Showing posts with label Berg. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Berg. Show all posts

Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday's Faces from the Past: Remembering Dad and Counting His Cousins

Remembering Dad--Harold D. Burk (1909-1978) on the 39th anniversary of his death. This happy photo shows him arriving in Hawaii on a special tour for travel agents (a career he began before being drafted for WWII and resumed when he returned from serving in Europe and married Mom).

Having smashed a major brick wall on Dad's side of the family, I can finally name all twenty of his far-flung first cousins.
  • Rose, Lilly, Bill, and "Punky," the four children of Abraham Berk (1877-1962)
  • Sylvia, Harold, Milton, Norma, and Larry, the five children of Meyer Berg (1883-1981)
  • Miriam, "Buddy," Harvey, Jules, and Hilda, the five children of Sarah Mahler Smith (1889-1974)
  • Mike and Sylvia, the two children of Ida Mahler Volk (1892-1971)
  • Myron, Daniel, Robert, and Ruth, the four children of Mary Mahler Markell (1896-1979)
Miss you, Dad.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Weighing the Evidence on Grandpa's Birthplace

Six of my Burk (aka Berg/Berk/Birk/Burke) ancestors came to North America from Lithuania. The oldest of the siblings, Abraham, settled in Montreal. All the others lived for decades in New York City.

In birth order, they were:
  • Abraham Berk (1877-1962)
  • Nellie Block (1878-1950)
  • Isaac Burk (1882-1943) - Hi, Grandpa!
  • Meyer Berg (1883-1981)
  • Jennie Birk (1890-1972)
  • Max (Matel) Berk (1892-1953)
Where, exactly, were these Litvak ancestors from? I've been weighing the evidence, following the Evidence Explained principles. Fortunately for me, the evidence is quite compelling in favor of one birthplace for all the siblings.

Of course I'm putting the most weight on primary (original) sources created by "someone with first hand knowledge . . . created at or about the time an event occurred." Primary information (from original sources) tends to be more reliable, even though the person who provided the info may not remember correctly or may answer inaccurately for some other reason.

I've assembled the following evidence about the siblings' birthplace.
  1. Abraham Berk's Canadian naturalization petition listed Gordz, Kovno, Russia as his birthplace. When Abraham entered America in 1919 to visit his brother Isaac, he said he was born in Gorst-Kovna-Russia. Abraham provided all this info.
  2. Nellie Block never declared any birthplace that I can find, unfortunately. I don't believe she ever married, nor did she apply for Social Security or naturalization. 
  3. Isaac Burk told US border officials in 1904 that he was born in Gerst, Russia, when he entered America from Canada. His 1939 naturalization papers and WWII draft registration show Lithuania as his birthplace (Isaac provided the info). Grandpa Isaac was buried in a cemetery plot that's part of the Sons of Telsh society. That adds to the indirect evidence in a small way.
  4. Meyer Berg's passenger manifest from 1903 shows Gelsen, Kovno as his most recent residence. His WWI draft record shows Gorsd, Russia as his birthplace; his WWII draft record shows Gorso, Russia as his birthplace. Meyer's naturalization petition from 1920 shows his birthplace as Kovna, Russia. Meyer provided this info.
  5. Jennie Birk's 1966 passport lists Lithuania as her birthplace. Her husband Paul Salkowitz listed Gardzai, Lithuania, as his birthplace on naturalization papers, but didn't show anything for her birthplace. Best of all, Jennie's marriage license from 1919 shows Garsden, Russia as her birthplace, info provided by her.
  6. Max Berk's 1920 naturalization petition shows Kovno, Russia as his birthplace. His 1906 passenger manifest shows Korst as his last residence. Max provided this info.

According to the Jewish Genealogy Communities Database, nearly all of these places are, essentially, other names for one place: Gargzdai, Lithuania (sometimes not spelled correctly or only spelled phonetically).

This evidence leads me to conclude that Grandpa Isaac and his siblings came from Gargzdai. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Plus I'm going to change the family tree so that every one of the siblings shows this as their birthplace.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mystery Monday: How Can I Find the Elusive Nellie Block?

Great aunt Nellie Block, late 1940s
Nellie Block (abt 1878-1950) is my elusive great aunt, the older sister of my paternal grandpa, Isaac Burk (1882-1943).

