Showing posts with label Berk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Berk. Show all posts

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Family History Lesson From My Maiden Aunt

My paternal great aunt Nellie never married, had no children. But lately, I've been thinking about her importance in my family's history. She was the older sister of my grandpa Isaac Burk, born in Gargzdai, Lithuania. Nellie, Isaac, and four other siblings came to North America around the turn of the 20th century. Researching them has taken me 20 years, in part because I began with nothing except Isaac's name--and in part because there were so many different spellings of the family's surname.

Five of the six siblings married within a few years after they left Lithuania. Only Nellie never married. Here are the six siblings, listed in birth order.
  • Abraham Burke (1877-1962) (aka Berk) - later married, had children
  • Nellie Block (1878?-1950) - never married, no children
  • Isaac Burk (1882-1943) (aka Birk) - later married, had children
  • Meyer Berg (1883-1981) - later married, had children
  • Jennie Birk (1890-1972) - later married, no children
  • Max (Motel) Birk (1892-1953) - later married, no children

Nellie is the lady in lace, shown in the center of the photo at top with one of her brothers, probably Meyer, and her younger sister, Jennie. Below, Nellie's obit has Grandpa Isaac's name incorrect, but it's definitely hers. (I'm still looking for her burial place.)

Why is Nellie's story important to the family history? She seems to have been the first of the Burk siblings to come to North America, before 1900. (I'm still looking for her name on a passenger list.) I don't know how many unmarried young ladies were the first in their families to cross the Atlantic and live in a big US city. (Nellie was a boarder in other Jewish families' apartments, usually, not living on her own.) Why and when did she leave home?

Nellie was already in Manhattan by 1904. Grandpa Isaac listed her as the relative he was coming to see when crossing from Canada to New York. He had left Lithuania and gone to Manchester, England, then sailed to Canada, and finally entered America, saying he was coming to his sister Nellie. Yes, chain migration.

I believe I've found Nellie in the 1900 Census, 1905 NY Census, and 1910 Census. I have her as the addressee of a 1930s wedding invitation sent by a cousin in England. And I see her face in my parents' wedding photos, circa 1946. She was wearing a corsage and standing next to her brother Meyer and her brother Abraham, an honored guest at the marriage of her nephew--my father.

The lesson I draw from my maiden aunt's life is that every person in the family tree has an influence on the family's history. She was present at family gatherings, she touched the lives of parents/siblings/nieces/nephews/cousins, and she influenced the course of family history in ways I may not even know about.

Was Nellie responsible for blazing the trail out of the old country? I don't know for sure, and it seems a bit of a stretch to assume she left first. But I do know she was part of her brother Isaac's decision to cross from Canada to America--and, ultimately, that decision led to his getting married, raising a family, and my parents getting married. I owe this maiden aunt a great debt of gratitude!

Sometimes people say that since they have no descendants, their family history isn't really important to anyone. I disagree. Nellie (and her brother Max and sister Jennie) prove the importance of every story to the family's history. Each person played a role in family dynamics, each story adds texture, detail, and context to the overall family history.

Because Nellie, Max, and Jennie had no descendants, it's up to me as the self-appointed family historian to keep their memories alive. My second cousins have filled in a lot of the blanks. As the months pass, I hope to discover even more clues to their roles in the immediate family and in other related families.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

