Rabbi Shmaryahu Smorgonski ZT"L (1854-1937)  

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After reading a lot of material from the Dolhinov Yizkor book, I decided to translate a few sections that were written by my grand-uncle, Shlomo Shamgar. It was harder than I thought because the way he wrote it in Hebrew was very poetic and I was afraid I wouldn't do it justice. Anyway, here is my first translation. It's Shlomo's memories of his uncle (my great grand-uncle).

Rabbi Shmaryahu Smorgonski (ZT”L)

Eighty-three years old was Rabbi Shmaryahu when he passed away on Isru-Hag of Pesach 5697 (1937). I begin my tale with his passing. His departure from our world at the end of an era – the era between two world wars: 1918-1937.

A big man of great stature was he – his intelligence, his wisdom and his knowledge of the Torah and the passages. His majestic appearance, beautiful and noble face and his eyes blazing with the holy-fire stored in them. Adorned by a full white beard and always clothed impeccably in a silk coat and soft boots. In the winter he wore a hairy robe and a fur hat. Although these were external characteristics, nevertheless they have the power to testify of an organized and meticulous man, who demonstrates in practice the Talmud saying: “Talmid-haham u-revav al bigdo hayav… mita”. But the essence of his greatness was during the “Days of Awe” (Yamim Noraim), on the days of Rosh-Hashanah and Yom-Kippur – when he descended upon the Holy Ark in the grand synagogue. He possessed a clear and strong voice and his prayers and recitals were said with emotion and pleas, a kind of lyrical dialogue between him and the creator, in which he would plead and pray for the well being of his children and family and all the people in his congregation. His townsfolk still living among us today won’t forget prayers said and sung by him, like: “Kol Nidre”, “U-Netaneh Tokef Kedushat Ha-Yom”, “Hineni Ha'-ani Mema'as…” and more – events that enchanted and shook every heart and brought tears even to the eyes of men. I also remember as if it were today, how the important Christians, like the Vayit (head of the local council), chief of police and others, would invite themselves to the synagogue on Kol Nidre night to listen to Rabbi Shmaryahu’s prayers, to the songs of the choir with the guidance of my father-teacher Avraham Smorgonski (Z”L) and the songs of the “poets” Efraim Shprirgan and the brothers Rapson. That was Rabbi Shmaryahu’s habit with his God and mankind in his twilight days, when he was past his “courage”. The walk to the synagogue was hard for him; on his way there from his home he would be forced to stop several times to rest. But when he approached the prayer podium, facing “Shiviti…” displayed above his head, he shook himself like a lion and his strength returned to him. His prayers, pleas and recitals, as if came from the mouth of a youth, a clear and strong voice, like good, old wine.

Until the last year of his life he prayed during the days of awe (Yamim Noraim) in front of the ark. He was a very physically healthy man who was never sick and, as stated earlier, he passed away on Isru-Hag of Pesach after praying Shaharit at his home, in his bed, a painless death. I got to learn from him biblical discourse and good manners in the last years of his life, when he lived alone. His wife passed away about 10 years before him and he lived in his house, with assistance of his daughters who lived nearby, each and every day, until his final moments. All his days he dealt with Torah and according to a schedule he set: wake up at daybreak, drink tea and pray Shaharit in solitude for about 3 hours and after that – Torah studies until the late hours of the night. In those years my uncle, Rabbi Shmaryahu, made efforts to draw me closer to him for a conversation and explanation and in fact – tried to convince me to choose a way of purposeful Torah studies. Even today I can remember his words to me, a sort of self confession by him: “See here my son, I did not get to see my own sons follow a path of Torah. They invested themselves in secular affairs and other matters (indeed, both his sons were not in Dolhinov; his eldest Reuven-Leib, immigrated to the USA before WWI and in the 1950’s passed away there. His other son Yermiyahu-Nahum resided with his family in Butrimonys, Lithuania, where they all perished without a trace). At least you, my brother’s son, could continue our legacy, maybe you will have the strength to carry the flag of Torah in our family.” From the stories of my father-teacher Rabbi Avraham Smorgonski (Z”L) I know and remember that Rabbi Shmaryahu was the leader and manager of the Dolhinov Yeshiva, in which about 100 young men studied until WWII and some well known Torah-greats came from, like Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman – the Rabbi of Philadelphia, USA, and others. The Yiddish newspapers in the USA featured articles about the character and greatness of Rabbi Shmaryahu.

