Hunting in Zhytomyr

For many years I have been searching for my Moldavsky family. I know my grandfather, Ber Moldavsky was born in Zhytomyr. When I was on-site researching in the Zhytomyr archives in 2009, I found his birth record. That record identified his parents and his grandfathers. Since it had his parents’ names, and I already knew who they were, I knew I had the correct person.

Ber’s father, Simche, left Europe in 1906 for the United States. Ber was born during his father’s journey. Simche’s wife, Shaina Mintza Farber and her 3 older children had, I speculated, gone to live with her mother in Zhytomyr. They probably stayed there until Shaina Mintza, now with 4 children, left for the US in 1910.

Simche’s passenger manifest gave his last place of residence as “Ozjew”. That was written pretty clearly. For years I thought it must be somewhere near Zhytomyr but didn’t find any place with a similar name where Jews had resided. I also thought that because I found no other records for Simche, that perhaps this Moldavsky family did not reside in Zhytomyr for long. I knew that Shaina Mintza’s family had probably been in that area for several generations and during my research in the archives found records for the Kaminer family and the Farber family, the latter being Shaina Mintza’s birth surname and the former being the surname of a family one of her siblings married into.

Now I have new information, thanks to the dedicated Ukraine SIG volunteer who is translating the Zhytomyr vital records for indexing. I found the 1868 marriage record of Simche’s parents! The additional information I got from that record included his grandfather’s names and his mother’s maiden name. Additionally it did not record that his parents were from outside of Zhytomyr. This means that the family had been in Zhytomyr longer than I thought, and perhaps I just hadn’t look far enough into records when I was researching.

I decided after identifying the 1868 marriage record, to look further in Shoah records to see if any of the family appeared on any lists. I did find many people who were killed, with that surname,  and who had either Pages of Testimony or were on lists collected by Yad Vashem. To my surprise, I think I’ve now identified that mysterious Ozjew!  There is a place called Orgejew that was in Romania during the interwar period and in Bessarabia before WWI – this was really Orgeyev and now is Orhei, Moldova. Orgiejew was the Polish name for it. There were two families named Moldawski living there who were killed during the Shoah with their children who were born in the 1930s. What if Simche, Shaina Mintza and several of his siblings went there?

I don’t have the answer to that question yet – I have to do some research in Romanian and Moldovan records, now. It does mean more work, but I’m excited – after over 30 years of research, there is still more to be found.

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Importance of Remembering

I’m not speaking of remembering to write in my blog on at least a weekly basis. That was a rather hopeful 2017 resolution which failed almost immediately.  I’m speaking, rather, of the importance of keeping people and places alive in our memories and documentation so that there will be a place for them in the future.

Once of the tragedies of immigration from Eastern Europe to the United States, at least among Jewish immigrants in the late 19th-20th centuries is a lack of connection or continuity for their descendants. I know that’s a broad stroke, and our families all took with them stories that they might have repeated to their children and grandchildren. Those stories with details of daily life are very important, but they often left out details, like names and specific places. It is the memory of at least the names and perhaps some small details of the lives of those ancestors that I feel compelled to discover.

My paternal grandfather spoke of an older cousin who he called “Julius” who had run away to serve in some army at a distant place. That’s right, he didn’t run away from being conscripted, but rather to join an army. Periodically he came back to where my grandfather and his parents lived, in Suczeawa, and my great-grandmother would roast a leg of lamb. My grandfather neglected to provide a surname for Julius, but did say that he eventually settled in England and became a barrister or solicitor or maybe a member of the House of Commons. My grandfather was born in 1903, so all I really know is that this happened after 1903 and before 1920 when my grandfather came to the US.

My grandfather, Harry Silberman died in 1985. A few years before he died, he asked me if I could find a person who was very important to his mother, Perl. This woman was in Montreal. Her last name was Goldenzweig – he didn’t know her first name.  Back in those days there were few resources readily available to a genealogist with limited funds for on-site research. I looked in the places that were available, and periodically would look some more over the ensuing years. I found people named Goldenzweig in Montreal, primarily in cemeteries and death records, but I had no idea who I was looking for or even why.