It Was a Busy Genealogy Year in 2017

This has been an incredibly productive and rewarding year for genealogy--and it's not over. A recap of the year to date:
  • Thanks to newly-discovered ephemera, I smashed a long-standing brick wall on my paternal Burk tree, identified my great-aunts and great-uncles, and met lovely new cousins, who were kind enough to share photos and memories.
  • With the in-person help of one of my UK cousins, I learned the sad truth about hubby's ancestor, Mary Shehen Slatter, who died in a notorious insane asylum in 1889.
  • Cousins I found through genealogy have been taking DNA tests to help in the search for more connections with outlying branches of our mutual trees. At the very least, we've proven our family ties and, sometimes, pinpointed the common ancestor.
  • I've made a lot of progress on writing family history. I updated one family history booklet for my side of the family, based on the new Burk information. I wrote two brand new booklets for hubby's side, one based on his Slatter-Wood roots and one based on his McClure-Larimer roots.
  • I'm about to complete a booklet about my husband's Wood family during World War II, based on interviews with relatives, documents and photos saved by the family, and genealogical research to fill in the gaps.
  • Also, I've written detailed captions for key photos, so future generations will know who's who, when, where, and why.
  • I was a speaker at the New England Regional Genealogical Conference and the International Jewish Genealogy Conference. So many wonderful sessions to attend, excellent speakers, friendly audiences, and a chance to meet blogging buddies in person.
Already this year, I've written more posts than at any other time in my 9 1/2 years as a genealogy blogger. At top are the stats showing my most popular posts of 2017. If you missed them, here are the links. Thank you for reading--and stay tuned for more posts before the end of the year.
  • Beyond Google Your Family Tree (practical tips for online genealogy searches using five specific search operators)
  • Tuesday's Tip, Genealogy, Free or Fee (try free sources first, but don't hesitate to pay for a Social Security Application if it will show a maiden name you don't have or otherwise move your research forward a leap)
  • Junk or Joy? Think of Future Generations (downsizing or just simplifying your life, consider the significance of family artifacts before deciding to donate, give away, or keep)
  • The Case Against Paperless Genealogy (Why I print everything, file everything. Technology changes rapidly but paper, stored properly, will live on for future generations)
  • Tuesday's Tip, Free or Free Genealogy (Learn to record strip: check every detail on every document or photo, analyze it in the context of what else you know, wring everything you can from the research you have and what you acquire)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Family History Month: Ancestor Landing Pages as Cousin Bait

Yes, ancestor landing pages really work as cousin bait--attracting people (often real relatives!) whose online search for a particular surname brings them to my blog pages.

To see what I mean, you can click on one or two of the landing pages across the top of this blog page, the tabs with titles like "Wm Tyler Bentley's story" and "Abraham & Annie Berk's story." 

I first put up ancestor landing pages in January, 2013, after reading about the idea on Caroline Pointer's blog.

I use these to summarize what I know about each surname or family in the various family trees that I'm researching. I include not only photos and sometimes documents, but also links to specific blog posts about that person or family.

Six months after first setting up these landing pages, I had views but no cousin connections. In the nearly five years since I first posted these pages, I've gotten thousands of views and have actually connected with a number of cousins as well!

So if you have a blog or are thinking about creating one, consider landing pages or a similar mechanism. As you can see from the current statistics in the table at top, people keep clicking on my pages. Most aren't related to my ancestors or my husband's ancestors, but the few who are related (or researching a particular name) know how to get in touch via my blog now.

By the way, the McClure family from Donegal is by far my most popular landing page. Second-most popular is the page I created with free sample forms and templates from my genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past.

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.

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.

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.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: Free or Fee Genealogy, Part 2

Birth, marriage, death records really are vital records, since they have vital details for genealogical research. But they're not the only records I feel are vital for my Genealogy Go-Over and for ongoing discoveries about ancestors in my family tree.

Naturalization papers are a treasure trove of info, really important when I don't know someone's home town or birth date, and of course the names of witnesses can be the icing on the cake. When an ancestor is in my direct line, I usually do my best to get his or her naturalization, even if I have to pay for it, so I can double-check against other documents in my possession. Still, ordering from NARA takes time, not just money.

My favorite free source is Family Search, and even if I have to order a low-cost microfilm of naturalizations, it's a bargain and doesn't take much time. Many naturalizations are currently available through my Ancestry subscription, but not all. I used to have Fold3 access, which put many naturalizations at my finger tips.

Since many of my ancestors (maybe yours too) came through Ellis Island or Castle Garden and stayed in the New York/New Jersey area, I use Italiangen.org to see what naturalization documents are available before I make up my mind about paying.

Naturalizations in other countries aren't as easy to obtain from a distance. I was elated to discover last year that my great-uncle Abraham Berk's naturalization file could be requested from the Canadian authorities for the princely sum of $5 . . . until I realized that only Canadian residents could make the request. May I say how lucky I am that a friendly genealogy blogger in Canada graciously volunteered to place the order? Only a few weeks later, she scanned and sent me pages and pages of fascinating details from his file, including the document shown here, confirming his home town and other key details. Wow.

