Judi Gyory Missel grew up not knowing much about her extended family.
“Because my parents were orphans after the war, they knew about their parents and their grandparents, but there weren’t a whole lot of details,” she said. Birth dates and names of siblings or cousins were among the missing details.
Missel’s mother was 14 when she arrived in Auschwitz. Her father was 19 when he was taken into the Hungarian slave labor battalion during World War II.
“That whole generation of grandparents was gone,” Missel said.
She began researching her family history in her late 30s when she moved to Arizona in 1986. Now 71, she is still finding new information about her family and has helped others do the same. She’s attended the International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, an annual convention put on by the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, at least eight times before. This year is her first as chair of the conference, which is the group’s 41st. It will be virtual and runs Aug. 1-5.
“Some people just want to know their ancestry. But a lot of us are thrilled with the concept of finding a living relative that you didn’t know about,” she said.
Around 900 people from all over the world usually attend in person. Last year was the first time the conference went virtual and more than 2,000 tuned in. It went well despite the sudden shift in format, she said. Missel has high hopes for this year’s conference, having worked out all of last year’s kinks.
Usually, people walk around with badges that have their last name, the town their family is from and a list of some names they are researching. “And it is totally serendipitous that you can walk around with 800 or 900 people and magically spot a name you’re researching on somebody else’s chest,” she said. This year, the virtual conference will re-create that experience — somewhat — and have a tool for people to see who is researching which names.
This year’s conference will also include more than 100 pre-recorded on-demand video presentations and live-stream presentations, both available for 60 days after the conference ends. “We have a huge range of subjects,” Missel said. One speaker is focusing on how to find family history based on family recipes and another is focusing on the history of early Jewish settlers in the United States.
At least three other Arizonans are involved in the conference as presenters.
Risa Daitzman Heywood, who lives in Sun City part of the year, has a company called Research by Risa which specializes in Ashkenazi Jewish research. She’ll host three presentations. Two are about learning which records can be used to find relatives and family history, and another is on a little-known organization in operation from 1900-1922 called the Industrial Removal Office, created to help alleviate overcrowding in the Jewish neighborhoods of New York City.
Janette Silverman lives in Phoenix and heads a team of researchers specializing in Eastern European and Jewish research at Ancestry ProGenealogists, the division of Ancestry.com that does private client research. She will present about finding and using Holocaust records.
Emily Garber lives in Phoenix and is chair of the Phoenix Jewish Genealogy Group and a board member of the IAJGS and the Arizona Jewish Historical Society. She will present about genealogy learning opportunities available online and how to plan and execute family research.
“It’s actually a really good way of learning history,” Garber said. “In a very painless fashion, I have learned so much about the history of some Eastern European countries that I really had not absorbed very well before. I needed to understand where records might be, what the records might be, what happened to my family, and why they left when they did.”
This year’s conference will also have translators available to read documents. A translated document is one of the ways Missel found a living cousin in Australia.
“I had found the obituary of my two-times great-grandfather, but it was in German because it was published in a newspaper close to Bratislava intended for Hungarians,” she said. Missel couldn’t read it so she took it to a translator and recognized her great grandparents’ names. She learned “a wealth of information” like all of his children, in-laws and siblings. She found her cousin using that document along with a DNA test with FamilyTreeDNA.
“We WhatsApp all the time. It’s very cool,” she said. JN
To learn more about the conference and to register, visit iajgs2021.org.