Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Prayer Books of Gombin

A year ago I took part in a visit to Gombin in Poland, home town of my grandfather Lajb Frankensztajn. I went along with a few other members of the Gombin Society from the USA and the UK, all of us descendants of Jewish inhabitants of the town. We were there for a weekend of events commemorating the town’s former Jewish community, which was wiped out in the Holocaust. Several members of my own Gombin family perished at that time, including my grandfather’s two sisters, their husbands and most of their children, possibly his mother (though she may have died a year or two before the War, we don’t know), and many of his cousins.

Amongst the many moving moments of the visit, one in particular stands out for me. It happened on the Sunday, when we had a programme of walks around the town, followed by a few short films and talks in the afternoon.

The Books
It was 10am. We had just arrived in the town, and were standing around waiting for the local dignitaries to join us. A woman approached us, carrying a plastic bag, from which she pulled out a number of old, black-bound books. They were Hebrew Prayer Books, which she said had been found when her house was being renovated a few years ago. They had been hidden under the stairs, or maybe behind a wall, during the War. They must have been there for at least 75 years, as the Nazis deported all remaining Jews from the town to concentration camps in 1942.

Did we know who these books belonged to? She wanted to return them to the original family, and was reluctant to hand them over to a museum - and we had amongst us the Directors of two of the most important museums in Poland, the State Ethnographic Museum, who had organised the Conference, and Polin, the Museum of the Polish Jews, both located in Warsaw. But she insisted she wanted to give them back to the family.

She said the Jewish family who had lived in the house before was called Pindek. At that point I had not come across the name at all, and when I checked later, I couldn’t see it on any of the databases I had on my laptop. It didn’t ring any bells. None of the Jewish Gombiners amongst us recognised the name.

There was some writing on some of the blank pages at the beginning of one of the books, some in Yiddish, and a child’s hand practising letter formation in Hebrew and in Russian. A few people looked at it but no-one could make much sense of it.

Our hosts arrived, our meeting started. The lady put the books back in the bag and went off. We were busy all day and I didn't have another look at the photos I had taken.

Reading the Writing
Then at the end of the day, she turned up again, as we were all filing into a hall for some talks and films. I’m always stopping to take photos, and as usual I was at the back of the bunch to enter the hall, along with a few of our Polish friends from the Ethnological Museum. As proceedings began inside, those of us still outside had another look at the books. I can read a bit of Russian, albeit with difficulty, and I suddenly realised that the child’s writing - even reading it upside down, as someone else held the book - was that of a little boy learning how to write his own name: Lab Ran.

Lajb Rajn?

I have Rajn relatives, from Gombin. They are descendants of Gersz Ber Rajn and Rifka Laja Frankensztajn, sister of my great-grandfather. Plus, conversations with a newly-contacted cousin, Louis Kaplan, had confirmed that Gersz Ber Rajn, and Louis' great-grandfather Boruch Nusyn Rajn, were brothers, and that therefore what looked like two Rajn families in Gombin were really one. Plus, Boruch Nusyn's wife was a member of my Zegelman family.

So they're all relatives of mine, one way or another. They’re on my Family Tree, and my Tree is on my phone, and my phone is in my pocket …

There he was - Lajb Rajn, born 1901, from Louis’ side of the Rajn family. We checked the date of publication of the book: 1900. It could be him! I checked again in my notes, and there were indeed no other children called Lajb in the Rajn family at that time. It had to be him. 

As Chance would have it
I showed the Museum people the entry for the Rajn family on my iPhone - so glad I’d bought the App! - and one of them explained what I was saying to the lady, Mrs Romanowska.

She was delighted to have found someone connected with the family, but I don’t think she realised what a massive part Chance had played in bringing us together:

Chance #1: I was on the trip in the first place - there were only 5 of us from old Gombin families; none of the others was connected to the Rajn family
#2: I was still in the street, and not already inside in the hall, when she came back in the afternoon
#3: I can read a bit of Russian; I don't think any of the others could
#4: I have a ridiculous number of relatives, confirmed and potential, listed on the genealogy app on my phone
#5: I had only recently been contacted by Louis, who had helped me to join some of the dots

We had a little impromptu handing-over ceremony right there and then in the street, and a little hug. I now have the Book.

More dots joined
So we had identified the child who had written in the book, but we were still in the dark about the Pindeks. 

A few days later, back home, I was writing to Louis, who is from New Jersey, USA, to tell him that, on the Gombin trip, we had been given a book belonging to his family. While I was writing, I had another look at his Family Tree on the Geni website, and saw that since I had last looked, before the trip, he had added in some names and dates to his Rajn branch.

