The historic Park Plaza Hotel Westminster Bridge in London recently played host to the 43rd iteration of the International Jewish Genealogy Conference, attracting a diverse crowd of over 400 attendees from around the world. This marked a departure from tradition, as the conference, usually convened in the United States, crossed the Atlantic to bring together genealogists, historians, academics, and enthusiasts in the United Kingdom.
The conference, co-chaired by Leigh Dworkin, who played a pivotal role in helping his cousin Stacey identify individuals in old family photographs, provided a unique platform for attendees to delve into their Jewish heritage through the lens of genealogy. Dworkin’s work with Stacey served as a testament to the power of meticulous research and personal connections, which formed a central theme throughout the event.
The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) played a vital role in making genealogy accessible to a global audience, and the decision to bring the conference to the U.K. was met with enthusiasm. “Our last U.K. conference was in 2001,” Dworkin mentioned, hinting at the potential for future European conferences.
London’s rich Jewish history added a profound layer of significance to the event. Attendees had the opportunity to engage in discussions on DNA analysis and explore the heritage of specific Jewish communities. The conference also organised events in London’s East End, an area that once thrived with a vibrant Jewish community.
Nicholas Evans, a senior lecturer in Jewish Diaspora history at the University of Hull, described the conference as a bridge between academics, professional genealogists, and individuals passionate about uncovering their family’s past. He emphasized the value of personal dialogue in an age dominated by online genealogy platforms. According to Ancestry.com, approximately 30 million people worldwide have taken DNA tests as part of the online genealogy trend.
The event featured computer labs equipped with genealogical databases, providing attendees with hands-on experiences and the chance to seek guidance from experts. The friendly and knowledge-rich environment fostered both casual conversations and expert discussions, creating a unique atmosphere for learning and networking.
The conference was not only confined to indoor sessions; attendees also had the opportunity to visit significant Jewish sites in London, such as the Bevis Marks Synagogue—the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the United Kingdom—and a display of over 1,500 Czech Torah scrolls rescued during the Holocaust, exhibited at Westminster Synagogue.
As the event drew to a close, participants expressed their appreciation for the expertise shared and the connections formed. Anne Marcus, an attendee, praised the comprehensive sessions, with a particular highlight being a discussion on DNA interpretation. The event left attendees with a renewed enthusiasm for their genealogical pursuits and a deeper understanding of their family histories.
Looking forward, the 2024 gathering is set to take place in Philadelphia from August 18 to 22, followed by the 2025 conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana, scheduled for August 9 to 16. The success of the London conference has set a precedent for the IAJGS, demonstrating the global appetite for connecting with one’s heritage through the lens of genealogy.
- Photo by Ugur Akdemir: instant images