IAJGS Chicago

Rzeszow research group meeting in Chicago

Continuing to focus on interactions at the conference directly relevant to our search (as opposed to sessions and discussions that were merely interesting), I'll mention the Tuesday morning meeting of the Rzeszow Research Group.

First of all, 20 lashes with a wet noodle — I need to work on my Polish pronounciation. It is voiced something like zhe-shov—there is not 'R' sound at all. Marian Rubin, the helpful leader of the group who had recently supplied me with photocopies of some of our Ringel birth records, teased me good-naturedly about my typical newbie's error.

She introduced me to Eden Joachim, a leader of the JRI-Poland SIG (later I learned also of the Litvak SIG) who was JRI-P's liaison to the Rzeszow group. Also in attendance were a dozen or so others with family from the town, including several members of the extended Reich family who produced famous relations both in Rzeszow and in the U.S. (one example is former Cabinet secretary Robert Reich).

Also in the meeting was Logan Kleinwaks, whom I wrote about in an earlier post. In conversation, Logan said he had some Ringel members from a nearby town in his family, so I will want to follow that up later. Also, on the Reich thing, I didn't remember until later that Schija Ringel's mother had the maiden name Reichman. I wonder if there is a connection.

The meat of the meeting was Marian's report, with frequent amplifications from Eden, on the status of Rzeszow records availability. The gist is this: I probably have all the birth and death records that are available, but there is a slew of census data from various 18th, 19th and 20th century years that should contain Ringel family information.

There is a very formal process for obtaining the census data supplied usefully in the from of Excel spreadsheets, and it involves money—$180 to be precise—to be paid to JRI to fund the various indexing projects that it manages. That is separate from a mandatory contribution of $150 to obtain 20th century vital records that are available but are of limited interest to us at this time.

I certainly don't begrudge JRI's contribution policy and completely understand the logic behind it. I'll just note that of all the SIGs I have encountered, JRI is the most formal and organized in its pay to play policy. It should be said that it is also the biggest and probably most accomplished of all the JewishGen SIGs.

And, yes, I do want to get my hands on that spreadsheet. I guess my $180 check will be on the way soon.

Meeting with Minsk researcher Yuri Dorn at O'Hare Airport

I've skipped a number of items from the IAJGS meeting that I hope to write about, but trying to stay in real time, I'm on the flight home having had my last and possibly most important interaction of the trip just before leaving. (Actually, this is posted from home the next morning.)

Well-known Minsk research Yuri Dorn would be speaking at the Belarus luncheon tomorrow afternoon, but since I would be missing that I had contacted Yuri beforehand to see if we could arrange another time to meet at the conference. You may recall that I had recently been in touch with Yuri with my inquiry about 1858 census records from Novogrudok.

Yuri was happy to meet but he was not planning to arrive at the conference until Thursday morning. Since I was leaving Wednesday evening, the one chance to meet might be at O'Hare Airport as he flew in on Wednesday afternoon. My return flight was out of Midway, but it turned out that there would be a window of perhaps 45 minutes to meet if I would come to O'Hare.

That's what I did. We arranged to meet at his baggage claim and then proceeded to the Hilton bar to discuss my project. Yuri of course remembered the work he had done a year ago for Walter, and thus had some familiarity with our Rabbi Spektor connection and some of the facts of Spektor's life.

I filled him in on the details of Spektor's birth in Rosh, marriage and rabbinical training in Volkovisk, and early career in Isabelin, Baraze, Nishvez and Novogrudok. We talked about the name change from Spektor to Rabinowitz and I gave him my theory about the Novogrudok census. His first reaction was that it is likely someone who had come to the town only seven years earlier would not likely be listed in such a census, but would instead be considered a resident of his birth town.

I hadn't considered this before but recalled that our Tulbowitz relatives from Rezhitsa were still considered townsmen 20 years after they had resettled many thousands of miles away. But Yuri said this is not a sure thing so my Novogrukok theory was still worth checking out.

