One of the first mysteries I encountered when first starting my research into my family history has still not been solved. Maybe you can help by looking at the facts and sharing your thoughts, interpreting the incomplete documentation, or seeing if you find something I’ve missed. Continue reading “The Landes cousin who may or may not have existed”
Updated 15 Apr 2018.
Over the past few years, a team of volunteers have been translating and transliterating Jewish vital records from Iași, Romania. The effort is ongoing, and last year, the coordinator of this effort made some of these records available to the public through the JewishGen website. Among these records, I found a marriage listing for my second great grandparents, Moses Landes and Bertha (Brauna) Yeruslavitz. Continue reading “Yeruslavitz family history”
This story starts years ago, back when I first began looking into my family history.
One of the first documents I ordered from the New York City records archives was the marriage certificate for my great-grandparents Jacob (Jack) Klein and Lillian Herman. My first post here at Cousinist documents the situation. Continue reading “Ancestry DNA finally comes through with the discovery of Steckler cousins”
Jewish headstones in cemeteries can provide a large number of clues for researchers of family history and genealogy.
Over the years, trips to cemeteries in New York have helped me solve family puzzles, while they’ve also often presented more questions and inspirations for further research.
A little knowledge of Hebrew and Yiddish has made this research a little easier for me, as I need to go back only a few generations to reach ancestors who did not speak English.
But linguistic knowledge often isn’t enough to decipher the information on headstones.
There is a fair amount of symbolism that requires interpretation, including engraved designs as well as abbreviations.
I’ve assembled a nearly-complete guide to the symbols, abbreviations, and words found on Jewish headstones, as well as some information about numbers and codes.
Hebrew and Yiddish symbols and abbreviations you might encounter on Jewish headstones.
Abbreviations will have the caret mark or two hash marks between letters, usually before the last letter in an abbreviation.
More common symbols on Jewish headstones.
In the bible, many prominent individuals were named after animals. The practice returned with Jews in Europe, where Yiddish words for animals were used alongside Hebrew.
With names referring to animals, there is a strong opportunity for artistic interpretation in engraving. Common symbols include more than animals, though.
|Symbol||Meaning and Explanation|
|Lion||The lion is the symbol of the descendants of Judah. A lion might appear on the headstone of someone named Judah, Lieb, Levi, Aryeh (Herbew meaning “lion”), Loew, or Loeb.|
|Deer||It is generally thought that the name Tzvi in the bible referred to deer. The Yiddish word for deer is Hersh, so that became a popular name in the last couple of centuries. You might find the image of a deer engraved on a tombstone for someone with the name Tzvi and/or Hersh (or Hirsch).|
|Bear||The name Dov Ber — a common combination name, with Dov being Hebrew and Ber being Yiddish — is symbolized by the Bear.|
|Wolf||The wolf was the symbol of the house of Benjamin, but the symbol also represents the common Jewish names of Zev (Ze’ev) in Hebrew and Wolf (Vulf) in Yiddish and other languages.|
|Birds||Birds could have several meanings. The names Zipporah (Hebrew) and Fayge or Feige (Yiddish) are represented by birds, but birds have also indicated the freedom of souls upon death.|
|Broken tree branch or stump||These concepts symbolize the idea of a life cut short. When the deceased was a child or a young person at the time of death, you might find this symbol on the headstone.|
|Books||If you see books engraved on a headstone, you might assume the deceased was a student of the Bible. If there are five books, the deceased would have been learned in the Torah, the five books of Moses.|
|Charity box||Charitable living is an important tenet of Judaism, so families may wish to honor a deceased’s charitable nature. The symbol of a hand in a charity box may indicate that the deceased was a philanthropist or otherwise prioritized giving.|
Common Hebrew words on Jewish headstones.
|English Definition and Explanation||Hebrew|
|The beloved (m/f). Used to described the deceased with praise. ha-yakar, ha-y’karah||היקר / היקרה|
|Father, my father, our father. av, avi, avinu||אב / אבי / אבינו|
|Mother, my mother, our mother. im, imi, imanu||אם / אמי / אמנו|
|Brother, my brother, our brother. akh, akhi, akhinu||אח / אחי / אחינו|
|Sister, my sister, our sister. akhot, akhoti, akhot shelanu||אחות / אחותי / אחות שלנו|
|My husband. ba’ali||בעלי|
|My wife. ishti||אשתי|
|Unmarried woman. b’tulah||בתולה|
|The Levite. ha-levi||הלוי|
|The Kohen (Cohen). ha-koheyn||הכהן|
Understanding dates on Jewish headstones.
The letters of the Hebrew alphabet are used to represent days of the month and the year, and the name of the month on the Jewish calendar is often spelled out. Here’s the Hebrew alphabet with each letter’s numerical value, the gematria.
|Bet / Vet||2||ב||Mem||40||מ|
|Vav||6||ו||Pay / Fay||80||פ|
|Yud||10||י||Shin / Sin||300||ש|
|Kaf / Khaf||20||כ||Tav||400||ת|
Letters can be combined to form numbers. For example, י״ב would represent 12 because י is 10 and ב is 2. Years in the Jewish calendar are similarly represented by letters. The example below shows how that is calculated.
These are the months in the Jewish calendar.
|Iyar||איר / אײר||Nissan||ניסן|
|Tamuz||תמוז||Sivan||סיון / סיװן|
|Marcheshvan / Cheshvan||מרחשון / חשון||Tishrei||תשרי|
|Tevet||טבת||Kislev||כסלו / כסליו|
|Adar I (leap year)||אדר א׳||Shvat||שבט|
|Adar or Adar II (leap year)||אדר שני / אדר / אדר ב׳|
Here’s how you would “decode” a date and the rest of the information on a Jewish headstone.
First line: “Here lies.”
Second line: “Rakhel, daughter of Mr. Yeshiah.”
The third line is the date. First, נפ׳ is the abbreviation for “died,” so we know we’re coming upon a date. Next is the day of the month, כ׳ג, which represents the 23rd. Next is the name of the month, חשון (Kheshvan).
The next “word” is the year in Hebrew letters, תש׳ח. Add up the values of those three letters, 400 + 300 + 8, or 708. Add 5,000, because it’s shorthand to drop the first digit in dates. It helps save space. So the date in the Jewish calendar is 23 Kheshvan 5708.
Use this Hebrew calendar date converter to determine the corresponding date on the Gregorian calendar. The result is November 6, 1947, which you can see is also engraved on the headstone. (It works!)
Sometimes, instead of a date of א׳ or the first of the month, the inscription will say ראש חדש — head of the month. The inscription may also reference holidays instead of the specific date.
Acrostics are fairly common on Jewish headstones. Here’s an example from my own family. The first letter of each line (after “Here lies”) spells out the full name of my 2nd great grandmother, Rebecca Kashowitz Nachamin (Neckameyer): רבקה בת אברהם משה נאכאמין.
Although I’m still hoping for a translation, I understand the inscription is a poem.
Interesting reading for further knowledge about Jewish headstones, tombstones, and epitaphs.
Years ago I struggled with conflicting information about second great grandmother, Eliza Sturmwald Lustig, and the name of her mother.
On Eliza’s death certificate, her mother is listed as Charlotte Newmann. On her marriage certificate, the name of Eliza’s mother appears to be Janetta Shyck. After some time thinking about it, with no other information to confirm, I moved onto other areas of research. Here’s what I did know. Continue reading “Catching up with the Sturmwalds”
One of the important components of family research is piecing together a narrative that describes the family and its changes throughout time. This is a living document, so I will continue to update this page as I discover and learn more about the family. Continue reading “Berman family history”
Thanks to the work of the Reclaim the Records organization, indexes to marriage licenses are now available online for the New York City, and the information in the index can be used to order documents from the New York City Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS). These documents tends to be more complete than the marriage certificates, whose index has been available online (for a more limited range of years) for some time.
Reclaim the Records was awarded the index in two parts. Records from years 1908 through 1929 were obtained from the New York City Municipal Archives. Records from 1930 through 1995 are housed with the New York City Clerk’s Office. The former have been available since April 2016, and the latter group was made public earlier this year.
A couple of months ago, I tested the waters by ordering four documents. I expected to wait several months for delivery, but I was pleased to receive them within four weeks.
Here’s what the documents look like. Continue reading “New York City marriage affidavits and licenses”
I have to admit that I haven’t had a lot of time for family tree research over the last few years. The result is that progress has been slow.
But as more and more people are sharing their own research on Ancestry.com, I was able to stumble upon some proof that confirmed the theory I posited in my last entry way back in March 2016. (Has it really been that long?)
The crux was that the inscription on the headstone for my third great grandmother (my mother’s father’s father’s mother), Feige or Fannie Berman, included the words “our beloved aunt and grandmother.” At the time, I was unaware of Feige having any siblings. And research was difficult because sources (her son’s marriage certificate and her own death certificate) gave her two different maiden names (Short, and Slobus, respectively). Continue reading “The Slawitz family: Feige Slawitz Berman and Chaia Sarah Slawitz Stein”
When I first visited Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens to find my third great grandmother, Feige Berman, I ran into some trouble., in the spot where I thought she might be interred, the stone was overturned and flat on the ground. There was no way to know whether this was Feige’s location without having the cemetery’s grounds staff reset and repoint the headstone.
I contacted the cemetery administration, and guessing that this was Feige’s headstone, paid for the repairs.
At my next visit, the headstone was properly placed and I was able to confirm that it this was, in fact, where Feige is resting. A few things have bothered me since discovering the headstone. The inscription opened up more questions than it answered. Continue reading “Revisiting Feige Berman, my third great grandmother”
After a few years of occasional research — this isn’t by any means a full-time endeavor for me — I’ve finally solved a mystery. My mother’s paternal grandmother, Anna, was born in New York City, and so I thought that confirming details about her life would have been easier. With my mother and her cousin Barbara telling stories, I expected I’d be able to learn more about her. I did, but until recently, there was little I could confirm.
All that changed recently. First, I discovered that her father’s last name was Nachamin for their first few years in the United States, not Neckameyer. The family appears to have changed the name for the chance of better success in business, but that’s just an assumption at this point. This led to not only Anna’s birth certificate, but more vital records for Anna’s siblings, including a few I was not previously aware of because they died young. Because FamilySearch has indexed, though poorly, all names on New York City vital records, I’ve been able to find much more information.
Here’s her newly-found birth certificate from New York City. Continue reading “Anna, my great grandmother, finally found.”
I wouldn’t say I’ve broken through another brick wall, but I’ve started chipping away a frustrating barrier. My great grandmother, Anna Neckameyer Berman, is still a bit of an enigma. She remarried several times after my great grandfather passed away, and all though my relatives are sure the cemetery in which she is interred, I have not been able to find her.
I had until recently been unable to find a birth record for her, as well, even though she was born in New York City.
A few new pieces of information, when put together, helped uncover some of the “truth.” Continue reading “Another name change discovered: Nachamin/Neckameyer”
Only a few months ago was I able to confirm the suspected connection of the descendants of Moses Yeruslavitz, and I explained that connection in the documentation of the Yeruslavitz family history. Because of this write-up, I was contacted by Barbara, a descendant of Fanny Hayes Yeruslavitz’s husband’s uncle, Frank Disman.
Barbara lives not far from me, so we got together today to exchange stories, and she was able to provide a good amount of information as we talked about the importance of having family. She offered some old photographs of Fanny, who was known to those close to her as Fan.
Barbara remembers Fan as a warm person.
Over the last few months, I’ve been in touch with more of my cousins on the Neckameyer side of the family. Wolf Neckameyer was the patriarch, and he occasionally went by the name William instead of Wolf. He was born about 1866 in or near Minsk and came to the United States about 1890.
Wolf finally shows up in census records in 1905, which is likely around the time this photograph was taken of him. He was a skirt tailor in Manhattan. In 1909, his wife and the mother of my great grandmother Anna Neckameyer Berman, Rebecca (Becky) Kashowitz Neckameyer, had passed away.
My great grandmother is the youngest of Wolf’s four children. I’ve had some information about the descendants of his other three children, but I’ve recently been in contact with a few of these descendants or their relatives, and that has helped me learn more about this side of my family.
Wolf’s daughter Lena married Morris Hirschenbein, and before long the family changed their name to Hirsch. Rita Hirsch married Nathaniel Rubin, and I spoke recently with one of their two sons. Wolf’s daughter Celia married George Walcoff, and I was recently contacted by the husband of Celia’s granddaughter Myrna.
And I spent some time yesterday visiting with Anna’s granddaughter Barbara. I’ve scanned a few more photographs, and we discussed what we knew about her side of the family.
They helped fill in important details about the history of the family, and I’m slowly getting closer, and I imagine that they contacted me because I’m writing about my family, and my website or my name is a result when searching online.
But I still haven’t found Anna Neckameyer Berman’s resting place. She died in the mid-to-late 1970s while residing in Florida. Barbara believes she is buried in Woodbridge, New Jersey, not far from where I live, but calls to the cemeteries haven’t resulted in anything positive.
Despite this one roadblock, I’m filling in many more details with the help of the cousins I’ve been talking to. Thanks to everyone I’ve been speaking with recently!
I’ve updated the Berman family history page.
My great grandmother, Anna Neckameyer Berman, is lost to time. After her husband, my great grandfather, passed away she remarried twice, and I haven’t found anyone who has been able to point me in the right direction.
Her sister, Celia, has been easier to locate. Two years ago, I found a marriage certificate for Celia Neckameyer and George Walcoff, and that was prior to knowing anything about the Neckameyer family. But since then, I’ve been in touch with Walcoff descendants, and they’ve been able to fill in many details about the Neckameyers and their relatives.
This weekend, I traveled to Beth El Cemetery in Paramus, New Jersey to visit Celia and to see if she was surrounded by family members. She is located in the Haas/Walcoff plot along with her husband George, her son Irwin Walcoff, and her daughter-in-law Helen Pollack Walcoff.
The footstones provided specific birth dates and other information that helped me complete information in the family tree. Although the probability was low, I didn’t find my great grandmother near her sister. There has been some thought that Anna is buried in Wood-Ridge or Woodbridge, New Jersey, but without her latest married name or date of death, she’s been impossible to find thus far.
I’ve visited many cemeteries over the last few years in my search for ancestors and relatives, and the staff at Beth El were probably the most friendly and helpful I’ve encountered thus far.
These films were recorded by Aaron (Al) Berman from the 1940s through the 1970s. At some point in the 1990s, the 8mm reels were converted to VHS tape. Barbara Berman-Moonlight recently loaned me the VHS tapes to convert to digital format. She also provided several home recordings on vinyl that I digitized and published earlier this year.
I will need some help labeling these videos, so I’ll continue to update this page as I have more to share.
Where do I come from? The DNA analysis aspect of genealogy keeps trying to answer this question. By comparing an individual’s DNA with the same from a number of control groups, science is trying really hard to come up with an answer. The more I look into these DNA analyses, the less I think they hold any relevance to identity. And the explanation for this lack of relevance is completely clear, and if more people understood this, they’d probably stop using DNA as a gateway to how they are composed as an individual.
The problem is that every human inherits about half of his or her DNA from each of his or her parents, but it’s impossible to predict which half, or what DNA markers are included in that half. This is how this problem manifests itself over two generations in an incredibly simplified example.
Let’s say you know the birth locations of your four grandparents, and they happen to be Germany (father’s father), England (father’s mother), Lithuania (mother’s father), and Romania (mother’s mother). If you were to describe myself with just this information, taking the notion of Jewish heritage out of the mix, you would say you’re quarter German, quarter English, quarter Lithuanian, and quarter Romanian.
This assumes that each of these grandparents are completely “full booded” in their geographic make-up — and that’s not just unlikely, but impossible, and is yet another fault with searching for some kind of genetic explanation of geographic heritage.
Even if the grandparents represented some kind of perfection, your genetic makeup would more than likely not contain four equal components. Your father inherited roughly half his DNA from each of his parents, so he is roughly half German and half English. Your mother did the same, so she is roughly half Lithuanian and Romanian. That’s only because in this strange hypothetical example, the grandparents are each homogeneous. The succeeding generation, everything falls apart.
You inherit half your DNA from your father, who is half German and half English. But the half you inherit is not necessarily split evenly between your father’s German half and his English half. The DNA you inherit — your admixture — could be only his English DNA, it could be only his German DNA, it could be precisely 50% each side, but it most likely is some kind of unbalanced mix. So half of your DNA is most likely an unbalanced mix of German and English, and the other half is most likely an unbalanced mix of Lithuanian and Romanian. Your sibling could have inherited a different mix from each of your parents, and could thus have a significantly different geographical genetic fingerprint than you. But why should your sibling be different? He or she had the precisely the same family history through the centuries and the same migration patterns.
By the time you look back to your sixty-four fourth great grandparents, the chances are high that one is not reflected at all in your DNA today. I increasingly believe that while ancestral maps based on autosomal DNA tests are interesting to look at, they can’t really tell you the full story people really want to see.
Above is what FamilyTreeDNA’s new My Origins analysis has determined for my geographical make-up based on my autosomal (FamilyFinder) DNA test. It’s not terribly different from the analysis provided by AncestryDNA with that company’s autosomal test.
These might reflect an accurate approximation of the geographic locations some of my ancestors lived at some point in their lives, but it doesn’t tell nearly the complete story of my ancestors. Some might be completely missing from the calculation. The geographic regions may only extend to several hundred years ago. The genetic material that represents a focus in Poland may come from a different century than the material that represents Afghanistan. There is no way to turn this information into a description that has a strong relevance to who I am.
So if you decide to take a DNA test looking for some sort of insight into your genetic composition, keep these caveats in mind. These results seem to exist only to satisfy curiousity with a scientific “answer,” even if that answer doesn’t exactly answer the question people really have about who they are.
