The rest of the story: England Oct 21-27

I keep forgetting when traveling how often there are issues posting to the blog. In this case it was a lack of internet at the hotel. I figured that I would ignore it and just wait until I returned to the states and catch up. Of course, I didn’t take into account exhaustion, all the catching up I needed to do at work, and a disaster awaiting me at my apartment. The latter used all the extra energy and time I had. Bathroom floor has been replaced, mess has been cleaned up and I am ready for a short re-counting of the last part of my very exciting trip.

There were no great research finds, but this trip was mostly one of exploration for me in a place I had never been before. The next trip will involve lots of research and visits to client’s ancestral neighborhoods. The primary reason for this trip was to be at the first ever RootsTech London, at which I would be one of the speakers from Ancestry® and working at the AncestryProGenealogists® booth at the exhibit hall.

I did spend a large portion of Monday at the Wiener Holocaust Library looking through their amazing collection of books and searching their catalog for material that might provide insight into some client research. Archives are amazing places – sometimes there is duplicated material which can be found elsewhere but might have been overlooked, and sometimes, as was the case here, there are unique books and folders of correspondence which cannot be found anywhere else.

Afterwards, we indulged ourselves, walking the streets of the Strand and visiting the London office of AncestryProGenealogists®. Such fun to meet some of my colleagues in person who I have only seen via Zoom previously.

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Our meandering walk took us back to one of the many bridges. It’s always strange coming from an environment where few buildings exist prior to the 19th century, in most places, to a country where 19th century buildings may be considered “new”!

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I was a bit surprised to see a New York sign in the distance – I thought maybe there was a display of my favorite city, but it was a travel advert!

On Tuesday, I took a long (over 2.5 hours) train ride down to Exeter. It’s astonishing to me that the country is so big. I always thought England was small and yet I haven’t seen 99% (or maybe more) of it yet!  The Exeter archive was charming, and the indexes of registers were phenomenal. I’ll never get used to handling original material. There wasn’t anything in particular at this archive that I was looking for, but my colleague, Deb, from the London office had never been to this archive either, and we decided to explore a new (for us) archive. After we were done exploring and ate a wonderful dinner overlooking a river, I headed back to London. It was a long but very interesting day. I was grateful for the train ride so I could see the green rolling hills and the interesting architecture. The weather was just perfect!

On Wednesday, we had an opportunity to wander around Golders Green, historically a home to a large Jewish population. We were especially eager to see what it looked like today, after seeing some of the photos at the Jewish Museum in London several days ago.

We found a fabulous meat restaurant, Sami’s.  All the kosher restaurants and Jewish shops were just reopening after the holiday of Sukkot. Many of the store had been closed for several weeks for the string of holidays beginning with Rosh Hashanah, continuing through Yom Kippur 10 days later, and then 4 days later, Sukkot.

Having this last day to wander around prior to the beginning of the RootsTech conference was terrific. The conference, by the way was really great. I hope that it’s held again next year and that I am invited to speak again. If London isn’t part of your plan but you want to be at RootsTech, check out the dates for the 2020 conference in Salt Lake City.

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20 October

Ever really wanted to do something, and tried to imagine what it would look like in your head? I don’t know about you but the dream sequence is never quite as good as the reality. That was my experience when we went to Mont. St. Michel several years ago and was my experience today, too. I said I’d read all those children’s books by British authors, and the Tower of London figured prominently in a few of those.Today I was there for the first time. Wow. DSC02494.JPGDSC02502.JPG

I don’t know why I love old buildings. If you’ve read my blog while I’ve been traveling with my team in Poland, Lithuania and elsewhere, you may have seen photo after photo of old buildings. It’s rare, however, that I find a building which is documented to have stood 1000 years ago. I know all the parts of the Tower complex are not that old, but the parts that are…and then there are the ravens, still watching what happens, the same way they were at the time of the beheadings.DSC02530.JPG

And of course since I was wondering about the Roman walls and roads, there were the remnants of the walls.DSC02532.JPG

As if that wasn’t enough, there was Tower Bridge.DSC02575.JPG

And then, just for Lindsay, a bride!DSC02574.JPG

Off we went to Camden Town. First stop, the Jewish Museum (which is really charming) and the Jewish Genealogy Society of Great Britain (JGSGB) which held an all day conference today. Wonderful group, great conference!

Our next stop was Mei Leaf, a favorite tea shop and a refreshment break – a pot of tea for one of us and a dark chocolate chili chai for the other (me). We left the tea shop and were shocked by the size of the crowds. We followed them for a while, and wound up exactly where we would have gone – Camden Locks and Market, on the way, some amusing sights.

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We finished the day with dinner and pints at a local pub. Startlingly, since we were in a fish & chips mood, the first pub we went into was all out! Second pub was wonderful, and to top it off, a cute family from Spain was there with their 14 month old daughter who was in the mood to play with us, and her parents didn’t mind.

