Showing posts with label Birk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Birk. Show all posts

Thursday, April 4, 2019

From Gargzdai to Rotterdam to Ellis Island

My great uncle Meyer Berg (1883-1981), left his home in Gargzdai, Lithuania in the spring of 1903 and sailed from Rotterdam to New York City on the S.S. Ryndam, shown above in 1919.

Also known as the S.S. Rinjdam, this Holland-America ship launched in 1901, equipped to carry a few hundred first-class passengers, a few hundred second-class passengers, and 1,800 third-class passengers.

The S.S. Ryndam had a varied career, serving in trans-Atlantic transport convoys during WWI before returning to mercantile shipping until it was scrapped in 1929.

Two Brothers, Same Port, Same Ship

The May 16, 1903 crossing of the S.S. Ryndam from Rotterdam to New York City included my great uncle Meyer. According to the manifest, his passage to America was paid by his sister, who picked him up at Ellis Island. It has to be his older sister Nellie Block, since she was the only sister in New York at the time.

In 1906, Meyer's younger brother Max (Matel) Berk sailed from the same port, on the same ship, arriving on July 9th. Max was picked up by his brother (my future paternal Grandpa) Isaac Burk, who also paid for his passage, according to the manifest.

It makes me feel good to read these notations showing how family helped family to build a better future by coming to America, one or two siblings at a time.

Port Choices

Rotterdam (circle) and Gargzdai (red marker)
Notice from the map that Gargzdai is close to the Baltic Sea, at the far Western end of Lithuania. Meanwhile, Rotterdam is quite a distance southwest (see circle).

Yet these two immigrant ancestors, both brothers of my paternal Grandpa, choose Rotterdam as their port of departure.

On the other hand, Hamburg was the port of choice for Max and Meyer's brother-in-law.

Their sister, Jennie Birk (1890-1972), married Paul Salkowitz (1889-1957), a man born in Memel, in the KlaipÄ—da Region that has been both Lithuania and Germany. Paul sailed from Hamburg in August, 1911. Hamburg, not Rotterdam.

I keep thinking about these port choices, in the context of the steamship lines' marketing to potential immigrants in Europe, as well as whether these immigrants left their hometowns legally. Always something to think about with #genealogy!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Whoa, Nellie! Oh, Henry! Researching My Great Aunt

Center, Nellie Block. Right, Jennie Birk. Left: Which brother?
My great aunt Nellie Block was the oldest sister of paternal Grandpa Isaac Burk. She's the lady in the center of this undated photo. From the meager paperwork I've assembled, she may possibly have come to America from their hometown of Gargzdai, Lithuania, before her other siblings made the journey.

I haven't yet found her on a passenger manifest, so I can't confirm exactly when she crossed the Atlantic. She didn't travel with her brother Meyer Berg, who arrived in May, 1903, or her brother Max Birk, who arrived in 1906. She didn't travel with my Grandpa Isaac or his older brother Abraham, who both went to Canada first. She didn't travel with younger sister Jennie, who arrived in 1909. In each case, I found these siblings on the manifest without her, seeming to be alone in their trans-Atlantic crossing.

Here's what I do know. When my Grandpa sailed to Canada and later crossed into America in 1904, he listed "Sister Nella Block" as the nearest relative he was going to meet in New York City. At that time, the address for Nellie was the apartment where the Mahler family lived--their daughter Henrietta Mahler became the bride of Isaac Burk in 1906. So it seems there was a previous family connection between the Burk and Mahler families. (That connection continued, clearly, because Jennie was a boarder in the Mahler apartment in the 1910 census. More about that in a later post.)

Whoa, Nellie! Check That Date

Nellie Block's gravestone shows her Hebrew name as "Neshi, daughter of Solomon." (This tallies with what I know of the father's name.) It also shows her as 85 years of age when she died. Date carved in stone? Not necessarily correct.

