Edelstein circle of life

Individual mentoring sessions were a new component of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies annual conference.

What’s one of the most common reasons people attended the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies recent annual conference at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel in Orlando, Fla.? Not surprisingly, “getting through a brick wall” in one’s own family genealogy search is the answer. 

“Just about everyone wants expert help at one time or another,” said Eli Rabinowitz, a genealogist and chronicler who focuses on genealogy in a historical context. He traveled from Perth, Australia, for the conference. “The conference offers people the chance to get specific advice, one-to-one, on how to find a document or analyze certain results.”

The conference introduced a structured mentoring program at this year’s conference that allowed attendees to sign up for specific “office hours” with a speaker. Mentors were instructed not to conduct research for attendees; but rather, to coach an individual on how they could find what was needed in the resource room, which featured computers with free access to fee-based databases. 

The individual could even report back to the mentor if he or she chose. 

“One-on-one conversations are at the core of what the conference offers,” said Diane Jacobs, one of the conference’s three chairs. “Genealogy is no longer about people sitting alone at their computer doing research. It’s about people working together. And that makes it more interesting, efficient and fun.”

Indeed, an interest in people is at the core of both ancestry research and ancestry networking. 

“The No. 1 reason that I attend is to schmooze,” Rabinowitz said. “To be successful in genealogy, connections with people are key.” 

This is especially true in the area of SIGS, which are groups formed by people who share interest in a specific geographic region or subject. More than 15 different SIGS met separately. 

Rabinowitz also spoke about, “In the Footsteps of Zalman Zoref,” at the conference. Zoref was Rabinowitz’s third great-grandfather, who immigrated to Israel from Lithuania in 1811. He led the way for pioneers to immigrate and settle in the Old City of Jerusalem and rebuild the Ashkenazi community there. He was murdered, allegedly by Arabs in 1851.“He might have been the first victim of terror in what is today Israel,” Rabinowitz said. 

The conference drew more than 700 people, many of whom were novices or young people. Ken Bravo of South Euclid was elected president of the organization. Next year’s conference will be Aug. 6-8, 2018, in Warsaw, Poland. 

“It will be a very different conference than the one in Orlando,” Jacobs said. 

Indeed, the historical city in which attendees might be visiting ancestral cemeteries, rather than theme parks provides an entirely different perspective. 

The 2018 conference will be co-sponsored by the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews and the Jewish Historical Institute. The conference will provide an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit and learn about the shtetl. For more information, visit iajgs2018.org.


Jane Edelstein is a resident of Apopka, Fla., and a former general manager of the Cleveland Jewish News.

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