Travels, continued

I’m so fortunate, as a genealogist to not only always have varied research to do, but also to be able to travel to meet with clients and do research.  I must admit, though, that recent travel and upcoming travel are much more varied than usual.

It seems like just yesterday that we finished our epic 27 day drive through Eastern Europe. Yet, in between that and today, I have been in Salt Lake City, Utah at my office, Phoenix, Arizona, at home; then Kansas City for the APG conference followed by a speaking gig there, and then on to Seattle for meetings.

KC with Brad Korris.JPG

I’m really fortunate that many of my clients have also become friends during the course of our research.  Genealogical research isn’t ike writing a history paper which has no emotional attachment.  Although we function as reporters of the facts, the research also takes us on an incredible and often very emotional journey through history. Above, Brad Korris, a client and a friend came to hear me speak in Kansas City. The evening before, I was really privileged to join him at the annual Community LINC Rent Party, benefiting homeless families, where Brad served as co-chair.

This week I will be traveling again – this time to Israel, where for the second year is an exhibitor at the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) annual General Assembly. Last year it was in Los Angeles, this year in Tel Aviv. Avrami Groll of JewishGen will once again be joining us at our booth. We love our collaborative relationship with JewishGen!

In Israel, in addition to representing ancestryProGenealogists at the GA, Lindsay Levine and I will be meeting with the Directors of various archival repositories and doing client research. Of course we will also take some time to enjoy the beach, and after the GA, wander through some of my favorite places in Jerusalem.

As I did during our Eastern European journey, I’ll be blogging daily.

Posted in Genealogy, Jewish Genealogy

In Memoriam…

Now that the Jewish holidays are almost over (one more set is coming up this Monday and Tuesday, I wanted to post about events in October 1941 coinciding (very deliberately) with the end of Sukkot on Hoshana Rabba in Stanislawow, Poland (now Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine).

On that tragic day, the lives of tens of thousands of people were taken in cold blood under the most appalling circumstances. Each year since we learned of this almost 30 years ago, we have honored the memory of those people whose names we know and the countless others who we cannot know by speaking about the events.

In 1920, my grandmother, Blima Raitza Grass age 22 and two of her sisters, Clara, two years older and Fanny, 2 years younger came to the US. Two weeks after they landed, their father, Zelig Grass, died. Their mother, Chana Jetta Kreisler was left widowed with 6 children still at home, ranging from 20 year old Mundek to 3 year old Salka.  Clara returned to Europe a couple of years later to help their mother and marry her childhood sweetheart, Zygmunt Weber. They had two children, Zenona and Juljusz born in 1926 and 1930 respectively.

Mundek married Anna Erber in January 1928, they had a son born a year later who they named Zelig after Mundek’s father. Samuel, two years younger than Mundek, married Diana Hofnung Landsman in 1927, they had a son, Eugene, born in 1928. Pepa, a year younger than Samuel married Isak Wolf Fink and had a daughter Silvia born in 1937. Rachel, born in 1909 never married, nor did Oscar born in 1911 or Salka born in 1917.

pepa grass and fink.jpg


Chana Jetta was one of 10 children born to Tova Gizella Zweifler and Shimon Kreisler. Six of her siblings left Europe and came to the US. It is possible that two of her siblings died in infancy or left Europe – we have never found a trace of them.  Chana born in 1875 and her sister Devora born in 1881 remained in Europe. Devora married Josef Israel Schaffer and they had 7 children. Two of her children left Europe – one settled in the US and the other in Israel. We do not know if Libe survived infancy, her brother Chaim Ber did not.  Avraham was born in 1904 and married Lea Schanker – they had a daughter Tzila; Chava was born in 1906 married Yisrael Becker – they had no children; Genia Tova was born in 1910 and did not marry.

With the exception of Samuel, his wife Diana and their son Eugene, all of those whose names were mentioned above and who were still living in 1941 were murdered. They died on Hoshana Rabba either in the synagogue which was locked so no one could escape as it was torched, in the morning while all were at a prayer service, or later that day when the remaining Jews were gathered in the center of town and shot or brought to the forest and shot.

