Events 2010

Forensic Genealogy: Uncovering Hoaxes, Confirming Truths
Sharon Sergeant, January 17      icons-audio

This program discusses how the genealogical research methods and skills—that we are used to thinking of for creating family trees and family histories—are also used in “detective” situations: uncovering frauds and hoaxes, or establishing historical truths. The speaker uses examples from two cases she worked on that were widely reported in the press: “Misha the Wolf Girl” and “Angel at the Fence.”

Sharon Sergeant received international acclaim for exposing the Misha Defonseca “Jewish hidden child aided by wolves” and Herman Rosenblat “apple over the fence” Holocaust frauds. As an adjunct professor at Boston University Sharon Sergeant created the Problem Solving Techniques and Technology module in the genealogical professional development program. She combines technology and the Genealogy Proof Standard methods to research both modern and antiquarian records. Sharon has published in the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly, the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, and the PI magazine. Sharon has served as Program Director for local and regional genealogical societies.

Who Do You think You Are; Zoë Wanamaker
Film at Needham Library, February 7   


This film is from the BBC family history documentary series that follows celebrities as they trace their roots.

Here’s what they have to say:
Zoë Wanamaker was born in New York, but when she was three her father, American actor Sam Wanamaker, fled to the UK to escape the anti-communist McCarthy witch-hunts. Hoping to better understand her father’s decision, Zoë heads to Washington DC where she visits the FBI headquarters. Here, under the Freedom of Information Act, Zoë gains access to her father’s FBI file, an extraordinary document that reveals the level of scrutiny Sam was under and the very real risk of imprisonment he faced.

Wanting to explore the roots of her father’s left-wing politics, Zoë next looks into the life of her father’s father Maurice Wanamaker, an émigré Russian Jew. Zoë is moved to discover that, soon after his arrival in Chicago, Maurice suffered a series of personal tragedies and hardships that almost destroyed his American dream.

Finally, Zoë travels to Nikolaev in Ukraine where she discovers the original form of her unusual surname and the reason why her family left for America.

Problem Solving with Experts: A Research Session
February 21   


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 (using the JewishGen and Steve Morse websites)
  • Holocaust research (using the Internet)
  • Austria-Czech Roundtable
  • Galicia Roundtable
  • Lithuania 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.

Mapping Madness: Historical Maps (Ron Arons) and Google Earth (Jay Sage)
March 14       icons-audio


Ron AronsMr. Arons’s presentation will discuss websites that provide a broad range of historical maps, basic and advanced features of Google, and Microsoft’s internet-based mapping facilities ( and, and  lesser known mapping facilities provided by, Microsoft’s MapCruncher, and IBM’s Many Eyes.Mr. Sage’s presentation will discuss Google Earth, web-based software and data that provides an amazing high-resolution, three-dimensional model of the Earth based on satellite and aerial photographs, and how it can be used to map one’s family history.
Jay SageRon Arons has spoken at several international conferences on a variety of genealogy topics. He appeared in the PBS TV series The Jewish Americans to discuss Jewish criminals of New York’s Lower East Side and published The Jews of Sing Sing  in 2008.

Jay Sage is a former president of the Society, current co-editor of the Society’s journal, Mass-Pocha, and has given lectures at international and local conferences.

Sephardic Jewry after the Expulsion from Spain (Jonathan Decter) and Tracing Family to 13th Century Spain (Daniel Laby)…
April 25        icons-audio


Jonathan DectorSephardic Jewry after the Expulsion from Spain: Professor Jonathan Decter will talk about the Sephardi migration after 1492 – to Portugal, the Ottoman Empire, Europe, and the Americas, including Eastern and Central Europe. He will discuss intellectual and economic connections across the Sephardi Diaspora, and the nature of Sephardi identity.Jonathan Decter is Associate Professor and the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Sephardic Studies in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. His first book, Iberian Jewish Literature: Between al-Andalus and Christain Europe, won the Salo W. Baron prize for best first book in Judaic Studies, 2007. His research interests include Medieval Hebrew literature, Judeo-Arabic and Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jewry.

