Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland


Past Programs




December 8, 2019

Annual Meeting
Election of Officers and Trustees
Dr. Sean Martin shared highlights of his sabbatical in Poland.

Dr. Martin taught as a Visiting Professor in the Institute of History at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, during the spring 2019 semester. He taught in a special, English-language program within the Institute, Studies in Central and Eastern Europe: Histories, Cultures and Societies. He taught twentieth century Central and Eastern European survey courses, with a focus on Jewish history. During his stay in Krakow he also spent time doing research on Polish Jewish history and re-acquainting himself with Kazimierz, the city's Jewish neighborhood. Martin told us about Jewish studies and Jewish life in Poland today and about his travels throughout the country and region.

November 17, 2019

Kirsten Fermaglich
Author of "A Rosenberg by Any Other Name"
Associate Professor of History, Michigan State University.

Two sessions co-sponsored by the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland (JGSC,The Laura & Alvin Siegal Lifelong Learning Program of Case Western Reserve University, and the JCC Jewish Book Festival.

Session 1: 1:30-2:30 p.m.

We tend to think of name changing as something that only immigrants do—or perhaps movie stars—hoping to escape their families and find their way in a glamorous, rich New World. But beginning in World War I and intensifying during World War II, thousands of native-born American Jews in New York City changed their names together as family units. Why would these ordinary Jewish Americans seeking jobs not as actors or singers, but as businessmen, lawyers, and secretaries change their names? We discussed their motivations, their experiences, and their struggles.

Session 2: 3:00-4:00 p.m.

How did leaders in the Jewish community respond to name changing? How did Jewish comedians, writers, and directors respond? How did name changers' neighbors and co-workers respond? We talked about negative responses from Jewish leaders after World War II, who tended to assume that name changers were trying to escape the Jewish community. Quietly challenging these negative images, however, were the voices of Jewish name changers who continued to describe themselves as Jews, explaining they changed their names so that their Jewish identities would not impede their ability to get through daily life.

October 2, 2019

Getting Our Records Back
Brooke Schreier Ganz

Our guest speaker, Brooke Schreier Ganz, founder and president of Reclaim the Records, provided an update on her efforts leading Reclaim the Records, a not-for-profit group that files Freedom of Information requests to get public data released back into the public. Their goal is to get these record sets put online for free, open to everyone. And if the government doesn’t comply, they take them to court. To date, they have been successful in reclaiming over 25 million records. She reported Learn about the work of Reclaim the Records, including their most recent success stories and what is on their “To-Do” list.

Brooke Schreier Ganz is the first genealogist to successfully sue a government archive for the return of records to the public. A computer programmer, she is also the creator of LeafSeek, a free open source records management platform and multi-lingual search engine that won second place in the 2012 RootsTech Developer Challenge. Her work has helped non-profit organizations like the Israel Genealogical Research Association (IGRA) and Gesher Galicia publish over 1.5 million unique genealogical records online for free use. She also designed and built one of the first public API’s for records sharing between non-profit genealogical organizations.

September 4, 2019

Report on the 2019 IAJGS conference in Cleveland

Ken Bravo gave a report on the attendance and some of the programs at the conference. He was followed by Robin Selinger, Feige Stern, and Jaime Klausner, who each had not previously attended an IAJGS conference. They each spoke about their experiences and what they considered to be highlights of the event.

August 7, 2019

Genealogy Activities You Can Do With Your Kids and Grandkids
Sunny Jane Morton

The best way to TELL family history often involves SHOWING it. In her presentation, Sunny Morton shared experiences that have inspired her own kids' interest in history and their family's place in it. These included activities that teach younger generations the value of their OWN stories; thoughts about finding the right "hook" for each person; how to tell a good short story (with an emphasis on SHORT); and hands on experiences that fire historical imaginations young and old.

