Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How Important is a Good Translation?

How important our translations in the work of genealogist? If your family came from countries which are not English speaking, you surely understand the important of trying to translate original documents.

Recently, I become involved in translating the Kamenets-Litwosk memorial book. The translation of this book is part of a large push by to translate hundreds of Yizkor (memorial) books written after the holocaust by surviving members of many towns and cities from Eastern Europe. For years these books have been largely unavailable to the general public because of the few copies in circulations and the lack of translations into English from Hebrew and Yiddish. When I submitted a few translations, relevant to a branch of my family to the Kamenets project, I learned they were in the process of trying to get the book ready for publications in English. I've offered to translate as much of the pending Hebrew sections as I can. Being a native Hebrew speaker, but not a professional translator has added to the difficulty of this task. I left Israel at the age of thirteen, yet I've made a concerted effort over the years to maintain a high level of Hebrew. The Yizkor books are written in an old style Hebrew, repleted with elevated vocabulary and many religious references and texts as well as scores of abbreviations all of which are a challenge for me. As I plow through these sorrowful chapters, stories full of longing to a culture long destroyed and unfathomable tragedy, I struggle with how to translate the words into an English which makes sense to the modern reader, yet remain true to the original intention of the writer.

Working on the Kamenets book, motivated me to try and have another of the Yizkor books dear to my heart translated, the Belitsa book. Those of you who read my memoir, Stored Treasures, will recall that Minnie Crane, my great grandmother is from a small shtetl in what is now Belarus, called Belitsa.
(53°39' N, 25°19' E) located 16 miles south of Lida  and also known as Белица in Russian. Yiddish: בעליצע in Yiddish, Беліца in Belarusian, בייליצע in Hebrew and Bielica in Polish.

Simeon Baker (Botschkowsky), Minnie's nephew,  was a part of the original Belitsa landmanshaft (community) organization and an integral part of the publication of the Belitsa Yizkor book. He wrote the introduction (the only section of the book published in English), as well as a few other chapters in Yiddish. Minnie wrote one of the last chapters of the book, in Yiddish. A few years ago, Simeon's son, gave me a copy of the Belitsa book. A large part of the book is in Hebrew, but the Yiddish section remains out of my reach. The Belista book is not listed on the book project, which means no one had voluteered to take on the project of translating this book. Heading the project requires creating a proposal, prioritizing which sections to translate and raising funds for the translations and eventual publication. Since Belitsa, was a tiny shtetl, with a Jewish Population of 679 in 1897 which went down to 483 in 1921, it was not surprising no one had been found to translate the book. I was in the process of preparing a proposal for the project, when I made a last minute search for an available translation.  Last summer, I heard there was a translation somewhere, but I never found it assume the information I had was wrong. I contact my source again, a researcher in holocaust studies who directed me to a translation which was available at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. To my amazement, this 2010 publication of the English version of the Belitsa book, was available not only at the holocaust museum, but at various university libraries. Within a few hours, I held in my hands Brandeis's only copy of my ancestral shtetl's Yizkor book translated by Jacob Solomon Berger.

Original Yizkor book (right), Jacob Solomon Berger's translation (left)
Genealogy is a jigsaw puzzle. I was hoping the new translations would solve parts of this puzzle, yet as often is the case, rather than answers, I find myself asking more questions.

Previously, I had in in my possession two translations from Yiddish to English. Two, I believed were done by Minnie. The first was for a chapter Simeon wrote about his father. He left a translation for the same chapter and they are quite similar, though not identical. The second was a translation of Minnie's chapter, a chapter about her brother Bernard Crane. I included much of this translation in her Memoir. I was curious as to the quality of the Yiddish translation in the book I had just taken out of the library, and shockingly, I found that Berger's translation differed in three key places:

The first paragraph in Minnie's translation talks about her father's only sister, but never mentions a name. Berger's translation mentions her name twice, Tsin'keh. I looked at the Yiddish and there it was easy enough to detect: צינקע.

Further more, Minnie's original translation of the second paragraph reads:
First section of a translation to the Minnie Crane's Belitsa
chapter about Bernard Crane.  (Click to enlarge).
"... he (her father Moshe Aaron Kranowitz) became a teacher in one of the surrounding villages." at the end of the paragraph she reveals an important genealogical clue: "... a romance developed, and the teacher married the oldest granddaughter of the house of Jacob Yarmovsky. The sons were later a well known Hebrew teacher in Pinsk, the other a building contractor in Atlantic City."

Years ago, when I found her translations, I learned a lot from this short paragraph. I learned how Minnie's mother, Feige Yarmovsky, met her husband, Moshe Aaron. I learned she was from a near by village to Belitsa but there was no name of the village. I learned that her grandfather's name was Jacob Yarmovsky and she was the oldest granddaughter. According to this paragraph one of her uncles was a teacher in Pinsk and the other a contractor in Atlantic cities. Other parts of the memoir contradicted this fact and the two aforementioned uncles turned out to be her brothers, not her uncles.

Berger's translations reveals different information:
Same chapter by Minnie Crane, translated by Jacob S. Berger
(click to enlarge).
"...he became a teacher with a rich settler in the village of Peskovty." Note: he actually names the village! Then, further down it reads: "There my father studied Torah with the small boys, the grandchildren of the settler. But the girls of the family would also listen to the lessons. And from this, it happened that a marriage was arranged for him, with a girl named Faygl, who was a daughter of Yankl Yarmovsky, a well-known Hasid from Slonim."

The section about the son's or rather uncles was completely missing.

This made my mind spin. I had resolved the uncle dilemma years ago. I've learned a lot about the Atlantic City contractor Harry Yarmovsky and felt this was a typo in her translation. But I never tried to check the Yiddish. Now that I had a very different Yiddish translation, I decided to look at the Yiddish more carefully. Clearly, Berger would not have made up names of villages. Were those in the original Yiddish? Was she the daughter or the granddaughter of Jacob (Yakov in Herbrew and Yankl in Yiddish)?

Original chapter by Minnie Crane in Yiddish from the
Belitsa Yizkor book (click to enlarge).
Even without understanding Yiddish, it was not difficult for me to spot the name of the villages: פיעסקאווצי and סלאנימער חסיד (which means Hassid from Slonim). The Yiddish paragraph ends there, omitting the section about the uncles. Why had Minnie left out the names of these villages and her father's sister Tsin'keh in her translation? I've been trying to figure out for years, where the Yarmovsky family was from, and here it was in plain Yiddish, right under my nose for all these years.

Google translator has it's limitations but when I entered the last sentence in the paragraph:

קומען א שידוך צווישן אים און א מיידל מיטן נאמען פייגל, וואס אין געווען א טאכטער פון יאנקל ירמאווסקי,  א באוווסטער סלאנימער חסיד.  
This is what google came up with: ... "enter a shidukh between him and a girl named bird in which being a daughter of yankl irmavski, a known Slayer Hassid." 
Google doesn't know the word Shidich, which means match. It also didn't realize that Feigel is a name and gave the literal translation, bird. In addition, it failed to recognize Yarmovsky as a name, and Slonim the village, but it clearly says that the match was made between Feige who was a daughter of the house of Yankl.

