Family: Back to the Basics

Family, after all is at the core of who we are and what we do. I’m speaking here about families, no matter how you define them – could be bio or adopted families, nuclear or extended, or community. Last night, I experienced something incredibly connecting during this period of social distancing.

Usually, our family has a couple of huge seders – 2 dozen generally forms the core and another dozen or so, rounds it off nicely. Obviously, this year there is going to be something different. It needs to be something very special though, to bring 4 generations of our extended family, scattered all over the U.S. together. We decided last night to do a trial run to make sure that our elders, my parents and my aunt, could all log into the platform we selected and that everyone had the equipment they would need so we could see and hear each other. Last year, to compensate for the absence due to illness, of my son and his family, we scanned our family haggadah and emailed it to him. That scan means that we can all be on the same page this year. Literally.

My sisters and I got on line and walked first my aunt and then my parents through setting up their connection. What we thought would be about half an hour took over 3 hours. Everyone connected, and while we were at it, chatted , laughed, and shared stories. It made each of us feel like we were, if not in the exact same place, then in different rooms in the same vicinity. It was extremely powerful. Tonight, we are going for take two of our set-up. My sisters and I connecting with our parents to make sure that the computer they are using, when set up in their dining room works as well as it did in my dad’s study. Their dining room, home to so many family gatherings for many years will be the perfect backdrop. Last night, we saw, behind my dad, the photos on the wall of many family celebrations, decades ago. We spoke of those and made comments about the wallpaper on my computer desktop – a 1924 family seder in Brooklyn. The photo appeared in the Daily Forward as a “typical American seder”. I gues after being in the U.S. since 1910, that family, my mom’s paternal family, was considered to be thoroughly integrated in American Jewish life!

The first arrival of my family from Eastern Europe was in the 1880s. They settled in New York, and as spread out as we are now, all over the U.S., I think New York is our base. The extended family has been gathering to celebrate Passover in the U.S. for over 130 years. This year will be no exception. Why is this year different?


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Sitting in Place

I know that many of you are in the same position I am right now – sitting somewhere, probably indoors. It’s a crazy and, for most of us, an unexpected and sudden halt to most of what we do – go to work, school, exercise; do social things like restaurants, bars, movies; travel for business or pleasure, locally or at a distance. There’s plenty to do. I found some very interesting virtual museums and a lot of other helpful information about activities and staying connected at .

During this very surreal time, I made a decision about doing something I’ve been putting off for ages. I started my research, well a better word would be foray, into my family’s past decades ago. I have used every version of Family Tree Maker since it came out, and have online private trees which I syncronize with FTM every once in a while. What I didn’t pay too much attention to until a couple of years ago, was the duplication of data I had on my tree. I couldn’t see that on FTM but when I was on my Ancestry® tree, and could see all my information for each person on one screen, it became obvious. I began to clean things up, not in a methodical manner although I definitely know that it would be best that way. There are about 17,000 people on my tree, and I know there are no duplicates. What I needed to clean up, for example, were the times when the 1930 census was attached to the same person 3 (or more) times. Of course, doing that isn’t as simple as it seems – I can’t just delete the duplicate records. I need to look at each one and make sure that the person wasn’t enumerated in multiple places. Yes, that definitely happened. Take  Anna who was enumerated with her parents, that was clear. However, a few days later she married and she is enumerated with her new husband. Then, just to make things complicated, they went on a honeymoon to a distant state and were enumerated there, a week after their marriage.

What does all this have to do with the current challenges? Well, although I’m sure I won’t get through all the people on my tree, but since all my travel plans are cancelled for the foreseeable future, I can spend that extra time cleaning things up. Of course 8 hours a day won’t be spent doing that (I am grateful for my Roku box and various subscriptions), but I will make a dent.

By the way, if you haven’t checked out the many opportunities for virtual conferences to keep you up to speed with whatever your hobby or profession is, you might check out what your favorite organizations are doing to keep everyone engaged!

Stay safe, stay healthy.