There they were: a Pindek married to a Rajn! Fool (probably a diminutive of Rafal) Pindek, married to Kajla Rajn! I already knew about Kajla - she’s a daughter of Boruch Nusyn, and an older sister of Lajb, the child whose writing is in the book. So Lajb's book had been found in his sister's house, and she was married to a Pindek.

Sadly, Louis also had dates of death for all 3 of them: Lajb, Kajla and Fool: 1942. All killed in the Holocaust.

Whose Books?
I suppose the book had belonged to Boruch Nusyn originally, and maybe one of Lajb’s older brothers or sisters, possibly Kajla, used the blank pages to show him how to write his name. We were told by Barbara Kirschenblatt, Director of the Polin Museum, that the book is a Mahzor (a festival prayer book), that all families had one, and that they would have been accessible to the children.

We presume that Lajb, or maybe Kajla, would have kept the Books, and hid them when the Germans came. 65 or 70 years later, the house was being renovated, floorboards were pulled up, and the books were found.

The other three books, Barbara told us, were part of a series of commentary prayer books, Mikraot Gedolot, that would only have been used by a Rabbi or other synagogue officiant, or maybe a Yeshiva student. I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask for these three books at the time, but they clearly are all part of the same collection, and we are hoping that Mrs Romanowska will agree to return them to the family.

More Mysteries
Meantime, there are a number of other mysteries waiting to be cleared up. Who was the Rabbi, or Teacher, or student, who owned the commentary books? It is probably Lajb’s father, Boruch Nusyn, but I can’t be sure as so far I haven’t managed to find out anything at all about him. Louis says he was in the leather business, and that’s about it. It could be Lajb himself, or perhaps Rafal Pindek. Again, we know nothing further about them.

Why are there only 3 volumes out of the 11 in the series? Did the Rajns/Pindeks originally have all 11? If so, where are the others? It has been suggested that maybe the books belonged to the synagogue, and that they were spread amongst the community at some point during the War in the hope that they might stand a better chance of surviving. We do not know.

There are further question marks over the house itself. It is located in Kilinskiego Street, which runs from the synagogue out to the Jewish cemetery, about a kilometre away. When the Germans created a Jewish ghetto in the town, this street became its centre. We do not know whether the Pindeks were living there before the War, or whether they were moved there when the ghetto was formed. We do not know whether Lajb Rajn and his family lived there at all. Mrs Romanowska says that her family bought the house from the Pindeks, and that she has some sort of documentation of this amongst her parents’ papers. At the moment we do not know when her family took over the house - before the War, or under the Occupation? Or after the Jews were deported to the camps?

She also says there are photos that might include the Pindeks. This leaves us wondering what the relationship was between her family and the Pindeks - were they friends, neighbours, business associates maybe? If we could see the papers and photos she has mentioned, it might help make the picture a bit clearer. We have asked.

The Pindeks
Finally, the Pindeks themselves. Rafal and Kajla were killed in 1942, but their son Bernard (probably named after his grandfather Boruch Nusyn) managed, somehow, to survive. Louis, whose mother was a cousin to Bernard, recalls: “They had a son named Bernie who survived the Holocaust and I recall meeting him when I was a little boy. The legend was that he escaped into the woods and lived out the War in hiding.”

Bernie’s escape must have been from a concentration camp, as some of the cousins who remember him from their childhood recall the camp number tattooed on his arm. Louis remembers going to visit Bernie and his family, and playing with his two sons.

Bernie died aged 50 in 1967. Louis recalls the family saying he "died before his time”; his mother said that it was from “the trials that he was exposed to during the time of the Holocaust.” It has just struck me that this year is his centenary.

Six of Boruch Nusyn’s children had emigrated to the USA in the 1910s and 20s; Kajla and Lajb were the only ones who stayed in Poland. Bernie probably knew that his uncles and aunts were in New Jersey, and he managed to locate them there after the War. Other members of the Rajn family also remember family contacts with Bernie and his family. Three of them, Arline, Lauren and Dan, recently helped me to make contact with Bernie’s sons, and with a grand-daughter, Lilly. Until they saw my emails a few weeks ago, Lilly says they thought that her Grandfather’s family had all perished in the Holocaust, and they would never be able to find out who they were.

We have pooled our knowledge, and Lady Luck has played a part, but there are still many mysteries. Maybe together we will be able to resolve some of them, and recover at least some of the history of a family torn apart by the horrors of the Holocaust.

Links to:
- The Frankenstein Trail: posts on our family's history

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Tracing the X in Levin

Several of my cousins have now done a DNA test, and we are beginning to get some interesting results. Within the last couple of weeks results have come in for Beatrice, a 3rd Cousin to me, and for Dan, a 2nd Cousin. Dan and I share great-grandparents, Shliomo Dovid Ilyutovich and Mikhlya Levin, whilst Beatrice's great-grandfather is Mikhlya's brother Leib. So our connection with Beatrice is one generation further back, with the parents of Mikhlya and Leib, Berko Levin and his wife Sora Leya. Our Levin family is from a village called Streshin, in Mogilev province in the east of Belarus, and later from Gomel, a bit further south.

