Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Genealogy on Vacation

Last week this blog: Past-Present-Future took a hiatus while I went on vacation. Along with millions of Americans, we took advantage of February break and headed south for some warm rays of sunshine. Disconnecting from the future, was easy. We concentrated on the present: pool, exercise, movies, board games and food! Vowing to set the past aside, I promised the family not touch genealogy on this trip, if only for a few days. Yet the past has mysterious ways of resurfacing.

Though this trip, very much focused on the here and now, it turned out to also be about my late father-in-law, Robert Belkind. Roberto, affectionally dubbed Lito Beto (lito being short of abuelito or grandfather in Spanish), passed away ten years ago tomorrow. He was only fifty-seven years old. To my oldest son, who was six at the time, this beloved grandfather is now only a faint memory. Though we did not plan the trip with the anniversary of his death in mind, he was ever present with us. We stayed at his vacation home, surrounded by photos, his photos. We visited with Beto's siblings and their families. We also spend time with my husband's sister and kids. We breakfasted at one of Beto's favorite Delicatessens, we checked out the race track he frequented and we even spotted an old cadillac, very much reminiscent of the one he used to drive. Beto was a warm, loving, teddy bear of a man. He loved and enjoyed life to it's fullest. His absence has left a void in many people's lives. My sons were hungry for stories about their grandfather. Little did they realize that they were doing a little of their own family history research.

As we shared stories about the Belkind family, my youngest son remarked that I only investigate my own family's history, not dads. I argued to the contrary, but had to admit that researching my husband's family is a challenge. I know much less about them and I must depend on information others share with me. To complicate matters, my husband's parents were divorced when he was very young. He did not grow-up with his father and therefore knows relatively little about his Belkind roots. On my side, I inherited a treasure map of sorts—a detailed family tree prepared by my grandmother's cousins. I even received a key to unlock the treasure chest—my great-grandmother's manuscript. Conversely, investigating my husband's side is more like piecing together a puzzle  without the cover photo on the box.

Beto at his wedding with his mother
Bertha Belkind (Katz)
One afternoon, as we enjoyed a delicious family lunch, my husband's aunt offered me a few jigsaw pieces, and despite my oath—genealogist in me could not resist and accept the invitation to view some old family photos. As lunch was winding down, we excused ourselves and she lead me to a drawer full of old snapshots. In no time, the rest of the family gathered around us for a peek at these forgotten relics. We found long lost portraits from my husband's parents wedding. Photos documenting a short lived marriage rarely survive, but here was Beto, full of pride, holding his young bride. In the pile, we found photos of my husband's grandparents, great-grandparents and second great-grandmother. At that moment, I truly regretted not having invested in a high quality portable scanners. Luckily, I was allowed to have my pick and take photos home to scan. No one seemed to mind that I broke my genealogy abstinence promise. For once, this was fun, not genealogy to my kids. Everyone became my helpers as we sorted through the stash.

Jaime David Belkind and Dora Volozin
with their daughter Mira and son Jose.
(My husband's great-grandparents,
grandfather and great-aunt).
Same phone taken with the iphone
but cropped and retouched.
The following day, we visited Beto's brother. Hanging on his wall, were some great portraits we had never seen. This time, I could not take them home with me. Instead, I took out my iphone and snapped a couple of shots of the pictures directly in their frames. Years of experience taught me not wait for a better opportunity to scan photos. A low quality, snapshot, is better than nothing. Cropped and retouched, I must admit that the iphone did a remarkable job. This is the oldest photo I came across during this vacation. My husband's grandfather couldn't be more than two or three years old, dating the photo to 1914-1915. Before I began my genealogy quest, my husband did not know much about his great-grandfather, Jaime David Belkind, for whom he was named. Jaime David's fascinating story and his immigration to Mexico belongs in another post.

Finally, our vacation came to an end and my son was reassured that I am interested in his father's family. As it always does, the past wove itself into our present and we honored Lito Beto's anniversary with a bit of Belkind Genealogy. In the future, I plan to study the Belkind DNA and possibly link to the famous Israeli Belkind family, who were pioneer land owners and came from the same region our family did.