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The Earth Moved

No, this isn’t about sex. It may be about fear and lack of trust, but it isn’t about sex. It’s not about fear or lack of trust in a person. It is about a relationship – the relationship we have with the earth. The trust most of us developed over time with the solid ground beneath our feet. I don’t live in California but once I experienced a very mild earthquake there. I’ve felt earthquakes elsewhere – very mild ones in unexpected places – New York, New Jersey, Arizona. Today was definitely different.

In fact, today was adding insult to injury. I’m fine and so, thankfully, are all the people I know. We are all cringing from being physically close to people, wary (and maybe even weary) of touching anything that anyone may have touched before us. Yesterday I wrote about how the isolation from crowds and public places opens up other opportunities. Today was definitely not what I had in mind.

I started the day as I do each day, with a shower followed by the first of 3 cups of coffee while I checked my personal and then my work email. At least that was the way it was supposed to go. Problem was the stable earth was not so stable and at 7:09 this morning, Salt Lake City experienced its worse earthquake in almost 30 years. Buildings were damaged, but I haven’t heard about people being hurt. If something were to be damaged, better buildings than people, right?

My earthquake experience this morning was compounded by the power being taken down. It was dark when the earthquake occurred. It took a while before I realized that I could use the flashlight on my cell phone to find other flashlights and battery power in case my phone ran out of juice. Getting dressed, finding keys and id in order to get outside if needed, really quickly came next.

A day without power. What would you do? Without internet access there was very little work I could do. Instead I spent the day talking to people on the phone and by text. At first, it was very worrisome. My phone signal kept disappearing and I couldn’t get through to anyone. Slowly, the phone became more reliable. People were so kind and kept reaching out to me from all over the country. Alone in an apartment, afraid of what could still happen, very isolated, and those calls and messages from close friends and relatives but also from people I don’t know well, made all the difference in how I felt during those 8+ hours without power. I feel like an old ad – reach out and touch someone – you can never tell what kind of difference it will make in someone’s life.

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The New Normal

This is just a rambling bit of musing.

Usually like so many of you, I zoom around, taking time to smell the coffee (after all that wakes me up) but generally very little else. Back in the day before cell phones and computers, we didn’t get as much done as we do now, but the daily stresses were significantly less. In spite of the many opportunities to connect with people during the day – texts, video calls, phone calls, social media, email and probably more, there really is less communication.

Today, I did another grocery run (well, actually I walked) – it’s the 3rd time in as many days to stores I can walk to. 3-5 miles round trip with reusable bags and backpacks is do-able. I figured that although I can drive, the weather right now is mild and pretty sunny. Here in Salt Lake City, we are expecting nasty stuff for the rest of the week. At least that’s what this evening’s forecast said and that was significantly different from the forecast a few hours ago when it was only going to be nasty for a day or two, now it looks like 4 days.

With all the focus on productivity partly due to the relative ease of getting things done instantaneously where not all that long ago things that are simple tasks now would take hours, it’s hard to step back and view productivity, work environments and socializing through this new lens. It’s one thing when we choose to work at home, another when we have no other option. It’s the same with connecting to people. If I choose to send a text, that’s my choice, but what happens when the working at home means that seeing people in person is off the table? Its one thing if we choose to do things in a certain way, it’s a whole different situation when it’s imposed on us from outside.

I’m not saying that this new situation should be fought against. Not at all. I think it’s the most practical way to combat what could be worse than the absolute worst thing any of us could imagine. I am saying that this gives us an opportunity to do a hard reset. Use this opportunity as a time to reassess how we live and how we connect with other people.

As a genealogist normally busy researching other people’s families, I forget about my own. In time not spent on commuting, I can call people (my family lives too distant to visit or see in person) and even take the time for video calls that don’t need to be rushed. I can reconnect with all those cousins I’ve met virtually over the years, found out basics facts and then never spoken to again. There are so many opportunities to be seen once we stop moaning about how inconvenient this situation is.

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Planning to Explore England and Scotland

Last fall,  I was in London, speaking at RootsTech. To prepare for my talk on Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe to England, I needed to research and focus on a slightly different angle of the immigrant experience. Although I do a fair amount of research regarding Eastern European families who settled in England, much of what I look at is on behalf of families who settled in North America. That is, while part of the family made a larger immigration journey, some family members went to England. Of those who settled in England, some did it deliberately – that was their plan. Others stopped in transit to wait for a ship or to save up money for the rest of the journey, and never continued.

