Processing the Ginsberg Family Collection

Jill A. Hershorin, MLIS
Archivist
Jewish Historical Society of NJ
jhershorin@jhs-nj.org

The Ginsberg Family Collection (1956-2013) has been processed and is now available for research at the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey (JHS of NJ). It is our hope to reach a wider audience by detailing the contents and procedure of how the collection was evaluated.

For decades, Pat Sebold, a local politician in Essex County, NJ, has been the keeper of some of her family’s memorabilia. This trove includes hardback and paperback copies of the family’s published writings, letters to and from family members, and newspaper clippings of the Ginsberg family. Finally, after a few years of convincing, Sebold donated the materials to our archive in 2016. We have known of Sebold’s accomplishments in the public and personally, we know that Pat is the first cousin of author, poet and philosopher, Allen Ginsberg.

While the official repository of the Allen Ginsberg papers is housed at Stanford University, the Ginsberg Family Collection resides in our small archive in Whippany, NJ. Our archive’s holdings contain materials that represent Jewish life in the nearby counties of Essex, Morris, Sussex, and Union. Because the Ginsberg family has its roots in Newark, NJ we thought it fitting that the collection should be with us. Convincing Pat Sebold was uncomplicated. Sitting with New Jersey Jewish News reporter Robert Weiner, Sebold says: “It is better it should go someplace where it will be treasured.” She added, “What are they going to do? Sit in a bookcase for the rest of my life?”

Processing the Collection

When the materials arrived, there were six large boxes with no discernable arrangement or order. Three of the boxes held hardbound and paperback books, and the other three contained assorted documents. The boxes of books were set aside and I began to sort through the documents. It was clear that there were items related to Allen Ginsberg, but I soon discovered other family members’ documents as well. There were correspondence and writings penned by Allen’s father, poet Louis Ginsberg; postcards from Allen’s Aunt and Uncle Hanna, and Leo Litzky; letters from Edith Ginsberg; a handwritten family tree, and other treasures.

Throughout the sorting process, I thought about the connections that this family shared – the activism, the appreciation for the written word, and their deep love for one another. After two weeks of sorting the materials, the direction of the collection began to take shape. The collection would be divided into four series: Allen Ginsberg; Ginsberg Family; Press; and Publications. Clearly there was an abundance of materials that belonged within the Allen Ginsberg series, but other materials belonged within series that had not been penned by Allen.

It became clear that the Allen Ginsberg Series had to be further broken down to subseries levels. The correspondence subseries range covers the period from 1956 to 1987, and contains outgoing letters and postcards sent by Allen Ginsberg and his aunt and uncles. The postcards are humorous and tell of Allen’s travels in his unique poetic voice: “Dear Clara and Murray. Happy New Year from Amsterdam – cheese, canals, windmills, bridges, dogshit, Indonesian restaurants, red light district, youth clubs with rock +roll + herb dopes… Love, I think of you fondly. Allen.” Each item was photocopied for researchers’ use, and the originals were placed in mylar enclosures. Other subseries are “Events”; “Photographs”; “Funeral Services”; and “Writings.” It is fascinating to see the silver gelatin photographs of the family members shot and captioned by Allen.

Ginsberg in Amsterdam New Year 1982077
Allen Ginsberg writes to his Aunt Clara from Amsterdam. 12/31/82. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey

The Ginsberg Family Series contain letters and postcards, photographs, flyers, and family trees. The items are from various family members and include some works by Louis Ginsberg. The correspondence is mainly between family members, and there are a few letters from outsiders. A letter penned by Louis titled, “A letter to my son, Allen Ginsberg,” reads more like an editorial than a personal letter. He writes of his displeasure with Allen’s stance on Israeli militarism to which Allen was deeply opposed. Allen felt that the Israelis victimized Palestinians and his suggestion would be to “let back in all the Palestinian Arabs and make it a non-Jewish state, secular state.” Louis responds by writing to Allen: “I read with commingled disappointment and distress, your article on the Arab-Israeli conflict…Allen, you (and your New Left cronies) are ready to help liberate all oppressed groups except your own.” We get a glimpse into the ideals and differences between the two men as they famously held opposing viewpoints on many social and cultural issues, but ultimately they remained close until Louis’ death in 1976.