When my grandfather died, he left behind boxes and boxes and boxes of old papers and letters. Since his death, I have had most of the letters translated from Polish, Russian, German.  There were several letters in Yiddish and one letter in a language no one was able to identify. I finally found a great Yiddish translator who translated the Yiddish letters, from my great-great grandfather, Moses, Harry’s dad. They are for a future post.

Once the Yiddish letters were translated, I pulled out the unidentifiable letter yet again. I must have looked at it dozens of times over the years.  This time, I realized the letter was in German interspersed with Yiddish.  I could not make out any of the words. A fantastic translator was able to translate the difficult to read German and to my shock, it was from a woman whose surname was Goldenzweig.  Her first name was Bertha, Yiddish, Braina. From that letter, I discovered her identity. She was my great-grandmother Perl’s sister. Perl was Harry’s mom, so this was from his aunt! Harry, based on my conversations with him, had no idea. Further research revealed that she and her husband had left Galicia in about 1901, before my grandfather was born.

Perl arrived in the US in May 1928. Bertha died in Montreal in May 1929. She had no children. Although her husband survived her,it seems that he never communicated with Perl. Whatever the reason, Perl never knew that her sister died.



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Name changes in modernity

We often consider the names our ancestors adopted after they arrived in the US, and try to figure out what names they might have used in Europe. There are myriad reasons for a person changing her name(s). One of my relatives I think went about a name change very creatively.

My aunt Ethel who died in 2004 just short of her 101st birthday was an amazing woman. She nursed her mother through her last illness, and then did the same a few short years later for her husband. For fifty years she lived alone. She worked in a large department store in New York for many of those years.

Aunt Ethel had an amazing memory. She arrived in the United States as a 7 year old. Yet, when I asked her if she knew what ship she arrived on and when, she told me without hesitation. When I went looking for the ship manifest experts (this was pre-mega-databases on-line) told me the ship she names did not sail in that year and didn’t go into service until 10 years later.  My aunt was right, though, when I found her passenger list, it was on the ship she named and on the date she claimed to have arrived.

One day I was asking her about her husbands’ family, about whom I knew very little.  Since genealogists abhor data vacuums, I wanted to know. I told her that I couldn’t find the Needleman family anywhere.  She told me something that amazed those relatives who had known her far longer than I did. She said that her husband’s name wasn’t Needleman, it was Nudleman, but, aunt Ethel said, “what kind of name is that, so I told him it had to be changed!”

Silly me, I thought she meant that it was changed when they got married in 1928. Then I found the 1930 census under the name Nudleman, and other documents later than that all of which said Nudleman! I finally found out how she took care of it!  Sometime between 1930 and 1940 the shift was made by changing the “u” to “ee”. In 1940 the name that Ben, Ethel’s husband, gave to the enumerator was Needleman. Ethel took care of the rest – she took their marriage certificate and penciled in ee over the u! Their original marriage record was of course, untouched. Now, admittedly, the difference between the appearance between the two names isn’t great, but they sure do sound differently!

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Starting 2017 with resolve!

The 2016 IAJGS Seattle conference is but a fond memory, and now it’s time to get to those things which took a back seat to conference planning.

For the last six weeks I have been attending to tasks that I have threatened to start, but in moments of sanity (or laziness) have avoided. Our garage had become a warren of cardboard boxes, mostly empty because you can absolutely never tell when you will need one – so I tasked myself with tackling them all, getting shelves in the garage and getting organized. As of this morning, that is completed.

I am still in the midst of re-organizing a closet in our study. I think the last time anything was taken out of that closet was over a decade ago.  Although the stacks of things (lots of empty boxes) have not fallen down or even threatened to, they did need to be taken apart.  We have filled the car with trash to take to the dump twice (in addition to filling to overflow our garbage and recycling bins twice).