Tomorrow my office starts its annual (friendly) competition to walk to the North Pole. Each team records their steps daily. Yesterday we walked over 21,000 and today, lazy as we were, we only got about 19,000. I hope we can keep this up all week – it’ll be a great start. Our walk to far away places goes through the end of December, with each team being responsible for walking 6,800,000 steps for a total or 41,846,080 steps.

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19 October – London

Today was an amazingly picture perfect day and I practiced negotiating the various public transport systems to get to the City. I immediately encountered an Oyster crisis. Oyster is similar to a debit card, used on the transit system, and by far the most reasonably priced option for local travel. Unfortunately, the vending machines at the station at which I needed to board the train, provided a lot of different options, but the one that appeared to sell an Oyster did not. All that could be done would be to top off an already existing card, or purchase a ticket to ride for the day. Very confusing. We were able to purchase Oyster cards when we got to Piccadilly Circus, and could have bought them at a variety of shops, but this was not something a visitor could have known. All in all, the public transport system, outside that initial challenge, was easy to manage.

Today was a historically significant day in British history with a Saturday sitting of Parliament to take a vote on Brexit. I only mention it because the demonstrations in the City near Parliament were massive. I felt like I was back in Times Square fighting through crowds demonstrating about something else a couple of years ago. Demonstrators were still around into the evening.

Perhaps the huge crowds at that demonstration or other ones regarding climate change reduced the museum crowds. Maybe it was the glorious weather. I spent a number of hours in the British Museum. Although the Greek, Egyptian and Middle East exhibits looked tantalizing, I’ve been to the museums in Cairo, Athens, Jerusalem and New York which (obviously) don’t have the same exhibits as the British Museum, but they do cover the archaeology of the areas of the world in which they are located pretty well, and the New York museums have a lot of work from those areas. What I haven’t seen much of, though, are exhibits about Europe and in particular about England. I was curious about those areas of the museum primarily.DSC02390.JPG

Recently, I’ve been reading Edward Rutherfurd’s London again. In spite of the huge number of books I’ve never read, I am guilty of reading Rutherfurd’s books multiple times. Recently, I also re-read Rachel Kadish’s The Weight of Ink. Both books tell very different stories, but it was really wonderful to be looking at the exhibits and putting together what I was seeing there, with the stories. Later, walking around on the streets and looking at the buildings, I got even more of a perspective of those stories.

If you are reading this and in London, check out the program(me) on Sunday 20 Oct 2019 at the JGSGB – it sounds wonderful!  https://www.jgsgb.org.uk/current-programme

DSC02408.JPGOh, I almost forgot the weather. The day was indeed blissfully mild and sunny. The exception was what seemed to us to be a sudden and wild rain while we were having a wonderful glass of wine at the Museum. It was still raining when we were ready to leave, so we went into the Museum Shop, purchased two umbrellas, and of course, by the time we walked back to the exit, it stopped and the sun came back out. We actually did leave the States with rain gear but because it looked so great out this morning that we didn’t bring anything with us. Last time we do that!

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17-18 October – the U.K.

I have to be among the luckiest people in the world – I spent all day every day doing something I love (genealogy) and I work with an amazing team of researchers, specializing in Eastern European and Jewish research at the most incredible company – AncestryProGenealogists®. So why am I in England?

The answer to that goes from very simple to an introspective look at my childhood and reading habits. So, the simple – I have many clients whose Eastern European families (Jewish and non-Jewish) settled in England. Our London office does most of this research for me, but I’ve been wanting to be in the archives at Kew, and at several other archives whose records may be available if they’re ordered, but I’d like to be really familiar with those records. The other part of that answer (nothing is as simple as it seems it should be) is that RootsTech, the mega-genealogy conference, held annually in Salt Lake City, is having a conference in London, and I’m speaking at it!

The retrospection about why I’m here isn’t too complicated. As I reached my teen years, the British (musical) invasion reached the shores of the U.S. To my parents’ dismay, I joined the screaming hordes of Beatlemaniacs. Before that, though, there were years of other British interests. My parents are great readers and they intended their children to follow in that path. They definitely succeeded, but while we were young, they enrolled us in book clubs for children. Most of the books were by British authors. For years, the worst thing my parents would say to me while I struggled with the meanings of unfamiliar words and their pronunciations was “look it up in the dictionary.” One of my early favorites was “Bedknob and Broomstick.” I graduated from some of these fantastic fantasies to more serious biographies of Queen Elizabeth I and other royals. From there, I immersed myself in Thomas Costain’s books – “Below the Salt,” and then his Plantagenet series. Charles Lamb, Shakespeare, Donne all followed in their turn. Of course I read much more extensively too including lots of science fiction, the rest of the books written by Chastain, other historical novel about Greece, Rome, Egypt. It was, however, the books that took place in England that captured my heart and to which I always returned.

