02 February 2012

It's snowing in Mecca

I overcame the usual stress of getting ready for a trip: doing the basics to get things tucked away at work, anticipating clothing needs in a foreign climate (all places where there is actually winter weather are foreign), and packing (I acknowledged to myself and to my husband my embarrassment at being a technology dinosaur – why, I don’t even have an iPad or a smart phone! The closest I come is my iPod Touch. I still have favorite pens and pencils – maybe I shouldn’t go to RootsTech…) And then, I put the finishing touches on my plans for searching at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.  There is never enough time to prepare, but finally, at about 9 P.M. the night before my flight, I sang que sera, sera and resisted the urge to stay up till the wee hours searching through online indices for previously unsecured remnants of great great uncle whatshisname.

On Wednesday, I arrived about 11 A.M., shuttled to the hotel and when they told me it was too early to check in, I knew just what to do: out the back door, down the alley and around the corner to the Family History Library (FHL).  As I’ve come to expect of any LDS-sponsored genealogical venture, the FHL is fantastically organized and was ready for the onslaught of more than 4200 eager (read rabid) RootsTech genealogists. The place seems filled with books about and microfilm from every corner of the earth.  For many, including me, this was our first foray in the FHL – although I now know that my time spent in the Mesa Regional Family History Center was good preparation for this place, albeit on a smaller scale.

It’s a thrill to be able to locate an appropriate microfilm number and immediately get ones hands on the film.  Truth be told, for Jewish genealogy the FHL is a mixed bag.  They do have some things from Galicia in the areas where my mother’s mother’s family was located.  I found the one Liebross record from Okopy I’d identified in Gesher Galicia's All Galicia Database.  I do not yet know if or how this Mene might be related to my Liebross family, but it’s nice to acquire a record without having to wait months for the Polish Archives to locate and send it.  Beyond that, for me at least, the relevant Eastern European records are scant.  But that is not because the FHL hasn’t tried.  A couple of years ago at the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) conference in Los Angeles, CA I heard Kahlile Mehr, the Manager of the Slavic Collection Management & Cataloging Dept at the FHL, say that he’d been trying for more than ten years to get an agreement with the Zhytomyr archives in Ukraine.  Ach!  He also didn’t have access to Khmelnytskyy or Zalishchyky archives in Ukraine (triple ach!) – all places I need.

Anyway, the FHL is great for New York City records.  And I decided to do a vacuum-like search (look at everything in sight) for one of my hiding relatives: Moses/Morris Epstein (my great grandmother Hoda Wilson Epstein’s brother). Before I left home I queried Italian Genealogical Group Vital Records index of NYC death records for all Moses and Morris Epsteins and, list in hand, used Steve Morse’s One-Step tool for finding FHL film numbers for NYC vital records (why hadn’t I found that before).  After one day of maniacal searching at the FHL, I’ve gone through about ¾ of my list of likely films.  Haven’t found him yet.

Thursday I was busy with the conference.  I’ll get back to my research Friday night when the FHL stays open for RootsTech until midnight.  Then I'll probably get into their considerable collection of books.  For now, out through the snow and across the street to the Convention Center.

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