the talk helped her knock down a brick wall!

Talks by Mark Fearer, on immigration laws and documentation, and Banai Lynn Feldstein, on her new Crowd Sourced Indexing, rounded out the afternoon for me.  Then, before the evening keynote, I attended the IAJGS presidents' reception for the first time, standing in for the real SFBAJGS president, who had decided he didn't want to go to Florida in July.  It was great to network with everyone, but I was very surprised to discover that the light snacks provided were not kosher and that there was no kosher option for observant attendees.  That seemed to be a significant oversight (or blunder, depending on your perspective).

The keynote was great.  Robert Watson of Lynn University gave an entertaining, informative talk about Alexander Hamilton and his relationship to Jews and the American Revolution.  Apparently Hamilton has been a favorite historical subject of Watson's for some years, and now I know a lot more about the "bastard orphaned son of a whore and a drunken Scotsman."  Since I have not seen the musical Hamilton, I learned on Sunday that Hamilton was taken in by the Jewish community of Nevis after he was orphaned for the second (or was it third?) time.  There he learned to speak Hebrew, to add to the seven languages he already knew.  Apparently Hamilton, who was incredibly intelligent and a prodigy when he was young, wrote a significant number of George Washington's speeches and letters, including many of the latter sent to Jewish congregations around the United States.  Watson was a wonderful speaker; it was easy to see why he was twice named Teacher of the Year by students at Lynn.

Monday started out far too early (7:00 a.m.!) at a breakfast hosted by FamilySearch, which is working on finding and digitizing ever more records.  The meeting was held to reach out to researchers in the Jewish genealogical community to help identify records of interest.  I'm hoping something can be worked out for records from the Jewish Cuban community.

I tried going to some talks in the morning, but I abandoned one after the speaker spent the first 15 minutes talking about personal reminiscences rather than the stated topic, and another when the speaker used words of one syllable and enunciated everything as though he were talking to kindergarteners.  (I know, I'm so fussy.)  Then I headed off to the IAJGS Media Lunch, where several bloggers, tweeters, and others discussed ways to help publicize next year's IAJGS conference in Warsaw, how Jewish genealogical societies can take advantage of social media, and how International Jewish Genealogy Month can be updated to become a more effective outreach tool.

In the afternoon I learned about finding Israeli burial data from Daniel Horowitz, then went to a talk purported to be about one thing but that actually ended up promoting a Web site.  That was . . . disappointing.  I left early and spent the rest of the afternoon in the new "mentoring" area, helping people who came by looking for research advice.

The evening wrapped up with two presentations.  Dr. Alexander Beider, who is well known in Jewish genealogy for the many books he has written on Jewish names, spoke about the historical, linguistic, and onomastic facts supporting the commonly accepted theory that Eastern European Jews migrated there from Western Europe.  That talk was followed by Dr. Harry Ostrer discussing the genetic evidence that supports the same theory.  It was quite an interesting evening, and I think I'm going to somehow find the money to buy Dr. Beider's book about Yiddish dialects.  Once a language geek, always a language geek.

My commentary on days 3 and 4 of the conference is here, and that for days 5 and 6 is here.

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