Now, I'm left with many new research questions rather than answers:

1. Who typed the copy of the article Minnie wrote in English? Did she type it herself? Did someone else? Was it a draft for the Yizkor article? Or was it a translation she prepared for her daughter and grandchildren? If this was a draft, could she have submitted this draft and someone edited it? Possibly her nephew Simeon. Did he add the names of the villages? On the other hand, if this was a translation prepared for the family, did she choose to omit certain details which didn't seem important, such as names of villages they never heard of? Did she choose to add facts instead, such as the details about the uncles/brothers?

2. The big question: was Yankel Yarmovsky her father or grandfather?

At this point I can only theorize on the answers to these new questions.

1. If this was an early draft, or a late translation, I'm not sure, but the names of the villages were documented in the Yizkor book and it is significant. I have yet to locate this so called Peskovty village, nor the a Yankel Yarmovsky in Slonim but this is a very important clue in tracing the Yarmovsky family. From the paragraph, it seems Yankel was originally from Slonim but later on in life he lived in Peskovty.

2. The second dilemma is even more complex. According to our family tree, Feige's parents were Vevel and Chaya Minucha Yarmovsky. This information was on the original printed copy of our family tree which I inherited from my grandmother and which has proven to be very accurate. Vevel parents are not on the tree. When I first read Minnie's typed translation, I was excited to add a new forefather, Jacob (Yankel) Yarmovsky to our tree as Vevel's father. Now, I'm not so sure. Could Vevel have been Vevel Jacob (Yankel) or Jacob (Yankel) Vevel? Or was the name Vevel on the tree a mistake. This tree, compiled since the 1970s is not sourced, therefore I have no way of knowing who provided his name. It could have been Minnie or someone from her generation, but I can not be sure?

It is clear that in her typed translation, she did make a mistake with the generations. She lists Feige as the granddaughter of Jacob while her brothers she lists as Jacobs sons. One of the statements is wrong, the question is which ones? Why does the Yiddish translations state she was the daughter of the house of Yankl? In Jewish tradition, one often describe someone as being "son of the house of ...". Could she have not meant literally: "daughter of the house of Jankel Yarmovsky",  but rather mean granddaughter of the household? Who was the famous Hassid? Was it her father or grandfather? It could be that her grandfather was the rich settler from the town of Peskovty and her father the Hassid from Slonim? Or visa versa? Or were they both same man as the paragraph seems to imply?

Bottom line, I don't know! I'm confused! I've proven to myself that it is very important to look at the original sources and not rely solely on translations. In this case, I still can't make heads or tales of this part of the story! Your input would be greatly appreciated!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday's Faces from the Past: Charles Coff

Today's face from the past is Charles Coff. There are three photos of Charles  my great-grandmother's Minnie Crane's album from 1917.  Two are duplicates of a formal portrait of Charles and the third is a family photo of what looks like him and his siblings. Both images have an inscription in the back, yet I have no idea who he is. I don't know the nature of his relationship to Minnie was, besides a "deep friendship" as he describes. My guess is that he was another of her suitors. He looks quite young in these photos.

Here is what Ancestry has to say about Mr. Charles Coff:

Charles Coff lived in Hartford as early as 1914, at first with his sister Sophia and then with the rest of his family, his mother Rose (widow of Moses, brother Samuel and sister Anna. Charles worked both as a barber and a clerk. His two sisters were dressmakers and his younger brother was a student.

Hartford City Directory 1914
Hartford City Directory 1916
Hartford City Directory 1917

Charles, or rather Charels Moses Coff, registered for the draft on June 5, 1917. He was born in Cherson, Russia, on March 18, 1894, making him 23 years old when the above photos were taken. Minnie would have been 21 then. He has not yet become a US citizen. Here he listed himself as a salesman and single.

Charels Moses Coff, 1917 Draft Registration Card

In 1919 he is listed as a student. This means he most likely was not drafted nor did he enlist. He also did not die during the influenza epidemic of 1918 which took the lives of so many young men.

Hartford City Directory 1919
After this I loose Charles and the rest of the Coff clan. I can't find them in the 1920. It's very likely the family moved.

These are such nice quality photos, I bet his descendants if he had any, would love to see them.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Learning about Ancestors from the Connecticut Military Questionnaire

Louis Harold Kranowitz
On Friday, we met Louis Harold Kranowitz. As promised, there is much more to the Louis Kranowitz story. The photo featured on Friday's Face from the Past post, is one of two photos of his photos my great-grandmother kept the album. Interestingly, the second photo is also from his service days. In this dreamy cloud portrait he looks even more handsome.

These two portraits, taken most likely before Louis left for war, sparked my curiosity about this family member. Military records seemed like a good place to start. Not many records survived from WWI, so I wasn't sure how much luck I would have.

Draft Registration

The draft registration card pulled up immediately and was surprisingly easy to read. The card provided the following information:

Name: Louis Harold Kranowitz
Address: 218 North Street, New Britain, CT
Birth: July 25, 1892 New York, NY
Age: 25
Citizenship: Natural Born Citizen
Occupation: Assistant Pharmacist
Employer: Clark and Brainerd, New Britain, CT
Dependents: Mother
Marital Status: Single
Race: Caucasian
Medium Hight, Slender, Brown Eyes, Black Hair. No disabilities.

Louis Harold Kranowitz, WWI Draft Registration Card.
(Click to Enlarge). Source: Ancestry.Com
Connecticut MIlitary Census

Louis Harold Kranowitz
Connecticut Military Census Feb 27, 1919
(click to enlarge).
Source: UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012
Original data: Connecticut Military Census of 1917. 
Hartford, Connecticut: Connecticut State Library.

Next, I recalled the Connecticut Military Census of 1917. In February of this year, I discovered and shared Max Crane's Military Census record. All men of 16 year of age  and older, filled these out. I had a little trouble finding Louis's Military Census since for some reason it was not indexed. Eventually, by scanning all the New Britain Kp-Kz records, I found it!
The document provides a few new facts about Louis:
  • He had no other trade than Pharmacy. 
  • He was 5'7'' tall and weighed 135 pounds (slim indeed).
  • Here he reported he supports two people, but doesn't disclose who. 
  • No prior military service.
  • He can ride a horse and handle a team, but can not drive an automobile or a motorcycle. 
  • He can not understand telegraphy or operate a wireless. 
  • He has no experience with steam engines, electrical machines or boats (power or sail). 
  • No experience with simple coastwise navigation or high speed marine gasoline engines.
  • Is not a good swimmer. 

