The popular TV show Who Do You Think You Are, in which expert genealogists assist well-known personalities to trace their roots in a variety of countries, has kindled a great interest in genealogy over the past few years.
Since the advent of the Internet and our friend, Google, genealogy has become one of the most popular hobbies today. Simply by sitting at your home computer/laptop/tablet, you can uncover a myriad of information about your ancestors – and find living relatives you never knew you had. You may not want to know these relatives once you find them – but we won't go into that now!
Through millions of websites, depending on your roots, you can trace your family back many hundreds of years. Genealogy is a most fascinating, even obsessive, hobby. I have been dabbling for about 15 years now, and apart from the excitement in finding family records in Poland and elsewhere, my knowledge of history and geography has increased enormously.
THIS year in Jerusalem
Not many organizations have large conferences every year, attracting hundreds of delegates each time. The International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies (IAJGS) is one of them. Most years, the conference is held in various cities in the USA. The last one in Israel was in 2004 – and this coming July (6th-10th), at the Ramada Hotel, Jerusalem we, in the Israeli genealogy community, are excited to be hosting this year's conference http://www.iajgs.org/blog/.
Wide variety of topics
The conference will hold numerous lecture tracks throughout each day, with nearly 200 expert guest lecturers covering Jewish research in countries around the globe including the United States, Eastern and Western Europe, South Africa, Israel, Tuscany, Casablanca, Ethiopia, India – and more. A truly round the world experience.
Other topics will include various aspects of the Holocaust, and computer workshops will show how best to use all the latest technological resources on the world-wide-web.
Visits are being arranged to Yad Vashem, the National Library, Central Zionist Archives and the Central Archives of the History of the Jewish People, where experts will help conference attendees with their research. In addition, there is a full program of tours and site visits.
If you don't want to commit to the whole week, you can register for individual days – when there are lectures and activities that specifically interest you.
But the best part of this conference, as with any other – is meeting and mingling with people. You may just find someone with the same name as you, or someone researching families from your shtetl; you must be relatives! Seasoned researchers often come up against the proverbial brick wall. If someone else looks through your research notes, they may just find something you have overlooked.
There are separate gatherings of people from various areas: Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and Birds of a Feather (BOF)….and on these occasions, all sorts of exciting things can happen. There might be someone who is the spitting image of one of your relatives - then starts the exciting detective trail.
DNA testing has caused somewhat of a revolution in the genealogy world in the past few years – a simple test can prove if you are indeed related (and how close that relationship is). All you need is a DNA kit. You wipe the inside of your cheek with the special brush provided, send it off to be analyzed, and before you know it, you'll be receiving emails with possible matches.
And that is exactly how we discovered that my husband, Michael, was related to one Jan Rochverger, aged 95 (now 99!) living in Warsaw. We were 'discovered' by Jan's granddaughter, also living in Poland. She came to Israel on a visit, and I gave her a DNA kit for her grandfather. Michael also tested – and the results came back – a perfect match. We have not yet been able to find the common ancestor to complete our family trees, but who knows, this year in Jerusalem maybe we will.
If you haven't yet started dabbling with genealogy, I suggest you start by browsing through the main website for Jewish genealogists – www.jewishgen.org – and don't be surprised if you suddenly find it's 3am!
Come, join us in Jerusalem.