Sunday, December 27, 2020

Multi-Source Research - Connecting Chana Lefand

People often want to know which genealogy company's database they should subscribe to in order to best research their family.  There's no one right answer; while some records are common across multiple platforms, some are only on one.  And sometimes the answers can be scattered across different platforms.  Here's a puzzle I solved this long weekend, and the resources used.

Women often disappear into the genealogical ether upon their marriage.  Name changes wreak havoc on building back families.  But sometimes records can help reconnect them and their descendants to their families.  And there are some great online resources that might be able to help with that.  No one resource is necessarily the best--sometimes you get a tip-off from one but need to use lots of different sites to find all of the pieces.

Chana Lefand, 1850 Revision List, Nezhin

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Patriotic Lefands - Soviet WWII Records

My Lefand great-great grandmother came to America in the early twentieth century.  But she left many cousins behind in what was then the Russian Empire (and currently Ukraine).  And while my branch of the family fought for the United States during World War II, other branches fought for another one of the Allies--the Soviet Union.  And some of them left a paper trail--and sometimes photos as well!

Volf Lefand, Order of the Red Star

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Nezhin Jewish Community Meetings - With Attendee Names (List Included here)

One document I got as a byproduct of my j-roots searching ended up being was a 103-page document that is titled, "On the application of Nezhin town council about adoption on their positions of the members of governance of the Jewish religious schools of the town of Nezhin. 1884-1885."  There are lots and lots of names listed in these documents--683 total, although some appear more than once--many of which are original signatures.  And we have an index to all of those names.

Title Page for Document

Sunday, November 29, 2020

My Great-Great Grandfather's Russian Signature, and the Losinovka Jewish School

One of the cases I found reference to on j-roots was a 1903 list of those who voted for board members for the Jewish school of Losinovka.  Although my Tolchinsky family wasn't referenced in the title, since Losinovka was a village, I figured anything about its Jewish community had a pretty good chance of including something about my family.  I was not disappointed.

My Great-Great Grandfather's Signature

Sunday, November 22, 2020

How I Discovered My Family's Request to Move in 1853--With Ancestors Pre-1776

A few weeks ago, I posted a copy of the 1850 revision list (Russian Empire Census) for my Lefand family, with the head of household my born-in-1776 6th great grandfather.  Since the revision listed his patronymic (father's name), I likely hae my family back to the 1750s or earlier, which for Russian Empire Jews is huge.

This revision supposedly no longer exists for Nezhin.  So how did I find it?

j-roots Search Results

Sunday, November 15, 2020

How I Discovered My Cousin was a Victim of Stalin's Purges

Have you used one of the post powerful genealogy resources, Google?  Well, you should.  And don't just search in English, search in the language that was used by your family.

My Lefand family lived in Nezhin and some surrounding villages, so I periodically search (and have some automated searches running as well--you can set up alerts here) to look for things like Лефанд Нежин (Russian for Lefand Nezhin).  and I got a new hit that led me to a really sad story about a relative.  And a photo of him as well.

Isai Lefand Death Certificate

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Nezhin Family Lists

FamilySearch has images of many records from my ancestral town of Nezhin (and, in fact, for most of the former Chernigov Guberniya).  I've already made an index to Nezhin metrical records that are available online, but there are also various Jewish family lists (usually for taxation purposes,  essentially censuses) available online.

The FamilySearch catalog lists what years the records supposedly are from, but some are actually from years other than what is in the catalog.  These records cover both the town of Nezhin as well as multiple small villages in Nezhin Uezd (district)

Marienhoff Family in 1888 (and this is only the first page of their entry); my gg grandmother is the 17-year-old

If you have family from Nezhin Uezd (district), you can browse through these lists online.  No, they are not in English.  But they're structured, so if you know what your family's surname looks like in Russian, you can look for it in the records.  You will need a (free) account to see the images.

Here is what is available:

Nezhin District Family Lists

1882 list
hereCatalog says 1882 (but is wrong)
1882 list continued
hereContinuation of above
1882 again       
hereMuch duplication of the above, but some new families too
1904 listhereCatalog says 1882 (but is wrong)
1909 list
hereCatalog says 1906 (but is wrong)

If you know of other online Nezhin resources, please let me know in the comments!

And if you want to know if there are similar resources on FamilySearch for your own towns, here is a tutorial on how to see what they have for a particular town/area.

Happy hunting!

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Sunday, November 1, 2020

The 1850 Revision (Census) That Didn't Exist. Spoiler Alert--It Does (For My Family)

My grandfather's father's family came from what's now Nizhyn, Ukraine (then Nezhin, Russian Empire) and some small surrounding villages. Nezhin Uezd (district) has tons of great records available online, thanks to FamilySearch; I even did a post cataloging the Jewish metrical (vital) records available online for Nezhin here.  With some small gaps, metrical records are available online from the 1850s through the Russian Revolution.  And the Chernigov Archive has some metrical records back into the 1840s.

There is less available census-wise, though.  FamilySearch does have family and tax lists from the 1880s and early 1900s that have been helpful.  But it seems that the revision lists of the 1850s, 1830s and earlier are just missing, at least for Nezhin's Jewish community, which has been a source of frustration.  (Miriam Weiner's site does list some available revisions, but they are not full and only are catch-ups on a few households.)  It seemed that my Lefand family had been in the area for quite a while; my 6th great grandfather died there in the early 1850s.  I was pretty sure that all of the Lefands in the area were his descendants, but with the records I had, I couldn't quite figure out how they all connected.  Wouldn't it have been nice to have a revision list from the 1850s to help me connect that?  Well, look what I've got!

Lefand Family 1850 Revision / Left Page - males

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Magic of Local Facebook Groups - My "Well-Known" Tolchinskys!

I belong to multiple local Facebook groups for my family's ancestral towns.  These aren't genealogy groups; they're groups used for the day-to-day sharing that the current inhabitants do.  Much of what is posted isn't of that much interest to me (people selling produce, livestock, and complaining about the state of the roads, etc.).  But every so often there's a gem.  And recently there was one.

A Magical Facebook Post

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

My Grandmother's Holocaust Testimony - Via JewishGen

When I was in college, my grandmother was interviewed by Steven Spielberg's project (hosted by the USC Shoah Foundation) talking about her life and Holocaust experiences.  She got copies of the 11 VHS tapes that her story filled, and I summarized her life based on that testimony here.  And now I can easily find her testimony--and others who were related or lived in the same towns, and learn about their experiences via JewishGen.

Snippet from JewishGen's Summary of Sonia Diamond's Shoah Foundation Interview

Sunday, September 13, 2020

A Letter from the Past

My family has few old letters.  But a few weeks ago, I got an email from my uncle with a scan of a letter, followed soon after with the original.  He said that he had it from HIS uncle, my great uncle Izzy Joshowitz.

I could see my great-great grandparents' names (Ruchel and Shmuel Moshe) as well as some other family members who I knew--so there was promise of some great genealogical information, but my Yiddish wasn't good enough to translate.

But after I posted it on the incredible Genealogical Translations group, Géraldine Tsiporah Trom was kind enough to translate.

The Letter

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Yeshaya/Josiah/Joshua/John/J. Supkoff's Permit Appeal Results!

A few weeks ago, I talked about how my great-great grandfather applied for a permit to build an extension to his home in Pittsburgh--but how the various papers gave him a different given name when mentioning his permit application.  There was a hearing to discuss if the permit would be granted, and it was denied.  And then one newspaper mentioned that he was appealing the denial.

But he didn't seem to appear again.  I wondered what happened--and some readers asked on Facebook and Twitter if I knew what happened.  Initially I was thinking that I'd need to wait for local Pittsburgh repositories to re-open post-COVID.  But I also realized that the OCR technology used to allow old newspapers to be searchable isn't perfect, so perhaps there was another mention of this case where Supkoff wasn't captured?  So I searched by the address of the home, narrowing search results to 1925 newspapers in Pennsylvania.  And there it was.

Joseph Supkoff Building Permit Appeal Decision; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; June 12, 1925

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Supplemental Passport Files - A Rich Resource

Simon Mitchneck was a famous voice/accent coach to Hollywood's elite.  He also was my cousin--although I don't know quite how.  Multiple Diamond cousins born in the 1940s and 1950s remember visiting him, and DNA has shown a strong connection to the Mitchneck family, but the actual connection is still elusive.

A few months ago, some genealogy friends were having an email-based discussion about letters from European family members found along with official US documents, and I mentioned some letters found to Simon from his sisters in Europe after WWI, which were included with some of his passport applications (which you can see here and here).

One of those friends was Rich Venezia, who knows pretty much everything about US immigration documentation.  So he decided to see what he could find about Simon's passport application, beyond what I had found on Ancestry.
A letter sent to Simon's siblings (pages 1 and 4)

Sunday, August 16, 2020

A Yeshaya by Any Other Name....

My great-great grandfather was Yeshaya Supkoff.  He was inconsistent with what name he used once in the United States.  But some of it wasn't his fault--it seems that even for one event, the newspapers used different names for him.

