Saturday, November 26, 2016

Birthday Greetings


Early this month I had a birthday.  When I opened my eyes and remembered what day it was, I reached for my iPad.  I've had a birthday ritual in recent years.  Five years ago my parents had called my answering machine and sang Happy Birthday to me.  Every birthday since, I have played the recording of their birthday greeting. 



Three months after that call my father died. Three and a half years later my mother joined him, saying "bye-bye" as she whimsically put it. Now I had only their voices from which to conjure their presence. Last birthday it still felt a little raw only four months after my mother's death. This year it felt right as I played their recording. They were sending me greetings from afar. I listened to their voices and was transported back in time. At the end my mother sang Da da, Da da and my father joined in with a chorus.

I had done a painting of it , a realistic one of them by our old phone, the one I used to speak on in high school, talking each night with my best friend. I used to sit on the hallway floor as I twisted the cord between my fingers talking about how we would live our lives someday. What would we do? Would we have kids? Questions that lent themselves to long conversations. After about an hour my father would yell, "Get off the phone!" concluding our conversation. When I picture my parents calling me it is always on our old dial phone, long gone, but deep in my wiring.

Sometimes a realistic painting has to come first. I need to paint it out of me before I can play.  Perhaps I also had to wait a bit to let go of their corporeal form, but I took another run at it in a looser form, taking the key elements that stayed with me. My mother's birthday cake made an appearance, well actually several as it rotated through the years. Every year she did the same one, laden with airy chocolate frosting. We usually had it at Thanksgiving as my sister was a November baby also so we invariably shared the cake. My niece, who took over responsibility for Thanksgiving from my mom, continues that ritual, the annual birthday cake from my mother's recipe.

Now as I played with imagery, I pictured flames atop candles flickering, glowing like sparks, shooting through time and space with a suggestion of my parents in a chasm, another dimension, mouths open in song. And there was that phone cord twisting through time connecting them with me like an umbilical cord. 

There is a coda to this.  I was down in Illinois a day after my birthday to close on the sale of my mother's home.  As this was likely to be my last visit for the foreseeable future, I did a stop by the cemetery where my parents now reside.  I put a stone on their grave and told my mom about the new owners of the house, the parents of her neighbors. It is a solution we feel sure she would have blessed as they are new immigrants to this country just as her parents once were.  I was feeling a bit foolish speaking to the air and a tombstone, not quite sure how to have this conversation in this way, before a marker of their presence.  Then I had an idea.  Out came the iPad and their birthday song filled the air.   I wasn't sure if I was being irreverent in this act, but my family often erred on the side of irreverence, and in some strange way it felt like the most reverent thing I could have done.  I closed my eyes and felt their presence surround me, molecules of air vibrating with their energy once again.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Commitment of Values

I have not previously written about politics in this blog. I have, however, written about values and it occurs to me that politics are values. My values are an important part of who I am and what I hope to express in my life, my artwork and my words.   

Under normal circumstances I accept that politics may argue for different approaches to create a better world. I may disagree with those approaches, but they are legitimate topics to debate in the public arena.

This election feels different. It is an election built on sexism, racism, xenophobia and the fundamental breakdown of social norms of respect and kindness.  If you doubt that, you need only look at the actions of people post-election as bigotry emerges.  I am angry and I am disgusted and beneath that lies a deep layer of sadness. I had thought I lived in a world with people who shared those social norms and values.

When the world turns upside down, I try to reestablish order, to make sense of it. That starts with asking myself what I can do to make it better. I think of my mother's mantra of "take your piece of the world and make it shine".  But I am just one person. How can I make a difference?

I have to believe in the butterfly effect, that small actions can make big changes even if I never see them. I've accepted that belief in my artwork. I believe the stories I tell with my art are powerful and touch people and may create an action in their life that I will never know.  On that blind belief I continue to create.  It is also on blind belief that I carry forward in this fractured time.

My process begins by thinking about my values. What do I believe in? What is threatened or will be threatened? What can I support? What can I shore up in a time of threat?

What we believe in is influenced by our experiences in this world and mine may differ from yours. I am a woman who values her autonomy, I am a Jew who lost family in the Holocaust and I am the grandchild of immigrants. I was raised by a father who valued acting on one's beliefs and speaking up for what is right, by a mother who expressed kindness and compassion in her daily life.