Moses Landes, my second great grandfather, migrated from Romania to North America, and his sons also followed a similar path at different times. While Moses traveled through Liverpool, my great grandfather, Joseph Landes, traveled through Hamburg. Within a few years, they were reunited in Montréal first, then New York City. I’ve written more details about the Landes family history here.
Using Google Maps, I’ve highlighted the important locations — residences and ports — for these Landes ancestors. Because I still haven’t determined some city and town details prior to immigration, when only a country name has been confirmed, the location in the map is Google’s center marker for that country.
The timeline extends from the birth of my second great grandfather to the death of my grandfather, Herbert Landes.
The map is fully interactive. Note: this map will not be visible in email or on other sites. If you don’t see the map included in this article, visit the article on its home on the Landes Family Tree Research website.
National Library Week is celebrated across the country from April 13 through 19, 2014, and ProQuest has been providing free access to several of their popular databases. I still have access to ProQuest through my former graduate program’s website, but I found ProQuest’s own tools to be much more successful.
In particular, ProQuest’s obituary database, which includes more than 10.5 million obituaries and death notices, has helped me quickly find information about my relatives without searching through thousands of pages on microfilm. The search facility seems to be much better than what I’ve previously used, as the results for similar searchers were much more plentiful and relevant through ProQuest’s own interface.
Most notably, I found obituaries for my grandfather, Herbert Landes, and great grandfather, Joseph Landes. Although these notices appeared in the easily-searchable New York Times, I hadn’t come across them until now.
Note that the New York Times obituary for Joseph Landes includes yet another, different, mistake regarding the name of the landsmanschaft with which he was involved. The Practical Druggist and Pharmaceutical Review of Reviews called the organization “First Berauer, K. N. V.” in its announcement of Joseph’s death; the New York Times gets farther from accuracy with “First Berzuer K. N. V.” The organization should be listed as “First Bacauer K.N.V.” I imagine type typesetters and typists were not very familiar with these organizations.
In order to access the free ProQuest obituaries database, visit ProQuest’s National Library Week feature, scroll to the bottom, and activate the link says, “Access ProQuest Obituaries.”
These newspapers are included in the free search:
- Atlanta Constitution (1868-1922)
- Boston Globe (1872-1922)
- Chicago Defender (1921-1975)
- Chicago Tribune (1852-1984)
- Los Angeles Times (1881-1984)
- New York Times (1851-1994)
- Washington Post (1877-1950)
If you try to visit this link directly, without viewing the National Library Week page first, you will be required to log-in using your ProQuest access credentials. The only way to view the database for free this week is through the National Library Week page.
So far, I have found more than 25 death notices and obituaries using this free database, many of which I wasn’t able to find using my regular ProQuest account. The obituaries that I’ve found for potential relatives have been helpful in identifying more of their family members, and might someday be helpful in connecting the dots between my confirmed relatives and others who I suspect are closely related.
With so much of my family history throughout the last century and a half having taken place in Brooklyn, New York, the Brooklyn Eagle, the borough’s hometown newspaper, has been a valuable source for me as I try to piece history together.
And technology has made research so much easier. If I were taking on this project a decade ago, I’m sure it would require long nights at a library, shuffling the pages of newspapers, or scrolling through microfilm. Luckily, I’ve been aided in my research through the Fulton History website, a collection of New York newspapers. The collection includes the Brooklyn Eagle and other newspapers that would be relevant to New York researchers. The pages of the newspapers have been scanned and run through optical recognition software, and that makes the text of the paper searchable.
The search functions on the Fulton History website are fairly robust, but the interface isn’t the easiest to use. It does, however, provide close match results, and that’s important when dealing with scanned and machine-interpreted text. That means I can use “Sturmwald” as a search term, and the Fulton History website will provide results that are almost Sturmwald.
I prefer using Google to search the Fulton History website. This makes the results easier to view, but because this method of searching will provide different results than the search form on the site itself, I usually do both.
Now, however, there is a new collection of old Brooklyn Daily Eagle issues. The Brooklyn Public Library has teamed up with Newspapers.com to offer the archives of the Brooklyn Eagle for free. The library’s scans seem to be much cleaner than those on the Fulton History website, making the searchable index somewhat more accurate, and the Newspapers.com website is a lot faster and more responsive than the other.
This doesn’t replace the Fulton History website. First of all, Fulton History has more newspapers in the website’s database than he Brooklyn Daily Eagle, including other newspapers that cover issues in Brooklyn. The Newspapers.com search form does not allow close matches, so if I were looking for “Sturmwald,” I’d also have to construct queries that include “Sturnwald,” “Strumwald,” Strunwald,” “Sturmwalt,” and an infinite number of varieties just to try to ensure I’m getting everything I’d like to see.
The Daily Eagle archives from the Brooklyn Public Library seem to be more complete. I was able to find this photograph of my grandfather, Herbert Landes, using the new, free site.
In the photo, readers get a view of part of Herbert’s face, and not much else. But the caption says those in the picture are signing a petition in a drug store at the corner of 41st St. and 5th Ave., and in 1931, that would just happen to be the location of the Landes Pharmacy, operated by Herbert’s widowed mother at that time.
While an item like this is interesting, it doesn’t add much to my family tree. But the Brooklyn Daily Eagle has still been very helpful in identifying vital records, with death notices, as well as birth and marriage announcements.
For saving these articles as newspaper clippings to my personal finance tree, I generally copy the screenshot of the article. With Newspapers.com, I can continue to do this, but the site also offers a “save to Ancestry.com” option, which saves a link to the newspaper page as a genealogical source.
Thanks to the Brooklyn Public Library and Newspapers.com for providing this feature for free; I’m hoping it remains free for the foreseeable future.
On December 3, the Canadian Jewish Review published a death notice or obituary for my second great grandfather, Moses Landes. Moses found his way from Iași, Romania to Montréal, Canada to New York City. And although he was living in New York City when he died in 1926, he still had family ties to Montréal, where his son Martin was working as a salesperson. A month after Moses’s death, Martin was naturalized in the United States.
The Canadian Jewish Review often shared the social comings and goings of the community. It was the Facebook of its day, where everyone in society would let the rest of the community know about their travels, their parties, and their major life events. Here is the death notice published about Moses Landes.
The death occurred Wednesday, November 24, of Moses Landes, of New York City, after an illness of several years. Besides his wife, he is survived by two sons, Martin of Detroit, Mich.; Charlie, of New York; nine grandchildren, one great grand-child, and his one daughter, Mrs. Adolphe Goldenberg, of New York City; and one sister, Mrs. Cohen, of St. Louis, Mo.
My great grandfather, Joseph Landes, died in 1925; Bertha Brauna Yeruslavitz Landes, my second great grandmother and wife of Moses, died in 1927. I still have not been able to determine the identity of the sister of Moses Landes. I’ve searched through all of the publicly-available St. Louis city and county death certificates after 1926 for women with the last name Cohen, and I haven’t found one that is definitively a daughter of Joseph Hersh Landes and Perla Leah.
About a year ago, I ordered death certificates from New York City through VitalChek. VitalChek is an online service from Lexis/Nexis that has created partnerships with just about every municipality that generates vital certificates. And in many cases, the only way to order certificates online from these municipalities is to order through VitalChek. The alternatives are to order birth, marriage, and death certificates by mail or in person.
In New York City, the Municipal Archives, a division of the Department of Records, holds birth certificates dated prior to 1910, marriage certificates prior to 1930, and death certificates prior to 1949. For $15 per certificate plus a shipping fee, you can order any certificate held. They are part of the public record due to their age.
These are easy to order online from the NYC Municipal Archives genealogical resources. Because my family has so much of its history over the last century and a half in New York City, I’ve been ordering these records for as long as I’ve been doing family history research.
I should point out that this isn’t the least expensive option for ordering these records. The Family History Library of the Church of Latter-Day Saints has these certificates on microfilm, and they can accept orders through an online form, and they can return scans of the certificates through email. This service is free, but there is a long turnaround time. The library also discourages people who live near a Family History Center from using this “free duplication” service.
You can, however, order the microfilm to be delivered to a local Family History Center. You can view the microfilm there and pay a very small fee to print a copy of the certificate you’re looking for. This isn’t free like the email service, and requires a lot of work if you have many certificate to order.
Certificates for New York City vital records more recent than the dates mentioned above must be ordered from the Department of Health (for birth and death certificates) or the Office of the City Clerk (for marriage certificates). This process can be much more complicated. You can order some certificates online through VitalChek. For example, you can order birth certificates, but only if your name appears on the certificate. That means that the certificate would generally need to be your own or your child’s. Otherwise, you need to order by mail or in person. Ordering by mail requires some kind of documentation of your identity and relationship, and the form must be notarized.
For death certificates, when ordering online, you need to be a blood relative, and VitakChek will verify your identity by accessing your credit report via your Social Security number. This is the process I used last year to order death certificates for my great grandparents on my maternal grandmother’s side, Jack (Jacob) Klein and Lillian Herman Klein. The order went though, but I never received anything. I had successfully ordered certificates through VitalChek in the past, but there was no response to these.
Last month, without realizing I had already tried to order Lillian’s death certificate last year, I placed a new order. This attempt was much more successful, and the certificate arrived thirteen days later. The certificate provided me with several new addresses, another confirmation of my second great grandfather’s full name (Samuel Wolf Herman, one f in Wolf, though there is no guarantee this spelling is correct), and, most relevant, her date of death. The date of death I originally listed was two days off.
VitalChek isn’t always consistent. Last year, I tried ordering this same certificate, and I never received a response. By the time I followed up, my order status expired. Although I track my orders — not just from VitalChek but from all sources — in a spreadsheet, I didn’t follow up in time.
I work on two separate family trees. The first is my official tree, maintained on Ancestry.com and in Family Tree Maker, that contains all confirmed relationships. Everyone in this tree is somehow related to me, although some relationships are through marriage to a blood relative. And in very few cases, there are some branches who I am sure (at about a 95% level of confidence) that there is a relationship — someone is noted as being a “cousin” — but I haven’t found the missing piece to tie that household into the larger picture.
The second tree is also maintained on Ancestry.com, but this is a tree where I record other individuals and families. I have a much lower level of confidence that there is a relationship in recent times, and it includes many families unconnected to each other thus far. Because Ancestry.com shares at least some of the information stored on their servers, even if you mark a tree “Private,” I label this tree as “for research only.”
I use this tree to store information that might eventually lead me to discovering a connection.
Here is one example. It is family lore that my paternal ancestors — the Landes family — emigrated out of Romania in the late 19th century, traveled across Europe, made their way to England, and departed over the Atlantic Ocean to North America. Along the way, some Landes family members settled in locations throughout Europe. Two Landes family members from Romania appeared in the London area around the same time that my second great grandfather, Moses Landes, was passing through on his way to Canada and New York.
Jean Landes (1860-1943) married Bertha Reicher in about 1887 in England. Jean was born in Iași, Romania. They had three children, Henry, Frederick, and Ruth. The family moved to New York, but Frederick returned and married Mildred (Minnie) Surfin. Also in London, the Sufrin family. According to Jean’s death certificate, his father’s name was Abraham and his mother’s name was Natalie. Natalie is not a likely Jewish name at the time — maybe it was Nettie or Ethel.
Before Jean Landes’s family moved to the United States, they lived close to another Landes family from Romania, headed by Max Hersch Landes (c1852-1922) Max Hersch married Rachel Finestone, while Max’s sister Netty married Rachel’s brother Julius. Max and Rachel did not appear to have any children; Julius and Netty had a daughter, Gertrude Finestone, who died unmarried in 1927.
I have two segments of Landes families living in London at the turn of the 20th century, and because records from Romania are not online, I haven’t been able to whether and how these pieces fit together. But at some point, more records from Iași will be online. By keeping track of my findings so far, even though there’s no confirmed relationship yet, will save me a significant amount of time later on if I can eventually find a connection to the various Landes branches leaving Romania.
In addition to Jean and Max Hersch, there have been other Landes households from Romania or Russia living in New York.
Samuel Landes (1883-1964), the son of Abraham Landes and Scheine Leah, was born in Iași and married Frieda Schatz. They had seven children: Alfred, Augusta Theresa, Edith, Mae, Isadora, Esther, and Joseph. They lived in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. Could Samuel be a brother or half-brother of Jean Landes, whose father was also named Abraham? Could Samuel be the Sam Landes who was listed on Moses Landes’s ship manifests from England to Montreal?
Joseph Landes (1873-1945), the son of Yitzchak Yehuda Landes, was born in Russia or Romania (most likely the Bessarabia region) and married Frieda Feuerstein. They had ten children: Harry, Joseph, Isadore, Meyer, Rebecca, Nathan, Sidney, Fanny, Abraham, and Isaac. The family resided in and around New York City before several of the children moved away from the family center. For another interesting connection with this family, two of these Landes children, Isadore and Rebecca, married two Hershenovs, Minnie and Joseph.
My great grandfather and third great grandfather were also named Joseph Landes, as were many other Landeses in New York.
Lena Hershenov — perhaps a different branch of this Hershenov family, but I haven’t been able to confirm that yet — married Jacob Margareten. Jacob appears in my confirmed family tree as the father-in-law of the stepson of the stepdaughter of my second great grandmother. It’s not a real family connection to me, but if Lena is related to Rebecca and Joseph, it would bring Joseph Landes’s branch of the Landes family into my family tree in one location.
There are other Landes households who lived in Romania in the latter half of the 19th century, and I’m passively tracking them in my “research only” tree. I’m doing the same for the Kashowitz families that lived in New York in the 20th century as I try to find a connection between them and Rebecca Kashowitz, my second great grandmother.
The drawback is that there is not enough time in one person’s life to research all of these tenuous but somewhat likely family connections. Normally, the research I’ve done is from the inside out — I start with confirmed relatives and expand the families outward as I find new information. This process of researching from the outside in — starting with likely relatives and using new information to, I hope, get closer to my confirmed relatives is more difficult and time-consuming, but it can be rewarding in the few cases where I do find that missing link.
Otherwise, reverse research can be a huge waste of time. At least I can share information I’ve found with other researchers who are in fact related to these individuals, and someone might be able to benefit from the time and money I spend looking through information and purchasing copies of records.
Some old family photos included a friend and cousin of my mother and her parents, Marty Hirsch.
As I progressed through my family research over the past couple of years, my mother identified Marty as someone who might be able to provide a lot of insight. Unfortunately, they lost touch some years ago. She was familiar with Marty’s address in Manhattan, and that helped us identify the Marty Hirsch who we thought was the “right” Marty — our Marty — among many listed in New York City.
And then I came across some bad news, taking the form of Marty’s friend’s obituary. Marty was listed as predeceased in this obituary.
Marty’s mother, Lena Neckameyer Hirsch, was the sister of my great grandmother, Anna Neckameyer Berman. Because I’m interested in learning more about all the descendants of my ancestors, I researched the Hirsch family, but I wasn’t able to get very far. The marriage certificate for Lena Neckameyer was a little difficult to read, and once again, my interpretation of handwriting eventually proved to be incorrect. Lena’s husband’s name (and the name of Marty’s father) was Morris, and on the marriage certificate, his last name was Hirschenberg. Or Hirschensomething. It wasn’t clear, and I decided to go with Hirschenberg.
Neither the names Hirsch nor Hirschenberg revealed much about these descendants of my second great grandfather, Wolf (William) Neckameyer. But over the last week or so, I turned my attention to this family, particularly because of their closer relation to the Bermans, and Lena’s presence in home films my mother’s cousin provided me at the same time I received the Berman recordings.
Using wildcards in searches and scrutiny of the results, I determined that the name I was looking for wasn’t Hirschenberg, it was Hirschenbein. With this realization, I was able to find more census and military records for Marty Hirsch’s parents, brothers, and sisters. I still don’t know much information about the modern Hirsches, but now I have a better starting point.
One new piece of information this led me to is Marty’s brother, Arthur, who was wounded in action during World War II. Arthur’s last name was usually spelled Herschenbein.
The New York City Department of Records and the New York State Archives have released 14 million records to Ancestry.com. This includes birth, marriage, and death records for New York City, which were and are still indexed by the Italian Genealogical Group and the German Genealogy Group. Previously, these records were searchable by visiting the websites of these two groups or through one of my favorite genealogy websites, stevemorse.org.
The 14 million records also include the index to the 1855 and 1875 New York state census populations, which have been available at FamilySearch.org.
I’ve already found many records for my ancestors and relatives within these indexes outside of Ancestry.com, and I’ve ordered many record certifications of vital statistics from the Department of Records, but having these records completely incorporated into the family tree might provide some new hints towards details that I haven’t yet noticed.
Here’s the entry for the family of my second great grandfather, David Sturmwald. The Sturmwalds are likely my only ancestors to be living in the United States as early as 1875. David Sturmwald arrived in the United States from Bayern (Bavaria) in 1849, but I haven’t found him in the earlier 1855 New York state census.
This past weekend, I met my mother’s cousin on her mother’s side for the first time. My mother and her cousin were very close as children, but today, she lives only about thirty minutes from me in New Jersey. It took a long time for me to get the opportunity to visit, but I’m glad I did.
She shared with me stories from Brooklyn, but she had more than just memories to share. At some point, she had 8mm home movies converted to VHS, so we spent some time watching how she, her family, and occasionally including my mother spent holidays, visited Coney Island, and entertained each other. I thoroughly enjoyed the Yiddish songs performed in next to the Christmas tree.
Entertainment was a major part of life in this family, and the musical talent runs deep on the Berman side. It’s no surprise that my brother is a musician, I, while no longer practicing, studied music for a major part of my life, and other Berman descendants have talent.