July 28, 219
August 2, 2019

IAJGS 2019
International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies
39th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy
Hosted by The Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland

Over 1,000 attendees, exhibitors, volunteers, guests, and others, were hosted by the JGS of Cleveland at  the annual IAJGS conference, held at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown. The attendees came to Cleveland from 16 countries on 5 continents, and those from the USA represented 36 states plus the District of Columbia.

July 10, 2019

A Town Called Brzostek
A Documentary Introduced by Russ Maurer

The program consisted of a screening of the award-winning documentary, “A Town Called Brzostek.”  This documentary is a compelling tale of a professor from London who goes looking for his Jewish past In Poland and how a reconciliation takes place that reverberates around the world.

This one-hour film, which won awards for its beauty and sensitivity at two Jewish film festivals in eastern Europe, presented the story of Professor Jonathan Webber, who returns to the place of burial of his grandfather.

Upon his arrival, he learns that a vacant plot of land is the only remnant of the former Jewish cemetery. With the help of the mayor, priest and local community, the main protagonist restores the burial site and brings about its consecration. It also includes the interesting stories of three different families with roots in Brzostek—from Australia, France and the United States—who returned to Brzostek for the commemoration ceremonies.

June 19 & 24, 2019

My Parents Were Holocaust Survivors and There Are No Records...

In conjunction with the Kol Israel Foundation, we conducted a two-part beginner genealogy workshop geared to Second and Third Generation Holocaust descendants who know very little about their fa mily history.

Topics covered included:
  • Learning how to get started
  • Locating ship manifests
  • naturalization records
  • Explore key websites and International Tracing Service (ITS)

June 5, 2019

The Temple Archives—A Valuable Resource for Genealogists
Jane Rothstein, Archivist for the Temple-Tifereth Israel

Jane Rothstein is used to hearing genealogical questions like “was my ancestor a member?” and she generally answers by saying “maybe.” The Temple-Tifereth Israel Archives are a relatively untapped treasure for exploring Cleveland Jewish history and genealogy. Holdings include records from the congregation’s founding in 1850 through the congregation’s growth under Rabbi Moses J. Gries and Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, and on to the present. Jane provided an overview of the Archives’ collection and discussed the type of records genealogists may find especially interesting.

May 15, 2019

How Jewish Ancestry Impacts Genetics

Sarah Mazzola and Megan Quinlan, two board-certified genetic counselors with the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Personalized Genetic Healthcare provided a general overview of common conditions in individuals with Jewish ancestry such as Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome due to BRCA mutations. They also provided helpful information for those who are considering meeting with a genetic counselor, and what to expect from genetic testing.

Sarah's presentation focused on non-cancer related inheritable disorders such as Gaucher, and also touched on prenatal risk screening. Megan shared information related to inherited cancer risk in the Eastern European Jewish population.

April 3, 2019

Tracing Our Ancestral European Roots—A Panel Discussion

Five members of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland shared their journeys to ancestral villages in Europe in conjunction with last year’s IAJGS Conference in Warsaw. Helen and Paul Wolf, Muriel Weber, Anne Lukas, and Henny Lukas Fierman have all gone to great lengths to trace their families' ancestral roots and identify unknown, missing and lost relatives over many years, if not decades. They reveaedl some of the twists and turns in the road that led to some amazing discoveries—not to mention a few surprises.

March 3, 2019

Peter J. Haas
Abba Hillel Silver Professor Emeritus
Case western Reserve University

The Clubs: What Excelsior and Oakwood
tell us about Jewish Life in Cleveland

In 1872 about two dozen Jewish business men, excluded from other clubs in Cleveland, met to form their own social club. The result was the Excelsior Club which hosted Jewish high society life in Cleveland for the next nearly 60 years. Due to changing social, demographic and financial factors, the Excelsior Club voted in 1930 to end its separate existence and to merge into the newer suburban Jewish club, Oakwood. This Oakwood Club continued to be an important part of the Cleveland Jewish community until it was dissolved in 2010 and its membership combined with Mayfield Sand Ridge Country Club.

This talk focused on the social history of our community from the character, trajectories and experiences of these two institutions. It also focused on how these clubs throw light on larger trends that were shaping North American Jewry.

