Events 2009

Lithuanian Records Project
Joel Ratner, Sunday, January 4       icons-audio

One of the largest genealogical databases compiled in recent years is the All-Lithuania Database, containing more than half a million records of Litvak ancestors. This talk will describe the continuing efforts to procure, translate, and make available vital records (birth, death, marriage, and divorce), census records, tax and voters lists, candle and box tax lists, etc.Joel Ratner has been responsible for the LitvakSIG Vital Records Translation Project since 2004. This project’s goal is to translate records that the Mormon Church microfilmed as part of its worldwide ancestry endeavors. Joel Ratner was also the Vilna District coordinator for the LitvakSIG Research Group from 1998 to 2006. LitvakSIG can be accessed at

Problem Solving with Experts in Jewish Genealogy
Sunday, February 1   


Problem solve with our “experts.” Learn how to get started or get over that “brick wall” in your family research. Visit various roundtables, some with computers connected to the Internet for online research.

Included are tables dedicated to the following topics:

  • Immigration, Naturalization and Vital Records
  • Getting started with Jewish genealogy (e.g., using the JewishGen and Steve Morse websites)
  • Holocaust research (e.g., using the Internet and Transport Books)
  • Austria-Czech Roundtable
  • Galicia Roundtable
  • German Roundtable
  • Lithuania Vital Records
  • Moldova/Bessarabia Roundtable
  • Polish Roundtable
  • Ukraine Roundtable
  • Translation of foreign-language documents (e.g., Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, German, Russian)

Genealogical reference materials will be available for perusal. So bring in your research questions and your foreign documents for translation.

If you want help at the meeting in obtaining information about a relative, please try to have at least their name and their date and place of birth.

Film – Who Do You Think You Are, Natasha Kaplinsky
Sunday, March 1   

Natasha Kaplinsky Traces Her RootsThis film is from the BBC family history documentary series that follows celebrities as they trace their roots. The subject of this particular episode is Natasha Kaplinsky, a BBC newscaster, whose paternal line descends from Poland by way of South Africa.

The film portrays the ups and downs of a genealogical search from an initial curiosity about why her family never spoke of this Eastern European background, through the process of interviewing family, going to archives, and visiting people and places in Poland. As is not atypical in family history research, surprises pop up, and there is an appreciation of the impact world events have on individuals, and how they reverberate through the generations.  In Kaplinsky’s case, one example is that she learns that her great-uncle survived the Holocaust as a member of the Bielsky Brothers resistance in the forests of Poland (the subject of the newly-released movie, Defiance !).

After the film showing, experienced researchers will field questions about research methods.

Genealogical Research in Israel
Michael Goldstein, Sunday, April 19        icons-audio

Jewish genealogists around the globe seek information about their ancestors, yet few realize that one of the greatest sources for research lies in Israel. It is not generally known that Israeli archives and internet sites have amassed collections of historical and contemporary information about Jews from around the world, including Poland, Russia, Spain and China. Furthermore, recent advances have been made in facilitating access to this data and finding Israeli family.

This presentation will offer general guidelines about contacting and accessing Israeli archives.  Interesting case studies will be shared on how family mysteries were solved by accessing some lesser-known Israeli archives. Archives to be discussed include shtetl tax rolls, migration records from Galicia to New York, ketubot from the world over, Polish vital records, Yad Vashem resources, and even data on assets owned by ancestors who never left Russia.

Michael Goldstein, the featured speaker, is a Jerusalem-based genealogist who carries out worldwide Jewish research and guides North Americans in locating and connecting with their Israeli family. He is the current president of the Israel Genealogical Society, as well as a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists.

Michael’s Handout

Everyday Jewish Life in the Russian Empire
ChaeRan Freeze, Sunday, May 3        icons-audio

C FreezeChaeRan Freeze’s talk will examine everyday Jewish life in tsarist Russia as a site of interaction with modernity, where Jews confronted the unfamiliar and negotiated their environment in strategic and creative ways. She will present several fascinating archival documents from the former Soviet Union and rabbinical responsa that reveal the daily struggles of ordinary Jews as they confronted changes in the areas of family life, religion, sexuality, and health. The discussion will also reveal how to find new sources for genealogy that go beyond vital records and census materials, and highlight the rich diversity of the Jewish experience in the Russian Empire.

ChaeRan Freeze is an Associate Professor in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department and Women’s and Gender Studies program at Brandeis University. She has focused her research on the history and culture of the Jews in Russia, Jewish family history, and women’s and gender studies. She is the author of Jewish Marriage and Divorce in Imperial Russia, which received the Salo Baron Award for the Best First Book in Jewish Studies. She also edited Polin: Jewish Women in Eastern Europe with Paula Hyman and Antony Polonsky. She is currently finishing her book, Everyday Jewish Life in Imperial Russia, 1825-1914: Select Documents (coauthored with Jay Harris, 2010) and working on her second monograph, Sex and the Shtetl: Gender, Family, and Jewish Sexuality in Tsarist Russia.

Advanced Googling for Genealogists: The Many Features of Google Beyond Search
Michael Marx, Sunday, June 14        icons-audio

M Marx Last year Mr. Marx presented advanced search techniques that make Google searches more relevant and more efficient. His current talk continues the “advanced Googling” theme and introduces other features and tools Google offers to aid your genealogy research. For example, he will demonstrate how to find photographs and images of your ancestral town, get maps for towns and regions of interest, connect with other researchers with similar interests, find unique resource materials which can be downloaded, and some of the new tools and finding aids coming out of Google Labs that allow you to customize Google to your specific interests.