This is my message to all of you budding and professional genealogist alike. Go ahead, take a vacation. We all need it! But don't forget your note pad to write down stories and your digital camera to record photos or documents which must be left behind. What else do you travel with? Do any of you have a recommendations about a portable scanner?  I'd love to know.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Ready, Set, Jump into Genealogy!
Did I leave some of you hanging in mid air since my February 9th post: Are You on The Fence? My apologies. I could not help posting a Valentine's day special: 1920s Love Story. Today, I thought, I would follow up and offer some advice for those ready to dive  into genealogy!

My friend Andy, who read all top 10 reasons I listed for getting started with family history, shared her frustrations with me: "I have tried to search and keep hitting the same wall..." Andy is not alone. Often when people hear about my research and book, they confess their desire to explore their own family history but admit they haven't done so either because they are unsure as where how to begin or, like Andy, have tried, got frustrated and stopped. My reply is simple:

The best way to start researching family history is making a family tree! This may seem very obvious to some, but I can not stress this basic and simple idea enough. Your family tree is the heart of your research. It's the nerve center of your work. It's the place you will centralize and organize all your information. Since the internet age, family trees have evolved in amazing ways. Don't misunderstand—paper trees are and were incredible!  They contained vast amounts of information and helped families document, trace, understand and preserve their lineages for generations. On-line trees do all that and much more.

Build a tree with what you know!
Starting a family tree is easy. Most of us attempted a family tree at some point. The most important thing to understand about your tree and your family history research in general is: START WITH WHAT YOU KNOW—START WITH YOURSELF—AND WORK BACKWARDS.  You or your children can be the center of your tree. Then you will add immediate family: siblings, parents, grandparents. This information is mostly stored in our brains, requires no research and easily accesible. For some, going back as far as grandparents can be challenging (see my post: Never Give Up and Good Things Will Come). No worries, start with what you know, and leave the rest blank. Next comes your first test: how far can you go? Great-grandparents? Further. Not to worry. This test is not graded. What ever you know is perfect. Armed with this information, you are faced with the decision of choosing an on-line tree.

Personally, I a big proponent of on-line trees. While many genealogist still work with tree softwares such as Family Tree Maker which lives on their computers, I dare say, this technology is dying and recommend you skip this step. Many on-line trees are free and reside in the cloud and like with tree software, you can maintain full control of your on-line tree as the sole administrator. On-line trees are much more interactive. Having to update both an on-line tree and a tree on your computer can be tedious, confusing and lead to mistakes. So lets proceed directly to choosing an on-line tree.

There are many companies offering on-line trees and the choices can be overwhelming. I myself have three on-line trees and that is where I draw the line. All you really need is one. I will highlight each of my three trees to help you choose. I believe all the companies are great and you really can not go wrong with these three or the multiple other options out there, just do some research.  One important factor to consider as you are shopping for a host for your tree is to see if someone in your family has already established an on-line presence for your family. It's easy! Just google yourself or other close relatives such as your parents or grandparents. You might be positively surprised discover that your family forest has been planted on-line for you. This will save you a lot of work! Ask to join the existing tree and voila! A vast amount of information is at your fingertips and instantly you have motivated collaborators.

This brief discussion will give an overview of what to look for when choosing a home for your on-line tree. Much of this, I learned over time and by summarizing  what I learned, I hope to save you time and aggravation. There is no need to get into the more advanced features of the trees in the beginning, but a heads-up is always helpful.

 MyHeritage- I love my MyHeritage tree! It's my first tree and that might explain why it is my favorite. Originally, I chose MyHeritage because I liked the layout. The site offered all the features of the other major genealogy websites, but I found it was the simplest to use. The tree graphics are the easiest to understand. I still use their classic view to navigate through my tree. From all the trees, I find, the classic view, the clearest way to understand the tree and the relationships between people. When I explain to my children, how they are related to someone, I show them the MyHeritage classic view. Just this week, they gave their website a great new look!

