Posted on October 31st, 2013 by Rachel
Photograph collections are an incredibly valuable tool for researchers. The photographs range from professional photos to snapshots taken by amateurs, sometimes with heads cut off. Sometimes the reasons why the photo was taken or who owned it is just as important as the photo’s subject. During my time at JMM, I have had the opportunity to handle a lot of interesting photos that tell a side of history that regular print media doesn’t always capture.
Fabian Kolker, 2001.013.023
Earlier this year, I processed an archive and photograph collection donated by the estate of Fabian Kolker. Kolker was a human rights activist from Baltimore who worked on behalf of Jews in the Soviet Union. Much of Kolker’s effort was directed at convincing the Soviet Union to release refuseniks. Refuseniks were Soviet citizens who applied for exit visas but were denied. Many individuals, after being denied, lost their jobs or were imprisoned. Most refuseniks were Jews, who wanted to leave because of widespread anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.
Valery and Galina Panov, 2001.013.075
One famous refusenik was Valery Panov, a lead dancer with the Kirov Ballet. After applying for an exit visa to Israel in 1972 and being denied, he was dismissed from his position at the ballet company and briefly imprisoned. After a great deal of international protest, Panov and his wife, Galina, were allowed to leave for Israel. Within the Kolker photograph collection is a photo of Valery and Galina dancing together. I love this photo for the high contrast that creates drama, but most especially for the beauty and grace of the dancers. Since this photo came from Kolker’s personal collection, we can guess that Kolker was interested in the Panovs as more than part of a political cause, but as artists and people who were being terribly mistreated by their country.
Fabian Kolker visiting Ida Nudel in Odessa, Ukraine, 2001.013.234
Kolker visited the Soviet Union several times. During a visit to Odessa, Ukraine, Kolker met with refusenik Ida Nudel, only a few months before Nudel was granted an exit visa to Israel. The collection has several photos from this visit. Most obviously, to me, these photos show Kolker taking the effort to get to visit the people he advocated for. These photos also give us a glimpse of what life was like in the Soviet Union. We see the interior of a home (take a look at that wallpaper!), how the people are dressed, and how they interact with one another.
Working with the Fabian Kolker collection has really pressed upon me the importance of preserving historical documents. These photos would be difficult to find outside the JMM collection, if they exist at all. Pairing these photos with the archive collection puts them in a context that says a lot more about who Fabian Kolker was and what he accomplished.
A blog post by Collections Volunteer Dana Willan. To read more collections related posts, click here.
Posted on October 21st, 2013 by Rachel
For those of you lucky enough to have already seen our new exhibit, Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War, you might have noticed this portrait in the beginning of the exhibit, of Betsey Wiesenfeld, neè Friedenwald.
You might also have read the letter written by Betsey’s young daughter, Rosa Wiesenfeld, to her father while he was in prison during the war.
What you might not know, is that we have a celebrity in our midst. Beloved, long-time volunteer, Betsey Kahn, is Rosa’s granddaughter, and is Betsey Wiesenfeld’s namesake! The next time you see Betsey at the front desk, try to see if you can spot the family resemblance!
A blog post by Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts by Abby, click here.
Posted on October 11th, 2013 by Rachel
With our newest exhibition, Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War opening this weekend, we have heard from many Marylanders who have family connections to the Civil War. Through extensive research, some have assembled detailed family trees and fascinating documents that highlight their ancestors’ roles during the war. This week’s issue of JMM Insights focuses on genealogy and the variety of resources available at the JMM to assist individuals as they embark on family history research.
Each month the JMM receives dozens of requests by phone and email from individuals looking for all kinds of information about their families. The most common requests come from individuals from all over the country seeking the location of a relative’s (who lived in Baltimore) gravesite or date of birth or death. Sometimes people have detailed information about the relative in question but need just one final piece of information to complete their family tree. Other requests involve more extensive research when they have limited information but hope that we can help steer them in the right path towards learning more about their family’s history. Genealogical research is very much like trying to solve a mystery and it is often fascinating following the trail of clues from one source to another. Unfortunately we are not always able to find the specific information that the researcher is seeking but more often than not, we are able to provide them some assistance or to refer them somewhere else where they might be able to find what they are looking for.
Family History Resource Page
Thanks to the assistance of many JMM staff and volunteers who have worked for years compiling valuable databases that are essential for genealogy, the JMM has a variety of resources available for researchers. Many of these are available on our website (jewishmuseummd.org/collections-research/genealogy/). For example, indexed databases for cemeteries located throughout the state include the names of individuals buried at that site, along with the date of death of the individual in question, and the section in the cemetery in which the person is buried. This information is essential for people looking to find specific gravesites as so many cemeteries are large and encompass multiple congregational plots. Other records that are used frequently to assist individuals looking for information about dates of death and location of burial are the Jack Lewis Funeral Home records (1924-1939 and 1956-1965)and the Baltimore Jewish Times obituaries.
