Everytime new information is revealed…

…it leads to more questions.  Some of those questions are waiting to be answered through discoveries of resources in archives, some will remain, regretfully, unanswered.

At one time I had a stack of letters in many different languages – Polish, German, Yiddish, Russian – none of which I could translate.  I still have that stack of letters, but they are now, almost all translated.  These last few are from my great-grandparents in Romania in the 1920’s, all are handwritten.  Four letters are in Yiddish, two are in German, with Yiddish (in Hebrew letters) scattered throughout.  Three Yiddish letters have, to date, been translated.

I have records of my family in Romania dating back to the 1870’s and all of the records, no matter what their origin (local, regional, union, personal) all have the surname spelled exactly the same way, in Latin letters, in German and Romanian.  The handwritten letters are different.

The Yiddish letters are all written by (or for) my great-grandfather to his children in the United States.  None of these are written by my great-grandmother.  The German letters, written a few months after my great-grandfather’s death are written by my great-grandmother.

The Yiddish letters include messages from my great-grandmother or are clearly being written on behalf of both of them, and are signed with a first and last name, not “your father” or something similar.  Although my great-grandfather’s name, in Yiddish is spelled exactly the way we would think to find it, his surname is spelled differently than we would expect, based on ALL the Romanian and German records.  The questions arising from this are:

  1. Did he write the letters or did someone else write them for him?
  2. Why are they signed with his full name?
  3. Why is the name spelled the way it is in Yiddish?

Then there are other questions based on the content of the letters in which the complaint is of constant ill health (my great-grandfather was in his mid-70’s at this point), and poverty. The questions:

  1. Why didn’t they come to the US – all their children were grown and all except one were in the US – my great-grandmother left Romania for the US by 1928, after her husband’s 1926 death.
  2. The letters speak of acrimony and neglect by their children and allude to disagreements – what was going on within the family?
  3. The letters mention a lack of communication with some of their children and even not having current addresses – what was going on.

Questions layered upon questions.  No answers in sight.  Maybe this last Yiddish letter or the 2 German ones, still to be translated will provide some answers.

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Round and Round We Go!

I have identified 5 unique family groups and 1 additional person all living in Tuckums, Courland with the same surname in 1871. I have no idea if these are related to each other.  I have tracked two of those families to Michigan, US.  Well, let me rephrase that – I tracked two of these families from Michigan back to Courland.  Why you might ask did I do that, especially since I just commented that I could not tell if they were related to each other.

Well, therein lies the tale.  These two families settled in a  part of Michigan which was not, at the end of the 19th century, densely populated, nor is it now.  Three men, sons of Israel and Hanna settled in one small town, and three men, sons of Chaim Solomon and Chasse settled in another small town not too far distant.  There were no other people in the area with the same surname.  Through time and generations both families spread out.  Today they live in CA, MA, NY, FL, and all over Michigan, just to name a few places.

Thanks to probate documents I have now identified and verified all of Chaim Solomon and Chasse’s children, some of whom remained in Europe, some of whom came to the US in the years after their brothers did.  I have found no such papers for Israel and Hanna’s sons, but I admit, have not YET looked for them.  This is something which will be remedied over the next couple of weeks (of course).

I have found that Chaim Solomon’s father’s name was Marcus and Marcus’ father’s name has been transcribed as Heyman.  I haven’t seen the original but it’s probably Chaim.  Heyman/Heiman are an Anglicized (but maybe Gemanicized name, too?) version of Chaim.  So what do I have?

I have still not discovered a common ancestor.  I know there has to be one.  I have two brothers who both name their sons Heiman but who I have to yet connected to Marcus’ father.  Could Marcus, whose son Chaim was born in 1828, have been a brother to Israel and Judel?  Israel’s son Heiman (based on Israel’s grandson’s age) was born around 1810, and Judel’s son Heiman was born around 1828.

One of Israel and Hanna’s sons, Sam, moved to go into business with one of Chaim and Chasse’s sons.  Sam also moved to Detroit at about the same time as his business partner did, although it does not appear that they remained in business together in Detroit.

I know that feelings do not create documentation and proof.  I am definitely not at a point where I can say that the evidence is incontrovertible and that I have met a proof standard (only a guess standard and perhaps not even that).  Searching through records, and attempting to draw those lines of proof closer together until I either prove or disprove my hypothesis that these two families are related.


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Handwriting (please!)

Handwriting (please!)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Janette Silverman @ 9:25 pm Edit This

Some days, today, for instance, I wish I could do the absolutely impossible.  I wish I could shake people who were in charge of creating records and say in very firm tones: “watch the way you are writing.  Someone in the future may need to read this.”  Of course it can’t be done, and the records we have are, well, the records we have.  I am attempting to figure out what brought a family from Arenac County, Michigan to Detroit.  In fact, more than that,  am trying to figure out who it was that they exchanged visits with in Detroit for several years before relocating there in the very early 20th century.

