Tag Archives: genealogy

Some of My Paternal Family Mysteries Solved, But Not All

18 Jul

For more years than I care to share, I have been searching for answers to my paternal grandfather’s many family mysteries.  My grandfather did not want to talk about his family.  My grandmother, his wife, was the one who told me the little bit she knew, with a caveat,
“when you marry, check out the family, because you marry them as well.”   ( See links to blogs below.)

Before I go into details, I have to thank Evan Wolfson, my, I think, fourth cousin on my father’s side, for his help!! He had sent me a copy of my great grandparent’s marriage license and said he was doing research at the Family History Center run by the Mormon Church.  On a serious whim, I asked if he could help with my mystery. Over two days he sent me record after record.  I am forever grateful for his help in working on my mystery!!!

What we all thought we knew and what I know now:

Grandpa Harry was born in 1888 or 1889.  No he was not.  He was actually born in April 20, 1890, in New York.   I know this from his registration papers for the military in 1914, where he claimed he was, (and I wrote from what he wrote) “the mostly supporter of my father and mother.”  He was an operator and cutter in his own business, as a pants maker, at 90 Attorney Street in New York.

By the way, his brother Jacob also filled out his registration card for military service then.  But since he was employed as a stenographer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, he did not go, as he was working in ‘home support.’

Grandpa was the oldest of six children.   No he was not.  He had an older brother, Samuel, who was born in Russia and came to the USA as an toddler.   He also had an older sister, Celia, who was born in the USA, but died when she was about 24 years old of pneumonia and pulmonary edema.  She worked making shirt waists and was single when she died.  She is buried in Montiefiore Cemetery in New York.  We will have to find her one day.

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Standing: Great Uncle Lenny, Great Aunt Hady, Grandpa Harry, Grandma Esther. Seating are my great grandmother and great aunt from my Grandma’s side.

He was the oldest of the other children.  Grandpa Harry, born 1890; Jacob, born about two years later; Bertha, five years younger, and never married; Edith (Yetta), born 1898 and also never married; Hatti/Hady who was born in 1901 and married to Lenny Greenberg; and finally, Minnie/Miriam/Muriel, who married and had two children.

The other item I now know is that his mother gave birth to 12 children, of which 8 survived.  There is a child who was born in 1904 named Rosie.  But no other listings of her.

The story we all heard was that when Grandpa was in his early teens, his father abandoned the family and went to Seattle. And Grandpa then became the provider for the family, and also traveled to Seattle to find his father.   Probably, maybe for a while, then went back?  Not quite sure.  Here’s what I know.  Grandpa did go to Seattle, we have the photos and the story.  But it was not that early.   Did he find his father?  I am not sure.  Did his father come back for a bit?  Well he was in New York at least till 1915, so who knows what was happening. Perhaps he became ill as he was no longer working then.

I did go to Seattle and did research at the library.  I did find a Abraham Rosenberg there in 1906 who was a tailor, but I could not find the same man again.   I also now know that my great grandparents were still having children in 1901 and 1903.  Hattie was born in 1901 and Minnie/Muriel was born about 1903. And the child born in 1904.

I also know that when my grandfather registered for the military in 1914, he listed the sole support of his mother and father and siblings as the reason he could not serve.  I had heard for years that my grandfather supported all his siblings, many of whom went to college on his dime, while he was just a tailor.

I know they were living together at least until 1915 because they are on a census together.  But by 1920 Sarah is the head of her household, and Abraham is gone.   I wonder if he had gone to Seattle in 1905 after his last child was born, but then came back after my grandfather found him.  Grandpa would have been 16 in 1906. So that is possible.  Then after they got divorced, he left again?  I am only thinking this, I have no proof.  The only fact I know for sure, is that my father always said the only time he met his grandfather we when he showed up the day of his bar mitzvah in September 1941.   He had vague memories of his grandmother. But then she died when he was 8.

My other mystery was knowing nothing about my great grandmother Sarah.  Well I now know her maiden name was Ritt/Writt.  I first saw this last name on my grandparents’ marriage license.  They married on February 25, 1922. Grandpa was 30 and Grandma was 23.