As a woman who seeks to have some measure of control of her life, I support women and our right to self-determination. That means control of our bodies which is fundamental to control of our lives. It means feeling physically safe in this world, not subject to threat. It means being able to use my talents to compete on a level playing field without being denigrated. I was appalled at the vicious denigration directed at our female candidate.  Disgusted beyond words that this was allowed to exist and flourish and disturbed by what it revealed about how outspoken women are truly viewed.

I oppose discrimination in any form.  As a Jew I am quite aware that discrimination against anyone is but one step away from anti-Semitism and anti-Semitism was already evident in this campaign. I am committed to safeguarding the rights of gays and minorities with a sharp awareness of that slippery slope. We are all connected and what affects them affects me.  The KKK that supported our President-elect views us all through the same lens.

I believe that immigrants can enrich our nation. My grandparents were immigrants. One grandfather was a tailor, the other ran a surplus store.  One of my grandmothers never spoke English although she understood it. Like many immigrants, her children navigated the world on her behalf.   It is because my grandparents gained entrance to the US that it in turn benefited from my mother who was a beloved teacher, my father who was a highly respected college professor who started a public TV station.  Suffice it to say that education matters to me as does the critical thinking which should grow out of education. In one of my volunteer roles I make loans through a development corporation, providing financing to minorities and immigrants to start and run businesses. On more than one occasion it has caused me to think of my own family's journey.

I don't have the sense of immunity that many Americans carry. I believe it is my heritage as a Jew that causes me to feel a certain underlying sense of threat. I do not blithely believe America is safe from demagogy and discrimination.  That was the beginning of the events that led to the extermination of my grandfather's family in Eastern Europe.  I don't know where it leads here, but I know it is nowhere good. I am on guard when I see the wall of respect breached, even more so when much of our country signs on, joining with white nationalists to vote in a candidate who exhibits demagogy and disrespect.  So yes, I am deeply disturbed by the values that are the hallmark of our President-elect and I believe we all should be.  His election does not make it OK, only more frightening.

So what do I do?  I have been identifying organizations and causes that support my values and will be making contributions of both money and time. I already work with many organizations and causes that support my values but will plan to step it up.

I will join protests that align with my views and make my presence known. I will not be silent in words or action.

I am wearing a safety pin, a symbol that I will step up to support anyone who is harassed.  I will be a safe place for others. I think of this symbol relative to the star of David which my grandfather's family was once forced to wear so they could be identified, isolated and ultimately murdered. Instead of creating a boundary and a separation, this symbol removes boundaries. It signals that I'm with those who are the target of discrimination or harassment, that I will act with them and in their behalf. It is a reminder to me of this commitment.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Goodbye Home

We pulled up at the title company to close on my mother's home. In the vehicle parked next to us were the neighbors along with their parents who were buying the home. It was a moment which held a mixture of feelings. I was about to let go of my childhood home and with that a tie to my past and yet there was also relief to let go of our responsibility for this emotion-laden property. Sadness, relief and also happiness. It felt right to be selling the home in this way.

The last time I had seen the neighbors was when my sister and I stopped by the house after my mother's death. The neighbor had seen her leave her home for the last time in an ambulance. She told me that my mother didn't look like she wanted to go. Was she afraid she'd never come back even then? Later, when she was doing rehab for a stroke, my mother told me that she didn't think she was going to get out of there, a prescient observation I wasn't then ready to acknowledge. Now we told them of her death and they gathered round us offering exclamations of distress at this news, murmuring words of comfort over the woman they called Lola Rose*.

We began to tackle the home, emptying it of a lifetime of belongings. My sister made many trips, the only one of my siblings still in Illinois. On one of those trips she chatted once again with the neighbors and learned of their interest in the home. The neighbors are Filipino, the parents fairly new immigrants. Family is important in their culture and parents often live with children.  It was clear from their response to my mother that elders were respected and valued. My sister and I agreed that we wanted to make this happen, but would need to step up if we were to do that.

Now we were at the final stage. The neighbor with whom I communicated told me her parents were so excited they couldn't sleep. Neither could I. It is those transition points that are difficult, even good transitions, fraught with the awareness of change as we cross a boundary.  My house, not my house. 

We sat across from them at the table as we signed document after document. I congratulated them on their new home when we finished. Their happiness was palpable. "Thank you for trusting us,"the mother said. "We will take good care of the house".

