"Hi, I just discovered ... "
Ten days ago I received an email via the JewishGen Family Finder beginning: "Hi, I just discovered .... ". It was from a lady called Emily Y, and what she had just found was that her grandfather's brother, Barney Rosenberg, had married someone called Sylvia Florkiewitz, in the 1920s, in New York. "The name seems to be quite rare," she said. "Do you have any information about it?".
Florkiewicz is the family name of one of my cousins, Eva, and no, we knew very little about them. I had listed it on the JGFF in the hope that one day someone like Emily, who seemed to know something we didn't, might spot it and get in touch.
Eva is my Second Cousin, her grandmother Chawa Frankensztajn was a sister of my grandfather Lajb. Chawa’s husband was Elias Florkiewicz, they married around 1914. Our Florkiewicz family stayed in Poland, in the village of Juliszew, near Gombin (Gabin), where the Frankensztajns were living. Elias died in the 1930s, and sadly Chawa and three of her children were killed in the Holocaust. The only one to survive was their daughter Laja, who managed to get out in time and was evacuated to the USSR.
After the War Laja returned to Poland with her husband Josef and their son Henrik. Eva was born a few years later, then when Josef died in the early 1960s Laja and the children emigrated to Israel. All Eva knew of her grandfather Elias Florkiewicz was that he had some sisters who had gone to America. It seems Laja knew nothing more about them. You can see more about Chawa and her family in these posts from a couple of years ago.
Emily's email prompted me to start looking again. Where had I got to with my research into the Florkiewicz family?
Well, it turns out that I had had a pretty good lead a couple of years ago, and that I had not followed it up. The clue is tucked away at the bottom of the Registration Card that Laja filled in when she returned to Poland after the War.
1: Laja Florkiewicz's Poland Registration Card 1946
The Jewish Community in Poland registered the details of all Jews who had survived, and managed to return to Poland after the War. The Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw has an archive of all these registration cards, but they are not available online. Laja returned in 1946, and was registered in Lublin. When I was researching in Warsaw in 2014, Anna, one of the lovely people at the JHI, found her card for me.
Section 15 of the card is ‘Relatives Abroad’, and there you will see the following entry (see top of this post):
Name: Florkiewicz Sura
Here was confirmation that Laja’s grandmother Sura - Elias’s mother - had indeed emigrated to America. Anna had then helpfully located Sura Florkiewicz's Passenger Manifest for us, showing that she had emigrated in 1921. She suggested that Eva should be the one to follow this up, since it was her family - her cousins, hopefully - and Anna thinks people should be involved in their own research. I agreed, and passed the Manifest and the message on to Eva. You can probably guess what happened next - Eva and I both left it to each other, and neither of us followed it up.
Until Emily wrote.
The first thing I did was to have another look at Sura's Passenger Manifest, which should tell us when she went, who she went with, where from, where to, and possibly other things as well.
2: Mendel Florkiewicz ANT-NYC 1921
This is the document that Anna had found for us. It shows Sura, with husband Mendel and children Chana, Laja and Malka travelling from Antwerp to New York in 1921. Their nearest relative back in Poland is shown as: ’son E Florkiewicz, Juliszow’. That’s their home village, and that has to be Elias. These are his parents and sisters.
3: Mendel Florkiewicz ANT-NYC 1921 p2
The New York Passenger Lists often have a second page. This shows where, and who, they are going to - in this case: ‘daughter L Blumenstock, 468 Hinsdale Street, Brooklyn’. This must be a fourth daughter, but all I knew about her was what is written here - she is married to someone called Blumenstock, and has obviously emigrated earlier. And she, or possibly he, has the initial 'L'.
Then, as I was browsing the usual sites, I came across a Tree on Ancestry.com, put up by David G. His Tree had Mendel Florkiewicz (with a wife whose name is denoted 'Private') and 4 daughters: Pearl, Sylvia, Anna and Minnie. This was almost certainly our family - Mendel is Mendel, Anna is probably Chana, and Minnie could well be Malka, and the dates he has for them are a fairly good match to those on the Manifest. Sylvia could well be the person mentioned by Emily, Pearl is a new name, and he doesn't seem to have Laja; could Laja be the L Blumenstock shown on the Manifest?