But her certificate of death gave much more.  Her parents were Hirsh Ritt, who was born in Poland and Flora, also from Poland.  Hirsh makes sense as that is my grandfather’s Yiddish name.   Flora is unusual. It also states that Sarah was born in France, which was the first time for that announcement.  In other places she is listed as was born in Russia or Germany.  Still the woman of mystery.

When she died at age 68, on January 28, 1936, she was divorced and suffered from carcinoma of the pancreas.  She was only sick for one month and seven days and died at the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn on 555 Prospect Place.

My Grandfather was the one who provided the information about his mother.

Thus some mysteries are solved.  And others now stand out.  What do the divorce papers say?  I still cannot find those.  What happened to Samuel?  And Muriel?    And where and when did Abraham go to Seattle or did him?  And where did he live after he and Sarah got divorced?  I had heard he was with another woman?

I knew Hady/Hattie and her husband, Lenny (see blog below.). Edith and Bertha, I never met, but I knew of them as the two maiden sisters. They went to college, but never married. However they gave my uncle the middle name, Prim; and my aunt the middle name, Gwendolyn.

As for Jacob. That will be another blog. Previously, I had found some information about him, and my cousin Evan was able to find a bit more during his research.

Once again, thank you Evan for helping me with my mystery! And a thanksto Tracing the Tribe Group, where I first encountered my cousin.

 

 

 

https://zicharonot.com/2015/06/14/the-sad-scandal-that-forever-scarred-my-grandpa-harry/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2017/10/25/the-missing-link-in-my-family-history-or-my-biggest-genealogy-block/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2018/11/16/epiphany-excitement-discovery-disappointment-hope/

 

 

https://zicharonot.com/2015/02/18/the-littlest-gambler-learning-about-horse-races-in-the-catskills/

 

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/

Epiphany, Excitement, Discovery, Disappointment, Hope

16 Nov

In searching for my ancestors, I have learned that not everything turns out as I hoped. But part of the search is the excitement of discovery and sometimes just the process itself.

Museum brochure

While in Seattle with my husband, I decided we needed to go to the Klondike Gold Rush Museum, a National Park Service site. We had been to Alaska and seen the town of Skagway where the hordes of people climbed to start a cold and difficult journey to find gold. We have ridden on the White Railroad train to see the path these souls walked to the Yukon Territory.

But to be honest I never connected Seattle with the gold rush. Now I know I was wrong. Almost seventy percent of all those who joined the gold rush came through Seattle. It was the hub for stocking up with the many supplies needed. The idea to come to Seattle was reinforced by a strong media campaign by a Seattle in 1897-98 to encourage people to come to Seattle first.

After visiting the museum, I had an epiphany! I knew my great grandfather had abandoned his family in New York to go to Seattle in the late 1890s, but I never could understand why Seattle. Now I think I know. He joined the adventure seekers looking for gold.

My great grandfather did not return home after his adventure. I wrote about this in the blog below.

Seattle Public Library

Genealogy on the ninth floor!

Being in Seattle for a few days, I decided my next stop needed to be the Seattle Public Library! So in the morning I set off. The staff was so helpful. Who knew there would be a genealogist on staff! Many thanks to John, who helped me explore. And to the other kind staff member who got me started until John came to work.

The old city directories.

I started by looking through the Seattle City directories. I searched from 1898 through 1924. My excitement was high. I found three men named Abraham Rosenberg in my search. The first seemed the most positive. With finding his death certificate we saw that he was born about the time, 1868, that perhaps my great grandfather was born. I found him in the books beginning in 1917.

The wrong Abraham Rosenberg, 1917 city directory.

But it was a disappointing find. We found his obit, and from there realized he only had lived in Seattle from 1916. Could not be my lost ancestor. Not only that he had children at the same time my family was growing back east, in the late 1890s.

John and I were disappointed together. He searched for every reference he could for Abraham Rosenberg in different spellings and in Spokane as well as Seattle.

I am not giving up hope. I vaguely remember that my great grandfather lived a long life. It might be that he died in 1963, those death certificate records are not yet on line.

I know my grandfather found his father in Seattle in 1902 or 1903. So I know he existed.

An earlier Abraham Rosenberg.

