Pat and I spent last week in the nation’s capital attending the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies’ annual conference.

My brain is full and I am trying to get some organization going so it all doesn’t just spill on to the page in a random fashion.

The Conference:

The conference was in some ways the usual conference, good sessions, not so good sessions, lots of stuff going on all the time, lots of noise, but there were some differences.

First, there was a translation service.  Since the Jewish people arrived in this country from many other non-English speaking countries many of us have old documents and letters in languages we do not speak.  The conference offered a free 20 minute translation session in at least half a dozen languages. I took advantage of this service.  I have two photos with Yiddish writing on the back.  Now I know what they say and I have a clue to my great-grandmother’s family.













The conference also had a resource center with access to many subscription databases.  This included a full day of Proquest, including the Sanborn maps.  I didn’t take advantage of this; you can’t do everything, even in 24 hours.

I’ve been doing genealogy for over 20 years, and at the risk of sounding egotistical, the best sessions in this conference left me feeling like the dumbest person in the room.  This doesn’t happen to me very often anymore and it is a great pleasure.  In other words, I learned a lot.

Outside the Conference:

I am going to omit the astonishing amount of eating and drinking we managed to do in one week, not to mention the talking.  I have taken a vow of silence for the week and am now on a low everything diet.

Seriously, Washington is our nation’s capitol and what it offers to genealogists, to all Americans and to all our visitors is astounding.  The National Archives, the Library of Congress, the amazing  number of world-class museums, and all available at my favorite price, free. Yes folks, it’s all free because it belongs to you and if you possibly can you should go and enjoy it all.

We spent a few hours at the National Archives mother ship.  I knew I wouldn’t have enough time to do ten percent of what I wanted to do, so I picked the top two. Number two didn’t pan out, but number one surely did.  I went in with the number for Sam Silver’s pension file. The archives staff takes requests and pulls original records a few times a day.  We arrived about noon and had to wait for the 1:30 record pull.  We did a bit of browsing and fooling around on the computer and, of course, we ate.  At 2:15 I had Sam Silver’s pension in my hand.  The original hundred-year-old documents, not copied, not microfilmed, the originals, with Sam’s actual signature on everything.  I have stories to tell and I don’t have space to tell them now, but that pension file burned my fingertips.

The next day we visited the Library of Congress.  For the price of a reader’s card, free except for ten minutes filling out forms and having a photo taken, you have access to everything in the library.  If you go, have everyone in your party get a reader’s card, even if they have no intention of reading anything.  A reader’s card allows you access to the main reading room, one of the most beautiful spaces in a city of beautiful spaces.  We spent most of our time in a small room with city directories.  I don’t know if they have every city directory ever published in the U.S., but they had all of the cities we were interested in back to the very early years of our country.

This post is already too long.  I’ll just finish up by saying that in addition to all the learning, eating, and drinking, Pat and I both had the pleasure of reuniting with family.  One of Pat’s cousins attended the conference and one of my cousins lives outside of DC, so we had the pleasure of visiting and talking about today’s family. It is easy in the quest for family long gone to lose site of the pleasures of extended families still here creating more family history.

We had a fabulous week and I’ll have much more to say as I digest it all.

Two weeks before the conference:

Once I (Pat) got back from my quick trip hunting for Denman land and cousins, I started to seriously consider what I need to do to be prepared for the upcoming IAJGS conference in Washington, DC. Thanks to Judy, we are prepared with hotel room and train reservations. Now I need to think about clothing!

Maybe I should also think about planning which talks I want to attend, what I want to learn, what information I need to take with me (or have available). Hm. It has been just about 3 years since I attended a big conference like this one and I am excited but somewhat overwhelmed. Especially since I am really a beginner when it comes to Jewish genealogy research.

Judy and I talked briefly about plans to meet on the train. I emailed with cousin Nancy who is also going to be there and she sent some tips (she’s attended a number of these conferences, including last year in Los Angeles). I shared her tips with Judy. I started printing out information I want to be sure to have available, and the brief description of the offerings.

The week before the conference:

I wrote a set of notes for myself about each family line, and what I know and don’t know. Mostly this is to give me a reminder about what information I need to search for. It turns out that in some cases I know more than I thought. I also have a clearer idea of next steps. But I also am feeling overwhelmed by the amount I don’t know, and the ways to research that I need to learn.

Finally, I sat down and looked at the schedule of events and started marking things that look interesting. This list will change a number of times I am sure, but now I have a preliminary idea of what I want to do. Most of this week has been devoted to organizing the household for my absence and working and chatting via email with a new Denman cousin.

Last day before we leave:

I’m scrambling to get it all done, and hoping to remember everything. I want to take my entire office and home computer with me!

Traveling day:

Got myself together and onto the Amtrak train headed for Washington. The deal was that Judy would join me at New Haven and we’d ride the rest of the way together, talking all the way. And we did. There was some scrambling to get her onto the train and her suitcase up overhead but then we were set. By New York we were sitting together and beginning to catch up.

Judy in the taxi line at Union Station

This is Judy in the taxi line at Union Station in Washington DC. We made it!

We have been here for a full day now, and are already filling our brains and overwhelming ourselves. And having a great time. We have already heard about evidence other than records helping prove a relationship, using Steve Morse’s one-step webpage for doing things than finding passenger lists, Ukrainian resources, using voter registration, and a little about using the Sanborn maps (which are going to be available online for one day in the resource center at the conference). Whew! And this is almost the end of the first day’s activities. This conference offers activities from early morning until late in the evening, including special interest groups and various movies along with the usual talks and vendor room and lots of networking. Including that cousin Nancy is here and there will be time to chat with her and, I hope, to get her to talk about her grandmother Ida.

So now it is time for us to go find some dinner and a drink, and then come back to figure out the schedule for tomorrow. We will likely have other things to say about this conference and what we learn and hear in the future.