Category Archives: Genealogy In Action!

FINGERBRENs in the 1784 Lithuanian Records

Some data from the 1784 Poll Tax of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania recently was released on-line. This was (effectively) a census of the entire population of the Duchy.  While very interesting, there are three major drawbacks for Jewish Genealogy:

  1. The date is prior to the forced adoption of Jewish surnames in the Napoleonic reforms of the early 19th century. Thus, we have only the given name and, in most cases, their father’s given name.
  2. While the census includes all the members of the household and their relation, it does not provide ages nor professions, which might help more clearly identify them.
  3. In many cases, the next set of available records is 30-50 years later. So we’re talking a difference of at least a full generation, and sometimes two, when trying to match individuals.

Nonetheless, I may have found my own direct paternal family in the records for Stakliskis, Lithuania.

Continue reading


On the joy of being wrong….

Nearly a year ago, I wrote of finding some BERKOWITZs in the US, the wife, Dwojra, being my great-great-grandmother’s sister.   Turns out, I was wrong.

Continue reading

Kunas in America II

Short post with an update.  A new piece of paper arrived, and set off a whole slew of revelations.

Continue reading

Kunas in America

The KUNAs were the family of my great-great-grandmother along my direct maternal line. Until very recently, I knew very little about them, and today I only know slightly more, but enough that it’s worth talking about.  This post is not only about obtaining the addition bits of knowledge I have now, but also about the slow process of getting there.

Continue reading

Block / Abelson… a possible breakthrough

I have written previously about my great-grandfather, Elias SCHNITZ (a.k.a. Alex BLOCK) as well as the man listed as his cousin in the U.S., Samuel ABELSON.  I may have made a breakthrough regarding how these families are related.

Continue reading

Block / Schnitz… What’s in a name?

This is a (very) slight extension of research I sent to close family a little while back, but I think it’s an interesting example of genealogical investigation, and it’s good to capture for “posterity”. This research involves my great-grandfather, who was known in the U.S. as Alex BLOCK, but whose birth name appears to have been Elias SCHNITZ.

Continue reading

Eva Abrahams (1879-1931)

My great-grand Aunt Eva was the fifth child of Morris ABRAHAMS and Sarah JACOBY ABRAHAMS, born in New York, and about as middle of a child as you could get. The second daughter, after her eldest sibling, Dena, yet the first female of what would be five of the last six children. I suspect she may have gotten less attention than she wanted.

Continue reading

Photo Forensics

My Aunt Lillian – technically, my mother’s Aunt Lillian, but we always called her “Aunt Lillian” – was the keeper of the family photographs. I recall visiting her in the early 1990s, and looking at her photo albums while she told me who people were. Unfortunately, at the time, I really wasn’t paying attention to people I had never heard of before, and who had died prior to my birth.

When Aunt Lillian died in 1995, the photographs remained, but for many of them, no survivor knew who they were, nor where, when, and why they had been recorded. This is one reason I am always on the lookout for cousins with family photographs, and hopefully recollections about who they are.

Continue reading

Genetic Genealogy – Does it work? Does it help?

Questions come up occasionally about my use of genetic genealogy: using genetic testing for matching family. You may have seen TV ads for 23 & Me or AncestryDNA tests. It’s becoming more and more popular, and I think it’s worthwhile to post a quick overview of what it is, what it can do, and what it can’t. Don’t worry, you won’t need a biology degree for this.

This is just the nickel tour… there’s lots of detailed posts out there that get into the science behind it all, but I thought an overview might be interesting for some of you.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading