Beginners Jewish Genealogy class at JAO
“You are who they were.” This is just one of many quotes Laurence Morrell uses with his middle school students at the Jewish Academy
of Orlando. Morrell, a longtime and enthusiastic genealogy hobbyist, also the past president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Orlando, is volunteering
his time and knowledge to teach 11 JAO middle school students the basics of genealogy research.
When asked why, Morrell answers with a gleam in his eye and a broad smile. “Because it’s important. Too often when people begin doing their genealogical
research, they will often say, ‘Oh, I should have started 20 years ago.’ By this he means that quite often, a major, first-hand source of information is no longer
available. Once that source is gone, it’s gone unless….”
That is why he is so interested in having young people get started. People who are technologically savvy. Young
people who can both assist the older generation and involve the older generations in this project. It is also a great
mechanism to develop and strengthen the lines of communication between the students and their grandparents—and in some cases, their great-grandparents.
The first class
assignment was to begin filling out their “pedigree chart” also known as a “ family tree.” This is a good way to get them started and letting them know how much they still have
to learn about their families’ histories.
One of the interesting aspects of teaching genealogy to these young teenagers is that they do have living parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents.
Because of modern day communications with Skype, Facebook, Twitter, smart phones and including regular old fashioned land line telephones there is a possibility of
constant and instant communication. This allows the students to ask their primary sources of first-hand information questions directly.
When moving into electronic researching, quite
often the first place one looks is the latest Federal Census. In this case, it will be the 1940 Federal Census. Quite often, the grandparents of these students
are not old enough to have been included in the 1940 Federal Census. As a result, they must get either first-hand information or search the 1930 Federal Census and 1920
Federal Census for their great-grandparents’ information.
In addition to the Federal Census, Morrell teaches his students how and where to locate Vital Record documents such as birth certificates, marriage and divorce
records, and even death certificates. Other non-vital record sources of information include military records, burial records, cemetery records, Social Security Administration
records, Immigration records, Naturalization records and more.
Because of the age of the students, Morrell says, “Quite often, they can trace back five generations and never
get out of the 20th century.” It is only then when they can begin getting information about the ‘old country.’”
What is exciting for many of the students is to see the passenger list of the ship their ancestor came to America on from Europe. They also get to see the name of the ship
as well as a photograph.
Another interesting feature with this class is that several students are Israeli and one was born in Venezuela. This adds a totally different dimension to the class dynamic.
They are not left out. Morrell is also providing them with Internet sites to research their families in Israel, Venezuela, Hungary and Spain.
So far, the students say they are excited about finding and seeing copies of the actual documents pertaining to their ancestors. It is Morrell’s hope that this enthusiasm and interest will spread
to their parents and grandparents so that a complete pedigree chart can be completed, family histories can be recorded and traditions passed on to future generations.