My mother’s cousin also helped me complete more missing information about the descendants of my great grandfather, Samuel Wolf Berman, and suggested the burial location for my great grandmother, Anna Neckameyer Berman (who married twice after the death of Samuel). Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to determine the last name of her final husband.
I learned about the musical talents of the Berman side of the family. My mother’s uncle, Aaron (Al) Berman played piano and sang, her aunt Rita Berman Abrams sang, and her great aunt Celia was also a musician. On several occasions, Al, who had a gramophone recorder, pressed 78s as the family played the piano, sang songs, and even delivered comedy. My mother’s cousin, who I visited this past weekend, had six of these 78s.
The Bermans made these recordings in the early 1950s (although the recording equipment makes the recordings sound older). During track 8, someone announces that the date is Sunday, January 2, placing the year of recording as either 1949 or 1955. At the beginning of track 9a, there is an announcement about Kathy Fiscus, a three-year-old child who died after falling into a well in 1949. Continue reading “The Aaron Berman recordings”
According to his naturalization documents, my paternal great grandfather, Joseph Landes, arrived in the United States on 1 Sep 1899.
A search on Ancestry.com revealed a Josef Landes, a 21-year-old Romanian student born in Iași, who departed Hamburg on 20 Aug 1899 on the ship Palatia. This must have been a recently indexed document because the search result did not look familiar to me. The Hamburg passenger lists do not contain many details, but everything presented makes it likely that this record pertains to my great grandfather.
By April 1901, Joseph was living with his parents and siblings in Montréal, Canada. But he lived there for only a short time; by November that same year, he had a residence in New York and was declaring his intention to become an American citizen. Until now, I had not found an Ellis Island immigration record for Joseph, but now potentially with the name of his vessel, I could browse through the images on Ancestry.com. Many of these immigration records have not been indexed, so research requires looking through the manifest page by page.
After some browsing, I found the record for the Joseph Landes who arrived in New York on 1 Sep 1899 on the ship Palatia.
The record obviously pertains to my great grandfather. It indicates Joseph is a medical student heading to Montréal, where his brother Martin Landes is waiting for him. Everything adds up. As a result, I have some more thoughts about the experience of my Landes ancestors.
I noted previously that Joseph was a pharmacist and that he was an organizer for the landsmanshaft First Bacauer, K.U.V. It seems likely that Joseph, now confirmed to have been born in Iași like his siblings, studied pharmacy in Bacău until he was 21. At that point, he joined the rest of his family in North America.
Joseph Landes’s immigration details were missing from my records, so this find is particularly satisfying. I still have many questions about my ancestors, and after this discovery, I may find myself spending more time looking for missing immigration records by browsing the images of the record books page by page.
With the indexing of the Canadian Census of 1920 now complete on Ancestry.com, I was able to find the family of Martin Landes, my great grand uncle. He was a traveling salesman who split his time between Detroit and Montreal, eventually moving to Detroit permanently and gaining his U.S. naturalization.
The 1921 census raised more questions. I’ve already identified children of Martin who were not included in the oral family history eventually written down by my grand uncle Mortimer and his sister Edith.
I wrote last year about finding a birth record for Isack Landes in a collection of synagogue birth records from Montreal, the Drouin Collection on Ancestry.com. Since then I’ve also found a birth record for Lillie Landes in the same collection. Because the birth records list the parents’ names, I can be sure these are the children of Martin Landes.
Lillie shows up in the Canadian Census of 1911, as does another son of Martin, Isadore. Does Isadore refer to Isaac (Isack) or Irving, a known son of Martin? The ages in the census don’t help. In 1921, the Canadian Census includes listings for Isidore, Urbain, and Ruthy in addition to the other known children of Martin, Clara, Grace (Grada) and Molly. If Urbain is simply a mishearing of Irving, that would mean Isadore refers to Isaac. Ruthie could refer to Lillie.
Now, it’s likely that Isaac and Lillie died young because those names were never known to Mortimer. Furthermore, there is an interesting Jewish tradition where the names of sick children are changed, superstitiously, to try to avoid death’s arrival — to trick death. Isadore could be the boy born Isaac and Ruthie could be the girl born Lillie. But that presents a new question: where is Irving in the Canadian Census in 1911?
With the assumption that Ruthie refers to the girl born with the name Lillie, there is a Ruthie Landes buried at Back River Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Montreal, with a reference to the Beth David synagogue, which is the same synagogue that holds many of the Landes children’s birth records. This same cemetery is the home to other, more distant relatives. There is no date on this record, so it might be worth a call to the cemetery to find more information.
I have not yet found a birth record for Irving Landes, but on at least one occasion, Irving’s birth date is listed as the actual birth date that’s is confirmed for Isack. In other sources, Irving’s birth date is only a few months after Isaac’s, which would be impossible.
The birth dates of Isaac and Irving aren’t consistent — in fact the birth dates of all of Martin’s children are mostly inconsistent throughout their lives — so it is even more difficult to make sense of this family.
I’ve discovered very little about My second great grandfather Joseph Lustig. The 1900 census indicates he was born in January 1855, I have his parents’ names from his own death certificate and marriage certificate, and the death certificates of one of his children indicates he was born in the town of Czecze, Hungay, which seems to correspond to the town currently known as Cece.
Joseph Lustig came to the United States in 1875 or 1876 and became a naturalized American citizen by 1900. I haven’t been able to find any documentation of his naturalization, immigration, or any other events prior to his arrival in the United States. I have found his listings in New York City directories for various years.
After asking for some assistance brainstorming within the Hungary Exchange Facebook Group, I decided to order a microfilm from the Family History Library that should help. In the 1950s, volunteers in Budapest photographed synagogue and church records, including births, marriages, and deaths, in the towns not far from this capital city. Cece was one of these towns.
The microfilm arrived at my local Family History Center in East Brunswick, New Jersey earlier this week, so I took a couple hours out of my day to visit the center and scroll through the microfilm. I found several entries for Lustig (or Lusztig) in Cece, but none appeared to be associated with Joseph Lustig. I could not find his parents’ names, either.
I left the center a little disappointed. After arriving back home, I began digging through some more records. I made a careful record of the changes of his home address, and then discovered something new. Joseph Lustig, my second great grandfather, was listed as a witness to the naturalization of another Lustig from Hungary living in New York City, Nathan Lustig, in 1902. I haven’t figured out whether there is a relationship between Joseph and Nathan, but it seems likely.
I found more information on Nathan, whose father was Elias Lustig. Nathan’s naturalization documents include a testimonial from Joseph stating that he is Nathan’s brother, but the ages make this seem unlikely, and neither of Nathan’s parents’ names coincide with any of the varied names of Joseph’s parents. In another location in the naturalization papers, Joseph is indicated as Nathan’s uncle. Nathan would be the right age to be Joseph’s nephew. There is a probability that when Nathan and Elias arrived in New York in 1891, they knew Joseph had been living in the city for several years, and Joseph might have even helped Nathan and Elias immigrate.
If it’s true that Joseph is Nathan’s uncle, Joseph and Elias would be brothers. There’s about thirteen years’ difference in age between Joseph and Elias, which isn’t impossible for brothers. However, a family history document written by Mortimer Landes, Joseph’s grandson, says the following: “Joseph had no brothers or sisters as far as I know — but there were many cousins from his side — and I still have contact with some of them.” Morty died twenty years ago, so I never had a chance to ask who these cousins may be. Perhaps Elias and Nathan Lustig are some of those cousins.
It’s no secret in the genealogy and family research community that this particular industry is led by the Mormon church. One Mormon mission is to extend membership, and one way to accomplish this goal is to posthumously baptize people who never had the chance to convert to this particular religion. PBS explains:
The Mormon interest in genealogy is closely linked to their doctrine of baptism for the dead and their belief that the family unit will continue to exist beyond mortal life. Mormons trace their family trees to find the names of ancestors who died without learning about the restored Mormon Gospel so that these relatives from past generations can be baptized by proxy in the temple. Once baptized, if the ancestor’s spirit has accepted the Gospel, they will be able to be together with the rest of their baptized Mormon family in the celestial kingdom. For the Saints, genealogy is a way to save more souls and strengthen the eternal family unit.
For anyone who is not a Mormon, this concept is incredibly disrespectful. I have no interest in Mormon theology; when my vital records and family tree become known to the Mormons after I pass away, will a church leader convert me to his religion? But even if a Mormon individual performs some kind of ceremony after my death, does it even matter? My family will know my religious intentions — and if God exists, He knows I have no interest in Mormonism, so does it matter what someone in some church I’ve had no connection with does?
Regardless, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as they’re formally known, LDS for short, pretty much own the genealogy and family history industry. They have spent a lot of resources finding genealogical records from all over the world, compiling them into a massive library in Utah.
The only way to efficiently and affordably index and digitze billions of records is to enlist the assistance of volunteers, and that’s exactly what the Mormon Church has done. Making these records available to everyone via the Church’s Family History Library and the FamilySerach.org website has greatly benefited the world of genealogy. Much historical information pertaining to individuals would be lost if they hadn’t been preserved by the Mormons.
Ancestry.com has announced the company will be forming a partnership with FamilySearch.org, bringing millions of records currently available only through the LDS to paying Ancestry.com subscribers. Currently those records are available for free to the public on the non-profit FamilySearch.org; soon, they will be available to Ancestry.com’s paying subscribers. Ancestry.com is not saying whether the records will remain freely available to the public via the LDS.
In addition, Ancestry.com is investing $60 million in a project to improve the records held at the Family History Library. The improvements will come in the form of digitizing (scanning documents and photographing microfilm) and indexing items already owned by the Mormons. It’s safe to assume that these improved records will be accessible only through a paying membership to Ancestry.com.
The one thing I don’t like about this news is that the volunteers who helped transcribe millions of documents obtained by the Family History Library were under the impression they were doing their work for a non-profit organization. Now their work will be owned by Ancestry.com, a company with roots in the Mormon Church but is now owned by a European private equity investment firm that has no interest in the organization other than a financial return on their investment.
There’s nothing wrong with capitalism, but the value of these records is based on the work of volunteers who were not aware that their work would used for profit. Many volunteers would not have given hours of their life had they thought the information provided would be the direct source of profit for a massive company rather than be offered as a benefit to the world. In 2011, the last year Ancestry.com filed public financial statements, the company generated revenue of $400 million; this is not a company in need of volunteer recruitment.
It’s also wroth pointing out that Ancestry.com is already having difficulty with its infrastructure. The site’s technology can’t seem to withstand the volume of records and traffic it currently tries to support, with frequent site outages encouraging frustrated users to demand refunds or cancel subscriptions. It’s unclear whether Ancestry.com is prioritizing the infrastrucutre necessary to support the addition of millions of records from FamilySearch.org over the next few years.
The end result of this partnership will be a great benefit to the world of genealogy, but it’s unclear right now how much of that benefit will be reserved for paying Ancestry.com subscribers, how much information will be lost for those who don’t wish to or can’t pay the annual fees, and how volunteers will feel about continuing to dedicate their time producing information of value that only benefits paying customers, a small portion of the population of family history enthusiasts.
Thanks to the work by dedicated volunteers — a community in which I don’t have the linguistic experience to participate — remote vital records, like births, marriages, and deaths, are newly available online. Volunteers traveled to Romania (or coordinated with locals in Eastern Europe) to retrieve, photograph, transcribe, and translate documents found in the national and city archives. Over the summer, these records were added to databases connected to the JewishGen website, the home of the primary collection of databases for worldwide Jewish genealogical research.
Thanks particularly to the Romanian Special Interest Group (ROM-SIG) project coordinator, Bob Wascou.
And it looks like I’ve had some personal success with the updated records. I’ve discovered what appears to be a marriage record for my second great grandparents on my direct paternal line, Moses Landes and Bertha Brauna Yeruslavitz.
The information in the record doesn’t precisely match existing information I have. Over the last year of my genealogy research, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are going to be times when one piece of information conflicts with another piece of information. I have to make judgment calls frequently not only to determine whether the newly-found record pertains to the individuals I believe it does, but to determine which might be more accurate.
The only information I truly have 100% confidence in is information pertaining to myself; every other piece of data carries at least some level of doubt.
There are some problems with this marriage record.
The groom and bride names are not accurate compared to my knowledge. Moses Landes is listed as Moisi Lande. Moses and Moisi are both common versions of the name משה from biblical Hebrew. Lande could just be a misinterepretation of handwriting on the actual record, or it could be the actual surname used at the time. The bride is listed as Brana Serislavitz, and I’d be willing to wager that the handwritten record starts the name with a J, and this is just a misreading.
The couple’s parents’ names are different than my records. With so few records in the United States referring with any consistency to my third great grandparents, I’d be more inclined to accept this new information as correct. Moses’s parents here are Hers and Perla Leea. On Moses’s gravestone, his father is listed in Hebrew was Joseph Chaim, and on Moses’s death certificate, his father’s name is recorded as Joseph. Hers (or Herș or Hirsch) are not normally substitutions for Joseph, but on Moses’s headstone, his fill name is inscribed as משה צבי ב״ר יוסף חיים. Herș is the Romanian spelling of the Yiddish הירש, the equivalent of the Hebrew צבי. Maybe his father’s name as listed on this marriage record is actually a reference to Moses’s full name
On Moses’s death certificate, his mother’s name is listed as Pauline Leon. I’ve seen Pauline as a frequent replacement for Pearl (or Perl or Berl), and Leon, which I thought might have been Moses’s mother’s surname, might be Leah (Leea), part of her given name.
The bride’s parents are listed as Meer and Eidil. The only information I had previously for her parents were too conflicted to prove worthwhile; this may be the best clue I have so far. Eidil could very well be Edith Yeruslavitz that traveled to Canada with the family but disappeared soon after immigration. Edith’s birth year would be 1842 according to the passenger manifest, and with Bertha’s birth year described below, it’s possible that the Edith who traveled to North America is the Eidil listed on this record. The name Meer matches Bertha Brauna’s father’s Hebrew name on her headstone.
The dates don’t match. My records indicate Moses was born in December 1852 (or less likely, 1854). The new record indicates he was born in 1845, which would have made him 81 at the time of his death. My records indicate Bertha Brauna was born in 1860; the marriage record indicates she was born in 1857 and was 18 years old.
Despite all of the discrepancies, I’m leaning strongly towards including this. The names, location, and marriage date (not long before the birth of their first child) give me enough confidence that this record represents my second great grandparents.
It helps to continue checking resources that receive occasional updates to the database. And if you can contribute to projects that endeavor to retrieve mostly inaccessible genealogical records and make them available to the world, particularly in support of a non-profit organization like JewishGen, do so.
Over the next few hours, I’ll be updating my tree on Ancestry.com to include the new details. It might take longer for me to update the local, free copy of my family tree on landesfamilytree.com.
At least two generations of the Landes family were involved in the pharmacy industry in New York City. When Moses Landes settled in Manhattan after passing through Canada on the way from England and initially Romania, he noted his occupation has a stand keeper, and on his death certificate, he was listed as having worked at a candy store. But just a couple of years after he was living in New York, his son Joseph was moving forward with his career.
Joseph’s work continued with his son Herbert, and for a time, with his other son Mortimer.
On May 21, 1902 at Brooklyn College, Joseph Landes passed the examination given by the Eastern Branch of the (New York) State Board of Pharmacy for the degree of licensed pharmacist and received his pharmaceutical certificate.
By March 1910, Joseph, living in Manhattan, was working as a pharmacist at 11 First Avenue, also in Manhattan. He was operating his store under the registered trade name Alo-Lax Chemical Company. He was also later a director and vice president of Sealeaf Emulsion Company, which was, probably after Joseph’s involvement, fined $50 for advertising unproven health benefits of a chocolate cod-liver oil product.
Before his death, Joseph had moved his operations to 4024 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, under the name Landes Pharmacy. When Joseph died, his obituary was printed in Volume 43 of Practical Druggist and Pharmaceutical Review of Reviews:
Joseph Landes who conducted a drug store at 41st Street and Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, died recently aged forty-five years. He was well and favorably known to the drug trade as treasurer of the Bay Ridge Retail Druggists Association and as member of the New York Retail Druggists Association. He was also a member and organizer of the First Berauer, K. N. V. [sic] He is survived by a widow and three sons.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the printing of “First Berauer, K. N. V.” was probably a misreading of First Bacauer, K.U.V., the organization (landsmanshaft) that supported — or was intended to support — immigrants from Bacău, Romania, as well as relatives still living there. K.U.V. is an abbreviation for the Yiddish that translates roughly to “sick and benevolent association.” This would therefore mean that Joseph considered himself to be from the town of Bacău in Romania, and possibly that he and his siblings lived there before emigrating to North America by way of England.
It’s likely he was born in Iași like his brothers and sister, but perhaps he identified his childhood with Bacău. First Bacauer K.U.V. did not pay for his burial or the burial of any other Landes, but at first glance, the organization did not seem to have any money.
Joseph’s widow, Sadie Lustig Landes, was the proprietor of the store after Joseph’s death, and Herbert and Mortimer later operated or worked at the store.
After Sadie passed away in 1964, it appears that the family sold the business.
The store that contained the pharmacy became known as Bi-Rite Drugs after the new owners filed for incorporation with New York State on 17 May 1965. Bi-Rite moved between 1997 and 2007 to its final location at 4013 Fifth Avenue, and today, Bi-Rite Drugs is out of business.
Towards the top of this post is a page from the prescription pad from the Landes Pharmacy, provided by Joan Landes Norton who discovered the paper deep in a file cabinet. You can see the store’s phone number is GE 6-8239, the same number (718-436-8239) that stayed with the store for at least fifty years, even after the store changed locations and owners following the death of Sadie Lustig Landes.
