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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.