Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Connecting Toni, Twenty Years Later

In the mid-1990s, my grandmother Minnie Joshowitz Tolchin mentioned that she'd like to find an old pen-pal who had also been a cousin.  She recalled writing to her cousin Toni in England for many years--one of the few cousins she had who could write in English.  At one point, Toni wrote to her saying that she married a man named Kaplan, they were going to move to Australia and change their name to Kingsley, and she would send contact information once they were settled in Australia.  My grandmother never heard from her again.

My grandmother passed away in 2001, and I hadn't found Toni.  But a couple of years later, my uncle had an Australian working in his office and he asked her if she knew any Kingsleys--and she said that her doctor in Melbourne was named Kingsley.  She contacted her mother in Australia who contacted the doctor--and he confirmed that his late mother's name had been Toni!  I met some of the family when I was in Australia shortly after, but we weren't sure exactly how we were related.

Now that I have so many new records from my grandmother's side of the family, I wanted to see if I could link the Australian family to mine.  I found Toni Rutner's marriage to Jankiel Kaplan indexed on FreeBMD, and I ordered the original.
Marriage of Jankiel Kaplan & Toba/Toni Rutner; 1943
Toni's Yiddish name, Toba, is included.  In addition, while Toni's surname is given as Rutner, her father's surname is "Fieg."  This wasn't unusual in families from Austria-Hungary.  But this makes matters interesting.  It could be that Toni's father's father was a Rutner and his father's mother was a Fieg.  It could also be the case that Toni's father's father was a Feig and his mother a Rutner.  Or perhaps Toni's mother was a Rutner and her father a Feig.

I also requested a copy of Toni's sister Ita's marriage record to Fred/Ferdinand Smilovic in case it would give extra information.
Marriage of Fred/Ferdinand/Nander Smilovic & Ita Rutner; 1946

Ita's father's surname was given as Rutner, not Fieg.  (My great-great-great grandmother was Itta Farkas Rutner who died in 1914, just a few years before Ita's birth, so Ita is likely named for her.)

Toni's father Michel/Michael is not listed as being deceased when Toni was married in 1943, even though Toni's father-in-law was.  But by the time Ita married in 1946, he was deceased.  But I could find no record (under Rutner, Fieg, or spelling variations for either) of his dying during that time period in England.
London, England, Electoral Register for Fred & Ita Smilovic; 1947
At the time of their marriages, Toni and Ita--as well as their spouses--were living in Hackney, which is in the northeast part of Inner London.

By 1947, Fred and Ita were registered to vote in Willesden, which is right next to Harrow, where Michael was born--in northwest London.

Based on my grandmother's story, I assumed that shortly after Toni & Jankiel's 1943 marriage, they left England for Australia.  But after posting a query to the Jewish Genealogy Society of Great Britain, I was directed to a birth registration for their son Michael from 1947.

And then they all disappear.  I haven't managed to find either couple (or baby Michael) in any outbound manifest from England or arriving in Australia.

And through this point writing this blog post, I thought I'd be asking for ideas.  But when I'd asked the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain's Facebook group for guidance, Catherine Gordon noted that if Toni & Ita's father Michael died between Toni's 1943 and Ita's 1946 weddings--so perhaps he died in the war and hadn't come to England.  I searched Yad Vashem, and there were no matches for Michael Rutner.  So I tried Michael Feig.
Michael Feig, Yad Vashem Page of Testimony
There was one match.  A name named Michael Feig, son of Ezra and Rochel from Apsha (today's Nizhny Apsa, Ukraine) was married to Chaya and a father of 6 (no names given for the children).  The page had been submitted by a woman named Ita Fromovitz.  I'd seen her name before on other pages.  So I searched by her name.  (This simple technique can yield powerful results!)

There were actually two Ita Fromowitzes (with very distinctively different handwriting) who had submitted pages for the same set of individuals.  Among the pages they had submitted were multiple Rutner/Rotner pages.  I started connecting the families and realized that I actually had Michael and Chaya on my tree already--because their daughter Rochel Feig had married Mendel Rutner (son of Wolf and Freida-Malka).  Rochel Feig Rutner was also killed in the Holocaust, and I'd saved her page of testimony, from which I had copied her mother's name--Chaya Vetner.
Rochel Feig Rutner Page of Testimony--mother's maiden name highlighted
Contrary to Yad Vashem's transcription (and because of quickly-written names), Rochel's mother Chaya's maiden name was Rutner, not Vetner!  So this Rochel is an aunt to Toni and Ita.  And she married her own uncle.

So how was my grandmother's pen-pal Toni related to my grandmother?  They were second cousins!
Relationship of my grandmother to her cousin Toni
I also learned that Toni and Ita's four siblings were killed in the Holocuast--including Rochel Feig Rutner mentioned above, I found Pages of Testimony for their brother Chaim Getzel Feig and their sister Mindel Feig.  I also found a Page for their sister Sara Feig Mandel, her husband Avraham, and their children Rochel (born 1935) and Ezra (born 1937).  Toni & Ita's sister Rochel's three young children were killed in the Holocaust as well--Ezra (born 1938); Ita (born 1940) and Esther (born 1942); her oldest child Dovid-Isaac had died as an infant in 1935.

So here's what I get when untangling Rutners, Feigs, and uncle/niece marriages!
Relationship of individuals discussed above; Mendel & Rochel Feig Rutner are highlighted as they are uncle & niece so appear twice; my grandmother and Toni are in purple

Note:  I'm on Twitter.  Feel free to follow me (@larasgenealogy).

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  1. I feel like there ought to be a quick disclaimer to non-Jewish readers who are probably confused and/or appalled at reading about an uncle-niece marriage: they were very rare, but technically they're allowed as a permissible union in the Torah (and in the Bible). Obviously, it's not a great idea from a genetics standpoint, nevermind the social and familial implications, but yes, this happened in days of yore. Illegal everywhere in the US today, except for Rhode Island (!), though I'm not sure about Israel's laws on the subject.

  2. Also, this was all a fabulous bit of detective work!

  3. Lara, How sad that so many were lost in the Holocaust, but what serendipity that you found the right Kingsley in Australia. A great piece of detective work.

  4. wow! Just amazing Lara you came across so many brick walls but never deterred you. I can see how all the little bits of information from various sources all came together and in the end the answer you were looking for. Really fascinating!

  5. Be careful when you look at handwriting on 1950s Pages of Testimony. Sometimes - perhaps even often - the survivor talked and the facilitator from Yad Vashem (often a student) would fill out the form itself.
    I assume the signatures themselves are real.

  6. My grandparents were also uncle and niece. Both were born in the UK of Polish descent and married in London in 1919. All three of their children inherited diabetes and arthritis, at least three grandchildren were also ill with severe disabilities/chronic disease. I just hope that the next generations don't suffer, too.

  7. My 2nd great grandparents were also uncle and niece married or living together about 1862 in Richmond, Delavan County, Wisconsin, USA