"This is right," I thought. The kind of right with the universe feeling I get when actions align with what is supposed to be. 

We met up once again at the DMV where I transferred the title of my mother's old car to them. They got new plates and then thoughtfully asked me if I wanted the old ones. Little did they know that those plates were significant. My father taught at a university and there he started the public radio and public television station. For years his plates read BU 4747 after both the university and the TV channel. "Yes," I replied and I told them the story of how he was in line for plates at the DMV  when he heard the sequence of numbers they were offering and traded places to get 4747.

We had gone to the house the evening before when we arrived in town, but this felt very different. It was no longer my home. I waited for them to open the door to their new home.  We walked downstairs to the garage.  The day before when I had come downstairs with my husband he suddenly said, "There's a critter."  It had stopped me cold as I thought in despair that we would have to hire a service to catch it before we could sell the home.  As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw it was a paper-mâché sculpture of a kangaroo,  no doubt one of my mother's creations from her teaching days hidden deep in darkness.

Now we went and stood outside the garage and waited while they took off the old plates and put on the new ones. A clear demarcation. Out with the old, in with the new.  I stood outside, not wanting to intrude on their space until they invited me to go back through the house on my way out.

"Goodbye basement" I said aloud to that space that once housed a cluttered tangle of bikes and work bench and garden tools.  "Good bye kitchen," I said as I looked at this familiar kitchen, home of countless birthday cakes, Thanksgivings and treasured chats with my mother. Goodbye house, goodbye tree. Goodbye, goodbye. Be well. Be happy.



*Lola means grandmother in Filipino

Friday, November 4, 2016

Right Things-Right Reasons

I've always had a bit of a mantra. Do the right things for the right reasons. It has been my experience that when I do that, I am rewarded in ways I cannot predict and mysteries unfold. Yes, I realize that sounds a little out there, but it has happened often enough that I have come to trust in it. And whether you believe that or not, shouldn't we be doing the right things for the right reasons anyway? Often it requires an expenditure of time and effort, a giving of self. It is not always easy. 


At no time have I been more aware of this than in my shared time with my mother in her final years. As her memory began to fail, I stepped up and came to visit more frequently and for more extended time. One of the right reasons for this was
 to cherish the time I had with my mother, suddenly painfully aware that it was limited and would end. The other right reason was to relieve my sister who lived near her and took on more of the burden. I didn't want my sister to feel overwhelmed and abandoned as she assumed responsibility. And I wanted her to know that I appreciated what she did. 


When my mother took a turn for the worse, I knew the right thing was to be there for her. To be present. We held her hand to the end, surrounding her with love. It was both hard and profound and I am incredibly grateful that I had that opportunity to be there for her. Later my sister and I tackled the house. I went through my parents' papers, experiencing them through their thoughts and the eyes of correspondents. My understanding of them deepened and as onerous as that process was, I was grateful for the understanding I gained.



Since my mother passed away, I have been experiencing her in a different way, creating artwork and writing about her. I finally was able to give what I was doing a name when I read about the artist Tobi Kahn. When his mother died, he, an observant Jew, said the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. But he also said it in a different way. He decided that during his year as a mourner he would create works of art that related to his mother's life. When he described it as saying Kaddish visually, I understood exactly what he meant. This also was my way of saying 
Kaddish for my mother, integrating both her absence, but also her continued presence into my life.

We are at the close of a chapter, but I still feel like mysteries are unfolding. My sister and I have both been doing the right things for the right reasons. We are honoring our parents in many ways as we let them go. We have created a force field, out of which good things come.


I was speaking to my sister recently when I said, "Have I told you lately how grateful I am that I have a sister?" One of the good things that came out of this was a deepened relationship with my sister. While we are only three years apart in age we often lived in different worlds. I was away at college while she navigated high school. She was raising a family when I was single. At crisis points we pulled together, but for much of our adult lives we were a tangential presence in each other's life. 

Now with complementary, but different skills, and with a deep love for our mother, we stepped up together to support her and to deal with all those end of life challenges. Holding up my end of things was the right thing to do. Really getting to know and appreciate my sister on a whole other level was one of the gift that I received for that effort. And then there are the mysteries...

