Explore Your Roots: The Robert L. Weinberg Family History Center

Posted on November 26th, 2012 by

A blog post by Deborah Weiner, Family History Coordinator.

In a typical week, the Jewish Museum of Maryland receives ten requests for help from individuals looking for information about their families.

Our Robert L. Weinberg Family History Center, located in the JMM library, assists all kinds of people with all kinds of needs. Some seek a relatively simple yet crucial detail, like “where is my grandmother buried?” Others, compiling family trees or writing family histories, want us to give them “everything we have” on their ancestors. In every case, we draw on a tremendous resource to assist them: our Family History collection.

A very creative family tree. JMM 1997.125.37

Even in the Internet age, with so much genealogical information available on the web, our Family History collection constitutes a unique resource that allows us to provide genealogical services unusually extensive for a regional Jewish museum. Here are some highlights:

  • Our cemetery database includes more than 60,000 names of individuals buried in Maryland Jewish cemeteries. While most of the listings are from cemeteries in the Baltimore area, we also have listings from Annapolis, Cumberland, Frederick, Hagerstown, and Salisbury. 

Rosedale cemetery.

  • Funeral records from the Jack Lewis Funeral Home from the 1920s-1930s, 1950s-1960s. This firm, no longer in existence, rivaled Levinson & Bros. in popularity through most of the 20th century.
  • Indexes of records of several Baltimore midwives and mohels allow access to thousands of births and circumcisions from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries.

Rev. A.N. Abramowitz, Baltimore mohel. His circumcision records are part of the JMM family history collection. JMM 1988.155.3.

  • Obituaries from the Baltimore Jewish Times from the 1920s to today, indexed for some decades.
  •  Genealogies and family trees from more than 400 Maryland Jewish families.

These resources were developed through the efforts of numerous volunteers as well as the cooperation of Maryland’s Jewish cemetery associations and congregations. We are constantly working to expand our resources; for example, two volunteer projects now underway include the creation of an index of engagement, marriage, and birth notices in the Baltimore Jewish Times, and a renewed effort to record as-yet-uncharted sections of the historic—and massive—Rosedale cemetery. (We recently crossed the 10,000 mark of burial listings at Rosedale.)

Over the past several years we have worked to make our collections accessible online. Most notably, we partnered with the Jewish Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR) to make our burial listings available on JOWBR’s fully searchable online database. We are currently working with JewishGen, JOWBR’s “parent,” to make more of our resources available on the JewishGen website.

JMM 1991.20.30.

There are three ways you can access our Family History collection: online at JOWBR or at our own website (where we’ve posted pdf files of cemetery burials and other indexes), by visiting the museum to do on-site research (by appointment), or by using our research-by-mail service, where we do the research and send you the results (for a fee).

Genealogy is a burgeoning field, as many people have become interested in finding their “roots.” Fortunately anyone with a connection to Jewish Maryland has a great place to start: the Robert L. Weinberg Family History Center of the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

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And What About Ranch Dressing?

Posted on July 23rd, 2012 by

By Deb Weiner

We are in the midst of preparing a traveling exhibition that will explore the participation of Baltimore Jews in the great national rush to suburbia that occurred in the two decades after World War II. It’s called “Jews on the Move” and will open in October on the campus of Johns Hopkins University. JHU students helped develop the exhibit as part of a museum studies class they took last spring.

Marvin, our new director, took a look at the exhibition script earlier this week and questioned our use of the word “rancher” as shorthand for ranch house. Is it too slangy? Was it really in common use? “I’m from Chicago,” he said, “and I’ve never heard this term before.”

Jews on the Move

“I’m from Chicago too,” I replied, “and I’d never heard it either!” I started thinking, hmmm, maybe I better look into this. The word appears several times in the text, which was originally drafted by our guest curator Dean Krimmel, native Baltimorean and noted expert on all things Baltimore. I trusted Dean, but once the question had been raised it occurred to me that maybe, just every once in awhile, he might slip up.

From our upcoming exhibition.

So expert historian that I am, I googled the term “Baltimore rancher” to see what would happen. When the search page appeared on my screen, the results were so immediately conclusive I had to laugh. One Baltimore rancher after another being advertised in real estate listings. Apparently ranchers are so popular that the term was even used to advertise a “gorgeous 2nd floor end unit,” which seems to me to be stretching the definition beyond common sense. Everybody knows that a rancher (or “ranch house,” as Marvin and I would call it) is a detached, one-story home.

