Monthly Archives: November 2015

Ashkenazi genealogy is a PITA!

There’s a lot of reasons genealogy could be easier. For example, I used to think of surnames as eternal, more or less. Turns out, that’s usually not the case. My grandparents were born ADELSON, BLOCK, ABRAMS, and OCHOWITZ. Their fathers (paternal grandfather in the case of ADELSON) were born FINGERBREN, SCHNITZ, ABRAHAMS, and OCHOROWICZ, respectively. Five years ago, only ONE of these name changes was known to living generations! Or at least to family to whom I had access.

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Like to write? You Can Help!

In many cases, I suspect, I know at least as much about our ancestors as anyone else living today. This is especially true in the case of those who have passed out of living memory; those people none of us had the chance to meet.

In other cases, I have no doubt that some of you have stories and recollections about which I know nothing. Sure, I have raw facts: when and where relatives were born, their profession, when they died. Perhaps occasionally I uncover a family scandal, long suppressed and forgotten. But that, in isolation, does not an interesting entry make.

On the other hand, some of those who have passed away more recently may be quite well-known to you, far more so than I ever will know them through my research. And so, I wish to invite everyone to write a short biography of these good people.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Nothing about living people without their express consent. If you want to write about yourself, or your mom doesn’t mind her story being placed out there, I’m great with that. Otherwise, off limits.
  • The person needs to be a common relative. Unless you’re my sibling or parent, you have some ancestors and cousins who aren’t related to me. I have no doubt that they were fascinating people, and more than worthy of reverence, but those stories will have to be published in another venue.
  • No worries if you don’t think you write well enough. If I can do it, you can too. If you CAN write well *cough*Hannah*cough*, you get double encouragement. 🙂
  • Shoot for at least 500 words, 1000 are better. But use whatever space you need. Electrons are cheap.

You’ll get full credit (/blame), of course. 🙂 Let’s see who can add to this growing blog!

Iudel Fingerbren (1852 – c. 1910)

Iudel FINGERBREN was my great-great-grandfather.  We don’t know a lot about him, but he is most notable for having changed the family name to ADELSON.

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Helena Jacobowsky (1838 – 1915)

My great-great-grandmother, Helena (Lena) JACOBOWSKY was born in Sandberg, Prussia – now in Poland, near(ish) to Leszno – in 1838. Her parents were tailor Hirsch JACOBOWSKY and his wife Taube (Tennie) WOLFF JACOBOWSKY.  I know of two older brothers, Schaie and Moritz, both of whom immigrated to the United States. Continue reading

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Max Grauman (1871-1933)

Welcome to the first of what, I hope, will be a number of biographies of my ancestors and cousins!  Some may be updated with new information as I find it, others will serve as a interesting look into lives long past. In some cases, completely forgotten until I “rediscovered” them again.

First up, somewhat randomly, Mendel (Max) GRAUMAN,

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Planets Align, trees converge…..

“Always… no, no… NEVER forget to check your references.” – Real Genius, 1985

One thing I’ve seen is that it’s rarely a waste of time to work on a side tree.  Especially in closely-knit European Ashkenazi communities, everyone was related to everyone else, and it’s just a matter of teasing out the relationships. That’s easier said than done, perhaps, but sometimes it works out.

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First Post

So I guess any blog needs to start somewhere, and this is the first step.

A little background: Almost 40 years ago, I was given a school assignment to create a family tree. I found a nice sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper, and started writing. I knew the names of my parents and grandparents, and my five first cousins, and then pretty much drew a blank — figuratively and literally. Even for the people I knew, I realized I didn’t know their full names, or for the most part when and where they had been born. So I went to my parents, and then grandparents, all of whom were living at the time, and asked typical questions a 4th grader might ask (and, alas, not questions 2015 me would have asked!).

Nonetheless, in that little experiment into genealogy, I learned from my grandfather that our family name had not always been Adelson, that it had been “something like” Fingerbran, and changed to avoid the draft. My first family fact, previously unknown to me, that turned out to be mostly, but not entirely, true.  I also heard that my great-great-grandfather Abrams had fought in the Civil War (nope — he didn’t arrive until 1875, but another great-great on that side of the family did), and a couple of other minor inconsistencies lost to time and memory of my grandparents. Already forgotten – at least to my branch of the family – were three other name changes in the last 150 years, which I wouldn’t rediscover until the 21st century.

I also quickly discovered that drawing a family tree did not really lend itself well to 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper, but I did the best I could.  The assignment was complete, but it was difficult for a 10-year-old to go further. I had exhausted my immediate family, and records at that time were locked up in courthouses and archives.  I had my little tree, and treasured it in a folder in my closet until a house fire destroyed it in the 1980s.

Fast-forward to the late 2000-and-naughts, and the internet has made finding the records so much easier!  It’s still taken a lot of time and a few bucks, but the successor to my little paper tree is an electronic (relative [no pun intended]) behemoth containing nearly 2800 names, with a couple of side trees nearing 1000 more altogether.

I wish my grandparents were still around to see the progress I made, and back with them the family history.

Some have suggested that I publish everything in a book, and perhaps I will someday.  There are reasonably priced options for creating a book such as that, but it’s a lot of work, and I’m finding out new things all the time. On the other hand, even it’s now much easier to share a tree online, it’s still huge. If I were to print it out on 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper, the tree would run well over 160 feet.  Additionally, names and dates are all fine, but there were people behind those names.  Sometimes I’m fortunately enough to know something about them, and that knowledge is more difficult to share in the aggregate.

Hence, this blog. Perhaps a dry run for an eventual book, but in any case a place to share those stories I know, as well as my thoughts on the process of genealogy in the modern day.  Let’s see where this goes…