With these new results in, I was able to do a few checks comparing known Levin family members using the chromosome browser on the FTDNA website. Apart from my brother Brian and myself, we have results for Katy (the daughter of our 1st cousin Jenny, so she's our 1st Cousin-once-Removed), and for Patrick - a 1C1R to Dan. 

The Chromosome Browser shows us where we have segments of DNA that exactly match those of another person. These matching segments - especially the longer ones - must almost certainly have come from a common ancestor, although in many cases this ancestor will turn out to be too far back in time for us to be able to trace.

The first impression was that we all seem to match each other here and there, to a greater or lesser extent. Phew! I experimented comparing the group first against myself, then against Brian, then against Katy - and it was here that I encountered a major surprise.

Here is the chart for Katy's X-chromosome. The X has a different inheritance pattern to all the other chromosomes. It is passed from the Mother to all children, Male & Female, and from the Father only to a Female child. This makes the inheritance path quite complicated, but if you sit down with the Tree in front of you and a pencil in your hand, you can follow it through.
NB: the black background represents Katy, the green is Dan, the yellow is Beatrice. The blank lines you can discern on the right-hand side are where Brian, Patrick and myself would be, except we didn't get this X because we are all males, and our Levin line passes through our fathers. And as we saw above, fathers don't pass an X on to their sons. And none of us matches Katy on the left-hand side.

We see that Dan shares a long segment on the X-chromosome with Katy, and Beatrice also matches both of them in this segment in a couple of short stretches. Dan's match with Katy is 110cM, which I am told is unusually long for 2C1R - the segment has been passed down unaltered over 3 generations to Dan, and 4 to Katy. And although Beatrice's match is comparatively short, it is significant that she matches with both of the others at those points.

What is more, we know where this segment comes from, for any ‘match’ displayed in the Chromosome Browser has to come from an ancestor common to all the people who share the match, and our cousinship is close enough for us to know who those ancestors are.

We can trace one of Dan’s X-inheritance paths back via his mother Raya, and her father Shmuilo, to our great-grandmother Mikhlya Levin, and then on to her mother Sora Leya, born about 1830. 

Katy has a path that also wends its way back to the same place, via her mother Jenny, Jenny's father Michael, his mother Zlata, and back to Mikhlya and on to Sora Leya.

And Beatrice also has one that goes back to Sora Leya, via her mother Alice, Alice's mother Annie, and Annie's father Leib, Mikhlya’s brother.

Here's our Levin X-inheritance chart:

NB: girls are pink, boys are blue; and notice that none of these 3 paths pass through two successive males at any point - this would block transmission of the Levin X, which is why Patrick, Brian and myself can't share in the fun.

So we can trace this long stretch of X back to a known common ancestor. That in itself is nice to know, but it has further significant potential. Because anyone else matching Dan or Katy on that same stretch of X - or Beatrice, on her shorter stretch - will have got it from Sora Leya, or from her X-path ancestors, or their X-path descendants. That leaves quite a lot of possibilities, but at least we know what direction to look in.

I would say that this makes anyone matching either of Dan or Katy on the right-hand module of the X-chromosome worth following up - they will be related to us, and the relationship may be traceable. They won’t be close to us, the closest they could be is probably descendants of any siblings of Mikhlya and Leib - but it would be wonderful if we do find some! They would be 3rd Cousins to us - and that's worth knowing about!

Dan and Katy meet for the first time last year. At that point we didn't know about the X in Levin.

Two more members of the Levin X-club: Beatrice and Alice, celebrating Alice's 100 birthday in 2011 with a Yiddish song or two. Sadly Alice passed away the following year.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Something in the air

There must be something in the air ...
There I was, whiling away the time on the top deck of the Number 7 bus, scrolling through the emails on my phone. There was one from MyHeritage, so I opened it to see what news there was on the family history front. It was a list of 'record matches' they'd found for people in the Family Tree I've got on their site. One of them was for the family of Joseph Szapira of Brighton. In the 1891 Census they were living at 3 St James's Street.As I read this, the bus pulled up at a stop, and I glanced out of the window., as you do.
There it was, just behind me - Number 3, the yellow building currently offering organic Belgian chips. In 1891 it was a fruiterer's. Joseph Szapira, formerly a jeweller, seems to have taken over the business after the death of his father-in-law Samuel Joel. Apart from the shop-fronts, the row of buildings, with their bow-windows on the first floor, are more or less as they were in 1891.So was this email from MyHeritage primed to open at just this time, and just this place? Are they in cahoots with the bus driver?
Or is it maybe Kate Joel's way of reminding me that I haven't yet managed to link her family with that of Jacob Joel, who lived at 89 St James's Street? Or is it even Isaac Frankenstein nudging me again, from across the Atlantic - I haven't managed to link him to anyone at all.
Or .... ?