DSC02369.JPGI jumped at the opportunity to come to England to speak at the conference – it was an honor to be asked. For some reason, I have never been here before. I am barely awake now. I arrived at Heathrow at about 11 AM this morning and all I’ve done so far is take a 2 hour cab ride to the hotel. The streets we passed through just latched on to my imagination and I wanted to just get out and walk. I was restrained and it didn’t happen. The weather was picture perfect and I was looking forward to a long walk along the Thames. However, just a few minutes before we got to the hotel, it started pouring. Now I’m too tired – it was a redeye, and my eyes definitely are red. My plan? Whether it’s raining or not, no matter what the weather tomorrow turns out to be, I’m going to be out somewhere walking and taking photos.  I’ll post them as well as photos and comments about my research during the week and photos from the conference.DSC02633

 

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July 3 – Vilnius

I’ve been traveling now for 5 of the last 7 weeks throughout Poland and Lithuania.  It’s hard to believe that today is my last day here. I’m feeling a bit nostalgic, and just wandering through the streets that Lina so carefully pointed out, giving me enough clues about each of them, that I have no fear of getting lost.

It’s raining off and on, and I hoped to accomplish a few things in between drops.  I wanted to walk up to the castle and for that I need the stones to be dry, otherwise it would be very slippery.  I did get up to the top, or at least to the top of the hill, just outside the castle tower.  To get up the hill, there is a short flight of wooden steps and the rest of the way is all ancient stone.  If it was raining, I doubt I could have gotten there and down.  I briefly contemplated going into the tower and going up, but the sky was getting darker and the gray clouds seemed ominous, so I caved and walked back down.  Sure enough, as I crossed the street by the Cathedral Plaza, it started to pour.  I wasn’t too bedraggled by the time I got to the hotel, just across the street, but that’s probably just my opinion because I don’t want to admit how pitiful I must have looked.

Once the rain stopped again, I went out for a very late lunch, walked down the street I have officially named the ice cream street because of all the ice cream vendors, and today, Trattoria had pizza dough, so I had a last pizza alla’ herba. Delicious.  I walked around the streets some more, walking in and out of the small and large ghetto areas, getting one last look.  Of course, the wind picked up and the rain looked imminent so I headed back to the hotel.  I guess we have a theme going today called dodge the rain.

I spent some time working but by about 7 PM, I decided to go out one last time and stop at a bakery and pick something up for my early morning trek to the airport.  Of course, the ice cream stands called out to me, and I decided, since I wasn’t having dinner, to have one last chocolate and pistachio cone. Yum.

Packing has proven to be a challenge.  I bought so many books with Marek and Lina’s help, that I needed to buy a bag just for them.  The army surplus store had something almost perfect for only 13 EU – if it had wheels it would have been absolutely perfect, since lifting it is going to be a challenge.  I bet it’s over 30 pounds.

Next stop, Amsterdam and them Minneapolis on the way to SLC.  Back tomorrow, July 4.  I think it may be a week or more before I catch up on the photos for all the blog posts.  Stay tuned, and happy 4th.

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Vilnius 30 June – 2 July

The last three days have gotten all jumbled together in a rush of things to do, things to finish and little time when I was awake and not on the move.  All these weeks of travel have finally gotten so tangled up I barely know where I am much less what day it is, where I go next, and who we’re supposed to be meeting with.  Thank goodness that Lina has her notebook always present, with copious notes about what we are doing and how to get there and best of all, when to go!  My computer always has the office time on it, my watch and phone always have local time.  I know when looking at the phone or watch to subtract however much the difference is between wherever I am and Salt Lake City (in this case, 9 hours) but confusion abounds – I often find myself looking at the computer time and subtracting the difference from there as well! Ugh.

Anyway, back to our travels.  On Sunday we returned to Vilnius in time to return the rental car, check back into the Amberton and have lunch before our intrepid driver, Gabriel, Lina’s husband, took off for a few days on his own.  Lina and I enjoyed a few hours of just wandering the streets of the old city, looking at shops, not rushing anywhere.  I do wonder though how come her fitbit always registers about 2,000 steps more than mine!  We’ve joked about shorter steps, her wrist fitbit registering steps when she does things to her hair, etc.  It’s still not settled, but 2,000!!!!