In the midst of all of this, time had to be taken to scan photos which should have been scanned years ago.  There are probably hundreds if not thousands that need to be done. Most, thankfully, had some identifying labels but some had no label.  Others had labels,but aside from the names of the people in the photos, I don’t know anything about them. I wish I did.  My great-grandfather was Simche Moldawsky. The woman alone was his sister, Malke. The couple were his brother and sister-in-law – Moshe and Sura. I know my grandfather was born in Zhitomir, Russia – I have his birth record. I know that his mother’s family was from there, but that his father’s family was probably from a distant place. I have no idea where.  Ah, so back to the 2017 resolve – this year I pledge (and I hope I can do it) to write a blog post at least once a week, and discuss the brick walls I encounter,. some of my successes and some tips I pick up along the way!



HAPPY 2017 to all!

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My news

I have been quiet for the last several weeks making adjustments and shifting gears.  I am very proud to announce that I have joined the team at AncestryProGenealogists as a Senior Research Manager.  Although my bio and photo are not yet on the website, you can reach me there, or continue to reach me at RelativaTree.

I am really excited to be working with such a great team of researchers and to have so many additional resources available to me.  I continue to work with all types of research problems/questions/challenges in the United States and overseas and my specialty will continue to be Jewish research.

Speaking of Jewish research, the IAJGS annual conference will be held August 7-12, 2016 in  Seattle and I am the Lead Co-Chair.  If you’ve never been to Seattle, now is a great time to make plans to visit and see all the resources for genealogical research.  If you have been to Seattle before, now would be a great time to visit it again – there have been lots of new genealogical resources since your last visit!

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Genealogy conferences are very different from other conferences.  At other conferences, most based on affinity groups, the common interest, professional or hobbies is what brings people together.  Although that common interest is certainly an attraction at genealogy conferences, the connections between people literally go deeper.

Yesterday, at the IAJGS conference in Jerusalem, amidst all the wonderful discussions about methodologies, techniques, tools and resources, there was another thread that was consistent.

This other conversation was about familial connections and finding relatives among the conference attendees.  Sure, at other conferences there might be conversations among attendees seeing who knows whom in the city in which you live.  This though is very different.  The conversation is extremely personal – it generally begins with the question “where is your family from” and progresses very quickly to comparing surnames to see if there is a family connection in that town.

Some attendees come to the conference knowing that there is going to be someone in attendance with whom you have already established a familial connection, but who you may never have met before.  At one earlier IAJGS conference in France, I finally met a cousin with whom I had been corresponding for years, without ever meeting in the U.S.  At the IAJGS conference in Boston a year later, I was able to meet two other cousins.

There is a strange tie between people with whom you share a common ancestor.  Having a place, the conference, where the chance of meeting a previously unidentified relative or one with whom you have been in contact but never met, gives the conference an undercurrent of excitement.

I feel very privileged to be the next IAJGS conference lead co-chair.  That conference will be in Seattle, Washington August 7-12, 2016.  Hope to see you there.

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Review and Refresh

Presentations at IAJGS are wonderful.  Today, I went to 3 sessions all of which looked at records that I am very familiar with.

So why, you might ask did I do that?  The presenters in each case were all experts in the types of records they were discussing.  As in so much else in life, reviewing things with which you are already familiar serves a purpose – it gives you a fresh perspective.  For the most part, today’s discussions focused on vital records.  And no, a birth record is not a birth record.

In other words, all birth records are not the same.  In different years and in different places birth records look different.  I spend a fair amount of time in the New York City Municipal Archives, and even New York City birth records have changed through time.  Eastern Europe has changed borders many, many times.  The area we call Ukraine today not too long ago had much different borders and those borders were not stable for extended periods of time.  Different political entities had different rules about the data on birth records.

What did today’s discussions give me a fresh perspective on?  They reminded me that I need to really examine the comments section on the records (and not just birth but other vital records) and get those comments translated, not just rely on my own understanding.  They also reminded me to look closely at the birth places of the parents of the new born.

Some of the comments can open the door to new areas of research, and that information, along with the birth places of the parents can often give us the tip of the iceberg in what might become a very interesting family story.

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