Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Month Abroad: Part Three - Seattle

This is the third in my series of blogs on my recent four weeks in the US. Part One (Iberia) is here. Part Two (GRIP) is here.

Time and Place
The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) conference was held this year in Seattle, a place I had never been. I was supposed to have gone to the World's Fair with my parents and brother fifty-four years ago, but chose not to. That's a story for another time. So there was something of a personal closing in attending this conference.

In fact, I had originally planned to skip it entirely due to the fact that the entire conference was scheduled for the period of mourning for the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. Not just during "the nine days" - we have seen that before - but with the Tish'a beAv fast Sunday there was no way do get home in time. (It is my personal custom not to do that fast abroad.)

The timing during the nine days of mourning also precluded my participation in any of the entertainment-type aspects of the conference, though I usually skip those anyway just because they do not interest me.

In the end, because of the publication last year of my book "ENDOGAMY: One Family, One People," I decided to submit several speaker proposals and if they were accepted and scheduled for the beginning of the week, I'd come for the first three days, going home to rebuilt Jerusalem Wednesday morning. I appreciate the efforts of the Program Committee to make that happen.

During my three days at the conference, there was a minyan for services three times a day and they were quite well attended. Thanks to Elliot Greene for organizing a Sefer Torah and siddurim.

Program items
In Part One of this series, I discussed my participation in programs that are relevant to my own probable Sephardic heritage and the important Conversos Project, so I needn't repeat them here.

I attended two other DNA talks and one meeting. On Tuesday at 7:30 AM, the legendary Steve Morse spoke about the basics of DNA. Why do I need to hear about the basics of DNA? Well, first of all, Steve is an entertaining speaker and I had never heard him on this particular subject. Furthermore, he has a way of simplifying complicated subjects, which can be useful even if you are already familiar with the material. For instance, Steve addressed the fact that Y-DNA mutations are more frequent than mitochondrial DNA. He pointed out what should be obvious, that even if the mutation rates of the particular alleles are the same, there are so many more in the Y chromosome than in the mitochondria that the appearance of any mutation in the Y ought to make the total Y much less constant than mitochondrial DNA. In fact, the question should be why the mitochondrial DNA mutates relatively quickly.

Another DNA talk was by Mary Kozy on autosomal DNA, at one-thirty Sunday. I must admit that I had never heard of this speaker before and I attended just to see how other people present subject matter that is similar to my own.

At 7:30 Monday I participated in the DNA Project Administrators meeting which was run by Yitzhak Epstein. Janine Cloud was there representing Family Tree DNA. It was a useful meeting. I think Janine had a lot of trouble hearing through Yitzhak's heavy accent.

Just after the lunch break Tuesday, I attended a talk by Rob Weisskirch on "Strategies for Online Research on Immigrants to Argentina." The description is
For many Jewish immigrants, Argentina served as a haven and means to build a new life. With the largest Jewish population in South America and 8th largest in the world, many relatives may currently reside or had resided in Argentina. For genealogists, there are Internet resources that can be accessed at a distance that can help track and locate relatives from the past and current ones as well. This presentation will provide strategies and Internet resources for finding those relatives with ties to Argentina as well as review the history of Jewish immigration to Argentina.
Although I don't have a lot of activity in Argentina, there were bits that I may find useful.

Monday after the lunch break, I attended consecutive talks by Crista Cowan of Ancestry and Todd Knowles of Family Search on what's new with each of their companies' record-searching sites. Both were useful.

Attending Todd's talk was a tough call as it was opposite Brooke Shreier Ganz' presentation on her important "Reclaiming the Records" project. But since I am unlikely to initiate such a project myself, I decided I could skip it.

Monday's lunch break featured a Media Lunch (or rather "lunch"), attended by about a dozen blogger-types and chaired by IAJGS President Marlis Humphrey. It was a very good conversation and Marlis appeared to be open to the comments and suggestions. I made some of the points that I have been trying to make for years - why must the conference be in the expensive months of July and August? What's wrong with June or - holidays permitting - early September. (Does someone think we are all school teachers?) And how about having speakers' proposals include three people who can recommend them, should the Program Committee choose to follow them up.

I was surprised to hear Marlis report that the largest line item in the conference budget is the rental of audio-visual equipment. I would think that some of the member societies could be persuaded to bring such equipment, perhaps in exchange for a free registration. Much was said about next year's conference in Orlando Florida. (Perhaps they will bill it as "The Hottest of Conferences.")