Here's what two Census documents say:

  • 1905 New York Census, age 27 (census taken in June)
  • 1910 US Census, age 31 (census taken in April)

I am actively searching for her in the 1915 NY Census, 1920 US Census, 1930 Census, or 1940 Census, using variations on her name, because I am 99% positive she remained in New York City.

Based on what I have in hand, I believe she was born in 1879 and was actually 71 (not 85) when she died on December 22, 1950. Why the family would have her age as 85 is a mystery.

Oh, Henry! Where Nellie Lived

Two Census documents show Nellie lived as a boarder in tenements on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where so many other immigrants began their new lives. Her address in 1905 was 62 Henry Street, a tenement building that no longer exists, where she was a boarder in someone else's apartment. Her address in 1910 was 46 Henry Street, boarding in a tenement just a one-minute walk from her previous address, as shown in the map above.

That area has been going through a resurgence; I found an article here about what Henry Street used to be like a century ago.

Oh Henry! was the name of a popular candy bar introduced about 100 years ago and still on the market today. Whether Nellie ever tasted one, I have no idea. It would be so sweet to learn more about Great Aunt Nellie!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Grandpa's Siblings: Researching Holes in Their Stories

My paternal grandfather, Isaac Burk (1882-1943), was born in Gargzdai, Lithuania, and had at least five siblings. Based on old photos in the family, there was probably a much younger brother who remained in Lithuania when Isaac and his siblings Max, Jennie, Meyer, and Nellie came to America and older brother Abraham came to Canada.

As part of my genealogy go-over, I'm reviewing the holes in their stories and doing more research to fill in. Today, I'm looking at Max (originally Matel) Birk (1892-1953), the youngest of siblings who left Lithuania.

Burke, Berk, Burk, Birk, Berg, Block

Grandpa Isaac (who died long before I was born) spelled his surname Burk. The other siblings went by variations: Abraham went by Burke or Berk, Max went by Birk, Meyer went by Berg, Nellie went by Block, and Jennie went by Birk. No wonder genealogists go a little batty. Yes, I know these fit the Soundex category for Burk, but I also have to spell creatively where Soundex isn't an option.

The Search Is On!

The July, 1906 passenger list for the S.S. Ryndam out of Rotterdam shows Max being met by his brother Isaac Burk (my grandpa) in New York City. That's where the paper trail evaporates for a while.

I already found Max's WWI draft registration form, shown at top. He was a jeweler in Chicago in 1917, living at 3525 W. 12 St. He was naturalized in Chicago in 1923, I know from his naturalization papers, and then living at 3525 Roosevelt Dr.

But when did Max arrive in Chicago? When did he return to New York City, where he was married in 1936? The search is on for the missing years. So far, no luck finding Max in New York City directories, but that's another avenue I'll pursue shortly.

Census and City Directories

After no luck finding Max/Matel in the US Census for 1910 and 1920 (in Family Search and in Ancestry, plus Heritage Quest as well), I struck out looking for Max in the 1905 and 1915 New York State Census. These searches were via indexing, so shortly I'll try browsing the Census near where his siblings lived in NYC during those Census periods. He may have been mis-indexed and only by browsing will I find him, if he's in NY.

Heritage Quest has lots of city directories, but not from Chicago. That's why I used my Connecticut State Library card for remote access to Fold3 for free, from home, to look at Chicago city directories for the early 1900s. 

I found Max in the 1923 Chicago directory, a jeweler, right where he should be in the listings for Birk (see below), at the same address as on his naturalization papers. He's not in the 1915-6-7 Chicago directories, however. I'm still looking in the Chicago directories via Ancestry for a variation on Max's surname.

Max was living in Chicago in 1920, at 2525 W. 12th Street, according to his naturalization papers. My next step is to browse the 1920 census for Chicago in that area, and to look for additional Chicago directories from the 1920s to see when he stops appearing. UPDATE: Browsing Census images on HeritageQuest is going to take time, since the address could be in one of several wards.  I made a note of EDs and wards so I can stop and pick up in the same place along the way.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Paula & Etel Schwartz in Ungvar, Hungary
On this day of remembrance, I want to show photos of some ancestors of blessed memory who died in the Holocaust.

