Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Jewish Burials in Eastern Europe - Relatives Left Behind?

My immediate ancestors were all in America by 1947--and my mom's ancestors by the early 1920s.  But especially for the branches of my family who came over earlier in the twentieth century, we know that they left relatives behind.  My family, like many others, lost contact with those relatives over the years--and definitely post-Holocaust.  Many of those who stayed behind (and survived the Holocaust) were buried in local Jewish cemeteries.  And finding those burials can potentially point you towards their descendants.

Grave of Leia Zubkov Linetzky, Courtesy

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Intensive Course in Galician & Russian Empire Jewish Genealogy

If you're interested in a week-long intensive course in Jewish Genealogy (focusing on Galicia and the Russian Empire), then you'll want to jump on this.  I'm one of the instructors in this course at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG), along with Emily Garber (who's doing the hard work of coordinating everything), Janette Silverman and Marian Smith.  This was supposed to be an in-person class in Salt Lake City and we were entirely full, but thanks to Omicron, it's now virtual.  And this opens seats and opportunities for more people to join.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Family Stories Vs Documents & DNA

My father's parents were both Holocaust survivors and didn't have much close family, especially on my grandmother's side and on my grandfather's father's side.  The two "Schwartz" brothers, also Holocaust survivors, lived in New York and would always come down to Baltimore for our family celebrations, and my grandparents would go to New York, since they were some of the few relatives on my grandfather's Diamond side who had survived.

My grandfather had told me that these "Schwartz" brothers (I'm using a pseudo surname, as requested by the surviving brother) were related through their mother, whose maiden name was Reiza Diamond, and that Reiza's father Yankel was a sibling to my grandfather's grandfather Hillel, making the Schwartz brothers second cousins to my grandfather.

But DNA disagreed.  As did some documentation.

Yankel Diamond, Grandfather of the "Schwartz" Brothers

Sunday, November 28, 2021

A DNA Match is Only the Start - Using the Paper Trail to Find the Connection

DNA results don't generally tell you how someone's related.  You can use a match as a clue that someone is related to you, and then you can use other matches along with a paper trail to try to find the actual connection.  And when dealing with Jewish ancestry, endogamy comes into play in a major way.  Recently, a new match popped up which was intriguing--this person (listed with just initials) on GedMatch matched multiple people on my maternal grandmother's side, some with large shared segments.  Since my grandmother's parents were from what's now Subcarpathian Ukraine, I was pretty sure that this person would have had similar ancestry.

Here's how I took a DNA match and have been able to almost figure out our relationship.

I reached out to Moshe, whose email address was associated with this match, and he told me that the DNA was that of his grandmother, Malka.  He had a few of her ancestral surnames and locations.  I could rule out her Lithuanian ancestors as being our connection, but the Czech ones sounded more intriguing, since this part of the world was Czechoslovakia between WWI and WWII.  He didn't have towns of origin, though.

I located Moshe's great-great grandmother's birth registration

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Lara and the Three Little Bers - Identical Names, Different People

Even in small towns, a "unique" name may actually not be as unique as you think.  People were named for common ancestors, so first (or second or....) cousins often were given identical names.  I learned the hard way that teenaged Lara had assumed that a Shmuel Moshe Rutner who lived in the small town of Kolodne was my great-great grandfather--but it turns out that there were two Shmuel Moshe Rutners in that small town.  Current (non-teenaged) Lara has learned from that mistake, and I've come across other situations where it's important to disambiguate two--or more--people with the same name.  (Owners of Ancestry and other online trees would be well-advised to do this.)  In my Lefand family, I have what I call my Three Little Bers.