Connecticut Military Questionnaire
Louis Harold Kranowitz (pages 1/4)

What I didn't expect to find was the following amazing document. A Connecticut Military Questionnaire 1919-1920. Now, if you haven't seen one of these documents, I highly recommend you take a look, especially if you have ancestors or family members from Connecticut who served in WWI. They are absolutely fabulous! It's a four page questionnaire handwritten by the veteran. In many cases if the soldier died on duty, the form was filled out for that person and a photo if available was attached.

In these questionnaire the veterans were asked to fill out many details about their service in the war. The information is very detailed and include among other information: draft date, unit, rank, military number, where and when they served, travel, injury and discharge.

Here is a summary of Louis Harold Kranowitz military service and other new facts about him:

Connecticut Military Questionnaire
Louis Harold Kranowitz (pages 2/4)
Click to enlarge:
Source: Connecticut,
Military Questionnaires, 1919-1920 
Provo, UT, USA: 
Original data: Connecticut State Library,
Hartford, Connecticut.

  • Mother's maiden name: Gross.
  • Drafted and inducted into the army on Oct 4, 1917, about 8 months after he first filled out the Connecticut Military Census. 
  • Reported to Camp Devens in Massachusetts.
  • Rank: Private
  • Unit: Medical Corps of the National Army (If you look closely at his photo, Louis is wearing a Medical Corps pin).
  • Identification #: 1690365
  • Trained at Camp Devens for about seven month until May 30, 1918.
  • While at Camp Devens he was promoted to Sergeant on April 4, 1918.
  • Embarked from Newport News, Virginia on Jun 20, 1918 on the USS Tenadores. 
  • The USS Tenadores arrived at Brest, France on July 13, 1918.
  • From Brest he proceeded to Cosne, France. The journey lasted 9 days and he arrived on July 22, 1918. 
  • Stationed in Cosne for five months until Dec 22, 1918.
  • Continued to Treves Germany where he remained for the remainder of the war, until August 30, 1919. 
  • Returned to the US aboard the USS Kroonland which arrived in Hoboken on Sep 10, 1919. 
  • Discharged from service at Camp Devens on Sep 16, 1919 and return to his civilian life as a pharmacist. 
(Note: Armistice day was Nov 1, 1918, but the war did not officially end until a series of treaties were signed in 1919 and as late as 1920).

Unfortunately, Louis chose not to elaborate much when asked to respond to his experience in the military (last two pages of the survey). He reported that he was in favor of serving and that his state of mind was good. According to him, the effect of his experience both in the US and abroad on his state of mind were good.

As you can see, this type of record is a gold mine of information. Armed with the wealth of details from this questionnaire I should be able to learn much more about his experience. I've also found similar records for his brother William Carl Kranowitz who served in Naval Intelligence, as well as Minnie's brother, their cousin William James Crane.

If you think you may have had a relative who died during WWI and was from Connecticut, be sure to check these records. While browsing the New Britain records, I also found many young men who died of influenza while still in training in the US. Often their photograph was included as well.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday's Faces from the Past: Louis Harold Kranowitz

Label on back: Louis Kranowitz
New Britain, Conn 1918

Louis Harold Kranowitz (1892-1960)

This handsome young soldier was a cousin of my great-grandmother Minnie. Louis and his family welcomed Minnie and her brothers into America and were influential in their decision to live in Hartford, Connecticut during their early years in this country. Louis, son of Aaron and Sophie Kranowitz was born in New York, but spent most of his life in New Britain, CT. He was the middle child, squeezed between two older sisters, Berth and Lena and two younger brothers, William and Bernard.

Remember the story of Max Crane (Kranowitz)'s beating in New Britain? In Part III:  of that series:  Why Was Max Hanging Around the Block?, I concluded that Louis Kranowitz, 16 years old at the time, was probably Max's companion the day he received the beating  which made headlines in 1909.

This photo of Louis Kranowitz was taken sometime in 1918, during the last year of World War I. Louis was twenty-five years old. I found the photograph in Minnie's album. Neatly labeled on the back, in her  own handwriting, she places Louis in New Britain, CT. He may have not left for battle yet. By 1918, Louis had graduated from Columbia University where he studied pharmacy.

Check back next week for more about Louis!

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Gift for Dad

My grandfather Baruch Lavi (aka Zigmond Jampel)
proudly showing me off.
Imagine growing up without grandparents. Difficult isn't it? This day and age, people live longer and longer. Most of us are lucky enough to know most or all of our grandparents, and sometimes our great-grandparents. Myself, I was fortunate. I knew all five of my grandparents and one great-grandmother. Yes, five. My grandfather remarried and his wife was a wonderful, bonus, grandmother to all of us grandkids.

My grandfather in a similarly proud pose with my father
My father is a pretty cool grandfather himself. Saba, or grandfather in Hebrew, is what my kids call him. In fact, almost all the kids who have ever come across my dad take to calling him Saba.  He has embraced the role of grandfather and has "adopted" a bunch of grandkids along the way. Ironically, my dad never met his own grandparents. He never experienced the luxury of spending the evening at his grandparents home and being pampered by them. He could only imagine what it would be like to curl up with his grandfather and read a book. Sadly, like many Jews of his generation, he lost all his grandparents in the holocaust, before he was born.

Despite this tragic loss, dad had a happy childhood. He grew up barefoot, running around the fields of a young kibbutz.  The kibbutz provided a freedom rarely offered to children today. Kibbutz children spent their days outdoors, playing in the orange groves, working with the livestock or swimming in the water hole. Most of the founding members of the kibbutz lost families in the holocaust as well. They became each other's family and sheltered their children from their own sorrow by never discussing the loss. When my dad tried to learn about his grandparents, he was usually turned away. Eventually, he stopped trying.

My father on Kibbutz early 1950s
It's been five years since I first presented my dad a small clue about his grandparents—four Yad Vashem Testimony sheets for each of his grandparents. This elusive testimonies, filled out by my grandparents, contained more information than we ever knew about their parents. Their names, the date and place of birth, their occupations, their parents names and their last known address. Reading these documents brought tears to my father's eyes.

Five years of genealogy research may be a long time, but progress has been slow, particularly in Eastern Europe. Today, I probably could have found the same Yad Vashem documents in a couple of minutes. Their search engine has improved tremendously. Back then, the search engine did not recognize that the letter "J" in Polish would be spelled with a "Y" in English. This problem, lead to months of frustration at the time.

Though I remained hungry for more information about those we lost in the holocaust, I've mostly come up short. For the past few weeks I've reported of my first major breakthrough on this branch of the family. I've not only identified a marriage record of my father's great-grandparents, but I also connected with a potential cousin. When he heard about my discovery he was amazed. "How pleased your grandfather would have been to know of your work and dedication to this project" he told me.

Today, I'd like to award my father, gift! A new document, this time pertaining not to his great-grandparents, but to his grandmother. Cecylia Jampel born Cecylia Reiter and fondly known as Cyla.
Five years ago, no one in my family remembered Cecylia's name. When I entered her onto my tree, she had no first name, and only a married name, Jampel. Today, I share with all of my faithful readers and my dad, Cecylia's birth certificate and try to reconstruct a little bit of her story.

