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My Grandmother’s Mysterious Black Notebook

13 May
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The black notebook.

I have a book.  It is small.  About eight inches by nine inches.  It has a black cover.  Inside are 33 lined pages, so total of 66 pages that can be written on.

It seems to be a diary.  Most of the pages, about 40, have entries that are dated in 1921.  So my book is almost 100 years old.  Two of the names I recognize.  My grandmother and her first cousin, Abraham, who perished in the Shoah.  The other names I am not sure about.  But these entries, even though they have different names, seem to be written by the same person.  My grandmother perhaps?  Or are they really two separate handwriting.  Now that I look at this page below, it seems as if two different people wrote. But many of the pages have the same writing and not changes like this one.

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Entries from March 1921 with my grandmother Tala Szenk and her cousin Abram Prentki’s names.

Some of the entries look like they could be poems.   Did they write these poems, or did they just copy them from some book?  It does show how my grandmother was educated in Poland.  Her father was a teacher. Grandma could read, write and speak in Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish.  After she came to America, she went to night school to learn English.

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See Lipka, her relatives she stayed with when she arrived in America.

In the middle of the book are names and addresses in English.  Names of people living in New York and New Jersey.  Hidden, I think, in the middle of the book.  Her escape plan?   My grandmother came to the United States when she was 16 in 1922.  I see the last name of the aunt and uncle who allowed her to live with them in the United States.  They must have sponsored her as well.  The name is Lipka.

It is all written in Polish.  But I can understand the names, because I recognize them.  And the name of my grandmother and her cousin jump out at me.  Especially since I have written about this cousin and not knowing who he was at first.  And then here he is embedded with her in this book.

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Who wrote these pages?

After the journal entries, if that is what they are, comes some blank pages, and then six pages written in a different handwriting.  It looks like a poem.  But I am not sure.  I am not sure what any of it is.

The last four pages are in Yiddish. Those I have had translated.  We think it is a story, perhaps not true, perhaps yes.   About a girl who meets non-Jewish man and how it ends in sadness.  The beginning reminds of the story of Tveye and his daughter Chava.  But this story does not end happily.  Did she read a book and decided to write that story?  I don’t know. I don’t know if she is writing about someone she knew or making up a story.   Perhaps the other entries would give me information. Perhaps.

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Why did she save this receipt as well?

Inside the book is a receipt for registered mail sent on November 16, 1922.  Did she send something back to her father and her siblings after she arrived in America?  I wish I knew.

My grandmother passed away 38 years ago.  I wish I had seen this book when she was alive so I could ask her what all this is!  We found it long after she died and my parents died.  It was hidden in the bottom of a box in the attic of their Catskills home.  Not thrown away, but saved for me to one day find.

This book is a mystery to me.  I need someone who reads Polish and can translate this book for me.  I love a mystery, but even more, I love the solution to a mystery!

 

Two blogs about Abraham Prentki:

https://zicharonot.com/2018/06/04/the-mystery-of-abraham-prantki/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2018/06/26/amazing-what-information-two-photos-can-provide/

The Keeper of the Records

6 May

In my family, I have become the keeper of the records.  I believe it is because I actually do something with them.  I scan them in to the computer; I research these records; I write about them; and then I share the information with my family through my blogs.  I hope that my doing this will keep these memories alive for future generations.

So recently, when I was in New Jersey, I asked my sister where she had put our parents’ wedding album, as my sister wanted it when we cleaned out our parents’ home.  It was easily accessible, so I looked through it, searching for a particular photo.  I had seen it the album many times, so knew it was included.

The biggest problem with this album is that the photos are encased in plastic. That must have been the style as I have seen other albums from this era also with plastic.  So those photos are difficult to photograph or scan, as you see here.

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My parents listening to the reading of their ketubah.

I found what I was looking for: a photo with my parents’ ketubah, Jewish marriage license.  It was important for me because I have both their marriage license and the engagement agreement that was signed at the same time.

The engagement contract is in disrepair.  I hate even taking it out of its’ envelop, but I did for a photo.  It is signed by both of my grandfathers. It was kept in an envelop addressed to my Dad at my grandparents’ bakery.