Ginsberg photo taken in 1967061
(L-R) Edith Ginsberg, Allen Ginsberg who holds his cousin’s baby, Sam Gaidemak, Sam’s mother, Elaine (Baiser) Gaidemak and Louis Ginsberg, ca. 1967. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey.

Because of the numerous events, articles, and interviews with the Ginsberg family, The Press Series contains flyers, newspaper clippings, and press releases, and have been arranged into subseries based on theme or topic. All clippings have been photocopied for researchers to use.

The Publications Series contain books (many of which are first editions) and have been inscribed by the author(s). They are housed in three full-sized record storage boxes. Allen would personalize his books to his family and friends by drawing and inscribing on many editions using a wide range of motifs, symbols, messages, and settings. Allen’s drawings include a cross-legged Buddha, willowy flowers, Stars of David, the often inscribed “AH” and “OHM”, snakes, skeletons, and dreamlike cityscapes. For long term conservation, it was decided that these books would be stored, and the inscriptions were to be scanned and saved in our digital library. In addition, the book covers and inscriptions have been photocopied, and access to the originals is restricted.

Ginsberg, Allen - Verbatim, 1974 - inscription
Allen’s inscription to his cousin Pat Sebold. 12/10/74. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey
Ginsberg, Allen - White Shroud, Poems 1980-1985, 1986 - inscription 1
Allen’s inscription to Aunt Clara. 1/24/87. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey

After making entries into Past Perfect, the series description and finding aid were written, and the information was sent to the NUCMC cataloguer in Washington D.C, who created the OCLC record for the collection. We then contacted The Allen Ginsberg Estate and Stanford University to let them know about our collection.

Ginsberg gift of typewriter 1987056
Edith Ginsberg’s letter to Clara (written as Claire). 2/28/87. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey

Family History

It is 1985 and another postcard arrives at what would be Abe Ginsberg’s final residence – an assisted living facility in West Orange, NJ. He is well into his 80s, and his body may be slowed and his eyesight weakened, but what he can count on is the constant communication from members of his tight-knit family, seeking advice and sharing memories of their lives together. This postcard reads: 11-25-85: Dear Abe – Here we are in Minsk, Belarus where it all started! Big wide avenues, blank faces, ordinary eyes, circus tigers + lions + acrobats…” This postcard is another from his nephew, poet Allen Ginsberg.

Allen

When Allen Ginsberg sent his elderly uncle Abe Ginsberg the postcard from Minsk, Allen was already a well-established cultural icon. Allen was born in Newark, NJ in 1926 to poet and educator Louis Ginsberg and wife Naomi, a dedicated Marxist. His brother, Eugene was a lawyer and poet as well and penned under the name Eugene Brooks. Allen began keeping a journal when he was a pre-teen and discovered the poetry of Walt Whitman who remained a major influence throughout Allen’s life. Allen graduated from Paterson’s Eastside High School in 1943, and then Montclair State College. He received a scholarship from the Young Men’s Hebrew Association to attend Columbia University, where he wrote for the Columbia Review and the humor magazine Jester. As a freshman at Columbia University, Allen “met undergraduate Lucien Carr, who introduced him to William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, part of a diverse (and now legendary) circle of friends that grew to include Herbert Huncke, the young novelist John Clellon Holmes, and Neal Cassady… These friends became the nucleus of a group that named themselves the “Beat Generation” writers.”[1]

Allen soon dedicated his life to poetry, and Allen and Eugene watched as their mother Naomi suffered from paranoia, often being admitted to mental hospitals. Louis divorced Naomi while she was institutionalized and married Edith Cohen in 1950. In 1956 Naomi died after undergoing a lobotomy. Three years after her death, Allen penned what some consider his finest poem, the infamous elegy for his mother titled, Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg (1894-1956).