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Just like a jigsaw

Our first success
I did an autosomal DNA test with FTDNA getting on for 5 years ago, and since then a few of my cousins have done so too. Week after week I check our match lists, occasionally spotting a promising looking match, but never yet managing to establish a connection with anyone.

Well, we've just had our first success: my cousin Katy has been able to confirm a previously unknown cousin. It's on her father's side, and I'm connected to her on her mother's side, so it's not a new cousin for me, but the discovery could indirectly be of some help to my own researches.

A few days ago a new match, Niel, appeared in Katy's list, with figures too big to ignore: they share a total of 225cM, with a longest single segment of 75cM. FTDNA predicts they should be 2nd-3rd Cousins. We all have plenty of predicted 2-3Cs, as do most people with Jewish ancestry, and I have never yet been able to connect to any of them. But none so far have shown figures as high as this, so it was obviously worth investigating.

Mystery Man
I have pretty full information on our close relatives on Katy's mother's side, but I have no record of Niel's name. He appears on my match list, and that of my brother, but we share such a small amount of DNA with him that the match probably has very little significance. So the first conclusion is that he'll probably turn out to be on her father's side.

Next step: ask Katy. She had never heard of him. She asked her Dad. He didn't recognise the name either.

So I tried looking online. My first port of call was the Geni world-wide Family Tree - and bingo!, there he was, in a Tree with a handful of relatives, none of them known to us. One of these was his father, Louis, so I tried looking for him on Geni, to see if there was maybe another Tree for this family. There was, and it showed Louis' mother with a surname not too far from Katy's own family name. This did indeed look promising.

Yesterday, while we were still scratching our heads over this, Katy received an email from Niel. He had seen her in his own match list, and recognised her surname as being close to his grandmother's maiden name. He looked for her via Google, found her website, and saw that she had family connections to South Africa.

This is where the jigsaw comes in.

Niel told us that his grandmother, Mary, was "sent to Canada" to marry his grandfather, Noah, whose wife had died, leaving him with two young children. She herself had a young child, and as Niel puts it, "Unfortunately in those days they thought it was OK to leave her baby behind in Lithuania." This child, Heidi, was brought up by one of Mary's brothers, who later emigrated with his family to South Africa; Niel didn't know the name of this brother.

This last sentence immediately rang a bell with Katy. She knew from her father that his own father, Bentzion, had grown up in South Africa with a "cousin" called Heidi as part of the family. However none of the children seemed to know how she was connected, nor who her parents were.

Now we know. Piecing together the information from Niel and Katy, we have been able to re-constitute the family tree. Mary (also known as Miriam) has to be a sister of Woolf, Bentzion's father (and Katy's great-grandfather) - they have the same surname, and the two stories fit. Heidi is Mary's daughter by a first partner, brought up as a member of Woolf's family, and emigrating to South Africa with them. Meanwhile Mary and Noah had two children in Canada, including Niel's father Louis.

So Niel is Katy's 2nd Cousin-Once-Removed. Without the DNA test to spark the contact, we would most likely never have known. They are now moving on to swapping photos and more stories, no doubt.

And as an added bonus, FTDNA uses the DNA that a person shares with known close relatives to allocate some of their other matches to one side or the other of their family. In Katy's case, her mother is a First Cousin to myself and my brother. The DNA we share has enabled FTDNA to create a list of Maternal-side matches for her. Fitting together the pieces of the jigsaw with Niel has now produced a list on her Paternal side. This should help orientate further researches for her.

It may even have repercussions for myself and Brian, as we are more likely to be related to her Maternal matches than to her Paternal ones. So if a promising match appears on my own list, I can use Katy's lists as a steer, and pay it more attention if it is also on her Maternal side.

So we haven't exactly completed the jigsaw, but it's nice at least to fit two of the pieces together - and at the same time, to increase our chances of finding more pieces!

Friday, 5 May 2017

Let’s say I’m over the moon!

Six weeks ago I received an email from the Lida District Research group, associated with JewishGen, the website which collects together all manner of material to do with Jewish Genealogy. They had just released to subscribers a spreadsheet containing all the entries relating to Jews in the town of Lida, from the 1903 Russian Empire 'Revision List'. This was a sort of household register compiled periodically by the Russian authorities to try to keep tabs on all their subjects, mostly for tax and conscription purposes.

Judy Baston, who sent the email, couldn't contain herself: "Whenever I announce a new Lida District translation, I often begin with “I am delighted…” and even, “I am really excited…”.  But this new translation of the Lida 1903-1905 Family List is so important, those emotions pale in comparison to how I feel sharing this with you. Let’s say I’m over the moon!".