Talks I probably would have attended had I remained for two more days of the conference
Carpathian Puzzle (Alex Denysenko)
Jewish Family Research in Pre-Trianon Maramaros (Vivian Kahn and Sandy Malek)
DNA of the Jewish People (Bennett Greenspan)
Jewish Portugal (Genie Milgrom)
Ancestral Towns Might Not Have Been So Ancestral (Lara Diamond) - I probably would have introduced this one

"Next Generation" Y DNA (Rachel Unkefer)
Sub-Carpathian SIG meeting
Open Access - Ethical Questions (Zvi Bernhardt)
Will You Be Able to Get Records in the Future (Jan Meisels Allen, Teven Laxer)

Speaking of things I missed, the Israel Genealogical Society submitted an authorization for me to represent them at the IAJGS Board elections. But that was scheduled for Wednesday so I missed it. I hear it was not the usual rubber stamp meeting.

My own programs
My first program "Lessons in Jewish DNA - One Man's Successes and What He Learned on the Journey" was at 9 AM Sunday, the first speaking slot of the conference. I did the first slot before, but then it was eleven o'clock. I expected a small turnout due to the early start and its being the first day, but I was pleasantly surprised by a fairly full (large) room. Robinn Magid gave a wonderful introduction and our timing was perfect. I could not see the audience well because it was being broadcast live and the lights were in my eyes, but I received many compliments afterwards. There were just enough questions to fill the allotted quarter hour.

The book sales hour afterwards was cancelled.

That afternoon, I spoke on "GEDmatch.com's Lazarus Tool As It Applies to Two Kinds of Endogamy," the maiden presentation of this talk. It was billed as a more advanced lecture, without all the usual ABCs we expect from a talk about DNA. It was in a smaller room, but the sixty-odd places were pretty much all taken and I didn't see anyone walk out. (I was worried about the getting the level right.) Jeanette Rosenberg introduced. Something possessed me to wear a suit and tie instead of one of my usual genetic genealogy T-shirts. People laughed where they were supposed to. I went too quickly, so we finished early.

The book sales hour afterwards was cancelled.

My final talk was one I had given before -  "Beyond a Doubt: What We Know vs. What We Can Prove" - and was held Tuesday afternoon in a room way too large for the audience. Lara Diamond introduced and as we both noted, could have given it herself. It is probably time to retire this one, unless some individual society wants to hear it.

The book sales hour afterwards was cancelled.

In lieu of book sales after each talk as had been promised, each speaker with books was assigned one random hour in the exhibit hall. Mine was 4:15 Monday afternoon. I - and most of the other speakers with books - found this arrangement quite unacceptable, but I did get some traffic and sales.

The folks at the company doing the recording responded to my inquiry about getting copies with "Yes we will get a list of emails from IAJGS and will send all speakers their

I look forward to seeing evaluations of my presentations. (I am still looking forward to evaluations of my talks from previous conferences.)

The exhibitors
Since I have mentioned the exhibit hall, let me say that I was surprised by how sparse it was. The big companies were there, but some of those who make this a colorful place were not. I stopped by the FTDNA booth where it is always good to see Janine. She straightened out a few things for me with some of my kits. Bennett was there.

I spent some time at Ancestry. As I mentioned in Part One, I had decided to test with them, so I did that then filled in my basic ancestral tree. For now I don't think I need to do more. As of now, I have fifty "shaky leaves" to check out. Always good to see Crista.

I let my subscription to My Heritage lapse last month as I have not used it since signing up last year. I do not find them intuitive and haven't the time to learn how to best use it and now twice they have promised to remedy this.

For me the conferences have become more about meeting old, new and online friends and less about the lectures. I guess I did that, but there were friends there I never ran into despite the fact that all the lecture halls were in one area. I roomed with Avrohom Krauss, an American Israeli, like myself, from just outside Jerusalem. We know each other mostly from the minyan. We had a rollicking time - not at all appropriate for the nine days.

Part Four is here. And a Part Five is here.


  1. The challenge with IT costs is that most hotels / conference centers require you to rent the equipment from them. It is a revenue generating line item - for work I attend (and we do) many conferences. Thanks for the summary. I agree about the timing of the conference.

  2. Maybe, Susan, but some people at that meeting said that they know conferences where speakers are expected to bring their own.

  3. September would be disastrous for those of us who teach, and then it runs into the chagim besides. I think June would be good though. I've only been to half of one because it was close by.

  4. Some school systems start in early-mid August are that's already a problem for some people's summer activities. But June is vacation for many more people than in my school days.

    Sallyann said that years ago she did a June IAJGS conference and she got tons of hate mail from teachers. (Her choice of words.)