I have finally recovered from the Genealogy Jamboree held June 7-10, 2012 in Burbank, California. I have attended for years (since the event was much smaller, and held in Pasadena), and keep coming back. Wanna know why?
Here is what I learned:
Cath Madden Trindle’s lecture, “FDR’s Alphabet Soup: Records from the Great Depression,” pinpointed where I might find documents that relate to Edward and Ruth Berman, cousins who worked in Washington DC during the Depression. Ruth was an economist and city planner who worked for the Social Security Administration not long after it was first formed in 1936. Edward was a member of President Roosevelt’s Brain Trust. I have just emailed Cyrus Lipsitt, the archivist and director of the Director and Archivist of the Franklin D. Roosevelt American Heritage Center Museum, to find out if they have any material relating to either my cousin or her husband.
Laura G Prescott presented a visually splendid lecture entitled “Treasures Within the Ivory Tower,” about how academic libraries can be useful to family historians. I was particularly interested in this subject because I am looking for the papers of Sidney Hillman, founder of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, for which my grandfather was a union organizer in the 1920s. I’ll also plan to find out more about Valparaiso College of Dentistry, which my great-aunt Jeanette Fabbri attended because her 1904 dental certificate from Russia was inadequate to let her practice in the United States. Also, a cousin and the husband of another cousin were both academics. Ms. Prescott pointed me toward the University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library, where I plan to search for information about my cousin Erwin Hamson, a foreign language professor after whom a building on the campus was supposedly named. And I’ve already identified at least one source of academic papers by Edward Berman.
Warren Bittner fascinated me with his case study, presented during his lecture on complex analysis of genealogical evidence. You may not have heard of the term “complex evidence,” but you know the type of evidence I mean even so. My complexities include a great grandfather who was known by two different first names and three different surnames (like my grandpa who was Jacob Issakovich Kishinevsky in the old country, Jacob Nevsky after the family first moved to Chicago in 1899, and Jack Neff for the rest of his life. Bittner pointed out that software programs with fixed fields into which we enter genealogical data may give us as researchers the false sense that we no longer have to perform complex analysis of evidence. It is not enough to share just a GEDCOM with the next generation. We must also write up reports of how we reached the conclusions we did based on the documents we find, so subsequent generations don’t have to replicate our work to confirm.
Denise Levenick, The Family Curator, taught me how to make an archivally safe container for my late- 19th century family photos without going bankrupt. She also suggested that families make a time capsule with copies of documents, photos and other mementos, and bury it somewhere well documented for the next generation to dig up.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned was from Steve Luxenberg, author of Annie’s Ghosts, during his session “Lost in the Unknown: The Delicacy of Probing Family Secrets.” There are certainly a bunch of secrets that infiltrate my family’s history, which is why I attended. Steve’s take is that the truth of what story someone tells about events that happened long ago is not as important as the emotional meaning behind the story that is remembered. As a “just the facts, ma’am” kind of writer, this really resonated with me.
Here is what I experienced:
Star gazing – or rather, planet gazing. Susan Kitchens, fellow writer, friend, and blogger at http://familyoralhistory.us, set up her telescope on the forecourt of the Marriott and invited fellow Jamboree attendees (and a few strangers) to gaze in wonder at Jupiter, and (for those with sharp eyes) one of its moons.
Being a star – I dressed up for the Hollywood Gala, including opera gloves and a tiara. I looked every inch like a “someone” and carried myself accordingly. I even have the pictures (thanks, Linda Cremer) to prove it.
Here is what I felt:
Accepted. During the twenty years I have been researching my family history, my family members have never understood my passion for genealogy. But at Jamboree, I interact with 1600 other people who know why I find the subject so intriguing. People whose eyes don’t glaze over when I wax poetic over finding that long sought for census listing, obituary, or marriage certificate. Thanks, fellow genealogists, for making me feel that I belong.