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Sallyann Amdur Sack

b. 1936

by Gary Mokotoff

“I had never quite experienced serendipity until the Jewish genealogy ‘bug’ bit me in 1977. Then I knew that this was what I had been seeking all my life. The pursuit of Jewish genealogy combines my love of being Jewish, my passion for history, my curiosity about people, and my addiction to mysteries. It offers the opportunity to research and write my own personal mystery—my specific family’s history. The bug bit hard, and nothing in my life has been the same since,” says Sallyann Amdur Sack, reflecting on twenty years’ involvement with the topic.

The contemporary pursuit of Jewish genealogy as a popular, worldwide movement began in the 1970s. Sometimes called the “godmother” of Jewish genealogy, Sack has played a major role in its development as a pioneer, leader, and creative force.

Born on March 13, 1936, in Cleveland, Ohio, she is the older of two daughters of Max and Frances (Steinsnider) Amdur. Her parents, though born in the United States, were children of Eastern European immigrants who had come to the United States during the first decade of this century, the Amdurs from Lithuania, the Steinsniders from Poland and Hungary with a detour through Canada. Max Amdur, an organizer of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, taught his daughters the importance of taking responsibility for making important things happen, an influence Sack cites as seminal to her leadership in the field of genealogical research.

She was valedictorian of her class at Cleveland Heights High School and attended Radcliffe College, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude in 1957. She married Lawrence C. Sack in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1956. They raised three children. Their son, Robert Ira Sack, M.D., is a psychiatrist like his father. Daughter Elizabeth Felber is an attorney. The youngest daughter, Kathryn Solomon (who first stimulated Sack’s interest in tracing the family roots), is a radiologist-in-training.

In 1972, Sack earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the George Washington University and ever since has been in full-time private practice in Bethesda, Maryland.

In 1980, Sack founded the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington and served as its first president. In 1984, she organized the first international seminar on Jewish genealogy, held in Jerusalem. In 1985, she cofounded Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, widely considered the “voice” of Jewish genealogy. She is president of Avotaynu, Inc., the parent company of the journal, which publishes books, monographs, and microfilm publications on Jewish genealogy.

Among other activities, Sack has conducted a week-long seminar in Moscow and has served on a number of advisory boards, including the Dorot Genealogy Center at Beth Hatefutsoth Museum in Tel Aviv. She also co-produces and co-hosts the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington cable program “Tracing Your Family Roots.” Sack was also active in the groundbreaking effort of the U.S. National Archives to open former Soviet archives to Jewish genealogical researchers.

The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies presented its Lifetime Achievement Award to Sack in 2000, “In deep appreciation of her contributions to the world of Jewish genealogy … Her leadership, scholarship, initiative and vision provide an example and inspiration to all Jewish genealogists … worldwide.”

SELECTED WORKS BY SALLYANN AMDUR SACK

Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy, with Gary Mokotoff (2004); Guide to Jewish Genealogical Research in Israel (1987. Rev. ed. 1995); Index and Catalog to the Russian Consular Records, with Suzan Wynne (1987); Search for the Family, with Mark Shulkin (1980); Where Once We Walked: A Guide to the Jewish Communities Destroyed in the Holocaust (Revised Edition), with Gary Mokotoff (2002).

More on Sallyann Amdur Sack
11 Comments

Hello, Dr. Sack. I have been trying to discover more about my father's family name "Sack" and whether there is any Jewish ancestry. I can trace records back to where my grandfather was born, and the name of my great-grandfather, but hit a dead end at that point. The only thing my father knows about family history is that we came from Germany, and his grandfather's first name Bert. Do you have any recommendations on what direction to go to find more information? Thank you, and Best Regards, Chris Sack

Dear Dr. Sack: My name is David Salkin. I reached out to you about 15 years ago when I exploring my family genealogy. I believe we determined at the time that we are both descendants of Ze'ev Wolf of Polotsk. If I am correct in that recollection you may be interested to know that I just did a DNA analysis through the DNA project of the National Geographic and thought I might share the results of that with you. If so, please contact me. Davidsalkin@mac.com. Best wishes and kind regards.