Daniel Laby Tracing family to 13th century Spain: Dr. Daniel Laby will describe his quest to trace his Laby- De La Caballeria family. Using both modern (DNA) and classical methods (microfilms), he was able to follow the trail from western Massachusetts and New York’s Lower East Side all the way back to the Ottoman Empire and pre-inquisition Spain.

Daniel Laby is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and is a specialist in Sports Vision working with the Boston Red Sox as well as several other professional and Olympic teams. Predating his medical practice, and of almost equal passion, is his search for his family. Using both modern (DNA analysis) as well as more classical methods (pouring over reels of microfilm), Dr. Laby has traced one branch of his family to pre-inquisition Spain in the 13th century.

Finding your Ancestors in Lithuanian Records
Deena Berton, May 23       icons-audio


Deena BertonDeena Berton will describe what records exist in Lithuania for genealogical research, what they look like, and how you can access them. Ms. Berton will also explain what LitvakSIG does, how it is organized, and give a tour of the new website of LitvakSIG. LitvakSIG is the primary internet resource for Lithuanian-Jewish research, whose mission is to preserve Litvak heritage by discovering, collecting, documenting, and disseminating information about the once vibrant Jewish community of Lithuania before its destruction in the Holocaust. Besides Independent Lithuania (1919-1940), the geographic coverage is the larger Lithuania from the Russian Empire Period (1795-1919, including a number of shtetls now in Belarus and Poland.Ms. Berton is on the Board of Directors of LitvakSig, and has extensively traveled to Lithuania and been active in acquiring data from local archives.

Jacob’s Cane
Elisa New, June 13      icons-audio

Elisa NewJacob’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.

Drawn to an image of her great-grandfather’s ornately carved cane, scholar Elisa New embarked on a journey to discover the origins of her precious family heirloom. Following the paths of her ancestors, she traveled from Baltimore to the Baltic to London in order to find and understand an immigrant world profoundly affected by modern German culture, from the Enlightenment through the Holocaust.

Elisa New is a professor of English at Harvard. Her quest to uncover her family history is described in her book “Jacob’s Cane: A Jewish Family’s Journey from the Four Lands of Lithuania to the Ports of London and Baltimore.”

New York Research: Not Everything is Online
Steve Siegel October 3       icons-audio

Steve SiegelAlthough New York genealogical resources are extensive and many can be searched online, locating New York documents in a maze of repositories and websites can be confusing even to a knowledgeable family historian. The 1898 expansion of New York City from Manhattan and The Bronx into a municipality comprising five boroughs and four – later five – counties led to record-keeping challenges that still perplex today’s researchers. Two federal court districts have jurisdiction over the city and its suburban counties, and New York’s role as the country’s major port of entry produced documents that often point to an immigrant’s place of origin. Steven Siegel, an experienced genealogist and archivist, and a founder and past president of the New York JGS, will offer practical advice for navigating New York’s archival treasures and finding the connections between documents that illustrate a family’s history.

Steven Siegel was library director and archivist at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA in Manhattan for 31 years until his recent retirement. He initiated and organized the annual Family History Fair (1990-2005) during New York Archives Week. He is a past president of the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York and the 2004 recipient of the Round Table’s Award for Archival Achievement. He is president of the Jewish Historical Society of New York, serves on the Jewish Book Council Board of Directors, and is a member of the Cornell Hillel Board of Trustees and the Cornell University Council. Steve was a founder of the New York JGS and its president from 1985 to 1989, and he continues to serve on the JGS board. He has been doing genealogical research for more than 40 years, with a focus on Jewish genealogy, Jewish archival sources, and New York City local history. Steve was co-founder and co-editor of Toledot: The Journal of Jewish Genealogy (1977-1982) and compiled the Archival Resources volume of Jewish Immigrants of the Nazi Period in the USA (1978).

