Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Part VI: Which Ancestors to Research?

Max Blumenfeld (bottom left) with my
great-grandfather William Bloomfield (bottom
right) and their cousin Morris Birenbaum (standing),
Claremont NH, 1905. (Note the nice shoes.
They were working at the shoe factory at the time).
My motto is Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time. And, I confess: Max Blumenfeld was never on the top of my Ancestor List! Yes, I admit to possessing such a list. It's my running list of predecessors whom I want to learn more about. When you are as addicted to family history as I am, and have as many ancestors as I do—forty nine direct ancestors—it's essential to prioritize. So how do you chose which ancestors to research? Max and Leah Blumenfeld, are not my direct ancestors. I never met them, they had no children and honestly, four years ago, I'd never even heard of them. The little I knew about Max and Leah, I've shared in earlier posts about the Bloomfield clan, but in the last few months, since the my New England roots trip, Max and Leah have taken center stage in my research. 

Springfield Vermont left me with some nagging questions about the Bloomfields. When I set out, I wanted to know, why the chose to settle rural New Hampshire and Vermont. The trip has helped get a better understanding, but left me with a series of new questions. More importantly, I still don't know where Moses Bloomfield, my second-great-grandfather, is buried, except that it's somewhere in New York (See Part III: Roots Trip Gem of the Day). Finding a grave in a Jewish Cemetery in New York from 1917 is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Let me already disclose that, no we haven't found Moses yet, though I have several ambitious young Bloomfield cousins on the trail. Jimmy, my cousin even tracked down the undertaker from the death-certificate, but his company is no longer in business and no one has the records.

Genealogy, requires a lot of detective work and therefore, I collect clues. I tend to go over the facts many times, and sometimes, I'm blessed with one of those ah-ha moments! Before we arrived in Springfield, my cousin Jimmy had a feeling we would not find Max and Leah buried there. He had found a Max and Leah Blumenfeld who died on the same years (1951 and 1961 respectively) who are buried in New York, through the amazing website Find-A-Grave. Morbid as this may sound to the non-genealogist amongst my readers, Find-A-Grave is place where volunteers post photos of tombstones, slowly bringing much needed data form cemeteries across the US to the public. I doubted these are the same Max and Leah, because I had no idea why Max and Leah who spent their whole lives in Vermont, would be buried in New York. Blumenfeld is not an uncommon name and there could easily have been many Max Blumenfelds in NY. But as I mentioned before, the visit to Springfield taught me, that if you wanted to be buried in a Jewish Cemetery, you had to go pretty far. Not only that, from Moses' Death Certificate, I learned that he was buried in New York and this made it much more likely that the Find-A-Grave memorials do belong to our very own Max and Leah. One more clue came from Leah's mother death Certificate. Bessie Kenet, lived with Max and Leah for many years (At least from 1930, as it appears on the 1930 US Census). The same death certificate, states that Bessie Kenet is buried at Mt Hebrew Cemetery in, Brooklyn, NY! 

I found this photo recently in my
great-grandmother's album.
It was labeled: Leah and Max Blumenfeld,
Pittsburg, PA. I believe it was taken
around 1908 for various reasons.
In the 1907 Claremont directory, Max and William
had moved to Pittsburg. They were both single.
Max returned married. In the 1910 census it states
 they were married for two years.
Finally, according to my cousin Jimmy, his mother
used to say that this is the typical honeymoon pose.
"He is too tired to stand up and she is too sore to sit."
Upon my return, I found Max Blumenfeld's information from Find-A-Grave, and low and behold, he is buried at Mount Hebron cemetery in Brooklyn, and so are Leah Blumenfeld and Bessie Kenet. Mt Hebrew was a typo on the death certificate, it was actually Mt. Hebron and once again, Jimmy was correct! We both had hope that Moses and Freida might be in the family plot. Yet the question remained: Why are Freida and Moses not on Find-A-Grave? I didn't want to lose hope, and convinced myself that because Moses died in 1917 and Freida in 1928, it's very possible that even though they are in the same cemetery, those tireless volunteers of Find-A-Grave haven't gotten to their section yet. But before I sent scouts to survey this huge Brooklyn cemetery, I decided to dig a bit further. I googled and easily found Mt. Hebron Cemetery online. I located their exact burial plots, and one small fact jumped out at me. All three of the Vermonters have a plot in the Starobiner Society. 