Schwartz Ancestors Died

Above, Etel and Paula Schwartz, two sisters of my maternal Grandpa Tivador (Teddy) Schwartz (1887-1965). Grandpa came to America from Ungvar, Hungary as a teenager and soon brought over one older brother (Sam/Simon Schwartz). Together, the brothers brought over a younger sister (Mary Schwartz).

Alas, their siblings all remained in Hungary, including Etel and Paula, and were killed in the Holocaust. This confirmation comes from Paula's daughter, who lived through the Holocaust and recorded testimony of their early life and harrowing, horrifying wartime experiences.

A Burk ancestor
who lived in Gargzdai, Lithuania

Looking for Birk Ancestors 

Above is a photo of a young man I believe to be the youngest brother of my paternal Grandpa Isaac Burk (1882?-1943). Around 1900, Isaac and his older brother Abraham left for Manchester, England, to stay with relatives and then continue to North America. Their sisters Nellie Block and Jennie Birk, along with brother Motel (Max) Birk, also came to the United States.

It seems this younger brother stayed behind at home in Gargzdai, Lithuania, and most likely he and/or his descendants were killed in the Holocaust. So far, I've found no proof, or even a hint of his whereabouts after his siblings left, but I'll keep looking.

It is my honor to keep their memories alive for future generations. Never forget.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

My Year in Genealogy - 2018

Time to look back at 2018, an exciting and also a satisfying year for genealogy.

One of the high points was attending RootsTech 2018 and meeting so many of my genealogy blogging friends in person! (I'm in the center of the front row in this photo, wearing a white sweater.) It was a joy to say hello and chat with you, genea-folks. Also I attended the New York State Family History Conference, learning from experts and enjoying the company of genealogy friends from around the northeast.

I came away from both conferences with new ideas and new techniques to add to my momentum. Leaving RootsTech, I crammed into my suitcase specially-priced DNA kits, a new genealogy T-shirt and socks, and several of Nathan Dylan Goodwin's genealogy mysteries. Joining VGA, I learned a lot from watching webinars and lurking in VGA discussions.

Alas, not a single family history breakthrough during a day's research at the fabulous Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Still, ruling things out counts as some progress in the Wood, Steiner, Rinehart, and Burk/Birk trees.

Another high point was hearing from a second cousin who had a set of "missing" monthly minutes and letters related to my mother's Farkas Family Tree. These were all from the WWII period, and were long thought to be gone. Receiving these to scan and index was a gift beyond measure.

Now my Farkas cousins and I have documents spanning the entire life of the family tree association, 1933-1964. I'm still integrating the index from the 1940s into the index for the complete set of minutes, with completion scheduled for very early 2019. Work on the Farkas family tree (including collaborating with cousins who helped identify all ancestors/relatives in large family portraits) was a very satisfying way to end the year.

During 2018, a sad discovery: the early death of a boy born into my Mahler family, a child who was previously not known to me or any of my cousins. And a happy gift: the full anniversary booklet of the Kossuth Society, a group in which my Farkas and Schwartz ancestors were active. Their photos are in the booklet!

In my husband's family, I finally learned the truth about the long-standing mystery surrounding his grandfather Wood's divorce from wife #2. Also I gained a deeper understanding of the poverty endured by his Slatter and Shehen ancestors, using the Charles Booth maps of poor areas in London. Through contact with a Gershwin expert, I received a detailed news clipping that explained the background behind a prize-winning song written by my late father-in-law Wood.



Another exciting moment was when my book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Pastwent to number one on the Kindle genealogy best-seller list in the middle of June!

This year, I made 15 genealogy presentations and led two hands-on workshops, with my husband, about writing family history.

Next year, I'm thrilled to be leading two sessions and participating in a panel discussion at Family Tree Live in London, April 26-27.

Quite a year in genealogy. Yet I didn't actually accomplish all I planned to do when 2018 began. More in my next post!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Two Beards and a Mystery

This week's challenge in the #52Ancestors series is "bearded." I have two bearded ancestors in old family photos. One is positively identified, one is a bit of a mystery.