Allen was the perfect representative of the counterculture movement of the 1960s as he was vocal in anti- war efforts and was a key figure at the protests at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968. In the 1970s, he and poet Anne Waldman created a poetry school, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Ginsberg continued voicing his social/political stances throughout his life, until his death in 1997. He is buried in Newark’s Gomel Chesed Cemetery.

Louis     

Louis Ginsberg was born in Newark, NJ in 1895. He married his classmate, Naomi, who later became a grammar school instructor while Louis taught English and literature (a career he would keep for the next 40 years). He continued writing poetry and ran a weekly column of puns in Newark’s Star Ledger. His writings appeared in the New York Times and the New York Herald as well as many anthologies. He was the author of three books: The Attic of the Past, The Everlasting Minute and Morning in Spring.

Eugene

Eugene became an attorney specializing in international law and remained a poet. He wrote throughout his service in World War II, and these poems were published as Rites of Passage. He often collaborated with his brother and father as all three men (Louis, Eugene and Allen) presented many public readings together.

Honey

Louis’ sister, Hannah “Honey” Litzky was an educator. She was outspoken about the rights of the working class and connected political issues with educational concerns. She was very involved in forming the Newark Teachers Union with Bob Lowenstein and was involved with other local unions and organizations that helped the city’s needy population of the 1930s and 40s. She taught at Newark’s famed Weequahic High School. She was married to South Side High School Principal, Leo Litzky.

Louis Ginsberg died in 1976, Allen in 1997, Hannah in 1999, Edith in 2000, and Eugene in 2001

To date, we have not had any requests from researchers to examine The Ginsberg Family Collection. The Society promotes its archival holdings through our website (jhs-nj.org), bi-annual newsletters, stories and highlights in our local newspaper, press releases, Facebook posts, and catalogue entries to OCLC (Online Computer Library Center.) Within this small but dense and diverse collection of writings lies a deeper insight into the connection that this family had with each other.

 

[1] Source: http://www.anb.org/articles/16/16-03394.html American National Biography Online June 2000 Update. Access Date: October 29, 2015 Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press.

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Archivists to the Rescue!

Deb Schiff
Archivist
2017-2018 Vice-Chair/Chair-Elect of SAA Lone Arrangers
debra.schiff@gmail.com

Volunteer members of the SAA Lone Arrangers; Reference, Access and Outreach; and Issues and Advocacy Sections are working on a pilot project, Archivists to the Rescue! This initiative aims to bring low- and no-cost basic archival training workshops to non-professional archivists and cultural heritage professionals who cannot afford typical professional development courses and/or the transportation costs required to travel outside of their areas for similar workshops. This effort will strive to help small organizations and local communities preserve and make accessible their archival records that are hidden due to a lack of access to information on preservation and archival practices, as well as increase the awareness of the profession and the Society of American Archivists, and promote a more inclusive profession.

The pilot program will comprise a series of workshops covering the essentials of preservation, archival processing, arrangement, description, digital archives (handling born-digital materials and digitizing materials), and identifying and caring for photographs. Archivists to the Rescue! Will partner with affiliated cultural heritage organizations and other sister SAA Sections to roll out the pilot to religious archives and small historical organizations in New Jersey.

The Lone Arrangers will update members about the pilot progress in the coming months, and are thrilled to develop a practical means of reaching more and more communities.

Archivists to the Rescue!

Welcoming the Stranger: Refugee Resettlement in the Diocese of Olympia

Diane Wells

Diane Wells, CA
Archivist & Records Manager Diocese of Olympia, Seattle, WA
DWells@ecww.org
https://ecww.org/about-the-diocese-of-olympia/departments/archives/

For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. –Matthew, chapter 25: verse 35

Every year, millions of refugees around the world leave their homes in hope of escaping tyranny, poverty and persecution.

Nguyen Family
The Nguyen Family from Vietnam Olympia Churchman Photo. Photo courtesy the Archives of The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.

A small percentage find permanent residence in a new country. Some arrive in Seattle, Washington. Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) is among the organizations that give refugees a chance at a new life. The Diocese of Olympia’s Refugee Resettlement Office, a local affiliate for EMM, has assisted refugees from around the world since 1978. Their programs have welcomed more than 20,000 men, women and children from more than 30 countries and provided a variety of services including, food, shelter, community orientation, English tutoring, job training and placement.

