On Tuesday, July 19, 2011, Deb Weiner, the JMM’s Research Historian and Family History Coordinator, held a genealogy workshop where the summer interns and some of the volunteers and staff were in attendance. The topic of discussion was what some of the best research methods are today to discover history about your family. The main focus was searching for Jewish families in Maryland since that is primarily what is done at the JMM.
A problem that can often arise is when you have family that has changed their name. Well to account for those issues a system called the Soundex Code was implemented to take these factors into consideration. Essentially this program was made to search for names in archival documents with the thought that people can possibly be related even if the spelling is slightly different. Amazingly this method of searching was patented in 1918 and 1922 by Robert C. Russell and Margaret K. Odell. Even more fascinating was getting to see the results of the Soundex Code when the interns and Deb Weiner took a field trip to the Hebrew Fellowship and Herring Run cemeteries.
These gravestones feature useful historical information that can be used when doing family research. On Jewish headstones in particular, there is often Hebrew that will tell who the parents of the deceased are. The information that is displayed on the stones are more than just historical, they tell you about the person that was laid to rest there.
While helping Deb search for the gravestones that needed to be photographed to help with a person’s family research, we came across of row of stones that were just children. Most were under the age of 11. While looking there was one that once had a ceramic photograph on the front of a child who died at the age of seven. Today that picture was found lying on the ground in three pieces. Not everything can remain in pristine condition and thankfully for those stones and items such as that photograph, there is an organization to help repair damaged plots. The Jewish Cemetery Association of Greater Baltimore is a non-profit group branched from The Associated that hires caretakers to help with the upkeep and repair of Jewish cemeteries (By the way, I am sure they are always happy to have volunteers if you are willing).
Finally before leaving the Herring Run cemetery I noticed that there were multiple stones on some of the graves and one of the interns kindly reminded me how people will often leave stones instead of flowers because the stones will last forever. Seeing those stones and the work that is being done to preserve the plots warms my heart. That’s because I know that even though some of these people may have been gone for many decades, they are certainly not forgotten by their loved ones or the Jewish community.