Souce: JRI Poland/JewishGen

Cecylia (Cyla) born on Oct 1st, 1891 in the city of Lwow, (pronounced Lvov) in the province of Galicia which was then part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. She was born in house #27 of Zotkiewska Street (See: Map of Lwow from 1890. Ul Zotkiewska can be found at MNO 4&5 ). Three days later, there was a naming ceremony for her at the same address. Cyla, like many Jews of her generations was officially born out of wedlock. She was therefore recorded as illegitimate. This most likely means that her parents were only had a Jewish wedding which was not valid in civil courts at the time. Her mother Rachel Reiter was listed as single, residing in Lwow and  cohabitating with the shoemaker Yakob Zelnik. Rachel is the reported daughter of Ciny Reiter from the town of Kulików. The two witnesses to the birth were Hezz Rochmes and Leiser Reich, both lime dealers from Lwow. Betty Frenkel was the midwife. Note Cyla was given her mother maiden name Reiter, which in turn is her mother's maiden name as well. Again this is because the parents were only married according to Jewish law.

Zotkiewska Street, surrounds a large park in the city which surrounds the Union of Lublin Mound (Kopiec Unii Lubelskiej). This monument sits at the top of a man made hill known as High Castle. Construction of this monument to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Union of Lublin was finished in 1890, only a year before Cyla was born. I was able to locate the area in google maps today. The park looks run down, and I'm not sure the street numbers are the same, but here is what building #27 looks like today.

View Larger Map

From additional family records, I learned that my great-grandmother Cyla was the second oldest of at least eight children, five boys and three girls: Nachman b. 1888, Karol (Chaskel) Leib (Leon) b. 1889, b. 1893, Maurycy Herman b.1895, Regina b.1898, Anna b.1890-d.1891 and Kazimierz b.1903. Her father, whose full name was Simon Jakob Zelnik was born in 1864. For now the fate of her parents and siblings is unknown to me.

Cyla married Leon Jampel, a tailor, around 1910. She was a seamstress. They had my grandfather in 1913 when she was twenty two years old. Leon would have been around twenty five years old when they had their first child. They had their second and last child Michael, eighteen years later, in 1931. They lived and worked at #18 Kosciuszko Street, right next to Ivan Franko National University and another large park of the same name. (see map: Map of Lwow from 1890. L 6, 7). I couldn't quite find the street on google map because it's in Ukrainian, but the University is still there. This was their last known address before being expelled to the ghetto. They most likely were forced to work at the Yanovska forced labor camp and died either at the ghetto or the camp by 1943. Cyla would have been about 52 years old.

This is it for now! I am hopeful that I will discover more bit of this story in the weeks and months to come!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday's Faces from the Past: Bertha Ruderman

This is by far one of my favorite vintage photos. It's a picture of Bertha Ruderman with her mother (Rebecca Mishkind) and two sisters, Helen and Salllie Ruderman. Bertha married into my husband's family. The photo came to my attention thanks to ancestry's shaky leaf and the ancestry contributor who posted it, graciously shared it with me. The photo was taken in 1914.

I love everything about this photo, the pose, the distinct look in each of their eyes and their outfits. Most endearing is Bertha, who despite not wearing any shoes has a sense of elegance with her wonderful hat and red flower—a late retouch.

Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Brick Wall Comes Tumbling Down!

This is the moment genealogist live for—when hours of work finally lead to a breakthrough! The eureka moment!

Remember the Polish marriage record for Mechel Speiser and Rachel Jampel from last post? Mechel are my great-great-grandparents. They are part of a very large paternal brickwall. Finding such an important clue, about this Galician family lost in the holocaust, offered a glimmer of hope. Pulling out this first brick, might bring down the entire wall.mTo experienced genealogists, it's clear that bringing down a such a sturdy wall, requires the stars to actually align. It seems that seeing both the movie Gravity and Ender's game, helped align the stars for me!

Translating the Marriage Certificate

Once again, marriage record for Mechel and Rachel so you wont have to scroll back to last weeks post.
(Click to enlarge)

Index from JRI-Poland for Mechel and Rachel's marriage record.
(Click to enlarge)

Step number one was to translate this Galician marriage record. If you look at the record closely, the first thing you will appreciate is the truly beautiful handwriting. No one write like this anymore.  Lucky for me, the person who recorde Mechel and Rachel's wedding in 1904 did. Another bit of luck was the quality of the scan. Without understanding polish, the names and the places are quite legible and concur with what the JRI-Poland Indexer had submitted for this record.

Clearly, there was much more information on the record. The next step was to translate the record in it's entirety.'s service ViewMate is ideal for posting a document or a photo such as a gravestone in need of translation. Within a few days, knowledgeable contributors from all over the globe response and help with the translation. I've had good luck with this service before, so I posted the record. When I hadn't heard from viewmate, I also posted on the facebook group Jewish Genealogy.

In the meantime, impatience got the best of me and I decided to take a stab at it myself. Using mostly google translator, a list of typical Jewish Polish occupations from and a magnifying glass, I set out to translate the one hundred and ten year old document.

Mechel and Rachel's Marriage Record Translation:

The bridegroom: Mechel Speiser, a native of Wola Jakubowa, residing in Rychcicach, innkeeper (or tavern keeper), son of the deceased alleged parents Seliga Speiser and Laji of the house of Freiman. 62 years old. Marital Status: Single.
The bride: Rachel Jampel native of Dobrowlany and living in Rychicach, daughter of Mendla Jampel from Dobrowalny and the deceased Laji of the house of Freilich. 40 years, 7 months and 2 days old. Marital status: Single.
Marriage recorded on 14th of August, 1904 in Drohobycz. Rabbi: Ch K Horowitz, Witnesses: Israel Hel, Merchant and Moses Freiman, merchant.

The Jewish Genealogist on facebook, were fastest to respond, and a lovely woman from Indiana quickly helped me decipher a lot of the basic information and conquered with my own conclusions. Other native speakers chimed in agreed. ViewMate contributors agreed as well. Only the last column on the right, titled notes, remains untranslated. This note seems quite long and mentions the date of the actual marriage several times. I can't make heads or tails of the polish for now.

Building A Tree for Mechel and Rachel

Ten days ago, I attended a workshop with Stanley Diamond, founder of JRI-Poland, sponsored by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston. The attendees were instructed to bring specific question and I was hoping for help with the Speiser/Jampel research. In preparation for the workshop, I was able to create a tree for Meche and Rachel. The amount of records available for the Drohobycz region on JRI-Poland was impressive. Equipped with a better understanding of marriage practices in Galicia and how to decipher polish vital records, I was able to carefully reconstruct a family tree. I identifed Mechel's parent, four grandparents, three siblings, two wives and nine children, going back to the late 1700s. Rachel, turns out was his second wife. So far, I've identified two of her grandparents  and two siblings.

One Eureka moment:

Mechel Speiser's signature!

