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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.