My grandmother Zlata (Sarah) Ilyutovich was probably born in Lida, which is in the north-west of Belarus, in the 1880s, and probably lived there for a number of years. Her father, Shlomo Dovid, died during the 1890s, and her mother Mikhlya took her children back to her home town of Gomel, 400km away in the far south-east of Belarus. This much we knew, more or less. However we have found precious few documents of their time in either town. There are a couple of birth records, and a re-marriage for Mikhlya, and that's about it. Zlata didn't appear once.

Then, in the mid-1900s, Zlata, her brothers Meer and Hirsch, and their mother all came to London. 

Zlata Ilyutovich - before she left Russia?

The only one who didn't leave was the oldest son, Shmuel, who had recently married and whose first child Raya was born in Gomel in 1906. So a 1903 List looked like a last chance to find something on them.

Previous research
We had had some research done a few years ago by the Jewish Heritage Research Group of Belarus. This suggested that Mikhlya's husband Shlomo Dovid Ilyutovich had been born in the town of Novogrudok, some 80km from Lida, and that his father Leizer had obtained permission to move the family to Lida in the 1860s, when Shlomo Dovid was a few years old. There were names and ages for the whole family, parents and half-a-dozen children, but I have never been able to identify any of them in any of the records I have looked through. There are Revision Lists for Lida from 1816, 1834, 1850, 1858, and a partial list from the period between then and the 1880s. There are similar records for other towns in the District. Not a whisper of any of this family.

As I opened the document, I wondered, as you always do, what I would find there. Would it be business as usual, or would I have reason to find myself alongside Judy, "over the moon"?

The 1903 Revision List
The List contains 10000+ names, and 1000+ families. Amongst these are 450 Ilyutoviches, in 37 family households. Scanning through the families, my eye was caught by one of them, Household 186.

As you can see in the clip above, the male members of the household are listed first, in their family groupings, and the female members follow on in the same order. Everyone is shown in relation to the designated 'Head of Household', which in this case is Shmuilo, at the top of the list. The names in red, 8 of them, correspond exactly to the family that we know, give or take one name. The dates of birth (not shown here) also correspond with what we know. This is our family, at last. No doubt about it.

The first of the women is Mikhlia, daughter of Berko (shown here as 'mother of Shmuilo'). She is my great-grandmother. Next is Sheina Zlata, her daughter. My Granny! The Head of Household is Shmuilo, Zlata's older brother, and they are both shown as children of Shlioma. Two other brothers follow, with names that puzzled us at first, Iosel Meer and Aron. I'll go into the evidence elsewhere, but they too definitely correspond to the people we know.

Then there is Shmuilo's wife, Goda, and their two tinies, Rasia (b 1906) and Shlioma (b 1908), who were both added to the document later.

Shmuilo Ilyutovich with wife Goda and baby Rasia, 1906, Gomel

This much is welcome confirmation of what we already knew. But who are the others? There's another 16 people here that we had never heard of. Who are they?

A closer look at the relationships shows that 4 of the men are shown as 'uncles' to Shmuilo. They are Shimel, Iudel Elia, Evel and Iser. The first 3 of these are shown as sons of Shmuilo - but beware, this is not the Shmuilo at the top of the list - they're his uncles! To be his uncles, they must be brothers to either his mother or his father. But his mother - Mikhlia - is shown as daughter of Berko, and they're sons of Shmuilo. So they're not her brothers. They must be brothers to Shmuilo's father, Shlioma. Shlioma himself, we presume, does not appear in this 1903 list because he had died by then, probably during the 1890s.

It had been suggested by the JHRG research that Shlioma's father was called Leizer, but the siblings listed here (the 4 uncles) had completely different names to the siblings in that family, and dates that cut across theirs. So they are two different families. This meant that we had to start looking for Shlioma's father again - if he wasn't Leizer, who was he?

Who was Shlioma's father?
This is a family group I had found a few years back, in a listing from 1874, in one of the updates to the 1858 Revision List:

I knew my great-grandparents were called Shlioma and Mikhlia. Could this be them? Trawling through all the available records, there is no other Shlioma married to a Mikhlia, let alone a Mikhlia daughter of Berko, in this period or any other. This ought to be them.

However I had been reluctant to claim this family, partly because their dates of birth, hers in particular, seem to be a few years earlier than we thought, but mainly because it seemed to have the 'wrong' father for Shlioma. His father was supposed to be Leizer, and this one was Shmuilo. But now we've seen the 1903 List, we know better. This is his father. And the 4 uncles in the 1903 List, shown as sons of Shmuilo, are indeed all brothers to Shlioma.

