30 April 2013

Tombstone Tuesday: Rebecca & Abraham Sotskess

Montefiore Cemetery, Queens, New York,
 Block 89, Gate 156N, Line 5L, Grave 3,
 photographed 3 September 2008.
If you're going to a cemetery to view relative's graves, photograph all the graves in the plot. You never know when you will find unanticipated family members. It could well be the gift to your genealogy research that keeps on giving.

About 10 months into my new family history hobby, my first family history trip was to New York City. I was headed to a family celebration in the area, and included a visit to Montefiore Cemetery in Queens to record family members' graves. I contacted the cemetery ahead of the trip via email regarding the burials I thought they might have and received grave location information for many of them. [1]

When I got there on September 2, 2008, I walked the two First Lubiner Progressive Benevolent Association (FLPBA) plots and located all the graves marked Garber, Morris and Myers. Happily, there were more than expected. Having had no prior experience with recording graves, I found I'd budgeted more time than needed. So, I decided to return the next day and photograph all the markers in the two plots. 3 September 2008: that's when I photographed the tombstone of Rebecca Sotskess.  

My cousin Hal Blatt had previously told me that my great grandmother Sarah Myers Morris had a sister Rivka. No one knew her married name.  Several months after my cemetery trip, I located a cousin, Peter Myers, who was able to fill in some information about the Myers family. Rivka's married name had been Sotskess. Fantastic! I'd already recorded her grave. I acquired her death certificate for confirmation. [2]

Memory of the world

The crown of our head has died
Here lies
Rivka daughter of David
Died 14 Shevat 5700
May her soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life
DIED JAN 24, 1940
Rivka (the Hebrew equivalent of Rebecca) Malzmann (changed to Myers) was the third child and second daughter of David and Ida. She was born about 1879 in Labun, Russian Empire (today Yurovshchina, Ukraine). She married Abram (Abraham) Czaczkes in Europe. 

Abraham arrived in New York City in May 1910 and Rebecca followed in September that same year. [3] Abraham, like all of the men associated with the David and Ida Myers family, was a glazier in New York City. They changed their name to Sotskess, apparently maintaining a similar pronunciation of the surname. Unfortunately, the name is still so unusual that it is frequently manhandled in records and indices. 

Strangely, Abraham's grave was not in the FLPBA plots at Montefiore. I'd located and acquired his death certificate, so I knew he, too, was buried in Montefiore.[4] It took a little doing (because the search engine on the Montefiore Cemetery website is not robust and the surname had been misindexed as "Stoskess"), but I finally located his grave in another landsmanshaft plot: United Old Konstantin Benevolent Society.  This was the landsmanshaft for people from Starokostyantyniv, a larger town 20 miles SSW of Labun.
Montefiore Cemetery, Queens, New York,
 Block 20, Gate 397N, Line 1L, Grave 11,
 photographed 25 September 2012.
Here lies
Avraham son of Yosef
DIED APR 10, 1948

This past summer, I revisited Montefiore, located and photographed additional graves in the FLPBA plots, took photos of graves that (mercifully) had been newly cleared of hedge vegetation, and located Abraham's grave. I also took the opportunity to photograph all the graves in the Old Konstantin burial plot. [5]  

The Sotskess' did not have any children who lived to adulthood. And may never had had children. I have not found any evidence of any children who were born and died in New York City.
1. Now Montefiore has a searchable index online.
2. New York County, New York, Certificate of Death number 2120 (24 January 1940), Rebecca Sotskess, New York City Municipal Archives, New York.
3. "New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957," digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 23 November 2008), manifest, President Lincoln, Hamburg to New York, arriving 26 May 1910, Abraham Czaczkes, citing National Archives Microfilm Serial: T715; Microfilm Roll: 1487; Line: 27; Page Number: 104.
"New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957," digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 25 November 2008), manifest, Kroonland, Antwerp to New York, arriving 13 September 1910, Riwke Czaczkes, citing National Archives Microfilm Serial: T715; Microfilm Roll: 1553; Line: 24; Page Number: 145.
4. New York County, New York, Certificate of Death number 8709 (10 April 1948), Abraham Sotskess, New York City Municipal Archives, New York.
5. This and the updated records for the First Lubiner plots have been submitted to JewishGen's Online Worldwide Burial Registry and should be online sometime this summer. 

