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.

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


  1. I am also at this conference in Cleveland. (I also chose not to attend Warsaw for similar reasons.) I am a semi-professional based in Canada.
    I would like to make an observation about the lack of foundational topics at this series of IAJGS conferences. Because half of my ancestry is non-Jewish, I have also spread my conference attendances over to more general and more regional events. I have been to two Rootstech (inc the first) and one FGS conf, as well as all the Nearby Ontario conferences for many decades.

    I think the absence can be explained by the tendency to include what I call more romantic (and sentimental) topics. Obviously the Shoah influences those selections also. There may also be a tendency to think that the "need" to have such specialized toopics in the IAJGS conf, leads the organizers to think that the audience can get their foundational topics somewhere else.

    Being who I am, I am quite disinterested in local topics (about Cleveland folks for example), but I understand the politics of inviting the local organizers to have a larger platform for their own dearly loved topics based upon their local knowledge.

    1. Thanks for your comments. It's good to hear another perspective on the topic of foundational sessions.

      I agree with you about the politics of having so many local subjects, but I'm not sure the practice serves the conferences well. Someone at the professionals' meeting on Sunday pointed out to me that my talk on citations (which was Tuesday afternoon) was the only foundational session at the conference.


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