Showing posts with label Lithuania. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lithuania. Show all posts

Friday, September 8, 2017

Grandparents Day Challenge: What Surprised Me

Thank you to Dianne Nolin (author of the Beyond the BMD blog) for suggesting the Grandparents Day Challenge for September 10th. My interpretation of this challenge is to write one surprising thing I discovered about each grandparent through genealogical research.
Henrietta Mahler Berk (later Burk) and children listed on 1915 border crossing, Canada to US
  • Henrietta Mahler Burk (1881-1954), my paternal grandma, crossed the border to and from Canada several times with her children as her husband sought carpentry work. The last time was in March, 1915, when she shepherded her four young children back to New York City (ranging in age from 8 years old to 10 months). I was surprised by all this travel while the kids (including my father) were so young. This constant travel helps explain why the family was so close that in later years, three of the four adult children lived in the same apartment building as Henrietta after she was widowed. Saying hello to my Mahler cousins!
  • Isaac Burk (1882-1943), my paternal grandpa, was a bit of a mystery. It took me a long time to learn where and when he died--and then I was surprised to learn the sad news that he had a fatal heart attack in Washington, D.C., while visiting his sister and brother-in-law. That wasn't the only surprise I uncovered through research. Although I knew Isaac was born in Lithuania, I discovered that he stayed with an aunt and uncle in Manchester, England before continuing his journey to North America. I visited my British cousins last year, and DNA testing confirms the connection--greetings, cousins!
  • Hermina Farkas Schwartz (1886-1964) was my maternal grandma. I wasn't aware that her father and then her mother came to America first, leaving Minnie and the other children behind with family in Hungary. Minnie sailed to NYC at age 11 on the S.S. Amsterdam, with her older brother (age 13) and two younger siblings (aged 8 and 5). Imagine being so young and responsible for a lengthy trans-Atlantic voyage with two youngsters. Luckily, the Farkas Family Tree had regular meetings, so as I grew up, I got to know Minnie's siblings and their children and grandchildren. Hi to my Farkas cousins!
  • Theodore Schwartz (1887-1965) was my maternal grandpa. It was a surprise finding out that Grandpa Teddy, who ran a dairy store, was robbed of $50 at gunpoint during the Depression. Also, I didn't know that Teddy was a mover and shaker in the Kossuth Ferencz Hungarian Literary Sick and Benevolent Society, which raised money for charity and helped its members pay medical and funeral bills. Now I'm in touch with several cousins from the Schwartz family--saying hello to you, cousins!


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.

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.

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, March 7, 2015

Surname Saturday: GGGM Rachel Jacobs and the Plungianer Unterstutzungs Verein

Finally, I've located where in Lithuania my great-great-grandma Rachel Shuham Jacobs (1840s-1915) came from and where in NYC she spent her last days.

Both Rachel's early years and her whereabouts after the 1905 NY Census have been mostly a mystery. In 1905, Rachel was living at 88 Chrystie Street with her daughter, Tillie Jacobs Mahler (and her son Joseph lived in the same tenement).

The only clues to her death (and those of her son) were dates listed in my great aunt's notebook. Alas, those dates weren't exactly correct, as I learned by plugging them into various sites (including the usual suspects like Ancestry, ItalianGen.org, Family Search, and Findagrave).

As part of the Genealogy Do-Over, I tried not only different spellings (Jacob/Jacobs, Rachel/Rachael, etc.) but also different years of death, sometimes using the same month as my great aunt listed.
Rachel Shuham Jacobs with a Mahler granddaughter

Findagrave came up with a hit for Rachel Jacobs in Mount Zion Cemetery in Queens, NY, with a burial date that was only one year off from the family notebook

Happily for me and other genealogy researchers, the cemetery has a handy-dandy interment search linked from its home page. And that's where I located GGGM Rachel, buried in the Plungianer Unterstutzungs Verein [translation: Plungianer Support Club] plot. She's there along with her son Joseph Jacobs (d. 1918), daughter-in-law Eva Michalovsky Jacobs (d. 1941), and granddaughter Flora Jacobs (aka Florence, d. 1923).

Now it seems clear that GGGM Rachel was born or  brought up in the Plungian district of Telz, Lithuania, close to the border with Poland. That area had a Jewish population of nearly 2,200 when she was born in the 1840s, according to the informative Lithuanian Jewish Communities. We have other evidence linking Rachel and family to Lithuania, just nothing that gives us a specific town.

Of course I called the cemetery and received scans of the burial cards, which gave me exact dates and, in some cases, death cert numbers for the Jacobs family. Rachel's card says that her last address was 47 Allen Street in Manhattan, a now-gone tenement on the Lower East Side (see map at top). This is only 3 blocks from her Chrystie Street address in 1905, also on the Lower East Side.

Next, I ordered the death certs on microfilms from the Family History Center. Before the month of March is over, I should know more about my Jacobs ancestors, thanks to New York's vital records. And when the snow finally melts, I'll have photos of the Jacobs headstones!

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!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Seeking Isaac Burk's Family

One of my research priorities this year is to find out more about the family of Harold Burk's father, my paternal grandfather, Isaac Burk (1882?-1943). Above is Harold (my father), when he was in his 20s, looking impossibly young!

Did Isaac have siblings? Who was his mother? His father was Elias Burk, according to one record I found. Did my father hear stories about his father's childhood in the old country (Lithuania)? What did Dad think about and dream about when he was young? What did Isaac expect when he came to NYC?