On March 1, 1925, three separate Pittsburgh newspapers reported on Yeshaya's application for a building permit.  But the three newspapers called him three different things.

J. Supkoff Building Permit Application; Pittsburgh Daily Post; March 1, 1925

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Leveraging Ukrainian Archives' Online Presence

Historically, archive branches in Ukrainian had put few records online.  However, that's slowly starting to change, at least for some of the branches.  I follow the Volhynia State Archives on Facebook, and last week they announced that they had put newly-digitized records for a Jewish gymnasium (high school) from Lutsk on their website.  My father's parents grew up in the Lutsk area, and I knew my grandfather had spent some time in a yeshiva in Lutsk.  I knew he wouldn't be in these records (as they are from the 1922-1923 school year when he was an infant), but I figured I could see if any relatives attended this school.

These records are nice for native English speakers because they're in Polish rather than Russian or Ukrainian, so it's really easy to browse through for names of interest; it took me under 20 minutes to review all records, and I did find one of potential interest.

Rejzia Dimant's School Report, 1922-1923 School Year

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Zubkis Family, 1858 Style

I've been researching my Zubkis family for years (although when I started, I was researching the Supkoff family--which turns out to be an Americanization of the original name).  My branch of the family lived in Kuna for multiple years, and I thought I'd exhausted all Kuna resources.  When Alex Krakovsky posted the 1903 Kuna census which referenced an 1858 revision list, I was excited, since no one seemed to know where the 1858 revision was--and in fact, it had possibly burnt up in the Kamenets-Podolsk archives fire.

But it turns out the 1858 revision (which is a Russian Empire type of census) is still around.  And it may have found a new ancestor for me.
Header of a page of the Kuna 1858 Revision

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Longest Segment Coming on AncestryDNA!

If you are from an endogamous population, you're used to getting predicted "close" relatives that aren't really so close after all because of endogamy.  One of the best strategies for determining if a match is truly worth pursuing for us endogamous people is looking at the size of the largest segment, since many small segments may be artifacts from being related in many ways on many lines, pretty far back.  Most of the large genealogical testing companies give the size of the largest segment, but AncestryDNA hasn't done so. 

I've accosted Crista Cowen at many genealogy conferences for years (sorry Crista) with my largest segment plea; in fact, I was thinking that Crista appreciated Covid stopping in-person genealogy conferences for now so I can't bother her in person.

But Ancestry has come through!!

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Enumerated....Three Times

Every genealogist knows the frustration of not finding a specific family member enumerated in a census.  A lucky genealogist will find family members enumerated in two places because they in school (and enumerated there as well as at home) or had moved right in time to be enumerated at an old and new home.  But have you ever found someone enumerated THREE times in one census?

Meet someone who has: Srul son of Mordechai Zubkis, my second cousin four times removed.
Zubkis Family, 1875 Russian Empire Conscription Census, Kuna, Gaysin Uezd

Sunday, June 28, 2020

My Great-Great-Great Grandmother's Grave

I have only one great-great-great grandparent who ever came to America, Mira Alpern Lefand Marienhoff.  Her death certificate from Pittsburgh says that she died in Pittsburgh in April 1913, less than seven years after coming to America.  The certificate notes that she was buried in "White Hall."  What was then known as Whitehall Cemetery is now divided into Beth Abraham, Shaare Zedeck and Shaare Torah cemeteries in the Carrick section of Pittsburgh.

Mira had children buried in Beth Abraham and Shaare Zedeck.  When I was in Pittsburgh a few years ago, I spent hours going through these very large cemeteries trying to find Mira's grave, but I never found it.  Pittsburgh's Jewish cemeteries seem relatively well-indexed on JOWBR, but she was not listed there.  I assumed that perhaps as new immigrants, her family was unable to afford any sort of gravestone for her.

Just in case, I put up a request on FindAGrave, in hopes that someone would enable a miracle.  And that miracle has occurred.
Grave of Mira Alpern Lefand Marienhoff!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

1921 Czech Census for Podkarpatská Rus (Now Zakarpattia Oblast, Ukraine), Online!

If you have ancestors from the slice of Europe which is currently Zakarpattia Oblast (Ukraine), was Podkarpatská Rus (Czechoslovakia) between WWI and WWII, and which was part of Hungary before that, then prepare to get excited.  After this area became part of the newly-formed country of Czechoslovakia after WWI, the new government conducted a census in 1921 to get a handle on their population.  A fellow Subcarpathian researcher let me know that this is now online, and OMG, is this incredible.
Part of Lajzer Ruttner's Family, 1921 Czechoslovakian Census, Dulfalva/Dulovo

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Finding Uncle Leibish's Grave

For quite a while, Uncle Leibish was my genealogy white whale.  My father's cousin remembered my grandfather's Uncle Leibish coming to Baltimore to visit but knew nothing about where he lived (she guessed New York, since he came by train) or if he had any other family.  I wanted/needed to find him.