We have forwarded your message to Ms. Sack. We hope she will be in touch with you directly about your family tree. JWA is always very happy to bring people together who share a common history.

Hi My name is Chani Davis , a grand daughter of Kitty Amdur in London, She died a few weeks ago and in her flat came across a letter from your self regarding the family and a family tree .

We would love to hear from you regarding our family .. Chani DAvis

Dear Ms. Davis, I have forwarded your message to Ms. Sack today. We hope she will be in touch with you directly. We at JWA are always happy to bring people together who share a common history.

Hello, I recently searched for my grandmother on the Yad Vashem database and noticed Dr. Amdur Sack was the witness on the Page of Testimony. I was wondering was the connection was.

Thank you, R Slomovic

My mother was Bessie Amdur Felden I saw your family tree and I can give you more on information on my grandfather's family. I have a questio through-- My family has always been told my great grandmother's name was Yetta, there are at least 2 of us named after her, can you clear this up? Let me know if you wanat the up dates on my family

Dear Karen,

You say that there are "two of us named Yetta" and ask if I can clear this up. What is it that needs to be cleared up? It is not unusual for two people in the same family to have the same given name--- because they both were named in memory of the same deceased relative as is the case in your family.

Yes, do send whatever you know about your Amdur family.

Sallyann

Many years ago, I met Max Amdur at the Mayfield JCC. He shared with me that his daughter was into geneology(Sally). I shared with him that there had been a rumor that my father, Morris Schlachter, had changed his name from "Amdur" as he escaped conscription by the Czar. There was no solid evidence on the purported name change.

I am presently visiting our daughter in Israel. While here, a cousin informed me that there was a section of a cemetery in Holon Israel devoted to the memory of all the shtels in Lithuania destroyed in the Holocaust The display was referred to as "Litvakia". We made the effort to see if we could find the memorial to the town where my father and his family had come from. That town, Glubok or Gluboki had a moving memorial to the partisans who fought the Nazis in their town. I then discovered that a town nearbye was known as "Amdur". I believe that both are now part of Belarus.

I wonder if the story of the changed of family name change may, in fact, relate instead to the name of the nearbye town of "Amdur".

Amdur was the way that Yiddish-speaking Jews of Eastern Europe pronounced the name of the town Indura. In Yiddish, the n and m sounds often interchange. Thus, in Yiddish the name was spelled Aleph, Mem, Daleth, Resh--or Amdur.

At the beginning to the 19th century, the Russian authorities mandated that Jews adopt fixed, unchanging family names. Until that time, most Jews did not have family names. Rather, they were known religiously according to the system used since Biblical times. That is, X son of Y (e.g., Isaac son of Abraham). Within a community, however, they often needed a way to distinguish in every day life between individuals with the same given name. Thus, a man named Moshe who had come to that town from another place might be known as "Moshe from Amdur." Or, Moshe the glazier, etc. Thus, when forced to adopt fixed family names, many Jews took place names---but never the place where they lived at the time, but rather, the place where they had been born --and from which they had moved.

It seems, therefore, that in your family the story of the name change from Amdur would not refer to a town (which never did suffer a name change) but likely is a true story. If you are interested in trying to explore this further, let me know and I will see if I can help you.

Sallyann

Lawrence C. Sack, M.D. died August 6, 2003, in Boston, MA. Sallyann remarried Irwin M. Pikus October 12, 2008 in Washington, D.C.

Sallyann Ann Sack
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Widely regarded as the "godmother" of Jewish genealogy, Sallyann Amdur Sack first began to explore her family's roots at the behest of her youngest daughter, and later went on to found the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington and the journal Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy.

Institution: Avotaynu, Inc.

How to cite this page

Mokotoff, Gary. "Sallyann Amdur Sack." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 24, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/sack-sallyann-amdur>.

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