Sometimes the clues fall into place

Just a few days ago, I wrote about how my search to connect my grandmother’s friends, rumored to be relatives, led me in a different direction. It helped me discover previously unknown-to-me cousins.

This was a result of two-pronged research. I was researching my grandmother’s friend’s family to try to find a connection while also looking at my known relatives, immigrants from Lithuania, to see if there was a path I hadn’t traveled. While I was researching the friend’s family, I took note of the home addresses I found in the Brooklyn city directories on

Anna Lepianski Kerstman's petition for naturalization
Anna Lepianski Kerstman’s petition for naturalization

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’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.

Landes family photographs

The photographs below are courtesy of Joel Landes, Paul Landes, and Shari Berman Landes.

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.

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

Anna Lipansky Kerstman’s naturalization papers provide new clues

Anna Kerstman [via Joel Landes]
Mere days after ordering a copy of naturalization papers for Anna Lipansky Kerstman from the National Archives, I received Anna’s documentation in the mail. The delivery was in a flat, letter-sized envelope, a feature I appreciated over the thrice-folded records received from New York City, creased to fit in a number 10 envelope.

Not only was I impressed with the form, but I appreciated the content as well. The documentation affirmed the date of naturalization for both Anna and as her husband, Isidore (Isadore) Kerstman.

I’ve been recording Anna’s maiden name as Lapinksy or Lupinsky so far, but the naturalization and immigration documents include her last name as “Lipansky.” Anna’s marriage certificate, which I should be receiving soon, has an index wherein the last name is spelled “Lipiansky.” English spelling was not as important a century ago as it is today, and slight variations depended on whoever happened to be the scribe.

Anna’s birthplace is listed as Yanova, Kovna, Lithuania, which I’ve identified as the town now known as Jonava, Lithuania. The following is from JewishGen about the town of Jonava, an excerpt from Beginning, Growth and Destruction by Itzchak Judelvitch:

Continue reading “Anna Lipansky Kerstman’s naturalization papers provide new clues”

Pearl Kerstman Rosenberg and her descendants

Pearl Kerstman [via Goodie Rosenberg Kaplan, Jon Derow]
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.

Continue reading “Pearl Kerstman Rosenberg and her descendants”