Another illustrative story that deserves a special and informative mention: An incident that occurred to my uncle at the beginning of the Polish rule of the town in 1919, after WWI. During the reign of Czar Nikolai II and until WWI, Rabbi Shmaryahu was the head of the Jewish community in Dolhinov and had the authority to register births and deaths of the town’s Jews as well as issue formal documents (birth certificates and passports). This appointment was revoked with the establishment of the Polish control of the town. All those matters were being handled by the Polish “Gemayna” in town (a municipal organization for smaller towns that did not have a full municipality). With time everyone had forgotten about this whole matter and nobody remembered the “authority” that my uncle Rabbi Shmaryahu had. However someone did remember one day. Ten years later policemen and Polish secret police showed up from the Vileijka district and performed a meticulous search of my uncle’s house. In the attic they found old forms for birth certificates, passports and Russian booklets that where moldy from years of deterioration – with the Czar’s regime symbols on them. All those materials were taken, of course, for examination, and Rabbi Shmaryahu was arrested for holding anti-government materials and being a Russian spy.

News of his arrest sent shockwaves through the town and stirred up emotions throughout the surrounding areas. Everyone knew of his pure character, his honesty and integrity. Especially involved and active in his favor were the head of the community in Vileijka, Mr. Dubin, and the head of the Jewish community in our town during that time – Rabbi Gershon Eidelman (ZT”L). My uncle was released after five days under arrest. But the investigation and interrogation continued for some time after that, until no condemning evidence could be found against him. I can still remember how my uncle would joke about the matter and say: “Man must always experience everything in order to endure and know, that life is the Torah, and you must toil in it and learn from it. Life is short and not enough to learn everything. If you are given the opportunity to experience what it is like to be in prison while innocent, obviously this is a chance to learn something for the future.”

My uncle was granted a ripe old age and saw during his life grandchildren and many shilashim(?). Many of his grandchildren made aliyah to Israel in the period between the two world wars. Those descendants who made aliyah always received his blessing on their departure. He was a Zionist in his own right – Zionism interwoven with Torah and Mitzvot – which by his recognition, was the true essence. In his house, on the eastern wall, hung pictures of the Western Wall and of Rachel’s Tomb.

Rabbi Shmaryahu was amongst the student of “the Gaon” Rabbi Eliyahu from Vilna and the “Chofetz Chaim” of Radin. A man of a bygone generation, singular and unique – in his Torah, his behavior and his appearance – exceptional in Dolhinov and in the entire region.

Yehi Zichro Baruch!

Source: Chrust, Josef and Bar-Ratson, Matityahu, editors, Yizkor le-Dolhinov (Israel: Organization of Dolhinov Survivors in Israel, 1984 or 1985), pages 208-210, written by Shlomo Shamgar (Smorgonski), translated by Amir Dekel Aug. 30, 2008.

I remember seeing this book at my grandparents' apartment when I was a child, but regrettably I don't think I ever read it before this past week. I also regret not sitting down to talk to Dod Shleymke' as an adult. My memories of him are from my childhood, mainly during the time I studied for my Bar-Mitzvah. Shlomo taught the majority of the boys in our family for their Haftarah. I taped him reading it and then practiced at home over and over again until I got it right. 25 years later, I can still sing part of it and recall what his voice sounded like.