Who are our new cousins?
The remaining people in the list are the wives and children of the 4 uncles. This gives us some family units to follow up. Who are our new cousins? What happened to them? Did they emigrate? If they came to the UK or the USA we may be able to track them down.

So we now know that the family we were pointed towards in the earlier research is not ours. These, in Household 186, are our true ancestors. And now that we have their names and dates, can we trace them further back, through the records we already have to hand?

Let's just say that yes, I am up there with Judy - Over the Moon!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

I think he was a tailor

My cousin Sandra posted this a few days ago in our family Facebook Group:
“As a child I met relatives who came from Panama to visit us in the USA. I don't remember the names but the male was our cousin and I think he was a tailor. This was in late 40s or early 50s. I think they stayed with my Aunt Fannie.”
Well, there were 6 of them, and they were all tailors. They are the Schwartz brothers from Gombin, and their parents were Towie Aron Szwarc and Bajla Frankensztajn. They had all left Poland to try their luck elsewhere. Jack came to London in 1913, and Abraham followed him in the 1920s. Morris also came to London, then went to Panama in the 1930s, and ended up in the USA, in New Jersey. Nathan, Paul and Ralph went to Panama in the late 1930s.

They all came together in 1946, in New Jersey, for a special occasion:

Morris, Nathan, Paul, Abraham, Ralph, Jack

Cousin Belinda tells the story behind the photo:
“The picture of the 6 brothers is in my parents’ wedding.  My parents, Pinhas (Paul) and Sarah were married in New Jersey in 1946. My eldest brother Allan and I were born there, but they returned to Panama when I was a baby, so my first language is Spanish, then English, and now, Hebrew. In Panama my brothers Arthur and Eddy were born there. 
The story about the picture is the following. You'd better sit down: 
My father had emigrated to Panama with his brother Nathan. He got a visa for his mother Bajla and his brother Herzl Ber to leave Poland; his father Towie Aron had died a couple of years before. 
My father said that later on they will send for the rest of family that was staying in Poland. But Herzl Ber got sick, and they exchanged the visa and gave it to the youngest brother, Ralph. Another brother, Isaac, did not want to leave Herzl Ber alone and stayed taking care of him. 
Bajla did not want to leave because she wanted to stay with her two daughters Sarah and Rivkah.  Sarah was married with two children and her husband Izrael Zolna was in the army. Rivkah was engaged, and she was waiting for her fiancé to return - he was also in the army.  They were planning to leave Gombin in the near future.  Rivkah’s fiancé didn’t return.
Well, the Nazis got into Gombin in 1939. They killed Sarah’s two children in the snow, in front of them, and as far as we know Bajla and the sisters were sent to Auschwitz. Herszl Ber and Isaac were also killed.
My father had left in the last ship to leave Poland, bringing his young brother Ralph. They arrived in Panama, where Nathan was waiting for them. 
Several years later, after the War, my father went to the USA, where his brother Morris had emigrated earlier. He met my mother, and this beautiful picture occurred. 
The B'nai Brit magazine sent the picture all around the world. In Australia, Rivkah’s fiancé saw the picture and recognized the brothers and called via telephone to my father. (I can’t remember his name... I was a little girl). 
I know he came with his wife to Panama to explain why he never returned to Gombin.
He was sick in a hospital in Russia and couldn’t leave.  When he finally came to Gombin, it was too late.  He came to Panama to explain himself to the family.”
So who was the tailor from Panama who stayed with Sandra’s Aunt Fannie for this momentous occasion? I think it must have been either Nathan or Ralph. And what was their relationship to her?

Morris, Nathan, Paul, Abraham, Ralph, Jack - with hats

I’m pretty sure that Sandra's ‘Aunt Fannie’ was Frajda Rajn, daughter of Boruch Rajn and Sura Rywka Zegelman. This makes her not just a cousin, but a Triple Cousin to Bajla Frankensztajn, the mother of the Schwartz boys:
  1. Boruch’s brother Gersz Ber Rajn married Tauba Frankensztajn, and then after Tauba died, he married her sister Rywka Laja; Bajla is their younger sister.
  2. In the generation before, Sura Rywka’s father Hemie Zegelman, and Bajla’s mother Rachla, were brother and sister.
  3. At the same time, Sura Rywka’s mother, Hana Frankensztajn, and Bajla’s father Wolek, were sister and brother. In other words, a sister and brother had married a brother and sister. So the children of these two couples would be cousins twice over.
(Nathan and Ralph Schwartz later kept up this family tradition, when they married two sisters, Ruchla and Siza Aizenman, in Panama in 1944.)