27 April 2013

Road Trip: National Genealogical Society, May 8-11, 2013

This summer promises to be busy with genealogy travel. I am already getting a little anxious about having enough time for preparations. First stop: Las Vegas, Nevada for the National Genealogical Society conference, May 8-11, 2013. 

This will be my first NGS conference, although it won't be my first ride on the national conference band wagon. In February 2012, I attended RootsTech in Salt Lake City, Utah. And a couple of years before that I attended the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies conference in Los Angeles, California.

Why am I excited to attend a national conference? 
  • It is being held in Las Vegas, Nevada - an inexpensive plane ride from from my home town. 
  • It will be an opportunity to see and hear some of the academic all-stars of the national genealogical community, including Elizabeth Shown Mills and Thomas W. Jones. I only hope I can rush to their classes early enough to get in. I am particularly interested in buying my own copy of Jones' brand new book, "Mastering Genealogical Proof."
  • The keynoter on Wednesday morning, May 8, will be someone dear to the hearts of all Jewish genealogists, Marian Smith, Chief, Historical Research Branch, USCIS. She is responsible for the most useful, to my mind, InfoFile on JewishGen: "Manifest Markings."
  • It will be an opportunity to meet, in person, several genealogists I've admired from afar (or at least via email or blogging). I'm particularly interested in meeting the Legal Genealogist, Judy Russell. I'm already signed up for her lunch talk.
  • I'm an official blogger. Not sure of the criteria for selection. I applied. I got. The duties appear to be fairly free-form. But I figure this responsibility will give me added impetus to blog the classes I attend, write about my experiences and network like crazy.
There are other reasons to attend, as well, not the least of which is learning new things, and reinvigorating my research. In addition, this trip will actually be my dry run for two subsequent trips this summer.  

26 April 2013

Genealogy is Anthropology

Genealogy, as a discipline, has often taken it as a given that it should be allied with history. [1] Family historians [2] have lamented and tried to remedy genealogy's perceived lack of intellectual rigor, mused on why academic historians have no respect for us, or encouraged researchers to make history part of their family's story. When encouragement didn't seem to work, chastisement often followed. I believe that there is good reason why genealogy is not universally accepted by historians as a branch of history. We've been barking up the wrong tree. Genealogy/family history is anthropology.

I first encountered kinship charts and the study of the role of kinship relationships in my undergraduate anthropology classes. I recall coming home for a visit when I was in graduate school, sitting at the kitchen table with my parents and building a family tree. I knew how to do that because I'd studied anthropology.

In graduate school I researched and wrote a class paper on a comparative analysis of kinship patterns among several southeast Asian societies. The upshot was that marriage patterns (i.e., restrictions on who people were allowed to marry) could be predicted by groups' subsistence land use patterns. This is one way of understanding a society. Anthropology embraces others, as well.

As a student of archaeology (a subdiscipline of anthropology), I was familiar with resources and data (similar to what is encountered in genealogy) that could not, in and of themselves, tell the entire story. Much of my graduate school education entailed learning to build the links between the data we might collect and the context within which the item or pattern would have been created during the lives of those we were studying. 

Research methods and techniques are the trappings of a discipline. But, it is the underlying mission that tells the story. Anthropology is the study of culture and how cultural constructs help humans to live in and adapt to their environments. It defines who people are.  

In studying our ancestors lives, anthropology informs us that they lived not only in a different historical time, but also in a different culture. It is our understanding of those differences and similarities and how they may account for the facts of our ancestors lives that make their stories compelling.

I had not really thought much about the influence of anthropology on my research until a couple of months ago when another genealogist with an anthropological background contacted me after reading my article published in Avotaynu. [3] When she'd first read the article she did not know of my academic background. Once she learned of my anthropology training she recognized its influence on my research methodology.