Finding Mechel Speiser's signature! Mechel's signature appears on many of his children's birth and death certificates. Sadly, many of his children were stillborn or died young. This signature is from the birth record of Simon Jampel born on the 8th of March, 1898 and died in 1916. Mechel was the witness on occasions.

Description of mother of
Simon Jampel in his
Birth Record 
All of Mechel's children except one (Udel) were registered as illegitimate and under the their mother's maiden name, Jampel. Simon's record in particular, provides a wonderful insight. It actually documents Mechel and Rachel's Jewish wedding.

Under the description of Simon's mother it says that Ruchla Jampel (Ruchla is a nickname for Rachel), resident of Rychcicach, wife and then in a parenthesis (/: tylko wedle praw mojżesza ...) which means only according to the laws of moses. Thanks Google Translator! This government official, also with impeccable hand writing, clearly explained that Simon's parents were married by Jewish law, commonly referred to at the time as the Laws of Moses.

Udel's birth record is fascinating as well. Udel, born in 1905 was the only record I found for a child born to the couple after their civil marriage. She, unlike the rest of her siblings is registered as Udel Speiser. In this record, Rachel, for the first time, is recorded as Rachel Speiser of the house of Jampel (see right hand column). Mechel and Rachel's civil marriage is clearly documented in this record (see box under Mechel's name). It provides the 1904 record locator as Karta #45 and entry #89.  Note, Udel is reported as legitimate, that is not being born out of wedlock, slubne. Another important gem found on many of these records is the family's address: House #225 (see left). At the time, since the villages were so small, there were no street names, Instead houses were numbered. House #225 must have been the inn where they lived an worked. If a cadastral map of the village exist, I should be able to locate the exact location of this property.

Very quickly I became an expert at deciphering the polish understanding these old documents. By discovering so much information, I was answering many of my own questions. The only question left for the head of JRI-Poland was: what about the records whose scan quality is so poor that I can't make out the handwriting? Unfortunately, some of the older records I uncovered were practically illegible aside from the names and dates. This was the question I saved for the workshop.

Brick Wall Tumbles

The wedding record unlocked such a wealth of information, I was ecstatic. Bricks were tumbling all around me. And then...the night before the JRI-Poland workshop, I received a note in my Inbox. Participants in the workshop were encouraged to submit a list of the surnames and towns they are researching. One of these participants noticed that her and I shared the surname Speiser and the three Galician towns where the Speisers roamed. A potential cousin! I couldn't believe it. Less than thirty, local genealogist were to attend the workshop the next day. What are the chances to connect with a cousin?

We met briefly at the workshop and promised to talk afterwards. When I asked Stanley Diamond  how to obtain better quality scans, he explained that this particular set of digital records from AGAD originated from microfilm. The two step process in creating the scan, reduces the quality. If sharpening the image on photoshop doesn't work (I tried, it didn't), there does exist a possibility of obtaining better scans directly from the polish archives which is constantly updating it's digital collection. He kindly gave me some suggestions of how to go about obtaining them.

Finding An Actual Cousin

This is not the first time I find a cousin. The internet has brought me together with many known long lost cousins. This is the first time though, I find a potential cousin I only knew about in theory. I always believed that my Polish grandparents, who lost everyone in the war, must have had aunts or uncles and cousins. I knew nothing about these lost cousins, except for the fact that my grandparents searched for years for survivors and never found anyone. My grandfather had only one set of cousins in Australia (last name Reiter). My grandmother had a brother who survived Auschwitz and one cousin who left Poland before the war, resided for several years in Israel and then moved to America. I found it hard to believe that at a time when there were such large families, my grandparents didn't have any distant cousins who survived the war or survived by leaving Europe before the war.

Turns out, this potential Speiser cousin is a descendant of one of Mechel Speiser's siblings, Lea Speiser. Our common ancestors are Mechel Speiser's parents Selig Speiser and Leibe Freiman. Both of us have been studying at the same Polish documents and feel with a large degree of confidence that we have the correct family. According to my new found 3rd cousin once removed, her great-grandmother Lea came to America in 1907. At the age of 50, widowed with most of her children in America, she finally joined them. This would explain why my grandfather did not know about this branch of the family. My grandfather was born in 1913, six years after Lea left Galicia. He never met this great-aunt Lea, or any of her children. Lea, passed away in 1933, six years before WWII and around the time my grandfather made Aliya to Palestine. It's difficult to say if Lea's nephew Leon (my great-grandfather) kept in touch with his aunt, but by the time was a young adult, he was far removed from Lea's family and probably had no way of getting in touch with them after the war.

Interestingly, while my story is steeped in Holocaust tragedy and loss, for my new found cousin, losing relatives in the war was a revelation. Their extended family immigrated to America before World War I. They felt blessed to have made the choice to leave Galicia and like many American Jewish families, watch the War with horror but were not personally affected. Since she was born after the war, it is very likely that the elder generations in her family, such as her grandfather, did know of many cousins who lost their lives in the war, but to her recollection, and not surprisingly, no one talked about it. Meeting me, had opened her eyes to the story of those who were left behind. Like me, she knew leaned of these extended Speiser branches only thanks to her detailed genealogical research.

Family historians live for the moments when brick walls crash, living relatives are found and better yet research collaborators are discovered. The best part, we live in the same city! Together, we hope to learn more about our shared family history.

What's next?

The next logical step is to prove our family relationship via DNA. In the meantime, we've joined each other's trees and have began sharing our work.'s little leaves would have made the connection between us eventually, but we beat them to it. The amazing thing was that we found each other at a small workshop. I can't wait to tell my dad that I not only found his third cousin, but that there are lots more cousins where she came from!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Adventures of Tracking Down a Marriage Record from Galicia

Last week I wrote about a breakthrough in the Jampel branch of my family research ( Tips for Finding Ancestors on ). As I mentioned, my father's side of my family tree is one of my biggest brick walls, due in large part to the holocaust. This year, my goals is to improve my research skills for Eastern Europe. My hope is to learning more, not only about my father's side of the family, but my mother's and my husband's families as well—all of whom immigrated from different parts of the Russian Empire. 

Last week's discovery, was monumental for me as it is the first independent record I have identified belonging to my father's family—my great-grandfather Leon Jampel. This week, I'd like to share a new document: a marriage registration for Mechel Speiser and Rachel Jampel, whom I believe are Leon's parents. This awe inspiring document has been baffling me since the moment I came across it a few days ago. Hopefully, you, my expert readers will great insight into this galician marriage record!

Research Questions: Is this my great-great-grandparents marriage record?

Marriage Register for Mechel Speiser and Rachel Jampel possibly my great-grandparents (entry 89)From Click to enlarge.Drohobycz PSA AGAD Births 1877-1905 Marriages 1877-81,84-91,93-97,99-1905 Deaths 1852-96,98-1905Lwow Wojewodztwo / Ukraine(records in Fond 300 in AGAD Archive)Located at 49°21’ 23°30’Last updated May 2007


I've known about this particular record since 2009. Years ago, when I first found the Yad Vashem witness testimony form my grandfather filled out for his father Leon Yampel, I learned his parents names were Michael and Rachel.

