New tips

I haven’t been posting here as often as I like/want. Writing my master’s thesis is sucking up the majority of my time and creativity. 

But I have, in a few spare moments here and there, found a few new things.

A distant cousin contacted me a few months ago and tipped me about the following websites.

1. italiangen.org  

But you’re not Italian? Neither am I. What this site has is an amazing database of New York City records where it has been possible for me to find the certificate numbers of deaths and marriages in my tree. 

2. jewishgen.org

I haven’t yet spent a lot of time on this site. But so far it’s helped me locate the shtetl of Delyatitz, which the Robinowitz family hailed from. Now I know that the town was located in modern-day Belarus. I’ve really only used the shtetl finder function, but the rest of the site looks like it will be helpful when I get more information on the Citron branch.

The next thing I’ve found is that it’s much cheaper to order records from New York City than to use VitalCheck.

http://www.nyc.gov/html/records/html/archives/geneology.shtml

“The Municipal Archives maintains records of births reported in the five Boroughs of New York City (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island), prior to 1910; deaths reported prior to 1949; and marriages reported prior to 1930. For a complete description of the vital records collection, please see a list of the Municipal Archives Holdings. Vital record copies are $15.00 each.”

I ordered four death certificates and one marriage certificate. That grand total came to about $88 (including shipping). I would have spent more than that ordering two records through vital check. If you have relatives that lived and died in NYC during the time periods they have listed- you will save a ton of money if you want the documents. I once spent $48 on a single death certificate from Los Angeles that I ordered through VitalCheck.

I want the documents to see: a) cause of death, b) parental information, c) dates.

Right now I’m on the hunt for Fani Citron. She is my 2nd great grandmother. Just last weekend I realized that she came to the US when she was a child. I think I’ve found a ship’s passenger list with her arriving with her mother and three brothers. So far I haven’t been able to figure out who her father was. But I’m assuming the family was coming to join him- so he must be here somewhere.

Two of the records I ordered from NYC are hers- a death certificate and a marriage certificate. Hopefully those will provide some more information.

I’ll be back at some point, when I emerge from the 1918 influenza pandemic (my thesis topic). It’s due alarmingly soon and I need to finish it!!!

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The Hypothetical Dinner Party

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The other day, one of my friends posted on Facebook, “If you could have dinner with four people, living or dead, who would they be?” For a brief moment, I thought about famous historical figures and then I thought- no way! I’d want to talk to some of the ancestors on my tree in the places where I’m stuck!

It would definitely be difficult to pick just four, but first I’d start with Michael Puza (aka Michael Kulis-Puza), my great-grandfather. I know from his ship’s manifest that he came from Austria-Hungary (well that narrows it down!). I suspect that he came from the same area as his wife- somewhere in Slovakia. That branch is the only branch on my tree where I’m stuck at the great-grandparent level, so if I could even get just the names of his parents I’d be thrilled!

Narrowing down the next three would be more difficult. 

It could be my 2nd great grandfather, Paul Eremus (1883-abt 1919). I found his draft card from 1918 that says he is a patient at a sanitorium, but then his wife is listed as a widow in the 1920 census. So obviously he died somewhere in between of tuberculosis. 

Another choice could be Fedor Malatyak (1853-1886) from Ol’ka in what is now Slovakia.

Or maybe Anthony Merlo (I’ve also seen Murlo and Marlo), another 2nd great grandfather, (1876-1954), from the Galicia region, or his wife, Josephine Savinsky (1889?-1949) from the same place. Well, at least that’s where they emigrated from.

And those choices are just my paternal branch!

On my maternal side I could choose from some 4th great grandparents:

Johanna Tuffs (Tufts) born about 1820 in Massachusetts, I don’t know and can’t find her maiden name, as of yet anyways.

Hannah Useted, (abt 1816-1892) from New York.

William H. Shaw, (abt 1814-1883) born in New York, died in New Jersey.