I became very curious and wanted to learn more about the experience of immigrants passing through (or staying) in the U.K. This spring I will have the opportunity to satisfy (or indulge depending on your perspective) that curiosity. Over a 3 week period, I’ll be taking trains and visiting the various ports at which people landed and left. I’ll be going to London, Hull and Grimsby – the ports at which ships from Europe brought immigrants, and then visiting the ports from which they left for their new homes – Southampton, Liverpool and Glasgow. At each of these ports, I’ll be able to visit the maritime museums, and learn something about the difference in immigration experiences and something of the people who stayed and settled in England.

Of course one of the challenges with research about immigrant families are the names they adopted in their new countries. New names generally fit in better with local names and helped an immigrant feel more a part of the new home. Names adopted in England and Scotland were often similar to those adopted in North American, at least in terms of sound, but often the spelling made the names appear to be very different just adding a level of complexity to identifying the correct family.

I’m looking forward to the travel and to sharing in this blog. The blog helps me process my thoughts and reinforces my memories of the trips.




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Upcoming talks

It’s snowing in Salt Lake City today – welcome to a winter wonderland, all who are arriving for SLIG – I hope to see you this week or next.

My upcoming talks are mostly in Arizona and Salt Lake City – if you have a chance, come join me at one of these:

Jan 25 – annual Pinal genealogy workshop in Casa Grande…/article_70f701fb-1191-5c8d-b… – my topic i the myths and mythologies of immigration

Jan 26 – Phoenix JGS – – we’ll be exploring some of the challenges of name changes

Feb. 9 – Limmud Arizona –
I am privileged to be presenting 2 talks at this annual day of study: :When Gravestones Lie” at 11:30 and “Lost in the Shoah” at 1:30

Feb 26 – 29 – RootsTech – RootsTech is the mega-annual genealogy event and it’s exciting to attend and to speak – I have two talks on the schedule: “Challenges of Jewish Research” and “What’s in a Name”.

May 20-23 – The annual NGS conference will be in Salt Lake City this year.
I’m, excited to be speaking at it – my topic? “n Search of a Home”.

Jul 19-24 I’ll be in Pittsburgh – I’m so excited to be part of a 3-person team with Emily Garber and Lara Diamond for a GRIP first – “Introduction to Jewish Genealogy”

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Bisbee, Arizona – a trip overdue

Years ago, thanks to a distant cousin who connected with me over a message I posted on a genealogy forum, I found out that Stein cousins from Pennsylvania, settled in Arizona. They didn’t actually settle in Arizona, they stayed for about a decade -1896-1906. That cousin shared a precious stash of about 100 pages written by one of the Steins as an adult, reflecting on her time in Bisbee as a child and teenager. For years, we’ve been talking of a drive down there from our home in Phoenix, but have never found two free days to take the drive.

A couple of months ago, we decided to commit the time and left Phoenix yesterday for the 3+ hour drive to Bisbee, planning an overnight stay. We actually should have planned 4 days, not 2. Yesterday, as we were driving, I began to reread the pages which I haven’t looked at in many years. When we got to Bisbee, late in the afternoon, after a stop in Tombstone, we just wandered around, noting the age of some buildings and the beauty of the old mining town. This morning, we reread more of the pages and headed off to the Bisbee Museum where we hoped to get some context and perhaps find records of the Stein and Goldstein families who owned stores in Bisbee, based on what we read.

We need another trip there, and before we go, we need to put all the places mentioned in the memoire on a map. What we discovered was slightly confusing and at odds with the memoire. A lot of names of teachers, shopkeepers and playmates were mentioned as well as names of stores and streets. We found those names in various records at the museum. What we didn’t find was a record of the Stein family. We found the Goldstein family in a city directory, and even located the house they lived in, in 1900, still standing. We found the name of the shop mentioned in the pages in the city directory, someone else was named as proprietor.

Why am I not surprised? In genealogical research, all is rarely straightforward and simple – it’s very clear that I have much to do.

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