I also learned that Leon had two last names Speiser and Yampel which in Polish was actually spelled Jampel (pronounced like a Y).
Closeup of Yad Vashem Page of Testimony for Leon Jampel filled out by my grandfather in 1999. Note he reports his fathers name to be Leon (Arieh Leib) Yampel (Speiser). Father's name Michael Yampel (Speiser) and mother Rachel maiden name unknown.

For this testimony I learned Leon was born in a place called Rychcice. This priceless information helped narrow down a search for the Jampel family. I discovered a set of indexed records for the Jampel and Speiser family in Rychcice. Here is the entry for the marriage record:

Index for above document From Click to enlarge.
Note: The above screen shot was taken today. In 2009, when I first did this search, the left hand column (View Image) did not exist.

I remember studying this index along with the other Jampel records and feeling unsure that it belong to my family. The names Mechel and Rachel matched my grandfather's report of Michael and Rachel. Michael, in Hebrew pronounced Micha-el could certainly have been Mechel in Yiddish. The name of the village is also consistent, Rychcice. But two things bothered me about this index record.

1. The year of marriage: 1904. According to my grandfather, his father Leon was born in 1883 or 1888 (Note: both years of birth were reported by my grandfather on the 1955 and 1999 testimonies. I'm not sure which is correct, but I assume his memory was more accurate in 1955 so most likely the correct dob was 1888). How could this be his parents marriage record, if this is for a a marriage which took place in 1904? Leon would have been about 16 years old in 1904. Mechel, the groom was 62 years old in 1904, while Rachel the bride was 40 years old, 7 months and 2 days old in 1904 (I love the detail in this index). They were certainly old enough to be his parents but if they only got married in 1904, it's unlike they were his parents. There were several birth records (not included here) in this village for children of Mechel and Rachel, several of whom were born prior to 1904. The earliest was for a Samuel Seinwel from 1885. There was no record for  a Leon or Leib. These other children suggests that Mechel and Rachel were together since as early as 1885, but were not officially married until 1904.

2. The surnames: If Leon's last name is Jampel, why would his mother's maiden name be Jampel and his father's name Speiser? I had a difficult time making heads or tails of this. If there was a tradition of taking the mother's maiden name in this village, than why does Rachel have her father's last name (Mendel Jampel) and not her mother's Laje (Freilich), and respectively so does Mechel Speiser, son of Selig Speiser and Laje (Freiman). My grandfather himself seemed to think Leon had both names, Mechel and Speiser. But he seemed to feel that so did his grandfather Michael, while he did not know his grandmother's maiden name. If there was a tradition of taking the mother's maiden name, my grandfather was not aware of it.

I remember not being able to resolve these conflicts at the time. There were too many doubts for me to order the original document from Poland. At that early stage of my research, I was not ready to pay for documents, especially ones I would not be able to read and nor be sure it belonged to my relatives. I decided to shelves these indexes to my shoe box. I placed another set of indexes for the Jampel family in the shoe box. These additional indexes suggested that Mechel in question was married and had children with a Chaje Jampel (daughter of Samuel Seinwel and Itte Malke Jampel) who died at childbirth in 1883. He then, went onto have children with Rachel Jampel who could have been a cousin of Chaje. Interestingly, Rachel and Mechel's first child is Samuel Seinwel.


This week, I returned to my shoe box. It's not the first time since 2009 that I re-examine this records. In fact, I return to on a regular basis as they are continuously adding new records. This time, I noticed the little box on the left hand corder which said, view image in blue. When I clicked on the view image link it took me to a scan of an original document from Poland! At the IAJGS2013, I learned that JRI poland together with JewishGen and the Polish Archives in the process of digitalizing their collection but this was the first time, any of my searches on JewishGen have linked me to a scanned image. Seeing this image was a eureka moment for me.

The  view image link above actually does not take you to Mechel and Rachel's marriage record. Even without knowing polish, the names at the top of these records, did not seem to match my family surnames. It seemed to be mis-attached. I went back to the Index and saw that the Akta# was 89. I was not sure what Akta# was but my guess was that it refers to an record entry number since the image I was directed to had entries 85 and 86, I decided I need to scroll forward. Scrolling two pages ahead, brought me to entry 89. And sure enough, the names I was looking for were written in an old, beautiful script.

Closeup of part of the marriage record for Mechel and Rachel.
The form seems to be written in both German and Polish. Since Galicia was part of the Austria-Hungarian empire, many official forms were in German as well as the local language. I'm guessing the handwritten section are in Polish.

Resolving the Conflicts

Thanks to the amazing efforts of many organizations and genealogist, I can now study this original marriage record without out having to pay to obtain it (or travel to Ukraine). Amazingly, all the records in this particular collection have been scanned and include birth and death records for many of Mechel's children from both his marriage. Obtaining these and other records would have cost me quite a bit. Now they are free! Many hurdles remain. After attending the JewishGenealogy conference, I am more confident I can decipher enough of this record to decide if it is worth translating. From all the records, I feel this marriage record is my best place to start. If I can feel confident that this Marriage record belongs to my great-grandparents, than I will be able to piece together much of their family tree from the rest of the records in this collection. In order to do so, I must resolve the two conflicts listed above, the date of marriage and the maiden names. 

History of Jewish Marriages in Galicia

To resolve these conflicts, I had to get a better understanding of the history of Galicia. At the conference, I attended several talks about Galicia. Now that my son's Bar Mitzvah is over, I'm also watch lectures I purposely skipped since they were available on the conference live feed. I've been watching these videos at a feverish pace since they are only available until Nov 15th. (If you have any interest in Jewish Genealogy, and did not have a chance to attend the conference, I highly recommend subscribing the the live stream at: There is still two weeks and the talks are well worth it!)  Yesterday, while listening to Pamela Weisberger from Gesher Galicia's talk about Cadastral Maps, Landowner, School & Voter Records: New Horizons for Genealogist, I learned a tidbit which helped me resolve both my conflicts. Now, I may have learn this piece of information at the conference as well, but yesterday since I've been studying this marriage certificate, the information she clicked fro me.

Hidden deep in Pamela's explanation about the growing online collection of Cadastral maps, was a comment about maiden names in Galicia. Pamela explained that since many of Jewish marriages in Galicia were religious and not civil, they were not recognized by the state. Therefore, the children of these marriages were illegitimate and were registered with their mother's maiden name rather than their father's surname! 

Immediate, I looked into the history of Jewish marriages in Galicia.