Samuel, Diana and Eugene survived because by then they were in Kazakhstan – Samuel was a pharmacist and the three wound up there (longer story but not for today) where they remained throughout the rest of the war.

My heart cries for these lives and so many millions of others who were murdered by those misusing power, only because they were Jews. The world was deprived not only of them but of all the talent that would never be known from their unborn descendants. A world was murdered.


Posted in Uncategorized

Wed., 29 Aug: Kraków to Warsaw

This has been such a phenomenal trip. The highlight beyond the research we were able to do and the archives we visited, was seeing Europe and visiting the places where our own ancestral families and those of our clients were from.  Our next research trips will not be so broad – they will focus on a small number of archives in a small geographic area. Next spring so far we plan for a Kaunas to Vilnius client trip (or perhaps 2) and a trip to the archives in Kraków, Przemysl, Rzeszow and Sanok. By tthat time perhaps I’ll even be able to spell and pronounce all these places correctly.

The drive to Warsaw, not unexpectedly took a couple of hours longer than it should have. Our goal for arrival there was set in stone – the car rental place closed at 4 PM and the van needed to be returned by then – no wiggle room. We got to Warsaw, dropped Lina and Gabriel off downtown and headed for our hotel near the airport. Our flights tomorrow are at 6 and 6:30 AM! By the time we unloaded the van and checked into the hotel it was close to 3 PM.  Marek and I set off to return the van and discovered that there were no fewer than 4 different addresses on the rental papers. We drove to where we thought we had picked the van up – it was a park. Clearly not the right place. Then we drove to the airport – although we hadn’t picked up the van there, the rental place we thought we were going to get a van from had helped us find the place we finally got it from and we hoped they could point us in the right direction. They could and did.  At 3:45 PM, we drove into the lot to return the van. At about 4:10 we were on our way to the old city to meet Lindsay, Ola and our Warsaw researcher.

Of course, the battery in my camera was dead and my phone battery was almost in the same state. Therefore, no photos. I was grateful to have a couple of hours to see something besides a hotel in Warsaw. During the several days were were here at the beginning of our trip, the only time I left the conference hotel was to have dinner and to pick up the van!  Warsaw of course, unlike Kraków was almost completely destroyed during the war.  The restoration here is amazing and if Rafal, our researcher hadn’t pointed out all the restorations and the era they were created from, I would never have realized that these buildings weren’t originals. For our final dinner of the trip, I had the best pirogies of the whole trip. Of course ice cream followed, as did stops in several amber stores and at some artists’ booths in the square.

All told a wonderful day and an absolutely rewarding trip. After 27 days on the road, I am ready to be home.

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Genealogy

Tues., Aug. 28: Krakow

I don’t think I previously discussed a challenge we confronted in our travels. Both Marek and I have previously rented cars in Europe. I think that Lindsay said that she also had. Gas pumps work the same way they do in the US, gas is paid for either before or after pumping by cash or credit card. I think the big difference is that payment had to be made at the counter not at the pumps. This was obviously not a big deal. I don’t remember when the weird message about “add blue” appeared on the dashboard. It was certainly there by the time we got to Kiev. We asked Anna who owns a car about it and she asked her husband who is in the car business. Neither of them knew anything about it. We inquired at some gas stations and they said they didn’t carry it and that it was an additive. We figured it was something like the old STP additive, and didn’t give it much more thought.

Then, in either Romania or Hungary, the mild message became more aggressive and even threatening. It now read that the engine would stop working in 786 km if we did not add blue.  Marek estimated that we would be back in Warsaw long before that mileage had been reached, but then the system started beeping every few kilometers. This was now slightly worrisome and very annoying. We started hunting for add blue at gas stations. The first one that had it only had it in a 10 liter size which we thought was overkill, so we ignored it. We found a gas station which had smaller containers and Marek bought and added two. It did nothing to appease the message or the beeps. We stopped at other gas stations who had heard of it but didn’t carry it and all pointed us up the road a bit to where there was a station, we were told, that carried it.  That station sure did – there was a dedicated pump! Marek spoke to someone at the service station and filled up the reservoir that was near the gas tank and it took 9 liters! The beeping and the message went away, to our relief.