The photograph here is how the storefront appeared in 2013, courtesy of Google Maps Street View. Even in this photograph, if you look at the bottom of the sign noting the storefront is available for rent, you can see the last few digits of the same phone number that stayed with the store since the Landes family arrived in Brooklyn.
The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society magazine included a feature article this month about storytelling. As a long-time blogger, I’m quite familiar with the power of storytelling in conveying a message and in getting others excited. Genealogy and family history can be pretty boring, and while some people might get a kick out of flipping through old birth certificates and immigration documentation, that doesn’t have a lasting effect. But providing stories about the people in the tree can build that connection from one generation to another. Suddenly, the great grandfather is alive, and his struggles become relatable.
But I haven’t done a good job of uncovering these stories in my family. I’d like to be able to piece together a narrative about the lives of my ancestors, but I’ve found so little information about their lives prior to arrival in the United States that constructing these stories has proven impossible so far. The one notable exception is the Holocaust discovery, wherein two distant relatives perished in Thereseinstadt and Auschwitz. But I don’t know how they found their way to Thereseinstadt in the first place and what their lives were like in Germany before their removal.
I can contrast this with my girlfriend’s family research, with which I am assisting. Even just a small amount of digging led us to discover dozens of her relatives who perished in the Holocaust, all unknown to her current living relatives but easily confirmed with various records. A prominent writer has published books and stories with information about this family’s abduction from Amsterdam to the concentration camps.
Besides the Holocaust, branches of her family who were in the United States earlier are full of entertaining stories, like a murder-suicide (which was obviously a serious event at the time, and I don’t mean to reduce something like that to “just a story” today) allegedly performed by a distant cousin. I have no desire to find anything that dramatic in my family, but some kind of memorable story would make it easier for me engage others as I continue this quest.
Stories seem to be today’s genealogical theme. A new website makes it easy to create presentations based on the text entered, which presents an animations using photographs and relationship tables from family trees. I’ll take a look more carefully at Treelines when I’ve constructed a story to share. This sample story makes the service look promising.
Even Ancestry.com has jumped on the story bandwagon by adding a life narrative page to individual profiles.
Over the past year, I’ve found Ancestry.com to be an excellent tool for organizing and researching my family’s history. Unfortunately, sharing the information isn’t quite as easy. I’d like to be able to share the family tree with family members while allowing the rest of the world to see public examples I write about here.
I’ve invited family members to my tree on Ancestry.com, and they can view some of the information, but they can’t view everything I’ve discovered without paying a fee. And if they don’t pay the fee, they are bombarded with advertisements and other annoyances in order to convince them to sign up for a paid membership.
I have no interest in seeing my family part with their money, so I’ve been looking for a better solution. I’ll continue to use services and software like Ancestry.com, Family Tree Maker, and MyHeritage for my own management and research pertaining to my family history, but I will also host a public, free-to-access, version of the tree here on landesfamilytree.com. The interface is not as polished as it is on Ancestry.com or any other commercial tool, but it provides access to the information to visitors and members, free of charge.
You can access the family tree website here. Currently, it contains almost 5,000 individuals, focusing mainly on my ancestors and their descendants, but I’ve also researched somewhat distant branches of the family and added them to the tree if I felt there was a good enough reason to do so.
In order to see details about living persons and other information like sources and certain media, you must log in after requesting a new account. Because of the nature of private information available, I’ll approve new accounts for only family members. Otherwise, only certain basic information will be visible.
There have been a few notable updates since my last posting:
After writing about piecing together more details about the Lepianski branch, I was contacted by a cousin who provided more details. I knew that several of Anna (Khiene Liba) Lepianski Kerstman’s brothers and sisters found their way from Yanowa, Poland (now Lithuania) to the United States, but I hadn’t discovered their whereabouts. The cousin was closer to this family and provided more information on Moisei Isaak Lepianski, who became known in the United States as Morris Lopinsky. I’m still on the look-out for Anna’s sister Esther (Ester Leia).
I most recently wrote about my relatives who perished in the Holocaust. Sophie Heimbach, my second cousin three times removed and a Sturmwald descendant, and her father both perished. Sophie’s two sisters, Frieda and Ida, both left Europe for the United States during the first decade of the twentieth century. I’ve been able to find more information about Frieda Heimbach, who married Christian Schaefer.
While reviewing my DNA matches using FamilyTreeDNA and Gedmatch, I’ve encountered several matches who are related to the Oppenheimer family, a prominent Jewish family from Germany. The Oppenheimers have many living descendants, and more than just a few are interested in tracking their family history. One branch of the Oppenheimers (Feygele, daughter of Samson Oppenheimer) consists of ancestors of a Royal Dutch family. I’ve known of my own connection to the Oppenheimers as one several marriages away from my own lineage, but I’m wondering if DNA evidence is pointing to a closer connection.
There’s no definitive conclusion as a result of DNA analysis yet, but I’m continuing to try to make sense of what is known.
In my research, I found this diagram of the Oppenheimer family tree courtesy of the Loeb Family Tree website. According to the author of the site, this tree was drawn by Samuel Dokow of Hemsbach in 1900.
Until yesterday, I hadn’t been aware of any relatives who experienced the Holocaust in person, whether they ultimately survived the horror or not. My first discovery came yesterday, and it’s due to Google Books.
If Google did not make the effort to digitize rare books from around the world, it would have taken me a lifetime to discover references to my relatives, and that’s assuming I would discover it at all. Because Google has made the text of these books fully searchable, even if the full book isn’t available for viewing online, it can point researchers in the right direction, towards information that would be buried otherwise.
It also makes sense for researchers to continue searching. I’ve searched Google Books for references to Sturmwald before, but yesterday’s new result provided new information about my relatives in Germany.
The first result new was several pages from the book, Stadtführer zu Orten ehemaligen jüdischen Lebens in Rheine [City Guide to Former Places of Jewish Life in Rheine]. The pages referred to Babette Sturmwald, born in 1856 in Laer, which is near Steifurt and Münster in Germany. The book contains a record of her family: her husband, Sigmund-Samuel Heinbach, and their four daughters, Ida, Frieda, Sophie, and Bertha. The book notes that the first two daughters, Ida and Frieda, emigrated to the United States, and even offers the dates they departed.
According to the book, Sigmund-Samuel Heimbach died at the Theresienstadt ghetto in 1942 a few years before Sophie, who had also been moved initially to the Theresienstadt ghetto, perished at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
After discovering this, I turned to Yad Vashem to see if there were any additional records or documentation of Sigmund’s and Sophie’s experiences in Theresienstadt or Auschwitz. Their names appear in the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names had more information that helped with the research, both sourced from a book called Victims of the Persecution of Jews under the National Socialist Tyranny in Germany 1933 – 1945. Sigmund’s entry also included a Nazi death certificate, included here.
Until this point, I knew that Sigmund and Sophie, as well as Babette’s other children, were descendants of a Sturmwald, but I wasn’t sure about how they fit into the family tree. By tracing Ida Heimbach’s journey to the United States, I found exactly what I needed.
In the ship manifest, Ida indicated her destination was her aunt in the United States, Bertha Freitag. I took this at face value. I had already understood that Bertha Sturmwald Freitag had two siblings who remained in Germany. This information places Babette Stumrwald Heimbach, Ida’s mother, as Bertha Sturmwald Freitag’s sister. As a result, Ida and Sophie are both second cousins, three times removed.
Now Babette and her family, some of whom perished in the Holocaust, have their places in my family tree. It’s distant, but considering I still expect some of my closer ancestors to have siblings, who I’m not aware of, and who remained in Europe.
I’ll just keep searching, and maybe an obscure book somewhere, newly scanned by Google Books, will reveal new details. Typically, the only way to discover detail like these is to visit libraries around the world and read thousands of books. That’s certainly not a guaranteed method of research; I could read tens of thousands of books and never find anything pertaining to my family — or I could read something unrelated and not know until later that some of the information did in fact pertain to my family.
Grand efforts to digitize and index historical libraries is the only hope most people have for discovering information that would ordinarily be lost to history.
When I started looking into my family’s history, I had little information to begin with. A two-page handwritten document offered a brief overview of my father’s lineage, including his ancestors’ brothers and sisters. The document was writtreen either by my father’s aunt or uncle sometime within the past couple of decades. The information gave me a great starting point for my research.
Members of the family tree on Ancestry.com can see the document here. You can join family trees on Ancestry.com for free, despite the company’s incessant attempts to get you to part with your money. If you’re a relative of mine and would like free membership to see the documents I’ve attached to the tree, leave a comment on this website.
The second page of the document indicates that my great grandmother’s brother Albert Lustig married Sadie Jacobs. With this information, I had discovered where Albert and Sadie lived after they were married, but I couldn’t find any information about Sadie prior to the marriage. The marriage should have taken place in New York City during the time in which indexes are freely available via stevemorse.org, but nothing with these names, or using the name Abraham Lustig, as the groom was also known, was available.
I did find a record for a marriage between Albert Lustig and Sadie Isaacs in New York, the same year that I expected my great granduncle to be married. I added this to the list of records to order, but it wasn’t a high priority. While there is a Family History Library about 30 minutes from where I live, ordering microfiche and scanning documents on-site is not something I currently have the time to do. Ordering the records directly from the New York City Department of Records takes a little more time and is a little more expensive. So I order only a few records each month.
In March, I ordered the marriage certificate for Albert Lustig and Sadie Isaacs. When the document arrived this past weekend, I was pleased, but not completely surprised, to see that Albert Lustig’s parents as listed were in fact my second great grandparents, Joseph Lustig and Eliza Sturmwald Lustig. Sadie Isaacs, born in Philadelphia, was the daughter of Henry Isaacs and Rachel Leon Isaacs. I later discovered that Henry Isaacs came to the United States from The Netherlands and Rachel Leon was born in South Carolina.
With this new information confirmed, I was able to find Sadie’s brothers and sisters. Other family historians with trees on Ancestry.com provided some hints to the descendants of Sadie’s siblings, which sent me in search of more records — mostly census records and marriage documents — confirming these new relatives. Again, this isn’t a high priority in my search because most of these relatives are at least one marriage away from my bloodline, but still not as distant as many other individuals included in the family tree. With Sadie’s family’s history in the United States stretching back through time farther than that of most of my direct ancestors, more resources are available online for research, particularly through FamilySearch.
Had I ordered Sadie’s death certificate, I might have been able to determine the her maiden name. Because she passed away in 1965, fewer than 50 years ago, New York City would probably not release the document to me. Only confirmed direct descendants can receive someone’s death certificate within that time frame.
One thing from the original document pertaining to Sadie Isaacs remains correct: she and Albert had no children.
In an effort to learn more about my family’s history, I’ve ordered several DNA analyses.
First, I ordered an autosomal DNA analysis from Ancestry.com. This test was an attempt to identify missing links in my family tree. Almost every week, Ancestry.com provides me with a list of new potential matches — other customers who tested their DNA who may be third, fourth, or more distant cousins. Since the company provided me with the initial results, I’ve received hundreds of these new potential matches.
I have yet to confirm a relationship with anyone listed as a potential relative. These false positives may be a common problem among those with certain DNA associated with Ashkenazic Jewish ancestry.
The Family Finder DNA test from FamilyTreeDNA provides a similar type of analysis. Again, I have hundreds of matches; in fact, I sent a few emails to those listed as potentially being third cousins, but I’ve received no responses. This is an old service; those who received their results many years ago may no longer be checking the email addresses they provided originally, or just aren’t interested in determining whether there is a relation.
FamilyTreeDNA also offers testing of Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA. The Y-DNA test focuses on patrilineal ancestry. Assuming the analysis is correct, I fall within haplogroup G2c. Or at least, that is what I assumed based on the markers when I received the data from the test. Since then, FamilyTreeDNA has changed the way it describes haplogroups. I am now categorized as G-M201. My testing did not go far enough to determine my specific subgroup within haplogroup G — that would require a more expensive test. Part of haplogroup G migrated from the Middle East into Europe while another part migrated to South Asia.
When I ordered the mitochondrial DNA test from FamilyTreeDNA, I chose to full package, which analyzes the complete mitochondrial DNA sequence. This gives me the fullest picture of my matrilineal ancestry, which I share with my mother, her sister, and her mother’s sister. The designation for my mtDNA haplogroup subclade is K2a2a1. The individual in charge of the haplogroup K community on FamilyTreeDNA contacted me soon after, helping me navigate all the information available.
The image on the right shows the migration path for haplogroup K. The “Eve” indicated on the map isn’t the biblical Eve, it’s Mitocondrial Eve. All mitochondrial DNA can be traced back to this theoretical woman, the most recent common ancestor of all living women, who lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago. The K2a2a1 subclade of haplogroup K is identified as being exclusively Ashkenazi.
In addition to the proposed relatives listed among the Family Finder matches, the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests also provide a list of potential matches. Very few people provide their family trees, however, so it would be almost impossible to determine if there are any close relatives in the system without sending out mass emails.
Taking all the DNA tests into account, I appreciate the idea that I can trace the historical migration of my patrilineal and matrilineal ancestors back to practically the origin of the species, but those two lines make up a small portion of me. Going back four generations, my Y-DNA and mtDNA represent 12.5% of my ancestry (two ancestors of sixteen). Going back eight generations, the same DNA represents only 0.4% of my ancestry (two ancestors of 256). Go back 1,000 years, about 50 generations, and my Y-DNA and mtDNA represent about one five-hundred-trillionth of my total ancestry (assuming there has been no duplication of ancestors, but is also impossible because there were only about 400 million people alive in the year 1000).
That’s the extent of my satisfaction with these DNA tests. So far, the results have done little to identify relatives who might help me build my family tree. There has been one potential close call, but my skeptical nature prevents me from agreeing to a potential relationship without some sort of documentation, or at least some fairly convincing evidence.
This is the first article in which I take one of my ancestral families and attempt to reconstruct a narrative history.
The Landes family was located in Romania in the second half of the nineteenth century. The family’s emigration trek would take them through Europe to England, and in North America, they lived in Montréal for some time before their final destinations in Detroit and New York City.
The first branch of the Landes family to arrive in North America included Martin Landes (1876-1951) and Paulina “Pearl” Yeruslavitz (1881-1966). They arrived in Canada in 1898 and married that same year. Martin was a traveling salesperson and frequently traveled between Montréal and Detroit.
Other Landeses followed Martin to Canada. Martin’s brothers, Joseph and Charles Landes, and his sister, Fannie Landes, arrived in 1898 or 1899. His father and mother, Moses Landes and Bertha “Brauna” Yeruslavitz, who married in Iași, Romania in 1875, arrived in 1900. All Landeses other than Martin’s family came to reside permanently in Manhattan and Brooklyn within a few years.
When they arrived in Canada in 1900, they traveled with a few other individuals. One seems to be listed as Sam Landes, and I haven’t been able to identify him. Another is Edith Yeruslavitz, who I believe to be Bertha’s mother, Eidil (as listed on Moses’s marriage certificate).
I haven’t found a direct connection to Moses’s wife Bertha Yeruslavitz and Martin’s wife Paulina Yeruslavitz. There is a potential connection. Bertha had a brother named Moses Yeruslavitz, and this is also the name of Paulina’s father. The ages and the fact that both are listed as having lived in Valleyfield, Quebec make it likely these are the same individuals, but Bertha’s brother married Becky and Rosa, while Paulina’s mother’s name was Clara.
Could Clara be Bertha’s brother’s third wife?
While all the Landeses of this generation were born in Romania, there are some questions about where in Romania they lived. Martin, Joseph, Fannie, and Charles have documented that they were born in Iași, and thanks to the administrators of the JewishGen ROM-SIG (Romania Special Interest Group) community, I now have a few birth index records translated from Romanian as confirmation.
I have no information about Moses and Bertha’s birth locations other than that they were born in Romania. Family lore indicates there may be an adoption, but that might just mean that the family arrived in Romania from Galicia and adopted the surname Landes when it became necessary to do so.
Moses’s parents are Herș Landes and Perla Leah as listed on his marriage certificate, or Joseph Landes and Pauline Leon as listed on his death certificate.
Martin’s family grew. He and Pearl had five or six children, all born in Montréal: Clara, Isaac, Irving, Grada Caroline, Molly, and Lillie.
There is some confusion about Isaac and Irving. The evidence seems to show they were born over a year apart, but there are discrepancies pertaining to official dates. Irving Landes was born in 1904 and passed away in 1981, but his military records indicate he was born in August 1903, a year before other records indicate. This birth date would be too close to the official birth date of Isaac Landes, June 1903. The 1911 Canadian Census lists an Isidore Landes with the birth date of August 1903.
Martin’s final child, Lillie, has a birth record and a listing in the 1901 Canadian Census, but no records pertaining exist beyond 1901. I expect that during sickness, the family began calling her Ruthie, which would then line up with the 1921 census and a cemetery record. Martin passed away in 1951 and Pearl passed away in 1966.
Grada passed away in 1971, having never married. Irving, as already mentioned above, passed away in 1981. Clara Landes married Misha John Spiegel and passed away in 1996. Molly Landes married Israel Jack Cook and passed away in 2000.
Before arriving in New York, Joseph studied pharmacology and/or medicine in Romania, possibly in Bacău. After settling in New York, Joseph Landes married Sadie Lustig (daughter of David Sturmwald) and had three children: Mortimer, Herbert, and Edith.
Moses and Bertha continued to live in New York among their children until their deaths in 1926 and 1927 respectively.
Mortimer (Morty) married Pearl Blush and Herbert married Marcia Kerstman. Joseph was a pharmacist in Manhattan, and the family business, including the ownership of a corner pharmacy in Brooklyn, was carried on by his wife and his sons Herbert and Mortimer.
