Interview with Todd Knowles

Posted December 15, 2010 by Geni | No Comment

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into genealogy. On your blog (The Knowles Collection) you mention being related to Morris David Rosenbaum – was it your quest for his story which turned your once hobby into something more?

When I was 12 years old I filled out my first pedigree chart. Like so many others I was just curious as to who my ancestors were and where they came from. One name on the chart caught my eye. It was Morris David Rosenbaum, and that day I began trying to find anything out I could abou him. That goal still exists today and drives my passion for family history.

The headline of your blog is “Connecting Jewish Families”. What have been some of your more fascinating (or even unexpected) discoveries while working towards this goal?

As the database continues to grow, I am always amazed at how many Jewish communities are related to one another. For example, the Jewish communities of the Caribbean Islands were settled in the early 1600’s by Jews from Amsterdam. Later people from those same communities were amongst the early settlers of Jewish congregations in the United States. It is hard to find a Jewish community pre Civil War that was not influenced by these Caribbean Jews.

On your blog you also mention being a Reference Consultant in the British Research unit at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.  What has been your experience with this role?

Working on the reference desk at the Family History Library is incredible. It gives me the opportunity every day to help people work through their genealogical problems. Almost everyday I get to watch people make new breakthroughs in their research.

Your blog has been around for about 3 years. Have you been writing for FamilySearch the entire time? How has your blog evolved?

The Knowles Collection blog began simply as a way to provide updates about the Knowles Collection. When the collection was introduced in September of 2007, it included the records of about 6500 Jews. As the collection continued to grow it became important to provide information about new important items, such as new collections, research helps and so on. Th blog became a great way to provide that information. As of today the blog has been viewed by people in 47 different countries.

Can you briefly explain how your collection expanded from a single database to the five databases that currently exist?

Note: the databases are…

  • Jews of The British Isles
  • Jews of the Americas
  • Jews of Europe
  • Jews of the Caribbean
  • Jews of Africa and the Orient

As I mentioned before, when the database was introduced it included the records of 6500 people. All of these were from records in the British Isles. In fact until January of 2010, the Jews of the British Isles was the only database. At that time it had grown to include 60,000 people. In the records of those 60,000 over 30 countries were mentioned. By January we had started to receive a lot of questions about when we would start adding the records of other countries. In January we decided to move to the 5 databases as a way to help preserve the records of Jews throughout the world. Now, less than a year later the collection is approaching 180,000, which is triple what it was 11 months ago. The best part is now, as people see how it is growing and developing, many are adding their own records. Probably a third of the new records are from individuals wanting to share their families with others.

How might our new Projects feature assist you with these 5 new areas of focus?

I feel as people research their families and then share that information with others, it helps us all. If through the projects feature we become closer by uniting with others, all the better for everyone.

Did you attend this year’s 30th IAJGS conference in Los Angeles? If so, how was the turn out and what did you take away from that experience? Do you plan to attend the one in DC next year?

This year was my 9th IAJGS conference, and I look forward to attending in 2011 as well. All of these conference’s are incredible, the presenters are some of the best anywhere. I am delighted that every year their seems to be more and more information about Sephardic Jews, which is great.