The other main reason, I enjoy MyHeritage so much is that it's very social. The site allows you to invite family members to join your tree and participate without giving up administrative powers. This to me is key to maintaining the validity of the information on my tree. I know where the information came from, since I'm the one who puts it there. If I make a mistake, I am responsible. If a relative finds a mistake, they point it out to me and I fix it. This requires more maintenance on my part, but that is my choice. Other fun features include the newsletter and my family's favorite: the calendar with birthday reminders. It has great access to research, new DNA testing feature (in partnership with Family Tree DNA), as well as lets you create posters and family books. I find MyHeritage to be an innovative company, always at the forefront and looking for improvements. genealogists, professional or amateur soon or later works on ancestry. They are excellent at what they do. I myself only use my ancestry for research. Their data base is massive (though not perfect) and they collaborate with so many different databases that it saves you a lot of time at least for the initial search. To get the most out of the research capacity, you need to have a tree on ancestry. This is a good enough reason to pick Ancestry as the home of your on-line tree, especially if you don't want to be like me, administrating more than one tree.

The more information you provide the search engine about a person, the more precise the search will be and the more likely it will find relevant information. You don't need to start with a lot of information. You just need to start. The best way to do so is to input your tree onto ancestry. Later on, as you progress in your work, start adding details. The more the better. Dates, relationships, names and locations will all help narrow your searches. Their famous blinking green leaves, will let you know when the search engine suspects it has a record that may pertain to a certain ancestor. This is a great feature because as the database grows, new records may be found pertaining to your relatives and you don't have to redo the search. The engine itself is constantly searching for you. Another advantage of the Ancestry tree is that you can easily identify the sources of your information, key for keeping your research accurate and organized. One draw back with ancestry is the cost. The main drawback with ancestry is that it can be pricy (there are free features) and it's not as social. If Ancestry is the google of genealogy, then is the Facebook. I really did not want to join Geni, because I already had two trees and that seemed more than enough. I did so, out of respect to my elderly cousin Martha who suggested Geni because many of my Bloomfield family was already on Geni. At the time I knew nothing about my great-grandfather William Bloomfield (you can read about his 1920s Love Story with my great-grandmother, in my previous post), so meeting some living Bloomfields seemed like a good idea. I'm very grateful to Martha for her insistance and recommendation. Geni is the most interactive of my tree. It's set up a lot like Facebook. Everyone has a profile (dead or alive), with a newsfeed and a timeline. Note: family tree websites have had a timeline way before Facebook. People can post on each other's walls. Novices have a very easy time using Geni, because they are familiar with Facebook. Geni even has a facebook app connecting the two. One other feature that I love on Geni is the family relationships. While all the trees have a feature that will outline how you are related to each relative, Geni has this feature prominently displayed at the top of each profile.

If you are wondering why you need Geni, if you already have facebook, the answer is simple. Geni really focuses on family history, a subject of low priority on Facebook. It fosters collaborations and gets family members excited and involved in the work. I think of all my trees, this is the site that is the best at getting people to dig up old photos and share them, write stories etc. The problem with this on-line tree is that you lose control. Relatives can merge trees. Unlike MyHeritage or Ancestry who alert you of overlapping trees—but keeps them separate—Geni trees can actually be merged. This is a great feature, because it increases collaboration, but it also causes huge problems, and can lead to a lot of mistakes. Once you merge, the administration of certain parts of your tree might be moved to someone else and the reliability of their work can be questionable. While you may be selective in merging, others in your family may not be and this can generate huge headaches. Also, if a relative is more than four generations higher than you, the administration becomes public automatically. This is very problematic as not everyone has the same standards for checking information.

So there you have it! Don't wait! Choose a website, plant a tree, nurture it and soon you will have a family forest!

Dive into genealogy! Getting wet is lots of fun! 