My sister and my niece were at the house for the final time. My niece was going through an old purse of my mother's and was convinced there was something in it. She felt around in the lining and extricated a star of David necklace that my mother had gotten in Israel. I remembered how my mother had focused in on that necklace in the shop. I had suggested she might want to look at others, but she was insistent that that was the one she wanted. Soon after we returned she lost it. I had thought of it often, wondering if it would reappear. I hated the idea of losing it. It seemed somehow fitting that it was resurrected at the 11th hour by my niece, a legacy passed on to my mother's granddaughter with a sense of discovery surrounding it, almost as if my mother had handed it to her.


The other good thing that has arisen is that a neighbor has bought the house. I'm in town one last time for the closing. The young neighbor couple and their child have the wife's parents living with them. The parents, who are new to this country, were interested in purchasing the house. That somehow felt so right to both my sister and me. "Mom would love the idea" we said to each other. We still seem to have a pretty direct channel to her. She would have liked the idea of family members supporting each other.  Her parents were immigrants too and she looked after her mother who lived with us when we were young.  I think she would have identified with the neighbors. Actually she would have liked for us to have lived next door to her.


There is a huge tree in the front yard that grew from a twig. The neighbor's mother said that she loves to watch it as it goes through the seasons and has named it Orlando, echoing the name of the street although I keep thinking of the Shakespearean character. My mother loved her house and I think would be very pleased with a new owner who names and cherishes the tree that graces the yard.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Taking Stock

Part 3 of a genealogy story, please read two prior posts first...

It was time to gather my findings and take stock. My original mission was to find the married names of Sara and Szajndla Ruchla, their husbands and their children.  I also needed to link them to Chaia, the mother of Sara and grandmother of Szajndla.  I had indeed found the married names of both Sara and Szajndla as well as the names of their husbands. I had also found Sara's two other children, and the two children of Szajndla. One of the challenges is to be able to say with some certainty that the records that were discovered apply to the right people.  There were lots of Saras and Szajndlas in the Lodz community.

Testing Validity
To test the connections I decided to try some mind mapping.  I wrote about this in a blog entry after the IAJGS Conference (the international Jewish genealogy conference) where I attended a session on it.  Mindmapping is a visual way of looking at data from multiple sources. For each key person, I noted data sources and the data that each provided. I look for at least two data points to validate my conclusions and ideally they fit into a web of data. The mind map is a way to visually see those connections and the mere act of laying out the data is a part of the thought process.

There were three women who I was trying to validate; Chaia, Sara and Szajndla Ruchla.  It is the women who are often the hardest to anchor in genealogical records even as they play such a central role in their family.

In the first records of Chaia from the early 1916-21 registration cards, she tied out to her town of origin, her husband and her father's given name. Her year of birth fell in the expected time period based on family story and was consistent through multiple records. Chaia's death record also tied out to her father's name and his name was also found in relationship to Chaia in the Lodz cemetery.  Her granddaughter, named after Chaia's mother, was with her at her death validating the family relationship. 

I also felt quite confident that I had Sara's marriage record because it referenced her parents and maiden name correctly. Her husband was also found at the same address with her in the prewar period as well as during wartime and also reflected in the marriage record. Her anecdotal death in the ghetto was also validated by the Holocaust Museum records.

Szajndla Ruchla was found in the 1916-1921 registration cards, together with her parents. Later when she was grown her linkage was to her grandmother at the time of her death. A further linkage was the fact that her siblings moved to the next door address. We also have a naming pattern connection with her great-grandmother.  Not only do multiple data points exist, but there is truly a web of connection.

Based on their married names, I searched for  individuals of the same surname and address.  Thus children and husbands were linked to the family member with whom they lived and whom multiple sources had validated.

We still have a multiplicity of maiden names, but my previously outlined theory that Galinski and Walinski are one and the same seems sound. Cyralnik or Soralnik arose several times and in fact there is another individual named Sonia Cyralnik at the same address where Chaia was at the time of her death. Both of them are also listed at the same address outside of the ghetto before it was formed. A Yad Vashem record indicates this new Cyralnik has the married name of Lapin, perhaps a version of Lape and another possible point of connection.  Sometimes names derived from the mother so perhaps Soralnik refers to a long-ago ancestor named Sora. Given the fact that Chaia's daughter was named Sara, it is quite possible it was a family name that dates back in time.   Galinski, Walinski and Soralnik all appear to have originated as patronymics or matronymics, taking a parent's name and adding an ending signifying "son of" or "related to". Silversztajn remains a puzzle. It appears only once and after some preliminary searching presents no corroborating evidence or thread to pursue at this time.

