Genealogy Go-Over, I've smashed brick walls because of something that was in the possession of a cousin--a letter/envelope, an address book, a photo, a funeral notice--that pointed me in the direction of solving the mystery.
Today's "free or fee" tip is a reminder to ask siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles (plus, of course, grandparents, if they're alive!) to look for photos and documents. Something as seemingly insignificant as an address book or a letter in an envelope can be an incredible source of information to confirm a name or reveal a relationship. Even if we've asked before, we should ask again.
For example, Mom's address book (unearthed barely a week ago) has proven to be an absolute gold mine of clues to
elusive ancestors. It turned up in a box in the attic of a relative, filed with
lots of other things from decades ago. This address book was one of two clues I used yesterday to demolish yet another brick wall in my father's Burk family.
A Burk cousin very kindly let me see a handwritten letter to his mother from "Aunt Jenny Salkowitz" in Lakeland, Florida. Wait, the name and return address looked familiar. Yes, they matched a name and address in Mom's address book. So who, exactly, were Aunt Jenny and her husband Paul?
Five years ago, I noticed a "Jenny Birk" living with Grandpa Isaac Burk's in-laws in the 1910 Census. After that, no trace of her. Now I suspected that "Aunt Jenny" was actually Jenny Burk or Birk, sister to my Grandpa Isaac Burk. How to prove it?
Using the Census, I found Jenny and Paul Salkowitz in New York City from 1920 through 1940. At one point, this couple was living in the same apartment building as Isaac Burk's in-laws--the same building where "Jenny Birk" lived as a boarder in 1910! So far, so good.
What about Jenny Salkowitz's maiden name? I tried the free ItalianGen.org site, and there I found "Jenie Burk" in the bride's index for 1919. Clicking to see the groom's name, I found "Paul Salkofsky." Names were close enough, and the marriage year fit what they told the Census takers. (Remember, we have to be creative and flexible about names and dates when searching.)
I plugged this info into Family Search, and up popped a transcribed summary of their marriage record, showing that Jennie Burk's father was Elias Burk (the name of Isaac Burk's father). Quicker than you can say, "Jackpot," I sent $15 to the NYC Municipal Archives to request the three-page marriage application, affidavit, and license with much more detail.
So the proof will cost me $15 but the rest of the research was free--and it all began with Mom's address book and a letter held by my cousin for more than 50 years. The clues were in family hands all along! I just needed to get the clues into my hands.
This is part of my ongoing series, Genealogy, Free or Fee. Links to other entries are here.
- Wm Tyler Bentley's story
- Abraham & Annie Berk's Story
- Isaac & Henrietta Birk's story
- Mary A. Demarest's story
- Farkas & Kunstler Families
- Rachel & Jonah Jacobs' story
- Robert & Mary Larimer's story
- Meyer & Tillie Mahler's story
- Halbert McClure from Donegal
- Wood family of Ohio
- McKibbin & Larimer
- Schwartz family, Ungvar
- John & Mary Slatter's story
- Steiner & Rinehart story
- Genealogy--Free or Fee?
- My Genealogy Presentations
- Sample Templates
Monday, May 22, 2017
Sunday, December 3, 2017
Here's the story, starting with the mystery of the 1910 Census. Some members of my Mahler family were living in New York City along with a "boarder," Jennie Birk. Now the reason this caught my eye is that Henrietta Mahler (my paternal grandma) had married Isaac Burk (my paternal grandpa) only a few years earlier. The year before their marriage, the 1905 Census showed Isaac and his brother Meyer living with the Mahler family in their NYC apartment, as "boarders." So the mystery was--did Jennie Birk have a family connection to my grandparents?
In May, Sis found Mom's old address book, and my paternal cousin found letters to/from his Mom, as shown above. I'd never heard of an "Aunt Jennie" in my Dad's family, and yet Dad's sister was writing to her "Aunt Jenny" in 1962. Mom's address book showed the same people (on the same street in Lakeland, Florida) in the early 1960s.