In 1776 Empress Maria Theresa among other taxes, levied an expensive tax on registering Jewish marriages. Between 1781-1789, her son, Emperor Joseph II issues a series of Decrees of Tolerance for all religious minorities. This was part of his vision to transform the Jews in Galicia into good taxpaying Austrian. These decrees were filled with contradictions, some hindering and some aiding the Jews. Marriage were to be regulated by the government. Jews who felt marriage was a religious issue, strongly resisted this decree. Like many of these decrees, it remained on the books but was not strictly enforced. Beginning in 1787 Jews were required to chose fixed surnames rather than the earlier patronymic system. They were also required as a congregation to record births, deaths and marriages. In 1810 civil marriages became the only officially recognized marriage in Austria. In attempt to encourage Jews to convert, a marriage certificate could only be purchased after passing a Catholic catechism exam. Most Jews chose to ignore these laws. Jewish marriages preformed by Rabbis continued but were not legally recognized. Children born from these marriage were considered illegitimate. The test requirement was removed only in 1859. Starting in 1877 after the ratification of the Austrian constitution, Jews were given equal legal civil status. Local chief rabbi become responsible for recording birth, death and marriages in a standardized format and transmitting it to the official local registrars rather than keeping them in local Jewish books. (sources:,

While these were the imperial decrees, it may have taken a while for the community to adopt them and therefore even though Mechel and Rachel could have legally gotten married around 1885, this certainly explains why they didn't do so and while all of Mechel's children from both his marriages carried his wife's surname. It's possible Mechel and Rachel chose not to register their marriage since they couldn't afford the cost. Certainly the political turmoil explains why they may have chosen to have their children "out of wedlock". I have found no historically explanation for why they would have chosen to get married in 1904 after having been together since before 1885. It's possible Mechel wanted to be sure his wife inherited his property. He was 62 when he finally legally married Rachel and she was much younger (only 40 years old).

A better grasp of the history of Jewish marriages in Galicia makes me quite certain that this is  the marriage record of my great-grandparents. Neither the date nor the maiden name inconsistency no longer concern me. Now more than ever, I want to translate this record. I've posted a request for help in and hope that a Polish speaking volunteer will help me decipher the document. In the meantime, I am curious what you guys think.

Are Mechel Speiser and Rachel Jampel from this marriage document my grandparents? What lead them to finally get married in 1904? How do you suggest I continue? 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tips for Finding Ancestors on

Yesterday I treated my self to the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Boston (JGSGB) talk. Even  tough the meetings take place right next to my house, I don't make it to the meeting as often as I would like. Our local Jewish Genealogy society is truly a great group of people. It's a very active and hardworking group. This summer they hosted the annual International Conference on Jewish Genealogy which was a great success. The conference inspired me to try to go to more meetings, and so, despite the fact that the Patriots were playing, I decided to skip out for a two hour break and head to the talk.

Logan Kleinwaks, founder and creator of the website was yesterday's guest speaker. I don't know how many of you are familiar with this site. If you are not, and you have ancestors in Central and Eastern Europe, I highly recommend you check it out!

I must admit that I had come across in the past and I didn't have much luck. I remember trying a few searches and not coming up with much which was legible. A lot of the results were in Polish or Russian and I quickly gave up. After going to some of the Polish Government Archives talks at the Jewish Genealogy conference this summer, I've become a bit braver at trying to navigate through documents in foreign languages, and that is the main reason I decided to attend Logan's talk, and boy, am I glad I did!

What is GenealogyIndexer? What makes it different? 

GenealogyIndexer is a free search engine, not unlike google, but specific for genealogy. The search engine scans a huge and ever growing database of Directories (mostly from central Europe), Holocaust Yizkor books, Polish and Russian military records, personal and community histories and some school records. It uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to index and make these records searchable. You can search in English or in Polish, Russian, Hebrew or Cyrillic (with the keyboard provided on the left).

Here are a few tips from the talk which I learned and which already yielded results.

Tip #1
On the home page it says: PLEASE READ in bright yellow! Logan, saved us the trouble and explained what this was all about. I don't think I read this section the first time I visited this page. The instructions are a bit technical about downloading a plug-in, so even if I did glance at them the first time around, I probably skipped it. Well, I have a Mac and turns out, this plug-in is very important for the Mac. I was unable to view most of the images without this plug-in. Installing the plug-in was free and easy and voila! I can now see and browse through Polish Business Directories from the early 1900!

Let's take a search I did for Leon Jampel as an example. One can search by surname, first name, town or any keyword. My paternal grandparent's families are my biggest brick walls since they died in the holocaust. Leon Jampel, was my paternal great-grandfather, and I know almost nothing about him. The only documents I have for Leon  Jampel are two Yad Vashem Testemony Sheets my grandfather filled out for Leon (his dad).

When I typed Leon Jampel into the GenealogyIndexer, a long result list appeared. The search results look a lot like a google search result. Here is a screen shoot of the top part of the search.

 Screen shot of search for Leon Jampel (click to enlarge).

There were a lot of Jampels and a lot of Leons. The search engine found every page in the database that has both Leon and Jampel. The 9th result was the one the looked promising. It highlighted in yellow Jampel Leontogether:

The 9th entry on the search for Leon Jampel. (Click to enlarge).
This result is from the 1935/1936 Lwow, Stanislawow, Tarnopol area Address and Business directory.
If you look closely, this snippet from the directory is all in Polish. Prior to the talk on Sunday, I would have quit at this step. All I can make out is Jampel Leon. The rest is gibberish.  But, I am pretty confident, this is my great-grandfather, since I know he lived in Lvov (Lwow) most of his life and most likely died around 1943. If this is a Business Directory from Lvov in 1935/1936, this must be the listing for my great-grandfather. If so, it's the only document I have ever been able to find for him which was not filled out by my grandfather. It should contain at least an address, if not an occupation. Emboldened by what I learned from the talk, I clicked on the link.

As warned by Logan, without the djvu plug-in, I got a prompt to download the page, which I was unable to open. So, I went ahead and follow tip #1 from the talk and download the plug-in. It was free and took about 7 seconds to download. It opens automatically to the installation window, and so I went ahead and install, which took only a few more seconds. This time, when I clicked on the Directory Link once again this is the image I got: p. 169 from the 1935/1936 Lwow, Stanislawow, Tarnopol Directory (Click to enlarge)
Now, if you zoom in, you can see this is all in Polish. Pretty intimidating! At least is was for me. Luckily, it's pretty obvious we are in the Lvov section not Tarnopol (top of the page) and since it was alphabetical, I could easily see we were in the Js. Finding Jampel was not difficult. Here is a close up, so you do not have to strain your eyes:

Closeup of Lwow Directory, Jampel, Leon.
Tip #2

Use google translator!
There are only two words and a number beyond Leon's name and before the next listing of a Jampoler. The two polish words are: Krawiec and c, Kościuszki . I've looked at enough US City Directories to venture a guess that the number must be a street address, so I'm guessing Kosciuski is a street. Also from my US City Directory experience (and from Logan's talk), I'm guessing the first word, krawiec is an occupation. I when I asked google translator, my suspicion was confirmed.