BONUS: After sharing my previous post on this subject with the Genealogy Do-Over community on Facebook, commenters there and on my blog offered more ideas about ways to save money on vital records and other genealogical documents. Here are some of their ideas:

  • Check to see if there's a Facebook genealogy page for the locality where your ancestor was living or born/married/died. A volunteer might know of a local source for the document you're seeking or be willing to get it for you.
  • Consider a "road trip" to get multiple documents from local authorities, if feasible.
  • Check with the local genealogical society or historical society about whether some documents are in their files. (It works: I've saved some money this way, paying the local society for photocopies and a small donation.)
  • Do a thorough online search--some places have put parish records and census records online, for example.
  • Request help from the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness folks, paying for copies etc.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Workday Wednesday: The Mounties Check Abraham Berk's Work History


My favorite Canadian genealogy angel just received and scanned more than a dozen pages from the naturalization files** of my great-uncle Abraham Berk (1877-1962), for which I am very grateful.

Abraham was the older brother of my paternal grandfather Isaac Burk (1882-1943). Both were trained as cabinetmakers before leaving their homeland for Manchester, England and then North America.




Abraham originally received his Canadian citizenship in Montreal Circuit Court on February 25, 1910. He then applied for certification of Canadian citizenship in 1944, during WWII.
Abraham Berk in 1946

Happily for me, Abraham listed an exact birth date (March 15, 1877) and an exact birth place: "Gorzd, Kovno, Russia" which was part of Telsiai and is located in Lithuania, near the border with Germany.

As part of the certification process, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police conducted a confidential investigation to determine whether Abraham was an upstanding candidate for citizenship.

According to this report, Abraham reportedly "worked as a carpenter at the shipyards at Hochelaga for six months. He then worked at the Angus Shops for two months and has worked for several Construction Companies all over Montreal. At present he earns his living by doing odd carpenter jobs."

By the time Abraham applied for this certification in 1944, he was 67 years old. His brother Isaac had died the previous year. Two years after he was certified as a Canadian citizen, Abraham--the patriarch of the family--attended the New York City wedding of his nephew, Harold Burk (my Dad).


** It's not difficult to make such a request, but only people who live in Canada can receive these files, after filling out forms and sending $5. You can review the process here. I expected a lengthy wait due to a backlog of requests but the papers arrived only 8 weeks later

UPDATE: I originally misread the report and mangled the name place of Hochelaga. Thanks to wonderful reader Anna, I corrected it in the post and added a link to a history.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Genealogy Blog Party: Duh to Wow! Uncle Sidney's Birth Record Leads to New Cousins

The May theme for Elizabeth O'Neal's Genealogy Blog Party is: Duh! What was your genealogy "duh" moment and how did you solve it?

Dad (Harold Burk) and Uncle Sidney in WWII

I knew my father's younger brother, Sidney Burk, was born in Canada in 1914, and brought across the border by his mom a year later when she moved back to NYC as her husband looked for work there.

But since Uncle Sidney died a bachelor, and I knew him well, I never bothered to look for his birth records or even his naturalization, assuming there was one.

This was an anomaly: I'm forever chasing after genealogy documents of ancestors' siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins--because there are often nuggets hidden in their documents that can help me learn more about the family (like maiden names or hometowns). For some reason, I just didn't see my uncle's birth as a research priority, especially since I knew little about searching in Canadian records.

Then I heard an expert in French-Canadian genealogy mention the Drouin collection. I went home, logged on, and entered "S Berk" with "Quebec, Canada" as the place of birth. (Berk was the family's name before Burk.)

The top result of my search was "Samuel B. Berk," a name I never heard of. But with a click, I had on the screen a handwritten record of Uncle Sidney's birth, as the son of Henrietta Mahler Berk and Isaac Berk, my grandparents. Duh. So simple, and quite intriguing to find out he'd been given a different name than the one I knew him by.

Double duh: A few lines down in the results was a "Lily Berr" and below that, "Rose Bert." Click: they were both related to Abraham Berk (not transcribed correctly but worth a click to check). I know that name! It's my great-uncle, the brother of my grandpa Isaac. Never before had I known where Abraham lived or the names of his children, and suddenly that entire line opened up to me. Even better, there were living cousins who I soon traced and now am in contact with.