Sadly, Shlomo Shamgar passed away in Jan. 2005. Leon Rubin, a fellow Dolhinover wrote the following:

In Memoriam
It is with sorrow that I announce the passing of Schlomo Schamgar ( Smorgonski ) on the twelfth of January 2005. Schlomo was born in Dolhinov and was the only survivor of his family in the Holocaust. He made Aliya to Israel in 1948 and since served the Country and the Community with devotion. Schlomo was a man of great integrity, loved and respected by all who knew him, renowned for his good deeds and friendly human relations. He was one of the oldest and most venerated men of Dolhinov and played a central role in preserving the Memory of the perished Dolhinov Community. His death is a great loss to all of us. We extend our deep sincere condolences to his bereaved family.

May his Memory be blessed.

Leon Rubin, Israel

Pete's Medals & Hyde Swimmers  

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I got another package yesterday from my wife's uncle, Glenn. Big box, full of crumpled newspapers and inside them a Seiko box. I carefully opened it to find a heavy piece of black cloth all rolled up in a ball. I took out the cloth and slowly stretched it out on the kitchen counter. It was completely covered with gold and silver swimming medals that Louis Milton Hyde (my wife's grandfather) won during his swimming career at Langley High School! I noticed that some of the ribbons have started to deteriorate and several medals have come loose. I tried my best to figure out what went where and eventually ended up with this:

I will go through them one by one at some point, scan them and place them in some sort of container for safe keeping. This is an amazing collection and a cherished memory of a father who died too young.

Some of the medals are inscribed on the back with the actual events:

  • Senior H.S. Swimming Championship 1932-33 Relay - Gold
  • Senior Life Saving 1930-31 Retrieving Object - Gold
  • Senior H.S. Swimming Championship 1932-33 100 Yd Free Style - Gold

And those are just the top three in the right corner!

The fronts say things like:
  • Tis Deeds Must Win the Prize - Pittsburgh High Schools Dept. of Hygiene
  • Carnegie Institute of Technology - Relay
  • Allegheny Mountain Assn. of the A.A.U.

It looks like the whole family was seriously into swimming. I received the following e-mail from one of Uncle Gelnn's cousins (I am going to keep names private unless I get permission to use them):

I have Mema's (Aunt Toot's) ID, track & field & swimming program from the 1936 Olympic Time Trials in Astoria Park where she competed in breast stroke and placed 3rd. The 1st & 2nd place went to the Olympics that year. The lady that beat her out was disqualified on the ship over to Berlin, Germany, that year. I can't remember her name but she got caught drinking.
I also have pictures and articles of all the "Hyde" girls in the Pittsburgh paper as winners in many events. I believe there is even one with them dressed in mermaid costumes. My daughter has Mema's box of swimming memorabilia. I can make copies and send them to you.

See what I said about the family getting involved? Isn't this wonderful?

So much going on right now  

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I don't even know where to start. I guess this will turn into kind of a to-do list.

1) Uncle Glenn sent his father's medals and they are amazing. I will put up a post shortly with some pictures and more stories. Apparently this was a swimming family, including Olympic trials.

2) The Geni.com site is a hit with everyone. People are logging in, sharing information and updating the tree. I think this will be fantastic.

3) I've found a lot of similar (and rare) surnames in the Geni.com site and I have contacted a lot of people with questions about possible family connections.

4) I've done a lot of work on the Smorgonski (paternal grandmother) and Kilchevsky (paternal grandfather) trees with the help of Eilat Gordin Levitan who runs the Dolhinov site.

5) I have been reading a lot of testimonies by my relatives from Dolhinov about their escapes, joining the partisans to fight the nazis (no freakin' way do I capitalize that word, no matter what spell-check thinks) and memories of their beloved town. I found the Yizkor book (online at the NYPL) where my grand-uncle Shlomo Shamgar wrote some beautiful chapters. I am going to try to do him justice and translate them and post them here and on the other sites (JewishGen and Eilat's site).

6) I found a not so distant cousin on my wife's side who was the Governor of West Virginia in the early 1990's. I will have a post about him as well.

7) And I have a bunch of photos I need to scan and tell stories about.