Marriage of Yehoshua Zev (son of Ber/Berko) and Mira Lefand, 1871

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Rabbinical Negotiations, 1892 Style

In 1892, the Jews of Gaysin district, Podolia Guberniya, Russian Empire (now Ukraine) were negotiating rates with the local Crown/Treasury Rabbi.  This was not necessarily the Rabbi in the shul (synagogue) that they went to, but this person was an intermediary between the Russian government and the Jewish community.  They were responsible for registration of Jewish vital events and various other things.  (You can read more about their responsibilities here.)  I'd love to know the backstory to this particular document, but in 1892, there was an agreement made between the Jewish heads of household of Gaysin district and the Rabbi where rates were laid out--as well as the repercussions if this Rabbi ever protested those rates.  And then as a bonus, all (or most?) of the Jewish heads of household in the district signed the agreement, including at least three relatives of mine!

1892 Agreement of the Gaisin Jewish Society with the Treasury Rabbi on the cost of his services (from DAViO 286-1-192)

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Russian Empire Rules Mean Research Opportunities Today - An 1852 Explanation

Jews were very regulated in the Russian Empire.  They could only live in particular places, it was difficult to move to other towns, even towns nearby, and there was mandatory long-term military service for many men and young boys.  While this made life difficult at the time, it means that often there are documents asking for permissions of the government and others asking for forgiveness that can inform today's researchers.  In the document you'll see below, a relative of mine is giving an explanation for why he isn't living where the government thought he should be living.  (Spoiler alert:  Because the government made all the Jews leave that place!)

Duvid Zubkis testimony about his situation (page 1); 1852

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Finding Family: J-Roots & Google Combined

I've written about the awesome J-Roots resource before.  It's a Russian-language forum for Jewish genealogy.  If you have ancestry from the Russian Empire, you should be using it (with Google Chrome to help you translate, if you aren't fluent in Russian).  You can see a previous success here and Dmitry Pruss' overview here

In any case, one of the goldmines on J-Roots is their forum.  Here, people ask questions, discuss what they know about records from various towns, and often do their own rudimentary indexing of various record sets.  But without reading through all of the forum posts, it's hard to know if there's a record that's been indexed for one of your family members.  But there is a way to figure that out.

Birth of Aron Zubkis; Uman, Russian Empire; 1910

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Family Reunited, 75+ Years After the Holocaust

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I've done quite a bit of research on my Zubkis/Supkoff family.  The various branches of the Zubkis family moved quite a bit, generation by generation, and my particular branch ended up in what's now Shpikov, Ukraine, before coming to America.  In 1908, my great-great grandparents came to America, but I knew both from oral tradition and from records that my great-great grandfather had a brother Yosef/Yossel who had stayed in Shpikov.  Yossel had three sons who came to America in the 1920s, but we knew there were sisters who stayed behind in Russia and were killed in the Holocaust.  In fact, I mention in a post that I did in 2019 after discovering a 1902 Households List that the daughter Rivka that was mentioned was killed in the Holocaust.  Except I recently discovered that she wasn't.  And that I have living relatives in Ukraine (and England and America) who are her descendants.  So how did this happen?

The First Hint

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Russian Empire Recruit Lists - Garber Edition

My Garber ancestors lived in what is now Torchin, Volhynia, Ukraine.  My grandmother knew that her grandmother's maiden name was Devorah Garber, but she didn't know Devorah's parents.  Devorah died around 1935 in what is now Horochiv, Ukraine (it was Horochow, Poland at the time), and there are no known surviving death records from that time and place that might mention at least a father's name.  Normally she would be a dead end--except that my grandmother also told me that one of Devorah's brothers had come to America.  From that brother's grave, I know that his and Devorah's father--and therefore my ggg grandfather--was Chaim Asher Garber, and from his ship manifest and other documents, I confirmed he was from Torchin.  (Via DNA testing of some of his descendants, I confirmed the relationship as well.)  And with the help of some Russian Empire recruit lists, I was able to trace the family even further back.