I had to agree. I had not merely studied individuals, but taken a community approach to understand my findings. I looked for patterns. I continue to do that with my studies of my paternal shtetl in Ukraine. Cluster genealogy and the FAN principle are no-brainers. People are best studied and understood in context.

And isn't that really the crux of it all? Genealogy is a discipline that researches individuals and tries to understand the context of their lives. This context may include the historical events that may or may not have influenced their choices. It may include the cultural norms of their society - the ones they embraced and the ones they rebelled against. It may include environmental influences. It may include the songs they sang, the food they ate. It may include truths about human behavior that we are still trying to understand.

No, genealogy is not history. Nor is it anthropology. It is context. There are many facets to that context. And there are many avenues to deciphering the context of our ancestors' lives.

1. The most recent example is a post by James Tanner of Genealogy's Star. But also see:
Greenwood, Val D. Chapter 1: "Understanding Genealogical Research," The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company), 3rd Edition, 2000.
Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Chapter 1: "Fundamentals of Evidence Analysis," Evidence Explained, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company), Second Edition, 2009.

2. There was a time when genealogy meant dates and begats. Those who craved more substance, to differentiate themselves, started to use the term "family history." These days, I think the substance people can declare victory. Those who merely collect names and dates are not taken seriously by serious researchers. Therefore, I use the terms interchangeably here.

3. Garber, Emily H. "Using Landsmanshaft Burial Plots to Discover and Confirm the Location of a Family Shtetl," Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, Volume XXVII, Number 1, Spring 2011: 3-9.

Visit your shtetl without leaving home: Google Street View of Hungary

Street View on Google Earth and Google Maps on streets in much of the  United States is wonderful, but it hasn't provided much for those of us interested in Eastern Europe. However, a couple of days ago, the Google Earth Blog noted that Street View has been added for Hungary and expanded for Romania and Poland. Now you may be able to walk some of the main streets of your ancestral community without ever leaving home.

For those who are not savvy on using the Google Maps or Google Earth applications, Street View may be accessed via the little yellow peg man on the upper left or right of your map image. If you don't see him on a map that may include Street View, zoom in until he appears. Place the cursor on him, click, hold and drag him over the map. Blue lines will appear on the map indicating streets where Street View is available. There is a short video tutorial on using Street View on the Google Earth Blog post.

I decided to look at the Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest. Starting in Google maps, I searched on the name, found the map, zoomed in and then dragged the little guy over the map. Voila! The images are from 2011.

Dohany Street Synagogue, Budapest, Hungary 
(from GoogleMaps.com)

One may use the arrow keys on one's computer keyboard to move around on the street. Here's a shot looking in the other direction.

I decided to see what they might have in some more rural areas of Hungary. I headed east toward the border with Ukraine. This Street View in Opalyi, Szabolecs-Szatmar-Bereg County, Hungary was done in Dec 2011.

What I really like about this is that I can move down the street and the very next image shows a change of season (!): an image taken the following Spring. Sort of feels like The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy starts dreaming in Technicolor.

To close out of Street View and get back to your map, click on the small X in the upper right of the map or satellite photo.

Right now coverage in Street View of Ukraine and several other Eastern European countries is still, literally, spotty. In Google Maps search on a country. Try Ukraine. Drag peg man and hover him over the map. What you see are many little square spots and a few larger blobs on large cities. The square spots indicate locations of static photos in Panoramio. The blobs are places where Street View is active. This includes:
Kyiv, Lviv, Odessa, Kharkiv, Donetsk, and parts of Chernivtsi and Khotyn. This is nice, but not as nice as what is currently possible for the main streets in more rural areas of Romania and Hungary.

I hope there will be expanded Street View soon in Ukraine. Then I can shtetl-shlep from the confines of my computer.

Have you been able to "walk" the streets of your village in Eastern Europe using Street View? Let me know with a comment below. 