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The ketubah is in much better shape.  Written in both English and Hebrew, it is pretty simple.  Not an artist drawing, but rather a form Ketubah filled in by the Rabbi.  The most important part for me is that it lists my mother’s Hebrew/Yiddish name.  We sometimes had a debate on that as my grandparents, and sometimes my dad, would call her ‘Fegilah,” little bird.  But we were pretty sure her name in Yiddish was Freida, which is confirmed with the ketubah.

The photo with the ketubah almost makes me laugh.  Their wedding was arranged quickly.  Dad was in the army and going to Korea.  Yet there he is in tails and a top hat!  My Mom is standing by the huppah in a veil that almost hides her face. It is much denser than the veil my sister, sister-in-law, and I wore, and our daughters.

They both look so serious.  It is difficult to believe that they were just 22 years old. My uncle, my Mother’s brother, is there as well.  Thanks to him we actually have a movie of my parents’ wedding!  No voices, but all the action is shown.

To me having this photo together with the ketubah is important.  It is a link that ties the document to the people in it.  Now forever together in this blog.

I think that is why I am the designated keeper of the records.

More on Esther and Leon’s London Wedding

9 Apr

There are times I truly love Facebook.   When I posted my last article about my husband’s grandparents, I tagged all his many cousins to see if someone knew something I could not find.  And yes, they did.  I am especially thankful to the two Esther/Ester who are namesakes of their grandmother.

One Esther let me know why Leon came to the United States. Leon came to the USA through Canada to be the town doctor in Lone Star, Kansas, near Leavenworth.

Why there, I do not know. But that is where my husband’s Kansas roots began.  I have researched the town and now know that it was located south of Lawrence.   Which is really not close to Leavenworth, about 47 miles.     It looks like it was quite a small community, which had a post office from 1875 until 1953.

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Thank you to my husband’s cousin for sending me this!

But then the second Ester commented that she had their English or civil marriage license!  It states that they were actually married in the Register Office on July 17, 1903.  Esther’s father Abraham and a man named, Is. Zaidner, were the witnesses. They had a civil marriage several weeks before their Jewish wedding ceremony, which was held in August.

While Leon is listed the correct age and as a medical student on the document; Esther is listed as an 18-year-old spinster.  WAIT! 18!  The misinformation she provided is even larger.  That is even older than the family legend states.  We were told she said she was 16 when she got married. But we know in fact she was not quite 14.

I am beginning to wonder if Leon knew exactly how old the girl he fell in love with was when he first met her.  They met when she hurt her arm, and Leon stitched it. The healing touch won her heart!  And the stories I have heard is that he was immediately smitten.

From the marriage license we also learn that Leon’s father, Aron, was a solicitor.  That makes sense, the family legend says that Leon had both a law degree and a medical degree!  Quite an educated man for the beginning of the 20 Century.  (Cousin update: Leon’s father, Benjamin Aharon Matassaru was a lawyer and a mayor in Romania. In fact, he was the first Jewish mayor of the city of Dorohoi). Esther’s father, Abraham, was a greengrocer.

I now also know the address of their first home in Whitechapel, London.

As for Aunt Jean and her birthday, it seems she continued to make herself three years younger throughout her life.  Although born in 1907, she told everyone that she was born in 1910.  When she passed away, her birth year was noted at 1908, making her 100 years old when she passed.  But we now know in reality she was 101!  Several cousins commented on this, included one of her grandchildren. (Another update, Jean’s daughter is happily still alive. She said that her mom wanted her dad to think she was younger perhaps because they were the same age. Thanks to Jean’s granddaughter for finding out!)

Thank you all for your help in making this history as complete as possible.  If there is anything else out there about Esther and Leon’s marriage, I am glad to continue to update so that we have a full and factual history.

 

 

 

https://zicharonot.com/2019/04/06/more-family-legends-confirmed/

https://zicharonot.com/2019/04/04/the-great-alie-street-synagogue-my-husbands-family-london-ties/

https://zicharonot.com/2019/01/11/cemetery-records-impacts-family-stories/

 

More Family Legends Confirmed

6 Apr
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Esther and Leon wedding photo.

Now that I found my husband’s grandparents’ ketubah (Jewish marriage license), I can be definite about another family legend.

The rumor was that his Grandmother Esther was anywhere from 12 to 15 years old when she married her husband Leon, who was 25. My mother-in-law told me that her mother was 12 when she married.  My husband’s first cousin, also named Esther, told me that her grandmother was 15.  All agreed she lied and said she was 16 when she married in 1903.