8) I backed up my blogs to WordPress after reading about one too many blogs being crushed by the Google empire.

So much to do, so little time.

My GBG Medals  

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That's my final tally. This was a lot of fun and got me on the right track. Thanks again to all the organizers and participants!

Ancestry.com New Search  

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Anne Mitchell from Ancestry.com wrote another blog post about how to use the new search interface. I have been struggling with the new interface lately, so I posted a comment:

The first thing I would add is a middle name optional field. If you search "Levi S" you will get any 'S'. I usually just drop the middle initial to get better results.

The locations should be able include and exclude by category. USA includes Illinois includes Cook County includes Chicago. This would make it easier to use and understand.

But my biggest issue is with the wildcards. You guys have to figure out a way to get over the hurdle of three letters before a * is used. In your example, the best way to search would be for first name, exact, L*, last name exact Baker. This would include all the L, Levi, Levy, Lou and Louis and anyone else starting with an L out there.

I did notice that some things have been tightened up. Over the last week I kept getting 1000+ hits in some Minnesota mining database that I don't see now.

One last thought. The old and new searches do NOT return the same results, which is a huge problem. Here's an example: Search for an exact match for Margaret McElrath and take a look at 'Newspapers & Periodicals'. New search returns 9 results. Old search returns 10. The one missing in the new search is "Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003" which has an obituary from The Atlanta Constitution. The exact record I was looking for! Had I not gotten completely frustrated with the new search I would never have found this. I think more continuity testing is in order and a lot of 'stare and compare' on behalf of your QA team.

All in all, I do prefer the new search. I can't wait for it to get better, though.

I really hope they get this new search working, because it is so much better than the old one.

Getting the Family Involved  

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Yesterday, after receiving the package from Uncle Glenn and posting the picture of his father on the winning swim team, I called to thank him. We had a great conversation and I pointed him to the site to check it out. He in turn sent out an e-mail to his 'cuz list' inviting them to take a look and contribute any information they had in order to grow the tree and fill it with goodies. That got me thinking.

I had decided to upload my GEDCOM to Geni.com last week in order to check it out. The interface is pretty easy to use and the social networking capabilities are very user friendly. So last night I sent out invitations to everyone who's e-mail I knew. I will send out invitations to the 'cuz list' as soon as I can figure out who's who on the list (all I currently have are their e-mails).

I already got a few responses and people are generally very excited to join and contribute to the project. The Geni.com site is in its infancy so it has a lot of performance issues, but I think for our purposes it will work just fine.

If anyone reading this has any questions for me, just leave a comment.

Speaking of Medals  

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I received a package in the mail today from my wife's uncle, Glenn. Inside I found some photocopies of census information about his family as well as some amazing photographs. Two photos immediately caught my eye. The first is of my wife's 2nd-great-grandmother, dated around 1900. It doesn't seem to be a reproduction and is in pretty bad shape, but still amazingly clear and detailed. I need to scan it and research it some more, but this might be my oldest photo to date.

The second is a terrific picture of the swim team from Langley High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from 1930:

On the front you can see 14 of the team mates in quite the serious pose. The handsome fellow in the center of the second row is my wife's grandfather, Louis Milton (Pete) Hytowitz (Hyde). Pete was a great swimmer and Uncle Glenn has a few of his medals:

Found on Footnote.com

When you flip this photo over you get a lot more detail:

Seems that the team had won the City Championship and Carnegie Teck Relay in 1930. I need to follow up on all these details and see what else I can find about these events. Also, several team members are named. I uploaded the photo to Footnote.com and added annotations and spotlights to all the people I found. I think this is a very cool feature and I intend to use it a lot. Here's another example of a great swimmer:

Found on Footnote.com

I am getting very excited about all these photos and can't wait for my parents to bring some over from my family on their next visit. I have some real gems on my (less documented) of the tree.