25 April 2013

New York City Vital Record Indices, 1949-1965

So my previous discussion of accessibility of New York City death record information left out a critical resource that I knew about, but flaked on while writing the post. There are printed registers (indices) for New York City Deaths and Births through 1965. These registers have been microfilmed (although not digitized nor online yet) and are available to rent from the Family History Library via FamilySearch.org. Armed with date of death and certificate number from these registers, one may order New York City death certificates from the Department of Health and minimize search time and fees.

I have actually used microfilm rolls resident at my closest FamilySeach Library (Mesa, AZ) of birth certificate indices for New York City that carry one through 1965 births. The Family History Library also has film for NYC deaths through 1965 and NYC marriages through 1937 (although ItalianGen already has a marriage index through 1937 online).

FamilySearch.org has filmed three documents they produced in 2005 and 2006 on New York City vital record registers:
Register of New York City Death Records
Register of New York City Birth Records
Register if New York City Marriage Records
These books may be read online or downloaded from FamilySearch. They explain the records that exist and the organization of the data. They also identify the Family History Library microfilm rolls on which one may access the filmed register pages.

For New York City death records, for example, one would access the following microfilms to see Register pages for 1947 through 1965 (indexed records for 1949-1965 are not currently online at ItalianGen, although I know they're working on it):
1947-1951        Film 1,324,925
1952-1956       Film 1,324,926
1957-1960       Film 1,324,927
1961-1962       Film 1,324,928
1963                 Film 1,324,929
1964                 Film 1,324,930
1965                 Film 1,324,931
I have used pages from these films to help index records that already appear in ItalianGen online indices and will appear in future indices. This is what a portion of a page from the death record microfilmed index looks like.

The data of genealogical interest on the register pages for the years 1947-1965: 
  • Surnames - each year includes individuals listed alphabetically by surname; 
  • First name - alphabetically following surname.  Newborns may only show "male" or "female");
  • Age - generally in years, however, children may be shown with an M for months or D for days old;
  • Date of death - month, day, and year. The year is indicated only by its last digit. However, the full year is identified on the bottom of each page.
  • Borough of the City of New York - Bronx (X), Brooklyn (K), Manhattan (M), Queens (Q), and Richmond (R). Y indicates that the person died outside New York City.  
  • Certificate number. If a number appears in this column following a Y in the Boro. column, it represents the State in which the person died. The FamilySearch book includes a key to these numbers. 
Death records are typically filed by county. If someone died outside New York City, don't expect to get a death certificate at the New York City Municipal Archives or at the Department of Health. But, if one doesn't know where the person died, this last column with the state key could be a great clue on where to look next.

But don't forget, no matter how well-armed with information you are (and no matter how sweet you and your mother think you are), you will not be able to acquire a death record less than 50 years old in New York State unless you can prove you are the deceased person's parent, spouse, sibling or direct descendant.

Treasure Chest Thursday: Death Certificate for Sarah Myers Morris

I have not purchased many death certificates of more recent vintage. By "recent vintage" I mean after 1948. New York State law restricts access to death certificates that are less than 50 years old. The 50-year restriction may be waived for direct line descendants (such as, in this case, me). Of course this death certificate from 9 August 1956 is now more than 57 years old. 

Bronx County, New York, Certificate of Death, Number 156-56-207636 (09 August 1956), 
Sarah Morris, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York, 
New York.
Pre-1949 death certificates for New York City deaths have been archived at the New York City Municipal Archives and microfilmed by the Family History Library. They have also been indexed by the Italian Genealogy Group

Access is easy for family historians. One may purchase a record from the Municipal Archives for $15. Or, one may either order the FHL microfilm on FamilySearch.org to see the record or order a copy of the record, itself, via the FamilySearch Photoduplication Department. I explained this ordering process previously here, here, and here.

For some reason, starting with 1949 records, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has not turned over death certificates to the Municipal Archives after fifty year restrictions have expired. They have, instead, kept the records in their care. These death records have not been made available for indexing or microfilming (Correction: they have not been microfilmed, they have been indexed through 1965. The index is available on microfilm through the Family History Library. See my next post.). One must contact them to purchase copies. This makes it difficult to find records and costly to purchase them.