So my duh led to discovering an entire limb of my father's family tree. From duh to WOW!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Tracing the Berk/Burk/Burke/Birk Brothers

Grandpa Isaac Burk and Great-uncle Abraham Berk were brothers born in "Gorst, Kovna, Russia" (actually Gargždai in Kovno, Lithuania--inside the Pale of Settlement).

Both trained as carpenters before heading to the West around 1900, probably to escape harsh restrictions on Jews and to avoid extended military service.

The record at right, documenting Abraham's border crossing between Canada and the US, shows that he (and his wife Annie) visited Isaac in New York in February, 1919. Isaac's address of 1642 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan is familiar to me from US and NY census records. Isaac, his wife Henrietta Mahler Burk, and their four children (including my Dad, then only a lad) all lived in this apartment building from about 1918 to 1925.

At left, attached to Abraham's border-crossing record is an "alien certificate" allowing him entry into the US and describing his appearance as 5 ft, 1 inch, 125 lbs, brown eyes, grey hair (bald).

I'm even more excited that Grandpa Isaac's Social Security Application Index record recently appeared on Ancestry. I didn't even know he'd applied, but the index has his correct death date and name, and it includes his SS number. Of course I just mailed off my request for his original application documents, which should show his (and brother Abraham's) parents' names, their place of birth, and more. With luck, I'll have the records before New Year's and be able to trace the brothers in even more detail!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Who Cares About Aunts, Uncles, Distant Cousins, and In-Laws? Me!

When you have an entire pedigree line to research, who cares about aunts and grand aunts, uncles and grand uncles, let alone distant cousins and in-laws?
Ladies in white hat and dark hat turned out to be Farkas cousins!

All those seemingly peripheral ancestors may be fascinating people, in fact, and learning about them is helping me understand and trace my family's history in a deeper and more nuanced way. Just as important, "researching sideways" has led to some wonderful cousin connections and even a few breakthroughs. These folks may not be in my direct line, but they knew people in my direct line and have stories/memories/photos that illuminate my family history.

This topic came up because of my recent post about the Yanpolski family. The patriarch of that family, Lazar Yanpolski, was the husband of my great-grand aunt (by marriage) Miriam Chazan. One of the Yanpolski researchers asked why I was so interested in such a distant connection. Here's why:
  • Many old-world families were quite close-knit--especially those from small towns, where there were many marriages within the town and therefore multiple connections between one family and another. This is the case with my Farkas family, I've discovered several times: a man from family A marries a woman from family B and later, the woman's brother or brother-in-law in family B marries into the husband's family A, etc. Also, there were multiple marriages as widows and widowers paired off to take care of children, as in my husband's Wood and McClure families. Therefore, I'm quite intrigued by both siblings and in-law connections, wondering whether there are more relationships within the extended family than I can see on the surface.
  • After family members left for America, some sent photos and/or letters to their family and friends in the old home town and elsewhere. These and related stories have been passed down in some families, even if the cousins don't know the name or fate of anyone or everyone. Using photos (sometimes with dates and/or inscriptions), it's possible to pin down or at least suggest who's related to whom. This was the case with my Chazan and Burk/Birk/Berk connections. 
  • One more reason: Who doesn't like to watch Who Do You Think You Are? and other genealogy shows? I always learn something I can apply in my own research--a technique, a resource, or a way of turning the situation on its head to find a new angle. Or, a way to understand the WHY of family movements--because the reasons aren't always clear to us many decades later. I want to understand what my ancestors thought and felt, not just what they did, where they moved, and when. 
The photo at top is a good example. I knew half of the people were Farkas aunts and uncles, but believed that the others were "friends of the family." Wrong: after a lot of investigation (and lots of help from a dear cousin with a super memory) it turned out two of the ladies were actually cousins of my Farkas family. I was able to prove the connections by looking at the marriage documents and following the in-law movements, since the women's maiden names weren't readily available or known by descendants today.

The result is that I'm now in touch with a wonderful circle of cousins, including one whose mother had this very photo on her bureau for decades. Distant cousins, maybe, but they played a pivotal role in the family tree--and they have stories and memories that have added to my knowledge of my ancestors.

So who cares about aunts/uncles, cousins, and in-laws?!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over, Week 9: My Aha Moment While Digitizing Daisy's Album


Sometimes the first time I see a document or photo, I don't understand what I'm seeing. But later, with more info or more context, the fog clears and it becomes clear why that photo or letter is important.