Medal Presentation  

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Where have I disappeared to? I have been busy. Busy with work, family and some more research. I have made tremendous amounts of progress, mostly by reaching out to people for help. I received a gigantic GEDCOM from a distant cousin of my wife's from the Bishop side and started adding it into my files. I only did this because this particular GEDCOM (as opposed to almost all the others I have seen) had a lot of sources and citations. I also got some additional information on the Kilchevsky (or should I just give that spelling up and go with the original Kielczewski?) side of the family. I also signed up with Footnote.com and started looking through their 43+ Million records. So, I have been a little busy.

Anyway, back to the medals:

1. Go Back and Cite Your Sources!

50 Citations - Platinum Medal

I am well into the hundreds here. And I have barely scratched the surface. Not only am I adding sources for everything I have, I also need to verify everything I have added from others. Lots to do.

2. Back Up Your Data!

This is definitely an important task. Let's see where I stand:

A. Prepare a comprehensive backup plan for your digital research files and a security plan for your hard copies and photos - I will make daily backups locally and then move all my files to my external drive weekly. I will also burn an image of the external drive to DVD once a month. Eventually all information will be secured off-line as well.

B. Secure your hard copies and photos in waterproof containers - That will have to wait another day. I don't have many documents and photos to begin with, so this became a lower priority.

C. Backup all your data using a flash drive, an external drive, CDs, DVDs, or an online resource - Done!

D. Have all your hard copies and photos scanned and secure them either in a fire-proof safe or off-site in a safety-deposit box/secure environment - It will take me a long time to scan everything I have, even though it's not much. And as far as off-site storage, that will have to wait as well.

E. All your data is backed up digitally and secured physically and you can recover from any disaster while losing only one month or less worth of research - Digitally yes, physically no (see D).

Completed Task A&C - Silver Medal - I have work to do.

3. Organize Your Research!

Complete five or more tasks - Platinum Medal - I have done everything but F. I'll work on that.

4. Write, Write, Write!

A. Write a summary of what your blog is about and post it on your blog – you may not have done this since you started the blog and it is a great way to have new readers learn more about your site. - This was my first post, July 29th, 2008.

B. Participate in a genealogy or family history related blog carnival. - I submitted one of my posts to the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy.

C. Prepare several posts in draft mode (if possible with your blog platform) and pre-publish. - Still a no on this one. I am an impulse blogger who can't pre-publish.

D. Write a brief biographical sketch on one of your ancestors. - Done.

E. Sign up to host a future carnival - Probably not going to happen just yet because of newbieness.

Complete any three tasks - Gold Medal

5. Reach Out & Perform Genealogical Acts of Kindness!

A. Comment on a new (to you) genea-blog. - Pretty much every day.

B. Join another genea-blogger’s blog network on Facebook Blog Networks. - Multi-done.

C. Invite other genealogists to join Facebook. - I decided to give this one my own spin. I have been talking about genealogy at every opportunity and getting people interested. I even hosted our monthly neighborhood poker night and after I was eliminated I checked some people's ancestors. So I will include this one as done!

D. Assist another researcher with a research request or look-up. - I have contributed to several researchers with small amounts of information.

E. Participate in an indexing project. - Not done. I am sure there is something that I could have done, but I just don't know where to start yet.

F. Join a genealogical, historical, heritage or lineage society. - I did not join the two I wanted (I will in the near future) but instead signed up for three SIG on JewishGen. So that should cover it.

Complete five or more tasks - Platinum Medal

Here's the final tally:
3 Platinum
1 Gold
1 Silver

This has been a lot of fun to do. Not only did I learn some valuable lessons about genealogical research, but I also managed to step up my research and incorporate some structure in it. Whatever I have not completed, I will strive to do in the next few weeks. Thanks to all who organized and spent time making sure we all have a good time.

Almost no oaks in my forest  

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My maternal grandfather was Michael (Misha) Dombek (Domb is an oak tree in Polish). As far as I know, he is the only surviving Jewish Dombek from his family to have made it through the holocaust (There are other Dombek families, but so far I have not been able to find any that are Jewish). When WW2 started he left Warsaw and his disapproving family behind and fled to Russia, where he later met my grandmother. When he returned after the war, there was nobody left alive.