Unfortunately for us, the only daughter David had any further information on is Minnie, who was the wife of Morris Schonberg. David turns out to be Minnie's grandson, and like us, he's very keen to share information.
Emily also has a Tree on Ancestry, but the only thing she had on Florkiewicz was the name Sylvia, married to Barney William (Benjamin) Rosenberg. She has a birth date of 1900 for her, similar to the date on the Manifest for Chana. She could possibly be the Sylvia on David's Tree. In which case that would give us 2 daughters who came over to the USA independently from the rest of the family - Pearl and Sylvia - making 5 in all. Elias is developing quite a family.
At this point I came across some Trees in a different part of the forest, on the Geni.com website. They were put up by Roseanne S and Marsha S, descendants of the Blumenstock family who were aware of the Florkiewicz connection. These Trees showed that Pearl Florkiewicz was married to Louis Blumenstock, and so she must have been the daughter 'L Blumenstock' that the family was travelling to in 1921. They also give us the families of Anna, who married Adolphe Feigeles, and Lillian - who must be Laja - who married Charles Eisenberg.
That now gives us families for all 5 of Elias's sisters. The next challenge would be to identify who are the sisters who became Pearl and Sylvia in the USA; we'll have to delve into the Polish records again for that.
And then, the purpose of the exercise so far as Eva is concerned - to trace their descendants. What cousins does she have? The information we have gathered from the Trees, and the contacts we have made this week, will help us do that. We are in touch with Emily and David, and I have written to Roseanne and Marsha, but I have not yet heard back from them.
Meanwhile, back in Poland - who were Pearl and Sylvia?
4: Florkiewicz Births Warsaw 1915
The prime source for Jewish Family History in Poland is the website of JRI-Poland, who have indexed an enormous number of surviving vital records. I came across the listing in this document some years ago, but until this week did not realise that they are in fact the records of our own Florkiewicz family. The original documents are not available online, but this index shows that Mendel and Sura registered the births of these four children all at once, in 1915, some 10 to 15 years after they were born. I can only think that at this point they were hoping to emigrate, and needed proper documentation to obtain passports. I would not put much faith in the precise dates of birth they give - Chana and Malka are shown as too close together, for a start - but I would think that the order of birth is correct.
The new find is Szejwa, the eldest of the four children appearing here. I was thrown a bit at first by seeing this person listed as 'M' for 'Male'. I had not seen Szejwa as a masculine name before, and indeed Elias used the name for one of his own daughters, Laja's younger sister, born in 1919. I think this is a clerical error, either in the original document or in the transcription for this database.
So who is she? The candidates we have are Pearl and Sylvia, and the similarity of names strongly suggests she will turn out to be Sylvia.
Two further things we learn are that Sura's maiden name was Lipe, and that they all seem to have been born in the Powazki district, in the north of Warsaw. The original documents are held at the Jewish Historical Institute, I will see if I can order copies of them, they may tell us a bit more.
And notice that neither Elias nor Pearl are included here. Elias was already married by 1915, and would be responsible for obtaining his own documentation if he needed it. What about Pearl?
5: Perla Florkiewicz b 1893
The only original birth certificate for this family that I have managed to find through JRI-Poland is this one. It confirms that Perla is indeed a daughter of Mendel and Sura, and is several years older than the other 4 sisters. We don't yet have any document giving a year of birth for Elias, but I would guess he comes between Perla and the others.
Like all records of this period, it’s hand-written and in Russian. Very badly hand-written. However I have managed to decipher that Perla was born on 17 October 1893, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, to Mendel Florkiewicz aged 35 and Sura née Lipe, aged 24. Amongst other things it also gives us the house number: 1659/60, and I have since managed to find out exactly where this building was situated, in the centre of Warsaw.
And the bonus at the end is the signature of the father, in Russian: Mendel Florkiewicz, great-grandfather of Eva and David, and also of Marsha and of Roseanne's husband, if my arithmetic is correct!
We're on a roll now. When did Perla and Szejwa emigrate? Did they go together? Let's see if we can find their Passenger Manifests.