On Monday, we rushed off to breakfast and then to the archives.  The Vilnius archives are great – the air conditioning makes a huge difference to start with.  The crowning touch of course is all the information that you can find on the computer.  of course there is advance work to be done before getting to the computer – you have to know what record you’re looking for – the fond, inventory and file numbers.  Then, once you have gotten into the correct file, finding the actual record.  Because our time is limited and there is a lot to do, as always, we photograph the images from the computer screen, to be able to look at leisurely on our return to the office, when Lina and perhaps Ola will work on translating and analyzing the records.  Records can be in Lithuanian, Polish, Russian or Latin, depending on the time period and the type of record – church records are often (but not always) in Latin.  Monday’s research was a little easier than on the previous visit to the archive mostly due to the photo viewer that was installed on the computer we were using.  Last week, the photo viewer stuck if there were two images open, this time, we were easily able to move around from image to image, often having multiple pages open at the same time, all due to the program. The way the program worked made it easier to see full screen and zoom in.  Most of the time, the original image on the screen was difficult to read – it had to be enlarged.

The church records we were reviewing were not indexed – although we knew that we were looking for a particular record, all we had was a 6 year range of when the event took place.  Thankfully, the parish was small, and each year’s book had a listing of which towns in the diocese appeared on which pages. The church records follow a formula – the first line had the year and date with the priest’s name, the second line usually had the groom’s name and then the bride’s name might start at the end of that line or be on the third line.  One year had the “signatures” of the bride and groom at the end of the record separate from the text and a line or so later, the “signatures” of the witnesses – each of these was followed by several “x”s which made them stand out even clearer.  I wish all the books were like that.  We started with the earliest year and made our way through 5 years of records before we found the record we were looking for!  Easy is really a relative term.

Tuesday, Lina left around noon – she’s going on what seems like a delightful vacation with her family, and then hanging out with friends.  I’m sure she’ll have a fantastic time. She is planning a short work diversion to visit a town where the ancestors of one of our clients resided.

I spent the rest of Tuesday alternating between wandering through the streets and dodging rain.  I went to what became a favorite pizza place on the street I’ve renamed “ice cream street” because of all the carts selling ice cream.  To my surprise, when I got to Trattoria, they said they had run out of pizza dough an hour earlier!  There was very little else on the menu I could eat (when I’m traveling and there are no kosher restaurants I eat vegetarian) so I went to my second favorite pizza place (the crust isn’t as firm in the center, and the cheese which is fresh is less melted than I like) – Jurgis ir Drakonis –  and had a margarita pizza with sun dried tomatoes and green olives. Perfect. It was almost 3 PM and, just like at my office, I had gotten so involved with some research, I had completely lost track of time.

I’m looking forward to getting back to the office next week, and being surrounded by my colleagues all completely focused on the research projects at hand.

 

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Ariogala, Kelmė and Tauragė – June 29

I’m going to have to get back to Salt Lake City to add photos in order to describe what we saw in these very different towns. The buildings in these, as all over small towns in Lithuania that date back to post-war times are relatively few.  Lithuanian towns were devastated in two wars are were on the front lines with German and Russian troops battling for this relatively small country.

I’ve been capturing images primarily of the houses that remain, but also quite a few of the white brick Soviet era buildings.  Red brick are often older, and the time in which the wood frame homes were built are almost impossible to identify unless there are maps with buildings from different time periods. Some which may appear quite old, are less than 50 years old, others may be hundreds of years old.  Often, we see wooden homes that appear to be falling apart, but the crisp white lace curtains ont he windows tell a different story.

The most notable excursions today, were in a park in Kelme and a walk through Tauragė, both to find cemeteries.  As we drove through Kelmė, we saw a marker to a Jewish cemetery. We turned down a road which was part of a park, and parked the car.  Lina and I walked to the end of the park without finding what we were looking for, so headed back, and turned down a dirt path. All we could see at the end was a bridge, but we met a man on the path and asked him and he gave us directions.  The cemetery is huge. A fence runs around it, and the gate was open so we could walk through.  It was clear that someone was taking care of it – the grass had been mowed recently, although the cuttings were laying drying, and tree branches had recently been clipped, they too were laying on the ground – my assumption was that someone would be back to clean it up.  We spent some time wandering through the stones, marveling at the condition of them – some very badly disintegrating, and others looking like it was only yesterday that the stone was erected.DSC01793

 

In Tauragė we searched, walking up and down streets, and finally driving, before we found the lone marker commemorating a cemetery that was no more.  Was it originally just on the empty land on which the marker stood or did it also occupy the land on which relatively new homes stood? Was the land unrecognizable as a cemetery when the homes were built or did the cemetery suffer further destruction at the hands of those who wanted to build there?DSC01977

In Raseiny I asked Lina, the historian (not Lina the genealogist) who showed the remains of one gravestone which was recently found, if she thought the rest of the stones had been used for road filling and for fences and other building material. She indicated that this was probably the case. Was this also the case in Tauragė?

In Ariogala, we didn’t find anything which would indicate that there was once a thriving Jewish community here.  I feel so much like I’m repeating myself over and over.  There were certainly houses that may have pre-dated WWII and in which there may have been Jewish families living, or shops catering to the Jewish community, but now, there is no indication that there was.

 

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