Above, my bearded great-grandfather Herman Yehuda Schwartz (b. 1850s?- d. in 1920s). Herman was married to my great-grandma Hani Simonowitz (1860s-1930ish). They raised their family in Ungvar, Hungary (now Uzhhorod, Ukraine), a bustling market town back in the day that is now a regional administrative center. Herman and Hani were the parents of my maternal grandfather, Tivador Schwartz (1887-1965).

The wonderful photo of Herman came directly from my 2d cousin on that side of the family. Although I wish I had more specific info, at least Herman has been positively identified by his granddaughter, who treasured this photo as a link to the past.

Now for the mystery man with the beard. The photo shown here and a similar photo have been in the hands of my father's Burk family for decades. It is probably a photo of my great-grandfather Solomon Elias Birck (late 1850?-1900s?), the husband of Nekhe Gelle Shuham (1850s?-1900s?). They lived in Gargzdai, Lithuania, a town known by many names in many languages.

I know the names of these great-grandparents because my grandfather (Isaac Burk, 1882-1943) and his siblings listed their parents and/or hometown on various documents.

This mystery man with a beard bears a very close resemblance to my father and others in his family. That, plus the fact that my 2d cousin has an almost identical photo of this same man passed down in her part of the family, is why I believe it is Solomon Elias (or Elias Solomon, depending on the document).

Thanks to Amy Johnson Crow for the #52Ancestors prompt of beards.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Independence for Canadian and U.S. Ancestors

My husband's Slatter ancestors and my Burk/Burke/Berk ancestors both have strong ties to Canada and the United States. For Canada Day and the Fourth of July, both days celebrating independence, I'm summarizing their moves to these adopted home nations. And, of course, doing a little extra research in case new records have become available for these treasured ancestors. Note: Long post ahead!

HUBBY'S SLATTER ANCESTORS

Hubby's paternal great-grandfather was John Slatter (1838-1901), who married Mary Shehen (1837-1889) in Christ Church, Southwark, England, in 1859. John left London for Cleveland, Ohio, in 1888. That struck me as unusual, because his wife Mary died in 1889. Then I found out about her being confined in an asylum and...well, the light dawned.

Of the six children that John and Mary had together, three sons settled in Canada after the turn of the 20th century. They were the "Slatter bandmaster brothers" I've written about in the past. Two daughters settled in Ohio before the turn of the 20th century, following their father to that state. New career opportunities and new family lives awaited them as they left the past behind in England.
  • Albert William Slatter (1862-1935) was a distinguished military bandmaster trained in England who married Eleanor Marion Wilkinson (1865-?). He came to Canada in 1906, joined by his wife and six surviving children one year later. Albert long served as bandmaster of the 7th London (Ontario) Fusiliers, rising to the rank of Captain before his retirement.
  • John Daniel Slatter (1864-1954) became a world-renowned bandmaster who popularized the kiltie band. He was the first of his family to settle in Canada, in 1884. A few years after his 1887 marriage to Sophie Elizabeth Marie LeGallais (1862-1943) in Montreal, John moved his damily to Toronto and was the founding bandmaster of the 48th Highlanders Regiment of Toronto. That's Captain John Slatter pictured above, in full bandmaster regalia. He was, by all accounts, both kind and thoughtful.
  • Henry Arthur Slatter (1866-1942) was trained in  England and served in the military there before going to Vancouver with his wife, Alice Good (1864-1914). He became bandmaster of the 72d Seaforth Highlanders and soon enlisted to serve in WWI, despite being widowed with three children. After the war, he resumed his high-profile bandmaster role with the 72d Seaforth and was lauded for his leadership.
  • Adelaide Mary Ann Slatter (1868-1947) came to America after arriving in Quebec in 1895. She paid her own passage across the pond and told border authorities she was going to see her father, with $2.50 in her pocket. "Aunt Ada" (as she was known in the family) wound up marrying James Sills Baker in Toledo, OH. Her two grown daughters, Dorothy and Edith, later moved to Cleveland and were guests at the wedding of my sis-in-law.
  • Mary Slatter (1869-1926) was the baby of the Slatter family. She went from England to Toledo, Ohio in 1895, the same year as her sister Adelaide, and got married in 1898 to James Edgar Wood (1871-1939). By 1901, she and James had moved to Cleveland, where her father John Slatter was ailing (he died in her home that August). Mary had four sons with James and was a soothing and loving presence. Her unexpected death due to heart problems in 1925 was a terrible blow to her family.
MY BURK/BERK/BURKE/BERG ANCESTORS