I now have facts.  She was born October 4, 1889.  That means when she married on August 9, 1903, she was not quite 14.  I have to be honest, this shocked me.  I cannot imagine letting my 13-year-old daughter marry a man who was 12 years older, 25, even if he was a well-educated and kind physician.  I guess times were different.  However, it was London, England, and not the wild west. All that went through my brain, was: “What were her parents, Abraham and Rachel, thinking!!!”  But the marriage occurred, so they must have approved.  (See blog below.)

They lived in England, where their first three children were born.  The oldest was born when Esther was 15 years old. The next when she was 17, and so on until she had 10 living children.  She died in childbirth in 1933, when she was 44.  She is buried with an infant.  (See blog below.)

Leon immigrated to the United States in February of 1908.  And another legend is correct, they came through Canada.  It makes sense as she was a citizen of England, coming to Canada was not a problem.   Leon was born in Romania, but he had lived in England for a while.  But actually only he entered the USA at Vanceboro, Maine, which is located across the St. Croix River from St. Croix, New Brunswick, Canada.  There is a railroad that connects the two cities, which was opened in 1871.  I assume he came by rail.

Interesting there is an E Matassarin that took a boat to Canada around the same time.  But Esther and her three children actually moved to the USA on August 7, 1920, on the ship, Carmania. The three children were Malvenia (Molly), Joseph and Jeanne.  (I have to add one comment here.  Their third child, Jeanne, was born in England, supposedly in July 1908.  Either she was born a year earlier, making her 101 when she died, or they came a year later.  I think she was a year older!  A family member has confirmed the 1907 birthdate.)

When they arrived they stayed with family members from Esther’s side before they took the journey to Kansas.

Over the years, Esther’s age moved back and forth in the census.  In a 1925 census of the city in Kansas where she lived, she is listed as 35 years old and her husband is 47.  Their true ages.  She had six children living with them ranging from age 4-18.  Her oldest daughter had already died as a young adult.  (Her grave was moved from Wichita to Leavenworth so she could be buried with her parents.)

But in the 1930 census, just five years later, she lists herself as being 42, adding two years to her life, and now just ten years younger than her husband.  She has an additional two living children, including my husband’s mother. One more live birth would occur soon after the census.

They originally lived in Brooklyn in New York City after they immigrated to the USA. Then they moved to Kansas, living at times in both Wichita and Leavenworth.  I know that Leon became a naturalized citizen of the USA in September 1915 in Wichita.

My husband’s grandfather served as a doctor for the USA Army during World War 1.  He was shipped overseas on August 23, 1919 on a ship called, Chicago. He was stationed at the US Army Base Hospital #58, which was located in Rimaucourt, France.  The Army Hospital in Rimaucourt was the last US military hospital created in WW 1 and only existed until February 1919.  I am not sure where he went after this base closed.

He left the USA as a captain.  When he returned he held the rank of major. He left Brest, France, the main port the USA used during the war, on September 10, 1919, serving just over a year in Europe.  He arrived home on the ship, Mount Vernon, docking in Hoboken, New Jersey on September 19,1919.

One more item about Leon and his time during World War 1. He found a way, through the JDC, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, to send $10.00 to his mother, and his sister, Anna, in Romania on October 17, 1917.  (I found this in the JDC Archives.)

He ended up in Leavenworth, Kansas, where he continued to work on the military base.  He was discharged from military duty in 1930 with the rank of Major. I believe he then went into private practice.  Unfortunately, his wife died just a few years later.  The memory my mother-in-law told me was that he went every day to visit his wife’s grave until he died.  Years ago, when I went to the cemetery, there was a stone bench next to her grave.  I believe her memory to be true.

My husband’s mother was about eight when her mother died and 17 when her father died in the middle of World War 2.  She was the third youngest child.  Some of her older siblings served during the war and were dispersed throughout the world.