Peter Haas

February 3, 2019

Russ Maurer, JGSC Trustee
Spoke on
The Latest and Greatest in Litvak Records
the Vilnius Household Registers

Russ Maurer, who coordinates the household register project for LitvakSIG, recounted the events that led to the introduction of household registration to Vilnius in 1919. He explained how household registration worked, information which provides the background necessary to understand these records and the unique insights they can provide into one's family over the inter-war years. The presentation was illustrated with specific examples.

Russ Maurer

January 6, 2019

The business meeting included Installation of our Officers and Board for 2019 and a drawing of prizes for early payment of dues for 2019, followed by our speaker,

Amy Wachs, Immediate Past President, Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland


Amy described what family recipes can tell you about your ancestors’ places of origin and life in the shtetls of Eastern Europe.

December 2, 2018

ANNUAL MEETING - Election of Officers
Report on the 2018 IAJGS conference  in Warsaw.

The meeting began with Annual Reports by President, Sylvia Abrams, and Treasurer, Marilyn Baskin, the annual election of officers and trustees, and a report by Marlene Englander and Paul Wolf describing our new website.

Following the business meeting, Speakers Marlene Englander, Sean Martin, Anne Lukas, and Ken Bravo reported on the 38th Conference of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies which was held in Warsaw, Poland in August. The panel shared conference sessions and experiences, and discussed the upcoming 39th conference, which will be in downtown Cleveland from July 28 through August 2, 2019.


November 11, 2018

Lara Diamond, President, Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland

Session 1/DNA 101: How to Use Genetic Testing for Genealogical Research

Recent scientific advances in genetic sequencing allow consumers to test their own DNA in a quick and non-invasive process. In this lecture, Lara Diamond explained how you can leverage such tests to assist in your genealogical research. She discussed the various sorts of tests available (including autosomal, yDNA and mtDNA) and explains the types of genealogical questions each one can help to answer. She also explained how each company presents results, the strategies for transferring results from one company to others, and how to use them to assist in your genealogical research.

Session 2/Sorting Out Distant Cousins From Close Family:
Genetic Testing in Cases of Endogamy

Genetic genealogy is particularly daunting for those whose forebears come from endogamous populations (such as Ashkenazi Jews, native Hawaiians and Cajuns, who have married in a closed group for generations). The work of identifying actual relatives from the mass of genetic distantly-related family can be frustrating. Drawing on case studies, this lecture explained how you can have success in such a situation. For Lara Diamond, this work has led to reunification with many relatives, including a family branch thought to have been killed in the Holocaust.

Lara Diamond

October 10, 2018

Patricia Edmonson
Curator of Costumes and Textiles
Cleveland History Center of the Western Reserve Historical Society

The Way We Were: What Photos Tell Us

Ms. Edmonson provided valuable tips to understanding and preserving family photos (1870’s- 1920’s) plus

  • Creating a photographic family tree
  • Using clues from clothing and hair styles to date images
  • How to organize and store archival materials properly
Patricia Edmonson

September 20, 2018

Introduction to JEWISHGEN.ORG
an interactive workshop for members

Led by Russ Maurer

September 5, 2018

Mark Jamba, DVM

What Killed Grandma: Dissecting Death Certificates

Before the introduction of antibiotics and certain vaccines there were common illnesses that were often life-threatening and could be found handwritten on death certificates.

Understandably, it would become challenging for family genealogy researchers to comprehend fully what were common causes of death in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Veterinarian Mark Jamba helped demystify historical medical terminology in his lighthearted presentation, as he explained the common causes of death dating back more than a century ago with emphasis on understanding the impact that sickness had on our ancestors and history. His presentation covered each of the major organ systems with the necessary scientific terminology broken down into prefix, root and suffix to further comprehension. Fourteen infectious diseases that often killed our ancestors were introduced and for each the cause, transmission, diagnosis and treatment was highlighted.

