Jewish genealogy for Connecticut residents

By Cindy Mindell

Genealogists will joke good-naturedly about their “gene-aholism” to describe the addictive nature of researching one’s family tree. To wit, the latest newsletter from the Jewish Genealogical Society of Connecticut suggests that you know you’ve succumbed to the condition when “You introduce your daughter as your descendent.”

“It’s like being a detective solving a mystery,” says Marcia Indianer Meyers, the society’s past president and current program chair. The Detroit native began researching her family as a teenager, intrigued with the family’s unusual name, Indianer. “You have to give up nearly everything else you do in life.”
Members of the society’s board will lead several workshops at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford’s Family History Day on May 2. Beginners can learn how to interview older relatives and best books to reference. More advanced genealogists will learn how to access and use documents such as ship passenger lists and naturalization papers, and how to find information through city clerks and state libraries.
Founded in 1988, the Jewish Genealogical Society of Connecticut is housed at the Godfrey Memorial Library, a library of genealogy and history, in Middletown. The non-profit statewide organization is a member of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies.
Resources include a lending library of books, periodicals, and audiotapes, as well as newsletters of Jewish genealogical societies from around the world. A monthly program explores a particular aspect of genealogical research. On Sunday, Apr. 11, scholar and writer Ron Arons, author of “The Jews of Sing Sing,” will present “Researching Criminal Records.” The program will be held at 1:30 p.m. at the Godfrey Memorial Library, 134 Newfield St., Middletown.
As for online sites, Meyers says that the novice genealogist may not be best served by Ancestry.com, where many services carry a fee and the information provided is not always thorough. A good starting point, however, is to check the U.S. Census link on the site, and then work backwards to the 1920 and 1910 Censuses. Researchers must keep in mind that the surveys are not always completely accurate, Meyers says.
The Jewish genealogist is better off starting with JewishGen.org, Meyers says, whose large menu of options and links includes many free resources like Ellis Island records and the Polish-Jewish database, Jewish Records Indexing.
And, of course, interviewing one’s relatives is always a good jumping-off point. “Our society’s president, Georgia Haken, always recommends, ‘Start with yourself: Who are your parents?'” Meyers says.
Meyers started by interviewing her father and continued her research at the National Archives in Chicago while living in Indiana. American Jewish genealogists are fortunate, she says, because they can access a nationwide network of Jewish genealogical societies.
All seasoned genealogists have at least one “a-ha!” story to illustrate a particularly satisfying breakthrough in their research. While exploring the Indianer side of the family, Meyers found the name of an uncle on a 1921 ship passenger list, in a section labeled “Record of Detained Aliens.” The notation, “Husband in hospital,” remained a mystery until Meyers met the uncle’s granddaughter at a family reunion, who filled in the details. “When my uncle was on the boat coming into New York, he wanted to stay up all night to make sure he saw the Statue of Liberty,” Meyers says. “When he disembarked at Ellis Island, his eyes were red so the officials thought something was wrong with him.” He and his wife were detained for two days, then released.
“Some people like to research their families in order to collect names,” she says. “My husband and I are more interested in where our ancestors were from and what life was like during the times they lived in. To us, it’s more meaningful to know what they went through.”
For more information on the Jewish Genealogical Society of Connecticut: www.jgsct-jewish-genealogy.org / (860) 346-4375.

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