There’s also a 3rd great grandfather, Meyer (Max) Bressler (abt 1851-abt 1930). He was born somewhere in Austria-Hungary and died in New York. His wife was Sobel (Sara) Spinner (abt 1853- bef 1925). She may have been from Tarnow, Poland. I have parents’ names filled in for her- but I’m only about 50-75% sure those are right.

There’s my 2nd great grandmother, Fannie Citron. She was born about 1880, somewhere in Austria-Hungary (family legends say France- but I can’t find any proof of this). I’m not even sure when she died- it had to be sometime around 1940.

Another set of 3rd great grandparents would be David Rabinovich and Jennie Pesha. David, or Dov, was born about 1845 in, what is now, Belarus. Our family records say Delyatitz, but I was able to use jewishgen.org to track that down to modern-day Delatichi in Belarus. I know nothing about his wife Jennie. I could guess she was born around the same time in the same area, but I don’t really know.

The last couple in the running would be a final set of 3rd great grandparents, Abram Louis Kantrovitz and his wife, Fannie Fogal. The only thing I know about them is that they were born in the Russian Empire, circa 1840; and that they eventually emigrated to Massachusetts.

It’s kind of a good thing that the “dinner with four people” could never happen because I’d have a really hard time narrowing that list down. I wouldn’t even begin to know how to prioritize that list. Would I start by closest relatives, or most mysterious? Because they’re not necessarily the same people.

Maybe I could even pick the elusive John Rigsbee or his mother, Sheldon Shaw. Those two people fascinate me and were my inspiration to start my family tree research. 

I suppose I would even be really tempted to go with the people I miss the most- my dad and his parents. 

It’s funny how much thought I’ve put into this hypothetical situation. And really, just so nerdy. It’s a sure sign that I’m a total genealogy nerd!

Pearl Harbor Day

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Today is Pearl Harbor Day. I cannot even begin to imagine how horrific that day was. My grandfather was there but he said very little about that day. He died 26 years ago, I wish I had the opportunity to talk to him more about the war (as I’m a history nerd) and also his family (since I’m also a genealogy nerd).

I know my Pop Pop joined the Army in 1940, but I don’t know why. Whether he felt it was an escape from the mines in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, or whether he believed war was brewing- I’ll never know. I can imagine that being stationed in Hawaii was something amazing- about as far from home as possible, that is until December 7, 1941. 

Pop Pop told us that he was on guard duty and saw the planes coming, he picked up his rifle and began to shoot at those planes. His superior officer told him to hold fire, that those were not enemy planes- it was just a drill. Soon it became painfully obvious it wasn’t. 

Other than Pearl Harbor, which I had to practically drag out of him, my Pop Pop talked very little about the war. The little I know is based on family lore and the scant information provided by his Honorable Discharge form.

I know he was sent to the Pacific theater and, from his form, that he participated in the Battle of Hollandia. He arrived at Tanahmerah Bay in New Guinea April 22, 1944 and was wounded in action on May 3rd. I know he was a squad leader and a rifle marksman. He was awarded the American Defense Service Ribbon, the Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, the Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon, and an award for Good Conduct. I wish I knew what he got the Bronze Star for, I aim to find out at some point soon.

One story, that my dad had told me, was that my Pop Pop had killed a Japanese soldier and, as many soldiers did, went through the dead man’s belongings. Apparently inside his wallet were pictures of the dead man and his family. Every year on the anniversary of that event, my grandfather withdrew to remember the incident. 

I often wonder what went through his mind about that finding. Had he believed, as did many of his generation, that the Japanese soldiers were brown (or yellow) savages? Did finding that picture changed his mind? Had he fallen prey to the propaganda and did that picture shake him to the core? It obviously must have had a profound effect since he observed that date for the rest of his life.

Pop Pop returned home, returned to the mines- I wonder if that was a disappointment or a relief. He met and married my grandmother and they had two children. I think he did the best he could to achieve something better for them than what he had had.

I remember my Pop Pop as a quiet man with a dry sense of humor. I remember asking him what illegal means, to which he replied, “Anything that makes the eagle ill.” Rather witty, I believe. I wonder if he would have been a different person had he not experienced the war. He told us never to buy a Mitsubishi car because that company made the engines that were in the planes that bombed Pearl Harbor. I never have, partially because I can almost believe that he would haunt me for it.