Everyone assisted by the Refugee Resettlement Office has a case file. That translates into thousands of files – most of which are in paper.

Refugee Resettlement Office files
Refugee Resettlement Office files. Photo courtesy the Archives of The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.

These files not only document individual journeys – but also collectively document global strife, immigration patterns and the role of The Episcopal Church in this very real drama of life and death. In the Diocese of Olympia, the Archives has taken on the responsibility for preserving these files and has just completed a long-term digitization project to capture these important records.

For years, the files were stored in a room at the Refugee Resettlement Office where the boxes and cabinets containing them were stacked from floor to ceiling. As the number of files grew, some were stored off-site in storage lockers. Neither location was particularly secure or environmentally stable – but worst of all was the difficulty of retrieval.

RRO Records in Storage
Storage room at the Refugee Resettlement Office with boxes and cabinets containing stacke from floor to ceiling. Photo courtesy the Archives of The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.

These files have – quite literally – been on my mind for years. After surveying the records and studying the options, I put together a proposal for our diocesan Board of Directors, recommending that the files be digitized for permanent retention.

My proposal emphasized four points justifying the project and the funds I was requesting:

Why Do Refugee Case Files Matter?

  1. Files provide documentation of the Diocese of Olympia’s Refugee Resettlement program
  2. Files are important to our national security
  3. Files provide detailed information on the individuals involved
  4. Files have broad historical significance for the Pacific Northwest

The Board accepted my proposal and authorized funds for the project.

This was certainly all well and good – and went a long way towards moving the project along. However, there was still one major hurdle to overcome. Before the files could be digitized, they had to be ‘prepped’ –  staples, clips and other fasteners removed; pages straightened; and a cover sheet created for each file – a necessary but labor intensive and time-consuming process.

Staples, etc.
Staples, clips and other fasteners removed from Refugee Resettlement Office files during processing. Photo courtesy the Archives of The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.

The cover sheets were perhaps the key to the whole project as they provided searchable index terms for individual records. I focused on 5 discrete pieces of information from each file: Overseas Case Number; Name; Social Security Number; Date of Arrival; and Country of Origin.

As multiple family members were often included in one case file, only the name and social security number of the head of household was used for the cover sheet. This information is, of course, confidential and is accessed only according to our diocesan confidential records policy.

I started by prepping the files myself, but other duties kept getting in the way. Fortunately, volunteers came along at just the right time. During the first year, we processed and digitized six years of case files. During the second year, another seven years was completed. Then, I lost my best volunteer to a paying job (imagine that) – and the project slowed to a crawl. I realized that if I had to depend on volunteers – or my own erratic schedule – it would take forever to process the remaining twenty-five years-worth of files. The solution was to hire someone to do the job. The problem, as usual, was money.

For help, I turned to Mark Duffy, Canonical Archivist and Director of Archives for the Archives of the Episcopal Church. Mark had consulted with me on the project from the beginning – and he now assisted me in obtaining grant funds to complete it.

Consequently, I was able to hire a project archivist and the project is now complete.

Refugee Files - Disk with Paper Files
Processed Refugee Resettlement Office files. Photo courtesy the Archives of The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.

Let me just say in closing that the decision to undertake the task of digitally preserving these refugee case files – though time consuming, often frustrating and certainly expensive – was well worth the effort – particularly in view of today’s uncertainty regarding all refugee programs.

Episcopal Migration Ministries is currently at risk – as are all its affiliates – at least six of which are being closed. However, as can be seen from this February 10, 2017 Episcopal News Service headline:

Olympia diocese welcomes refugees, sues to keep resettlement efforts alive

Matthew, chapter 25: verse 35 is taken seriously in the Diocese of Olympia:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. –

I’m proud of the fact that the Diocese of Olympia Archives was able to contribute to maintaining the integrity of the Refugee Resettlement program and of being able to preserve almost forty years-worth of these important and unique case files.