The other puzzle is when the relationship between Sara and Kalma began. The timeline indicates that Kalma's first wife was alive through 1913 when it appears her last child was born based on the early registration cards.  Here it shows Kalma as a widower with four children and we know from another source the year one son was born so can date this card to 1916.  Szajndla was born in 1913/1914. Sara moved to Lodz in 1918 and Sara and Kalma married in 1924. Is Szajndla the child of an earlier marriage or did this relationship develop as Kalma struggled with loss and if so where did Sara and Kalma first connect? It helps to remember the human dimension as we consider how events unfolded.  And while we know something of Isser's future (Kalma's son from his prior marriage) what about those other children? Perhaps a third puzzle, albeit off the track of our inquiry.

Next Steps

I never wind up a search without suggested next steps.  Seldom is this work completely ended and tied with a bow. If there are mysteries, I consider how to tackle them.

Some record indexes were found with the organization CRARG. One was the military record of Kalma's son from his first marriage. The second was the marriage record between Sara and Kalma. A full translation of the marriage record could provide Chaia's maiden name. It's possible that they also hold other Gliksztajn records that I had not yet discovered that might help us gather more information on the timeline of Kalma's life.

A number of Cyralnik names are found in Yad Vashem from Narewka submitted by a survivor in 1999.  While I did not see anyone who shared a father with Chaia, it may be worth mapping out relationships and seeing if naming patterns reveal anything.  I would pay particular attention to Sonie Cyralnik who shared a maiden name, ancestral town and two addresses with Chaia. Sonie was a student in Lodz and was born in Narewka in 1919. There are records of testimony submitted by her sister who survived. It is likely that she is related and if so, we know that her sister who provided testimony survived.

Conclusion
When I started this search I had no idea where it would take me. I hit dead ends at the beginning as I searched their towns of origin unsuccessfully.  Records may not exist and even if they do, they may be buried in archives with no on-line index or hidden behind privacy laws.  Most archives do not do research for you so you need to be able to identify what you are seeking.  Keep in mind that everything I uncovered was solely from my computer and existing indices.  It was when I turned my attention to the registration cards and the Holocaust records that I began to find a way in.

Even when you identify a database, you still need to explore how best to mine it. That is where that art of genealogy comes in, finding connections between disparate pieces of data, always asking the next question. The person for whom I did this research described this work as a mosaic and spoke of weaving elements together.  I think that describes the process well. With each new piece of data or each new hypothesis, I had to go back to earlier sources to see how it fit against existing threads.

As I've noted,a genealogy search requires the ability to hold conflicting information in your head, always weighing it against a burden of proof and allowing for the possibility that transcription and translation errors may corrupt or alter the data.  You also need to consider the practices of the time.  Is a different given name from a double name or possibly an altered version of the original name (Chaim, Kalma) Could a religious marriage occur separately from a later civil marriage? Each piece of data opens up a new door to potential linkages, some of which will be dead ends and some which may just solve a mystery.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Making Sense of Records

Deciphering Handwritten Records
In the prior blog Holding Conflicting Thoughts, we last left off awaiting records from the US Holocaust Museum. Of those that I received, Chaia's death record presented the most new information.  One side was in German, the other in Polish. This repetition was useful, deciphering handwriting often is easier when we get two shots at it in two different languages. Two witnesses were listed with ages and addresses.  Chaia's date of birth and death were listed as well as her parents Szlama and Szajna and here her maiden name looked like Wilowski although the Holocaust Museum had transcribed it as Witowski.  I was able to decipher individual words using Google Translate, but the handwritten text was often difficult to read.

As there were a few things I wasn't sure I was interpreting correctly, I sent the record off to ViewMate to get a more precise translation.  The response included two pieces of new data, a reading of Chaia's town of birth as Narewka in Bielsk. Back to the community database on Jewishgen where I determined that in that period Narewka was in the town of Bielsk and the province of Bialystok, all consistent with the area they were known to be from.  The family history says that Chaia was born in Jalowka so I looked at the relationship to Narewka.  The two cities are 18 miles apart, but I find a site that indicates that Narewka is actually the name of the municipality in which Jalowka (translates to Heifer)  is located.

