Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Power of Kehila (Community)

A few days ago I got one of my favorite kinds of e-mails. A woman in Israel contacted me because she had discovered the Kehilalink that I had built for Dunilovichi. On the site she had found the tombstone of her great-great grandfather."Who are you?" she asked. "And do you have more on these names"?

Dunilovichi is a shtetl in Belarus that is about 75 miles outside of Vilnius. It is the town from which my grandmother and great-grandparents came. In 2009 I visited it when I was in Vilnius. Upon my return I built a Kehilalink on the town, a website for, as my volunteer effort for people who were researching family from there. When I was researching the town prior to my visit I had connected with a woman who had a transcription of the cemetery and photos of the tombstones that enabled me to locate my great-great grandfather’s tombstone. She gave me permission to include the tombstones on the site and to submit them to the Jewish On-line Worldwide Burial Registry.

Building Kehilalinks is a wonderful activity for those of us who have already progressed pretty far in our own research, but aren’t quite ready to relinquish the search. offers an on-line class to learn how to construct them which doesn’t require a high level of technical expertise. I’ve found the knowledge quite useful in building out my art website as well.

When I can assist someone in finding their family member, it reminds me of why I do this. I then took her question about whether I had more on her names to heart. I had created several finding aids on the Kehilalink. I have a tab titled Family Names and I went there to see if her name was listed anywhere else. There I have a link that lists out who lived in the town in 1939. There were two entries with her family name. But were they hers? I returned to her family tombstone for more information. There I noted that her great-great grandfather who died in 1918 was named Ben-Zion and his father was Dan. One of the 1939 residents with her family name was also named Dan, quite likely the son of Ben-Zion. Ashkenazic Jews name their children after a deceased grandparent or great-grandparent so it is likely that this person was a family member.

Also on the Family Names tab is an index that I built for the cemetery, immigration records, Yad Vashem and the 1850 census. I had taken each name and identified if it was found in one of those sources and the spelling as there were frequently several variants. From the index I saw that her family name showed up in the immigration tab and a quick search for the record on informed me that his nearest relative in Europe was his father Dan and he was going to his brother Barnett in Chicago. Hmm, the pieces are beginning to connect. I sent her an e-mail asking if she was familiar with this person and she returned a scan of a scrap of paper with his name that she found in her father’s papers, but indicated she knew nothing more about him.

A few searches on led me to the 1920 and 1930 census and the naturalization record. As I expected the young man had named his son Benjamin after his son’s great-grandfather who had died just four years earlier. A little good fortune also awaited. It appeared that someone had a family tree on Ancestry which indicated living relatives as well. The woman who contacted me will likely be able to expand her family tree in both directions, discovering a great-great grandfather and the name of her ggg grandfather as well as living relatives in the United States.


1 comment:

  1. Fantastic news, Susan (and a nice outcome)! I, too have had some nice contacts with landsman (including the family of the shtetl's Rabbi) since my KehilaLink site went live (after our JewishGen class together). For me the KehilaLink site ( ) provides not only a wonderful opportunity to honor the past with a memorial, but also a powerful genealogical tool to help us understand the communities our ancestors lived in both in Eastern Europe and their adopted countries.

    Oh, and by the way, while my Yurovshchina (aka Labun and Lubin) is not anywhere near Dunilovichi, I've been meaning to tell you that my gf's town, Kozyany (or Kazan) is a neighbor. I haven't started a KehilaLinks site for that one yet, but maybe sometime in the next year or so.