In future post, I'll give practical suggestions about how to get through the forest when hitting a brick wall.Are you using a different tree that you would like to recommend? I would love to hear about your various experiences. Are you a beginner and have some questions? Need some help? Write me a comment!

Photos by ToussaintCramer

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

LOVE 1920s Style

Minnie Crane
This romance involves suitors, love at first sight, cold feet and french toast! Minnie Crane, my great-grandmother and star of my book, Stored Treasures, A memoir, was twenty-four years old. New York City, as she described it, was a happening place.
"At the time, I had broken up with my former boyfriend. I was rather footloose and fancy-free. I was restless and tired of Hartford and its provincialism. So, I uprooted myself and in the spring of 1920, went to live in New York City for the second time in my life. New York City is a wonderful place for young people to live. There are many advantages: cultural, moral and physical." 
I think she would be pleased to know, that it's still true today. I myself spent an adventuresome year in New York when I was twenty two. All of my first cousins (four of them) are in their twenties, and have moved to the Big Apple to follow their dreams. Like their great-grandmother before them, they flocked to the city in pursuit of work, studies, music and most of all—love.

Minnie immigrated to America in 1913 from a small shtetl in Russia called Belitsa (now in Belarus). When she first arrived, she joined her brother Harry in New York, got a job as a dressmaker in a factory, only to be called upon to support someone else's dream. Their younger brother Bernard, was coming to America with hopes to become a Doctor. The brothers met, and agreed that the only way to make this possible was for the five Crane siblings living in America (four brothers and Minnie) to pool their resources and live together under one roof. The three older brothers would work, Minnie would keep house, and Bernard would study. Minnie did not hesitate.  I don't know that she had a choice. Her brothers were the ones who bought her ticket to America. They were still supplementing her income. She spoke no English. And Bernard, the "baby," he was going to be a DOCTOR! Minnie put New York on hold and moved to Hartford. Despite the great sacrifice, she describes those years as some of the best of her life. She was able to go to night school, learn English and study to become a bookkeeper. Bernard graduated from High School and was the first in the family to go to college. In 1919, he headed to medical school at the University of Michigan.

Minnie, was once again free to pursuit her own dreams. She packed her bags and moved to New York.  Her studies had paid off and she got a great job as head bookkeeper for an interior design company. She boarded with a family and went to Columbia Extension school at night. She had many suitors. She even talks about dating several men at the same time. Then one day, everything changed.

Mary Kastelansky (Poczyna), was Minnie's best friend. Mary's cousin, William Bloomfield, was coming to New York for a visit. William must have been quite the eligible bachelor. He was thirty-three years old, tall and handsome. Minnie heard about William before he arrived. The Jewish matchmaking machine was in motion and I assume William must have known about Minnie as well. Despite high expectations—which often lead to disaster—sparks were flying from the start. William called looking for his cousin. Minnie answered and he politely invited her to join them for a night on the town. She stopped seeing all other suitors that very same week.

William Bloomfield
William was on a trip up north, after spending five years in Texas. Perhaps work was difficult to find, but it didn't seem like William had a job. Minnie went to work, and William would meet her for lunch. Then, he would wait for her to finish. When she had night classes, he would accompany her on the subway to Columbia. She would go to class and he would wait yet again. My favorite scene of those early days together, is them babysitting for Mary's baby. They fell asleep with baby Grace in the bed between them. I'm sure, this would have been quite scandalous back in the old country, but Minnie was no shtetel girl, she had transformed into a liberated young American woman.

Out of the blue, William got cold feet! With little warning, he announced he was moving to Pittsburgh for work. If William was here to defend himself, he may claim that he did not leave Minnie but really did need a job. Nevertheless, my grandmother was devastated. She couldn't sleep, she stopped eating and she just couldn't understand why he ran off like that. Deep down inside she wanted to believe he loved her, but he was gone. They wrote letters everyday. She clung to those letters, looking for an answers.

