Tag Archives: searching family roots

The Shoah Impacts My DNA Relatives

24 Apr

Today I went on my 23 and Me account to access some information.  I manage both my account and that of my now deceased father, since I am the one who had him provide a sample about six months before he passed away.  I am so glad I did that.  It has provided me with my father’s Y chromosome information, which I otherwise would not have had.

I have over 1100 relatives on 23 and Me.  Most are third or distant cousins.  But today I had a revelation.  An unhappy one I must say.  There are 49 pages of relatives.  I just started scanning them.  And page after page after page, I kept seeing the same words, “on your father’s side,” after every entry.  Over and over again, not a single relative from my mother’s side. NO close relatives.  No distant relatives.

I started to cry.

Then I finally found ONE.  One distant relative. One.  I know that there were cousins who survived the Shoah. Not many.  And there were a few relatives already here in the USA. But I guess they are not on 23 and Me.  But in reality, most of my mother’s relatives perished.  She had one aunt and two uncles who survived. But among them, they only had two living children.  I know them well.   They also had descendants, I am happy to report.  Some live here in the USA, others in Israel.

But all those distant relatives are GONE.  Those distant relatives who share bits of my Dad’s and my DNA are welcome. But the missing ones from my mother’s side are so obviously a result of the Shoah that it reminds me of the horror of the loss.  I should have an equal number of distant relatives from my mother.  Instead of 1100 people, there should be 2200 people who share a bit of my DNA.

I am feeling a sense of loss I have not felt before.  Maybe because I am working on an article about my grandparents’ survival story.  So I am already feeling the dread of reliving their sorrow over their family’s loss.  But this was a blatant reminder that my family really is not like every other.

The Missing Link in My Family History or My Biggest Genealogy Block

25 Oct


Harry Rosenberg

We think this is Grandpa Harry on his bar mitzvah day.


I know basically nothing about one set of my paternal great grandparents. My grandfather, Harry Rosenberg… Hersh Zvi ben Avraham, was the son of Abraham and Sarah Rosenberg. His father, Abraham, abandoned the family when my grandfather was about 13 or 14. Grandpa was borned in 1888 or 1889. So in 1901 or 1902, his father left and ended up in the Seattle, Washington, area. He came back to the east coast around September 1941, because he showed up at my Dad’s bar mitzvah. I know that he had a second wife, or a woman that he lived with on the West Coast. He supposedly became quite wealthy. Who knows?

Grandpa was born in New York, the oldest of six children: Harry, “Hady” (Harriet), Jacob, Muriel and two maiden sister.  (I am thinking one of my great grandparent’s parents had an H sound in their name, since both my grandfather and his oldest sister were Harry and Harriet.)

After Grandpa traveled to the west coast to find his father, he returned to New York to help support his sibling. He was a tailor. And through his work, all five of his siblings went to college Grandpa never did.   He found out much later that his mother had lied to him for many years.   She had been getting money from her husband, but never told my grandfather, and so kept him working for the family. (See blog post below: “The Sad Scandal That Forever Scarred My Grandpa Harry )

Grandpa married my grandmother, Esther Goldman, on February 26, 1922. He died February 29, 1984.

I know that Jacob got married and had a son named, Betram, and a daughter, Delilah. Delilah was around the same age as my Aunt, so born around 1931. I know because my Aunt would go to their house for piano lessons once a week. They lived in New York City at least until the 1940s. But supposedly he was an important lawyer and moved to England at some point and never came back to the USA.


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

Haddie married Lenny.   I knew them when I was a child. They lived to the end of their lives in Sullivan County, New York, in the Monticello area. (See blog post below: The Littlest Gambler: Learning about Horse Races in The Catskills.)

The two maiden sisters, and Muriel, I never knew. But Muriel also married and had sons. But that is all I know. The only story I know is that my grandmother asked them if they had any names they wanted when my aunt and uncle were born. Hence my Uncle’s middle name was Prime, and my Aunt’s middle name was Gwendolyn.   Grandma did not offer when my Dad was born.

I know my great grandfather’s original last name was “Grau.” He was one of three to five brothers who came to the USA at different times. We believe they all took different names.

I know nothing else. I do not even know my great grandmother’s maiden name. I don’t know when she was born or when she died. I do not know when my great grandparents’ married. But I know it had to be on or before 1888. I do not know when they moved to the USA.  We have no known photos of my great grandparents.

I am hoping one of the wonderful researchers from Tracing the Tribe can help me.

I would appreciate it. My Grandpa Harry’s family is the missing link in my research.




As Spain Welcomes Back Jews Expelled in the 1400’s, I Share my Spanish Roots

9 Jun

“Grandpa’s family was originally from Spain,” my Grandma Thelma would begin her story with these words. “They left Spain because they did not want to convert. They were court Jews and could have stayed. But their Judaism was more important.”

