Ashkenazic Jewish genealogy program offered at LaRoche next month
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Ashkenazic Jewish genealogy program offered at LaRoche next month

Preserve the past and better one’s self through summer study of genealogy

Flyer image courtesy of GRIP
Flyer image courtesy of GRIP

A summer institute is enabling participants to preserve their past while meeting like-minded folks. Between July 14-19 at LaRoche University, the GRIP Genealogy Institute is providing a comprehensive introduction to Ashkenazic Jewish genealogy.

Led by Emily Garber, the weeklong course will advance students’ research skills by focusing on methodology, genealogical records and geographic regions, organizers said.

“What we’re doing essentially is establishing, in this course, a context,” Garber said.

As opposed to covering the basics of how to explore cemetery or census vital records, registrants will analyze the singular treatment of Ashkenazi Jews in historical documents, she continued. “What is it that you need to understand — that might be a little different than what you might ordinarily think — when you look at this stuff?”

In terms of methodology, Jewish genealogy is no different than general genealogy, Garber said.

“What is important, and why we need to talk about Jewish genealogy separately sometimes, is that Jews themselves have had a history within Europe of being on the margins culturally, and strictly regulated economically and socially,” she said. “Often, Jewish communities, even though they were within the larger community, maintained their own languages, their own educational systems, their own internal government structures … If you don’t understand the context of past Jewish life it’s really hard to understand what you’re looking at.”

Headstones and graves in the old Jewish cemetery in Breslau. Photo by David Lisbona via Flickr at

Garber’s course, which will feature learning opportunities from instructors Lara Diamond and Janette Silverman, is like other courses offered by the institute this summer, Gena Philibert-Ortega, GRIP co-manager said. “It’s very in-depth. And it’s a very serious education for people to move forward in their knowledge as to genealogical understanding.”

The seriousness is reflected in the schedule. Days span from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with sessions dedicated to topics including changing boundaries in Europe, identifying communities or origin of the Old Country, research in the Russian Empire, and Holocaust and pogrom records.

The course is designed to increase interaction.

“With a weeklong course, you can explore various topics,” Kristi L. Sexton, GRIP co-manager said. “You can have discussions, you can have the students go do research and come back and talk about their findings.”

That isn’t to say webinars aren’t valuable, she continued.

Between June 23-28, GRIP is offering 11 virtual courses.

The in-person week is a “good opportunity to get beyond what a webinar can provide,” Sexton said. “It also gives you a network of people.”

GRIP Course Instructor Emily Garber. Photo courtesy of GRIP

“As someone who has attended several different institutes as a student, a lot of times genealogists get to a point in their knowledge and their expertise that going to conferences or listening to a one-hour webinar is just not enough, and you want this in-depth experience with other like-minded genealogists who are just as serious and fun-loving as you are,” Garber said.

Oftentimes, after meeting at the institute, students collaborate on mutual inquiries, Sexton said.

Regardless of whether someone has been bitten by the genealogy bug, preserving the past is vital, Garber said.

“Certainly from a Jewish perspective, there’s a lot to be said about doing genealogy,” she continued. “For us, it’s not a matter of trying to attach ourselves to some royalty in England or anything like that. It is a matter of remembering people who otherwise have no one to remember them.”

Keeping history alive has a present-day benefit, Philibert-Ortega said.

“When you talk about family histories, and you talk about the stories of the people that came before you — and what they survived and what they lived through — and you share the funny stories and the good, bad and ugly, your children will grow up with a better sense of belonging, comfort and strength,” she said.

Researchers note that studying family history correlates to one’s psychological well-being.

Citing a related 2008 study, The Journal of Genealogy and Family History reported that students who enrolled in a university-level family history course experienced improvements in self-esteem of 8% and reductions in anxiety of 20%.

Tracing one’s roots can be daunting, Garber acknowledged, but she encourages people to “Jump in and really envelop your life with it.”

If the prospect of well-being isn’t enough, organizers hope a discount will further entice registrants. Chronicle readers are eligible for a $50 discount on Garber’s class, Sexton said.

Interested parties must register and contact Sexton at by July 5. PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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