My paternal great-grandfather was Solomon Elias Birck and paternal great-grandmother was Nekhe Gelle Shuham. To my knowledge, both were born and died in Lithuania (probably Gargzdai). I think they had seven children, of whom one remained in Lithuania (fate unknown) and the other six came to North America, seeking better lives and fleeing religious persecution.
  • Nellie "Neshi" Block (1865 or 1875?-1950) seems to have been the first in the family to arrive in North America, which surprised me. My grandpa Isaac said, on crossing from Canada to America in 1904, that he was going to see her in NYC. How Nellie got here, and when, I don't yet know. She was a fur operator, according to the Census, and the only Burk who never married.
  • Abraham Berk (1877-1962) and his brother Isaac left Lithuania and stayed in 1901 with an aunt and uncle in Manchester, learning English and earning money for the trans-Atlantic trip. A skilled cabinetmaker, Abraham married Anna Horwitch in Manchester, England, 117 years ago this month. He sailed to Montreal in 1902 while Anna remained behind to give birth to their first child. Abraham stood in as the patriarch of the Burk family when my father (his nephew) was married.
  • Isaac Burk (1882-1943) married Henrietta Mahler (1881-1954) in 1906. The photo at right shows them in 1936. I think their relatives in the old world knew each other, since Isaac and his brother Meyer "boarded" in the NYC apartment of Henrietta's family in 1905, and the surname "Shuham" is in both family trees. Isaac first went from Lithuania to Manchester, than to Canada, then crossed the border and took a train to New York. His sister Nellie was living in the same apartment building as the Mahler family. Isaac and family crossed from Canada to US numerous times before settling in the Bronx, NY. My quest to learn when and where my grandpa Isaac died started me in genealogy 20 years ago!
  • Meyer Berg (1883-1981) and his brother Isaac were "boarders" in the Mahler apartment, says the 1905 NY census. I learned more from Meyer's wonderful granddaughter, found via genealogy. In America, Meyer married Anna Peretz (1888-1981, maiden name might be Paris or Peris), and they had five children. One of Meyer's children was named Harold Berg, and he was the first cousin of my Dad, Harold Burk. Two Harolds in one generation, most likely named after the same dead ancestor, following Jewish naming traditions! Meyer died days after his 98th birthday.
  • Jennie "Shayna" Birk (1890-1972) was only a name in the Census, "boarding" in the Mahler apartment in 1910, until Meyer Berg's granddaughter told me more about her life. It looks like Jennie arrived in NYC from Lithuania in 1909 and worked in the garment industry. She married Paul Salkowitz (1889-1957) in 1919. They had no children together but were always loving and generous to their nieces and nephews. 
  • Matel "Max" Birk (1892-1953) was a complete mystery until recently. He arrived at Ellis Island in 1906, saying he was going to his brother Isaac Burk c/o M. Mahler (there's the Mahler family connection again). Tracked via the Census, Max was in the jewelry business, in Chicago and then in New York, where he married Rebecca Simon Chaiken (1897-1984) in 1936. They had no children but, like Jennie and Paul, were an affectionate aunt and uncle to their nieces and nephews.
Thanks, as always, to Amy Johnson Crow for this "independence" #52Ancestors prompt.