He suffered from the effects of “jungle rot” for the rest of his life and always had to be careful with his feet. He died when he was 68, the major contributor to his death- black lung, a gift from the coal mines that I’m sure he tried to escape.

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Just recently, I discovered that I can order his entire service record from the National Archives. It may cost upwards of $70, but I think it will be well worth it. Unfortunately, there could be a chance that I will not be able to receive his entire record because of a fire at the Archive (1890 census anyone?!). But they do claim to be able to piece together at least some record from other existing documents.

My main curiosity revolves around what he did that caused him to receive the Bronze Star. The Bronze Star isn’t just handed out, apparently it’s the fourth highest individual military award that can be bestowed and it is given out for heroic or meritorious achievement or service. So I’m very curious as to what event or action earned him the medal.

For me, this is an important part of our family history. And it would be wonderful to add that to my tree.

Things that make you go hmmmm

This is my great-grandfather, Isidore Solomon Bressler.

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I have long heard stories that he may have been involved with the Zionist movement regarding the establishment of the state of Israel. While I’ve never been able to find conclusive proof of these stories (which involve arms smuggling and other questionable activities and would make for a fantastic story), I have found this.

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In 1920, Sol received a passport to travel to Palestine, England, and Egypt. What was he planning on doing? Well….

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He’s going to investigate the possibility of up a clothing trade in Palestine. Hmmm….

and “Moreover, Mr. Bressler is desirous to aid in the development of the land.” 

That’s a pretty ambiguous statement. I know that my great grandfather was not a farmer, so what kind of development was he interested in- because I can’t imagine that it was agricultural! 

I’ve also found this

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So I know he made it to Jerusalem in early 1921. 

But what was happening in Palestine during this time? Well, in April of 1920 the Nebi Musa riots occurred. 

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It’s interesting that Sol should choose to go to Palestine when the area is obviously unstable- particularly for the purpose of commercialism. Maybe I’m connecting dots that don’t exist, but I wonder if the unstability of the area was exactly what drew Sol to Jerusalem.

I’ve also found that there were a few kibbutzes, a moshav, and a moshava founded in 1921. Was Sol involved in any of these things? I don’t have any evidence of anything other than that he was actually in the region. To the best of my knowledge, his father’s clothing store never branched out into Palestine. And besides, who would send a 19 year old to investigate a business opportunity? That in itself sounds a little fishy to me. 

Maybe someday something will surface that will explain what Sol was up to in 1921. 

Well that wasn’t very helpful!

A lot of genealogy advice centers around talking to relatives to see what they can remember. That’s all fine and dandy, unless you have relatives like mine.

Most of my relatives are divided into two camps:

Camp One:

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No memory. And I’m not talking about physiological problems such as Alzheimer’s or dementia (those relations get a free pass obviously). I’m talking about the relatives who just seem clueless at times. 

Last year I had a conversation that went a little something like this:

Me: Hey- I found your father’s obituary. I didn’t know he remarried.

Relative: He didn’t remarry.

Me: Are you sure? Everything else seems to fit.

Relative: No, he never remarried.

Me: Well I kinda find it hard to believe that there’s another person out there with all the same details. It said grandfather to so and so- those are your kids.

Relative: *silence………..OH YEAH! I totally forgot about that! That’s funny, I helped match them up.

 

I also had this conversation:

Me: Do you remember what year your mother died?

Relative: Hmmm…..no.

Me: Really? Do you remember about how old you were?

Relative: Hmmmmm…..I don’t remember, Somewhere between 8 and 12 years old I think…….

 

 

And then there’s this kind of relative:

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This camp is comprised of the relatives who won’t talk. I understand that maybe they don’t want to cast themselves in a bad light, or speak ill of the dead. But I’m not asking questions to judge anyone- I just want to know the the heck I’m descended from and when and where they lived.

Here’s one of those conversations:

Me: Hey- some lady just contacted me about so and so. They said she would have been your aunt. Did you have an aunt so and so? I don’t have her in my tree.

