Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Finding more new cousins

It's happened again.

Four weeks ago I found some Shreibmans, on my father's side, that I never knew existed. They are descendants of Aron, a cousin of my grandfather. We didn't know of Aron's existence until he appeared in the research we commissioned in Belarus last year. Aron emigrated to America, and became Harry, and now we are sharing family stories with the sons and daughters of his sons and daughters. If only my father - or any of his seven brothers and sisters - were alive to share this moment with us!

Two weeks on, and I've found some Frankensteins.

My mother's father, Leibisch 'Louis' Frankenstein (above), came to England from Poland some time in the 1910s. A few years later his brother Itzhak 'Isaac' Finkelstein, emigrated to South America, and then after a few years went on to Israel. Before you ask, neither Isaac's nor Louis' families have ever been able to explain why the brothers used different surnames. Did one of them change his name? And which was the 'genuine' family name? No-one knows.

The extent of our families' meagre 'knowledge' is that their parents were Jacob and Gittel, there were probably three other siblings, all girls, called Hava, Haia and one whose name we don't know, and they came from a town called Gombin (Gabin) in Poland. We have a rough idea of Louis' and Isaac's years of birth. Other than that, nothing.

Or rather, next to nothing.

My cousin Bracha, Itzhak's daughter, and I have been getting our heads together. Bracha tells me that Itzhak had a relative called 'Reimond Ball', who was active in the Gombiner Society in America, and that Itzhak himself had been President of the Society in Israel. And that there were other relatives, called Schwartz, who had six sons, all tailors, who went to London, and helped my grandfather when he arrived there 100 years ago: one of them was called Abraham.

Now this being the 21st Century, the Gombiner Society in the US has a web-site. On the web-site I came across a reference to a 'Raymond Boll'. Promising! They also had a database with listings of Gombiner families from a few years around the turn of the 20th Century, with dates of birth and, where appropriate, death.

Amongst the families in the database I found a Jacob and Gitla Finkelstein, with a daughter Jenta Bajla who married a member of a Svarc family. And a Bajla Frankenstajn, who also married a Svarc, and had eight children; the two girls died young, the six boys survived. One of them was called Abraham. This Abraham Svarc was just a few years younger than my grandfather Louis and his brother Isaac.

And then I found that some of the US Gombiners have even set up a Facebook Group; it is 2012, after all. When I saw that the owner of the group is called Dana Boll, I felt we might be on the right track.

And indeed we are. Dana and her cousin Joyce are grand-daughters of Raymond Boll; their fathers recall Raymond being in contact with Itzhak Finkelstein, who they assume was a cousin to Raymond. They tell me that Raymond's mother was Rifka Leah Frankenstein, who married twice and had mountains of children. They also have a Bajla Frankenstein, who married a Schwartz, and had 10 children. However, although they think of Itzhak as a cousin, they know nothing further about him. He does not appear on their family tree, and at the moment, no-one quite knows how he fits in.

They do, however, have a 'Lajb (?)' - with a question mark - on their tree, and a Chava, as brother and sister. So they do have reference to two names that appear in my grandfather's family - his own, and one of his sisters' - although, again, they are not sure which bit of their family they 'belong' to.

So, to sum up:
1) My own family's knowledge includes:
• an Itzhak Finkelstein who used to be in contact with a cousin Raymond Boll, both involved in the Gombiner Societies in their respective countries
• Itzhak has a brother Leibisch and a sister Chava, plus two other sisters, one called Chaya and the other unknown
• their parents are Jacob and Gittle
• Itzhak also has a cousin Abraham Schwartz, one of six brothers, who went to London and knew Leibisch there
• we do not know the exact relationship with Raymond Boll and Abraham Schwartz
• no other related Frankensteins or Finkelsteins are known to us

2) In the database, we find:
• a Jacob and Gitla Finkelstein who had a daughter Jenta Bajla who married a Svarc
• a Bajla Frankenstajn who married a Svarc and had six sons, one of which was called Abraham

3) Our possible new cousins' knowledge includes:
• a Raymond Boll who used to be in contact with a cousin Itzhak Finkelstein, both involved in the Gombiner Societies in their respective countries
• Raymond Boll was a son of Rifka Leah Frankenstajn
• Itzhak's parents and siblings are unknown
• a brother Lajb and a sister Chava, who are closely related but whose parents and any other siblings are unknown
• a Bajla Frankenstajn who married a Schwartz and had about ten children

So, nothing definite, as yet, no absolute proof. In particular, we do not yet have anything that identifies a specific relationship between Jacob Finkelstein and Rifka Leah Frankenstein, Raymond's mother. Were they brother and sister? Cousins maybe??

Nevertheless, life is short, and I'm happy to accept the weight of evidence, which as far as I'm concerned points to the conclusion that, for the second time in a fortnight, I've found new cousins.

The sharing of stories is about to begin. If only my mother were alive to share this moment with us! Happily, two of her sisters are still here, as is their cousin Bracha - and they are going to be the ones with the best stories to tell.