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.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Most Popular Genealogy Blog Pages in 2017

In 2017, the most popular page on my blog was the "ancestor landing page" devoted to hubby's 5th great-grandfather, Halbert McClure from Donegal. Also popular were the landing pages about the Larimer family, Schwartz family, Birk family, Bentley family, and Wood family of Ohio.

These landing pages summarize what I know about each main surname or family on my tree and my husband's tree, including links to my blog posts about those names/families written in more than 9 years of blogging. And yes, these pages are cousin bait that have brought me new connections over the years!

One other popular page was my Genealogy--Free or Fee page, with links to 17 posts I wrote about frugal research strategies and when it pays to pay for a document.

The other popular page features Sample Templates (for inventory, indexing, cousin connections, and genealogy sources) I invite you to try or adapt for your own genealogy purposes.

Happy ancestor hunting in 2018! More to come.

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)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Connecting with "New" Cousins in 2017

My biggest genealogical breakthrough of 2017 came from ephemera that had been hidden away until May. These two pieces of paper provided the clues that allowed me to connect with a whole new set of cousins on my father's side of the family.

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!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Blogiversary #9: Fewer Brickwalls, More DNA and Facebook Connections

What a year 2017 has been (and it's not over)! Nine years ago, when I first began blogging about my genealogy adventures, I knew the names of only four of the eleven people in this photo from my parents' wedding album. Earlier this year, thanks to Mom's address book and Cousin Ira's cache of letters, I smashed a brickwall blocking me from researching Grandpa Isaac Burk. Now I have a new set of friendly cousins and the names of all the people in this photo. And more info about my father's father's father, Elias Solomon Birk

This was DNA year for me. Thanks to "known" cousins on both sides of the family who kindly agreed to test, I have a lot more "probable" cousins (we're still investigating our connections). It was especially helpful and motivating to meet DNA experts at the IAJGS, where I gave my talk on Planning a Future for Your Family's Past. I also attended DNA sessions at NERGC, where I spoke on the same "planning a future" topic. (For a calendar of my upcoming presentations, please see the masthead tab above.)
Future genealogy: Using a pinhole viewer on Eclipse Day

This year will go down in American history for the unique solar eclipse that swept the nation . . . for my genealogical journey, it will be remembered as the year I created detailed family memory booklets for my husband's Wood-Slatter tree and his McClure-Steiner tree. (For sample pages, see my blog post here.)

My Facebook genealogy persona Benjamin McClure (memorialized on family T-shirts) has had a wonderful time making new genealogy friends and both posting questions and answering queries. Benji is also active on Pinterest. I really appreciate how many people are very generous with their knowledge and take the time to help solve family history mysteries via social media!

Plus I got to meet many genealogy bloggers in person at conferences this year. It was wonderful to say hello and get acquainted without a keyboard for a change.

Thank you to my relatives and readers for checking out my posts, leaving comments, and sharing ideas. Looking forward to Blogiversary #10 next year!

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.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Max Birk Arrived 111 Years Ago Today

My great uncle Max (Motel) Birk (1891?-1953) arrived at New York City aboard the SS Ryndam exactly 111 years ago, on July 9, 1906. Born in Kovno, Max was one of four brothers and two sisters who came to America.

I just found Max in the passenger manifest, arriving at the Port of New York from Rotterdam via the S.S. Ryndam. It took a bit of creative searching because the transcription showed his surname as "Brik" rather than "Birk." But knowing the date and name of ship was a big help! Also, Soundex is our friend. If possible, try Soundex searching (note the "620" on the naturalization index card above--the Soundex code for the category that "Birk" fits).

Max told authorities that he was 16 (his math was off), he was a butcher (not an occupation he pursued in America), and he had $1.50 in his pocket.

Most important: Max was being met by his brother "I. Burk" (my grandpa Isaac), c/o "M. Mahler" (my great-grandpa Meyer Mahler).

Max arrived only one month after his brother Isaac married Henrietta Mahler on June 10, 1906. Sounds like Isaac Burk and his bride didn't yet have their own place and remained with her father for a little while after the wedding--along with Max, possibly.
 