I am so glad that JewishGen.org, the Archives.jdc.org  and Ancestry.com had records that helped me piece together this history.  I also used Wikipedia for info about towns in France and Canada.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2019/01/11/cemetery-records-impacts-family-stories/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2019/04/04/the-great-alie-street-synagogue-my-husbands-family-london-ties/

 

 

The Great Alie Street Synagogue: My husband’s Family London Ties

4 Apr

My husband’s grandparents were married on the 16 day of Ab/Av in the year 5663, which corresponds to August 9, 1903.  We knew that they were married in London.  His grandmother Esther was English.  His grandfather, Leon, was from eastern Europe. He had studied medicine and moved to England to practice.  He met his wife in an emergency room, when she needed medical assistance for an injured hand.

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The copy of their Ketubah.  I found out that the ketubah survived a fire, which left the smudge.

But that was all that I knew.   Recently I found a copy of the front page of their marriage license or Ketubah in both English and Hebrew.

Esther, the daughter of Avraham Moshe, married Yehuda Leb, the son of Aaron Benjamin in the Great Alie Street Synagogue in Aldgate, London.  In Hebrew letters above the English words naming the shul were the words, the Bayt Kenesset DaKalish, which stands for the Kalisher Synagogue.

Once I found this document, I had to do my research, which led to more questions!  I knew that my husband’s grandmother was known as Esther.  She has several descendants named for her.  Her husband did not use Yehudah or Leb, he was known as Leon.   And he also has grandchildren named for him.  I assume he could not find an English name that he liked for his first name, so went with his second name?

My biggest question relates to the date of their marriage. From the JCR-UK records I found on Jewish Gen, I learned that the Great Alie Street Synagogue was also known as the Kalischer Synagogue, named after a previous congregation.  In fact, the Kalischer merged with the Great Alie Street Synagogue, and the same rabbi served the new congregation, Rabbi Israel Dainow.   I wish I had the back page with the witnesses to see if he had officiated at their marriage.  Our ancestors were married in the congregation just eight years after it was established.

My main question deals with the date of their marriage.  The document states they were married on August 9, 1903. However, in the information I found, it says that the synagogue was closed for repairs, only reopening and being re-consecrated on September 18, 1903.  Did it close after they were married?  Were they married elsewhere by the Rabbi and so given a ketubah from that synagogue?  I guess I will never know.

This was not a big congregation, not having much more than 110-120 members from the 1896 to 1915 time period.  It was formed when two congregations merged: the Kalischer Synagogue, named for the town of Kalisz, Poland; and the Windsor Street Chevra/Windsor Street Synagogue.

This orthodox synagogue closed in 1969 and the building was demolished.  That always makes me sad.  I will never get to see it.  However, the congregation membership continued on for several decades merging along with others into the Fieldgate Street Great Synagogue. But eventually, in 2014, services ended  and the building was sold.

My husband’s grandparents came to the USA in the early 1900s.  They ended up in Kansas. The parents of ten children, they have great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren,  throughout the USA and Israel.

See blogs below.

 

 

https://zicharonot.com/2019/01/11/cemetery-records-impacts-family-stories/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2017/01/05/the-antique-european-hannukiah/

 

 

 

https://www.jewishgen.org/jcr-uk/London/EE_alie/index.htm

 

Cemetery Records Impacts Family Stories

11 Jan

Recently I received a cemetery record from a friend of mine, who grew up with my husband’s cousins.  Her grandfather and my husband’s grandfather were great friends.

In any case, she is researching her family history and did research on the Jewish Cemetery in Leavenworth, Kansas, where my husband’s grandparents and aunt are buried.  (Mount Zion Cemetery or Sons of Truth. )She found their funeral records as well, and sent them to me and other family members.  I sent it on to one more.  For me they were enlightening.  My husband’s mother had told me many stories about her family before she died.  And these records impacted these stories.

Story Number One:  Her mother, Esther, died in childbirth when she was in her 40s.   The cemetery records make this clear.  She died in the early 1930s and was buried with an infant.  This would have been child number 11, although her oldest daughter had died years before.  Born in 1889, she died in 1933, when she was just 43.  On another note,  her birthday was October 4; and many of her grandchildren are born October!

Story Number Two:  My mother in law was named for her older sister, Molly, who died in May.  I was told she died in the swine flu epidemic in 1918 or 1919.  Not true.  Molly died from the pneumonia in May 1924, when she was 19 years old.  What amazes me as well is that she was born and died on the same day in May just 19 years apart!Still a tragedy!  But what is true is that my mother in law was born almost exactly a year later.  And so was given her sister’s Hebrew name, along with another name.  This impacts me, as my daughter is named for her grandmother and so also for this great aunt.