The archives and the Director were welcoming. The Director had prepared a presentation for us and had a room and records waiting for us. After the illuminating presentation we jumped into our research. On their own servers were indexes and some digitized records, other records had to be requested and the archivist in charge of the reading room was wonderful about bringing record books to us quickly.I knew quite a bit already about the family I was researching, but that didn’t stop new findings from being surprising. Previously I had identified a place this family lived prior to relocating to Kraków. Today’s finds however proved that although some members of the family were born in the other town, and some in Kraków, the family lived in at least one other place prior to settling in Kraków!

The records also revealed other surnames we would need to investigate. As so often happens in Jewish research, information that initially seems to be straight forward is not. In this case, it was because a marriage record indicated that the couple being married were illegitimate and thus each were known legally only by the surnames of their mothers, not by their father’s. In the case of the groom, we had not previously known the father’s surname. In the case of the bride, since previously identified records showed her siblings with their father’s name, and only showed her after marriage, it had not occurred to us to look for the children with their mother’s name.

Illegitimacy was a common status on Jewish records. Couples would marry according to the laws of the Jewish community but would not register their marriages with the civil authorities. Rules regarding marriage in the Jewish community were punitive. Often there were heavy taxes imposed on a new family or there was a cap on the number of Jewish families permitted to live in an area or only one son in a family was permitted to be married. There were more rules and regulations, but I think you get the idea. Anyway, the law stated clearly that a child born to a couple whose marriage was not registered was not permitted to use the father’s name and was registered as illegitimate at birth. That status along with the use of the father’s name could be amended later if the parents registered their marriage. Sometimes this happened when the children were adults!  In one recent case I was researching, a couple registered their marriage when their children were teenagers and the appropriate adjustments were recorded on their children’s birth records. THEN, the man’s parents registered their marriage. This man was in his 40s by then.  So, his name was amended and then the surnames of his children were also amended! Tricky stuff!

Kraków is amazing. There is truly nothing else to describe this marvelous medieval city. There are shops, restaurants and entertainment, museums and other cultural facilities. The Jewish presence is quite clear in the two synagogues, two cemeteries, JCC and cultural events. However, everywhere you turn there are tours of the city and of the nearby camps advertised. I felt that the camps were being made into a recreational diversion. I did not opt to visit them. I know that many people do, and I obviously have no issue with that. My issue is only with the way these tours are advertised.

Marek had told me when he saw how captivated I was by the displays of amber in Lithuania, that I should restrain myself. He said that in Kraków I would find so much more and a lot of amber set in silver. I did indeed and purchased several gifts and some things for myself.

Oh, and the ice cream!  Wherever we have traveled, ice cream has been our go-to snack. As I did in France and Israel and elsewhere, I settled on two flavors (this time pistachio and chocolate) and compared the flavors wherever we went. In Kraków I had a most magnificent chocolate with orange peel – it’s a good thing that I didn’t remember where I bought it and that we had limited time in the city, otherwise I’m sure I would have skipped meals and dined on it at least three times a day!

Tonight will be our last dinner together.  Tomorrow we will be in Warsaw, and Lina and her husband, Gabriel will be staying at a hotel near the bus station.  Lina will be vacationing with her family in Lithuania and they will be taking the bus to Vilnius from Warsaw. Gabriel has been serving as an unofficial addition to our team as a photographer, taking photos when the rest of us were occupied with research and helping to photograph whole books of records for us. I made a reservation at a restaurant not far from the archives. We all went off on our own to explore Kraków. Ola and I went over to the Jewish quarter to explore the cemeteries and synagogues. I bought a small yad and a hamsa to add to my collection of each.

Tomorrow is a long driving day back to Warsaw.