I finally decided I wanted this one (and one for my grandmother, Sarah's daughter Dora) and ordered it. It wasn't particularly difficult because, as a result of knowing where Sarah was buried, I also knew her death date.
My last post was about Sarah and Isidore Morris and featured their tombstone in the Montefiore Cemetery, Queens, New York. Isidore passed away in 1947. After that, Sarah continued living in the Bronx. She died at home (627 Manida Street, Bronx, New York) and was approximately 80 years old. Her youngest daughter, Esther Blatt was the informant on her death certificate.

Sarah had continued living at the home on Manida Street after her husband, Isidore's death in 1947. They had moved there after several years in a more rural setting in Perrineville, New Jersey.

23 April 2013

Tombstone Tuesday: Isidore Morris & Sarah Myers Morris

Montefiore Cemetery, Queens, New York,  Block 89, Gate 156N, Line 8R,Graves 5 & 6, 
photographed 2 September 2008.
Here lies
daughter of David
Died 2 Elul 5716
May her soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life
DIED AUG, 9, 1956

Here lies
Yitchak Leib
son of Shlomo
Died 09 Teiveit 5708
May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life
DIED DEC. 22, 1947
Sarah Myers Morris, born Sura Malzmann in about 1876 in Lubin, Russian Empire (also known as Labun and, now, Yurovshchina, Ukraine), was the eldest daughter of David and Ida (Chaye) Myers.  

Sarah journeyed to the United States with her five children in June 1910, 5 years after her husband, Yitzchak Mazewitsky (who had become Isidore Morris) landed in New York Harbor. [1] Several of Sarah's brothers had already made the trip and, like Morris, had established businesses as glaziers. 

Isidore Morris, born about 1874 in Lubin, was the son of Shlomo Mazewitsky (also written as Macevicke) and Sarah Klein. On his New York manifest, he was listed as a mason.

Sarah and Isidore had six children: Dora Morris Garber (my grandmother, 1897-1954), Jean Morris Zimmerman (ca. 1900-1966), Max (1901-1963), Murray (1903-1988), Esther Morris Blatt (ca. 1907-1984) and Saul (7 June 1917- 30 Mar 1992). Saul was the only child born in the United States. In fact, both Sarah and her eldest daughter Dora were pregnant at the same time: Sarah with Saul and Dora with Leah Garber Eisenberg (12 Sept 1917-20 Aug 2006).

Sarah and Isidore retired to the rural Perrineville, New Jersey and owned a few acres with a house, barn and a cow. As Isidore's health deteriorated, the Morrises returned to New York City. Both Morris and Sarah are buried in the First Lubiner Progressive Benevolent Association plot in Montefiore Cemetery Queens, New York. Morris died in the Bronx in 1947. Sarah outlived her daughter Dora and died two years later in August of 1956.

1."New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957," digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 11 January 2012), manifest, Vaderland, Antwerp to New York, arriving 7 June 1910, p. 1, Sure Morris; citing National Archives Microfilm Serial T715.

17 April 2013

Treasure Chest Thursday: Whoo-Hoo! JRI-Poland and AGAD!

There's nothing like immediate gratification to brighten one's day! Tuesday night I read an announcement from Jewish Records Indexing-Poland that, as previously promised, the AGAD Archives in Warsaw (Archiwum Giowne Akt Dawnych - Central Archives of Historical Records) has started to digitized and put online vital records in their collections. Not only that, but the first online registers from Fond 300 (Tarnopol and Stanislawow oblasts), Signatures 1 through 2514, are linked to JRI-Poland database search results. I immediately found a record of great interest for my Liebross family history research.

Previously, when I wanted to acquire records that had been indexed by JRI-Poland, I ordered them via the efficient system set up and managed by Israel Pickholtz (thank you, Israel!). Israel P. would collect orders and then send them to AGAD who would fill them, send the records to Israel who would distribute them to those who had ordered. Since some money had to change hands, this limited how many of the records I'd ordered. 