People who want to conduct more extensive genealogical research can make an appointment to visit our library to look through our resources which also include bound editions of the Baltimore Jewish Times, census records, city directories and passenger manifest lists of ships from Europe that brought immigrants to the Port of Baltimore. We also serve as a repository for people who have compiled family trees and these are available for researchers, as well. Further resources include a database of Baltimore’s religious personnel, Yizkhor (Memorial) books of East European towns, and circumcision, midwife, and marriage records of individual Baltimore-area mohels, midwives and rabbis.
The JMM also maintains a list of referrals for researchers when we do not have the resources that they need to complete their searches.
As many of you are aware, several months ago, in order to balance the JMM budget, we made some difficult decisions that resulted in the elimination of two full-time staff positions, both of which provided valuable assistance to researchers. While other members of the JMM staff have stepped up to ensure that we are still able to provide access to our collections for researchers, we have also found two outstanding new volunteers who have taken on the task of working directly with researchers.
Edie speaking to a group from the Jewish Genealogical Society of MD.
Edie Shlian began volunteering in July. Edie has extensive experience conducting research into her own family’s history and in the few months that she has been here, she has provided invaluable assistance handling genealogy-related requests. Edie has become quite familiar with our resources and has had some wonderful successes tracking down vital information for researchers. Genealogy is truly a passion for Edie and we are fortunate to have found someone so dedicated to providing assistance on behalf of the JMM.
John Sondheim is a member of the JMM Collections Committee. A retired librarian from the Enoch Pratt Library John has extensive knowledge about local Jewish history. John is working with senior collections manager Jobi Zink to provide assistance to students, scholars and museum professionals who are interested in conducting research in our collections. Thanks to John’s hard work and dedication, we have been able to keep our library open regularly for research appointments.
We are most appreciative of the work that Edie, John, and the many other volunteers who work in our library perform as they compile genealogical databases, scan photographs, identify people in photographs, organize our vertical files, transcribe oral histories and memoirs, and process archival and photographic collections by creating new folders and boxes for materials. It is through their collective efforts that we are able to make our collections accessible to the public and to perform such a valuable service in connecting people to their past.
How To Make Use of JMM Resources
If you are interested in conducting research at the JMM, the first place to start is with our website. As mentioned above, many of our genealogical databases can be downloaded directly from our website. In addition, our collections database is available online (jmm.pastperfect-online.com/) and is the first place to start if you are looking to see if we have objects, photographs or documents that are of interest to your particular area of research.
Past Perfect Search Screen
Once you have searched through our online resources and determine that you would like to come in to research materials further, it is necessary to make an advanced appointment. Appointments can be made through the following means:
- For collections research, call (410) 732-6400 x213 / email@example.com. It is helpful to provide the catalog number of particular items from the database you would like to see and a good description of the project you are working on.
- For family history research, call (410) 732-6400 x224 / firstname.lastname@example.org
- For photograph reproductions, call (410)732-6400 x219 / email@example.com. Again, please note the catalog number and description of the photograph you would like reproduced.
Please note that messages left on by phone or email are checked by staff one-time per week and it is not always possible for someone to return your message immediately. Please try to give ample notice when you wish to make an appointment as it can take several weeks before we can accommodate your request.
One of the wonderful benefits of JMM membership is that there is no charge to make an appointment for research. For non-members there is an $8 daily fee.
Jewish Genealogical Society of Maryland
We are pleased to report that the Jewish Genealogical Society of Maryland has recently begun holding regular meetings for its members and that the JMM is proud to partner with this organization to make our genealogical records more accessible. The JGS of Maryland is an association of individuals in our community who are searching for their roots and growing their family trees. The group meets on a regular basis to share information, overcome “brick walls”, and to enhance knowledge and skills. The JGS of Maryland recognizes the importance of web based research and helps members identify and use the most valuable sites for Jewish genealogy. Members of the society regularly offer lectures and workshops regarding Jewish genealogy to the community and help others interested in discovering their ancestors and their places of origin. For more information, check out their website at www.jewishgen.org/jgs-maryland.
Be sure to stop by the JMM this weekend as we open Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War. Our members opening takes place on Saturday, October 12 at 7:30pm followed by our opening to the public on Sunday, October 13. For more details, visit our website, jewishmuseummd.org/calendar-event/upcoming/.