So Aunt Fannie's mother, Sura Rywka, and the Schwartz brothers' mother, Bajla, were Double Cousins, through both the Zegelmans and the Frankensztajns. Then in the next generation the Rajn brothers joined the party, and married a Frankensztajn and a Zegelman respectively. So in fact all of Boruch Rajn’s descendants are Triple Cousins to all of Gersz Ber’s. The rest of our Frankenstein clan can only look on in admiration. Have a look at I have a feeling that we are related for how we worked all this out.

This is now the third time in a couple of months that we have confirmed family connections through things that happen at weddings. In Is this the Missing Link?, it was where the groom was staying, in Another Link in the Chain it was the identity of a witness. This time it's where the groom's brother was staying. The first two were in documents, this one is from childhood memories.

And in this case we also have an iconic photograph, which as Belinda's childhood memories tell us, had played a part, 70 years ago, in bringing together people who had been separated in tragic circumstances.

I wonder what's next?

Friday, 3 March 2017

Another Link in the Chain

Once again, you're looking for one thing, and you find another. In my last post, Is this the Missing Link, I described how I came across evidence that linked my own Frankenstein family with another branch I was sure we were related to.

Well, it's happened again. With the same family.

The Marriage Certificate above is for Lewis Allerhand and Fanny Shalinsky, at the East London Synagogue in 1912. Fanny appears in the 1901 Census as a grand-daughter of Sarah Frankenstein, matriarch of the family I have been trying to link with my own. By this time Sarah is allegedly 70 years old, although I believe she must have been a good 10 years younger.

Sarah is a widow, her husband Israel Jacob had probably died in Poland before the family came to England in the 1880s. Sarah is described as a 'Hawker (Cakes)', and her birthplace is Gombin, Poland - this is what first caught my eye when I was trawling through all the Frankensteins I could find in the 19th Century UK Censuses. Gombin is our Frankenstein town.

Also with Sarah is a daughter, Betsy, aged 30, described as a 'Cripple'. I've no idea what kind of disability she suffered from. Fanny is 14, and a Tailoress, and has the surname Shalinsky. Both Betsy and Fanny are born in Gombin. Sarah's other children, Jacob, Barnett and Rachael, have all married by this time, and set up their own homes. Sarah is down as Fanny's grandmother, but what is not clear is, who is her mother? Is it Betsy? Or is it another daughter that we don't yet know of? And where has her surname Shalinsky come from?

In an attempt to pursue those questions, I ordered a copy of Fanny's marriage certificate, and it arrived last week. Unfortunately it doesn't answer my questions. The only new information it gives about her is that her father is Samuel Shalinsky, a cabinet-maker. It doesn't say he is deceased - which it does say of her bridegroom Lewis's father - so I presume he was still alive at the time of the wedding. However I can find no such person in any UK records, so maybe he never left Poland. I haven't found him there either, though. So he's still a mystery.

But there's something else. Maybe you've noticed by now. I didn't until I looked at the marriage certificate for the third or fourth time. Have another look.

Who's the first witness?

Morris Frankenstein? Morris who?? We've got a Morris Frankenstein, and he lived within walking distance of the East London Synagogue. Could it be him?

There are three Morris Frankensteins in the 1901 UK Census, and they don't include ours. One is in Manchester, the other two are in the East End of London. Our Morris - Moszek Boruch - was my great-grandfather's younger brother. He was born near Gombin in 1886, and came to London around 1905, so he's in the 1911 Census. However, by then, one of the East End Morrises had emigrated to the USA, and the other had died. So our Morris was the only one left in London. It has to be him.

It was Uncle Morris who welcomed my grandfather Leib (Lewis) Frankenstein, and his cousin Jankel Szwarc (Jack Schwartz), to London when they came in 1913 aged around 20. He was probably also there for another cousin, Frajda Rajn, when she arrived at about the same time. These three are children of Moszek's siblings Jankel Josek, Bajla, and Riwka Laja, respectively.

Now then. In the Missing Link post, I traced how when Frajda got married in 1916, her fiancé gave his address as 28 Blyth Street, which we know was the home of Barnett Frankenstein. This, together with other evidence discussed in that post and elsewhere (see A Frankenstein by Any Other Name), led me to conclude that these two families are indeed closely related.

Barnett was the son of Sarah - which makes him an uncle of Fanny Shalinsky. He must have been at her wedding. And as we can see from the certificate, Morris Frankenstein, uncle of my own grandfather, was there too. I'm taking this as further confirmation of the closeness of the family connection.

And if the relationship between these two families is located where I think it is - a couple of generations further back - then Moszek is also a sort of Uncle Morris to Fanny, and hence a suitable family witness to her marriage. And he's Cousin Morris to Barnett and his siblings Jacob and Rachael.

Unfortunately, over the course of the last 100 years, we have lost track of most of these relationships. But documents such as these marriage certificates show us how closely-knit our families once were.