I know that the immigrants in the family I’m tracing came from Europe in the years between 1875 & 1885.  Other members of their extended family came around the same time, and all of these settled in areas where they could supply goods to the lumber and fur trades.  Ultimately my target family opened up dry goods stores.  They married, raised families, and then, in what appears to me to be sudden moves, they were visiting with people back in Detroit and ultimately moved to Detroit between 1914 and 1920.

Today, looking for some clarity, I went looking for everyone in Detroit with the same surname in 1910.  Of the 5 families with that surname in Detroit in 1910, I eliminated 2 families that appear to be of a different ethnic background than my target.  That left 3.  I started looking to see if I could find immigration records for a person in one of these families who apparently came over as an 8 year old in 1871.  It looked like I found only one family that would be a candidate –  a woman and her 2 children with that surname on a ship in 1871 – one of the children had the same first name as one of  the people on the 1910 census.  The only problem was that he birth year would make her 10 years older than her son according to the transcription.  No, the transcriptionist wasn’t at fault in this case – that’s actually what it looks like the person who wrote the information on the manifest wrote.  Of course the handwriting is really less than clear.

Like I said, I’d like to go back in time and give very clear instructions to the people filling out these forms.

Posted in piecing the puzzle together

So, what’s in a name?

Shakespeare said it long ago – a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  However, in order to connect the word with the object, we need a clear path.

In my mother’s family, my great-great grandfather seemingly arbitrarily used a variety of names – first and last.  His children seem to have each selected one of the surnames he used and that branch of the family went with that name.  His son, my great-grandfather, thankfully, listed all the names, first and last, by which his father used, on his father’s probate record.  Thank you, Allan Jordan for pulling those records for me several years ago.

Having that list of names gave us the ability to figure out relationships with people we thought were family, not just family friends.

My father’s family is more straightforward.  Surnames in his family basically stayed the same from Europe to the U.S. with little variation.  First names, however, were an issue.  There was one person to whom we kept referring to by what we thought was his name  – it was what his mother in Europe called him in her letters.  Decades later, we found out what his name was and that she had been referring to him by an endearment – always the same one!

One day, I got a phone call from a woman I had never heard of.  She had been looking at my tree, and called me, very excited.  Almost her first words were: “Your Mali is my Amalia.”  Once I understood what she was talking about, I pulled up my tree and hers to compare and was able to say to her “Your Chiel is my Yechezkiel, and your Israel is my Srul.”  Very exciting finds, and a wonderful familial connection.

But what of the Anshel, Leibe, Yudel, Salka, Shaiku and Mundek.  Who were these people?  Were they or their descendants still alive?  One afternoon, sitting with relatives and trying to piece this together, someone commented that she had a vague memory of someone calling her grandfather “Louis” by another name – Leibe!  That started a furious conversation that lasted for hours and followed many paths.  We pulled out photos of gravestones of people we thought were related but hadn’t identified, and photos of people with Yiddish names scrawled on the back.  It took a while, but ultimately we found that in our family Anshel = Arthur, Yudel = Julius, Salka = Sarah, Shaiku = Asher and Mundek = Moses.

So, what’s in a name?

Posted in piecing the puzzle together, research tips

Turn it and turn it again…

Without sounding too irreverent, there is a Talmudic statement found in Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 5:22 – Ben Bag Bag used to say, “Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it. ”  Ben Bag Bag was referring to the Torah, and I am definitely not referring to the Torah, but rather to the “facts” or the things we take to be clues when we are doing genealogical research.

Although we need to remain skeptical when reviewing non-documented facts and not trust in anything at all – a name, date or place, until we find documentation, that high degree of skepticism really can serve us well – it causes us to peruse the documents and files, and to expand our range of where and how we look.  Sometimes the best we can say is that there is a better than even chance that the material we are examining is the correct documentation.  Having accepted that, this new “fact” helps to inform the direction in which we are looking, and may ultimately be proven to be “true.”

It may also prove to be false.  Remain skeptical.  Look carefully.  Examine alternatives and options.  Did the person for whom you are searching use other names?  Can you find her in a group of people whose names may fit other people you’ve identified?  When Amelia could be Malka or Mali, and Becky is Rivke, Martha is Masha, Julius is Yudel and …. well, you get the picture.  Imagination may be your most important tool.

After hours of looking for them on US censuses, and then naturalization records I found the censuses but not their naturalization although the claim according to the 1920 census was that that had been naturalized.  Of course the census also stated that several members of this family had been born in the US, who, it was clear from when the adults claimed immigration, could not have been.