Ida Weiner (Pomerantz)
This is where my favorite character comes into the story. Aunt Ida! Every respectable Jewish family has an aunt Ida. Our Ida, Ida Weiner (Pomerantz) was William's mother's sister.  She was recently widowed and running a large produce business in Pittsburgh . She offered William a job, but William's mind was not on the job. Wise aunt Ida must have worried about William's fear of commitment. She called him in for a talking and asked:
"Willie what are you doing here? What's this business of daily letters?" 
She wanted to know if he loved this girl he was writing to. When he replied that he did, she told him to go back to New York and marry his Minnie, because if he didn't, he would "never be happy." Thank you aunt Ida!

William, sat down and wrote a long letter to his beloved. How I wish I had a copy of that letter. It arrived only a couple of days before his promised return. Minnie, tears streaming down her face, read and reread the words in disbelief. William was coming back to her. (Here is an important tip: do not throw away old letters! It does not matter if you can not read them because they are in Yiddish or some other foreign language. Interesting or not, set old letters aside. I wish my family had. We threw away all of Minnie's old letters when she died. I can almost bet that this cherished letter was among them).

This next love scene feels like a scene from a movie. It's a Sunday morning in October of 1920 and Minnie Crane has been checking her watch every few seconds since the crack of dawn. She's been wandering the city endlessly. She arrives at Grand Central Station with hours to spare and she sits on a bench in the grand hall, staring at the huge clock and the travelers coming and going. Finally, she heads to the track and waits for the Pittsburgh train. It takes forever to arrive and then as the trains empties, she begins to doubt herself. Maybe he had another change of heart. Maybe he's not coming? Finally, William appears. Six foot tall and handsome, he embraces the petite Minnie and they walk off into the sunset. Fine, that's really cheesy. I'll let Minnie tell you:
"So the train finally arrived. After being sure he wasn't on the train, there he was, embracing me in his wonderful tender arms and kissing and hugging me again and again. Oh how beautiful he looked to me! I thought my heart would burst with happiness. 
Over toast and coffee, he burst out, 'Let's get married. I'll meet you at the office for lunch, and we'll go to city hall.' "
Minnie and William Bloomfield 1942
shortly before William Died
William Bloomfield was the love of Minnie's life. They spent twenty-two wonderful years together until he died suddenly. Where is the French Toast you ask? The wedding was simple. There was no party, no cake and no photographer. After the ceremony (which Minnie insisted had to be performed by a Rabbi and not at city hall), they went to their favorite cafeteria and had their usual: french toast. (Here is another tip: if you are planning to write a memoir, don't forget to mention places by name. What I would give to know the name of William and Minnie's favorite cafeteria). From then on, every 23rd of October, they celebrated their anniversary with french toast.

That's all, I will share today from Minnie's Memoir. To learn more about Minnie's beautiful story you'll have to read my book,  Stored Treasures, A Memoir. It's the story of a young woman's coming of age. The love story between Minnie and William is at the heart of the book most appropriate for a Valentines day post! I dedicate this post to my cousins Matt and Dan and their fiances Hannah and Lauren, all of whom have found love in the great city of New York.

Happy Valentines Day! If you have a favorite love story to share from your family's history please share with us!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Are You on The Fence? Top 10 Reasons to Jump Into Family History!

Have you been tempted to start researching your family history but just have not gotten motivated to do so? Does genealogy seem overwhelming? Are you now sure where to start?

It's time to get off the fence. Don't wait! Don't leave for tomorrow what you can do today! Start now! Here is my advice as to why:


1. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Life is full of surprises. Don't procrastinate! I did spend twelve years in Mexico where maƱana is a way of life. I choose not to live that way, especially when it comes to my family history. I want to be around to tell the story. Yes, I'm still young, but there are no guarantees.
2. All family historians wish they started earlier. No one has told me that they should have waited to research their family's history until they had more time, maybe until they are retired.
3. People move, throw out stuff, lose stuff. Valuable stuff for family history such as photo albums documents, journals gets tossed out everyday. They get rid of these valuable treasures for many reasons: lack of interests, lack of space and lack of understanding of the worth of these objects. Most importantly, they throw things out because they don't think anyone is interested. If you don't spread the news in your family that you are interested, they won't know. When they know you care, they will be more than happy to hand over old albums, scrap books, death certificates and much more. Just ask my aunts. As the family historian, they all know, I'm obsessed with the past. Two of my aunts been cleaning up for months and handing me their junk. One man's junk is another's treasure. The stuff they were only so happy to part with, I've turned into a book which is selling like hot cakes. Who would have guessed?
4. The more time passes, the more you'll forget. Though some might argue that the older you get, the better you are at remembering your distant past (my mom for example), I tend to disagree. This may be the case for some people, but the large majority of us, simply forget. Haven't you forgotten family stories you heard as a kid. Start documenting what your remember now. Once you start, you may stir more memories.
5. No one is getting any younger. Your older relatives will pass away. I don't mean to be morbid, but it's true and part of the cycle of life. Don't miss out on the opportunity of visit with them, hearing their stories and learning from them about your family history. Don't you wish you remembered some of those stories your grandparents told you before they died? Don't let any more stories slip away. My uncle Larry, passed away last summer from a brain tumor. He was only sixty seven years young. The first book he read after his brain tumor was my book, Stored Treasures. A bit euphoric on the meds, he called to tell me it was the best book he ever read. He told my aunt, that reading the book reminded him of many stories that his grandmother Minnie told him, but were not in the book. He made a note to tell me these stories. Sadly, he went into a comma shortly after, and took those stories with him. I'm still grieving Larry's loss, as he was an inspirational person. The fragility of life, a lesson we try to avoid learning, is one of the biggest driving forces behind my work as a genealogist.
6. Learning about your past, will deepen your understanding of yourself. Trust me, it's an amazing journey and quite therapeutic! Why wait to embark on it?
7. Exploring ones roots has never been easier or cheaper. There are so many resources available today, take advantage. So much information is available at ones finger tips. There are vasts supports and resources for advice out there. Millions of people are collaborating and sharing information. Today's technology will help you organize, sort, document, map and share your work.
8. Leave a legacy to your children. What better gift can you leave your family but their history. If you just decided to become interested in your past, some day your children might as well. They may not appreciate it today, but by starting now, your giving them a huge head start when they do want to know.
9. The only way to learn about your family history, is to start. It may be intimidating but in reality it doesn't take much to get you going. All you need to do is begin with yourself and what you know. Then work backwards. You do not need money or a lot of time.
10. Think of future and past generations. What would you give for a detailed book of family history? Just think how a hundred or two hundred years from now, your descendants will appreciate the time you took to preserve the story for them. At the same time, honor your Ancestors. Recording your history is a type of memorial for your forefathers. Most of our ancestors, lived ordinary lives. Lives which have long been forgotten. Yet, these ordinary lives and the choices they made are the reasons we are here today. Learning about them is a very dignified way to commemorate and honoring your extraordinary relatives.

Now you know why I think you should join me and the millions of other around the globe in researching your ancestry. Do you have good reasons to share about why to start asap? Any regrets?

Stay posted for my next blog where I will give practical tips for getting started.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Facebooking Orphan Photos

Orphan Photo
Two Couples in A Car
I've been thinking a lot about orphan photos. Photographs have been my passion for quite sometime. My first 35mm camera was a wedding gift from my father in-law. Since then, I have been in love with photography ever since.  Though I am far from a professional photographer, I am what you might consider an amateur one.  It's not surprising therefore, that the amateur genealogist in me has combined my passion for the camera and family history into a fascination with vintage photos.

This month, thanks to my twitter friend Melissa Mannon, I've reexamined my Orphan photos. Photos of unidentified people. I've even submitted a couple to her on-line contest for orphan photos. The discussion around photos looking for a home, on my earlier blog post A Photo Worth a Thousand Words and on facebook, has inspired my cousin Ellen to scan a bunch of recently uncovered photos. Ellen (whom I haven't met in person yet), is my third and fourth cousin (yes, we are double cousin, long story). She recently came across what I consider a stored treasure. An album full of sepia prints from the twenties and thirties, maybe even earlier. This album belonged to her grandparents. Many of the photos are from Weddings. Elegant brides, accompanied by their loved ones. The wedding photos deserve a discussion of their own. I chose therefore, to feature in this blog—the above photo—a photo from Ellen's collection.

