Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By Christine DeSouza
Assistant Editor 

Author David Laskin to speak about family history at JGSGO event


With television shows like “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Finding Your Roots,” it is no wonder that genealogy is the second most popular hobby in the U.S. (gardening is No. 1). It is also the second most visited category on the Internet (next only to pornography).

In light of this growing interest in family histories, on Jan. 12, 2015, Congregation Ohev Shalom and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Orlando (JGSGO) will present a special program featuring David Laskin, author of “The Family,” which is the story of his own ancestors whose lives were impacted by events in early 1900 Russia through the Holocaust.

Laskin likes to write nonfiction novels about “ordinary people swept up in the catalysm of history.” His first two books, “The Children’s Blizzard” and “The Long Way Home” required months of research into the history of the times and the histories of the people he was writing about. He never really thought of it as “genealogy.” His specialty was (and is still) the intertwining of people and historical events.

Laskin considered himself more a writer than a genealogist. In fact, he did not have the urge to dig into his family’s genealogy until he realized his family also was caught up in a crisis in history.

“It never occurred to me that I’d find a story with my own family,” he stated. “Through my Israeli relatives I learned that an entire branch of my family was wiped out (in Russia) and the light bulb went off.”

When he began his research for “The Family,” an interest in genealogy started to creep into his bones. He regretted not really paying attention to his relatives as they spoke of the old days. “When family members die off, along go all the stories of their lives,” he said.

“I grew up hearing stories that my immigrant Jewish grandparents told about the ‘old country’ (Russia) that they left at the turn of the last century. How I wish I had recorded and video-taped every one of their memories.”

He continued, “I traced and braided together all three strands of my family—from those who came to America and realized the American dream, while at the same time another branch were pioneers in Israel, living a very primitive lifestyle.”

Through his connection of world events to family history, Laskin has crafted a talk expressly for those interested in their own family histories. He uses “The Family” as a springboard into the subject of researching family history and how to identify the crucial details by which one family can embody the great currents of world history.

In the course of his lectures he has had people approach him and say, “This could have been my family. It is so similar to our family history.” And it is a similar story for so many Jewish families in America.

Is one ever too old to start researching their family history? “Heavens, no!” he exclaimed.

The family history websites available are a great resource, however Laskin said to first try and go straight to the source—family members still alive. “Contact everyone you know, cast a wide net! Begin the old-fashioned way—talk to your relatives! Then go to the websites,” he encouraged. “And you never have to search alone,” he commented. Two other areas that are very helpful, Laskin suggested, are local genealogical groups—like the one in Central Florida—and the local library.

Laskin will discuss all this at the program presented jointly by JGSGO and COS on Jan. 12. The event will be held at Congregation Ohev Shalom, 613 Concourse Parkway S, Maitland, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and admission is free.

In addition to Laskin’s talk, there will be five door prizes given out during the evening. These include: A gift card for a one-year World Explorer subscription to Ancestry.com ($299.95 value) (the most widely used website for searching for records to build your family tree); A certificate for a one-year subscription to www.fold3.com ($79.95 value) (a specialized website for searching military records, city directories, naturalization records for buildling your family tree); A certificate for a one-year subscription to www.newspapers.com ($79.95 value) (a website to search old newspapers for obituaries and articles useful to building your family tree); A copy of Family Tree Maker- PC Version ($39.95 value) (software to create your family tree); and a copy of Family Tree Maker - Mac Version ($39.95 value) (software to create your family tree).


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