The matzevah (gravestone) yielded a Hebrew name for Amelia, so armed with that I went to ship manifests to see what I could see.  Based on what I “knew” – her approximate year of birth and immigration year I found nothing.  By expanding my search and looking for the first name and a “sounds like” choice of the last name, I found a garbled transcription which had some possibilities.  When I looked at the arrival manifest, I realized why the transcription was garbled – the manifest was very difficult to read. Then, I looked for corroboration that I was reading the manifest correctly, and found a departure manifest which had the names more clearly written – a mom and 4 children. But wait – my records  indicated that she should have only been traveling with 3 children.  Where did the 4th come from?

Back to the records I had found – all secondary sources (no birth, death or marriage records) and a careful reading of often smudged documents led me to a census which asked how many children the mom had given birth to and how many were still living.   The census form indicated that there was one more child than I had accounted for, who, based on the ages of the other children at that time, had not survived early childhood.  Later on, finding a birth record for one of the children born not too many years after the family’s arrival in the US, indicated how many children had previously been born to these parents, the primary source corroborating the secondary source.

The date of the manifests pointed me to the possibilities of when the dad arrived in the US, and armed with this, I was able to find a like, not definitive, but likely manifest.

So, turn it and turn it again – look at the data from all angles and then look some more.

Posted in piecing the puzzle together, research tips

When does it end?

As a genealogist, I can’t answer that question definitively.  For some of us, the research never ends – it may come to a temporary halt when we are confronted by what appears to be an insurmountable brick wall, while we regroup; or, we may decide that at least for the near future, we have attained the goals for the research we are doing.  Then what?  Well, in my case, a culmination of several years of research for one branch of a family led to a trip to meet the descendants, and celebrate.

Ok, you may be saying, anything for a celebration.Jablonski-Metzinger marriageSuzanne, Jacqueline and Andrea front 1944

Well, sure.  I’m up for celebrating the small as well as   the large accomplishments.  But, in this case it was a major accomplishment.  You may have heard me speak (or read what I;ve written) about the difficulties of beginning research with two photos of people identified by first names only and no concrete data beyond that.  In this case, as in so many others, networking and crowd sourcing to develop research partners, as well as patience and time led to a happy conclusion to that particular branch of research.  So celebrate we did.

This is one of the records we found that ultimately led to the identification of a family in Nancy, France, and their descendants, and the culmination of that research by visiting them to celebrate in person.

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Michigan Trails

Last week I had an incredible day of research productivity in a part of Michigan I had never visited – genealogical research takes you on the most amazing adventures.  I was heading to West Branch, the upper lower peninsula (in case you know Michigan geography, which I can’t truly say I do).  In West Branch I was scheduled to speak on the Blumenthal family who had established the first dry goods stores in Ogemaw County (in which West Branch is located) and Arenac County.

As in most genealogical quests, I had some unanswered questions and decided to stop in Bay City, on the way to West Branch to check out a tombstone or two.  It was raining and the cemetery gates were locked.  Being the intrepid sort of researcher I am, I shielded my camera and hoped for a readable photo of the distant stone, which I could see from the road (lucky me, right?).

In West Branch, after a few tech glitches, I laid out the research I had done on the branch of the family that had left West Branch and gone to Standish.  The audience included a descendant of the West Branch branch and a descendant of the Standish branch – they had never met before and until just a few weeks earlier, had not heard of each other.

As I was giving my talk, I had a brilliant inspiration – since I was in a part of the state to which I was unlikely to return, why not stop at a library in Arenac County and see what local information could be found about the family in Standish.  Finding the library was easy, but the local history section only contained recent local history and I needed to go back over 100 years.  The very helpful librarian located a county historical society in Au Gres and off we went to find the volunteer staffing it that day.

I just love people who are passionate about the work they do.   The volunteer at the Arenac Historical Society, surrounded by mostly un-indexed and un-digitized original documents worked closely with me to locate a few precious references and promised to hunt down other documents and newspaper articles for me.

She very kindly xeroxed the documents she was able to find easily, and we purchased a booklet about the history of the area that included some references to 2 of the people I was trying to track.  After carefully reading the history and looking at some of the material I realized there was a discrepancy in the date of death – it was hand written on an obituary as 1951 and written in the history as 1949.

After a couple of hours on-line I found a death certificate and a copy of the guy’s gravestone – both of which agreed with the handwritten note.  Quite a few mysteries remain – right now it looks as if I have 2 branches of a larger family – each branch had 3 brothers.  One branch originally settled in West Branch around 1885, the other in Standish around the same year.  One of the West Branch brothers, Sam,  went to Standish between 1894-1895 and went into business with one of his cousins, Harry, who was already there.  Harry may have originally come to Standish to join an older brother, Marcus, who was already established.

Marcus left Standish before 1915 and went to Traverse City, then to Iowa and finally to California.  Sam left Standish between 1910-1920 and went to Detroit.  Harry remained in Standish.  Sam’s 2 brothers stayed in West Branch.  Harry and Marcus had another brother who may have gone to Massachusetts.  Obviously, I’m still searching for the rest of the story.

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