For locals hoping to dig into their family’s roots, the Jewish Genealogical Society of Maryland can help. The group teaches classes, holds talks with experts and tries to arm people with the tools they need to do effective research.
“Now, because of the internet, there is significantly more material available from your home,” Dick Goldman, the group’s president, said. “Hundreds of thousands of records are being put online every day.”
Goldman has been researching his own family for 60 years, starting when he was 11 years old. By age 12, he had 60 people on his family tree. He already had about 2,200 people on his tree prior to the advent of the internet. His family tree numbered 9,625 at the time of our first interview, and he had files for about 150 people to add. He’s made it back to great-great-great-grandparents who were born in the 1700s. People doing their own research contact him several times a year after finding that their family trees are part of his.
Duke Zimmerman, a founding member and a vice president of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland, hopes to pass his findings on to the next generation.
“I just wanted to know more about my family and I thought that my five grandchildren deserve to know where they came from,” he said.
Through working with a cousin in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Zimmerman’s tree now numbers 2,861, with the oldest name dating back to 1775.
“Doing research, you hit brick walls when you think that you can’t go any further,” he said. “And one of us will get through that wall and encourage the other.”
Through research, he’s reconnected with relatives, even taking a vacation in Mexico with cousins he hadn’t seen in years. As a photographer, he’s also taken great pride in restoring old photographs of the family, which he’s shares with the family.
Like Zimmerman, Laura Diamond connected with relatives through her research, finding a fourth cousin who lives in Baltimore. She has 4,000 people on her family tree, which dates back to the 1700s, although she has anecdotal evidence that goes back further.
“It surprised me how much they moved around Europe,” she said. “[There were] migrations taking people hundreds of miles. I’m trying to understand why and how.”
She’s currently researching archives in Ukraine to go further back on her tree.
“I don’t see it ending, just getting harder the further back you get,” she said.
Susan Steeble detailed her genealogical search and what it means to her in an article for the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland’s newsletter. In it, she explains how she searched through census records, ship manifests, naturalization records, Social Security death indexes, marriage, birth and death announcements and cemetery records. Through letters, she found an ancestor by the name of Rebbe Raphael of Beshad (Ukraine), who lived from about 1751 to 1827. She learned about his teacher and their connection to Chasidism, which led her to learn more about her ancestors in Ukraine.
Like the other, Steeble has reconnected with relatives near and far, who have shared their memories and information.
“I feel that my life is changing and I am coming home to Judaism as I gain a deeper understanding of my spiritual roots,” she wrote. “But this is a process, and I am still near the starting point.”