Preserving roots and branches
Jewish Genealogical Society volunteers safeguard family histories for current researchers, future generations
By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer
Molly Blumer’s parents always kept up with their family history. “Then I married Jeff and became Jewish and was very interested in what happened to Jeff’s family in the Holocaust,” says the 36-year-old mother of three.
Blumer began attending meetings of the Dayton Jewish Genealogical Society, a non-profit organization housed on the third floor of Beth Abraham Synagogue in Oakwood.
“When I heard that the group might fold, that’s when I stepped up and said I’d like to be more involved,” she says.
“Thank you, God!” chimes in society stalwart Marlene Carne of Blumer, who is now the society’s co-president with longtime member Marcia Jaffe.
With 20 members and low attendance at recent meetings, the society contemplated closing in June. But a recent Boy Scout project and Blumer’s can-do attitude have given the group a jolt of hope for the future.
“We are an organization that provides information to genealogists who are trying to do research on their families,” Blumer says. “So either they’re doing research here in Dayton or worldwide. A genealogist is like a scavenger hunter. When you find that piece of information that you didn’t have before, you have such excitement.”
Dr. Leonard Spialter, 88, single-handedly established the society in 1987, based on his own meticulous research into Montgomery County records.
The society’s most important resources are printed copies of Spialter’s compilation of necrologies, records of local Jewish deaths, 1850-1999. The society also has a record of area Jewish marriage licenses, 1845-1968.
“There were a number of us years ago that went down to the county offices and did marriage licenses,” Carne says, “and we had to go through the books page by page because it was all mixed, Jews and gentiles.”
For those who pursue family histories, there is a “pay it forward” element of helping each other advance in their research.
“Genealogists are really a neat group of people,” Carne says. “I did a research project for a friend and he gave me the family name. I asked questions on JewishGen.org. People from all over the world read it and they give you answers. I’ve worked with a family in South Africa. Their family came from Dayton. On JewishGen.org, you can find out what city has a group, and that’s how they get to us and how we get to them if we need another city. If they ask what we charge, we say we’ll take a donation.”
The society, a member of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, is now a participant in JewishGen.org’s Worldwide Burial Registry, thanks to Northmont High School sophomore and Eagle Scout candidate Anthony Esposito.
The registry is a photo record of gravestones at Jewish cemeteries.
“I just thought we needed to start doing this,” Jaffe says. She contacted Scout leader Steve Fraim, a member of Beth Abraham Synagogue, to see if any Boy Scouts in the Dayton area might take on the project.
“I thought this would make a great Eagle Scout project,” says Esposito, who is not Jewish but has an interest in genealogy.
He and members of Troop 246, family members and volunteers from the society met at Beth Jacob Cemetery on June 19 to photograph the congregation’s gravestones.
Blumer says she hopes other Scouts or youths looking for Bar and Bat Mitzvah projects will step up to help photograph gravestones at Temple Israel and Beth Abraham’s cemeteries, and Temple Beth Or’s section at David’s Cemetery.
“This is a wonderful thing because you can get into the registry and type in a name and a country and all these names will come up,” society member Sandy Schoemann says.
“I have started, probably in the last three, four years, connecting all the illnesses in my family,” Carne says. “Another thing I concentrate on since I’m getting old is that I want my family to understand that we have relatives all over the world.”
The Jewish Genealogical Society of Dayton will hold its next meeting on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 1:30 p.m. at its office on the third floor of Beth Abraham Synagogue, 305 Sugar Camp Circle in Oakwood. Eagle Scout candidate Anthony Esposito will discuss his burial registry project, and Dr. Mike Jaffe will explain how to use GPS in genealogy research. The program is free. Individual membership is $15, $20 per couple. For more information or to R.S.V.P. call Marcia Jaffe at 277-2954.