I went back in time. And found in the 1904 and 1905 city directories an Abraham Rosenberg is listed. He is a tailor! My grandfather was a tailor. Could it be my missing ancestor? We might not have found him traces of him in other records. But I am positive that I will one day find him. I will not give up hope.

The process is part of the adventure. I had a wonderful adventure and met the nicest staff at the library!

https://zicharonot.com/2015/06/14/the-sad-scandal-that-forever-scarred-my-grandpa-harry/

Working on An Ancestor Mystery

20 Jun

You would think that with my niece’s wedding in two days my sister (the mother of the bride) and I would focus on the wedding. But not us. After a day of running wedding related errands, my sister and niece were putting together a display about our family weddings, when my sister and I got into a mini dispute over a wedding date.

This lead to my sister logging into her ancestory account to check the date, which of course led us into a lengthy look into our family mystery: our paternal grandfather’s family.

Once again we started searching for his family on the census documents and in other areas. We know his birthdate and the names of some of his siblings. And we think we found his family. We knew of six siblings in his family. We are now up to eight in the 1905 census. But there is one brother not yet listed. And we cannot find another census with the family listed. So we honestly do not think this is our family. We need to investigate more.

But that is not our only mystery. Sometimes the documents have all but one child born in the USA. Others show all but one born in a Russia. Some say the father, our great grandfather came in 1880 or earlier. Others say 1890. We know he was born in 1859 and his wife in 1865 we know they married in 1883 and started having children in 1885. The biggest problem is their very common names. If only we could find documents with the original last name of Grau instead of looking for Rosenberg.

We know our great grandfather abandoned the family when our grandpa was about 13. It is now looking as if grandpa might have been a bit older.

The names are so common that we have to be careful we are staying with the right family when we search. And it is difficult and confusing.

In the midst of this research, while I was looking for a post relating to my paternal grandfather’s family, I found a post I put up a while ago of two young girls which was never translated. This lead us down another path and, thanks to a Tracing The Tribe member, connected us to a relative on my maternal grandmother’s family. I need to do a bit more research before I can write about this photo.

But we have found a photo of my grandmother and what looks to be this woman. We know my grandmother visited family in Breslau in 1931, where this woman lived. And we know her mother has the same name of our great grandfather’s sister. So we are pretty sure she, this women murdered in The Shoah, is grandma’s first cousin.

My sister and I love mysteries and searching for our family in Europe. Identifying our family who perished in the Shoah is important to us. We want their names to stay in our memories.

So at my niece’s wedding, I sat with my mother’s first cousin and showed her some of the information. Sometimes she remembers a name or knew someone that my siblings and I never met.

My grandmother left Poland when she was 16 in 1922, while my great aunt stayed until 1936, when she was 22. So she had stronger connections with the extended family in Poland right before the war.

However, with this family member, my cousin had no memory to share. In fact she did not seem to know about the cousins my grandmother visited in Breslau in 1931. However she reminded me that my grandma was 8 years older than her mother.

We have one last link. The Yad Vshem testimony was submitted in 1999. I have a contact name and address. I know the person who submitted it would probably be in her 80s now. But I plan to send her a letter with our information and copies of the three photos I have. Perhaps we can make a connection.

Murdered In Belzec

5 Jun

I have not gone to the Yad Veshem website in years.  I already had all the information about my great grandparents.  But in writing about a mystery cousin, several people suggested I go see if he was listed at Yad VeShem.  He is not.  So I will assume he survived, (optimistic I know) and look elsewhere. (See blog below.)

However, the website looked so different, I decided to look at my great grandparents again. I knew that there was an entry for both of them. But when I first saw it, I could not read much of it.  Now it is all translated into English. More important, it was put up by a survivor, a cousin, someone I met in Israel in 1976 with my grandmother: Shalom Hollander.

I had not seen his name in 42 years.  When we met, in Haifa or Tel Aviv, Grandma and Shalom only spoke in Yiddish.  And at the time, although I did understand some of what they said, I did not really pay attention.  I heard so many holocaust stories when I was with grandma that month, and I was just 20.  (See link blog below.)

It has been many years since I last looked at the listing in Yad VeShem.   Besides their updated website, I have been on a mission to record what has happened to my family.