Posted in Eastern European Travel, Genealogy, Jewish Genealogy, Uncategorized

Mon., 27 Aug: Sanok to Rzeszów to Wielopole to Kraków

Today we intended to cover a lot of ground. Quite literally.  Although our hotel was close enough to the Sanok archive to walk, we decided to drive. Time was definitely at a premium and there would be very little of it to spare. It’s truly amazing the treasures that can be found in the most unassuming looking buildings. DSC04674.JPG


I know that I’ve used the word “privileged” before in my posts, but we are indeed privileged.  The archives have small staffs and an awful lot of work to do daily. Yet, in every archive we have visited, the staff has been very generous with their time. We are taken on a tour of the archives, and the staff has discussed their challenges, their holdings and the general challenges of research in the areas covered by their repository.

We knew in Sanok that we would have a few hours to do research and took advantage of every minute of that. When we are at our office in Salt Lake City, or working off-site at home or other remote locations, we work for the most part, alone. Sure, we speak with each other and enjoy cooperative and collaborative relationships with other researchers on our team or in the office, but the work we do is fairly solitary.

On this trip, however, we work more collaboratively than at any other time. We often find ourselves sharing the research for a client to cover the most ground possible. That might mean that if there are 5 books of records we will each look in one, or if there are indexes someone will look in the index and order records while the rest of us look in those records as they are brought to us from the stacks.  It’s a very different approach for us and one that I found very enjoyable.

We are mindful of the time, and regretfully left our research in Sanok to drive to Rzeszów. DSC04678.JPG

Marek had been to the Rzeszów to do research before, but he didn’t recognize the neighborhoods we drove through to get there. DSC04682.JPG

There was a good reason that it didn’t look familiar – this modern, state of the arts facility was brand new. It was also huge.  In addition to the stacks that currently hold boxes of files, there are big, empty spaces awaiting the arrival of more records. These empty spaces will be custom designed to hold the records that will be sent here over the next few years. The building was designed not only for the current needs but in anticipation of the future.DSC04685.JPG

Of particular interest to us were the huge stores of maps.


A big surprise awaited us on the roof of the building where we were treated to a 360 degree panorama of the city.


The archive had previously been located in the synagogue and adjacent cheder (school) and after finishing at the archive we headed out to find it.


Our next stop was a drive through Wielopole where a client’s family had lived prior to relocating to Kraków. I have been working on this particular family’s research for about two years and, after reading through volumes of Holocaust material which described the fate of the family who had remained in Europe, I was anxious to understand how they lived. Wielopole turned out to be a very small town. DSC04714.JPG


Now it was time to drive to Kraków. This is a place with an incredible reputation for their annual Jewish cultural festival and I was eager to see what the city was like, as well as what we would find in the archives.

Our introduction to Kraków was interesting. The GPS got us to a place and said we had arrived. We weren’t on the right street, and there was a park not a hotel next to where we were Driving further down the street still didn’t get us to where we wanted to be.  Finally we drove around the park, and there we found our hotel. It appears that the whole park area is not part of the Google map system.

The hotel was in an amazing location – right next to the walls of the city.  We decided to venture out and go to the old Jewish Quarter for dinner. To get there, we walked through the enormous plaza area. I was mesmerized by the shops with their displays of amber and the creative and unusual clothing in the windows.DSC04733.JPG


We settled on an outdoor dining area near where klezmer musicians were singing and playing. I wish we had more time than this evening and tomorrow to enjoy this city. There seems to be a lot to explore in the medieval streets. We have an 8:30 AM appointment at the archives whose reading room closes at 3 PM. Research awaits!



Posted in Eastern European Travel, Genealogy, Genealogy news

Sun., 26 Aug: Debrecen to Przemysl to Sanok

This whole trip is about choices. Where will we go and what will we do there, what will we do on weekends when archives are closed? Which archives do we need to be in ourselves, which ones will we leave for our onsite researchers? Every time a choice is made, we review it endlessly, wishing that we had 3 months rather than 1 so we could do all these things ourselves. I think delegating is the most difficult thing we have to deal with. This day was one of those choices. We could not possibly research in Przemysl, Sanok, Rzeszow and Krakow in two days was physically impossible. We decided that we would stop in Przemysl but not go to the archives there on this trip. We knew that material in all of these areas is scattered among many repositories. In future trips we will spend more focused time. We are planning for three of us to spend two weeks next spring, after the snows,  just researching in Przemysl, Sanok, Rzeszow and Krakow.