Years later, Max's naturalization papers from Chicago listed two witnesses, including a "Moses Kite." This was intriguing, because one of my DNA matches on Gedmatch.com is a member of the Kite family. Could this be a clue to a cousin connection?

I checked with this gentleman, who told me that Moses Kite worked at city hall in an administrative capacity and was probably a witness because he was on the spot, not because he was a cousin.

Welcome, great uncle Max.

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.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Remembering the Dads on Father's Day

For Father's Day, I want to remember, with love, some of the Dads on both sides of the family.

My husband's Dad was Edgar James Wood (1903-1986) and his Mom was Marian McClure (1909-1983). My late father-in-law is shown in the color photo below, arm and arm with my hubby on our wedding day!

Edgar's father was James Edgar Wood (1871-1939), shown below right, who married Mary Slatter (1869-1925). And James's father was Thomas Haskell Wood (1809-1890), who married Mary Amanda Demarest (1831-1897).


My Dad was Harold Burk (1909-1978)--shown below left with my Mom, Daisy Schwartz (1919-1981), on their wedding day.

Researching the life of my paternal grandfather, Isaac Burk (1882-1943), started me on my genealogical journey 19 years ago. Isaac is pictured below right with my grandma Henrietta Mahler Burk (1881-1954), in 1936.

Isaac's father was Elias Solomon Birk, a farmer in Kovno, Lithuania, who married Necke [maiden name still not certain]. I never knew Elias was a farmer until my newly-discovered cousin told me she learned that from her grandfather, my great-uncle.


Happy Father's Day to all the Dads of cousins in all branches of our family trees!

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.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Genealogy Resolutions and Results, 2016-2017

Looking back on 2016, I accomplished a lot. At right is a snapshot from my Find A Grave contributor tools page, in which I more than doubled my statistics from this time last year. Every trip I take to a cemetery, I take a hundred or more photos of surrounding graves and add them to the memorials, helping others find their ancestors' final resting places.

Of course, these numbers don't reflect the dozens and dozens of edits I've made or requested to link and correct ancestors' memorials from my tree and my husband's tree. This was my #1 resolution from last year and I feel good about my progress (even if it much of the work was crammed into the past week).

My favorite accomplishment of this year (and every year) has been meeting cousins in person after finding them through genealogical research. In fact, it was quite a year for cousin connections. In January, after I met a Farkas cousin of mine in NYC, Sis and I took a fun field trip to meet more Farkas cousins and reunite with our Burk/Mahler first cousins. Later in the year, I met several more Farkas cousins (including one across the pond). And I spent five days with a handful of Chazan cousins in Manchester, England. More cousin connections are in the works for 2017.

In 2016, I wanted to submit testimony to Yad Vashem about my great aunt, Etel Schwartz (a sister to my maternal grandfather, Tivador Schwartz). She's one of the two ladies in the big-brimmed hats in the photos above, along the banner of my blog. My cousins and I are having trouble determining who's who in the few photos we have of the Schwartz siblings, and we don't know Etel's married name. But I will submit what I know in 2017, even without a photo, to keep Etel's memory alive for future generations.

An ongoing resolution is to "tell the stories" and I'm continuing to do that, formally and informally, during meetings with cousins and at other opportunities. At top is a photo of me all dressed up in a bow tie and shirt with the stern face of Benjamin McClure, my husband's 2d great-granddaddy (he's also my FB genealogy persona).

I wore this shirt on Halloween when making genealogy presentations, and my family got a kick out of it. It's a different way to spread the word about an ancestor's life and times. Also I told some stories and featured ancestor photos in my genealogy book, Planning a Future for Your Family's Past. More stories and T-shirts are in the works for 2017, maybe even a new book.

Carried over from 2016, I'm still trying to pierce brick walls about my father's Birk and Mitav ancestors in Lithuania and continue looking for the origins of my husband's Larimer-Short-Work families, originally from somewhere in Ireland (north, most likely). So 2017 will be another busy and productive and exciting year!