This photo is a case in point. I'm organizing, inventorying, and digitizing old family photos as part of week 9 of the do-over process. And I had an aha! moment just today.

This photo is in an album started by my Mom, Daisy Schwartz, after she became engaged to marry my Dad, Harry Burk. In July, 1947, the newly-married couple took a trip to Montreal, returning with more than a dozen black-and-white photos of people and places.

Years ago, when I originally saw this photo in Mom's album, I didn't know the significance of the caption: "Cuthbert St. - Montreal."

But since I learned last year that Dad had an Uncle Abraham, Aunt Anna, and four first cousins in Montreal, photos from this trip took on new meaning.

In researching Aunt Anna, I recently located her 1948 obituary, which mentions that her oldest son lived on Cuthbert Street in Montreal. Aha! That little detail puts the significance of this photo and its caption in a new light.

Thanks to the do-over, I'm finding more connections between people, places, and events that I didn't originally know were connected!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over, Week 3: Who the Heck Is That? (Photos and Labels)

I'm inventorying each box of documents for the Do-Over. That means listing contents, labeling who's who, and putting items into archival sleeves with identification on the outside.

After inventory, I'll know what I have so I can do research in the next phase of the Do-Over.

Yesterday I began on the Burk box, my father's family, and included was this photo of three people and a piglet. Only last year, I connected with my second cousin in Montreal and she quickly identified the mystery man at right as her father, Dad's first cousin.

Colleen of the wonderful Leaves & Branches gen blog asked how I label photos. After investigating and experimenting, I decided to:
  1. Scan (at 300 dpi or higher) and then put each photo (or small group of related photos) in its own sleeve or archival bag. 
  2. Type up a detailed explanation, including names and relationships, date, place, and any other specifics I've learned about the photo.
  3. Put the explanation on the outside of the photo sleeve so the paper doesn't touch the photo. Above, a photo of how I tucked it in and taped it to the reverse of the archival bag holding the actual photo.
  4. Inventory and then file all photos/explanations in an archival box, arranged by surname.

Friday, September 12, 2014

52 Ancestors #37: Annie Horwitch, Manchester to Montreal After Marriage


My grand-uncle Abraham Birk/Burke (1878-1962) was born in Telsiai, Lithuania; married in Manchester, England; and died in Montreal, Canada.

Abraham's bride, who became my grand-aunt, was Annie Horwitch (or Horowitz). She's listed in their marriage record as "Annie Hurwitch" of Cheetham, Manchester, England, daughter of a teacher, Moses Hurwitch.

When Annie was 19, her Russian-born father Moses completed the naturalization process and was given UK citizenship. (Happily, the UK documents also give Moses's parents' names!)

Annie's courtship came about because Abraham and his younger brother Isaac (hi grandpa!) Birk had left Lithuania and were living with their uncle and aunt in Manchester for a time. The brothers worked, saved money, learned a little English, and planned for a future in North America.

The uncle in Manchester was Isaac Chazan (one of the witnesses to Annie's marriage). The aunt, who was very probably the blood relative, was Ann Hinda (Hannah) Chazan. Her maiden name was either Meton or Mahler. (The UK records say "Meton" but a handwritten family tree says "Mahler." If it turns out to be Mahler, that means my grandparents Isaac and Henrietta were cousins in some way...maybe it was even an arranged marriage?!)

Anyway, Annie and Abraham married in Cheetham in June, 1903. A little more than a year later, they welcomed their first child--and Abraham soon sailed for Montreal to establish his carpentry business. In 1905, just weeks before Annie's second wedding anniversary, she and her infant daughter were reunited with Abraham in Montreal. They had four children in all and were together for nearly 45 years. Abraham outlived Annie and was a guest, along with his children, at my parents' wedding, standing in for his late brother Isaac who had died a few years earlier.



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Wordless (Almost) Wednesday: July 16, 1947

For years I wondered about this photo, dated July 16, 1947, taken in Montreal. Why were my newlywed parents (Harold Burk and Daisy Schwartz) in Montreal? Who was the young man on the right?

Now, 67 years later, I have some answers. It turns out that the young man is Dad's first cousin William, who lived in Montreal.