Recently I listened to an audio tape made by my grandfather in 1981.  I had it made into a cd earlier this year. (See link below.) In it he talks about the village where he grew up.  We always thought it was in Mielec.  Which it was to a degree, but it was actually in a small village near Mielec called Trzciana.

We knew that my great grandmother, Chava, was killed near her home. That she had been hidden and did not go to the concentration camps.  The Yad VeShem records confirm that she was murdered in Mielec/Trzciana.

I did not know which concentration camp my family had perished. I only knew that they had all died.   However the testimony provided by Shalom Hollander is clear.  They were murdered in Belzec.  I am not so sure I am happy about that. But I now know that is where Gimple Feuer, my great grandfather died.

In Belzec approximately 500,000 Jews were murdered. Nazis were killing people at Belzec for nine and a half months.  Thus, I now also know that my family was murdered between March 17 to December 1942.  But at Belzec the Nazis not only murdered and buried my family, when the war was near the end, the Nazis secretly dug up their bodies and burned them.   Most depressing is that of all the Jews who were sent to Belzec only seven survived according to Wikipedia.

In the past I have also tried to find any reference to my grandfather’s siblings.  My biggest problem is that I do not know his sisters’ married names.  However, the most amazing aspect of going to the Yad Veshem datebase this time is that I found one of my Grandpa’s siblings: Shimon. Born in 1910.  Single.  A merchant.  Murdered in Belzec.  I knew all my grandfather’s siblings died. But I never saw it in writing before: Murdered in Belzec.

Shalom also did the records for his own parents.  Mordechai Amsterdam, a cousin of my great grandma; and Tova (Tauba) Holander Amsterdam.  His parents were probably cousins as well, as we were all related: Amsterdam, Feuer, Hollander, Brenner.

But there it is.  Murdered in Belzec.  No one is named for Shimon.   I do not think Shalom Hollander had a family.  Or at least I did not meet them in Israel.  I guess my next job is to search for any of Shalom’s descendants.

I am still stuck on those three words.  Murdered in Belzec.

Thanks to Tracing the Tribe members for their suggestions, especially Amy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Be%C5%82%C5%BCec_extermination_camp

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

https://zicharonot.com/2018/05/15/my-grandpas-voice-can-still-be-heard/

https://zicharonot.com/2018/05/01/zysel-ziesel-feuer-survivor/

https://zicharonot.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/

The Mystery of Abraham Prantki

4 Jun

As I search through the photo album we found hidden in my grandparent’s attic, I am still finding mysteries and photos of people who were never identified.  But this time, I found one, or should I say two, that were different.

I found two copies of the same photo postcard sent in 1923.  The young man identifies himself as Abraham Prantki.  The cards are made out to my grandmother and to her Aunt Gussie. They say the same thing, “For friendly memories I send my picture to… “

So now the questions.  He sends the one to Tante Gussie, I think.  It might say Tante Sunia?  But the last name is the name of my great-great aunt.  I am assuming that is who he meant? Maybe?

Is he really her nephew, and my grandma’s cousin?  If so then he would be from my great grandfather’s side.  He had five sisters.  I know the descendants of two of them.  However, they were from Poland. So why is this postcard written in German?  But then, they must have read German if that is the language he wrote to them in.  Actually,  my grandmother was well educated. She spoke and read several languages.

The other odd thing… on the top right of the photo addressed to the Tante, there is writing in another handwriting. I have no idea what that says.

I would love to claim him and put him somewhere on my family tree.  He looks a bit like my grandmother’s family. Like he could be related.  But it is just too nebulous.  What do you think?  A first cousin?  A border?  A relative?  Or just a friend?

And then the date, 1923.  My grandmother had been in the USA just a year.  She was 17 and living with her Aunt Gussie.  She married my grandfather in 1925.  So I have to ask, did Abraham Prantki survive?

So many questions.  I might know his name, but I still do not know who he is and what happened to him.

(Thank you to a member of Tracing the Tribe who translated the German on the postcards for me.  Update with more translations:  It seems he did address the one postcard to his cousin and the other to his aunt.  So I say YES a cousin.  I now know that his mother was one of three women, maiden name either Sura Szenk, Esther Szenk or Leba Szenk.  I will check Yad VShem.  Thank you all!)

