Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Treasure Chest Thursday: Bingo! A letter from the Genealogy Program at USCIS! Part II

A few months ago I reported about a promising letter I received from USCIS in the post: Treasure Chest Thursday: Bingo! A letter from the Genealogy Program at USCIS! Part II. Finally, after what seemed like an eternal three months, the awaited naturalization papers for Minnie Crane (Menuche Kranowitz) finally arrived.

As you may remember, Minnie's naturalization papers have been difficult to find. I've been after them for more than five years. The hope in obtaining these papers was not so much to learn about Minnie, but more importantly to learn about her husband, William Bloomfield.

The Big Question: What was the Bloomfield's ancestral village?

For years, the Bloomfield cousins have been trying to answer a simple question. Where are the Bloomfields from? More specifically, what is the name of the village in Russia they came from? Moses and Frieda Bloomfield (known as Belous or Belo-oose in Russia) had seven grown sons (among them my great-grandfather, William Bloomfield). Where were they from? In order to be able to locate documents for the family in Europe, it is essential to identify where they were from.

Our joint efforts have lead to many many documents tracking the Bloomfields in the US including, ship manifests, draft registration and some naturalization papers (few) mostly named Russia or Grodno as the place of birth. Some family members papers named Pruzhany as their town of birth others named Vladimirets, Brest. Harry's birth certificate is from Slawatycze, and states that his father Moses was from Malech. In addition there is evidence that both Moses' brother (naturalization papers) and sister (ship manifest) were born in Malec.

The answer to this apparently simple question, maybe quite complex. Many Jewish family, moved frequently and it is very possible that different family members where born in different towns. Malech, a small shtetl in what is now Belarus, is in the Pruzhany district part of the Grodno Providence of what was then the Russian Empire. It seems to be where Moses' generation was from. Moses then moved his family and it is not clear where all the children were born.

As I mentioned in Part I of this series, because of the cost involved in obtaining these records, I've had to prioritize. I decided to begin with my own great-grandfather William Bloomfield. When the USCIS search failed for William, I proceeded with a search for Minnie's documents in the hope it would shed light onto William's naturalization papers.

Menuche Krainowitz Bloomfield
Petition For Naturalization
[Click to Enlarge]
Double Bingo! 

Sure enough, Minnie's naturalization papers did contain the clues I was after. According to the document, William was born in Prusinian, Poland. This could mean he was from the Pruzhany district or from the city of Pruzhany.

In addition, it's as if Minnie answered my question regarding how to locate William's naturalization papers directly:

"My husband was admitted to citizenship on November 4, 1925 in the United States District Court at Houston, Texas, and certicate of Naturalization no. 2180218 was issued to him."

Another interesting bit of information is how Minnie reported her legal name in 1928: Menuche Krainowitz Bloomfield. Though in most documents, she had been using Minnie Crane (including her marriage certificate from 1920), she used the name that she used in Europe when filing for naturalization.

The Next Step

Now it's time to write the USCIS again and provide them William's naturalization information. Hopefully, knowing he filed in Houston, having the dates and the number of his naturalization certificate, they will be able to locate his record. This record, may have a more specific town than just Pruzhany. In addition, it should contain William's arrival info into the US including the date and ship. Unfortunately, this will require a new Index search (3 months) and then at least another three months to request the records if the do find them. My next recourse, if they can not identifying in their archive is to contact the Texas courts directly. I promise to share the results on a future post, though we will all need a lot of patience!

In the comments on Part I of this series, some of you expressed interest in obtaining records from the USCIS for the first time. Have you had any luck? Please share your experience with us.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pilgrimage to New Britain Cemetery

This week, I had a chance to visit the Beth Alom Cemetery in New Britain, Connecticut. The cemetery has been on my to do list for a long time. The small cemetery, is the resting place for Aaron Kranowitz, along with many members of his family. Apparently, Aaron is the first of the Kranowitz's to come to America well deserving a tribute visit to his grave. In addition, to saying a blessing in his memory, there was hope the stone itself could answer some research questions. I've driven past New Britain scores of times in the past few years. Usually, the car was packed with my family members who were eager to get home and had no desire to trample through an old Jewish cemetery, looking for forgotten ancestors.

My family is in the midst of a transition period. Only three weeks ago, my oldest son left home to begin his college journey. Turns out, he couldn't live without his keyboard. The nice mom that I am, I decided to make the two hour trip and drop it off. Clearly, I had ulterior an motive in agreeing to take the drive. Mostly, I just wanted to visit him. We had a lovely visit and a great brunch together (some of the best banana pancakes I've ever had). On the way home, I realized I had time for a short detour to New Britain and there was no one in the car to complain about the genealogy field trip.

There are a lot of research destinations on my New Britain/Hartford list: the public library (to look at New Britain High School yearbooks), various address where my ancestors lived and the Rose garden my great-grandmother loved. Since my time was limited ( I had another son who needed to be picked up from school), I decided that the cemetery would be the quickest and most productive stop.

Google had no problem locating the small cemetery at 48 Allen Street, only about ten minutes out the way home. The gate was wide open and I parked near the office. I was hoping to find a map, but as luck would have it, the office was locked and gave the appearance that it has been locked for many years. The search for the graves, took a bit longer than expected without a map, but eventually I did located most of the graves. Most importantly, I found Aaron Kranowitz's grave and next to him, his wife Sophie. I did my best to clear the overgrown grass, laid a small stone on each grave and said Kaddish for my relatives. Before heading back to Boston, I photographed all the graves.