Charles was a salesman in a drug store. Herbert passed away in 1964, Edith passed away in 1986, and Morty passed away in 1993.
Fannie Landes married Albert Paltiel. They had two children, Joseph and Harry, and Albert passed away. Fannie remarried, to Adolph Goldenberg, and they brought up the two children. Joseph married Hannah Paltiel and passed away in 1995, and Harry married Isabel Jackson and passed away in 1986.
Charles Landes married Clara Schier (or Shear), and they had no children.
Many people with the last name of Landes, some with alternative spellings, lived in New York after coming from Romania. At this point, I haven’t found any relationship between any other Landeses and my family.
There are a number of unidentified family members. Moses’s obituary indicates he had a sister in Saint Louis, Missouri, who married a man named Cohen. When Moses and Bertha immigrated to Canada, they traveled with a Sam Landes, born about 1882, as mentioned above.
In order to determine more about my ancestry and genealogy, I ordered several DNA tests last year. The first was an autosomal DNA test from Ancestry.com. The purpose of this test was to find potential relatives by comparing a large portion of my DNA fingerprint to others who have also provided their DNA to the same project.
The results haven’t been very encouraging. Although the Ancestry.com DNA database seems to be growing very quickly, and I receive a list of new potential every week, since July last year the best match I’ve found so far is a potential third cousin with a confidence level of 98%. As far as I can tell, this does not mean there is a 98% chance of this individual being my third cousin. I don’t know what these numbers really mean, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m part of a community — Ashkenazic Jews — whose DNA tests are more likely to present false matches.
And that’s why I have hundreds of potential matches with Ancestry.com at a confidence level of 96% or higher, listed as potential fourth to sixth cousins. I have checked the families trees of every potential match at this confidence level, for those who make their family trees available to others in the community, and I have yet to find a single confirmed match. The results are a little disappointing, but that doesn’t mean some of these matches aren’t cousins. There are a few obstacles:
- I have details going back only four or five generations for most of my ancestors.
- Most of my potential DNA matches have even less information listed on their trees.
- To confirm a fourth cousin you need to have a great great great grandparent in common, and I only have information about a few of mine.
That may be because many other testers have not provided enough information about their trees, or that my ancestors may have siblings I have not yet discovered, but the results are a little disappointing.
One potential DNA match is a neighbor’s family from my childhood, and we may have found a link based on what might be my second great grandmother’s maiden name, but I have several conflicting records, and there are some other location discrepancies. It might be interesting to find out the girl next door was my third cousin once removed, but this is a long way from being a verifiable fact.
Late in the year, I ordered a similar test from FamilyTreeDNA, which this particular company is branding as “Family Finder.” Because the two companies have different sets of users, in theory, I could find different potential cousins by submitting my DNA to FamilyTreeDNA. Although FamilyTreeDNA supposedly corrects their matching results to take the problem with Ashkenazic DNA into account, my results, provided at the beginning of 2013, identify 230 potential distant relatives and two close relatives — second or third cousins. For the most part, FamilyTreeDNA does not link family trees to DNA, so I can’t peruse potential cousins’ families for matches. Emails to the two potential close relatives have not yet been answered.
What is the point of all this? Why spend so much money for DNA tests to discover cousins? At this point, the discovery of new blood relatives is unlikely to change much in my life. It seems to be for the sake of curiosity only. And with what seems to be such poor results so far, I’m not sure whether there’s a point in continuing to browse through strangers’ family trees looking for a possible connection. At the same time, I haven’t exhausted all resources yet. I have very little information about my ancestors who lived in Russia and Romania.
Sources from Lithuania, England, and Germany have been helpful, but these come from records that are already available online. To go further into my ancestry, I’ll need to find records on the ground in Eastern Europe. Perhaps a potential relative’s family tree provides some clues, like a brother or sister of one of my ancestors I haven’t confirmed yet. The chances seem low, however.
In the last month, Ancestry.com has made available to the public lists of passengers departing from United Kingdom’s shores between 1890 and 1960. The information was available to the public previously, but only through The National Archives in Surrey, England, and not online in any format. The records are now fully indexed.
My first search of this database revealed great results. I immediately found departure documentation of my second great grandparents, Moses Landes and Bertha (Brauna) Yeruslavitz Landes, on the ship S.S. Vancouver. The couple, born in Romania, traveled from Liverpool to Montréal, and later settled in New York City.
The record shows that Moses and Bertha traveled with two companions. The first looks like it may be Sam Landes, though this document indicates the traveler is female, with an unreadable age (indexed as 22). The second is Edith Yeruslavitz, a housekeeper, age 58. Could this be Bertha’s mother? Or perhaps her aunt? Or (or and) maybe the mother of Martin Landes’s wife Pearl Yeruslavitz Landes. She is listed as married, so my assumption is that she married into the Yeruslavitz family, and is thus unlikely to be Bertha’s sister.
The departure date on the record is incorrectly listed on Ancestry.com as 30 April 1900; it’s actually 30 August 1900. With this information, I was able to browse the Library and Archives Canada collection of immigration records, and I found the corresponding arrival records on 9 September 1900.
The scan isn’t at a very high resolution, but the only illegible piece of information is the street address of the Landes family’s destination. This record, when compared to the United Kingdom departure list, provides a different age for the companion Sam Landes, listed here as a farmer rather than a servant; Edith Yeruslavitz is listed as a servant rather than a housekeeper. The group’s destination is Moses Landes’s son, living on a street I can’t read.
I’d like to tie Sam Landes and Edith Yeruslavitz into the family, but I don’t know exactly where they fit yet. I have found a Samuel Landes in New York, and although records for this Samuel Landes indicate he was also born in Romania, his birth year is not the same as what is listed in either of these documents and his date of immigration would have been prior to this travel in 1900.
Finding immigration records further back for Moses and Bertha might prove to be impossible. If they traveled on foot from Romania to England, there’s unlikely to be any kind of documentation, available online or not, of their travels.
A few days ago, I spoke to another cousin, a first cousin twice removed, who found me thanks to the progress I’ve posted online as I research certain branches of my ancestry. He offered a wealth of information about the descendants of Wolf Neckameyer.
He mentioned that my great grand aunt, Celia Neckameyer Walcoff, held a job as a model for an uncle whose last name was Kashowitz. The name rang a bell. Earlier in my research, I obtained the marriage certificate for my great grandparents, Anna Neckameyer and Samuel Berman. I had a hard time interpreting the handwriting on the form, and I’m still getting used to interpreting different handwriting styles.
At first, I interpreted Anna’s mother’s maiden name on the certificate as “Rochaurtz.” This never sat well with me, and after further examination, and with the assistance of Lena Neckameyer’s marriage certificate where the name was written more clearly, I was happy with my new reading of “Rashowitz.” Although the cousin I spoke with didn’t know how Celia’s uncle was related, the fact that he said his name was “Kashowitz” forced me to go back to the marriage certificate once again.
With the new knowledge, it’s clear that the name is Kashowitz. The handwriting on Anna and Samuel’s marriage certificate is still a little suspect, but when I look closely, I can see that the initial is most definitely a “K” rather than an “R.”
Armed with the name Rashowitz and the possibility that more relatives were living in New York at the beginning of the twentieth century, I’ve discovered quite a few families with the last name Rashowitz documented in census records. I have yet to make any solid connection between these Rashowitz households and Rebecca Rashowitz, the first wife of Wolf Neckameyer, and the mother of my great grandmother Anna.
The three images below are how Rebecca Kashowitz’s name appears on three marriage certificates. I’ve slightly edited the images to get rid of lines from entries above and below the mother’s maiden name on the certificate.
Also, after receiving the naturalization documentation and death certificates for Martin Landes and his wife Pearl (Pauline), I’ve decided to change the spellings of Pearl’s maiden name, which happens to be the same as Martin’s mother’s maiden name (Bertha Brauna). I had been using the German-based spelling: Jereslawitz or Jaruslawitz. Many immigrants from Eastern Europe arrived in the United States will German spellings for their names, and that seems to come out of the fact that many boarded ships in Bremen, Germany. The boarding agent who transcribed the names simply wrote down what he heard using the letters he’s accustomed to associating with certain sounds.
As time passed, families took on the Anglicized spelling, using y instead of j for the Yiddish and Hebrew letter י, using v instead of w for the Yiddish װ. While there still is some inconsistency, I’m standardizing the name with spelling Yaruslavitz. This should also be closest to what I imagine the Yiddish spelling would have been (ירושלאַװיץ) or the Hebrew spelling (ירוסלביץ) using English transliteration rather than German.
Update: As I’ve found more, later records for newly discovered members of the Yeruslavitz family, this spelling is more common, so I’m updating the tree to reflect Yeruslavitz.
Not long ago, a distant potential cousin who has been researching his own family history contacted me. This has been my intent from the beginning. By having my family tree information on as many different genealogy and family tree websites as possible, as well as this website, I’m increasing the visibility of my family names with the hope that other researches may either gain some help from the research I’ve performed so far or will be able to help me break through some brick walls.
I haven’t verified how I’m related to this potential cousin, but we may share my fourth great grandfather or my fifth great grandfather. My fourth great grandfather is Israel Sturmwald from Bayern (Bavaria). I’ve been able to trace my history to this individual through mostly census records and vital statistics. Although we haven’t bridged the gap between his Sturmwald ancestors and mine, there’s a great chance his progenitor, Raphael Sturmwald, was a son or nephew of Israel.
The Sturmwalds who traveled to the United States settled in Manhattan, and later Brooklyn and New Jersey. With many brothers and cousins, some owned or co-owned a family business making paper boxes, while others worked as tailors, bar tenders, and salespeople.
As a result of my new contact, I looked into the Sturmwald history much more closely. I discovered some new resources that have helped me shape the history of this family.
Fulton History has an index of OCR’d local newspapers in Brooklyn and all around New York State. Searching this site has presented me with many obituaries which were not printed in local newspapers rather than the New York Times. The obituaries contain valuable information about the lives and relatives of the deceased, and this has allowed me to piece together disparate pieces of the Sturmwald family. It helped me determine, for example, that my third great grandfather, David Sturmwald, was the brother of Benjamin Sturmwald, another immigrant from Bayern.
The obituaries also allowed me place two of Benjamin’s children, Benno and Bertha Sturmwald, both immigrants from Bayern.
The Brooklyn Public Library also offers a searchable index of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, another newspaper, also archived on the Fulton History site, that contains not only news items but the social goings-on of the families living in Brooklyn.
A website dedicated to Jewish history in Germany has information about the Synagogue in Forth (Fort), the town in Bayern where Israel lived and whence his sons Daniel, Michael, and Benjamin traveled to the United States, shares a document that describes the Sturmwald family’s status within the community:
Inhaber der Matrikelstellen (1813-1861) waren (mit Zahl der Matrikel und Jahr des Schutzbriefes bzw. der Übernahme der Stelle): 1 Samuel Jacob Brandeis 1812, Jacob Ehrlich 1781; 2 Abraham Hirsch Freitag 1763; 3 Meier Eißig Levi Hirsch Eismann 1804; 4 Abraham Joseph Kümmelstiel 1758, 4 Meier Kümmelstiel; 5 Salomon Arons Wittib Ehrlicher 1774, 5 Henoch Ehrlich 1807; 6 Scholum Hirsch Friedenreich 1762, 6 Israel Joseph Sturmwald 1800, 6 Michael Sturmwald 1830; 7 Meier Joseph Kieselmann 1778, 7 Schmai Freitag 1807; […] 22 Joseph Israel Hirsch Sturmwald 1772 […]
My five years studying German throughout middle school and high school couldn’t help much with the transation, nor could Google Translate, mostly because of the term Matrikelstelle, which has no English counterpart. It appears to be a position in the synagogue or the awarding of something akin to a degree, and this is a powerful social position. As far as I can tell from further research online, being or holding a Matrikelstelle was necessary in order to have financial success. The position was an asset, and one family would arrange a marriage into another in order to share in the benefits of having a Matrikelstelle in the family.
The years in the above passage appear to be years that this position was awarded to each individual, not birth years — but with no knowledge about how these positions were assigned, they could have been awarded at birth. I noted the appearance of the name Freitag in this list; Israel Lowe Sturmwald’s granddaughter Bertha married Karl Freitag, who I’ve identified as originating in Germany. He could be the descendant of someone mentioned in this passage, though I expect Freitag might have been a more common name than Sturmwald.
If the dates in the passage are in fact dates of awarding of some position as an adult, this Israel Joseph Sturmwald would need to be Israel Loeb Sturmwald’s father, and perhaps Joseph Israel Hirsch Sturmwald is his father in turn.
Sturmwalds in Brooklyn seemed to cause occasional trouble. A Henry Sturmwald, which I haven’t confirmed is one of the two Henry Sturmwalds I’ve already identified in my family tree, was arrested and questioned by police in connection to a murder in 1886. His age in the newspaper report doesn’t match the age of the Henry Sturmwalds, but it’s hard to believe there are more than two Henry Sturmwalds in the area. The last name is not very common throughout the world.
In another news report, the apartment where the Sturmwald family lived was on fire. The rescue team from the fire department had to move the family away from danger twice, and they had difficulty evacuating the elder Sturmwald from his bedroom due to his size. The reporters in the nineteenth century were not very subtle.
In yet another story, a young girl poisoned herself, leaving a suicide note pining for the apparent player Daniel Sturmwald, with whom she had some kind of one-night stand and was lost in unrequited love. In a time before reality television and soap operas, gossip in the newspapers played an important role for entertainment; yet, if true, this is a sad story. Again, the only evidence that this story pertains to the Daniel Sturmwald who is the son of my third great grandfather is the proximity of the story to the family’s confirmed address.
I am able to reproduce the story here as it appeared in The Brooklyn Union, a newspaper that ran from 1867 through 1870. To the best of my understanding, the contents of this paper are now public domain.
There are many unanswered questions about identities, but the biggest question in my mind pertains to my direct ancestors.
It’s clear my third great grandfather, David Sturmwald, married Rosa Newman. Another Rosa Newman married David’s cousin, Henry Sturmwald. This Henry’s father, Benjamin Sturmwald, also married a Newman (or Neumann), Celia (or Cecilia or Zillie). Eliza Sturmwald’s marriage certificate lists her mother’s name as Janetta Shyck (though I might not be reading the handwriting correctly). Meanwhile, Eliza Sturmwald Lustig’s death certificate gives her mother’s name as Charlotte Newman. There is a death record held by New York City for Charlotte Newman, but she died in 1857, about the same time Eliza was born. Perhaps Charlotte gave birth to Eliza, passed away, and David later married Rosa Newman. Without marriage records for David, all I can do is guess.
I plan to order Charlotte’s death certificate — perhaps that will offer a new clue, though I’m not counting on it.
Below this article is the full Israel Loew Sturmwald tree. The Raphael Sturmwald branch will remain separate until I can find some kind of evidence supporting how Raphael is related to Israel. I don’t think that all public records have been exhausted; there might be more in Bayern that could help, though they’re not available online. Uncovering personal documents like letters to and from family or New York corporation documents might lend some more clues.
A few months ago while visiting the resting places of my ancestors and other relatives, I suspected a fallen gravestone to belong to my second great grandmother, Feige Berman. I asked for the stone to be reset and repointed and paid the required fee. Having discovered more ancestors buried at the same cemetery, I revisited recently. I paid a visit to Feige Berman to check on the gravestone, and it had been reset.
The engraving offered a new clue, but before I get to that, I had discovered more information about Feige from public records. Her son, Samuel, married Anna Neckameyer in 1919. This was the first marriage certificate I received from the New York Department of Records once I started searching for hard evidence beyond online tools like Ancestry.com. The certificate indicates Feige’s — or Fanny’s — maiden name is Short. That is the information I still have on my family tree, but it contradicts with something else.
Almost 30 years after Samuel was married, and outliving her son, Feige passed away. Her death certificate indicates her father’s full name is Joseph Slobus, and he was born in Russia. The name Slobus has not helped me turn up any additional information about her family. (Update: I’ve subsequently discovered the name is Slawitz.)
Feige’s gravestone, now that it is position upright, provides what could be valuable information. The Hebrew inscription of her name is as follows:
פײגא בת הרב ר’ עזריאל יוסך יהודא
“Feiga bat haRav R. Ezriel Yosef Yehuda.” This indicates her father was Rabbi Ezriel Yosef Yehuda, and as I know from census records and Feige’s death certificate, he is from Russia. Feige was born at 1848, so there is a good chance that the Rabbi was in Russia around that time. I’ve searched the internet and JewishGen, but I have not been able to find any Rabbi with that name.
I’m not sure where to go next. I’ve posted a message on the Ancestry.com message board, looking for some assistance or clues. And I’m publishing this article on my family research blog, to document my research but also to serve as an outpost in the remote chance that someone else happens to be searching for similar information.
Just a few days ago, I wrote about how my search to connect my grandmother’s friends, rumored to be relatives, led me in a different direction. It helped me discover previously unknown-to-me cousins.
This was a result of two-pronged research. I was researching my grandmother’s friend’s family to try to find a connection while also looking at my known relatives, immigrants from Lithuania, to see if there was a path I hadn’t traveled. While I was researching the friend’s family, I took note of the home addresses I found in the Brooklyn city directories on Ancestry.com.
I periodically look through the hard copy records I’ve ordered received from various record keeping agencies, like the New York City Department of Records and the National Archives. In looking at my great grandmother’s naturalization documents, I noticed the address listed for one of the witnesses matched the address I had found just a few days earlier. The naturalization was witnessed in 1938, so I decided to try the 1940 U.S. Federal Census to see if more family information would lead me to some new clues.
