A career as a pioneer Jewish genealogist that began at a family funeral is winding down.
Miriam Weiner, a native of Secaucus, N.J., who started investigating her own family’s Ukrainian roots after meeting some aging relatives in 1983 and deciding to document her family’s background before too many living resources died, embarked on a path that led her to research dozens of other Jewish families’ Old Country pasts.
Along the way she conducted individualized genealogical research, led dozens of family tours to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, opened up once-closed archives in many once-communist communities, bought a home in western Ukraine, produced two encyclopedic books (about roots in Poland, and in Ukraine and Moldova), taught herself a little Russian and Polish, wrote a syndicated newspaper column, established a foundation (rootstoroutes.org), reunited with some previously unknown kin and became the first Jewish genealogist certified by the Board of Certification of Genealogists.
Her work, which began in pre-computer/pre-email times, brought her to Europe and the FSU 75 times. “I’ve gone through a lot of luggage.”
Now, Weiner is staying closer to home (she hasn’t gone overseas for four years), and is looking for a home for the thousands of often-rare-and-irreplaceable artifacts she has accumulated over the years. Documents in at least a half-dozen languages. Rare telephone books. Maps, some of them hand-drawn of small towns. Photographs. Postcards.
Some of the items are financially valuable; others, of great sentimental worth. They fill up shelves and boxes and every inch of available space in her apartment. “Nobody has these archives as far as I know,” she says, pointing to a crammed folder. Then, some old books. “Nobody has these.”
She wants to give most of the stuff to an appropriate institution.
“In 2006 I donated about 1,200 books to YIVO [they now constitute The Miriam Weiner Genealogy Collection]. Then, several years later, I began thinking about finding a repository home for my archival collection and extensive library,” she says. “I want this to be accessible and to be used by people who will benefit from this material.”
Weiner has contacted several Jewish institutions, and the Library of Congress; some have accepted some items. Many of them have a specialized focus; none want her entire collection.
While she looks for the proper recipient, she takes on a limited number of research clients, updates the database on her website, and scans her rare maps.
All this, by herself. “I don’t have a secretary.” At 74, she says, “I can’t work as hard as I used to.”
Michael Berenbaum, Holocaust expert and author, calls Weiner “indefatigable – she knows what she wants. She is not satisfied until she gets what she wants.”
Berenbaum, who has known Weiner almost 40 years, gives her credit for helping open up the archives of communities from whence come an estimated 75 percent of the American Jewish community.
In her spare time, Weiner says, she wants to do some non-work-related travel. This month: a trip to Tampa, to watch the New York Yankees’ spring training.
And, she says, she has another goal — “I want to finish off my own family history. That is not finished.”