The quick trip, was a reminder of how important it is to obtain original documents, in this case, the actual gravestone.
I had two questions regarding Aaron Kranowitz was:
1. What were his parents names?
2. What was his Hebrew name?

Aaron Kranowitz, is Moshe Aaron Kranowitz (my second great-grandfather)'s brother. While Moshe Aaron's parents according to our family tree (compiled by family elders including my great-grandmother) were Lazar and Chaya Bryna. None of Moshe Aaron's siblings were on the tree, but I've since learned the names of 4 brothers and 2 sisters from various sources. Aaron, was one of the brothers. The problem is that Aaron Kranowitz's entry on JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR) (a database of names and other identifying information from cemeteries and burial records worldwide) listed Aaron's parent's names as Leibel and Bertha.

Name:Aaron Kranowitz
Birth Date:1863
Death Date:26 Dec 1916
Age at Death:53
Burial Plot:G 30
Burial Place:New Britain, Connecticut, United States
Spouse Name:Sophie
Father Name:Leibel
Mother Name:Bertha
Cemetery:Beth Alom
Cemetery Address:Allen Street
Cemetery Burials:2060

Since there is much proof that Aaron is indeed Moshe Aaron's brother, my sense was that the JOWBR entry was mostly a mistake. The way this database is entered on it is not clear where the information came from. It is not specified whether it came from the cemetery or the burial record? Could there be a transcription error?  This is the reason for my first question. What were the names of Aaron Kranowitz's parents, Lazar and Chaya Bryna, or Leibel and Bertha?

The second question, concerning Aaron's Hebrew name, arrises from the fact that Moshe Aaron and Aaron Kranowitz, shared the name Aaron. It seemed unusual, yet not unheard of, that the brothers would have the same name. My great-grandmother Minnie, refers to Aaron as Oscar or Osher in her memoir, but in all the US records  (including city directories, census records, naturalization records), he appears as Aaron. I postulated that Aaron (though Hebrew) was the Americanized name he chose for himself. Possibly he chose the name in honor of his brother Moshe Aaron. My guess was that he had a different Hebrew and/or Yiddish name. Osher was probably his Yiddish name and the name my great-grandmother heard back in Russia. Often people continued to use their Yiddish names among the family even though on legal documents they used a more Americanized name. This would explain why my grandmother thought of him as Osher and maybe wrote Oscar in the memoir, thinking it was the Americanized version her readers would understand. On the Russian Voter and Tax registration list from 1875, Lazar is listed along with five sons. There is an Osher, son of Leizor (Yiddish for Lazar) in Belitsa (the Kranowitz' hometown). Is this Osher, indeed Aaron Kranowitz?

Tax and Voter's list 1875 (Litvak Sig) [Click to Enlarge]
The answer for both questions, was indeed on the gravestone:

The top Hebrew line is difficult to read (I should have done a better job with the grass), but the caption reads: Buried here is Asher son Eliezer (Hebrew for Lazar or Leizer). Aaron, is indeed Lazar's son. The JOWBR entry which is a secondary source, is less reliable and very likely incorrect. Aaron's Hebrew name is Asher (Hebrew for Osher). He indeed is the same Osher from the Russian Voter and Tax payers list.

Sophie Kranowitz lay next to her husband and her stone contained two new pieces of information as well:

Sophie's Herbrew name was Shifra, and she was the daughter of Abraham. Thanks to this new piece of information, I discovered another record for Aaron and Sophie, a marriage certificate index. I have not seen the microfilm of the original marriage certificate yet, but this is the index I found:

Index Lithuanian Marriages and Divorces, All Lithuania Database (Litvak Sig) entry for Osher Krainovich and Shifra Grozen, 13 Jan 1886 [Click to enlarge]

I had seen this record before, but since this was a record from Vilna and not Belitsa, and I didn't know Sophie was Shifra, I was unable to confirm this marriage corresponded to Aaron and Sophie. On the 1900 US census, Aaron and Sophie reported being married for 15 years which places their wedding date to about 1885, consistent with the above record dated 13 Jan 1886. Aaron also reported arriving in the US in 1886. Since he married in early January, we can assume he arrived shortly after he married. Aaron is listed as 27 years old, placing his year of birth as 1859, while the tombstone implies he was born about 1862-3. This four discrepancy can easily be explained by the fact that many people did not know their exact year or date of birth. They also had many reason to want to appear older or younger at certain points so it is not uncommon to see different years of birth for the same person on different documents. Aaron's date of birth is 1863, 1862 (1900, 1910 US census), 1859 (Hamburg ship manifest for Isser Krinowitz from Wilno, arriving 17 Aug 1886). Interestingly, the earliest record, the ship manifest, closes in date to the marriage record and the one most likely to have Aaron himself as the informant, is the most consistent with the year of birth in the marriage record. All of this evidence suggests that the marriage record indeed corresponds to our Aaron Kranowitz and his year of birth is likely to be in about 1859.

Luckily this microfilm from Vilna is available through LDS and I should be able to review it in a few weeks. This 1886 document promises to be the oldest original document for the Kranowitz family that I will be able to examine. For now, I look forward to returning to New Britain for further research.

If you haven't visited a cemetery on your list, I highly recommend you take the trip. Has a visit to a cemetery help move a long your research? Do share your story!