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Jewish genealogy: It’s not just names anymore

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TORONTO, June 4 (JTA) — Jewish genealogists are looking for more than just names of ancestors.

“Now we want all sorts of historical, cultural, sociological and anthropological perspectives to help illuminate our family backgrounds,” says Saul Issroff, a co-chair of the 21st International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, which will be held in London from July 8 to July 13.

The conference, held last year in Salt Lake City and in New York in 1999, expects to attract as many as 800 participants.

Topics will include Jewish carpets, tracing the genetic line of King David from ancient to modern times and the pattern of cousin marriages within the House of Rothschild.

While many attendees will be learning how to trace the noble lineages of barons and kings, others will be busy discovering ways to find their families’ lost “black sheep” through the use of FBI files, prison records, police crime reports and other sources.

Participants also can learn about the Jewish role in Britain’s industrial revolution and the use of genealogical techniques to trace looted cultural property in the Nazi era.

“It’s a much wider range of speakers and topics than offered by any previous conference,” says Issroff, adding that the program places special emphasis on Sephardic sources, Anglo-Jewry, genetics and Jewish migration.

“It’s amazing that interest among Jews in tracing their family trees went from hundreds of people in the early 1980s to tens of thousands of people today,” says Gary Mokotoff, a former president of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, which boasts some 85 member societies worldwide.

The first conference in 1981 attracted about 75 people, he says. The growth of the Internet is responsible for some of this tremendous growth since then, he says.

As publisher of Avotaynu, a leading journal of Jewish genealogy, Mokotoff began issuing a free monthly news bulletin over the Internet about two years ago. Its subscription list now exceeds 5,000 names.

More information about the 21st International Conference on Jewish Genealogy is available at www.jewishgen.org/London2001/.

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