What is the Starobiner Society, you might ask? Well, I had no idea, but by now, you know, that I am always attuned to clues, and this seemed like a good one. According to Wikipedia: 
 "A friendly society (sometimes called a mutual society, benevolent society, fraternal organization or ROSCA) is a mutual association for the purposes of insurance, pensions, savings or cooperative banking. It is a mutual organization or benefit society composed of a body of people who join together for a common financial or social purpose. Before modern insurance, and the welfare state, friendly societies provided financial and social services to individuals, often according to their religious, political, or trade affiliations. "
Starobiner is a person from Starobin, a small shtetl in the in the region Slutsk, Minsk in what is now Belarus. This seemed to be an important discovery. Could the Bloomfields have been from Starobin or where the Kenets from there?  The closest we've gotten to pinpoint the town where the Bloomfields are from has been difficult. No one in the family seemed to know. From various family stories and records we knew they are from Grodno, but Grodno is a region and also a town. It's the Pale region of "White Russia" where all Jews were restricted to live in. It's like saying someone is from New York. But are they from New York State or New York City? Are they from Manhattan or the Bronx? Recently, Jimmy had a breakthrough and may have identified the actual town through Harry Bloomfield Birth Certificate. In this amazing document, we discovered that in 1892, an eight day old Gerszko Belous (Harry's Yiddish name) was brought into the Slawaticze temple, by his father Moses, a transient worker from Malech to be circumcised. This paper identifies Moses and his family as permanent residents of Malech, (a village in Pruzhany, Grodno, now in Belarus) in 1892. It remains to determine if they are from from Malech or just living there at the time? To decipher who was the Starobiner, Max or Leah, I needed do a little more research on Leah and back to the drawing board I went.

The 1910 Census was the earliest I found a mention of Leah Blumenfeld. There she is living with Max and has been married to him for two years. It states she had immigrated in 1906 from Russia. (Don't you wish the Census would ask people which town, not just which country they came from?). I also knew that Barney Kenet, Leah's brother was Max's lifelong business partner (See the Advertisement for their store I posted earlier). And then I found this amazing document:

Border Crossing US/Canada fro Leah Blumenfeld found on
Though the last known residence is illegible, I learned three important facts from this document. Leah's maiden name was Chinitz, not Kenet. She arrived at Ellis Island on 2/12/1906 and she was from Lenin, Minsk, Russia. The name Chinitz stood out to me, because it's fairly unusual, and I know a Chinitz family from Mexico. Kenet, was clearly the name her brother and mother took in America, Leah, may have never used Kenet. I have been unsuccessful to find her actual Ellis Island ship manifest, but I did look up Lenin, Starobin and Chinits.

What I learned was, the Chinitz family is quite a well known family from Starobin. They are descendants of the famous Rabbi, the Vilna Gaon. Being such a important Rabbi, his family history is quite well studied and there is a lot of information out there. This is a summary of what I found at the The Chinitz Family History : The story goes that the origin of the name Chinitz is Chana, known as Chine was the Gaon of Vilna's daughter who was born in 1746. Her sons were sent to establish residency in various towns, party to avoid the Tsar's decree that every Jewish man's son except for one, must register for the army. All the sons took the last name Chinitz to honor their mother renowned mother.  Moshe Chaim Chinitz went to Lenin, and Itzhak to Starobin. Many of the sons and grandsons of these families settled in Starobin, which would explain why Leah and Max were buried in the Starobiner Society section of the Mt. Hebron cemetery. This also, makes it very unlikely that Moses and Freida who died much earlier, would be buried near their son Max. Leah Blumenfeld (Chinitz), the 4th great-granddaughter of the Gaon of Vilna, is now the person on my tree whose family I can trace the furthest. Her family history dates back to the 1500s on one side and even further on other branches. 

To me, personal histories are fascinating, whether the person is a relative or not. This story in particular sheds light onto some of the many reasons why you should keep track and research in-laws and their families. Our family members spend time with the in-laws and friends, and so learning about those peoples lives, will shed lives into our own ancestors who are our main focus in the tree. In addition, I love paying tribute to family members by telling their untold stories, especially if they have no descendants of their own. Because this post has gone exceedingly long, I will continue with how I met one of Leah's nieces and what I learned from her, in my next post. 

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