Genealogy and Family History Workshop: A Quick Introduction

Posted on July 21st, 2011 by

A blog post by summer intern Codi Lamb.

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.

 

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A Visit to the Cemetery

Posted on April 8th, 2011 by

With Passover approaching, we’re seeing an increase in calls and emails from people wanting to find out more about their family history. This tends to happen every year before Passover as well as before the High Holidays. As people make plans to gather together with family members, many also make plans to visit the relatives who are no longer with us. Also, it seems to be a natural time for people to reflect on their family origins and act on their desire to know more about their grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, not to mention ancestors they never had the opportunity to meet. And if you are Jewish, from Maryland (especially Baltimore), and want to know more about your background, the best place to turn to for help is the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

Rosedale Cemetery

That’s because, despite the wealth of genealogy material available on the internet, we have resources here that can be found nowhere else. Our Jack Lewis Funeral Home collection can tell you when your great-grandparents died, where they are buried, and even the cause of death. In our Baltimore Jewish Times collection (going back to the 1920s), we can find obituaries for your ancestors that, working forward in time, can help to reveal the existence of long-lost cousins who might live within a few miles of you. And our database of burial listings, collected painstakingly by staff and volunteers over the past twenty years in cooperation with Maryland Jewish cemetery administrators, is often the last resort for people who feel a compelling need to visit the graves of their grandparents or more distant ancestors, but have no idea where they’re buried.

America's first rabbi.

I start to hang out in cemeteries around this time of year, not only because the weather has gotten nicer and I find them peaceful and pleasant places to go (I’ll admit to being a bit morbid), but also because it’s a service the museum provides: using our database of Jewish burials, we locate graves and then go out and take digital images of the gravestones, which we email to people who cannot come to Baltimore to visit the graves for themselves. Mostly, we do this for people working on their family trees, people who live in places like California, Missouri, and Israel. Sometimes the only way for them to find out their great-great-grandparent’s name is to read the Hebrew or Yiddish writing engraved on their great-grandparent’s headstone, which often says something like, “Here lies Chaim, son of Yitzhak, who passed away on….” Yitzhak probably never set foot on American soil. This gravestone may be the only place where his name is recorded, at least on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Note the age of death.

You may have seen these names before.

Baltimore’s Jewish cemeteries are amazing places. Wandering around them can be a powerful way to connect with your heritage, even if you don’t know anyone buried in them. If your ancestors are indeed there, the experience is all the more powerful, I’m told (as a newcomer to Baltimore, having lived here a mere nine years, I don’t have any family buried here). But, as befits a place that is not part of our modern, efficient, convenient way of life, the average Baltimore Jewish cemetery can be a bit hidden away and difficult to find. Some of the older ones won’t show up on the GPS, and even those that are clearly marked on maps can be tricky to access. And once you manage to find the cemetery, locating the right gravesite can be even more of a challenge: unmarked, straggly, and crowded rows, fallen headstones, and faded lettering all add to the difficulty.

Sometimes gravestones are hidden by shrubbery.

We help people navigate through this journey, sometimes by guiding them via cell phone while they’re in their car searching for the right road, or even as they walk along the cemetery path. It gives me a sense of satisfaction when they find what they’re looking for—and they are often very appreciative. I feel sad on those occasions when we can’t seem to locate the person they’re seeking. Helping people through this rather intimate moment in their lives is something I never expected to do as an historian, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

Another view of Rosedale Cemetery.

 

A blog post by Research Historian Deb Weiner.

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