A story we did not know, is that Malvina or Molly or Malcha, was first buried in Wichita, Kansas, where the family lived.   The family moved to Leavenworth some time after she died, leaving her grave behind.  But after her mother died, Molly’s remains were moved to Leavenworth in 1935, to be with her mother.

My mother in law told me that her father went every to visit the grave of his wife and daughter.  I have been at the cemetery and I know there is a bench there where he sat.

Story Number Three:  My husband’s grandfather died in the middle of World War 2 in Leavenworth, which impacted his three youngest children.  So true.  His date of death is listed as December 6, 1942.  Just one year after Pearl Harbor.  He had been a widow for nine years.  And was just 64 when he died.  The same age my husband is now!

At the time of his death, three children were minors, the others were married or serving in the military.  The oldest of these three was my mother in law.   She was a senior in high school.  We think she stayed with friends for the rest of the school year.  We know after high school, she moved to St. Louis to attend Washington University and live with an older sister and her family.

My mother in law told me that one day when she came home she saw her brother and sister sitting on the steps.  Some family friends were there. And she just knew something horrible had happened.  It had.  After losing her mother when she was only 8, she was now an orphan.

The two youngest, 12 and 14 at the time, were first taken to Wichita.  Remember the good friend?  She told me that her grandfather drove through a horrible storm to get the youngest children so they would not be alone.  He brought them back to Wichita.  From there they went to Arkansas to live with their oldest brother and his family.  Officially they were supposed to live in Kansas, according to my mother in law, but the state gave permission for them to leave the state to live with family during the war.

After the war was over, the youngest son was still a minor.  He went to live with another brother and his wife in Wichita.  The next youngest, a daughter, was in nursing school,  at St. Francis Hospital in Wichita,  but would stay with this brother as well during vacations.

That two of these youngest children went to college and one to nursing training,  I find amazing!  But I remember my husband’s aunt, the one who lived in St. Louis, telling me that although there was not a lot of money left after their dad died, there was enough for education, and the older siblings made sure the younger siblings went.

After I received the cemetery records, there was some serious texting back and forth between this friend and I, as well as an older first cousin who grew up in Wichita.  Her parents are the ones who took in the youngest sibling.

It is just amazing that different people know different parts of the same story.  But when you put it all together, a truer picture appears.   Most  amazing how finding the right records can answer so many questions!

 

Thank you to /www.findagrave.com/.  I was able to see grave stones.

Identifying A Photo is Hanukkah Miracle

6 Dec

My grandmother’s photo album continues to amaze me.  As I revisit it every few months,  I always find photos that call out to me.  This time, the portrait of a middle age man caught my attention.

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I believe this is my great grandfather.

He looked so familiar, but at the same time, not so much.  Then I looked more closely at his ears.  Do not laugh!  But his ears were very telling.  And I thought, “Wait, I think that is my great grandfather.”  I pulled out my great grandfather’s passport. And compared the photos.  And yes, in my mind the ears are the same.  As are the eyes.  He is much older in the passport photo.  And much had happened in his life.  But it is definitely Avraham Shlomo.

Front Great grandpa USA Visa

My Great Grandfather’s Green card that save him.

My grandmother’s album is filled with photos from the 1920s and 1930s.  I imagine that this is the photo she brought with her to the United States when she left Poland in the early 1920s.  Her mother had already died.  Her younger siblings, she left behind.

But she kept a photo album of the people she met in the USA And with the many photos sent to her from Europe.  Some I have identified.  But many more remain a mystery, because they have no identification,  that I still try to discover.  The hardest ones to see are the children.  Grandma put in several photos of large groups of children, I would assume from a school photo.  I wonder how many survived?

Each time, I figure out who someone is, I feel as if a great miracle has occurred.  So today I had  my Hanukkah miracle for the year, discovering this photo of my great grandfather in his middle age.  A younger vision of him before so much sorrow occurred in Poland and Europe.

Here is the blog I wrote when I first discovered this album.  But I have written many others since then.  Each discovering just an amazing find.  You can see more of the photos in the Category: Grandma’s Photo Album.

https://zicharonot.com/2014/08/19/old-photographs-bring-memories-to-life/