Relative: Yes, I had an aunt so and so. The family cut her off when she moved away.

Me: Well why did she move away?

Relative: I don’t know. I guess we weren’t good enough for her.

Me: Did anyone talk to her?

Relative: Well my mom did for a while, but then she died and aunt so and so couldn’t be bothered to come to her own sister’s funeral, so no one has talked to her since.

Me: Oh. That’s sad. Are there any other relatives we don’t talk to so I can add them to my tree?

Relative: Probably, but I don’t remember who they are.

 

 

So in my case, I get very little usable information. I end up having to check, double-check, and triple-check everything. A lot of times any info I get turns into an elaborate game of connect the dots. 

Sometimes I can’t figure out if the relative honestly doesn’t remember or is just withholding information. It gets to be seriously frustrating!

 

For the love of god- PLEASE PRINT!!!!!

 

 

I used to work as a unit secretary in a local hospital. This definitely helped me with genealogy research. How? Well when you get used to reading doctors’ notoriously illegible handwriting, figuring out hand-written records becomes a little easier!

But I’ve run into a few problems with handwriting that have stumped me for quite some time. 

For example

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What????

These columns are from the 1930 census and are labeled “Father’s birthplace” and “Mother’s birthplace.” Obviously the first word is Austria, but for the life of me, I cannot figure out what that second word is.

Not only do I not know what the word is, I have no idea what it means. Does it point to a specific place or ethnicity? I have seen this on other censuses as this

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So I wonder if it is an ethnicity.

But then, I found this:

Names of the Dual Monarchy in the officially recognized languages of its citizens:

(From Wikipedia).

While none of those seem to match the word I’m trying to figure out, if it is Hungary in another language it would still point to a specific ethnicity and then region.

This is the problem with having ancestors from the Austria-Hungarian Empire- that empire covered about half of Europe! 

Any ideas?????

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Ancestry.com

I know a lot of people who don’t want to spring for an ancestry.com subscription. There are plenty of sites who are willing to try and fill in those gaps that are free, or at least cheaper. But, in my experience, ancestry is probably the best website to use for genealogy.

One of my cousins recently e-mailed me and asked if I was a member of the site OneGreatFamily. Nope, I actually never heard of it. So I googled “OneGreatFamily reviews.” Not good. Looks like they have been reported to the Better Business Bureau multiple times. The most common complaint that I read was that many people had signed up for the free trial and then were billed nearly $80 US. Many of the complaints allege that customer service is nearly impossible to get in contact with and that they were billed multiple times.

The other, what I consider to be HUGE, problem with this site is that it’s built entirely on user-submitted material.  The site offers to constantly update your tree as new information becomes available- but how is this a perk when that material is coming from other users? I take genealogy very seriously and I don’t want to add just anything without checking and double-checking evidence. I’m not going to add a 5th great grandmother just because someone else added it. There’s no way of verifying their information.

You can see this problem pop up on ancestry.com when you compare trees. I’ve seen people’s trees messed up beyond belief because they just copied other people’s trees. Before you know it, there are fifteen trees all with the same bad information. One tree that made me giggle had the father being born less than ten years before the son, another had the mother being eight years old when she gave birth to her daughter. I HIGHLY doubt this is/was likely. It might be physically possible, in some cases, but still- highly unlikely.

Whenever I’ve come across some information without sources, I’ve contacted the user through ancestry. I don’t know if that’s an option on OGF, and I’m not going to risk being billed $80 to find out.

The websites that I currently have pay subscriptions to are ancestry.com and genealogybank.com. I also frequently use findagrave.com and familysearch.org- but these sites are free.

I’ve also tried myheritage.com, but I wasn’t impressed. They don’t have even close to the amount of records that ancestry does, and everything I found there was duplicates from ancestry. 

I have found some stuff on newspaperarchives.com. They do have different newspapers than genealogy bank. But I haven’t yet figured out  way to cut and paste or copy and paste from their archives.

I definitely welcome any hints on any other sites that others might be using.