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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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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