Lists of Torchin recruiting district. 1859 – 1862; Garber Family

Sunday, August 8, 2021

JewishGen's JGFF / A Family Story Matching Documentation & Cousin Connection

Fuchs is one of those frustrating surnames when doing genealogical research; it's extremely common across Central and Eastern Europe, with most Fuchs families not related to one another.  My Fuchs family lived in what is now Novoselytysa, Zakarpattya Oblast, Ukraine, just across the border with Romania; it was formerly Taracujfalu and Felso-Neresznicze, Hungary and Novoselice, Czechoslovakia as well.  I have all of the Jewish and civil records of the town, and I have been able to connect all of the Fuchs individuals from that town to my 4th great grandparents, Gershon & Toba-Rivka.  (I've also indexed them, and they're searchable on Jewishgen.)  I was pretty sure that implied that Gershon was the first Fuchs in the town (or at least the only brother who had children in the town), but I had no concrete documentation one way or the other.  But now I may have a hint of what happened, thanks to JewishGen's awesome Jewish Genealogy Family Finder (JGFF).

My Entry in JGFF

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Diamonds Are This Girl's Best Friend - Two New Diamond Ancestors!

My Diment/Diamond family lived in what is now Kiselin, Ukraine, formerly Kiselin, Vladimir-Volinsk District, Volhynia Gubernia, Russian Empire.  Alex Krakovsky recently put up an 1858 revision list for the district (if you have Ukrainian ancestry and haven't looked at Alex's scans, go look here immediately).

After a false start (since the first 150 or so pages are non-Jews), I figured out how the book was organized, and then I zeroed in on the Kiselin entries.  And there they were.

Diment Family (males); Kiselin, Russian Empire; 1858

Monday, July 19, 2021

Budapest Archives / National Archive of Hungary - Ordering Documents

Last week I wrote about a resource that indexes individuals from a large number of Hungarian documents (you can read about that here).  Many of those documents are kept at the Budapest City Archives or the National Archive of Hungary, and you can request the originals there.  But those particular archives have also indexed a subset of their holdings by surname.  While some records are indexed in both the Hungaricana resource I wrote about last week as well as by the holding archive, some are only on one site but not the other.  And regardless, you can request the original document from the archive itself.  Here's how to do that.

Document Obtained from Budapest Local Archives regarding Jakab Salamon Ruttner

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Hungarian Documents - Another Resource

If you have family that came from Hungary, or adjacent areas like Galicia, you'll want to check this out--a growing repository of images from Hungarian archives, along with indexed records that will direct you how to find originals.

Prison Record for Wolf Berkovits, originally of Nereshaza, Maramaros, Hungary (currently Neresnytysa, Ukraine)

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

WWII Letters and Documents - Found Online

Last month, I wrote how I found out that my great-great grandfather's brother's family ended up in Moscow and that not only were he and his wife buried in Moscow, but so was at least one of their daughters, Bluma/Lyuba Tolchinsky Frolov, who would have been my great grandfather's half first cousin.  A reader pointed out that the Bluma/Lyuba's husband wasn't actually buried in the cemetery and had been killed in WWII.  Using that tip, I found information about the husband's service--as well as a handwritten letter that Bluma/Lyuba wrote to try to discover what exactly had happened to her husband.

Letter from Lyuba Frolov, 1944

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Email Subscribers - Moving to New Platform

If you're receiving this via email, thank you for subscribing!  Feedburner, which has been sending these automated emails, is stopping email service in July, so I've migrated my list over to MailChimp.  Today only, you should get this from both Feedburner and MailChimp, but assuming everything works well tonight, you'll only receive emails from MailChimp from this point on.


Sunday, June 20, 2021

Chava Lefand Appeals to Another Czar

My 5th great grandmother Chava Lefand left quite the paper trail. I've made several posts about her legal journey to try to get her sons out of being conscripted (after having lost at least 2 young sons to the draft). You can read about some of her previous attempts here, here and here.  In that first post, she wrote to Czar Nicholas in 1854.  Nicholas died in 1855, and in 1858, Chava was still pursuing her case, and she appealed to Czar Alexander II.  Don't mess with Chava's kids!

Chava Lefand's Case (on Alexander II's Letterhead)

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Berel Tolchinsky's Fate

My great-great grandfather had a half-brother Berel/Berko.  I have his birth record, marriage record, and birth records for four of his children (and the death of one in 1915), plusa few census records (with the latest of those from 1909) all in Nezhin or nearby Losinovka in Chernigov Guberniya, Russian Empire (now Ukraine).  But after that 1915 death record, there was no sign of what happened to Berel.