Visiting the Steve Morse website, I used the Enumeration District finder for the 1940 Census to pull up the images from Ancestry.com’s database. About three quarters of the way through the images, I found the address of my grandmother’s friend, and living there was the witness, Jennie Cohen. If the name weren’t so common, I could have just searched the index, but with several hundred Jennie Cohens in Brooklyn in 1940, that tactic wouldn’t have helped me reach the result nearly as quickly as browsing through the images in search of the address.
Tracing this family back from 1940 through Federal and New York State Censuses, I saw the Cohens lived with or near the Ratzkens from about the time Sheina arrived in the United States. I mused the other day whether the Jenny Libynsky living with Frank Ratzken as a boarder in 1910 would be Sheina Mikhlia Lipianski, and I am now all but certain that this is the case. Sheina, or Jenny, married Israel Cohen in 1915, and I’ve already ordered the marriage certificate from the New York Department of Records for more confirmation. Their daughter, Bernice, is my grandmother’s friend we have suspected to be a relative.
My great grandmother’s naturalization documentation made sense: her two witnesses were her husband and her sister.
This is a good reminder that all the details on records are important, even witnesses and their addresses.
There’s no question that had I started researching my family history earlier, I would have had a much easier time reaching conclusions. My paternal grandmother passed away in 2009, and I wasn’t particularly good at staying in touch with relatives separated by distance. Had I been, I might have also been inspired to learn more about the family while those who were the most knowledgeable were still able to share their stories.
I’m hearing now that two of my grandmother’s closest friends might have been her cousins. To research this, I looked through census and immigration records to verify a connection within the last few generations. I didn’t get very far, and I haven’t found any clues that would help me. When I got stuck, I decided to take another look at my confirmed family tree and try to work outwards, towards these two potential cousins, starting from where I would expect them to be in the tree if they were in fact cousins.
This led me to examine the immigration records for the Lepianski family again. My grandmother’s mother was known in the United States as Anna Lapinsky (married name Kerstman) but she spelled her name Chiene Lipansky when she traveled from Lithuania. Indexes to Lithuanian records are readily available online thanks to JewishGen, and this allowed me to explore this branch of my tree deeper in history than any with other ancestor. Lithuanian records transliterate her name as Khiena Liba Lepianski (or Lepiansky), and provided links to her brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles, for several generations. The records aren’t as easy to navigate as those on Ancestry.com, but they are surprisingly complete.
Before reviewing the Lithuanian records, I was aware that Anna’s mother, Ruth, my second great grandmother, was living with the family here in the United States by the time she was older. The Lithuanian records helped me realize that she would have traveled to the United States using the name Rochel Lepianski, and that led me to even more information about her other daughters — Anna’s sisters — who also came to the United States. At the time I was researching this branch, months ago, my discoveries ended here. I didn’t find anything about more Lepianskis living in the United States.
Last night, however, I discovered what I missed. In the ship manifest for Rochel’s arrival in the United States, she mentions her contact in the United States her son. I did some preliminary research on this individual months ago and nothing turned up, but with fresh eyes, the handwriting became clearer. She and her daughter, Kreina, came to the United States to stay with her son (in law), Frank Ratzken (spelled incorrectly on the manifest as Ratzkin). I was able to track Frank to Paterson, New Jersey, where he and his family were in the business of silk. His wife was Minnie.
A little more research in Frank’s own naturalization papers confirmed his marriage into the Lepianski family. His papers pointed out that his wife, Minnie, was born in Jonava, Lithuania (Yanowa, Poland at the time). That led me to Minnie’s naturalization information, which provided the name under which she immigrated to the United States: Minnie Lopinksy. Her birth date coincides with the birth date for Khiene’s sister Mina Lepianski, and I’m confident enough that the two records are identifying the same person.
In case there was still any doubt about the family connection, one of the witnesses to Minnie’s Declaration of Intention was Isadore Kerstman, Minnie’s brother-in-law.
By 1930, the Ratzken family, including the children of Mina Lepianksi, was living just a few houses down the street from my maternal grandfather’s house.
Although I haven’t yet found a connection to my grandmother’s two friends and possible cousins, a few hours of research have helped me identify blood relatives in the United States, and has given me a better picture of how the Lepianki family gradually came to the United States.
It wouldn’t be family history research if it didn’t create even more questions:
- What happened to Kreina Lepianski after she came to the United States with her mother Rochel?
- In 1910, Frank Ratzken’s home includes a boarder, Jennie Libynsky. Could this be Mina’s and Khiena Liba’s sister Sheina Mikhlia Lepianski?
- Different census recount different marriage dates for Frank and Minnie (Mina), and stevemorse.org is silent on the issue of marriage.
The following photographs were provided by Joel Landes and Shari Berman Landes. Continue reading “Kerstman family photographs”
The photographs below are courtesy of Joel Landes and Shari Berman Landes. Continue reading “Landes family photographs, page 2”
These photographs of the Herman family are courtesy of Shari Landes. Continue reading “Herman family photographs”
The photographs of the Klein family below are courtesy of Shari Berman Landes. Continue reading “Klein family photographs”
These photographs came to me from Naomi Paltiel Lowi through Bob Paltiel. The initial thought was that the subject is Fannie Landes Paltiel Goldenberg, but both Bob and I believe that is not the case. Unfortunately, all my other photographs of Fannie are incredibly low resolution, and it’s difficult to identify.
I thought I’d open up these photographs to other family members in the hope of identifying the two women and two children. The photograph were unmarked, so there are no names and no dates. Judging from the clothing, I would date these photographs in the 1920s, but I could be wrong. Continue reading “Can you identify these photographs?”
A few weekends ago, I spent two days in Brooklyn with two goals. First, I wanted to visited cemeteries to document gravestones and resting places of relatives, and second, I was hoping to visit the homes in which my ancestors lived.
My first visit was to Green-Wood Cemetery, a location that is also a national historic landmark. The grounds, while partially under construction, were quite beautiful. I may return to take the trolley tour of the location, and now that I know at least one additional relative is resting there, I have a strong reason to return. I visited Albert Lustig and Sadie Jacobs Lustig at Green-Wood. Albert is the brother of my great grandmother, Sadie Lustig Landes.
This visit introduced me to the term columbiarium. The columbarium was busy with a group of mourners, so I was careful to be very respectful of others while looking for the Lustigs’ spot.
I am not familiar with the different neighborhoods of Brooklyn, and relied on GPS to find my way. I was able to visit a few old houses to snap photographs of the their exteriors before heading out of Brooklyn.
The next day featured a trip back to Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island. There were many sites to visit, so I used a Google document to keep the day organized. The document has also helped me remember after the fact where I had been, which is important if I plan to write about these trips on this site. The first stop was Mount Hebron in Flushing to visit Samuel W. Berman, my great grandfather, and his mother, Feige Short Berman. Finding these graves took a good deal of time, even with directions from the cemetery’s office. My girlfriend, who went on these trips with me, didn’t have a great feeling about visiting this cemetery.
I’m not superstitious in any way, but once we found the stones, the bad feeling made sense. What we suspected to be Feige’s headstone had fallen. After documenting Samuel’s grave, we returned to the office to let someone know about the problem. They informed me they would have someone look at the plot, determine if the stone did belong to Feige, and send me a bill to fix it. I received the bill today. I’ll be looking forward to visiting again once the stone is reset and repointed.
After Mount Hebron, I visited my great grandmother Pearl Kerstman Rosenberg at Mount Judah. Pearl’s story has become more interesting lately. Pearl’s first husband was Shlomo Kerstman according to family history recorded by Jon Derow, mentioned in the linked article. Her maiden name is documented as Libowitz on her son Isadore’s marriage certificate, but it is recorded as Hoffman on her own death certificate, informed by her daughter Lillian. In my family tree online, I listed her birth name as Libowitz.
This has attracted the attention of someone who is a potential cousin as identified through AncestryDNA. His ancestors include Leibowitz, and he believes that the Pearl Libowitz in my tree is the Pearl Leibowitz recorded in his own family tree, someone for whom all records seem to be missing. This potential cousin also happens to have been a neighbor to my family twenty-five years ago. The coincidence is a little difficult to believe. According to the information I have, Pearl was born in or came from Odessa, while her son, Isadore, was born in Poltava. This doesn’t match with the Leibowitz history according to my potential cousin, but it doesn’t rule out the possible relationship either.
I’m now looking for additional documentation, but I haven’t had much luck finding anything prior to immigration. Isadore’s naturalization records might provide some clues, but these need to be ordered directly from the Kings County Clerk’s office and could take much longer to receive, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
After visiting Pearl, I spent more time in Brooklyn looking for old residences. Many buildings from the early twentieth century are gone, replaced with retail establishments or different buildings. In some cases, the addresses no longer exist. Moving forward in time, my family moved to different areas of Brooklyn, and these areas continue to be residential. I’ve included photography in the family tree.
The day ran long, and I didn’t make it to all the sites I had planned, but this fall I intend to return and continue my visits. A few days later, I noticed something I didn’t see in person. Samuel Berman’s headstone includes a Freemasons symbol at the top: the square and compass with the letter “G.” I didn’t expect any of my relatives to be Freemasons, but it does give me the opportunity to reach out to another organization that would potentially have records pertaining to my relatives.
There are a number of online tools vying for genealogists’ business when it comes to family record-keeping. After taking a close look at the various options, I decided sometime last year to use Ancestry.com and the partner desktop application, Family Tree Maker, for maintaining my information. Ancestry.com seemed to offer a great balance between access to records and a clean user interface.
I recently decided to sign up for a “Plus” membership with a different online tool, Geni. While most genealogists look down upon the idea of collaborating with strangers to amass one giant tree where we are all connected, Geni takes the opposite approach, encouraging users to reach out, join trees, merge “profiles,” and work together to keep the trees clean from junk. I had already used Geni to discover more information about certain branches of my tree, such as one family that married into the Kerstmans, descendants of the Hermans and the family that married into my cousins in that branch, and additional vital details about closer relatives. With these clues, I can better search for records through other resources to confirm new data.
Having already built a tree with more than 3,000 relatives — though some are related only by marriage — I would have liked to be able to upload my data directly into Geni through the use of the standard GEDCOM text file format. Geni has disabled this feature for several years due to the massive amount of clean-up work that would be necessary as a result of many users uploading files with 5,000 relatives, 20,000 relatives, or more. The feature would present too many duplicates for the user base to handle, even though there seems to be many dedicated individuals keeping their eyes on public profiles.
I manually entered my ancestors and their direct descendants first. When, through random searches, I’ve found public profiles pertaining to cousins not represented in my core tree, I added the profiles necessary to expand my tree out to the profiles already managed by other Geni users. I’ve sent some requests to merge our common relatives, but as many of these profiles don’t seem to be managed actively, I haven’t seen much response yet.
When I do find compelling information that enhances my extended family tree information, I generally manually add the new information to my family tree on Ancestry.com, but I generally add only what I can confirm with records available to the public, such as census records. My membership with Geni also allows me to export a GEDCOM file from selected public profiles so I can easily import entire branches into my main family tree, but such tools can be dangerous. I’m careful to only do so when I’ve been able to confirm that the profiles on Geni are in fact my relatives, as distant as they might be.
While Geni allows users (profile managers) to apply source records to profiles, it is not nearly as comprehensive as Ancestry.com’s system. I see Geni as a useful tool for connecting with people who may be studying shared family branches and finding some new hints for further research, but the focus on collaboration takes away from the emphasis on record-finding and confirming data.
This summer, I ordered a DNA testing kit from FamilyTreeDNA. Having already completed autosomal DNA testing with AncestryDNA, I opted to order a Y-DNA 37 test from a different company. Testing the Y-chromosome offers different results than autosomal testing. The latter helps you carve a picture of your entire genetic composition, roughly equal parts from each ancestor in each generation. That is, each of your eight great-grandparents contributes roughly 12.5 percent to your genetic composition with these tests.
The Y-chromosome test and the mitochondrial DNA test are different. The Y chromosome provides clues only to patrilineal ancestry, your father, your father’s father, his father, and so on, back through time, through only the male contributions. The test uses mutations in the genes to determine ancestral heritage, and through this information, can classify every male into a migration group. Any males with matching genetic markers has a good chance of being related through a recent common ancestor.
I enrolled in FamilyTreeDNA and provided the details of my furthest confirmed paternal ancestor, Moses Landes. While I do have one document indicating Moses’s father’s name was Joseph, I don’t have any birth or death dates for him, so I didn’t include that information in my profile. I joined a group on the website where other Landes (or Landis) descendants meet online to discuss their findings.
My genetic composition does not fit with the other members of this Landes group. It’s not surprising, given that our surname does not extend very far. From what I’ve been told, this family did not go by the name Landes in Romania.
The DNA indicates I am a member of haplogroup G2c, a branch of haplogroup G. This haplogroup represents Ashkenazi Jews, and some evidence suggests that the G2c branch reflects a migration out of Sicily to northeastern Europe in the Middle Ages.
FamilyTreeDNA links me to others who have had their DNA analyzed and whose DNA markers are similar to mine. There are no exact message for all 37 markers tested, but when limited to 12 markers, the site’s database offers me eight exact matches and 131 matches one step away. Evaluating 25 markers, I have two matches two steps away, one of whom is also two steps away when evaluating all 37 markers I’ve tested. There is a 91 percent chance according to FamilyTreeDNA than he and I share a common ancestor within 12 generations.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure where to go from here.
The Family Finder service, another autosomal DNA test, might provide me more insight into my relatives, considering FamilyTreeDNA’s database is more extensive than AncestryDNA’s at this time. The Mitochondrial DNA will provide migration information for my maternal ancestors. I’m not prepared at this time to spend more money on testing until I can glean more value for the tests I’ve already purchased.
An index of naturalization records pointed me to a potential record number for Pearl Jaruslawitz/Jereslawitz Landes’s naturalization in the United States. I ordered the naturalization documents from the National Archives regional center in Chicago, and received the package in seven days. The information included confirms that the record pertains to the Pearl Landes who would be my great grand aunt.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I re-evaluated some handwriting which led me to a different conclusion about Pearl’s children with Martin Landes, but these documents helped clarify even more details. I previously determined that a Canadian birth record indicated Pearl had a son on 1 June 1903 named Isack or Isaac. I was already familiar with a son born around 1904 with the name Isadore, Irwin, or Irving. I assumed that Isaac was yet another alternative name for the same child.
The naturalization documentation is the first piece of evidence to provide a specific date of birth for this child (listed in Pearl’s Petition for Naturalization as Irving). This date of 13 August 1904 is too far removed from the Isaac’s recorded birth of 1 June 1903. If I can trust these dates of birth, Isaac and Irving are two separate individuals, but I’m still not sure. The document lists only four surviving children, which excludes both Isaac and Lillie, the two children whose only evidence I’ve found so far are the Montréal birth records. A Michigan death record for Irwin Landes, recorded in 1981, also offers a birth date of 1 June 1903, which would have been Isaac’s birth date. A census record indicates Isadore was born in August 1903. It’s a confusing mess.
The documents indicate Pearl arrived in Detroit via the C.N.N.R. — Canadian National Rail Road. Prior to moving to Detroit, she and her family lived in Montréal, Canada, and before that, they immigrated from Romania. The Petition for Naturalization also pinned down Pearl’s date of marriage to Martin.
Looking for more clues to my family’s past, I decided to visit Old Mount Carmel Cemetery in Queens, New York, where a number of my ancestors on the Landes side are resting. Last weekend, I ventured into Queens with my camera to document, headstones, footstones, and overall gravesites, and it was a hot day to walk around with a large camera around my neck.
The location was easy to find, and the relatives were buried in proximity to each other. I first came upon the stone indicating the burial of my great grandparents Joseph Landes and Sadie Lustig Landes. Directly behind their graves were Joseph’s parents, Moses Landes and Bertha Jereslawitz Landes. Across the path were the graves of Joseph’s sister, Sadie Landes Paltiel Goldenberg, and her husband Adolph Goldenberg. Behind the resting place of Moses was Joseph’s brother, Charles Landes, and Charles’ wife Clara.
I wasn’t able to gain much new knowledge from this trip other than Hebrew names in some instances, but it was an opportunity for me to solemnly contemplate the life of an immigrant in the late nineteenth century and ask some questions with the hope that somehow they might be listening. The inscription for Bertha confirmed the death certificate I had, though it listed her parents’ last name as Goldenberg, is the correct certificate.
I still have many questions about the travels of Moses, Bertha, and their family, presumably from Romania throughout Europe, making their way to England, then Canada, and finally arriving in New York City by the early twentieth century. There is still so much I don’t know.
That day, I also visited New Montefiore Cemetery on Long Island. My grandmother passed away just over three years ago, and I attended the burial here. I came back to visit her, Marcia Kerstman Landes and my grandfather, Herbert Landes, whom I had never met. I am named after Herbert; we share the same Hebrew name.
Also buried in New Montefiore Cemetery is my cousin, Alan, who died of HIV/AIDS at the age of 34. After some searching, I was able to find his resting place.
New Montefiore is located near a number of cemeteries, and on my way there, I passed Beth Moses Cemetery. I confirmed this was the cemetery where my maternal grandfather, Seymour Berman, was resting, so I stopped there as well. Seymour’s grave was easy to find. It appears that his Hebrew name isn’t correct on the stone, or if not incorrect, doesn’t match my previous information. I haven’t studied the language since high school, but his ketubah clearly indicates his name is יהושע בר שמואל (Yehoshua bar Shmuel), while the engraving offers the alternative ישעיה בר שאול װאלף (Isaiah bar Shaol Volf). This is the first confirmation I’ve found that Seymour’s father’s given name was Samuel Wolff, not just Samuel.
