MARBLEHEAD – “Nobody ever doesn’t say, ‘I wish I had asked my grandparents,’ including me,” said Carol Clingan. As the research projects coordinator of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston, Clingan comes across many people who wish they had asked their grandparents more questions about their families’ pasts. Luckily, Clingan has decades of experience in discovering those answers.
On March 15 at Temple Sinai in Marblehead, Clingan will treat the North Shore to an “Introduction to Jewish Genealogy,” a talk cosponsored by Sinai, the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore, and Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead.
For two hours, Clingan will explain how to get started answering all those questions you wish you had asked your grandparents. Thanks to several online databases from places like Ellis Island, Yad Vashem, and detailed Massachusetts vital records, there are many ways to solve the mysteries of the past.
“There’s a lot online now: you can get census records from every 10 years and track your family back, there are passenger lists, and citizenship records,” said Clingan. Thanks to marriage and death records that list the names of parents, Clingan said she can generally help Jews trace their lineage to the generation before immigration to the United States, most between 1880 and 1920.
She can also help people find the original surnames and birthplaces of distant ancestors, which she says are among the most common requests. According to Clingan, census records, citizenship records, and ship manifests (detailed passenger lists) can provide all of this information. If you find out that your relative was naturalized after 1906, you’re in luck: after that year, a standardized form requires citizens to state their name, date of birth, and place of origin, and the name of the ship they came on and the date it arrived and at which port.
Clingan gives many introductory classes like this in her role with the Greater Boston nonprofit, which grew out of a small group meeting at Hebrew College in the early ’80s to one of the largest Jewish genealogy societies in the country. She recently gave a similar talk in Malden, and will speak at the Peabody Essex Museum during Salem Ancestry Days May 1-4.
The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston offers extensive resources and inexpensive memberships. For $35 a year, members have access to free monthly talks; extensive research libraries at Temple Emanuel in Newton; and three research Sundays a year, which offer help from genealogists with translations, strategies, DNA results, and more. Members also can join special interest groups devoted to in-depth research on the Jewish history of a particular country of region, like Lithuania or Galicia. The JGSGB also offers a comprehensive eight-week genealogy course at Hebrew College once a year.
Numerous resources also are available on jewishgen.org, a veritable treasure trove of specific databases, online genealogy courses, discussion groups, and information about many of the same resources and strategies that Clingan will discuss in her talk.
There are many resources available to learn about our ancestors. But Clingan says that the most valuable discoveries are more than names and dates: “I always tell people to find any photos you can, and ask anybody you can what stories they have.”
Carol Clingan will speak at Temple Sinai, 1 Community Road in Marblehead, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on March 15. Call 781-631-2763 for registration and more information.