In 1948 Jack Schwartz put together a photo album to commemorate those members of his family killed in the Holocaust; the only ones to survive were Jack and 5 of his brothers, who had all emigrated before the outbreak of the Second World War.

As well as photos of his parents, brothers and sisters, there are some of other relatives, including this one.

'Uncle Morris Frankenstein and wife Leah
London - England - 1922'

So here's to Uncle Morris - the man who links us all together.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Is this the Missing Link?

You know that moment when you're looking for something, and you find something else? Well, this is one of those moments.

Last week I met my Frankenstein 3rd Cousins Eve and Alan for the first time. We're 3rd Cousins because my great-grandfather Jankel Josek and their great-grandmother Rifka Laja were brother and sister, born around 150 years ago in little villages near Gombin in Poland. It turns out they both live about 15 miles away from me, but we had completely lost touch - I don't think our families had had any contact since my grandfather died over 60 years ago.

In the 1900s and 1910s, several members of our Frankenstein family emigrated to England. Jankel and Rifka's younger brother Moszek (Morris) came around 1905, and then 3 of his nieces and nephews came a few years later, all in their teens or early 20s. These were my grandfather Lajb (Louis) Frankenstein, Eve and Alan's grandmother Frajda (Frieda) Rajn, and Jankel Lajb (Jack) Szwarc, son of Bajla, who in turn was a sister of Jankel, Rifka and Moszek. So basically, it looks like each of these four siblings sent one member of their family to start a new life in London.

I know that Louis and Jack arrived in 1913. Whether they came together or separately I don't know. At the moment we don't know when Frieda came, but she must have come before the outbreak of the First World War in July 1914, because travel across Europe would have been impossible after that. In any case, by 1916 all three of them were getting married, all in the same place, at the Philpot Street Synagogue in Mile End in the East End of London, the area that most recent Jewish immigrants headed to on arrival.

When Jack first arrived, he stayed with Uncle Morris, and worked with him in his tailoring workshop, run from his home in Mile End. Jack got married in March 1916 from an address nearby, in Bethnal Green, and at that point he was no longer living with Morris. I know nothing of Louis until his marriage in November 1916, when he was living not in the East End, but across town in the West End. But then his bride was a West End girl, living just round the corner, in the shadow of the Post Office Tower (which of course wasn't there at the time).

I was interested to know more about how the 3 young cousins came to end up in London. Did they come together? Did they stay together? Did Uncle Morris offer lodging and work to Louis and Frieda, as he did to Jack? And why did Louis end up in a different part of town?

Eve and Alan didn't have any details on Frieda's arrival in London and her first few years there. They weren't even sure whether she and Aaron had married in London, or in Poland, before they left. So after our meeting I checked online, and found they had indeed married in London, in 1916. I ordered their Marriage Certificate. I was hoping the certificate would throw some light on where they were living at the time, and maybe help answer some of my questions.

Well it did throw light, but from a most unexpected quarter.

This is from the marriage certificate, shown above. They were both living in Blyth Street, Bethnal Green, but at different addresses. Maybe that's how they met? Who knows.

Wait a minute. I've seen Blyth Street before. Didn't someone else live there at some point .... ?

This is from the 1911 Census for Barnett Frankenstein and his family. It's the same house. Not just the same street, but the same house.

It's only 2 years ago that I first came across Barnett and his family in the records, and I've managed to make contact with a number of his descendants. Together we've been trying ever since to establish whether our two families are connected, and if so, how. There are a couple of circumstantial clues that suggest we probably are:

  • Firstly, Barnett gives his birthplace as Gombin, which is our Frankenstein town, and so far all Frankensteins found in the records for that area are members of our family. There are none that aren't.
  • Secondly, the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition was to name children after deceased relatives. The effect of this is that names are not repeated from father to son, but usually skip a generation, and are passed down from a grandfather or great-grandfather. Barnett uses exactly the same names for his sons as are repeated throughout the 19th Century - and longer - in my family: Jack, Woolf, Lewis, Isaac. Notice that in this same generation, my grandfather is Louis, and his cousin is Jack Szwarc.

Neither of these on their own would be convincing; together they make a stronger case, but it's still not quite definitive. The coincidence of address looks like a third clue, albeit from 5 years earlier. The case is building.

Well, next up, this is from the Post Office Trade Directory for 1916:

They're still there in 1916, at 28 Blyth Street. So when Frieda got married in March 1916, her fiancé Aaron Hyman was staying with Barnett Frankenstein. Of all the households in London - alright, of all the households in the East End - he was staying with Barnett.

Barnett is family. We still don't know exactly where the link is, but I think there's sufficiently convincing evidence here to meet the Michael Shade Genealogical Proof Standard. 

So this is one of those moments. Hello to a whole new branch of the family. Hello to new cousins. Dozens of new cousins!