Birth Record of Ber Tolchinsky, 1873

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Make Your Voice Heard - Make Genealogy Records More Accessible!

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is asking for comments about their services and programs.  This doesn't happen often, so take advantage of this call for comments to let them know what you think!  USCIS administers a Genealogy Program and also holds records that should be transferred to NARA--which would make them more accessible and less expensive for genealogists.  So what can you do to help?

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Hers Fuchs. And His Brother Hers Fuchs. Huh?

My great-great grandmother had a brother named Eizik Leib Fuchs.  Eizik Leib married Gittel Buchbinder, and they had a bunch of kids.  Two of those kids were named Hers (pronounced Hersh) Fuchs, so I recorded the older Hers' death as "before 1887," as that was when Hers #2 was born.  So far no mystery, right?

Birth of Hers Fuchs #1; Felso Neresnicze, Hungary (now Novoslytsya, Ukraine); December 25, 1878

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Yom Hashoah 2021

Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) starts this evening.  For the past five years, I have listed the names of the family members I've found who were murdered in the Holocaust.  In 2020, I listed 454 relatives.  In 2021, I am listing 515.

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 over 60 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 515of 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

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Neverless, she persisted (Don't Mess with Chava Lefand, Part 3)

My 5th great grandmother, Chava Lefand, did not take no for an answer.  Her petitions to dismiss her sons from being conscripted into the Russian army went to the highest of levels--Saint Petersburg, capital of the Russian Empire.  I got the first batch of documents from Saint Petersburg (but am waiting on her Supreme Court-equivalent case).  And in here is a petition written by Chava that lays out the situation of each member of the extended Lefand family.  And why Chava thinks some of them should have been recruited instead of her son (and my 4th great grandfather) Berko/Ber.

Below is her incredible testimony.  Following this is a series of investigations and findings into her situation, covering November 12, 1854 through December 7, 1859 that I'll cover in a future post.

These pages center around Chava's main petition.  Rather than summarizing, I'll let her tell her incredible tale (and a genealogist's dream) in her own (translated) words, along with some of my own comments.

A page of Chava Lefand's Petition

Sunday, March 21, 2021

My 4th Great Grandfather's Russian Army Draft Date

Last week, I showed how to potentially find reference to your own family's cases within the Russian Empire that could be stored in the Russian State Historical Archive in Saint Petersburg.  I just got the actual documents from some cases relating to my family (yes, I yelped with joy when I saw the first batch had arrived).  I'll have to get everything translated, but my skimming the Russian showed many references to my 5th great grandmother Chava Lefand (who never took no for answer) and many other Lefand family members.  One item included in the file was a copy of the family's revision list as of 1851.  I already have one from 1850 from another similar file; there are no additional names here, but there are some comments added after 1851 that directly relate to my 4th great grandfather and one of his brothers.

Lefand Family as of 1851--with great comments on the right side

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Russian Empire Records in Saint Petersburg

The Russian Empire was huge.  It not only included modern-day Russia, but also most of modern-day Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, and more.  Its capital was Saint Petersburg--and that city still houses many records relating to many of the enormous number of individuals who lived in such a large area.

The Russian State Historical Archives (RGIA) has indexed a subset of its holdings, to the point that you can search for specific surnames to see if your family had any dealings at the federal level, at least within those records that are searchable so far.  I wouldn't have thought that my family would have had any such dealings, but as I wrote last week, I learned that my 5th great grandmother didn't take no for an answer and brought her concerns to the highest level.  So while I expected (and found) reference to her case, I was pleasantly surprised to find a case relating to yet another relative as well.

Case relating to my 5th great grandmother

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Supreme Court, Russian Empire Style (Don't Mess with Chava Lefand, Part 2)

In January, I wrote about my 5th great grandmother, Chava Lefand, and the lengths to which she tried to keep her sons from being conscripted into the Russian Empire's military.  (You can see that here.)  Well, this past week I got another file related to Chava, and it shows once again that she was a very persistent woman, bringing her concerns to the highest levels of government.