Mark Jamba

August 5, 2018

Judy Cetina

Cuyahoga County Archives
3951 Perkins Avenue

We had a guided tour of the Cuyahoga County Archives now located in the former Halle Brothers warehouse at 3951 Perkins Avenue, Cleveland.

The Archives encourages the use and scholarly research of all County records and makes staff assistance available for that purpose.

This was an opportunity for members and guests to learn about the holdings and resources available to the general public as well as research policies and procedures.

Time was available for questions and responses from archivist Judy Cetina and members of her staff.

July 11, 2018

Harry Brown
Partner - Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP

Creating an Ethical Will

There is an old Jewish custom whereby a parent writes not one, but two wills. The first is a conventional or disposition will to pass on material possessions. The second, equally or even more important, is an ethical will. The ethical will states the values in which the parents want the children to subscribe. Attorney Harry Brown shared examples of ethical wills and how they are prepared in contemplation of death to create something of meaning that will live on after we are gone, providing a sense of completion for our lives.

Harry Brown

June 21, 2018

Introduction to ANCESTRY.COM
an interactive workshop for members

Led by Murray Davis

June 6, 2018

Betsie Norris
Founder and Executive Director of the Adoption Network Cleveland
and Mark Elliott

Accessing Adoption Records

Betsie Norris spoke about current laws regarding adoption records in Ohio and other states, including the movement to open previously closed birth records to adult adoptees. In addition, she also addressed how DNA testing can help reunite adult adoptees with their birth families. Mark Elliott, who was adopted at the age of 2-1/2 from Bellefaire, shared his journey to a successful reunion with his biological family members.

Betsie Norris

May 2, 2018

Sunny Morton

Comparing the Genealogy Giants,, and

These genealogy giants all provide international audiences with tools and records for researching family trees online. But which should you use? We learned why we should be familiar with all four sites; subscription and free access options; and how they compare for historical record content (including records for Jewish research), family trees and DNA tools, and we were told about insider tips on each site’s best features—and cautions or challenges for working with each.

Sunny Morton

April 11, 2018

Sylvia Abrams, President, Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland,
Ken Bravo, President, International Association of
Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS), and
Chuck Lissauer, Past President, Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland


The speakers shared valuable techniques that led them to experience “aha moments” in researching their own ancestors, and revealed insights from years of examining marriage records, census documents and school yearbooks to enhance family research. Each cited specific examples of breakthroughs they had made and invited questions from the audience on how to get the most value out of their investigative research. Tips from “how to” video clips on census records, marriage documents and school yearbooks were also featured courtesy of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Long Island, New York.

Sylvia Abrams discussed marriage record information that can further family research. Ken Bravo provided tips on making the most of federal census reports. Chuck Lissauer spoke about examining school yearbooks as a source of useful information for genealogists.

March 4, 2018

Matthew Skvasik
Innovation Programming Specialist
Cuyahoga County Public Library

The Memory Lab at the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Library Branch
An Asset for Genealogy Research

Matthew Skvasik explained the equipment, capabilities and software that can be used for free in the library’s lab to digitize and preserve family photographs, artifacts and other items.

Matthew Skvasik

February 4, 2018

Mitchell Balk
President, Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation

Whither Jewish Hospitals - the Mt. Sinai Legacy

Mitchell Balk discussed the history of Jewish-sponsored hospitals in the United States, with a focus on Cleveland’s Mt. Sinai Medical Center, In his presentation, he explained how the medical institution has had a lasting impact on the community through the grantmaking Foundation formed from its sale in 1996 and the people who fondly remember the history of the hospital.

Mitchell Balk

January 7, 2018

Ken Bravo, and Richard Spector

Installation of Officers
Learn how to “Break down Brick Walls”

A panel of experts, past presidents of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland, gave advice on how to break through a brick wall while researching your family tree. They shared research strategies and examples of how they have found missing ancestors.

Ken Bravo Richard Spector

For lists of earlier programs and speakers, click on the ARCHIVE tab on the menu bar at the top of the page.