These two previous posts discuss my grandmother’s family.

https://zicharonot.com/2014/05/29/grandma-thelma-knows-what-she-knows/

https://zicharonot.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/

Your Heart Just Gets Larger

26 Jan

Recently my cousin uncovered a photo, I had never seen before. When my Grandma Esther died, my Dad and his siblings divided up the family photos.  My cousin is now investigating the ones in her Dad and Mom’s album. This photo actually had something written on the back of it.  And I am the one with the story, because of my story.


When I married, I never expected infertility. I was in love, we were healthy, there were no problems. So when decided to get pregnant, I was devastated when we seemed unable to have children.

After the first year , I was sent on to a specialist and started on years of tests, surgeries and medical treatments.  Throughout this all, I had one major supporter, my Grandma Esther.  In her late 80s, Grandma was not one to let me give up. During a time when long distance phone calls cost extra before 11 pm, Grandma became my late night phone call.

I lived in Kansas, so when my phone rang after 10 pm, I knew it was an East Coast call. If it was not my parents, it was Grandma Esther with advise!  Her first calls were to tell me that she also had problems when she first tried to have children. She told me to stop stressing and go to the ocean. She and grandpa went to the ocean and she got pregnant with my uncle.

Well, I could not go to the ocean from Kansas. But I felt the love. Over the next few years Grandma’s phone calls came with more involved medical advise. I could see in my mind’s eye, multitudes of grandmas sitting around and coming up with cures.

Eventually I did have a healthy baby girl. My Grandma was so excited. At age 88, she flew to Kansas to be here for my daughter’s naming. Grandma’s advise did not end. Having nursed three infants, she was an expert. She announced one day that I was doing it all wrong. “If you are going to nurse, you need to do it the right way,” she said. With in minutes she had placed cushions and a footstool around me, and nursing became so much easier.

I wish I could say that was the end of my struggles, but it was not. I was unable to have another pregnancy. But I was not done with motherhood. My husband and I turned to adoption.

It was not easy. We had two strikes against us. One, we already had one child. Two, we were Jewish. Agencies in Kansas were basically religion based. We were told we could register, but when a better qualified (Christian) family came, we would be put to the back of the line.  We tried private adoption. But two weeks before the baby was born, the mom changed her mind. Again difficult.

Finally we found the Adam’s Center, a local agency that helped Jewish families.  No longer in existence, it helped about three dozen families adopt babies. Not all were Jewish.  We were one of the fortunate ones, and our son arrived.

My Dad was a bit nervous about this. On his way home from a business trip in California, he stopped in Kansas to meet his newest grandson. My sister called in advance, “Dad is nervous that he won’t love him the same.”

No worries. Dad arrived. I put the baby in his arms. My Dad looked up and said, “how could you not love that punim, that face.”  And then he told me, “With each child and grandchild, you do not split the love you have. No your heart just gets bigger and bigger.”  My parents had big hearts.

Dad was still nervous about how his mother, my Grandma Esther, would react. As far as he knew, there had never been an adoption in the family. How little he knew.

Grandma was now 92.  She did not fly out, but she called. She was so happy and told me the story of her cousin, Messuganah Esther.  She told me  in the old days, early 1900s, people, who had no children,  often adopted orphan children. Most of the time they were related. But sometimes, they were the children of friends. I must say that orphan sometimes just meant one parent had died.

In any case, my Great Grandmother Ray, had a sister, Chamka.  When Chamka finally made it out of the Bialystok region to join her siblings in the USA, she was a widow with three young children. And she was pregnant.  What was she to do?  Her sister Sarah had no children. and Sarah had a good job and could support a child.  So when Chamka gave birth, the daughter Esther, was given to Sarah to raise. Because so many girls were named Esther, she received the nickname, Meshugganah Esther. (See previous blog, Too Many Esthers.)

The photo is touching. It shows Chamka (Champy) holding Meshugganah Esther’s daughter, Lenore.  And it tells part of the story on the back.


Needless to say, when I brought my son back East for the first time, my Grandma Esther showered him with the same love she gave every great grandchild. She had a handmade afghan waiting for him as she did for all 18 of her great grandchildren. Because in my family, with every child, grandchild and great grandchild, you do not divide your love, your heart only gets larger and able to hold more love.