I am very excited to be off to the IAJGS conference in Jerusalem. One of the wonderful things about genealogy conferences is getting to explore local archives and resources. Although many archival resources are on-line today, there is no substitute for walking into an archive and having the archivist take you on a tour through the facility, describe what kinds of data are maintained there, how new data is acquired and how you, as a researcher can access the acquisitions.
In just a few days I’ll be meeting with the director of the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP). I have done long-distance research and correspondence with the CAHJP for several years and have met the director in person, but not on the premises of the CAHJP before. I do know that the holdings there are quite extensive and much is still not digitized.
The first time I was able to look at archival material in an archive outside of the United States was about 20 years ago. At the time I was researching someone who had died in the Holocaust, and had virtually no documentation about him, only some family stories that Norbert Silberman, my grandfather’s brother, had died in Mauthausen Concentration Camp.
The archive in which I spent a day researching was at Yad Vashem. That day, I struggled with microfiche after microfiche, looking at the names of survivors and at those who had been murdered. These were Red Cross records and records from the camps. When I finally found the record of his interment and death I was overwhelmed by emotion. Reading a transcription would just not have been the same.
Other documents that I have found in archives since that long ago trip to Yad Vashem have certainly not been as dramatic but the experience of being in an archive is always amazing.
Sometimes, as was the case in Ukraine, the materials are neither digitized nor on microfilm – instead, you handle the original documents, some of them hundreds of years old. When researching those archives, I was very taken by the paper, some of which was handmade, the handwriting on documents, and the thrill of handling the originals.
A trip to an archive is always an experience that has the potential to open up doors.