Chava Lefand generated lots of paperwork!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Finding Missing Census Records

Sometimes you just can't find someone in the US census, even if you're sure they're there.  Sometimes they were just missed (I believe this to be the case for my 1-year-old grandfather and his parents in 1920).  But sometimes there's a transcription or other issue, and they're there.  Here's how I was able to locate a relative who I knew HAD to have been recorded in the 1940 census, but whom I just couldn't find.

Samuel Isadore LaFond (yes, they used that spelling) was my third cousin three times removed.  He was born in Detroit to Louis and Bessie LaFond and was their only child for whom I have found a record.  Bessie died when Sam was very young.

I have Louis and Sam living in Detroit in the 1930 census.  I have Sam registering for the draft in 1942, also in Detroit.  But I simply could not find the two of them in the 1940 census, even using all sorts of wildcards to try to find LaFonds.

Samuel Isadore LaFond WWII Draft Registration, 1942;

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Prison, Conversion and Reprimanded Rabbis!

My third great grandfather had a brother named Meir Leib Lefand.  I have Meir Leib's 1862 birth record and his 1883 marriage record.  But then he disappeared from records.  I couldn't find birth records for any children, I didn't see any death records for Meir Leib or his wife, and they didn't seem to have emigrated.  So what happened to them?

Marriage of Meir Leib & Sheina Freida Lefand; Nezhin, Russian Empire; July 5, 1883

Sunday, January 24, 2021

"I humbly ask you not to recruit my own sons, but take the sons of my husband's brother"

I've mentioned how I got various cases relating to my family from the Chernigov Archives, thanks to J-Roots tipping me off to their existence.  I just finished getting the largest case (nearly 100 pages) translated, and it reveals a tale of betrayal, ancestors being arrested, relatives illegally traveling to far-away districts to hide from the draft, and an ancestor of mine who was set on protecting her remaining children, whatever it took.

Life for Jews in the Russian Empire under Czar Nicholas I was very difficult.  There were many difficult edicts that impacted where they could live, what professions they could enter, and how much they were taxed.  One of the most hated edicts was the mandatory military service that took Jewish boys from their families, with the ultimate intent of converting them to Christianity.  Jewish boys were taken as young as aged 12 (and sometimes younger, illegally) and conscripted to military institutions until the age of 18, at which they were mandated to enter the regular army for a 25-year term--which started at that point, meaning that if they survived, they were serving until the age of 43.  These boys were called Cantonists, after those military institutions.  Each Jewish community had a quota to meet, and everyone knew that once a boy was taken, he'd likely never be seen by his family again.  There are lots of stories of what families would do to try to protect their sons.  (You can read more about this era here.) In a document I've recently had translated, I've learned part of my own family's story.

And I've learned that you should not mess with my 5th great grandmother.

One page of correspondence

Sunday, January 17, 2021

My 5th Great Grandfather's Signature - And How I Found It

Finding names and dates are great and are the foundation of genealogical research.  But I love finding documents that tell the stories and show that my family actually interacted with those documents.  So how excited do you think I was to find my 5th great grandfather's signature?

Meir Lefand's Signature

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Following the Clues to A Grammy Winner and a New Year's Rockin' Eve 2020/2021 Performer

I started writing this just this past Thursday, based on a trail I latched onto the previous day.  When I started, I expected to write about a huge mystery behind how a branch of my solidly Russian Empire family ended up in Hungary.  Just a few days later, I've likely figured out why they emigrated to Budapest--and I've discovered that I'm distant cousins with a Grammy Award-winning cellist and a performer who was on New Year's Rocking Eve (but of course I only found that connection the next morning when it was too late to watch it, but I did watch on YouTube).  I have not discovered why that musical talent did not make it into my DNA.

This is another tale of why you need to use multiple sources to fully flesh out a family.  Keep track of how many different resources I use in figuring out these connections.

A Marriage Record With A Mistake - Keep Reading to Find Out More!