If I find myself with more time of exploring, I will visit Samuel Wolff Berman’s resting place at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, New York, and I’d like to visit the New York addresses of my ancestors, particularly where the buildings and houses in which they lived are still standing.
Less than five weeks after returning my AncestryDNA kit to the lab via mail, I was notified that my results have been processed. With AncestryDNA, the results are a moving target. As more samples are analyzed, they will be able to provide more accurate information. As the test offered by AncestryDNA is an autosomal test, analyzing the entire genome rather than just the Y chromosome or mitochondrial DNA, the results paint a picture of my full genetic make-up (rather than just patrilienal or matrilineal heritage).
AncestryDNA provides two types of results: my genetic composition and potential relatives who have genetic markers similar enough to mine. My genetic composition isn’t too surprising.
If there’s anything to be surprised about, I suppose it would be the 17 percent component of Scandinavian descent. I’m not aware of any ancestors from Denmark, Norway or Finland, but my knowledge only goes back four or five generations. Most of my ancestors lived in Russia or eastern Europe before coming to the United States and are, from what I can tell, Ashkenazi Jewish, so the assumption is that they arrived in Europe centuries ago in an early migration from the middle east. The Sturmwald family arrived in the United States a generation or two prior to most of my other ancestors, and they came from Germany. My guess is that I might be more likely to find a Scandinavian background by tracing that family back, just because it is geographically closer than Romania, Lithuania and Russia.
The 2 percent of my genetic composition that is identified as “unknown” could perhaps be identified in the future after AncestryDNA collects more samples.
AncestryDNA also includes in these results a list of potential relatives. My results presented one possible third cousin and many probable distant cousins. Many of the users on this list provide public family trees, but I was unable to find someone who shared an ancestor with whom I am familiar. There would be hundreds to look through, so I focused only on the first few pages of results. There was only one tree that included a surname I recognized from my tree, Stein, but that is an incredibly common name, and the location didn’t match up with the location of the Steins in my tree.
Here’s the closest identified relative based on DNA.
Again, this is early in AncestryDNA’s life cycle. Many users have not received their invitation to participate, let alone have had their results processed.
Over time, it’s possible my list of possible distant cousins will grow.
There’s also some concern that DNA matching programs have difficulty avoiding false positive family matches among “European Jewish.” AncestryDNA warns:
Are you surprised by the number of matches? Well, there’s a good reason. It’s a little complicated and science-y, but the bottom line is that it appears our system returns inaccurate matches for people of European Jewish descent. The good news is that our match predictions will improve over time as we grow our database of DNA signatures. In the meantime, don’t be afraid to reach out — you may just discover that distant cousin you never knew you had.
When a reason is complicated and “science-y,” it would be nice if there was some kind of link where I could learn more information. I’m not afraid of a little science.
What would have been nice would be if AncestryDNA’s matching results gave me new clues for researching my heritage, particularly the surprising Scandinavian component. Perhaps now that my information is in the system, a potential distant cousin will find my information and contact me. But, even if that does happen, what is the real value in connecting with someone who may be a fourth, fifth or more distant cousin? We might be able to identify a common ancestor — but then what?
In terms of value, I’m not convinced that AncestryDNA is a great deal for the price. It’s not that the results didn’t meet my expectations. In terms of genetic composition, there were no surprising discoveries, just a new question about the Scandinavian component. At this time, the matching section of the results hasn’t been fruitful. Even if I were presented with obvious cousins, the price is still high.
A few days before receiving notification that my results were available, I also enrolled in FamilyTreeDNA. From reviews I’ve read, FamilyTreeDNA is preferred for discovering details about Jewish ancestry. FamilyTreeDNA has many more options in terms of DNA test types, and the cost can be much more expensive than the AncestryDNA test. Overall, the value of expensive DNA tests for genealogy is suspect, but the only way to know is to participate.
Once you start looking into your family history, there’s no way to avoid sad stories. My paternal grandmother’s family are the Kerstmans. My great grandparents were Isadore Kerstman and Anna (Khiena Liba) Lepiansky. Izzy and Anna were both immigrants, from Russia and Lithuania respectively. They met in New York, and were married in December 1914. Three and a half months later, Anna had her first child, Sophie.
No one in my family has told me about this first child. I was unaware of her birth until I started searching birth, marriage, and death records online for the name Kerstman. Kerstman is not a common surname. It’s a word for Santa Claus in Dutch, but that’s most likely not the source of the name in my family. Most likely, Kerstman in my family was a misspelling of Kurzman or Kurtzman — a common name meaning “short person” in Yiddish and German. Izzy’s surname was consistently spelled Kerstman by the time he was in the United States.
The search led me to burial records for a Sophie Kerstman, aged 19 days. The lack of other Kerstmans in New York at the time suggested that Sophie was a previously unknown child of Isadore and Anna. The timing was right, reinforcing the possibility of a match. I ordered the death certificate from the New York City Department of Records to see if I could find additional clues.
The death certificate confirmed my suspicions. Sophie Kerstman was the daughter of Isadore Kerstman and Anna Lopinsky, living at the same address I’ve already discovered for this family. Sophie was 19 days old when she died on 11 April 1915, and the cause of the death is listed as prematurity. The natural inclination is to consider that medical advances, nearly one hundred years following Sophie’s birth, could probably have allowed Sophie to survive had she been born today.
Sophie was buried in Mount Richmond Cemetery. Mount Richmond is operated by the Hebrew Free Burial Association, an organization that allows those without much financial flexibility to receive a burial. The cemetery is still in use by the organization today. Isadore and Anna were newcomers to the United States and had not yet achieved the point of affording to live on their own — they lived with many relatives in a tenement. (The location of the tenement is in what is now Bushwick Park in Brooklyn between the pool the baseball diamond.)
They probably appreciated the community’s ability to take care of its members.
As I wrote above, none of my relatives have mentioned Sophie Kerstman to me. Perhaps it was a sad story that the family did not like talking about. Perhaps my grandmother and her brother and sister did not even know about Sophie.
Lillie Landes handwritten birth record [Drouin Collection]In researching the Landes family in Montréal and Detroit, I came across birth records for the children of Martin Landes — my great grand uncle — and his wife, Paulina (Pearl) Jaruslavitz. The records are handwritten, and they are contained in the “Drouin Collection” on Ancestry.com. The discoveries have helped me support the written history that passed from Mortimer (Morty) Landes to my father. Like almost all discoveries, the birth records introduced more questions.
I discovered a birth record for Lillie Landes, born to Martin Landes and Paulina Jaruslavitch on 7 May 1910 in Montréal. I was unaware of Lillie previously, and have not found any further records. You can see the handwritten acknowledgment of Lillie’s birth here.
During my search, I uncovered another birth record for a son of Martin and Paulina in Montréal. Through the work of volunteers, this record was indexed under the name “Track Landes.” Volunteers take the time to interpret handwritten records in order to make them searchable, and these volunteers should be able to make the best judgments when handwriting can be confusing, so I trusted this index was accurate.
“Track” did not sound like it was a name that someone in my family was likely to have, however. I didn’t recognize it as a name, at all, until I remembered that a certain former governor of Alaska had a son named Track. Although unlikely, I decided to take the index for its face value and add an entry to my family tree for Track Landes. His birth date was 1 Jun 1903, close to his would-be brother, Irwin or Irving, who was born around 1904 according to the census information I had found by that point.
My research continued in different directions, and I didn’t come back to the mystery of Track and Lillie Landes until the other day. With fresh eyes, I took another look at the handwritten birth record for “Track” Landes and decided it just didn’t look right.
The handwriting throughout the record is consistent, and capital “T” is written consistently. It does not look like what is included in the above graphic. The first letter of the name, when compared to other words more easily identified, is certainly a capital “I.” The loop at the the top right of the letter gives its identity away.
It looks like the name as written in this birth record is most likely Isack, not Track. The spelling is non-standard, but that isn’t surprising, considering misspelled words and names are frequent throughout the records from this synagogue. At first, I tried to see if I could somehow justify the handwriting as saying “Irwen,” but I’m relatively sure it was written as Isack. Isaac could be an alternative name for Irwin. Probably most famously, Israel Isidore Baline adopted the Americanized/Anglicized name Irving Berlin; it’s not unlikely that Irwin and Irving were nicknames for Isaac.
As a result, I’ve removed Track Landes from the family tree and applied this birth record to Irwin Landes. I have found travel records for Irwin between Canada and the United States, and I’ll still continue looking for more evidence of Irwin’s existence. The mystery of Lillie Landes, however, continues. It will be important for me to keep in mind that the indices that rely on people’s interpretation of handwriting can often be incorrect.
Here are more handwriting samples that identify the capital “I” and capital “T.” The “I” seems to be drawn with one stroke, while the “T” seems to be drawn with two.
What do you think? Does this handwriting indicate “Isack?”
Fannie Landes, daughter of Moses and Bertha, married Albert Paltiel from Canada in 1907. Fannie and Albert had two children, Joseph and Harry, before Albert passed away in 1909. Five years after Albert passed away, Fannie remarried, and her new husband, Adolph Goldenberg, helped raise the children. The information I have about the Paltiels of this generation came from the family history written by my grandfather’s brother, Mortimer (“Morty”) Landes, as well as a family tree document provided to me by my father.
The information led to census listings and a search for likely marriage certificates. The certificates for Fannie’s two marriages arrived earlier this week, and I’m relatively confident the certificates pertain to the Fannie Landes who is my great grandfather’s sister. Yet, there is still some confusion surrounding Fannie’s mother’s maiden name.
I mentioned that on the death certificate for Bertha Landes, her father and mother are listed as Martin Goldenberg and Bertha Goldenberg. Goldenberg is the last name of Bertha’s son-in-law, Adolph, the second husband of Fannie, so my first assumption was that Adolph might have reported the information incorrectly. I previously had information indicating Bertha’s maiden name is Jereslawitz. Both marriage certificates received this week for Fannie Landes, like Bertha’s death certificate, contradict what I thought I had known.
The first marriage certificate, for Albert Paltiel and Fannie Landes pictured above, lists Fannie’s parents as Moses Landes and Birth (I’m assuming this should be Bertha) Goldenberg. The second marriage certificate, for Adolph Goldenberg and Fannie (Landes) Paltiel pictured below, indicates Fannie’s parents’ names are Moses Landes and Bertha Goldberg.
About the certificate for Paltiel/Landes:
Two years ago, I didn’t know the name of my mother’s paternal grandmother. When I began asking my parents about their family, I learned about Anna N. None of my close relatives could remember her maiden name, however. It wasn’t too long ago that I discovered I had Anna’s name in front of me for quite some time. It was listed on Seymour Berman’s certificate of death, a copy of which I had obtained from my mother. Seymour Berman was Anna’s son. I knew Anna had a sister Lena, so I was able to find census records that likely pertained to the Neckameyers in my family.
I answered many of these questions about the Neckameyers recently. Through Anna’s own marriage certificate, I was able to piece together a history that confirms that Anna and Lena have other siblings. One of these siblings is Celia Neckameyer, and the information I found points to her marrying a man named George Walcoff who lived nearby. I ordered their marriage certificate to confirm.
The facts on the certificate seem to support the conclusion that Celia is the sister of my great grandmother, Anna Neckameyer.
I’ve been writing about the last three death certificates I’ve received in decreasing order of confidence. The latest as of today is the death certificate registered by the Department of Health of The City of New York for Bertha Landes. Bertha, whose maiden name is Jereslawitz according to the marriage certificate for her son Joseph Landes and Sadie Lustig, died on 26 November 1927 at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, where she had been for 17 days, and the doctors did not identify a cause of death.
Let’s look at each fact and determine whether it helps or hurts the likelihood that this death certificate pertains to my second great grandmother.
Female, white, widowed. Check, check, and check. Three points.
Age 68. This puts her birth year at around 1859. The 1901 Census of Canada puts her birth date around 1857. The 1905 New York Census would place Bertha’s birthyear at about 1860. I have not discovered a 1910 U.S. Census record for her or her husband. Her birthyear according to the 1920 U.S. Census would be 1860. One point for the birth year.
Occupation: housewife. This matches all other documentation for Bertha, but I’m not awarding any points for this being correct.
Birthplace: Romania. It’s well-documented that the Landes family immigrated from Romania to the United States and Canada. Census records all list Romania as the birthplace for Landeses who were not born here. One point.
Has been living in the Untied States and New York for 28 years. Despite being listed in the Canadian census as living in Montréal in 1901, later census records indicate her family considers themselves to have immigrated to the United States in 1899 or 1900. I’ll give half a point for this only because it’s somewhat confusing when they were living in Canada and when they were living in the United States.
Former or usual address: 761 Trinity Avenue. This is in the Bronx, and I have no evidence of any of the Landes family living at this address at any time. Without a 1925 New York Census record for Moses, Bertha, and their son Charles, I looked at 761 Trinity Avenue in that database, browsing the images. The Landes family was not enumerated at that address in 1925. With this curiosity, I’ll take away one point.
Place of burial: Mount Carmel Cemetery. Other members of the Landes family are buried at this cemetery: Fannie Landes (Paltiel) Goldenberg and her second husband Adolph (although there’s a possibility this grave is a different Adolph and Fannie Goldenberg with a Romanian background), Joseph Landes and his wife Sadie, and Charles Landes and his wife Clara. According to his death certificate, Bertha’s husband Moses is buried there, as well. Neither Moses nor Bertha show up in the Mount Carmel Cemetery interment search. A visit in person is required to verify the burial location. I’ll award a point for this burial information.
Names of parents: Martin Goldenberg and Bertha Goldenberg. First of all, it’s unlikely that Bertha Jereslawitz Landes’s father has a different last name than her own maiden name. Secondly, it also seems unlikely that the daughter shared the same given name as the mother. Finally, the last name matches the last name of Fannie Landes’s second husband, Adolph. I can’t give any points for this information, because no other information I have proves or disproves it, and because Bertha’s father’s last name of Goldenberg doesn’t make any sense at the moment.
Like the other death certificates I’ve received recently, perhaps this is just the case of bad information. According to the second page of the death certificate, the undertaker was employed by “Mr. Landes,” Bertha’s son. I expect it would be Charles, who lived with Moses and Bertha the longest, but the first name is not specified. Of Bertha’s other two sons, Joseph died two years prior and Martin was likely living in Detroit at the time. Perhaps the informer was Bertha’s son-in-law, Adolph Goldenberg. If Adolph was the person providing this information, perhaps he gave the names of his own parents when asked, explaining why Martin Goldenberg and Bertha Goldenberg were listed as the deceased’s parents.
The death certificate’s score is five and a half points. The points don’t mean anything, so they don’t determine whether this certificate represents the Bertha Landes in my family. There are other Bertha Landeses living in New York, but not at the right time or at the right age, according to census record indexes. I will accept this into the family tree, but I won’t add Bertha’s parents as listed on the certificate.
I wrote last week about the difficulty I had reconciling what I thought to be Eliza Lustig’s death certificate with the Eliza Sturmwald Lustig I had come to know as my second great grandmother. Death certificates are notoriously inaccurate, and it’s understandable. The informant providing the information to the Department of Health is often either grief-stricken and unable to recall obscure facts, or not close enough to the deceased to know the answers.
With information on the certificates contradicting known facts, it becomes much more difficult to say with certainty that the certificate is pertinent. Other clues might help, and the death certificate I received last week for Joseph Lustig is full of clues.
The date of death is one thing you can count on being accurate in a death certificate, and Joseph Lustig’s date of death is 22 December 1918 and a year of birth of 1855. From census records, I know that the Joseph Lustig in my family must have passed away between 1915 and 1920, so the date is right. The cause of death is almost guaranteed to be correct, though limited by technology and medicine of the time. The cause of death is listed as idiopathic cerebral hemorrhage, but I have no other information with which I can compare.
The death certificate does not list Joseph’s residence, only the location of death. The certificate identifies the place of death as 75 Second Street, a tenement in Manhattan. The doctor who signed the certificate indicates he had attended Joseph for three weeks leading up to his death, and the picture I’m drawing in my mind is that this doctor, based on 7th St., visited Joseph frequently until the time of his passing, if this in fact my second great grandfather.
So I’m looking for a Joseph Lustig most likely living in New York not far from this address. The 1915 New York Census and the 1920 Federal Census are good places to start, as I look for relatives — or Joseph, himself — living in the area. In June 1915, Joseph lived at 210-212 East 2nd Street in Manhattan, but his daughter Sadie lived with her husband and family at 71 2nd Street. That’s a distance of only two and a half long city blocks. I’m thinking the location is right.
Is there any other Joseph Lustig — a 63 year-old real estate agent — living in the area in 1915, born around 1855, that I could reasonably assume might be the Joseph who passed away at 75 Second St.? According to the index to this census on Ancestry.com, there are no other Joseph Lustigs who fit that description.
Other clues allow me to positively identify this Joseph Lustig:
I wrote last week about receiving Anna Lipanski Kerstman’s naturalization documents, which provided new clues to follow. One of these is the name she with which she was listed when she immigrated to the United States from Jonava, Lithuania in 1911: Chiene Lipansky.
Chiene is a Hebrew name that is often Americanized as Hannah or Anna, so there’s no surprise with this information. There’s also no surprise with the idea that the last name could be spelled many different ways, from Lapinksy, to Lipansky, to Lipiansky, to Lepianski. It is this last spelling, in combination with her birth location of Jonava, that has opened new doors in research.
