Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois

“Clued-In: Interpreting Real Photo Postcards from the Diaspora” by Ava Cohn

  • 31 May 2020
  • 12:30 PM - 4:00 PM
  • Temple Beth-El, 3610 Dundee Road, Northbrook, Ill. - Registration and networking, 12:30. Guest speaker 1:00 pm and 2:30 pm

Ava ‘Sherlock’ Cohn to speak twice at May 31 JGS of Illinois meeting:

Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois member Ava “Sherlock” Cohn will speak on “Clued-In: Interpreting Real Photo Postcards from the Diaspora” at the Sunday, May 31, 2020, JGSI meeting. Her first presentation will begin at 1 p.m. at Temple Beth-El, 3610 Dundee Road, Northbrook, Ill.

From about 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., Ava will speak about old family photos that have been submitted by a limited number of JGSI members or guests. Those who wish to submit a photograph for consideration must send it as an attachment in an email to by April 15. In the email subject line, indicate “For May 31 JGSI presentation.” (See further guidelines below.)

Ava Cohn, “Sherlock Cohn, The Photo Genealogist,” is an internationally-known expert on Jewish family photographs. She holds a degree from Brandeis University with coursework in decorative arts, art history and costume history at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Recognizing the need for accurate dating of Jewish photographs with specialized knowledge of immigrant and Eastern European culture and traditions, she devotes her work, almost exclusively, to Jewish family photographs from throughout the world. In addition to being a popular speaker and writer on photography and genealogy, Ava is also a collector of 19th and 20th century Jewish photographs.

Ava says of her May 31postcard presentation: “As our ancestors moved throughout the world, they communicated with friends and loved ones with photographs on the fronts of postcards and messages, often intimate ones, on the backs. These real photo postcards were the social media of the day starting around 1900 and lasting into the 1960s. The photographs on these cards captured the everyday lives of our ancestors, their celebrations, their triumphs and at times, their tragedies.

“This ‘new’ medium gave our relatives a quick and inexpensive way to send messages near and far, before cellphones and modern social media,” Ava says. “Learning to recognize and interpret the clues in real photo postcards can lead us not only to date the images more accurately but also learn more about the everyday lives and relationships of our family members as they moved throughout the Diaspora.”

Ava has provided the following set of guidelines for those who wish to make one of their family photos available for brief analysis in her second presentation:

Guidelines for Submission of Photographs for May 31 Presentation

The purpose of this part of the overall presentation will be to help you get started on learning about your family photograph. I will not provide all the answers, but will give you tips on your photo and, where applicable, suggestions on how to continue your research into your photograph. If you want more complete answers that will require me to do further research, please contact me personally at Likewise, I may not be able to get to all photos submitted within the allotted meeting time period. Those that I cannot do in this presentation, can be submitted for a cost estimate. This part of the program is intended as a learning experience so even if you do not submit a photograph, please feel free to stay and see what others have submitted. In the case of program cancellation due to factors beyond my control, numbers 1, 2, 9, 12, and 14 below are not applicable and all photo analyses will be subject to regular costs.

1. One photograph per person unless asking for identification of an individual in a photograph, then two photos are allowed for comparison. In some cases, photo identification may require more than two photos. In that case, photos may be submitted by email after the meeting for a cost estimate.

2. No military photographs.

3. No recently colorized photographs.

4. All photos should be scanned at 300dpi and in jpeg format.

5. Scan both sides of each photo, regardless of whether there is anything on the back side or not.

6. Scan the full photograph including any information at the bottom of the image. If the photograph is in a frame, include one scan of the photo in the frame and one out of the frame.

7. If the photograph is a copy and not the original, please indicate that.

8. Do not crop the photograph.

9. Send the photograph as an attachment to an email to by April 15. In the email subject line, indicate “For May 31 JGSI presentation.”

10. In the email include as much information as you know. For example, where you got the photograph, who you believe is in the photograph, where they lived, where they may have moved to etc.  Include full names, if known and birthdates, if known, and other information that may be helpful.

11. Do not pose open-ended questions such as “what can you tell me about this photograph?” Instead narrow your question down to one that can be easily and briefly answered and will be of use in your genealogy research. Some examples might be, in what time period was this photo taken? Or where was this photo taken? Is this person the same in photo #1 as in photo #2?

12. If you have had any translations done of writing or other printing on the front or back of the photograph, please let me know what the English translation is. For this presentation, no translations will be done.

13. In the email to JGSI, include your name and email contact information.

For more information about the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois or the JGSI schedule of future events, visit or phone 312-666-0100.

While this program is free, those who join the society have access to several valuable members-only resources on the JGSI website. They include video recordings of more than 50 presentations from past JGSI events, valuable informational handouts from past speakers, access to past Morasha newsletters containing informative articles about Jewish genealogy, and more. To learn about the benefits of joining the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois, go to

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