Sunday, August 25, 2013


I am going home Monday (arriving Tuesday) at the end of a twenty-seven day trip to the US, so I suppose it's time to record some thughts about the time I have spent here - chiefly the Conference in Boston. (Right now, Blogger is in one of its moods and I cannot even get it to accept links.)

Last week's blog was basically a placeholder, saying nothing at all and with no announcements about it on Facebook or anyplace else. Oddly enugh, accrding to Blogger's count, I had about the same number of unique visits as any other week. So I suppose it doesn't matter if I say anything or not. But I am not so much speaking to readers as I am recording my work and experiences in genealogy.

Shabbat in Brookline was very nice. I was with a family I didn't know, arranged by a neighbor of mine who made aliyah from there a couple of years ago. In the course of Shabbat, I met a man who was getting married the following week at the Poale Zedeck in Pittsburgh, so I was able to send surprise regards to my uncle. Friday I went over to Irene's house and I talked Pikholz genealogy with her and her husband and older son. Irene participated in the Conference and our paths crossed several times a day.

The Conference hotel left something to be desired, starting with space to move around in the guest rooms. It would have been crowded in that room if I had been there with my wife. So much moreso with a roommate. A third cousin of my wife's, actually, and a very nice fellow. The lecture halls were cold, even for me. The elevators were terribly slow, but fortunately I was on a low floor and took the stairs much of the time. All told, the hotel gave us the facilities we needed and on balance was not bad. I used one of the lunch breaks to meet an old friend from my Chicago days - someone I hadn't seen in forty years. (He says he reads tis blog - Hi Zale.)

Morning minyan was well-attended, between eighteen and twenty-five people, with a brief class beforehand on the subject of exhumation and reinterment. Afternoon and evenng services were less well-attended, but we managed. The ever-reliable Elliot Greene (with whom I have a DNA connection) handled all the arrangements, including siddurim and a sefer Torah

One of the most interesting lectures was by a woman who was raised Roman Catholic who managed to prove her Jewish ancestry back to the Inquisition and added to the historical record of her ancestral Spanish town in the process. She eventually received letters both from the Rabbinate in Jerusalem and from a prominent US Sephardic rabbi attesting to the fact that she was Jewish from birth. I bought her book "My 15 Grandmothers" which tells that story. Her journey could have ramifications for many other Conversos, who are interested in returning to their historic Judaism, five hundred years after their forced cnversions.

Logan Kleinwaks spoke about what is new on his wonderful website, It used to be mainly directories, which can be searched using Optical Character Recognition, but he has been adding other types of records as well. I hsve to spend some time on the site when I get home.

Online Historical Jewish Newspapers was the subject of a talk by Janice Sellers. The tiny room was overflowing, with people sitting on the floor and standing along the wall. It was good, though I already knew quite a bit of what she presented.

I attended other lectures as well, but these were the best of the bunch.

I attended two meetings - one of JRI-Poland volunteers and town leaders, run by Stanley Diamond and Robinn Magid. The other was the Sub-Carpathian SIG, run by Marshall Katz (both a DNA match and a yinzer). I'll do a separate post in a few weeks about Marshall and the Sub-Carpathians and why this interests me at all. (Related to this was a lecture by Olga Muzychuk, the Deputy Director of the Ukrainian Stete Archives. Perhaps I'll have more on this when I blog about Marshall.)

My cousin Adam Brown spoke about what he considers the next big thing in genealogy - online, collaborative trees and in particular He knows well that I have reservations about this kind of thing. In fact, I have an article in the coming AVOTAYNU called "Getting It Wrong" which the editor has apparently paired with Adam's article reviewing his talk at the Conference. I am already thinking out a response to Adam's article, for the following AVOTAYNU.

My main interest at the Conference was DNA and I attended everything I could. I started off with an hour of one-on-one discussion with Bennett Greenspan, the President of Family Tree DNA, the company we use for our Pikholz Project testing. He gave me some direction on the analysis of our Y DNA results. (We are close to thirty people so far, with results from thirteen.) Bennett also promised that he'd get Elise Friedman to give a webinar for project administrators, going through all of FTDNA's analytical tools.

I also attended his talk, which I found less useful, but it was an insight to his philosophy. I did not attend Bennett's Breakfast With The Experts session, as it conflicted with morning minyan.

There was a meeting of DNA Project Administrators, at which I had hoped to learn all about the subject. What I learned was that I was not the only clueless person in the room and I expect that the more experienced folks thought we were holding them back.

I also attended a two-hour for-pay computer session on DNA analysis for individuals who had already tested. Some came totally unprepared and we wasted upwards of half an hour because they didn't know thier kit numbers or passwords or had no idea even how to get into the site. Fortunately the room was available into the next hour, so Elise gave us some extra time at the end.

My own talk, on Tuesday at five, went very well. Barbara Stern Mannlein introduced and people seemed to enjoy it. I am still trying to get the audio recording to which I am entitled. The program people made a big deal about getting speakers' permission to video the talks, but in the end no video was done of mine. Too bad, because the audio alone is not very useful. (My Power Point was full of dynamic slides, including circles and arrows and general activity. I was surprised that in all the other lectures that I attended, Power Point served as nothing more than a slide projector. Maybe people prefer it that way.)

The next evening I had a long discusion with Russell Maurer, a micro-biologist, who had attended my talk. He seemd to think I am doing this sensibly, but cautioned about chasing any particular conclusion. That, of course, was my whle point. And as I wrote two weeks ago, subsequent test results seem to support where I am going.

I was also drafted into a Q&A panel on archives in different countries. It was a first-time event and can only get better. The biggest problem was that the questons were both rambling and off-topic.

After Boston came Miami and south Florida, Baltimore and Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Bloomington and finally Chicago and Buffalo Grove. I missed an imprtant visit at the Greyhound Station in Columbus, but more on that anther time.I saw some close family, made face-to-face connections with several Pikholz families and visited two Florida cemeteries.

Next year's conference is in Salt Lake City, the week before Tish'a beAv. My participation may be contingent on whether I am approved to speak.

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