He said it might also be possible to look for revision lists and similar records from Spektor's birthplace in Rosh. I asked about vital records, mentioning that I had had no success in finding any Spektor or Rabinowitz family records in the Belarus online indexes.

Yes, he said, sadly all the "medic records"--births, deaths and marriages--from most of western Belarus had been lost during the war. There is very little hope that any such records will be found, either in Minsk or in regional archives. By contrast, when I inquired about records from Mogilev in eastern Belarus on behalf of Dale Friedman of Berkeley whom I had spoken to earlier in the day, Yuri said that, yes, vital records for towns in that guberniya are likely to be accessible.

Nevertheless, Yuri felt that our Novogrudok search would still be worthwhile, and there will be other avenues to pursue should that turn up empty. We left things that I would follow up with a detailed email and that he will begin working on our case when he gets back to Minsk.

He also made a request that we contribute the story of Rabbi Spektor's early life to the project his research group has undertaken to renovate a Minsk synagogue. I'm not quite sure how our information can help in this worthy project, but of course I told him that I and/or Walter will be pleased to help any way we can.

Two takes on the migratory narrative

I've just submitted this short article about two sessions from the recent conference to ZichronNote, the journal of the SF Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society. I am posting here as well as part of my blog coverage from the conference. BTW, next Sunday I am on a panel at the SFBAJGS monthly meeting to discuss these and other sessions for a "Highlights from Chicago" panel discussion.

Between the decision to leave home and the beginning of a new life in America or elsewhere, migrating Jews from the western regions of the Russian Pale encountered a difficult transition in East Prussia. The fascinating presentation "Litvak Migratory Decisions in the 19th Century and Their Consequences," by University of Klaipeda professor Ruth Leiserowitz, filled in the gaps in the migratory narrative during a well-attended Monday afternoon session in Ballroom A.

One of the world's leading experts on Prussian social history, Leiserowitz is also a professor through and through. She basically read the paper in her almost expressionless accented English. But the material was so compelling that it overcame any dryness in her presentation style.

Whether motivated by economic opportunity, draft evasion or technology-driven global awareness, migrants faced challenging economic and logistical obstacles during the first legs of their passage to a new life. Along the way, they spent anywhere from weeks to years to the rest of their lives in Prussian port cites like Memel and Libau.

Using statistics and anecdotes (and some well-chosen slides) to help tell the story, Leiserowitz covered the details of their illegal border crossings and their lives in the margins of Prussian society. Because of her focus on the transition period instead of the more familiar arc of voyage and arrival, her portrait is bittersweet—more about the circumstances driving families to fragment than those bringing them together in a new land of opportunity.

There were other sessions for that. This one shined a light on chapter of Jewish history, including my family's, that deserves to get more attention. For much more information, see Leiserowitz's Jews in East Prussia online exhibit at www.judeninostpreussen.de.

For a different take on immigration, I attended the Wednesday presentation "HIAS Archives: What Can and Cannot Be Found There," by HIAS historian Valery Bazarov, in which described the small bank of filing cabinets in the society's New York office as "bursting with Jewish immigration history."

The same could be said of the presentation itself. Though Bazarov has given this talk many times before, his animated speaking style brought that history to life with accounts of cases mined from HIAS' long and honorable past. Thus we hear the story of a Jewish infant surviving from the steerage of the Titanic, of the South African family coming to New York to be able to adopt two black African children, of Holocaust refugees in Lisbon and Shanghai.

In each case, the HIAS files were crucial in solving mysteries and bringing families together. Today the "archive" includes records from many but not all of the society's 150 branches around the world, and Bazarov says it is his mission before he retires to locate any boxes that may be still hidden. Since HIAS is a service agency for helping immigrants, it does not an archiving mission. Records may be scattered about in different files, and most data is not indexed for searching.

Bazarov himself may be the best search engine when it comes to HIAS records. I can say this with surety since he helped my brother a year ago in locating fragmentary records about my own mother's refugee experience in Marseilles and Lisbon.

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