Research travel to Eastern Europe

I am getting really excited about the upcoming IAJGS conference in Warsaw, taking place in August 2018. The conference itself will, I’m sure be awesome, and I love going to each year’s conference – for me it’s the highlight of the summer.  This year’s conference in Eastern Europe has opened a door to opportunities beyond the conference.

My team at ancestryProGenenealogists specializes in Eastern European and Jewish research. Of course, we couldn’t resist the draw of the Warsaw conference and we are going on an adventure after the conference! For all of August we’ll be traveling and doing client research, getting photos and background material in a lot of places. We start of course, in Warsaw, and then head for Marijampolė, Kaunas, Raiseinai, Vilkija, Vilnius, Łomża, Białystok, Kovel, Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Vinnitsa, Mohyliv-Podilskyy, Chişinău, Iaşi, Kuty, Ivano-Frankivsk, Stryy, Lviv, Sanok, Rzeszów, Przemyśl, Limanowa, Kraków.

We start our adventure on August 3 and I’ll be blogging with photos daily. I’m sure that it will be a journey filled with discoveries. Part of our plan is to photograph the remains of the Jewish cemeteries in the smaller areas we visit, and contribute those to JewishGen’s JOWBR.  When I was in Ukraine in 2009, I arranged for the large cemetery in Zhytomyr to be photographed and a team of us translated the almost 3,000 stones there and those have been online for the last few years, at JOWBR.

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In Search of Our Stories

We can all be storytellers. We all have stories to tell not only of our own lives but also those of our ancestors.  Sometimes we know their stories through direct experience or because we are repeating what we have been told, other times, it is pure conjecture based on the bits and pieces we learn from our research. I know this isn’t profound or new news, but I was reminded of the importance a few days ago when speaking with a cousin. Although I had never spoken with him before, I did know who he was – he’d been on my tree for years. His grandfather and mine were brothers. For him though, I was new. He found me through an Ancestry DNA match.

Our great-grandparents were Moses Silberman and Perl Buchbinder. I didn’t know much about them growing up.  My grandfather told us that his father was apprenticed to Abraham Buchbinder who was, not surprisingly a bookbinder. He married the boss’s daughter. After Moses died, Perl came to the US.  Obviously that wasn’t the whole story.perl and moses2

Moses and Perl married when she was 16 and he was 32. From a document submitted around 1900 in Suceawa, Romania, it appears that prior to living in Suceawa, Moses had been a bookbinder in Husiatyń, which was in Galicia, Austrian Empire. It is now called Husyatyn, Ukraine. From Perl’s 1928 ship manifest, we learned that she was from Tłuste
Zaleszczyki, Galicia, Austrian Empire. This is now Tovste, Ukraine.

Although we have not yet found any documents which provide us with information about Perl and Moses’ early years, we do know that by 1883, they lived in Suceawa. Perl’s father, Abraham, died there in 1879. Perl had at least two sisters, one of whom, Golde, was living there by 1878, another sister, Sura was in Suceawa by 1883.

Perl and Moses moved to Suceawa with their two oldest children, David and Lea.  By 1907, they were married and had immigrated to the US where they lived for the rest of their lives.  Perl and Moses had at least 12 children. Their 3rd child, Chaya Ettel died in 1884, less than a month after her birth. Their fourth child, Avraham Yosef died later that year, less than a month after his birth. I can’t imagine the sadness and grief that must have engulfed Perl and Moses. I have found no record of their fifth child, Solomon Wolf, beyond his birth in 1885. I hope that means he lived into adulthood, and that no record meas he  moved away and I just have not identified where he was. There was more sadness to come Ruchel born in 1894 died when she was 10 months old Marjasse died at 18 month old in 1897. Of their daughter, Chaya Ettel, born in 1889, I also have found no information.  Something told to me long ago, makes me think that she died in young adulthood, but like many stories, it has not been substantiated. Of course, these family tragedies hardly describe the totality of their lives.

Many of their children lived to adulthood.  In addition to David and Lea, there were Adolph, Julius, Norbert and Harry. Five of these 6 immigrated to the US and married. Of those 5, 4 had children and many of their descendants are scattered throughout the US. Norbert, the son who remained in Europe also married, one of his daughters immigrated to the US. Norbert was murdered in October 1942 in Mauthausen.

There are so many stories, so many tragedies and so many celebrations. I am grateful to my grandfather for sharing some of his stories, and for giving me at least the outline of his family that I could use as a jumping off point to find more. I am sorry that some of my cousin’s grandparents did not share more of their stories.





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A Never-Ending Search

Genealogical research is never-ending. After all, how can you say that you have reached the end, that you have found the last document, the final fact? New information is always waiting just around the corner and family stories are waiting to proven or even found to be false. As we research and find information, we make shifts in what the story of our families may be.

In this vein, yesterday, I confronted the need to shift my own beliefs of my family’s story. For many years I had thought that my family at least recently came from Kiev or Zhitomir. A trip to the Zhitomir archives in 2009 identified my grandfather, Ber Moldofsky’s birth record but not those of his siblings or other Moldofsky family members. Because of the surname, we had believed that the family originated in Moldova. Perhaps this finding was verification of that. But how did they get to Zhitomir and when? My great-grandfather had indicated on his ship manifest that his last residence was not in Zhitomir, and yet my grandfather was born just a few weeks after his father’s departure in Zhitomir.

It is good, when researching to have speculative thoughts about what the research will result in, but it is also good to leave no stone unturned and to keep an open mind. A few months ago, as a result of the translation work Jewish Gen’s Ukraine SIG is doing with records resulted in my being able to identify the marriage record of Ber’s grandparents in Zhitomir. That 1868 record pushed back my thinking of when the Moldofsky family might have arrived in Zhitomir since it indicated that both the bride and groom and their parents (!) were from the area.  A revision list from 1834 has shown that the fmaily was in the area much longer than previously thought.  It’s so exciting – now I need to just keep digging!IMG_4619.JPG

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A butterfly’s wings

What is the connection between events happening thousands of miles apart? This summer I was privileged to present several talks at the IAJGS conference. Once of those talks, Personalizing History, is for me, always fun. In it I discuss how my own family’s immigration experience and historical events in New York created an amazing connection for me, over 100 years after the events. It seems to have touched the imagination of a reporter, Jane Edelstein, at Heritage, Florida Jewish News.

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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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