I had finally found his ship manifest (details here), and eventually located a very strong suspect (here).  I tracked down that suspect's grandson, and DNA proved that I had, in fact, located Uncle Leibish (details here)!

Speaking to Uncle Leibish grandson, I learned that Uncle Leibish and his wife had divorced, and his wife took the children to California, so Uncle Leibish's grandson knew very little about his grandfather.  When Uncle Leibish was visiting my part of the family in Baltimore, he was living alone in New York.

The grandson didn't even know when Uncle Leibish had died, although we had a ballpark 10-year probable window.  So I put in requests for FindAGrave photos for every Louis Diamond buried in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts who had died within that time window with a grave listed on FindAGrave.  I know that the graves listed on FindAGrave only consist of a small percentage of actual graves, but it was a start (and there were still many Louis Diamonds who fit my criteria).  Over the past few years, volunteers have photographed some of my requested graves, but none were him.  Until now.
Uncle Leibish's Grave; New Montefiore Cemetery, West Babylon, NY

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Preschool Pal Leads to Genealogical Find

Did you ever think that a preschool classmate's blog post would give you information about your own family?  Well, it's happened to me.

Elli Fischer writes on HaMapah, which "aims to bring modern tools of quantitative and geographic analysis to Rabbinic literature."  It's definitely worth checking out.  His latest post in particular caught my eye because it involved Felsö Neresznicze, Hungary (now Novoselytsya, Ukraine), the town where my Fuchs family lived for generations and discussed the story behind the publication of a book coordinated by someone from that town.  Elli writes about the prenumeraten in this book, subscriptions that people paid for to help fund the book's publication.  And since the coordinator lived in Novoselytysa, it's clear that some people from that town would have subscribed.
Subscribers from Novoselytsya

Monday, May 25, 2020

Some Fine DNA

Back in 2013, I wrote about a potential new branch of the Fine family.  My grandmother had told me how her uncle Mordechai had come to America but had been sent back to Russia, where he was drafted into the Russian Army and killed in WWI.  On his ship manifest, he said he was going to an uncle, "Meyer Fein," in Toledo, Ohio, a totally new name to me (although I did know of Toledo Fine cousins).  I traced this Meyer back to England, where he'd lived and married after emigrating from Russia.  And his father lived with him--could this be my great-great-great grandfather?

As background, I wrote up tracking down this Fein/Fine family in a series of posts:
I found out a lot about this family, including via an 1891 British census, where Meyer (there Myer Fein) is enumerated along with his father.  Hmmmm.....
1901 England Census, Hebel and Myer Fein, London
But I recently got in touch with someone who I thought could help answer that question.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Getting a GRIP on Jewish Genealogy - From Home!

This summer, I'm co-teaching a week-long intensive course on Jewish Genealogy, along with Emily Garber, Janette Silverman, and Marian Smith at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh.  And now GRIP will be going virtual, so you don't need to travel to Pittsburgh, and you can have an intense genealogical learning experience from your own home.  There are only a few seats left in our Jewish Genealogy class, but in addition to our class, there are lots of other great offerings.

So what would you learn in this course?

Sunday, May 17, 2020

David Ruttner in the (1857) News!

As more and more foreign newspapers come online, I've been pleasantly surprised to find my ancestors mentioned.  Earlier, I wrote about how my 4th great grandfather's land was listed as about to be taken by eminent domain.  And a new article came online on Arcanum Digitheca giving a bit more information about what he could have done from there to try to keep his land.
Pest Napló, January 1857, Page 94

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Yom Hashoah 2020

Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) starts tomorrow evening.  For the past four years, I have listed the names of the family members I've found who were murdered in the Holocaust.  In 2019, I listed 367 relatives.  In 2020, I am listing 454.

Every year, this list grows as I find new branches of my family--and then find that multiple members of those branches were killed somewhere between 1941 & 1945.  This year I found nearly 90 more people--and many other relatives whose fates are as yet unclear.

Publishing this yearly list is my one small way to make sure they are all remembered--all 454 of those currently on this list.