The first time I spotted Nellie was in Isaac's 1904 border crossing from Canada to US, when he said he was going "to sister Nellie Block, 1956 3rd Ave., corner 107th St." The address was familiar, because Isaac's future bride and her family lived in that apartment building!

In the 1905 NY Census, Nellie (a furmaker) is living as a boarder with a family on Henry Street. She's still single, and boarding with a different family on Henry Street in the 1910 US Census (occ: operator, furs).

The paper trail nearly ends there for Nellie. So far, I haven't found her in the 1915 NY census, 1920 US census, 1925 NY census, 1930 US census, or 1940 US census.

I know Nellie received an invitation to a UK cousin's wedding in 1934, because it was passed down in the family. Alas, no envelope with address. Did she go? No one knows.

Nellie is wearing a corsage and a smile at my parent's wedding in 1946. That's how I can date the photo at top, because Nellie looked very much the same at the wedding as she does here.

The final record I found for Nellie is her death notice from the New York Times, paid for by the family. It states: "Block--Nellie, devoted sister of Abraham Birk, Meyer Berg, Max Birk, Jennie Salkowitz, and the late Isidore [sic] Birk. Services Sun, 12:30 pm, Gutterman's, Bway at 66 St."

Nellie Block died on Christmas Eve, 1950. I haven't yet found her burial place, and can't yet get a copy of her death cert from New York (too recent).

Where in the world was Nellie Block hiding between 1910 and 1950? My next steps, part of my Genealogy Go-Over:
  • Use Heritage Quest and Family Search, plugging in different spellings of her name to search US and NY Census records. Each site transcribes and indexes a little differently, so I may have some luck with this approach. Will also look for naturalization papers, if any.
  • Do a more thorough search of Social Security applications. If she was working, and remained single, surely she filed for retirement benefits, right? 
  • Check NY marriage records, just in case she married at some point. By 1934, however, when she received the wedding invitation, her name was still Block and she was about 56 years old. I suspect she didn't ever marry, since her death notice is "Block."
  • Recheck Find a Grave (so far, I haven't found her there) and all the NY/NJ cemeteries where my NY-area paternal ancestors were buried. My really quick first check was unsuccessful, so now I have to do another check to be sure.
  • Any other ideas? 
UPDATE: I searched census and naturalization via Family Search, no luck (yet). Also did a search on the easy-to-search 1940 NYC directories on NY Public Library site, borough by borough, but no luck. In addition, I checked Italiangen.org for naturalizations, but no luck. And I redid my Soc Sec search via Ancestry for claims and application, no luck. Darn.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Saluting Canada, Where Ancestors Landed or Settled

Capt. John Slatter (front and center) with the 48th Highlanders
As Canada approaches its exciting 150th anniversary celebration, I want to highlight ancestors who either settled there or first touched North American soil in Canada.

First, let me mention the illustrious Slatter brothers, my husband's London-born great uncles. They became well-known bandmasters in Canada, putting to good use the musical and military training they had received as children on the Goliath and Exmouth.
  • Albert William Slatter (1862-1935) served as bandmaster with the 7th London Fusiliers in Ontario.
  • John Daniel Slatter (1864-1954) achieved fame as the bandmaster of the 48th Highlanders in Toronto, helping to popularize the craze for kiltie bands.
  • Henry Arthur Slatter (1866-1942) was the distinguished bandmaster for the 72d Seaforth Highlanders in Vancouver.
At least two of my Berk/Birk/Burk/Block/Berg ancestors left Lithuania, stopped in England with family to learn English and polish their woodworking skills, and then continued on to North America.
Henrietta Mahler Burk & Isaac Burk
  • Isaac Burk (1882-1943) was a cabinetmaker who, at age 19, was residing with an aunt and uncle in Manchester (according to the 1901 census), along with his older brother, Abraham. Isaac sailed for Canada in 1903 but stayed only for a short time, moving on to New York City where his older sister Nellie Block (1878-1950) was living. Isaac married Henrietta Mahler in New York, and moved back and forth between Montreal and New York for nearly 10 years before deciding to remain in New York permanently.
  • Abraham Berk (1877-1962), also a cabinetmaker, was residing with the same family in Manchester as his brother Isaac during 1901. After his brother left, Abraham stayed on to marry Anna Horwich, then sailed to Canada and made a home in Montreal, where he and his wife raised their family.
Oh Canada! Happy anniversary and many more.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Great Uncle Mayer Petitioned for Naturalization 99 Years Ago

Declaration of Intention dated 6 June 1918
Now that my mother's address book has helped me trace several "elusive" siblings of my paternal grandpa Isaac Burk, I've sent for documents to fill out their life stories. I began with my great uncle Mayer Berg (1883-1981), who was a year younger than my grandpa.