Thanks to the LitvakSIG and their partnership with JewishGen, many Lithuania vital records — birth, death, marriage, and some census-like lists — are available online. A “SIG” is a special interest group. Groups like these generally began as email lists (or “listserves”) that allowed people with similar interests to discuss. Like many special interests groups focused on geographical family history, the groups have worked together to digitize and index records which previously were only available by visiting towns in Eastern Europe (or by paying someone overseas to do your research — sometimes a risky proposition).
With these records searchable online, I found Chiene (or Khiena Liba) Lepianski (or Lepiansky, or Lepianskij, etc.) in Lithuania.
With every new document I receive, there are more questions. Earlier this week, I received three new death certificates I ordered over the past month or so, but I’m having trouble confirming that these certificates apply to my relatives. Continue reading “Eliza Sturmwald Lustig’s death certificate”
Mere days after ordering a copy of naturalization papers for Anna Lipansky Kerstman from the National Archives, I received Anna’s documentation in the mail. The delivery was in a flat, letter-sized envelope, a feature I appreciated over the thrice-folded records received from New York City, creased to fit in a number 10 envelope.
Not only was I impressed with the form, but I appreciated the content as well. The documentation affirmed the date of naturalization for both Anna and as her husband, Isidore (Isadore) Kerstman.
I’ve been recording Anna’s maiden name as Lapinksy or Lupinsky so far, but the naturalization and immigration documents include her last name as “Lipansky.” Anna’s marriage certificate, which I should be receiving soon, has an index wherein the last name is spelled “Lipiansky.” English spelling was not as important a century ago as it is today, and slight variations depended on whoever happened to be the scribe.
Anna’s birthplace is listed as Yanova, Kovna, Lithuania, which I’ve identified as the town now known as Jonava, Lithuania. The following is from JewishGen about the town of Jonava, an excerpt from Beginning, Growth and Destruction by Itzchak Judelvitch:
I spoke with my great aunt (or grand aunt — the terminology can be confusing — my mother’s mother’s sister) over the phone a few days ago, and by asking a few specific questions I was able to correct some errors and fill some holes in the family tree.
Last week, I mentioned that I was in the process of sorting out the Hermans, and talking to my great aunt (again, I’m not using names of living people on this website for privacy reasons)helped answer some of the questions that remained at that point. Talking to relatives is a huge part of completing a family history. It’s a way to document stories (whether true or not, stories can be an invaluable part of a family tradition) as well as a starting-point for finding concrete evidence.
My first question was about Stanley Herman. The information I previously had indicated Stanley was one of my grandmother’s uncles, along with the other Hermans. My grandmother’s sister indicated Stanley was her cousin, not her uncle, and knew his precise location in the family tree. Because I had identified the wrong wife and child for Harry Herman, I would have never come to the conclusion on my own that Stanley was their son. I was influenced by another family tree on Ancestry.com that contained much of my family, but this information is now confirmed to be incorrect.
She also knew the names of Staney’s wife and daughter, which has helped me confirm even more information. I later determined that the wife we knew about was Stanley’s second wife, and his first wife had other children, as well. With the correct names in hand, I was able to find some of the appropriate census records.
About ten years ago, maybe longer, my father sent me an email containing a graphic depicting the family tree of Pearl Kerstman Rosenberg, his mother’s father’s mother. It contained a wealth of information about her branch. When I started building my own family tree last year, I remembered receiving this email. I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping all of my personal email I’ve received since about 2002 or 2003 thanks to the virtually unlimited storage provided by Gmail. I searched through all my old messages, but the Kerstman family tree was nowhere in these vast archives.
Only a few months ago, a chance search on Google uncovered not only the family tree I had seen years ago, but accompanying photographs and stories as well. Most of the information on this tree, as I’ve been able to see now, pertains only indirectly to the Kerstmans. Pearl had only one son and no daughters with the Kerstman progenitor, but went on after her first husband’s death to become part of the Rosenberg family. The Rosenbergs comprise the majority of this family tree, but thanks to the work of the Derow family, who organized this information as far as I can determine, I now have starting points with which finding information about the Kerstmans will be easier.
In addition to my family history, I’m curious to find out what my genetics have to say about my ancestors. A few weeks ago, I ordered Ancestry.com’s new DNA analysis service. There is a dizzying array of different types of DNA tests available from many vendors, but I chose the new AncestryDNA test because I had already been using Ancestry.com for my primary family tree maintenance for the past year.
I also liked the theory behind autosomal DNA testing. Unlike Y-chromosomal testing which analyzes only patrilineal genetics or mitochondrial testing which analyzes only matrilineal genetics, autosomal testing looks at the genetic information inherited by all ancestors. This is the same type of testing featured on the popular television programs Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots.
Unfortunately, DNA analysis is not an exact science. The ability for Ancestry.com to be able to provide accurate results insofar as geography, it needs to have a wide enough database to compare users’ DNA results. In theory, Ancestry.com will update users’ test results automatically in the direction of accuracy as the comparison database continues to grow. Ancestry.com might also be able to match you with relatives you didn’t know you’ve had — if you and they have also agreed to connect DNA results to family trees hosted on the website.
To get a more complete picture of my ancestry, I will likely follow these results up with other types of DNA tests from other vendors. With Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial testing, I will be able to determine a selection of my ancestors’ migration patters.
As I mentioned, I ordered Ancestry.com’s new DNA kit a few weeks ago. It arrived fairly quickly, and within a few days of delivery, I followed the instructions for taking and preserving a sample of my DNA. Unlike many other test that require a cheek swab, this test required saliva. I spent a minute or two depositing saliva into a plastic tube. By closing the tube, a preservation chemical was released into the tube, and mixed with the saliva. I placed the tube into a biohazard bag, sealed the self-addressed envelope, and dropped it off at the post office. In a few weeks, I should see the results online.
I’m disappointed that Ancestry.com does not currently allow users to export their genome data. This information could be useful. Other services allow data imports in place of providing additional samples. The idea of a company owning rights to someone’s DNA fingerprint is a little frightening, too. You never really know what a corporate entity would do with this type of personal information. Even if their terms and conditions currently say one thing, there is often a clause allowing the company to change its terms and conditions at any time.
When I receive the results in a few weeks, I will certainly share them, and I’ll write more about my experiences with DNA testing for genealogical research. Keep reading to see Ancestry.com’s entertaining instructional video explaining how to prepare the DNA sample.
In record-setting fashion, the New York City Department of Records sent copies of death certificates for my great grandfather and second great grandfather, Joseph and Moses Landes, arriving a mere twelve days after placing the order. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for a marriage certificate for Samuel Herman placed over a month ago. Perhaps I was working on a misguided assumption, but I expected most records requests would take four to six weeks anyway.
I originally used the resources on Steve Morse’s website to locate potential ancestral records. I didn’t have precise dates of death for either Joseph or Moses Landes, but census records helped me pinpoint a likely range, and I had confidence that both lived in New York City when they passed away. Turning to Steve Morse, I pinpointed the most likely candidates and placed the order.
The names of relatives on Joseph’s death certificate and the address listed on Moses’s death certificate confirm I have the correct records. I added the information to my family tree on Ancestry.com, including complete dates of death, the causes of death, and in the case of Moses, parents’ names. Moses’s parents, my third great grandparents, were Joseph Landes and Pauline Leon. Pauline or its variations Paulina and Pearl have been common names in my family over the course of the last 150 years. Joseph and Pauline were born in Romania according to the document, but Leon does not sound like a common Romanian surname.
Is it possible I have some Spanish ancestry?
When starting my family tree research about a year ago, I didn’t have much information about any prior to my grandparents. Relying on the memories of my living family could only take me so far. At some point over the last few months, with the help of my parents, we discovered more documents filed away that could provide clues. One of these documents was my mother’s father’s death certificate.
I didn’t even notice at first, but this document provided some information I had been looking for: his mother’s maiden name. I had understood from oral history that my great grandmother Anna had a sister Lena, but didn’t know much more. With the death certificate, I was able to put a last name to Anna and Lena: Neckameyer. With this information, I had more ammunition for finding public records. I quickly found the U.S. Census record from 1920 pertaining to Anna and Lena and from 1930 pertaining to Anna, with both also including their father William and their step-mother Rose. Also included was their father’s mother, Fannie.
Around the same time, I also discovered a census record from 1910 that looked it might be the same family, but it also included two other siblings: Celia and Isadore. I didn’t want to accept this record as pertaining to the Neckameyers of my family right away, because they lived at a different address in 1910 (though not too distant from their location in 1920), the ages didn’t line up precisely, and oral history did not include Celia or Isadore.
With my mother confirming she recalled an aunt Celia, I didn’t want to dismiss the records so easily. After more sleuthing, I saw that Celia Neckameyer later married George Wacloff. The Walcoff family lived at the same address as the Neckameyers who, through their address on a marriage certificate, I had confirmed as my relatives. While by 1920 George and Cecilia had moved away from their families, I was able to trace the Walcoff family to the previous census to confirm George was in fact part of the same Walcoff family.
The fact of the marriage of Celia Neckameyer with George Walcoff, whose family lived at the same address as Anna Neckameyer, convinced me that Cecilia and her brother Isadore (sometimes known as Irving) were in fact the sister and brother of my great grandmother, Anna Neckameyer. By this time I had been tracing the Neckameyers in a separate tree, eager to discover any other clues that might help me connect the two families. Earlier this week, I merged the two trees, “accepting” Celia, Isadore/Irving, and their children into my family tree.
Most of the information I’ve had about the sons and daughters of my second great grandfather Samuel Herman has come from my mother. I’ve written down what I was told by placing his ten children into our family tree on Ancestry.com, but once I started researching the family, I found a few inconsistencies.
The earliest federal census record for this family is the latest addition to the sources. The 1900 census lists Samuel’s occupation as a fish dealer, his date of marriage with his wife Rose, and a few other details. In combination, they give this record a very good likelihood for being connected to the Hermans in my family.
This could be a sensitive subject. Rose, Samuel Herman’s wife, had several children who did not survive. At the turn of the century, this was a common occurrence, but that doesn’t prevent the situation from being somewhat morbid and sad.
- I do know that according to the 1910 federal census, Rose had a total of seven children, four of whom survived to that year. The four children in 1910 are Gussie (Augusta), Harry, Etta, and Tobias.
- In 1905, the New York State census also included a son Joseph, four months old. Joseph must be one of the three who did not survive to 1910.
- In the 1900 federal census, a daughter named Lattie is included, aged four months. Also in 1900, the census notes that Rose had a total of two children, and only one — Lattie — has survived to the time of the 1900 census survey. As Lattie is not included in any census record from 1905 on, she passed away before 1905.
- This leaves one child of Rose, the third to not survive to 1910, as having passed away before 1900. I have not yet found a record of this child’s name.
When I first started using Ancestry.com to search historical records for my ancestors, I came across naturalization index records for Moses Landes. The only pieces of comparable information were an approximate birth date and the occupation listed as “standkeeper.” These didn’t match closely enough to any other information I had in order for me to conclusively say that the index records pertained to my second great grandfather. I made a note of the index and moved on.
Now with access to Fold3, I searched that site for additional naturalization records for Moses. Fold3 has digitized more full naturalization records, whereas in many cases for New York City, Ancestry.com only offers indices. The full petition for naturalization included a familiar address, but it was off by one house, and it would be Moses’s children who lived there several years later. The declaration of intention, however, filed a few years before the petition for naturalization included yet another address, 541 5th Avenue in Manhattan.
Realizing I hadn’t yet tracked down the 1905 New York state census record for Moses and his children, I used the Family History Library’s familysearch.org to try again to find this record. I found the family indexed under “Landers,” a common misspelling. The address on the census record from 1905 matched the address on the declaration of intention for 1903.
Putting all of the above together, I’m confident the naturalization records pertain to my second great grandfather, and I’ve added the information as sources to my family tree on Ancestry.com. This has given me a more accurate birth date (Dec 1852 rather than about 1851), the date of naturalization, and definitive residential addresses for Moses and the rest of his family. It has also provided the date on which he arrived in New York, 20 Oct 1900, but according to the 1901 Census of Canada, he is later living in Montréal. The Canadian immigration records state Moses immigrated to Canada in 1900. The question remains about whether Moses, and possibly part of his family, lived in both Canada and the United States at the same time.
The next marriage certificate arrived recently from the New York City Department of Records. It’s convenient having most of my recent ancestors residing in New York City — but ordering records is not cheap. With some time to spare, I might visit the department in person to discover and copy these items personally, but at the moment, time is at a premium for me. I prefer the convenience of online ordering. At some point, research will not be possible without visiting locations in person, so I’m taking advantage of convenience for as long as possible.
The latest document to arrive is the marriage certificate for my paternal great grandparents, Joseph Landes and Sadie Lustig. Joseph married Sadie when he was 28 and she was 18 according to the document, but other sources put Joseph’s age at 30 at the time of the marriage in 1909. The date of birth I have comes from a World War I draft registration card, and this is the only documentation I have of Joseph’s full birth date. Census records list Joseph’s age inconsistently.
The marriage certificate offers Joseph’s parents’ names: Moses Landes and Bertha Jereslawitz. This is the first indication I’ve had of Bertha’s maiden name. I should also point out that oral family history had previously indicated that Moses’s wife’s name was Brenda, but I’ve found no evidence of the name Brenda so far. All records, and I have a high level of confidence that the records that I’ve found do pertain to my family, list my second great grandmother’s name as Bertha. Incidentally, I have also discovered a related record indicating Moses’s other son Martin married Pauline Jeruslavitz. The last names are close enough, and I suspect that Bertha and Pauline were related somehow before marrying their respective Landeses, but I have no information yet regarding that relationship.
The Landes/Lustig marriage certificate provides names for Sadie’s parents: Rübin Lustig and Lisa Strümwald. My other information, namely Federal Census records, identify Sadie’s father as Joseph Lustig, so there seems to be conflicting information. This is the first time Sadie’s mother’s name is listed as Lisa; in all other records, the name is spelled Eliza, Louisa, or Louesa. I’m relatively confident that Lisa is either another nickname variation or a misspelling. Also, in all other cases, Eliza’s last name is spelled Sturmwald. Oral history indicates the Sturmwalds originated in Germany, and if this the case, Sturmwald — with or without the umlaut — would most likely be the correct spelling. Stürmwald translates to “raging forest,” and that’s a relatively exciting surname.
With every answer, more questions.
Continue reading to see the marriage certificate for Joseph Landes and Sadie Lustig. Perhaps you can help me decipher Sadie’s middle initial. It appears to be a “C.”
The marriage certificate of Samuel Berman and Anna Neckameyer gave me the name of Anna’s parents: Wolf Neckameyer and Rebecca Rochaurtz. By the time Wolf is living in the United States with his daughter Anna (and possibly with other children — that’s a different discussion), Rebecca had passed away and he had remarried.
I ordered the marriage certificate for Wolf and Rose from the New York City Department of Records, hoping it would provide more information about Wolf. Rose Goldfarb was Wolf’s second wife. She was a widow herself, with the maiden name Schechter. She was born in Wolhina, Rossia, according to the document, and this most likely corresponds to the area known presently as Volhynia. Although Rose’s ancestry is not directly part of my heritage — Wokf’s first wife would be my second great grandmother — I have added her parental information into the Ancestry.com family tree.
This document has also provided me with the names of Wolf Neckameyer’s parents: Aaron Neckameyer and Mollie Hecht. The certificate indicates Wolf was born in Minsk, another new piece of information for me. Continue reading to see the scanned marriage certificate.
Using tools on Fold3, I discovered Samuel Berman’s (my great grandfather’s) naturalization papers. Samuel declared his intention to become a citizen in 1912, and in 1916 completed his Petition for Naturalization, was informed of his approval, and signed the Oath of Allegiance. I hadn’t come across these documents in any other searches so far, including on Ancestry.com, stevemorse.org, and other tools available.
The information led me to discover Samuel’s immigration information. According to the Declaration of Intention, Samuel was born in Odessa, Russia (now in Ukraine). The city was also new information to me. He departed for America from Liverpool, England, on the ship Ivernia, and arrived in Boston on 18 Jul 1907. The address in New York confirms this naturalization information pertains to the Samuel Berman who is my great grandfather.
This brought me back to Ancestry.com, where I searched this ship and year to find Samuel listed among the ship’s passengers. I found a Schmuel Berman listed within the manifest. I am confident that Samuel would possibly travel under the name Schmuel. From my family’s collection, I have evidence from his son’s marriage (Seymour Berman with Vivian Klein). The ketubah lists Seymour’s Hebrew name as יהושוע בר שמואל (Yehoshua bar-Shmuel).
He traveled with a cousin, Aaron Labunsky. The pair listed Aaron’s sister, Odella Labunsky, living in Lawrence, Massachusetts, as their final destination. Schmuel lists his closest living relative in his hometown as Feige Berman. It’s likely that this is a match with Fanny, Samuel’s mother’s American name as it has been told to me by living relatives.
If Schmuel’s destination was Lawrence, he didn’t stay long. He arrived in Boston in 1907, but by 1910 was enumerated in the Federal Census living in New York with his mother.
I have yet to find any trace of the Labunskys in Boston or New York. I also do not know how Aaron Labunsky is connected to Schmuel other than being listed as a cousin; he could either be his father’s sister’s son or Feige’s sister’s son, if he is in fact a first cousin.
Continue reading to view the Declaration of Intention and the first page of the passenger list. More documents are linked on the family tree on Ancestry.com.
In order to complete the Family Tree I’ve been researching, I’ve ordered a number of birth, marriage, and death records from New York City. Last month, I received my first order, the marriage record for Sam Berman and Anna Neckameyer. Sam is my mother’s father’s father.
The record provided Sam and Anna’s parents’ names, filling in several holes, though Anna’s mother’s maiden name is a little unclear to me. I interpreted the handwriting as “Rochaurtz.” Take a look for yourself.