Re: Tips for Archival Research #galicia

Connie Fisher Newhan

Dear Karen,

You've written an absolutely wonderful post and reminder to us all.
Behave well and with basic courtesies - how hard can that be?

Best Regards,
Connie Fisher Newhan (#1272)
California, USA
HERSZLIKOWICZ, HAMBURGER (Bedzin, Lagiza, Zarki, Poland), GERSTEN (Obertyn,
(Veliuona,Kaunas), CAHN (Koln), FRIEDSAM (Bodendorf, Coln? Germany,
Pittsburgh, PA), NEWHAN/NEUHAN/NEUHAHN (Hesse Cassel, Meimbressen, Germany,
Baltimore, MD), BOHORODCZANER (Potok Zloty, Ukraine), LEVINE, BLUM, ROTH,

In a message dated 7/4/2009 9:30:32 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time,
roekard@... writes:
Last Sunday (6/28/09) I gave a talk entitled: WARSAW, JERUSALEM,
LVOV: Adventures in Archiveland and Beyond, in which I described (in
an interesting way) how to use different archives and how to integrate
the esoteric material you find. I had been told to expect around five
attendees because it was summer, a Sunday, and happening mid-day on a
glorious day in San Francisco Bay. Amazingly ~20 people came.

I gave my talk and afterwards, in the Q &A, one of the attendees
pointed out and questioned the amount of times I expressed gratitude
to the different people who have helped me or given me ideas, and
especially the archivist/librarians globally. Someone else remarked
about how challenging the experience with employees of archives can
be. Other people then made similar comments and the discussion veered
in the direction of the problems genealogists have with employees of

After folks finished what they had to say I reminded them of the
perspective >from the other side of the archivist's desk. I pointed out
that for many archivist/librarians, and especially in the formerly
Communist countries, the pay is fairly low, the workload high and
there may be little encouragement to work harder than a good day's

What must it be like for them to have people show up at their desk who
don't speak the language, have no idea how to find documents but are
then insistent that they be helped IMMEDIATELY to find their
grandfather who came to America >from "somewhere" in Russia, (for
example). What must these archivist/librarians think when some of
these same people who come demanding help also manifest behavior that
is entitled, huffy and ungrateful? And we can wonder if bad
experiences with folks whom they identify as "Jewish" then carry
over to the next "Jew" who shows up manifesting even slight amounts of
impatience. You get the idea.

I pointed out that as a human, as the child of a Chassidish-valued
home with a Holocaust (refugee) Survivor father, I learned the
importance of acknowledging anyone who helps me and/or behaves as my
Rebbe, my teacher - to give them credit; that no one has to do
anything to help me even if it is their job; that I MUST express my
gratitude both in my behavior towards them in the moment (in material
and non-material ways) and afterwards, to their bosses and to others.

I believe that this moment-to-moment, day-to-day behavior (spiritual
practice) on my part is at least part of the reason why I have had
such incredible luck, ease and success in my use of archives.

The participants in this discussion encouraged me to make this point
often and publicly; hence this note.

Some suggestions:

(1) I encourage you all to BEHAVE WITH GRACE AND GRATITUDE when you
visit archives this summer: bad and ungrateful behavior will reflect
badly on all of us and affect the experience we each have in doing
archival research;

(2) I encourage you to plan your visit to an archive beforehand - have
your guide/researcher do some archival research and ORDER RECORDS
BEFORE you get there, any ones that they think might be valuable or
interesting for you to look at;

(3) I encourage you to LEAVE ENOUGH TIME and have patience: NOTHING
WILL HAPPEN QUICKLY no matter what you say and especially if you get
huffy - I have seen folks who acted badly get nothing and be told that
they could not be helped even as the same archivist/librarians went to
get me record after record;

(4) I encourage you to remember to WATCH WHAT YOU SAY and follow the
Jewish path of avoiding speaking "lashon ha'rah" and "rechilut" -
gossip and tale bearing and honor the path of "right speech" - ENGLISH
SPEAKERS ARE EVERYWHERE even if they don't let on that they speak
English. I once spent two weeks in an archive and it was only as I was
getting ready to leave that the archivist/librarian started speaking
to me in English!

(5) I encourage you to let your guide know that you understand how
overworked and underpaid archivist/librarians can be and ask what an
APPROPRIATE GIFT OF GRATITUDE for them might be - just as you would
bring when you visit someone's home (and then remember to give a gift
of gratitude to your guide, additional to what you pay them:
ultimately, they make or break your trip by their attention to detail!)

The most basic and universal of spiritual practices is gratitude: I
encourage you all to take it on as your own. It will change your life
for the better .... completely.

Thank you.

Shabbat shalom,

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