A Time for Resistance: Chatting with Jennifer Mendelsohn

A Time for Resistance: Chatting with Jennifer Mendelsohn

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Jennifer Mendelsohn, the journalist behind #ResistanceGenealogy. Here's what she had to say.

Resistance Genealogy Jennifer Mendelsohn #Resistance Genealogy immigration

If you’ve been paying any attention to the news, you’re well aware that immigration has been a very hot topic. From border walls to dreamers, immigration is in the hot seat when it comes to politics, and everyone has an opinion. While we can’t all agree on much, there’s one thing that’s for certain – that vast majority of Americans are descendants of immigrants.

That’s where Jennifer Mendelsohn comes in. A journalist by day who is also an avid genealogist, Mendelsohn has recently been getting a lot of press for her posts on Twitter. Frustrated by comments that politicians were making about immigrants and immigration policy in the US, she chose to fight back with what she cleverly began tagging as #RestistanceGenealogy. I recently had the fortune speaking with Mendelsohn about her project, and you’re going to love what she had to say.

So just what is #Resistance Genealogy?

Most simply put, when Mendelsohn has noticed those in the public eye making pronouncements about immigration, she’s taken the time to look at their family tree to see if there is relevant history there. So, for example, when she spotted the White House Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller had gone on television to support a bill that would penalize immigrants who didn’t speak English, she tweeted “Stephen Miller favors immigrants who speak English. But the 1910 census shows his own great-grandmother couldn’t. #oops”. The tweet was accompanied by a photograph of the census records supporting just that.

How long has Mendelsohn been researching genealogy?

Mendelsohn has been researching her family history for around 5 years. As she became more involved, she joined the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland where she now serves on the board. A natural story teller and researcher, she also has written about genealogy for sites like MyHeritage.com and Medium.com. Mendelsohn has also donated some of her free time working as a search angel for adoptees and is the administrator of a Facebook group for Jewish genetic genealogy.

How did #Resistance Genealogy start?

Mendelsohn has been very active on Twitter for quite some time, and explained that sharing fun things she found in her genealogy research has “been a part of my presence for years.” When the 2016 campaign started revving up, she began to notice a resonance between her family history research and the current events. Mendelsohn is descended entirely from Eastern European Jews, and her family was very closely touched by the Holocaust. Her people were always on the move for political reasons. As she puts it, “Suddenly, I started thinking that the weird, historical pocket I disappear into when I do genealogy is not a historical pocket. It’s actually very relevant.”

After this realization, Mendelsohn started sharing her own family story in ways that tied to current issues. When the Muslim ban was announced, she shared examples from her own personal history – such as letters that her Great Uncle had sent to her Grandfather when he was attempting unsuccessfully to get out of Poland during WWII.

This developed further one day when she noticed that Iowa congressman, Steve King, had tweeted “you cannot rebuild civilization with somebody else’s babies.” As we’re all “somebody else’s babies, this spurred Mendelsohn to have a look at King’s family history to see what she could find. Turns out, King’s grandmother is somebody else’s baby, too.

Starting a fire

Steve King turned out to just be a starting place for Mendelsohn’s research. She’s also tweeted histories of Tucker Carlson, Tomi Lahren, Stephen Miller. But the name that really got attention was when she tweeted about Dan Scavino, the White House Director of Social Media. After Scavino tweeted his opposition to chain migration, Mendelsohn uncovered that he himself is the descendent of just that.

 

An unexpected following

“To say I never expected (this following) would be an understatement.”, Mendelsohn told me. The attention has taken her entirely by surprise, and the project has now developed into a full time job. Mendelsohn has been interviewed by CNN and MSNBC, and has even appeared on a Norwegian news broadcast. She also has almost 33,000 followers on Twitter, a number that continues to grow with the popularity of her now famous hashtag.

The big takeaway

Mendelsohn told me that her main goal with this project is to use the historical record to fight against disingenuousness in our country. She isn’t a policy maker or a politician, she just wants to push back with facts to debunk misunderstandings that many people have regarding the immigration of our ancestors. Her priority is to counteract the rhetoric that depicts immigration as a dark and sinister force in our country..

I’ll close with something Mendelsohn told me at the end of our call that has stuck with me:

“A couple of people have paid me, what I feel, is the highest compliment about this work. That’s that what I’m doing is quintessentially patriotic. And it almost makes me emotional to say that, because I feel that so intensely. You know, three of my four grandparents were immigrants, and the fact that they were allowed into this country with limited skills, and allowed to set up their families here – allowing me and my siblings and parents to flourish here. I just feel like that’s so fundamental to the DNA of America.”

 

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  1. This sounds like someone with an ax to grind and genealogy is one place I go to to avoid politics. We all know this is not our grandparents world and our immigration policies need to change. It’s a pity Family Tree Magazine thinks this is an appropriate forum to promote a person who uses anothers genealogy to be political and snarky. So disappointed.

  2. No one is or has suggested ending immigration. It is illegal immigration that is the issue. This nation since its founding has had policies and laws governing immigration. And at no time has this country or any other country simply allowed masses of people to flow their country illegally.

    The illegal immigration that you are supporting is wrong and unfair on so many levels. To say that those who can walk across our southern border without going through the legal processes is somehow the same as those who have come to this country legally, often waiting years upon years to do so today or in the past is so ridiculous as to be lacking in all reason.

    Hunting down the ancestry of those public figures who stand against ILLEGAL immigration to try to make some point as if to put their ancestors on the same footing as those who violate our laws and come here illegally lacks the very basics of reason.

    Today peoples who can’t simply walk across the border are having to wait in some cases decades in order to come here legally. There are people south of our borders who come here through the legal process. And knowing many such people personally many think that those coming here illegally are WRONG.

    Your use of the word Immigration and ignoring the word ILLEGAL goes to show just how intellectually honest you are in your argument.