I had tried to sort through the indexed records on the JRI-Poland website that would likely tie (using the standard genealogy principle of working backwards from what one knows) to my known Liebross and Wenkert family surnames and relatives. Since not every name listed on a record was always indexed, I did not catch one that would have been of interest.

Now for some indexed records in Fond 300, when one searches on surnames in the JRI-Poland database, one may click on a link on the far left side of the results table: "View scanned image." Before using the link, note the akta number and the year of the record. The link currently takes one to the first scanned image of the Signature (or book). At that point one must click on page images to locate the correct registered vital record (Akta). In some of these books the Akta number starts over at number 1 with each new year. So, if you don't immediately find the record of interest, make sure to double-check that you are in the correct year of the register.
JRI-Poland does intend to place direct links to image pages on which indexed records occur.

As a sidelight, I have to say that seeing the records in the context of digitized images of entire register books is stunning. Before, I merely received a page. Now I may see what the actual register books look like. Very nice. 

Birth Record for Ester, 16 September 1885, Jewish Metrical Books, Town of Jaglienica Births 1860-1904,
1906, Tarnopol Wojewodztwa, Fond 300, Year 1885,  Sygnatura 259, Akta 113, Archiwum Giowne Akt
Dawnych (Central Archives of Historical Records), Warsaw, Poland.

I have not had this record translated yet, but I can make out a few salient facts. Ester (no surname and no father is given on the record) was born in 1885 to Ruchel Liberus in Schulhanowka (now Shul'ganuvka - and not listed in JewishGen's Communities database, but found in the Gazetteer). Ruchel was the daughter of Mane and Cirl Liberus of Zaleszczyki [be still my heart!]. 

In earlier research in death and tombstone records, I'd found that Mane (likely Emanuel) was the father of Louis Liebross and his brother Simon.

Louis' and Simon's mother's name was a bit more of a challenge. Jewish tombstones don't usually include the deceased's mother's name. On Louis' death certificate the spot for mother's name was left blank.[1] On Simon's, "Celia" was written with a question mark, indicating that the informant was unsure.[2]

What I did know was that two women in the family had been given the name Tziril: Celia Liebross (Louis and Bertha's third daughter) and Cecile Liebross Markowitz (Harry and Gertie Liebross' second daughter). It was likely there was a Tziril in the family's past.

The fact that Ruchel is associated with family in Zaleszcycki is of great interest, as well. I'd previously established that Bertha's sister Perl Wenkert Ett and her family were from Zaleszczcyki and the nearby shtetls of Torske and Ustechko. I had some tantalizing clues that there were people with the surname Liebross in the Zaleszcycki area. Now I believe I have a link to my Liebrosses: Ruchel, sister of Louis and Simon Liebross. And Mane and Tziril Liebross registered as living in Zaleszcycki.

Ester's surname may have been Gottlieb. I've located another AGAD record through JRI-Poland that shows Ruchel married to Israel Gottlieb in 1903 when she gave birth to Perla. At that point, however, they were living in Kopychintsy about 12 miles from Shul'ganuvka.[3]

It's not always easy to get to "yes" in genealogical research. But, I'm feeling pretty good about my most recent find. This supports the contention that Tziril was the mother of Louis and Simon Liebross. It also adds some new players, especially Ruchel Liebross - sister to Louis and Simon. Of course it would be great to find marriage records for Louis, Simon or Ruchel to further bolster the information on Ester's birth record. As AGAD continues digitizing and JRI-Poland continues to index, perhaps those will be my next finds.

1. Kings County, New York, Certificate of Death no. 14091 (29 June 1935), Louis Liebross, New York City Municipal Archives, New York.
2. Queens County, New York, Certificate of Death no. 5951 (18 November 1927), Simon Leibross [sic], New York City Municipal Archives, New York. 
3. Birth Record for Perla Gottlieb, 19 May 1903, Jewish Metrical Books, Town of Kopyczynce Births 1877-1896, 1901-1904, Tarnopol Wojewodztwa, Fond 300, Year 1903,  Sygnatura 2419, Akta 45, Archiwum Giowne Akt Dawnych (Central Archives of Historical Records), Warsaw, Poland.