The other piece of information was a different reading of the maiden name as Wilenski, not Wilowski.  Remember the maiden name the family believed to be Galinski. Could these be one and the same?  G's and H's are often interchangeable (Gersz and Hersz) just as are C's and S's (Cyralnik and Soralnik). It would be easy to read that first letter as an H instead of a W and conclude that it is interchangeable with a G. Having the actual handwriting presents possibilities that otherwise wouldn't occur to me.

As I contemplate the challenges of deciphering handwritten letters,  I go back to study the document and note that the same W in Narewka is read as an N in Wilenski. Still a bit skeptical as to whether the W is an N, I do a search for the names Wilowski and Wilenski. As far as common names, Wilenski wins by a landslide.  I am leaning towards this interpretation when I discover a listing on JRI-Poland of names from the Bialystok region and there is Wilanski as well as a Galunski. I confirm that Cyrulnik is on the list while I'm at it. 

When a "ski"  is at the end it was originally formed from a patronymic, the father's name and an ending that means "son of".  Families used patronymics before last names were required and while some may have turned the patronymic into their permanent name, it is possible that they took another name. Perhaps that also contributes to our multiplicity of maiden names.

Look at the Witnesses
The one thing I've learned about death records is to look at the witnesses as they are often family members.  In this record one of the witnesses was Szajna Ruchla Kaminska.  Remember Szajndla Ruchla, Sara's eldest daughter whose married name we were seeking, the one who is likely named after her great-grandmother Szajna? She was 28 which would have made her birth year 1913/14, exactly what the anecdotal information indicated.  What would be more natural than a granddaughter supporting her grandmother on her deathbed?  I was beginning to feel a connection to these people who were once just names as I imagined that human experience.

Choosing Your Search Engine
Now I had three surnames to search, Lape, Gliksztajn and Kaminska.   At this juncture I turned to the Lodz Ghetto Database which lists those who were trapped in the ghetto during the war.  There are a few doorways to it.  It comes up on searches in the Survivors and Victims Database at the Holocaust Museum and their search engine allows you to search on multiple variables which pull up a variety of records from many sources. Sometimes I like to pull up a broad universe of only one source and go through each record.  For that I preferred the Jewishgen gateway to the Lodz Ghetto Database. It returns results solely from that database instead of mingled with other sources, but allows a search on only one variable at a time. With more results on a page, you can easily use the find command to do a secondary search for additional family members by address.  You will find the search field at the very bottom of the page in the link above.

I began by searching for Szajna Ruchla Kaminska (i). The female form has an "a" at the end, but the male form has an "i". I used the find command to search each page for any names that were close and then verified the year of birth.  Once I felt certain that I had found the correct record, I shifted to searching for the addresses among that surname in order to find all family members.  It is a laborious process, but one with satisfying results.  By the time I concluded this effort I had found Szajna Ruchla's husband and two children.  I had also found Sara's husband and her younger two children who both carried the name Gliksztajn.  In addition I found the child of Sara's husband from his first marriage together with his wife and child.  Chaja Lape was listed with the maiden name of Cyralnik. Remember she had the maiden name of Soralnik in the 1916-21 registration cards. A name that survived decades is one to which I pay attention.

Now I began to drill down another level.  The records all indicated a year of birth, a name and an address.  Could that information verify anything about relationships?  I soon discovered that both of Szajndla Ruchla's siblings were listed at two addresses.  I imagined that they may have moved when their mother Sara died.  Their second address was Baluter Ring 6 Flat 3.  Szajndla Ruchla's address at the time of her grandmother's death was Baluter Ring 6 Flat 2.  This is where remembering the human dimension is valuable. What do people do in times of loss? They reach out to be near family.

New Sources Emerge
As I was proceeding down this road a new source emerged. Remember those Lodz registration records from 1916-1921? An email came out on the JRI-Poland email list indicating that all of the records were now posted. Previously I was only able to find the records for the Lapes. Now I returned to search for Gliksztajn and Kaminska. I was a bit doubtful of finding anything because Sara and Kalman didn't marry until 1924 and Szajndla was born around 1914 so was still a long way from marrying and acquiring her married name.  Nonetheless a good genealogist leaves no stone unturned.

