Sunday, October 30, 2016

Family Stories Aren't Always Right

We all have family stories.  Sometimes they're accurate.  Sometimes there's a grain of truth in them.  And sometimes they're just plain wrong.

My great-great-great-great grandfather was Dovid Rutner.  I heard from two separate lines of the family that he was the first Rutner to go to Kolodne, after being sent there by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Riminov to strengthen the Jewish community of Kolodne.  I was also told that Dovid Rutner was the father of (Avraham) Leib Rutner, who was the grandfather of the "other Shmuel Moshe Rutner" who wasn't my great-great grandfather.  The years seemed a bit off (Menachem Mendel of Riminov died in 1815, when Dovid would have been about 21, but perhaps Dovid was a prodigy who was sent to Kolodne just before his mentor's death), as multiple people had a similar version of this story.  Avraham Leib Rutner's death record didn't help to confirm or deny the story.
Death Record for Leopold Rutner, 1900

Leopold (a common translation for Leib--as both come from "lion") Rutner died on February 7, 1900.  His father was listed as "unknown," but of course I "knew" that his father was Dovid Rutner.  And that's where I was until I went through the gravestones I'd photographed while in Kolodne's overgrown cemetery.
Grave of Avraham Yehudah son of Yitzchok; Kolodne Cemetery
An elderly man who feared G-d, Avraham Yehudah son of Yitzchak died on the 9th of Adar 5660 (which corresponds to February 7-8, 1900 and therefore matches Leopold Rutner's death record).  Yehudah and Leib are interchangable (Yehudah is the Hebrew for Judah; Leib is the Yiddish for a lion, which is the symbol of Judah).  So it seems like this is the grave of Avraham Leib Rutner.  Whose father is not Dovid--but was Yitzchok!  So much for those family stories!

The documents have been pointing me towards Dovid's father being the first Rutner in Kolodne, rather than Dovid himself, but I was resisting because of those family stories.  So who's Yitzchok?
1818 Conscriptio Judaerum for the town of Darva (later Kolodne)
The 1818 Conscriptio Judaerum lists 5 Jewish heads of household for Darva (later Kolodne):  The wife of Abraham Rutner (implying that Abraham had died), and then 4 men listed as sons of Abraham (one of the men seems to have died, as the head of household is the wife of Josza).  One was David, who would be my 4th great grandfather Dovid Rutner.  And one is Iczko, or Yitzchok in Hungarian, who was his brother.

So it looks like I'm going to be updating some branches of my family tree.  Descendants of Avraham Leib Rutner are still my cousins--just another generation removed than we had thought!   (Cousins Yehudit, Hana, Hagit & Shelley who I know read my blog--this is your part of the family, so you're actually my 5th cousins once removed and 6th cousins.)

So listen to and record those family stories--but don't assume they're true unless you find documentation to back them up.  Sometimes they're very wrong, even if everyone "knows" they are true.

Note:  I'm on Twitter.  Follow me (@larasgenealogy).

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  1. Id so a little more research before you discount them. I may have some relevant info. It's complicated isn't it

  2. Certainly a good lesson and one I keep learning myself. My aunt had written that my grandmother's half-sister was named Sophie, and I searched for her for a long, long time before giving up. Then recently I found her---but her name was Toba, not Sophie. Gotta love those curveballs!

  3. I was told by my Uncle Bob that his grandfather (my great grandfather) had come from somewhere along the Swizz border with Germany, jumped ship in Australia arriving from Germany and helped to chase bushrangers with the police. True story is he came from Shromberg (Prussia) from a village on the Czech border, migrated perfectly legally in 1855 and was in court, himself many times for small crimes. Ah family folk lore is a wonderful thing.

  4. There are many stories passed down to me that were partly true, or sort of true, but the documents just show a different story. I just accept that the person who shared them were well intentioned, and they at least pointed me in a direction.