This remarkable print is actually a post card. I've found many photos made into postcard in my collection as well. Real photo postcards began to appear around 1903 with the inventions of Kodak's Folding Pocket camera, a popular camera which allowed people to print their photo on postcard size print.  It made it easy to send your photo to family and friends around the world. Even if you did not own a camera, you could easily afford to walk into a photo studio at the market or a tourist attraction and have your photo taken and turned into a postcard. Real photo postcard cost about a penny each around the turn of the century and another penny for the stamp.

As you can see, this postcard is in bad shape, cracked, folder and stained. Yet, it has been preserved. Ellen, sent me this orphan photo hoping that I can help identifying the couples. If you've been following my blog, you will immediately recognize the man in the far back. Will Crane, whom I wrote about in my last post "In Every Thing I Do", is wearing a top hat and bow tie, trying not to smile. Next to him, at a significant distance is his wife Luba. Who the couple sitting in front is still a mystery and is part of the reason I posted the photo on this blog. I'm hopeful one of my readers will come to our rescue and recognize this lovely couple.

The power of the internet is amazing. Ellen began posting photos from her treasure trove onto facebook over the weekend. I sent out this photo in an e-mail to the elder members of the Crane family and was able to draw several conclusions from the photo almost immediately. The post card has a white border. This dates the photo to no earlier than 1915, which is when the practice of leaving a white border to save ink began. My cousins, positively identified Will and Luba Crane in the back seat. We believe the photo was most likely taken sometime around 1918 after Will returned from WWI, consistent with the white border. Will looks very young and about the same as he did in his WWI photos. The fake back drop, the clothes, the car they did not own all point to a studio photo. One of the cousins suggested it has the feel of a photo taken in Atlantic City, on the board walk. She should know, she grew up there. Will and Luba actually visited Atlantic City on their honeymoon. From my research I know that Will and Luba married on October 23rd, 1920 in New York City and headed to Atlantic City to visit a maternal uncle, Harry Yarmovsky. Uncle Harry was a very successful contractor, building affordable housing for returning WWI veterans in Atlantic City at the time. When he discovered Will was a plumber, and his brothers were handymen, he recruited all of them to move to join him in Atlantic City—good, reliable help was in short demand and Atlantic City was in a boom. Will and Luba's honeymoon trip changed the destiny of three of the Crane families, all of whom relocated and settled in Atlantic City. This photo may well be from that milestone trip. It's certainly the kind of thing one would do while on a honeymoon—go down to the boardwalk, wander into a photography studio with friends (or cousins), get dressed up and have your photo mounted onto a postcard—a great, inexpensive souvenir to send home.

This is the kind of detective work, us genealogist do everyday. We piece together the clues. Who is the young man with the rounded face, split chin and glasses pretending to drive the car? Who is the woman next to him—the only one of the gang who could not contain her smile? If you have any clues or suggestions, please share! In the meantime, enjoy this little window into the past.

I hope you will get inspired to dig up your vintage photos and share them. Don't skip your orphan photos. Post them on facebook or your family tree. Ask your relatives for help. You will be surprised how much you may learn! If you find a special orphan photo, you might want to enter it in Melissa's orphan photo contest. Post it on ArchivesInfo and share the story. Maybe you'll win one of Melissa's great books!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

My Mitochondria

Have you ever thought about your mitochondrion. Our bodies are home to millions of mitochondria. These microscopic organelles provide each cell of our body with energy. Before tenth grade cell biology, I doubt I was aware of these mitochondria. As far as cellular organelles go—known as the power house of the cell—they are a pretty cool. Top of the food chain you might say. Yesterday, wanting to take advantage of the warm winter day, I decided to go out for a bike ride. As I was pedaling heavily, I was pondering my mitochondria. I was neither wondering how hard my mitochondria were working to supply the energy necessary for my pedaling, nor was I concern with the affects of record breaking temperatures on mitochondrial work load. I was contemplating their DNA, my DNA.