In fact I met with some success on the Gliksztajn name.There was a record for a Chaim Gliksztajn that also listed Sara Lape as born in Bialystok and Szajndla Roza born in Lodz in 1914.  A newer address was listed than what I had previously found.  Chaim and Kalma are likely the same name and the link with both Sara and Szajndla together with the correct year of birth for Szajndla seemed to tie out.  So what about that marriage in 1924?  I am assuming it was a civil marriage as opposed to a religious marriage which may have preceded it.

As I continued to search I found an additional listing for Sara Gliksztajn with the maiden name Lape, born in 1893.  There were two addresses listed, one which corresponded to that of Chaia and Moszek Lappe and the second which corresponded to that of Chaim Gliksztajn.

The next entry that I found was for a Kalman Gliksztajn, widower.  It listed his father's name as Chil which differed from the marriage record which showed Leib.  Possibly it is a second name as was common.  It notes that he was born in Przyrow near Czestochova and lists four children, Chil age 7, Isser age 6, Jozef age 4 and Itta age 3.  I had found a military record for Isser that indicated he was born in 1910 so this puts the record date at 1916.  The address is the same as the Lape's address which points to a connection quite some time before the 1924 marriage.  I hypothesize that his first wife died at the time the youngest child was born in 1913.  Sara's daughter Szajndla Ruchla was born in late 1913.  But there is a notation on Sara's record of 1918 by an address, this notes when the person came to Lodz and to that address. Another mystery!  How was I to reconcile the timeline of when Sara arrived, Szajndla Ruchla was born and when the relationship, married or not, began with Kalman.

We've made a lot of progress, but uncovered some mysteries as well.  In my next post, we'll take stock of where we stand. See Taking Stock for our conclusion.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Holding Conflicting Thoughts

 Periodically I write of some of the genealogy puzzles that I take on for others, hoping that my process may prove helpful for those in similar searches.  Lately I've been trying to unwind a knotty puzzle that is based in the city of Lodz, Poland.  It was presented to me by a fellow genealogist who hoped to provide testimony to Yad Vashem on his family members who died in the Holocaust, documenting the core elements of their existence.  His dilemma was that he had some holes in his knowledge to fill in first.

Like stories of old it began like this...Once upon a time Chaia and Moshe Lappe had several children. Most had the good fortune to immigrate to America, but in the ghetto of Lodz resided their married daughter Sara and her three children, Szajndla Ruchla and her two younger siblings.

With that storytale-like introduction, I find myself settling back to hear their story.  Unfortunately beyond that, little was known. We feared that surnames were lost to history. This is where I was enlisted to help find that story. Stories unfold gradually and they often leave a few mysteries unsolved or raise new ones. So too does this story.

Where to Start
I always start a puzzle by asking two questions. What do you want to know? What do you know? What we wanted to know was Sara's married name, the names of her two younger children and Szajndla Ruchla's married name as well as any of her children.  We also hoped to discover the names of both Sara's husband and Szajndla Ruchla's husband. What we knew were the names outlined in the story's beginning and that Chaia and Sara died in the Lodz Ghetto and Moshe died pre-war.  All other family members were murdered by the Nazis in death camps.  We also knew the towns in which they once lived prior to Lodz.


A Geography Lesson
So where shall we start in unraveling this puzzle?  I began with where they once lived. Their towns and regions of origin were presented as Krinki (e), Jalowka and Wolkowysk. A search on the Jewishgen community finder places Jalowka in the district of Wolkowysk in the province of Bialystok. Krinki was in Grodno, also in the province of Bialystok, but Grodno is now on the other side of the border from Poland in Belarus.  Borders changed frequently and what was Poland once cut a broad swath. All of these towns were in close proximity to each other, but were over 200 miles away from their later home in Lodz. The story is Sara went to Lodz to marry. Just as many parents do today, hers followed her to Lodz.

What Resources are Available?
I begin my search process by identifying what resources are available. Every country and city has its own unique features to learn. Is there a Book of Residents? A Kehilalink (website through Jewishgen) on the city? Which records are on film at the Family History Library? If they are Polish records, has the Polish Archives put some of them on-line?  Where are records housed? My starting point is to answer those questions, to know what sources will inform my work.  Lodz was a big city. Surely there were substantial resources.