6: Stefania Florkiewicz ANT-NYC 1920
I eventually managed to track down this Manifest for Szejwa (Sylvia), arriving in New York from Antwerp in 1920. She is neither Szejwa nor Sylvia, but Stefania. However, we can identify her by her contact back in Poland: 'mother, Suhra Florkiewicz, Warsaw’. The name ‘Stefania’ is not an Americanisation of her name, as this would not have happened until after she had arrived in the USA, and the Passenger Lists were compiled before they got on the boat in Antwerp. It may have been a name she used in Poland, outside Jewish circles.
7: Stefania Florkiewicz ANT-NYC 1920 p2
Page 2 of her Manifest tells us that she was going to: ‘sister, L Blumenstak, Hunsdale Street 465, Brooklyn’. We now know this was Perla, and her husband Louis. Her passage was paid by: ‘brother-in-law’, ie Louis.
The 1920 US Census for Louis and Pearl Blumenstock shows their eldest child Ruth as 3 years old, which suggests they married before 1917. I'm currently trawling through the New York City Marriage Index, but have not yet found them. The release of this Index, by the way, was obtained by Freedom of Information action taken against the NYC authorities by Reclaim the Records, a not-for-profit organisation set up to "get public data released back into the public domain" - more power to their elbows!
This Census also says that Louis and Pearl immigrated in 1915, and were naturalised in 1918. I have not yet found documentation for either of these events. Did they emigrate together, or separately? Did they marry in Poland, or in the USA? Who were they going to? Did either of them have relatives already there?
------- Hold the Front Page! ------- Hold the Front Page! ------- Hold the Front Page!
* * I have just this minute found the answer to some of these questions * *
* * Separate post to follow * *
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8: Descendant Chart Isadore Florkiewicz 3gen
Using these documents and many others, such as Census records, Birth, Marriage and Death listings, and others, I have put together this Tree. It shows what we currently know of the family from the parents of Mendel Florkiewicz, through three generations down to the children of Elias and his 5 sisters, Perla, Szejwa, Chana, Malka and Laja.
On Mendel’s Death Record his parents are shown as Isadore Florkowitz and Sylvia Zeshnick - but Isadore and Sylvia are not names that were used in Poland, they are clearly Americanisations. Either they emigrated as well, or Mendel used these forms when he spoke of them. Sura appears to have been the informant for this record, so it will have been she who supplied the names to the Registrar. My guess at the moment is that Mendel’s father Isadore would have been Icek (Isaac) in Poland, and his mother Sylvia would have been Szejwa - remember that Mendel's daughter Szejwa became Sylvia in the USA. Further, that his mother would have died some time before the birth of his daughter Szejwa, so that he was able to use the name for the new baby, in her memory.
I do have some names for the following generation, which is where Eva and David make their appearance, but there are a lot of blanks at the moment, which I hope to be able to fill in before too long.
What's in the name?
Going back through my emails, I have just realised that I was approached a couple of years ago, quite independently, by two people, one in Israel and one in France, who have connections to Florkiewicz families, and who may be connected to ours. The name does not appear to have been used by many Jewish families, but was reasonably common amongst gentile Poles, so many people with the name will not be related to us.
In fact one of our good friends in Gombin is Lukasz Florkiewicz, from a Polish Catholic farming family. He is intrigued by the fact that a Jewish community existed in the town for over 500 years; he now maintains the Jewish Cemetery in the town, and has been a tremendous help in our researches. He has researched his own family history back to the 18th Century, and can find no evidence of a Jewish connection. However we now know - from Perla’s Birth Certificate - that our Florkiewicz family was living in Warsaw from at least the 1890s. I will let him know what we have found!
I can only guess at how a Jewish family came to use the name Florkiewicz. Jewish families in this part of Poland were obliged by the Russian authorities to take on surnames in 1821; previously the tradition was to use patronymics - ie, people were denoted as being the son or daughter of their father. So I rather expect any Hebrew text on Mendel Florkiewicz’s headstone will say he was Mendel, son of Isaac. Jews took on all sorts of surnames at that point, often relating to places, people, or occupations; very occasionally they chose common gentile names. Florkiewicz could possibly just be a name that someone felt was rather nicer than some others, when the time came to make a choice.