Now that Jamboree 2077 is over, I’m back in San Francisco. Today was another busy day, and I attended five lectures, the first one beginning at 7:30 AM and the last ending at 4 PM.
I was pleased to be able to meet Schelly Talalay Dardashti who presented a breakfast lecture entitled “Creating Hope”. Schelly is a native New Yorker who now resides in Tel Aviv. She is currently in the United States visiting relatives, attending conferences and giving lectures.
When Schelly proposed to write a column on genealogy for the Jerusalem Post, her editor told her “Who wants to read about dead people?” Nonetheless, Schelly wrote her column “It’s All Relative” from 1999-2005 and now works as a freelance writer. Several of her recent articles including, “Never give up the hope of finding family”, “A tale of three women – and a lost family”, and “Cutting-edge genealogy” can be found online.
When approached to write a blog, she reminded her editor that she was over 20 years old. In its brief existence, Shelly’s Tracing the Tribe has become an enormously popular blog that targets those studying Jewish genealogy yet is relevant to all genealogists.
Schelly described her first forays into genealogy in 1989 when her daughter came home with an assignment to fill in a sheet with information up to her great-grandparents. Schelly noted that her own ancestry included origins in Belarus, with anecdotal evidence that the family arrived in Belarus from Spain, an unusual migration, indeed. Her husband’s family was Persian, where there were no written records.
Despite these obstacles, Schelly set out with her daughter to study those records she could find and, after looking at so many microfilms in their quest to discover their family history, her daughter now claims that looking at microfilms makes her dizzy. Through her research, Schelly has traced both her own ancestry and her husband’s ancestry through Belarus, Russia, Lithuania, Spain, Iran, and other countries back to about 1740.
Schelly wrote an article for the JTA entitled “Ashkenazi or Sephardi? DNA Unites Jewish Families, but Raises Questions” in which she discusses the DNA evidence for a group of Litvaks and Galizianers who all genetically match Sephardi and Catholics from Spain and Puerto Rico. As Schelly described the groups, if a Litvak and a Galizianer cross the street to avoid each other, it’s a good day, and so the connection was unexpected.
Other information provided by Schelly is that Sephardic genealogy is relatively new, and DNA analysis of Sephardic Jews in Colorado has shown that these people carry the Ashkenazi breast cancer gene BRCA1.
Many Sicilians may have Jewish ancestry since Jews once comprised a large population in Sicily. Although Jews were expelled from Sicily in 1493, many stayed, and so many present-day Sicilians have Jewish ancestry.
Schelly also told a story of a Catholic in Canada who thought that his mother may have been a “hidden child”, delivered by Jews to a Catholic family shortly before the entire Jewish population of that village was removed to concentration camps by the Nazis. Mitochondrial DNA analysis showed a connection to Ashkenazi Jews.
In another story, Schelly explained that the Cohanim gene is carried by less than 1% of non-Jews, since the gene tracks with the Jewish priestly line who didn’t marry non-Jews. A full 30% of the residents of one town carried this gene, although the residents did not identify as Jewish.
As Schelly put it, DNA provides a spark to us to get where we’re going. When you know where you’re from, you know better where you’re going.
Jewish genealogical resources mentioned in Schelly’s talk include: Yad Vashem – the Central Database of Shoah Victims, the Istanbul Jewish Genealogy Project, the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry, the Holocaust in Latvia, Bezeq, the Israeli Telephone Company (for which Stephen Morse once provided a portal in English), Litvak on JewishGen, Gesher Galicia, and the general JewishGen website.
When asked why genealogists are so nice, Schelly replied that you have to be nice to everyone, because you don’t know who will have the next piece of the puzzle on which you’re working.
Later this week, I’ll post more about the other Sunday lectures.
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen J. Danko