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Interview with Janette Silverman, Senior Research Manager at AncestryProGenealogists

Interview with Janette Silverman, Senior Research Manager at AncestryProGenealogists

Assistant Editor Joanna Rothenberg recently spoke with Doctor of Science in Jewish Studies alum Janette Silverman. In August, Janette began her new role as a Senior Research Manager at’s ProGenealogist division, specializing in Jewish genealogical research. 

What inspired you to obtain your Doctor of Science in Jewish Studies (DSJS)?

In the summer of 1995, I was the education director at a synagogue in Florida without any formal adult learning background. Instead of an education or Jewish Studies degree, I held a Master’s in Public Administration. I wanted to go back to school but with children still at home, I didn’t have the time to sit in a classroom.

Spertus Institute was beginning their distance learning master’s program and I knew it would make a great springboard into a doctorate. After I completed my Master's in Jewish Studies in the summer of 2000, I went straight into the DSJS [Doctor of Science in Jewish Studies] program.

Why genealogy?

As part of the program, I needed to submit ideas for my dissertation. Although I submitted a few different topics ideas to my advisor, the late Dr. Byron Sherwin, none truly inspired me. I then spent a summer in Ukraine, traveling there after finishing a course on Holocaust history with Dr. Elliot Lefkovitz.

Taking a step back, In the 1980s, my dad and I shared an interest in genealogy which quickly became an obsession of mine. Things came full circle when I discovered that the genealogical research I was doing impacted how I looked at different historical periods. Both Dr. Lefkovitz and Dr. Sherwin asked me, “Do your experiences in the Ukraine perhaps lay the groundwork for your dissertation?”

I realized they were right and my topic was quickly approved. “In Living Memory” became one of very few doctoral dissertations about Jewish Genealogical research. It was through the doctorate that I gained a deeper understanding of the history and context which fueled my passion. The work was truly a labor of love.

Describe your new role at

As the Senior Research Manager at AncestryProGenealogists, I work mainly with Jewish families who wish to learn about their family tree. Based on the information available, my team and I comb through the resources here in the United States and all over the world.

I like to think of each project as mini history lessons for the client — learning about the different permutations of their name and what became of their ancestors as they immigrated. It’s a rewarding experience because the clients are thrilled with every new piece of information. As they become more immersed in their own stories, it keeps the researchers on our toes — wondering what we can find for them next.

How much time do you spend with each client?

The time can vary greatly. We try to provide an update every four-to-six weeks, with most projects taking five or six months from beginning to end. Frequently, the questions we answer lead to more questions, paving the way to further investigation. After all, genealogy is rarely self-contained. 

What would you say to someone considering the Spertus program?

In spite of so many types of long distance learning, this program is one of a kind. I felt a personal connection to the Spertus faculty and staff and they helped ensure the structure fit around normal work and family life.

It took me 18 years from start to finish, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Dr. Sherwin, and the rest of the faculty at Spertus, made me who I am today.

Bottom line: I enjoyed the work I did before, running the synagogue educational programing before I started at Spertus, but I knew that was not my only calling. In the 21st century, we can follow more than one dream, and thanks to Spertus, I was able to do just that.

To find out more about our Jewish Studies programs, visit

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Janette Silverman