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Finding my Family’s Roots in Jonestown

Posted on January 27th, 2020 by

A blog post by Museum Educator Marisa Shultz! To read more posts from Marisa, click here.

You may not know this about me, but I am a bit of a genealogy nerd. Whether it’s tracing the branches of my family’s tree back to the docks of Ellis Island and the battlefield of Guilford Court House, or helping a friend learn more about their family’s story, I really enjoy the ‘detective work’ of genealogy. Who would have thought that my sleuthing would lead me here, to Baltimore’s historic Jonestown neighborhood?

In March of 2018, I visited the JMM for the very first time. I had just tracked my great-great-grandfather, Rabbi Simon Friedman, and his family to Jonestown through the census records. In every census record they were renting in a different home but always in or around Jonestown, living on Low, Orleans, Fayette, and Granby Streets during their time in Baltimore. I came here, honestly, hoping to get lucky. I was feeling stymied and stuck in my research, and I was hoping that I might find something on display at the JMM that would push my work forward. While I did not find the Friedmans on any of the panels, I learned a great deal about the world they lived in (and little did I know that my serendipitous trip here would lead me to apply for the Education and Programs Internship position that summer.)

So, I continued to pour over the family photographs and documents, learning more facts about the ancestors I was so desperately trying to connect with. I learned that Rabbi Friedman did not serve as a congregational leader but was a local Hebrew teacher. His two oldest children, Ida and Louis, had been born in Russia. His twin sons, Morris and Phillip were butchers, and Phillip served in the Army during WWII. My great-grandmother and youngest of the family, Bessie, eventually left Baltimore and moved to D.C. after meeting my great-grandfather.

In this photograph, Bessie Pasternak née Friedman (my great-grandmother) is seated in the first row, second from the left. She is posing with my great-grandfather’s family, many of whom were immigrants from a shtetl in Poland (but that’s another story for another time).

Recently, however, I made an incredible discovery that I had to share with all of you. As I was looking at a copy of my great-grandmother’s birth certificate, I noticed something that I had never bothered to notice before, the name of the midwife who delivered my great-grandmother. Rosa Fineberg. Her name might sound familiar to you. That’s because she’s featured in our Voices of Lombard Street exhibit.

This is a copy of my great-grandmother’s birth certificate. At the time of her birth, the Friedman family was living on Orleans Street. The document also indicates her father’s job as a reverend and that both of her parents had been born in Russia. In the bottom right-hand corner, Rosa Fineberg is listed as the medical attendant. 

Fineberg served as a midwife in Jonestown between 1890 and 1918. As the Voices exhibit explains “Every time she delivered a baby, Fineberg tied a knot in a piece of string that she wrapped into a ball as it grew. Before she died in 1926, her son unwound the ball and counted 2,000 knots.” My great-grandmother was one of those knots! In a way, the Friedmans were in the exhibit, just not where I was looking for them! While I still have so much to learn about this part of my family, this story in particular helped me realize that I am both living and working where part of my family put down its first roots in America. It makes me misty-eyed just thinking about it.

This photograph is of the Voices of Lombard Street panel dedicated to Rosa Fineberg and her business. In the case is her Midwife Certificate of Registration as well as one of her record books.

I think the other thing that I love so much about genealogical research is that it so often forges a deeply personal connection with history. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how heirlooms, family stories, photographs, and even documents can not only help us understand the past, but also profoundly connect us to the past. I’ve been working on a very exciting project that will add to our current Ida Rehr Living History Character performance. I don’t want to spoil too much about the project now because you’ll get to learn more about it in our next month’s Performance Counts newsletter. However, I will share that Ida Rehr’s story was saved because her granddaughter interviewed her for a school project, and this new project will challenge students to think about how material culture (heirlooms, documents, etc.) can help tell their families’ stories and even their own personal stories.

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Being Welcoming is Much More than Saying Hello

Posted on January 24th, 2020 by

From Visitor Services Coordinator Talia Makowsky. To read more posts from Talia, click here.

Museums are always my favorite places to visit. Wherever I travel, they’re one of the go-to attractions I look up ahead of time when I plan my trip. Growing up, my parents took my brother and I on regular trips to different kinds of museums and similar educational institutions, which make up some of my favorite childhood memories. I recall playing with water features in COSI, or the Center of Science and Industry in Ohio, wandering the halls at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and even climbing to the top of a giant elephant that used to serve as a hotel in New Jersey.

Lucy the Elephant. Photo by Jack Boucher, Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division: Historic American Buildings Survey.

Having the opportunity to visit these places, and parents who had the means to provide and actively encouraged creative learning, helped shape who I am today. For me, these institutions have shown me new ways to experience culture, science, and history, and have widened my world view.

However, not everyone feels welcome at museums. This happens for a lot of reasons. The space may not be fully accessible for a person with limited mobility. The signs may be written in a language that isn’t native to a guest. Someone may get overwhelmed by sensory-heavy elements in an exhibit, such as noise or videos. The stories in a museum may not reflect a person’s identity, making them feel left out.

