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.
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.
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...