Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Brick Wall Comes Down! Running into brick walls, is what we do. Advancing in spurts, I vacillate between weeks  filled with a flourish of activity and frustratingly weeks full of dead ends. Nothing progresses and everywhere I turn, there are steep, thick, fortified brick walls. Clinging tightly to it's neighbor, cemented and stubborn, each brick obscures the treasure behind it. Daily, I chip away at this wall with my tiny chisel. What keeps me engaged in laborious work of unearthing the past is the hope of finding a tiny crack. Last week, I had one of those moments, a fissure which brought down a whole section of the wall. A river of information is now flowing through this widening crevice. I wanted to share this discovery with my readers, because there is much to be gained from reviewing the event and peaking through the crumbling bricks.

A few months ago, I connected with a fellow genealogy enthusiast on Howard is not quite a relative. We are barely related by several marriages, but he happened to be working on distant members of my family, and I happened to notice. Our trees crossed, and it sparked my interest. Full disclosure: my Geni tree has 236 matches at the moment, most of which I ignore. I ignore them, because:

  1.  I've tried to merge them in the past, but received no reply
  2. I've merged and it was a disaster because the other person didn't know what they were doing so I had to undo the merge
  3. I'm not sure it's a true match
  4. It's such a distant part of my tree (not blood relatives), that it doesn't seem to belong on my tree.
Passport  photo of
Chaim Bobrowsky
 (My second cousin thrice removed),
Posted by Howard

So why did Howard's profiles catch my attention? What attracted my attention was the fact that I did not know any living relatives from this particular branch of the tree, the Friedman branch. One thing I like to have, is a "living" contact from all my tree branches. Ideally, it's great if the contact is into genealogy, and become a collaborator. I identified Howard as such, and decided to contact him. He was adding old passport photos of distant relatives and I wanted to merge our trees, offer him information about ancestors he didn't have and learn from him about the descendants he was connected to.

We successfully merged our trees and had several interesting exchanges in September, and then our correspondence died down as each of us got busy and distracted with other things. The main The Friedman Tree is fairly blank on my tree. I have mostly names but no dates or locations. A common name such as Friedman is difficult to research without details especially where they are from. I'm a descendant of Yaakov Friedman. He is my fourth great-grandfather. I know a little bit, about his daughter Tzvia Pomerantz (Friedman), my third great-grandmother. She died on May 7, 1926 at the age of seventy-six in Bialystok. I have a remarkable photo, not only of Tzvia, but also of her grave. She married, Isaac Pomerantz, and the Pomerantz family has done a remarkable job on their branch of the tree, so much of my research has focused there. Tzvia was my great-grandfather, William Bloomfield's grandmother. If you've been following my blog, you know that I am writing an ongoing series about the Bloomfields. What remains a mystery to me, is where the Bloomfields are actually from in Russia. The name of the actual village. Though we believe they lived in Malec at some point, we are unsure where were they born. Being Friedman descendants, learning more about the Friedmans may answer some of my questions about the Bloomfields.

Yad Vashem Testimony Sheet for Abraham Bobrowsky (1872-1942c),
submitted by his son Meyer Bobrowsky and found by Howard.
Last week, Howard requested I make public the profile status of some of the ancestors because he found Yad Vashem records pertaining to them, but had limited access to my family. When I told him that I spoke Hebrew, and wanted to see the original records, he gladly shared them with me. Howard, had done a remarkable job finding these records. He knew a piece of history about the Bobrowsky branch of Friedman descendants, which I didn't know. He knew, they lost many family members in the holocaust. Sadly, my tree has many barren branches due to World War II, but because I have hundreds of ancestors, I don't tend to specifically look for Yad Vashem records unless I suspect or know that they remained in Europe around the time of the war. These are very powerful records which provide a wealth of information about the victims. As I examined this set of records, I was struck by the large number of family members who perished, by the fact that two cousins submitted all the information and that there were pictures attached to some of the testimony sheets. Most importantly, I learned the name of their village.

A Necrology page from the
Kamenetz-Litovsk Yizkor
 book for 10 members of
the Bobrowsky family
 (8 of whom perished in the holocaust).
After spending time on the Yad Vashem site, I find it difficult to sleep. Armed with what I learned from these records, I decided to search the Yizkor book from the town Kamenetz-Litovsk.  Many survivors of Jewish communities obliterated by the Nazi's published memorial books called Yizkor books, in order to preserve and document the story of their lost communities and of the victims. These books are mostly in Hebrew or Yiddish with some sections in Hebrew. They are available on-line through the New York Public Library. JewishGen.Org has links to the available translations. I'm pretty skillful at looking at these Books, and my Hebrew allows me to study the index and locate family members in both the Hebrew and Yiddish sections. It took, very little time, to find what I was looking for. The Kamenetz community had several edition of a memorial book. As I suspected, the Bobrowsky family was very active in this project. The not only submitted information about the relatives they lost, but they wrote articles, provided pictures and were active members of the committee which put the book together. All the wall came tumbling down! 

Thanks to a wonderful collaboration with Howard, I can now share, the story our family members so diligently preserved of their past. Before I met Howard, I didn't know anything about Tzvia's siblings, except their names and the names of their descendants. I now know, not only their names, but also, where they are from, what they look like, what they did, and how they lived their lives. As I pull each brick from the rubble, I continue to process and translate much of what I found. I'm confident that it will lead to many more discoveries both about the rest of the Friedman clan, as well as the Pomerantzs and the Bloomfields.


  1. I stand in awe of your ability and dedication to this project. Thank you

    1. Thanks Marty! Most rewarding is when family members actually appreciate it!

  2. I'm overcome with sadness over the senseless loss of so many family members. I've spent time in Europe and visited the Dachau concentration camp outside of Munich. Your family research will leave a lasting memorial to what they endured.

    1. Thanks Charlie, the holocaust is something that is impossible to truly grasp and that still affects our lives in many ways. I hope to visit the camps one day. It's something I want and need to do but emotionally haven't been able to do yet.

  3. Fascinating post! What a wonderful resource at NYPL. This was a illuminating read.

    1. Thanks Pam. It's really amazing the the NYPL has all (or so many ) or these Yizkor books online. They are very hard to search through if you don't read Hebrew and Yiddish (I only read Hebrew), but since very few translations have been completed, it's amazing to have the direct source.

  4. Wow. This is stunning. (I missed this post during the transition to Feedly.) How excellent that you know Hebrew so that you can read the Yizkor books that relate to your family and their story. I can't tell if you found it hard to sleep because of the excitement of the discovery or the horror of the Holocaust affecting your family. I'm sure it could be either one.

    I'm astounded and pleased that you were able to merge trees with Howard. I've found a few contributors to Ancestry that I kind of trust, but I haven't been on I really learn from reading about your experience!

    1. You've astutely reached the conclusion that I couldn't sleep both because of the heaviness of the Holocaust as it directly affected more family members than I ever knew, as well as the excitement of putting it all together.
      I have three trees going. Geni is the one that allows merging. It's a scary experience at times, but in general I have found it beneficial. Invariably it creates errors. Once you fix the errors, I find that I learn a lot from Family members who are closer descendants of my distant cousins. Well worth the headaches!


Thanks for sharing your comments!