By Ann Rabinowitz

Since the advent of Skype and other such Internet capabilities for free voice, video and instant messaging from computer to computer (and to regular landlines and cell devices at an additional cost), the capabilities of genealogical researchers has been opened to a whole new vista of opportunities to learn more about their families by stretching their horizons to places far from home.
For instance, the other morning, I, at my computer in America, using Skype, called a friend in Israel, who is a former South African, and we then connected with a fellow genealogist in South Africa . . . it was just a pleasant get-together or what amounted to a conference call that ended up crossing three different continents!  Fortunately, we just managed to call each other at a time appropriate for all three people.

So, what did we happen to talk about?  As longtime South African researchers, we caught up on all of our projects and friends and what they were doing.  Then, our call resulted in discussions about the newly revitalized Jewish Genealogy Society of South Africa and the upcoming second meeting; ideas for also revitalizing the Cape Town group; collecting info on places such as Woodstock and Salt River before the people who have the information are no longer available; a chat about the recent talk by former South African Eli Rabinowitz and his travels to Poland (and no, I am not related to Eli); connections to the Norwitz and Scop families as well as the Amoilsky, Gordon and Rudolph families; South African connections to Taurage and Neishtat, Lithuania; the need to get in touch with a relative in Johannesburg whose e-mail had been lost; and many other related and unrelated matters such as the price of tea in China as my mother would have opined.

Had we been interested in doing so, we could have used our conversation as a panel discussion which could have been broadcast at a JGS meeting or saved as a pod cast as what we chatted about was basically how to find out information about our families . . .

Do you remember so and so, didn’t he or she live at such and such a place in a particular year, remember their father and mother and when they came over from such and such a town in such and such a country, wasn’t such and such their cousin, etc.

One of the things I noted in our conversation was that many of the families we discussed were those that were related by marriage and were not directly related.  It made me realize, once again, how important it is to contact not only your direct relatives, but those of the spouse who may know quite a bit about your family, especially if they were from the same place or were related.  In South Africa, where the families are generally from Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Germany, and a small percentage from Rhodes, and are related closely, one to the other, it is important to note these connections.

Another thing to realize is that many of the individuals who have information about our families are now getting much older than when we first contacted them.  The time to reach out and contact them again is shortening.  This is especially true of individuals that were contacted 15-20 years ago before the Internet and ability to obtain foreign records, scan documents and copy photos.
Another factor is that many of the older generation in South Africa have moved away to Israel, Australia, Canada and America, to name a few places, and it is harder to get in touch with them.  Fortunately, this is where Skype comes in handy to locate them as well as the ubiquitous Facebook.

An instance of this is my relative who I had lost track of.  I was desirous of getting in touch with her as, recently, through the efforts of the Ukmerge District Group on the LitvakSIG, I was able to get a listing of foreign passports and there on the list was my relative’s family in 1936.  This included Gertie, who was a year and half, as well as her twin Chana and two other sisters of three and four years of age, along with their parents.  They were listed as going to South Africa and their files had photos and other documents. 

Can you imagine?  Having photos of the four sisters as small children . . . what a lovely keepsake!  I am hoping to be in touch with Gertie again soon and she will be able to see this information and enjoy it.  In the past, I had been able to obtain the sisters’ birth records from Balninkai, Lithuania, which is not available on the LitvakSIG due to the 100 year rule for records.  It was lucky I was able to obtain them before the rule went into effect.

In regard to our discussions about the Norwitz and Scop families which all three of us were familiar with, it made me revisit my information on these families after our call was ended.  Revisiting family trees is a great way to add new information or records that are now available to researchers.  In addition, I determined that there was now an effort to update the family trees by one of the family researchers and my two friends were just the people to contact this person to help him with his efforts.   

Another thing we had fun discussing in our conversation was the town of Neishtat and its three permutations:  called Neishtat Tavrig, Neishtat Sugind, and Aleksandrovsk and which is now called Žemaičių Naumiestis.  We all pulled out our references and discussed which was what and where they were as we segued in a further discussion of the town of Taurage which all three of us had connections to and to people in South Africa who had connections to the town such as the Rudolph family.

Sometimes, Skype calling can get quite hectic, if everyone talks at once, but usually it is a pleasant experience, especially with video where you can view the caller as well as speak to them.  In addition, whilst you are talking you can use the Instant Messaging function and send files and other information such as family trees, photos or links to things of import to your discussion.  Our time spent was quite helpful and we plan to chat again and perhaps add individuals from, at least, two more continents.  Who knows what topics we will get onto and what families we will discuss?

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