Front Row L-R: Yosef Wollich, Mendel Chechman, Devorah Chechman; Back Row L-R: Sara Fine Wollich, Moshe Wollich, Chaike Chechman.  All were murdered in the Holocaust

Sunday, March 29, 2020

My Family in the Cholera Pandemic of 1848

As COVID-19 has spread across the world, instantly changing how we go about our day-to-day lives, our lives have changed.  It's the first time in most of our lifetimes that we've experienced something like this impacting ourselves and our families personally.  But pandemics have happened before, and at least once before, they specifically impacted my family.
Tzipra Brandman Death; Krasnoye, Podolia, Russian Empire; July 26, 1848

Monday, March 16, 2020

Upcoming Free Webinars!

With "social distancing" becoming the norm, lots of people are going stir-crazy.  But this also gives you the time to do more genealogy--and to learn from other genealogists.  I'm pleased to be part of a series of free webinars that will be given nearly daily over the upcoming weeks.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Purim in Senkevychivka, 1934 -- Before the Ghetto

My grandmother Sonia Diamond rescued some photos from the ruins of the Senkevychivka Ghetto after its October 1942 destruction.  One of them is particularly applicable this time of year, with Purim coming up this week.
Senkevychivka Purim Play?

Sunday, February 23, 2020

My Prestigious (Possible) 5th Great Grandfather

My great-great-great-great-great grandfather was Avraham Rutner, who is said to have come from Galicia to Maramaros.  So far, I've been able to link all Rutners who lived in the Maramaros Megye of Hungary (now split between Subarpathian Ukraine and northern Romania) to being his descendants.

Distant cousins have said that he was also a wealthy man, but I've never seen anything to prove (or refute) that fact.  Until now--maybe.

Hazai's Külföldi Tudósítások; January-June 1827

Sunday, February 16, 2020

How Quickly the Holocaust Happened

My mother's parents were born in America, so I didn't hear about the Holocaust like I did from my father's parents, who both had survived the war in Poland (now Ukraine).  But my mother's parents had many relatives who had remained in Europe and who were Jews swept into World War II.  Until the war happened, they were living their everyday lives.  But this is a story of how quickly their lives changed--and ended.
From the Pesti Hírlap, February 1, 1944

Sunday, February 9, 2020

David Rutner's Land, Taken by the Government

My great-great-great-great grandfather was Dovid Rutner.  I knew that he owned some land as of 1865, per a cadastral map.  But it looks like he owned land in 1857 as well, but that land was taken by the government via a Hungarian version of eminent domain.
Budapesti Hírlap, January 28, 1857

Monday, February 3, 2020

Get a GRIP on Jewish Genealogy

This summer, I'm co-teaching a week-long intensive course on Jewish Genealogy, along with Emily Garber, Janette Silverman, and Marian Smith at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh.  Where else would you want to spend the week of July 19 but in beautiful Pittsburgh!  Registration opens this Wednesday, with limited seats.

So what would you learn in this course?

Sunday, February 2, 2020

My Patriotic 4th Great Grandfather (and an incredible site for Hungarian historical research)

My 4th great grandfather was David Rutner of Kolodne (then Darva). I've now learned that he was a patriotic Hungarian--via a really cool site.
Donations to the Patriotic Cause (Hungarian War of Independence), including David Rutner

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Movement Between Austro-Hungarian Towns

Last week, I gave examples of how some Russian Empire families moved quite frequently, calling into the question the idea of an “ancestral town” in many cases.  This isn’t only the case in the Russian Empire; I’ve been indexing many records from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (currently Subcarpathian Ukraine), and I see quite a bit of movement there as well.
Birthplaces of parents of Jewish children born in Beregszasz 1897-1898, zoomed in (Beregszasz in red)

Sunday, January 12, 2020

RootsTech2020 for Jewish Genealogists

It's almost that time of year--RootsTech is coming!  And while Utah isn't the first place one would think of for Jewish genealogy, there's so much that RootsTech offers the Jewish genealogist.

(Note:  If you're coming or thinking about coming, keep reading to learn about a dinner for Jewish genealogists.)
Just a small part of the HUGE exhibit hall at RootsTech

Movement Between Russian Empire Towns

Many people assume that Jews in the Russian Empire lived in the same village for generations.  While sometimes that was the case, often it wasn't.  As an example, we can look at my own Zubkis family to see their movement, generation by generation.  And this is only what I've found so far!  (I'll be posting something similar for Hungarian Jews, so stay tuned!)
Places Within Modern-Day Ukraine Zubkis Descendants Lived

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Visualizing the Holocaust's Impact

My great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Avraham Rutner, had a lot of descendants.  I've used the incredibly useful and easy-to-use tool at to visualize his family, as I've reconstructed it so far.  And what is incredibly visible--and emotionally difficult to see--is how the Holocaust decimated this extended family.
Descendants of Avraham Rutner, per