One lesson learned is: NARA doesn't have everybody's naturalization documents. A day after I submitted an online request and payment for Mayer Berg's naturalization papers, the archivists emailed me. They did not have Mayer's paperwork, but the Bronx authorities probably did. Thanks for the tip!

Another lesson learned: Pick up the phone before mailing a check. I called the Bronx County Clerk's office, and the officials kindly confirmed that they held Mayer's documents. I got a "package deal" because the petition and declaration were in a single file, so I didn't have to send for them separately (which would have cost more).

Snail mail was faster than usual: I received Mayer's naturalization documents in barely a week. It's dated June 6, 1918.

Just think, this great uncle was standing in a Bronx courthouse 99 years ago, filling out his final paperwork, declaration of intention for US citizenship. Mayer took his Oath of Allegiance on November 23, 1920. I'm going to give these documents to Mayer's granddaughter when we meet this week!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Friday's Faces from the Past: Cousins Try to Name Names

Now that I'm in touch with more descendants of my paternal Burk family, I'm asking them to help identify who's who in this party photo from the late 1930s or early 1940s. I can't tell when, where, or why this party took place.

At far right in the foreground is my father, Harold Burk (#3). Seated near the center is his mother, Henrietta Mahler Burk (#1) and his father, Isaac Burk (#2).

My grandfather Isaac's family had distinctly different ways of spelling their shared surname when they came to America from Lithuania, reminding me to be flexible when I search and consider Soundex variations:

Berg, Berk, Birk, Burk, Burke

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Treasure Chest Thursday: Mom's Address Book Solves a Burk Mystery

Mom's old address book turned up the other day, quite by accident. When she was alive, I never saw this address book, so I never asked who these people were. As soon as I turned the pages, however, I knew her handwritten entries (from the 1950s) were going to help me solve at least one big family mystery.

Interestingly, the mystery is not in her family tree but in my father's Burk family tree. 

My paternal grandpa Isaac Burk (1882-1943) had two brothers that I know of: Abraham Berk/Burke (1877-1962) and Myer or Meyer Burke (dates unknown). The brothers have also used Birk as a surname spelling over the years.

In the 1905 NY Census, I found Grandpa Isaac (shown incorrectly as Isidore Burke), a carpenter living as a boarder with his future in-laws. The other boarder in the same apartment was Meyer Burke, a cutter (and Isaac's brother, I presumed). For years, I searched for Meyer, but never could find him again.

Meyer Berg's WWII draft registration
Now take a look at the address book snippet at top. Directly under Abraham Berk in Mom's address book is a couple, Anna & Meyer Berg, living in the Bronx. That's where many of Dad's relatives lived in the 1930s-1950s.

It's not much of a leap to guess that Meyer Berg is the brother of Isaac and Abraham--meaning he's my great uncle, an ancestor I've tried to trace for a decade. Mom knew where he was all along!
Meyer Berg's WWI draft registration

Keeping Mom's address book at hand, I quickly dug deeper and found:
Meyer Berg's marriage info from ItalianGen.org
  • Meyer Berg's WWII draft registration card shows him at 2080 Grand Ave. in the Bronx, with the same phone number as in Mom's address book. An exact match!
  • Meyer Berg's WWI draft registration card shows him as a cutter, born in "Gorsd, Russia." That's an approximate spelling of Isaac & Abraham's home town in Lithuania.
  • Meyer appears to have been born about 1883 and I know he married in 1907. Needless to say, I've just sent for his marriage documents.
  • Meyer was naturalized in about 1920, according to the 1925 NY Census. I'm trying to locate those documents now.
  • Other entries in Mom's address book match exactly the names of Meyer's children and their spouses. 

Lesson #1. Be really flexible about spelling, Soundex style. Burk, Burke, Berk, Birk, Berg. Three brothers with names spelled differently in Census data and other records.

Lesson #2. Ask relatives now about unfamiliar names in old address books. Before it's too late to ask! Maybe the answer will help solve a family mystery. Or if you have a relative's old address books, read them carefully to see who's who and where and when.