World Archives Project: World Memory Project Update - The 31st Annual IAJGS Conference

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In August, more than twelve hundred people from around the world converged in Washington D.C. for the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) annual conference. For six days conference goers attended classes and lectures, special interest breakfasts and impromptu lunches. They learned how to be better genealogists and they learned more about resources available for research.

During the entire conference, the World Memory Project was front and center. Hundreds of people attended dozens of classes about resources and records available through and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for genealogy research. Many of those classes included a mention of the World Memory Project and the contribution being made by this community to index these records and make them more freely accessible online.

Seven staff members from the Museum made themselves available throughout the week to help individuals learn even more about the resources offered by the Museum. Over 250 conference participants took advantage of hour long, one-on-one sessions with museum staff. During those sessions participants were taught about the records that are available through the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Survivors and Victims Resource Center. They were trained on how to search the International Tracing Service records and how to do name list catalog searches. If they found what they were looking for, they were encouraged to submit online requests for document copies. And if they didn't, they were invited to submit online research requests or to come to the Museum themselves once the conference was over and continue their research. Many did not wait long to continue their research and the Resource Center computers, housed in the Museum, several blocks away from the conference, were kept busy throughout the week and into the weekend.

Staff researcher, Sara Clark, shared her impressions about the conference:

Conference classes introduced participants to the ITS and other resources available through the Museum. Because of this, participants came to one-on-one sessions with a clearer understanding of what they wanted to accomplish in their time with us. The community was well-informed and sophisticated. Working one-on-one with them was really more of a guiding process than an education process. As we searched the databases it was just a matter of narrating the process. People really wanted to be hands-on. Many participants brought up the World Memory Project without any prompting. They are excited to participate and excited that these records are being made more accessible.

If you are ever in Washington D.C., the Survivors and Victims Resource Center at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is open seven days a week from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. You are invited to make an appointment as there are only seven computers available to the public. Access is granted on a first-come, first-served basis with priority given to living survivors and their families.

Perhaps the most prominent mention of the World Memory Project occurred during the keynote lecture on Sunday evening. Sara Bloomfield, Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, presented a talk entitled, "Honoring the Victims: It Takes A Village." Her presentation focused solely on two crowd-sourcing efforts currently underway - the Remember Me? campaign and the World Memory Project. As she spoke to a ballroom full of conference participants, it was clear that many were deeply moved by what she shared. She reminded us of the people behind the indexed names and the pictures of unknown orphans.

One story she shared, about a woman named Vladka, resonated with me as I considered the World Archives community and the work you are doing on the USHMM record collections. Sara said:

Recalling her mother’s courageous actions, Vladka said to me “During the war, my mother taught me what it means to be human.” Now I have heard much wisdom and insight from survivors. But that phrase seemed to speak precisely to our mission and to your mission. By remembering Vladka, her mother and brother—by seeing history not as just a series of events where things happen—but as the lives and deaths of individuals, in this case individuals who struggled mightily to retain their dignity in the most unimaginable situation—by remembering these people – who they were, how they were named, where they were from, what mattered to them, we too are challenged to reflect on what it means to be human in our own time. It is that humanity that was so crucial to Vladka and her family when they were abandoned by the world 70 years ago. Working together, today we too, as educators and genealogists, can help restore that humanity to so many forgotten individuals.

The contributions you have made, and continue to make, to the World Memory Project have not gone unnoticed. You are engaged in a great work! I hope you understand that. And, I hope you think about that when you sit at your computer and key these records. Sometimes it is hard. Sometimes it is tedious. It can be frustrating and you can feel alone. But, you are not alone. There are thousands engaged in this community. And, what you are doing matters very much!