William was a son of Abraham Burke, while Harold was a son of Abraham's brother, Isaac Burk. (Sometimes their last name was spelled Berk.)

William was at my parents' 1946 wedding in New York City and months later, when Mom and Dad visited Montreal to see the Burke/Berk family, William took them to this fun restaurant. In fact, his daughter has this exact photo!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday's Faces from the Past: Why Isaac Berk Landed in New Brunswick

Sometimes ancestors zig-zag to their destinations.

That's the case with my Grandpa Isaac Berk (later Burk), a skilled cabinetmaker who sailed from Liverpool to Canada on November 24, 1903, via the S.S. Lake Erie. 

Isaac got off the ship on December 5th in Saint John, New Brunswick.

 As the map shows, that's a LONG way from Montreal or New York, where he later lived--major metro centers where he could easily find work as a cabinetmaker.

Henrietta Mahler Burk & Isaac Burk, 1937
And, in fact, Isaac's trail next shows up in 1904, when he crossed the border into Vermont, on a train enroute from Montreal to New York City, where his sister Nellie (or Nella) lived.

So why did Grandpa land at Saint John instead of continuing further into Canada?

Thanks to a phone call from my Canadian 2d cousin, the granddaughter of my great-uncle Abraham Burke, I now know the answer.

The family story is that Isaac got badly seasick and when the ship came into New Brunswick, he got off as quickly as he could!

Isaac never again sailed anywhere, as far as I know--he always took the train.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Those Places Thursday: Isaac Burk, Born in the Pale

Grandpa Isaac Burk (1882-1943) kept certain photos all his life and now, thanks to my first cousin who lent me the cache for scanning, I'm finding confirming clues to advance my research into that family's background.

Above, the photographic studio where a lady from Isaac's family back home was photographed. Thanks to Tracing the Tribe members, I have the translation: the photo studio was in Telsiai, Kovenskaya Gubernia - In other words, in Kovno (now Kaunas), Lithuania. Other documents from Isaac's immigration records say he was born in Gargzdai, Kovno, Lithuania.  

It appears that Isaac and his siblings were born in the Pale of Settlement and, while in their late teens and early twenties, four of them left to make new lives in the West, away from pogroms and Russian Army conscription.

As I wrote last week, Isaac and his brother Abraham went to Manchester, England, to stay with their uncle and aunt, Isaac and Hinda Chazan. Isaac left after a couple of years, bound for Canada and then the United States. Abraham married Annie Hurwitz and then continued to Canada, where he settled and sent for his family. Their sister Nellie and brother Myer were in New York City during the early 1900s, but I don't have more information than that...yet.

Although I don't know the exact relationship between the Burk/Birk/Berk family and the Chazan family, I plugged a name into my Ancestry tree and up popped a hint--someone else's family tree with the name in question. I wrote the tree owner and he wrote back, putting me in touch with my Chazan cousins. They not only know the Burk name, they remember my Uncle Sidney visiting Manchester and introducing them to bubble gum--and they have photos of him visiting there, as well. Plus they know some of their family visited the Abraham Berk family in Canada. Those brick walls keep crumbling!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Those Places Thursday: The Berk Boys in Cheetham--Manchester, England--in 1901

Thanks to an Ancestry hint, I just learned from the 1901 UK Census where grandpa Isaac Berk (aka Burk), age 20, was living with his brother, Abraham Berk (age 23) and the family of their uncle and aunt, Isaac Chazan (age 38) and Ann Hindy Chazan (age 37). Others in the household included: Isaac and Ann's children Sarah, age 14, a cigaret maker; Myer, age 13; Simon, age 8; and Rachel, age 2.


The Chazan's home address was 154 Waterloo Road in Cheetham, Prestwich. This area is just north of Manchester, England.

Isaac Chazan's occupation is "furniture dealer, own account." In other words, we have yet another entrepreneur in the family. He too was from "Russia" (the Berk boys were from Lithuania) and Isaac Chazan was naturalized (I've seen his papers). A furniture dealer with two skilled cabinet makers living in his home!

Now I'll have to determine whether Isaac Chazan or Ann (Meton) Chazan was the actual relative of Abraham and Isaac Berk.*

So happy to be connected with my Chazan cousins!

*update: Most likely, my grandpa was related to Ann (Hinda) Mitav Chazan.