The Nature and Consequences of Jewish Migration
Zvi Gitelman, Oct 17       icons-audio


Zvi GitelmanVayis’u Vayahanu [and they traveled and they encamped]: The Nature and Consequences of Jewish MigrationEver since God spoke his first words to Abraham, lech lecho [go forth], Jews have been a migratory people. Migration and dispersal have influenced Jews’ culture, political behavior and economy. In many times and places, Jews have acculturated and assimilated, overwhelmed by more powerful and attractive cultures. But because of the power of other cultures, other Jews have chosen to isolate themselves from them as far as possible. In between these diametrically opposed reactions to cultural encounters is cultural borrowing, sometimes an exchange and sometimes a one-way process. Words, ideas, food, clothing, art, music and humor are among the items exchanged or adopted. The consequences of migration and dispersal are profound, and with the migration of over a million Jews from the former Soviet Union since 1989, the migratory experience is being relived. This talk explores the determinants and consequences of Jewish migration. The consequences of migration for the “sending” countries and the “receiving countries are examined for the migrants themselves and for the Jewish people as a whole.

Zvi Gitelman is Professor of Political Science, Preston Tisch Professor of Judaic Studies and was Director of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Michigan. He has won several teaching awards at Michigan. Gitelman was educated at Columbia University. He is the author or editor of fourteen books and over 100 articles. A second edition of his A Century of Ambivalence: The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union since 1881 was published in Russian and Japanese. His most recent book is Ethnicity or Religion? The Evolution of Jewish Identities.

Belarus: Jewish History and Cemetery Restoration
Michael Lozman& Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild, Nov. 7      icons-audio


Two experts on Belarus join forces to give us an inside look at the history of Jews in Belarus and the work being done on Jewish cemeteries.

Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild, a Research Associate at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, will talk about the history of Belarus’ Jewish community, noting that there was always a large Jewish population in that area of the world but that Belarus did not come into existence as a separate country until 1991.

Dr. Michael Lozman will then talk about his work in protecting, preserving and restoring Jewish cemeteries that have been destroyed by the invading Nazis and further deteriorated by neglect due to the absence of returning Jews as a result of the Holocaust.  He and his team have to date restored ten Jewish cemeteries in Belarus, and have more planned for the future years as well.

Reconnecting Lost Families: Finding Relatives from the Former Soviet Union and the Russian Empire
Aaron Ginsburg and a panel, Dec. 12       icons-audio


Many Jewish-Americans have roots in the Russian Empire, from past waves of emigration. And Boston has a large Russian-American population who arrived in the more recent waves of emigration from the Former Soviet Union. The disconnect in communication between the U.S. and Former Soviet Union for a large part of the twentieth century due to the Cold War played an important role in families losing track of one another.

In this program, US descendants of immigrants from the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union report on finding relatives in the FSU, and a recent Soviet emigre reports on finding descendants of his family who came to the US in the earlier waves of immigration.

Aaron Ginsburg is a first-generation American and founder and president of The Friends of Jewish Dokshitsy. He spearheaded an international effort to help the local government of Dokshitsy, Belarus restore and re-dedicate the town’s Jewish cemetery and recently organized a Dokshitsy shtetl reunion in Rhode Island. He has been involved with cemetery restoration, shtetl and family history since 1995.

Yefim Kogan was born in Kishinev, Moldova and emigrated from Moscow in 1989. Since then, his extensive genealogical research has enabled him to trace part of his family to the mid-eighteenth century and to find relatives in the US who left Russia in 1906. Currently a graduate student at Hebrew College with a focus in Jewish Cultural History in Eastern Europe, he has presented papers on Jewish history in Bessarabia and genealogy at IAJGS conferences and is a volunteer JewishGen Coordinator.

Carol Clingan is a third-generation American whose grandparents came from Belarus and Ukraine. During her nearly twenty years of research, she has traced family back to the early nineteenth century and has discovered family still living in the FSU. She is vice-president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston and co-chair of the JGSGB Program Committee.