Our first stop was Przemysl. To get there, we drove from Hungary through Slovakia into Poland. We thought about stopping in Sanok on the way there to stop at the hotel, but decided it was more time effective to just go straight to Przemysl. Given the unexpected mountain roads, we were glad we did it this way – I can’t even imagine how we would have maneuvered the sharp blind turns after dark.  Przemysl was amazing. I wish we had had several more hours to spend there.


The streets were beautiful. The old buildings were breathtaking.



As we walked through the streets on a very chilly, rainy, late afternoon and wandered past a church, we saw nuns hurrying to a church and were privileged to hear wonderful sounds coming from a church as the service was sung.



Our trusty EuroStyle van was a welcome sight – we were all chilled to the bone – definitely weren’t dressed for the extreme difference in the weather in Poland from the hot, humid day in Hungary.


I’m glad that Marek didn’t listen to me when I said we should just go to Sanok and not try to find the remnants of the synagogue. We were all cold and tired, but Marek, the driver, was being more sensible than I was.


Przemysl will certainly be revisited by us and the archives here will be explored on our return trip.

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Genealogy, Jewish Genealogy

Sat., 25 Aug: On to Debrecen, Hungary

None of us has ever driven this route before. I’ve never been to Hungary. This is our second unplanned day of travel as we avoid crossing the border into Ukraine for a second time.  I’m really sorry that this route will not afford us the pleasure of visiting L’viv and spending more time with Ella. I was looking forward to having Marek, Ola, Lina and Lindsay visit Ivano-Frankivsk, formerly Stanislawow, the place where my ancestors lived since at least the mid-1800s and perhaps earlier. I haven’t done research in the records there prior to about 1850.

I am, however, in spite of those wishes, very excited about exploring new places.  We got on the road earlier today in an attempt to arrive at our destination before nightfall.  Under the best of road conditions, each of these driving days will take 5 hours. So far we haven’t encountered the best of road conditions for any of our driving days. We have had hours of great driving, but have not avoided hold-ups due to traffic and construction.




And of course there are always animals in the road. The horse drawn carts are a given. At some point, I think it may have been driving to our last stop in Romania, there was a herd of cows that had escaped and many people in the road attempting to round them up. I’m not sure, but it looked like the cows were winning.


There were also plenty of farm vehicles with produce and hay on the road. After all, this whole area has lots of agriculture. The fields we pass are really beautiful.



Living in the desert makes all the green even more beautiful.DSC04059.JPG

The architecture of the churches and old and new residences makes the drive very interesting.

We cross the border into Hungary and check into a magnificent 5 star hotel in Debrecen, once again shocked at the $50 per night per room rate!  We are getting so spoiled. After traveling all day or immersing ourselves in archives for intense days of research, these facilities are so welcome.

It’s very hot outside but we all decide to have lunch and then go walking – Lina decided to stay in and work on some of the records we’ve found – she’s going on vacation when the rest of us return to the office and there are things she wants to finish.

Lunch was delicious and the walk in the downtown area was charming – more weddings!


There are two synagogues still standing and in addition to photos of the many churches, we also got pictures of the synagogues.





We finished the day with ice cream at Paparazzi Joe.  Really it was Paparazzi Ice but the script of Ice looked like Joe.  Of course the kiosk with the ice cream didn’t take credit cards (the kiosks in Lithuania did so I was spoiled) or USD (the kiosks in Lithuania did) so I went on a search for florints. There was no way we were walking back to the hotel without ice cream. The hotel I stopped in sent me to a cash exchange which sent me to an ATM. Finally, success. We all walked away with cool, sweet ice cream to make the return to the hotel more pleasant. For some reason the return seemed to take twice as long!  Great day.


Posted in Eastern European Travel, Genealogy