If you've been following my blog, by now, you know at least one important fact about me. I'm obsessed with the past. Turns out my mitochondria are going to take me much deeper into my past that I have ever thought possible.

I've spent the better part of the last three years, researching my past, studying my family history. I've succeeded in tracing my linage seven or eight generations back. If we count each generation to be 25 years, then I've traced my family history about two hundred years into the early 1800s. I can name my fourth great-mother and make an educated guess as to where she lived. Being from an Eastern European Jewish background, it's difficult to go much further than that. Tracking Jews prior to the early 1800 is particularly difficult because traditionally, Jews did not use surnames. Instead they used a patronymic system of naming, a first name followed by "son of" and the name of the father. As part of the emancipation process, recognizing Jews as citizens of Europe, the Austrian Emperor passed a law which compelled Jews to take a last name. Those of us interested in genealogy are eternally grateful to this decree which lead the way for most European Jews to choose a name. This made it much easier to trace and study Jewish families. Earlier generations and family histories frequently remain a mystery.

This is where the mitochondrion comes in. Scientist have discovered that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed down practically unchanged from a mother to her children. Unlike nuclear DNA, which is composed of maternal and paternal DNA, the mitochondrion genetic code is directly inherited from the mother with very rare mutations. In the past few years, genealogist have been able to utilized advances in genetic decoding to map mitochondria DNA in families. mtDNA testing, traces one's maternal line. This means that my mtDNA, is identical to my mothers, my grandmothers, my great-grandmothers etc. These are the women, I inherited my mtDNA from:

her mother
Chaya Minucha Yarmovsky (maiden name unknown)
her mother

Amazing! If you think of Eve as the mother of all mothers, than we can look at Sarah, wife of Abraham, as the mother of all Jews. Let's think of her as an actual person and not a mythological figure for the sake of this discussion. This Sarah, who lived more than 3000 years ago, is hypothetically my 12,000th great-grandmother. Her mtDNA is practically identical to mine and every other Jewish woman on this planet. Luckily, there have been some mutations over the years, so not all us Jewish women carry the exact same DNA. mtDNA is not the maternal equivalent of a paternity test, but it can detect family lines which separated hundreds of years ago with a fairly high level of accuracy. This means that while  maternal cousins have identical mtDNA, studying our family mtDNA will tell us something about our foremothers who lived 400 years ago or earlier. Ancestors that so far have been a complete mystery.

My great-grandmother Minnie Kranowitz has already become somewhat of a celebrity. In her Memoir, Stored Treasures, I recorded vast amounts of information about our family history, which her journals provided and my research supplemented. One story she told my uncle did not make the book.  Before he passed away, my uncle Larry, shared with me, that Minnie believed our family arrived in Belitsa, now part of Belarus around four hundred years ago, during the time of the Jewish expulsion from Spain (1492 CE). This tid-bit, did not make my book, because I could not corroborate it. After consulting with experts on the subject, I know that this kind of story passed down for generations, tends to be true. Here is the cool thing: my mitochondrial genetic code may contain the clue I need to confirm this story. It not only can trace general migration patterns, but the larger of the databases such as is connecting families genetically.

So this is what I decided during my bike ride. It's time to take jump into DNA testing. I've invited my male cousins—sons of sons—to test their y-DNA. I ordered my kit mtDNA kit from, the premier genetic genealogy company. Soon we will know which of the Kranowitz/Yarmovsky lines indeed came from Spain. And you, my blog followers will be the first to hear the results!

Have you tested your family's DNA? What have you learned? Have you been hesitant to get tested? I would love to hear more about your process! Share your comments with us!

For results of the DNA test see: Is My Mitochondria Doing Anything for Me? (Part I)