Regardless of the reason, I see it as my personal responsibility to try and make JMM as welcoming to as many people as possible. Working as the Visitor Services Coordinator, I’ve learned a lot about our current audience and their needs, and I’m researching new ways to accommodate even more people at our site. This work of inclusion is an on-going project that will never be finished, but as I think about this next year at JMM, I plan to make it my priority, and I know it’s a priority of the Museum staff, as we work to connect people to Jewish experiences and Marlyland’s Jewish community to its roots.

It’s a daunting goal, to make the Museum even more inclusive and welcoming, but I find inspiration from Pirkei Avot, a Jewish text that is generally referred to as “the ethics of the fathers”. There’s a famous line of wisdom that says, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (2:21).” Throughout my life as a Jewish person, I’ve come back to that line as a guide, especially as I tried to find my purpose as an adult. It’s led me to the work I do today, even at the Museum, and I wanted to share some of that work with you.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, the Museum has acquired Assistive Listening Devices or ALDs to use on guided tours. These devices allow a docent to transmit their voice and those on the tour can speak through them as well. The ALDs are a useful tool for people with hearing loss or who are Hard-of-Hearing, but they can be used by anyone. They make it easy for our docents to speak to a large group of people and are great for people who want to wander our exhibits while still listening to the guide. It’s been rewarding hearing the feedback from our guests and our docents, about how the devices are helping to enhance their tours.

Our devices are available to use on any of our public tours and for all our adult group visits.

Learning is a big part of becoming a more accessible site. Paige Woodhouse, our School Program Coordinator, found a webinar through the American Association for State and Local History, or AASLH, called “Increasing Accessibility and Inclusion at Community Organizations”. We’ve only completed the first of the two-part webinar, but it led to Paige and I discussing how we can make it easier for neurodiverse people to visit the Museum, such as people with autism spectrum disorders. Some resources we’ve seen at other institutions are sensory bags which are kits filled with different tools such as fidget toys and noise-cancelling headphones. A family can check this back out at the front desk, to use during their visit to help a child who may be sensitive to sounds or needs a distraction while waiting in line. Another resource is social stories, which are documents that give helpful information about visiting, wait times, loud spaces or quiet spaces.

These bags can be made independently or are given out as part of programs such as through Kulture City’s Sensory Inclusive program. Photo courtesy of Zimmerli Art Museum/Rutgers University.

We hope to create similar resources at the Museum soon, which we’ll announce as we add them. We also want to create a language directory of our docents, to better provide tours to people for whom English is a second language, and we’re continuing our work with Keshet to provide more inclusion to the LGBTQ+ and Jewish community. Of course, there’s always room for improvement as learn more about our audiences and new tools that are being created every day. If you ever have a suggestion that would improve your visit to the Museum, please reach out to me at or (443) 873-5164.


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Having a Blast at the Air and Space Museum in Virginia

Posted on January 23rd, 2020 by

Blog post by Program Assistant Laura Grant. To read more posts from Laura, click here.

When I lived in Washington, DC, I visited the Smithsonian Museums quite frequently, including the National Air and Space Museum. I even volunteered for the “Flights of Fancy” Story Time program for a brief period. However, it took moving to Baltimore for me to visit the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the companion museum to the one on the Mall located in Chantilly, VA.

The Udvar-Hazy Center is unlike other museums I have visited. The artifacts, which include airplanes, helicopters, and a space shuttle are much larger than typical museum objects. They are also displayed in a huge, open hangar. The Center has a very distinctive look and feel that adds to the experience.

Me in front of the “Dash 80”

There are about 170 airplanes displayed in the Center. This number includes both commercial and military aircraft. Some of the highlights of the visit for me included the “Dash 80,” the precursor to America’s first commercial jet, the “Enola Gay,” which dropped the first atomic bomb during World War II, and the Concorde which flew people across the Atlantic at twice the speed of sound. I also enjoyed the collection of small aircraft that were built by individuals, sometimes even in their own backyards.

The “Enola Gay”

My favorite object may have been stratospheric suit worn by Alan Eustace when he parachuted down to Earth from the stratosphere. With his flight, he set the record for the highest altitude free fall jump.

The other main section of the Center focuses on space exploration. The highlight of this area is the Space Shuttle Discovery, the oldest and most accomplished space orbiter. The scale of the Discovery is awe-inspiring.

I also found the innovativeness of the Apollo 11 flotation bag used to turn the spacecraft right around after it landed in the ocean impressive.

The last aspect of the Center that I visited was the Observation Tower which provides a panoramic view of Dulles airport and the nearby region. I have always loved watching planes take off and land and was glad I had the opportunity to experience that here.

Visiting the Udvar-Hazy Center made me excited for JMM’s next exhibition, Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit. While there won’t be any spacecraft on display, the exhibit will feature many unique objects including rare, ancient texts about astronomy and Judaica taken into space by the first male Jewish-American astronaut, Dr. Jeffrey Hoffman. You won’t want to miss it!

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