JRI-Poland Most roads begin with JRI-Poland. A search of JRI-Poland for Lappe in Lodz reveals a Mowsza and Chaia in the Lodz Cemetery with death dates of 1929 and 1941, both likely to be our Moshe and Chaia given that it matched up with names, fathers' names and anecdotal information as to dates of death. I was soon puzzled as I continued my search of JRI-Poland. I found no Lappe ( or variants on the name) in Jalowka, Krinki or Wolkowysk. Clearly their pre-Lodz life was not going to reveal much information.

Around this time the Polish Archives put some of the Lodz Registration Cards on-line for 1916-1921 and JRI-Poland linked to them alphabetically.  These cards were created by the Germans and were slightly different than a Book of Residents which only recorded those who were legally residents of a specific area. These actually record who lived there even if they were registered elsewhere.  Not all of the records were available yet, but fortunately the L names were among them. I found cards for Chaia and Moszek and a son. Ah-ha! The towns of Wolkowysk and Krinki were noted. Their early towns would at least help me determine if I had the right people. All records were at the same address linking these individuals into a family.

Mysteries Arise
But now we have a few mysteries. In one of the 1916-1921 records Chaia is noted as a widow and her  maiden name is Soralnik (can also be Cyralnik).  Remember Moszek didn't die until 1929 if the cemetery record is correct, so do these records extend further than 1921? I was beginning to suspect they did.  As with Books of Residents, they appeared to have several updates as someone moved from married to widowed or vice versa.  Another record for her husband notes Chaia's maiden name as Silversztajn at the same address as that which later gives her maiden name as Soralnik. Meanwhile the family thought her maiden name was Galinski.   Her death record gives the maiden name of Wilowski.   What about those four maiden names? One of the most challenging things in genealogy is we sometimes have to hold two and maybe even three or four conflicting thoughts simultaneously. So many factors in the records I had found were correct, that I wasn't ready to discard these as likely possibilities. Were they red herrings sending me down the wrong road or might there be a logical explanation that would arise in time?

One of the other challenges I was facing was that I needed records in the 1900s which was the time period in question. Frequently these records are not available due to privacy laws. I basically had the Registration cards and any Holocaust records I could unearth, but most of the JRI-Poland records were not going to be in this period.

Yad Vashem
I turned to the Yad Vashem index for those who died in the Holocaust. My client had a family member who had submitted known names, but they had the same unknowns for which he was trying to solve.  What I did find was a picture of the family with annotations. Now I could begin to visualize these people for whom I was searching.  The people who I sought to name included Sara's husband on the left and her two children in the front, family surrounding Moshe and Chaia. They already felt less anonymous as I could now picture them as people in a rich web of relationships.

A New Name from the Holocaust Museum
I circled the problem a little more looking for an entrance and decided to take the obvious route.  It was a Holocaust question so why not go to the on-line Holocaust Museum site? I had searched the Holocaust records in the past when they were far less robust and wasn't expecting what I now discovered. I pulled up the survivors and victims database and input my names with a few different spellings. Soon I  found a death record for Chaia in the index. I continued to search by inputting Sara Lappe.  An identity record for an Idek Glikstzajn appeared.  When I went into the record I realized that Sara was listed as his mother and the father was Kalma Gliksztajn, the gentleman on the left in the photograph.  Now I had a new data point on which to search, Sara's married name.  Entering that name, the first record to appear was her marriage in Plawno to Kalma.  Here her name had altered slightly to Sura Lapa.  Plawno was in the district of Lodz.  How did I know it was the right record? It gave her parents' names and her maiden name, or at least a reasonable facsimile. The record was identified by the Czestochowa-Radomsko Area Research Group (CRARG).

Seeking Original Documents
This appeared to be a second marriage for both Sarah and her husband. The marriage record noted his late wife's name and with this I was able to verify a child on JRI-Poland that he had in his prior marriage as well as Idek (probably Icek) who was a child that Kalma and Sara had together, in the front row of the photo.   Each new piece of information uncovered another, but it also raised some mysteries.  They hadn't married until 1924 and as I was to learn, the first two children were born before then.  It is likely that Sara had a previous marriage, but the status of it was not noted in her marriage record even though Kalma's prior marriage was.  The Holocaust records issued an invitation on several of the records to email for the original record.  I followed up with a request for Chaia's death record, Sara's hospital death record, and the identity paper of Sarah's son.

To be continued at Making Sense of Records with the original records and the Lodz Ghetto Database...