The Complete Visual Guide to Jewish Headstones

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.

Description Meaning and Explanation
פ׳נ or פה נקבר or פה נקברה “Here Lies.” This appears on many headstones as a preface to the name of the individual interred. po nikbar (nikbarah)
נפ׳ or נפטר or נפטרה “Died.” This prefaces the date of death. niftar (niftarah)
ב״ר or בן ר׳ “Son of Mr.” Preceded by deceased’s first name, followed by first name of deceased’s father. ben rab or ben rev
בת ר׳ “Daughter of Mr.” Preceded by deceased’s first name, followed by first name of deceased’s father. bat rab or bat rev
מרת or מ׳ “Mrs.” This is a polite title for a woman. marat
ת׳ נ׳ צ׳ ב׳ ה׳ Abbreviation for “May his (or her) soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life,” from the first book of Samuel.
ז״ל Abbreviation for “of blessed memory.” The Hebrew is זיכרונו לברכה for a man and זיכרונה לברכה for a woman.
ע״ה Abbreviation for “may he (or she) rest in peace. The Hebrew is עליו השלום for a man and עליה השלום for a woman.
The six pointed star (Shield of David or מגן דוד) is the most recognizable symbol of the Jewish religion. It’s more of a modern custom for this symbol to appear on the headstones of Jewish men.
The menorah is the symbol of Judaism and represents the candelabra that was housed in the Temple in Jerusalem. The symbol represents pious or religious Jewish women.
The hands represent the caste of the Kohanim, descendants of the high priests of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Kohanim are identified through the father’s lineage, and the hands represent the Kohanim gesture for the priestly blessing. Actor Leonard Nimoy used this as inspiration for his salute as Mr. Spock on Star Trek.
Below the Kohanim in the priestly order were Levi’im or Levites. The water pitcher is their symbol because one of their functions was to wash the hands of the Kohanim.
The compass and square with a “G” in the center is a symbol of Freemasonry. This could mean that the deceased was a member of a Masonic lodge. Does the G mean God, Grand Architect, or Geometry? You decide.

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
Man. ish איש
Woman. ishah אשה
Unmarried woman. b’tulah בתולה
The Levite. ha-levi הלוי
The Kohen (Cohen). ha-koheyn הכהן
Year. shanat שנת

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.

Translit. Value Letter Translit. Value Letter
Alef 1 א Lamed 30 ל
Bet / Vet 2 ב Mem 40 מ
Gimel 3 ג Nun 50 נ
Dalet 4 ד Samekh 60 ס
Hay 5 ה Ayin 70 ע
Vav 6 ו Pay / Fay 80 פ
Zayin 7 ז Tzade 90 צ
Khet 8 ח Kuf 100 ק
Tet 9 ט Resh 200 ר
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.

Translit. Month Translit. Month
Iyar איר / אײר Nissan ניסן
Tamuz תמוז Sivan סיון / סיװן
Elul אלול Ab אב
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.

Word play.

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.

Catching up with the Sturmwalds

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”

The Slawitz family: Feige Slawitz Berman and Chaia Sarah Slawitz Stein

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”

Revisiting Feige Berman, my third great grandmother

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”

Anna, my great grandmother, finally found.

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.”

Another name change discovered: Nachamin/Neckameyer

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”

Celia Neckameyer Walcoff found, but without her sister Anna

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.

Celia Neckameyer Walcoff footstone
Celia Neckameyer Walcoff footstone

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.

Death certificate for my great grandmother: VitalChek orders

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.

Lillian Herman's Death Certificate
Lillian Herman’s Death Certificate

Ancestry.com adds 14 million New York records to database

Ancestry.com New York Records
Ancestry.com New York Records

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.

David Sturmwald and family in the 1875 New York Census
David Sturmwald and family in the 1875 New York Census

Updated spellings after new information

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.

Kashowitz on Marriage Certificate #1
Kashowitz on Marriage Certificate #1
Kashowitz on Marriage Certificate #2
Kashowitz on Marriage Certificate #2
Kashowitz on Marriage Certificate #3
Kashowitz on Marriage Certificate #3

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.

My fourth great grandfather, Israel Loew Sturmwald, and his descendants

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.

Caroline Mellon suicide
Caroline Mellon suicide
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.

Israel Loew Sturmwald's Family Tree [Ancestry.com]
Israel Loew Sturmwald’s Family Tree [Ancestry.com]

Rabbi Ezriel Yosef Yehuda in Russia

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 Slobus (Short) Berman headstone
Feige Slobus (Short) Berman headstone

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.

Family tree of Feige Slobus (Short) Berman
Family tree of Feige Slobus (Short) Berman

Adventures in Brooklyn: streets and cemeteries

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.

Sadie and Albert Lustig, Green-Wood Cemetery
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.

Meeting my second great grandparents, Moses and Bertha

Moses and Bertha Landes headstone
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.

Herbert and Marcia Landes headstone
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.

My grandmother’s baby sister, Sophie Kerstman

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.

Sophie Kerstman’s death certificate [NYC Department of Records]

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.

Sophie Kerstman’s family tree

Bertha Jereslawitz Landes’s death certificate

Bertha Landes’s death certificate [NYC Department of Records]
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.

Is this the real Joseph Lustig?

Joseph Lustig’s death certificate [NYC Department of Records]
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:

Continue reading “Is this the real Joseph Lustig?”

Death records: Joseph and Moses Landes

Joseph Landes’s Family Tree
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?

Death certificate for Moses Landes