Screen Shot of Google Translate for the Polish Word Krawiec

Krawiec means tailor. My great-grandfather was a tailor! I have the right guy! On the Yad Vashem testimony, my grandfather wrote that his dad was a tailor. I went back to the testimony to check for the last know address. My grandfather actually filled out the Yad Vashem forms twice. Once in 1955 and then again in 1999. I think he may have forgotten that he had filled them out, so just in-case, in 1999 he did it again. The information he provided was a bit different. In the 1955, he lists a Berka Yuselevitz Street in Lvov (It's written in Hebrew, so I'm not attaching it here). But in 1999, this is what my grandfather wrote as the last know address before the expulsion to the ghetto.

Closeup of Yad Vashem Testemony page for Leon Jampel, filled out by his son Baruch Lavi in 1999.
Translation of the hebrew: Address-before the expulsion, Country- Poland Region-Lvov

Notice the street name is the same as the Kościuszki the one from the Polish directory. My grandfather didn't list a house number, but I'm pretty sure it's the same street. Lvov Jews who survived the initial pogroms after the Nazi invasion were moved to the ghetto on November 8th, 1941. It's very likely that Leon Jampel, would have lived at the Kościuszki address at least from 1935 until 1941. This may have been the address where my grandfather's parents lived for a long time. He may have even grown up on this street and that is why it was easier for him to remember this address in 1999 (when he was 85 years old). The Yuselevitz address may have been the last known address from the ghetto, an address he would have remembered in 1955, only 8 years from the last contact he had with his parents, but that he may have forgotten years later.

Turns out, I did not learn any new details from the Business directory information aside from a house number. But considering I know so little about Leon Jampel, this is truly an emotional find. Finding him on an official document from Poland was a deeply moving experience. It has given me hope that I may find more documents not only for Leon, but for the rest of his family who perished tragically in the holocaust.

Reading these dense documents in Polish is a painstakingly slow process. A process I may not have undertaken, if I had not attended Logan Kleinwaks talk yesterday. Now that I have a better understanding of the site, I am confident I will continue to find more information which will help me piece together my family's story. For the latest updates on follow them on twitter @gindexer.

Here are a few more tips to help you navigate the page:

Tip #3-Don't forget to use the sound-index option and the OCR-adjust option if you not having any luck.
Tip #4- If you have a common last name, narrow down your search.
Tip #5- Read and use the advance search suggestions. These are similar to other advance search options on google or ancestry.
Tip #6- If you need help, use the forum. Ask specific questions. Logan is very approachable and answers a lot of the questions, as do other users.

Best of luck exploring this amazing resource!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday's Faces from the Past: Sam Friedberg

Sam and Ruth Friedberg, 1949

This week, we lost a family member, Sam Friedberg. Sam passed away on Tuesday after a brief battle with a very aggressive Lymphoma. He was 86 years old.

Sam's wife Ruth, was my grandmother's first cousin. I had the pleasure of meeting Sam at his home in San Antonio a few years ago. My family and I enjoyed Sam and Ruth's company as they shared family stories and family history with me. Sam, an well respected doctor, took on the hobby of painting during his retirement. I particularly enjoyed the painting he did inspired by my second great-grandparents, which he shared with me during that trip. Sam will be missed! Click here for his obituary.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How Does a Bar Mitzvah Connect to Genealogy?

It's been a much longer break than anticipated but I'm finally back! During my two and a half month absence from the genealogy blogging scene, I dedicated my time almost exclusively to my youngest son's Bar Mitzvah. The event was fast approaching required my full attention to both help my son prepare, as well as pull off a successful celebration which would follow. As much as I missed blogging, my blog, is not only about the past, but also about the present and the future. This right of passage, the Bar Mitzvah, brings together the past, the present and the future. The last few months I focused on the present, making the Bar Mitzvah happen, and now—re-energized and rejuvenated—I am excited to return to blogging!

The Bar Mitzvah (Bat Mitzvah in the case of girls) milestone, connect each Jewish young person with their past. I have three sons, so this is our third and last Bar Mitzvah. Each event was completely different, reflecting the personalities of each child. Mirroring our families life, the first was held in Mexico, the second in Israel and the third here in Boston. Since my eldest son's Bar Mitzvah, I've connected this ceremony with genealogy. Thanks to his Bar Mitzvah project of researching his roots, we began an online family tree. This first family tree sparked a deep passion for genealogy in me.

Interestingly, this time around, another connection to family history emerged. Most Jewish children, read the Torah for the first time on their Bar Mitzvah. I'd like to take a pause here and explain. Some people believe that to have a Bar Mitzvah, means reading the Torah. That is actually not true. One does not have a Bar Mitzvah. One becomes a Bar Mitzvah by turning 13 (for boys) or 12 (for girls). In Jewish tradition, this means that a Bar Mitzvah is a person old enough to follow the Mitzvot (commandments). It basically means that as a Bar Mitzvah you have the same rights and responsibilities of a Jewish adult. It is the first time you can be called up to the Torah and take a turn to read from the Torah in temple. You do not have to do it, but you may have this privilege if you would like. Being called up to the Torah or reading from the Torah is always an honor. Doing so for the first time, is a cause for celebration. That is where the tradition comes from. The big parties often held today, are a relatively modern elaboration of this ancient custom.

My son was both excited and nervous about reading the Torah. He had a wonderful teacher who taught him the traditional cantillation (tropes) and helped him master the difficult task of reading without vowels (the Torah scroll has no vowels or punctuation). He studied his Torah portion and prepared a Dvar Torah, the speech which teaches the community something new about the weekly Torah portion. Before we knew which Torah portion he would have to read (it depends on the date of the Bar Mitzvah), he was nervous that he would not be able to relate to his portion and would not know what to say. But then, when he saw his portion, he was thrilled. After reading the first sentence he  exclaimed: "Mom, this portion was written for me!"
My son practicing to read from the actual Torah scroll using a "yad,"
a silver hand to help him find his place. The yad is used to avoid touching the
scroll with one's had which can damage the delicate text.

Lech Lecha (Genesis 12), is one of the most famous chapters of the Bible. it begins with the following sentence: "And the Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you." My son, could completely relate to Abram (Abraham before God changed his name from Abram to Abraham). He too left his land (Mexico), his birthplace and the land of his father and went to a new land, the United States. It made for a great Bar Mitzvah speech!

That one sentence immediately connected my son to his past and his family history. Not only was he born in Mexico, but Mexico was the land of his forefathers for generations. Abraham's story, is the story of the Jewish people and their wanderings in pursuit of a better life and religious freedom. Glowing with pride, I listed to him make this connection to his own family history. I thought not only of our Mexican ancestors, but those from Eastern Europe to immigrated to America and to Israel in search of a better life. Much of my genealogy work is focused on their immigration paths. It was very special to see that even though he did not make a family tree as a Bar Mitzvah project like his brother, he also gained a deep understanding of how the Bar Mitzvah connects him to those who came before him. This insight strengthen his foundation and I am confident it will serve him in the future as he becomes an independent young adult.

Do you have stories to share about rights of passage and their connection to your family history? I'd love to hear them.