Jolly Rancher candies

Just to see what would happen, I googled “Chicago rancher.” The first item was a very interesting video about a rancher located about sixty miles outside Chicago, who supplied grass-fed beef to city restaurants. Check it out:  http:///vimeo.com/36095119. Unfortunately the next couple items reported his sudden death, shortly after the video came out. Then various items related to “Jolly Rancher” candies (which I had never heard of before), a high school team called the Ranchers, etc.

Baltimore ranch house. Image courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Industry.

My fact-checking was complete, but my curiosity was aroused. Is “rancher” like “hon” — one of those uniquely Baltimore quirks of language or style?  I started googling “Philadelphia rancher,” “Miami rancher,” etc. I discovered that as shorthand for ranch house, the word does seem to be in common use in the mid-Atlantic region. (Philly and Newark yes, Miami and Boston, not really. One Boston item, “Idaho Rancher Revealed as Gangster from Boston,” was pretty entertaining). But only in Baltimore was the term used to describe a second-floor end unit.

This kind of fact-checking can be fun, but it’s also important. We don’t want to have any errors in the work we put out there for the public to see, read, etc. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a quick google search, but we also go to much further lengths to make sure we’re getting things right. (In fact, the web must be used with much caution, since so many websites repeat errors and falsehoods.) So I’ll continue to trust Dean, but check up on him every once in awhile.

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A Synagogue’s Move to the Suburbs: The Beginning of the Future

Posted on May 14th, 2012 by

A blog post by Molly Martell, Johns HopkinsUniversity, Class of 2015

This semester I was able to take a course through Johns Hopkins and the Jewish Museum of Maryland called “Staging Suburbia” in which we, as students, helped the curatorial team at the JMM take a closer look at the move of Baltimore’s Jewish population from the city to the suburbs in the 1950’s and 60’s. At one point in the course, I was to interact with some of the museum’s collections. It was then that I found this “Beginning of the Future” pin in the JMM’s database.

 

2002.111.003

With the information on the pin as my starting point, I began trying to figure out what happened on May 3rd of an unknown year, hoping it would somehow fit into the story of the migration of Jewish families, businesses, and places of worship to the suburbs during the 1950’s and 60’s. After thoroughly searching the web and the museum’s archives, I was still no closer to finding out what event the pin was tied to. It wasn’t until I started reading through Jan Bernhardt’s On Three Pillars: The History of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, 1871-1996, that I was finally able to uncover the history of this little pin.

On January 20th, 1952, Chizuk Amuno began promoting theme of “Toward New Horizons for Chizuk Amuno” (Bernhardt 249). They enacted plans enacted to move the synagogue to suburbs. By October of that year, Chizuk Amuno was able to put down a deposit on a71-acre plot of land on Stevenson road.

Despite the progress that was made on the synagogue’s move to the suburbs, “Excitement surrounding the relocation plans was put aside in January 1953, as Milton Fleischer decided to step down from the presidency of the synagogue after serving as an officer for 55 years- 31 of them as president” (Bernhardt 252).

Plans for the synagogue’s move was overshadowed by the president’s retirement and for five months, the synagogue focused more heavily on welcoming the 8th president, Isaac Potts, to Chizuk Amuno’s congregation.

To re-engage interest and support in the relocation project, “a ‘Festival of Synagogue Music,’ coordinated by Bernice Kolodny, was held on May 3rd, 1953 and featured renownNew York cantor Arthur Wolfson as soloist. Dr. Hugo Wolfson conducted a choir of 75 voices and an orchestra of 40 musicians in 3 works by French-Jewish composer Darius Milhand. The concert attracted citywide attention as more that 1,200 listeners crowded into the sanctuary” (Bernhardt 253). The “Beginning of the Future” pin was most likely used as part of the festivities this day in 1953.

The little pin represents Chizuk Amuno’s goal to relocate to the suburbs, despite losing its president of 31 years. It conveys a message of hope and would have most likely been used in conjunction with the music festival to raise money for the new synagogue and spread the word of its new suburban branch. The move to the suburbs was cyclical in many instances- Jewish families and businesses would move to suburbs as synagogues began to move, and more synagogues began to move as families and businesses began to choose the suburbs over the city as well. 

Chizuk Amuno’s move from Lloyd Street to Stevenson Road mirrors not only the desires of Baltimore Jews of this time to become a part of suburban life but also the larger American ideal of the time- to embrace the future and strive for a life determined by oneself.

Ground was broken for the new synagogue three years later.

1991.007.022 Chizuk Amuno School groundbreaking, October 1956.

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