I thought this was a ‘bubba meiser,’ just a myth and a bedtime story. And for many years, I did not believe the Spanish expulsion of Jews had anything to do with me. I thought it was enough that our family had been decimated by the Shoah. But it seems my grandmother was telling me the truth, and my family is both a survivor of the Spanish and German attempts to destroy the Jewish people.
Grandpa Nat portrait

My Grandpa Nat’s last name was Amsterdam. This is a somewhat unusual Jewish name. And, it seems, actually anyone named Amsterdam is related to me. The family started in Spain as wealthy Jewish merchants and financiers. Supposedly three brothers moved to Amsterdam in the early 1500s. And then a group of them moved to Denbitz and Mielec in Galicia, where they were given the last name Amsterdam.

I started to investigate the Spanish connection when I was in college. And then I got help from an unexpected source. The other story my grandmother told me had to do with the comedian Morey Amsterdam. I was told he was my grandfather’s cousin. He had to be, his name was Amsterdam. I was not sure how to contact him. But he actually contacted me. Morey’s son-in-law met my cousin, Gary, who was an Amsterdam. Since I had the family history, I was then put in touch with Morey Amsterdam. He was on a mission to find all the Amsterdams. He wanted learn all he could about our family. I am not sure he met all of us before his death. But he was relentless. He would send me information about other Amsterdams when he met them. He would give them my contact information as well. People called and contacted me from up and down the East coast telling me that Morey Amsterdam told them to call me. May his name be for a blessing.

In any case, he confirmed the story about our Spanish roots, and then told me more. But it was not Morey who really filled in the missing information. It was another cousin named Bob. His parents and my grandparents were first cousins who all came to the USA in the early 1900s. They stayed in touch in the USA. We have photos of them at family events. My grandparents attended Bob’s wedding.

Bob was a generation older than I, and as an engineer was meticulous about his research. He also got in touch with me through my cousin. That Amsterdam last name stands out. Bob was kind enough to send me his information. And I sent him mine. Since his last name is not Amsterdam, he did not have some of the contacts and information I had received. We filled in each others missing pieces.

The following is what we know and what we think. I have to thank him for all the help he gave me in investigating the family.

Our family has taken on other last names as well. Faya was the original name used in Spain. There are family members who have this name as part of their Hebrew name. This spelling was used up until about 1800. After 1800 the spelling became more Eastern European: Feuer. Other names in the family include Brenner and Asher. All have to do with fire, because they were Cohanim.   The families often intermarried. My grandfather had both a Feuer and an Amsterdam parent. They were first cousins. I have met others, including Bob, who also have parents from both lines. This is a tradition from the days that they were crypto Jews in Spain.

I actually can trace my grandfather’s family back to about 1795 with direct names. My Grandpa Nat’s parents were first cousins, Chava and Gimple. Chava’s parents were Hershel and Frieda; Gimple’s parents were Tzipporah (?) (Hershel’s sister) and Nissin (also a cousin of some sort). Siblings Hershel and Tziporrah parents were Tova and Nissin Amsterdam, and Nissan’s parents were Chava and Morris Amsterdam (My fourth great grandparents!) These names show up constantly in the family and continue today. I am a Chava, named for my great grandmother; my son is Nissan named for my grandfather, so the names continue.

There are many, many men named Nathan (Nissan) in the family. My Grandpa was given this name because he was born between Purim and Passover on the first day of Nissan, but also because it was an important family name.

After the expulsion, some of the family stayed in Spain and converted and became Catholic on the outside. However in their home they were still following the traditions of Judaism.  Through research by a cousin, we believe the family lived in Segovia, a city with a large Jewish population.

However a branch of the family left, we think they all moved to Portugal. We believed they lived in a port city called Oporto before they went to Amsterdam. But some stayed after the Portugal expulsion. The Spanish Inquisition impacted my family in other ways. One family member, Aaron Cohen Faya, was burned at the stake in Lisbon in May 1618. A poet, his secular name was Antonio d’Aguiar. We think d’Aguiar or Aguiar was the name of the entire crypto-Jewish branch of our family.

I have much more information about my Spanish roots. I could tell you about our coat of arms.   I could tell you about meanings of names and how names concerning birds, hawks and eagles are important in our family history.

But I think that as Spain welcomes back the Jewish families they sent forth during the great expulsion, it causes me to think of how it impacted my family. How my family had its own additional diaspora that caused them to travel from Spain to Portugal, to Amsterdam, then to Galicia.   I think about how some survived these moves, left Europe and moved to the United States or to Israel. But others stayed behind and perished in the Shoah. (See my blog, “Speaking Yiddish Always Brings Me Holocaust Memories.”)

My Spanish roots are noted. But more important, I look at what I can do because of my desire to learn about my Spanish ancestry. I found out so much about my family. Most Jewish families cannot tell you the names of ancestors back to the late 1700s. I can. Most cannot tell you that they are related to everyone with a similar last name. I can.

My daughter was at a party. I saw on Facebook that one young man had the last name Amsterdamer. I said, “He is your cousin.” She laughed. “Ask him,” I said. “Mom, I can’t do that. I hardly know him.”

But the next time she saw him she said, “My grandmother’s last name was Amsterdam.” He replied, “Then we are cousins.”

I am proud to have the Amsterdam/Faya/Feuer ancestry.