Marx has been researching his German roots since 2001 and can now trace his ancestors back to the mid- 1600. Much of his success has come from searching the World Wide Web, and his primary tool has been Google. He is the treasurer of the JGSGB.

The Ellis Island Experience
Vincent Cannato, Sunday, September 13        icons-audio

Vincent CannatoWere immigrants’ names changed at Ellis Island? Professor Vincent J. Cannato will discuss whether this is fact or fiction at the kick-off meeting for this season’s programs. Professor Cannato’s presentation on the Ellis Island immigration experience will pay special attention to the experiences of Jewish immigrants.

Professor Cannato will discuss why such an inspection station was created in 1892 on a small island in New York Harbor and how America’s immigration law evolved during this period. He will explain the inspection process and the reasons that some immigrants were excluded. Copies of Professor Cannato’s new book, “American Passage: The History of Ellis Island,” will be available for sale and signing following his talk.

Vincent Cannato teaches history at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and is the author of The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.


DNA for Genealogy
Jay Sage, Sunday, Oct 18       icons-audio

Jay Sage will discuss how genetic testing can be used for genealogical research. The cost of DNA testing has fallen at such a remarkable pace that companies are now offering tests at prices that individuals can afford. The talk will begin with just enough of an overview of the biochemical basis of human genetics to allow understanding of how DNA testing is used for genealogy and what can and cannot be learned from it. He will then describe how the testing is done, how much it costs, and how to interpret the reported results.

Besides being a passionate genealogist who has used DNA testing in his own research, Jay had a fleeting personal connection with early DNA research, having spent a summer in graduate school working on a biochemistry project in the laboratory of Walter Gilbert — his physics professor turned biochemist — who later received the Nobel Prize for advances in DNA sequencing.


Culture Wars: Litvaks vs. Galizianers in Eastern Europe
Zvi Gitelman, Thursday, November 12    


Zvi GitelmanEastern Europe, home to 80% of American Jews, was an area of diverse religious practices, political ideologies, Yiddish pronunciation, foods, customs, and dress. Some of this diversity carried over to America, but it has faded in the post-immigrant generations. This talk will explore the differences among Eastern European Jews and the stereotypes to which they gave rise, illustrating the richness and vitality of a civilization that continues to inform Jewish life in Europe, the Americas and Israel.

Professor Zvi Gitelman is the Tisch Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan where he has won major teaching awards. Professor Gitelman also served as Director of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and Director of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University. He is the author of Ethnicity or Religion? The Evolution of Jewish Identities, and A Century of Ambivalence: The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union since 1881. He has written or edited 14 books and written over 100 articles.

A Century of Ambivalence: Jews, Soviets and Russians
Zvi Gitelman, Sunday, November 15        icons-audio

Zvi GitelmanDuring the course of a century or more, Russian Jewry experienced pogroms, two World Wars, two revolutions, purges, Communism, the Holocaust and Stalin’s anti-Semitism, but also experienced unprecedented social, political and vocational mobility. Who were these Russian Jews? Prior to the 19th century, they were Polish, Lithuanian and Eastern European Jews until the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was carved up by its more powerful neighbors. In 1900, 5.2 million Jews lived in the Soviet Empire; today, they number about 500,000.

Professor Zvi Gitelman is the Tisch Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan where he has won major teaching awards. Professor Gitelman also served as Director of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and Director of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University. He is the author of Ethnicity or Religion? The Evolution of Jewish Identities, and A Century of Ambivalence: The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union since 1881. He has written or edited 14 books and written over 100 articles.


Finding Your Ancestors in Polish Records
Fay Bussgang, Sunday, Dec 6        icons-audio

Fay BussgangFay Bussgang will describe what records exist in Poland for genealogical research, what they look like, and how you can access them.

More American Jews have roots in Poland than in any other country. The Poles kept very good track of their citizens through metrical records (birth, marriage, and death records), population registers, and other documents. While many of these records were destroyed during the war, a surprising number has survived and can be found in Polish Archives, even for the localities no longer in Poland. Many of these records are now accessible through the Internet.

Ms. Bussgang has authored over 20 articles published in genealogical journals, as well as the “Russian Poland” section of the Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy. She and her Polish-born husband, Julian, have done extensive genealogical research during twelve trips to Poland. They have also translated two volumes of war-time accounts of child survivors still living in Poland. Ms. Bussgang served as co-president of the JGS of Greater Boston 1998–2000.


Jacob’s Cane
Elisa New, Sunday, Dec 13    

The JGSGB co-sponsored a lecture with Hebrew College by Elisa New on her recently published memoir –  Jacob’s Cane: A Jewish Family’s Journey from the Four Lands of Lithuania to the Ports of London and Baltimore, A Memoir in Five Generations (Basic Books 2009).

Elisa New, a Professor of English at Harvard University, traces the paths of her ancestors and captures the rich texture of life on several continents as her family searches to establish itself in the tobacco trade. She discovers an immigrant world profoundly affected by modern German culture, from the Enlightenment through the Holocaust.