My next step was to research the NYC marriages on Italiangen.org, where I found that Jennie Burk had married Paul Salkofsky. Another few minutes of research revealed that Paul Salkofsky was naturalized as Paul Salkowitz. In other words, the address book and the letters had led me to my grandpa's sister, Jennie Birk Salkowitz.
Remember brother Meyer? He had been a "boarder" with the Mahler family when my grandpa Isaac was also a "boarder," the year before marrying a Mahler daughter. I eventually discovered that Meyer's surname was Berg and, as a result, I was able to trace Meyer's grandchildren.
Sis and I have met one of Meyer Berg's granddaughters and we've been sharing photos and family stories for months. What a great genealogical breakthrough for 2017!
Sunday, June 3, 2012
|1905 NY Census|
Over and over, I've tried to figure out how they met. He was a carpenter from Russia (now Lithuania), she was the Latvian-born daughter of a tailor.
Now the 1905 New York State Census has provided a very tantalizing clue: two "Burke" brothers living as boarders with Henrietta's family (father Meyer, mother Tillie, and siblings) in an apartment in Manhattan. Do the math: That's 11 people in what was certainly no more than a 3-bedroom apartment, if they were lucky.
One boarder was Meyer Burke [sic], a cutter from Russia who had arrived in the US 2 years earlier. His age seems to be 20. There's a good chance that this Meyer was working with Meyer Mahler, and boarding with him for convenience.
The other boarder was Isidore Burke [sic], a carpenter from Russia, 23 years old, who had arrived in the US only 1 year earlier. Wanna bet this was Meyer's brother?
My grandfather Isaac Burk was a carpenter. He came to the US in 1904, having first stopped off in New Brunswick, Canada on December 5, 1903, following a 12-day trans-Atlantic trip from Liverpool on the S. S. Lake Erie.
Now to hunt down Meyer and Jennie Burk/Birk/Berk/Burke and try to find out more!
Saturday, January 20, 2018
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.
Sunday, August 6, 2017
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)
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, October 23, 2017
|Nellie Block (middle), Jennie Birk Salkowitz (right), and a brother (which one?)|
McClure/Wood ABC surnames:
- A is for Adams
- A is for Allen
- A is for Allerton
- A is for Auld
- A is for Austin
- B is for Baker
- B is for Bentley
- B is for Bradford
- B is for Brown
- C is for Caldwell
- C is for Carsten
- C is for Cloud
- C is for Coble
- C is for Cook
- C is for Coombs
- C is for Cornwell
- C is for Cragg
- C is for Curtis
- C is for Cushman
- A is for Ash
- B is for Berg/Berk/Birk/Burk/Burke/Block/Bloch
- B is for Berkman
- B is for Blauman
- B is for Bourstein
- B is for Burack
- C is for Caplan
- C is for Casson
- C is for Chazan
- C is for Cherry
- C is for Claman
- C is for Cohn
- A is for Adelman
- A is for Agata
- C is for Cohen
Friday, October 6, 2017
Above left, a photo of part of the mess I inherited. My parents left cardboard boxes of papers jumbled together with photos and movies and other stuff. On the right, what I'm bequeathing to my genealogy heirs: Photos and original documents organized by surname and family, in archival boxes for safekeeping.
I especially wanted to protect certain artifacts in archival boxes, including:
- The college scrapbook of my late father-in-law, Edgar James Wood (1903-1986), which is 90 years old but still in good shape;
- The 1946 wedding album of my parents, Daisy Schwartz (1919-1981) and Harold Burk (1909-1978), which was deteriorating;
- The 1916 wedding portrait from my great uncle Alex Farkas (1885-1948) and Jennie Katz (1886-1974), which includes my maternal grandparents among the family members pictured.
Remember, you have to put your instructions into a written "genealogical will" so the next generation knows what you have, where your collection is located, and why it's important to save the family's history.
The NUMBER ONE thing we can all do is to put captions on our old photos. If we do nothing else, this will at least help future generations know who's who and how each person is related. Mystery photos might get tossed out, but not identified photos.
Monday, July 17, 2017
|Great aunt Nellie Block, late 1940s|
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?