I will have many more posts about my grandfather, as he was one of my role models growing up and one of my favorite people in this world. But for the sake of this post I will focus on one single story. It's a sad story about the complete annihilation of his family in the holocaust and how a misunderstanding and a case of mistaken identity changed the future for many people.

Misha lived with his family in Warsaw in a big apartment at 16 Woloska Street. He was one of 9 children in the family and was about 19 years old when the war started. he felt that things were not going to end well and decided to leave. He tried to convince his father and the rest of the family to leave with him, but they wouldn't listen to his warnings. And so he set out on his own to the Russian border.

He moved around a lot in Russia during the war, joined and left the Red Army (twice) and eventually met my grandmother in Central Asia (near Tashkent, Uzbekistan). After they married in 1945, he made an unsuccessful attempt to find his family in Warsaw. A couple of years later they moved back to Poland, in 1947. At this point, he tried to go back to his family's apartment. Surprisingly, the building was still standing and the old Polish woman who worked there recognized him. She told him that one of his sisters, Tema, had come back after the war and sold the family apartment. Apparently Tema and another sister had survived, according to the old woman, and had moved to Israel.

Misha was encouraged by this new development and had tried to contact his sisters in Israel for several years without success. Eventually Misha and his new family (wife and two children) immigrated to Israel around 1957. One of the reasons was the chance that his sisters could be contacted somehow. At that time there was a radio show on Friday afternoons that tried to reconnect lost family members. Misha was reluctant, but his wife Riva decided to put his name on the show and they were soon contacted by Mrs. Rivka Geiger (Kramarz).

Rivka and her sister, Tema Fruchter (Kramarz), were the only two known survivors. When they finally met, Rivka took Misha to see her sister and that's when things got a little strange. Apparently Tema and her husband were acting in a weird way, avoiding eye-contact and being very distant. After the visit with his two cousins, Misha figured out what must have happened. It seemed that Tema came back to the family apartment in Warsaw, pretended to be Misha's sister (also called Tema) and sold it. Misha later confronted her with this conclusion and she admitted to it and apologized. Her reasoning was that since it seemed like everyone had perished in the holocaust, there was no reason to just let the apartment go to waste. It took some time but eventually all was forgiven.

So the case of the cousin who "stole" the apartment had led to several life changing events. Had she not sold the apartment, Misha would have had no idea that they were alive and living in Israel. Without the (false) hope of seeing his sisters he would not have moved his family to Israel. My parents would have never met and I would not be here to tell the story. I am constantly amazed at how little incidents in our past make a huge impact on our future (or present).

Rivka Geiger has been one of my biggest sources of information about my grandfather's family. She filled out dozens of 'Pages of Testimony' for Yad Vashem about her relatives who had perished in the holocaust. From reading these handwritten documents I have been able to piece together a family tree dating back to the mid 1850's in Poland. Below is a tree of descendants of my 2nd great grandparents:

I marked the only survivors in red, all who perished in black and myself in blue (bottom left). It is astounding how entire families were massacred and wiped from existence. This is just an example of only one branch in the tree. I have similar diagrams for the Kreplak family (my great-grandmother's side, of which a couple of second cousins were later located in Paris) and the Smorgonski family (my paternal grandmother, who were murdered in Dolhinov, Poland). And these were only the adults. Many of these families had children that aren't listed in the 'Pages of Testimony'. All gone.

I will slowly continue to add details and proper citations from this resource. I am currently at around 100 people combining both sides of my Polish ancestry. My next big leap would be to try to find out if there were any family members higher up in the tree that left Europe before the war or survived the holocaust in some other way. The problem there is that both my great grandfather and his father were only sons in families with many sisters. Another problem is getting through to the correct information for 19th century Polish Jews. This is one of the top goals of my research.

The Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project  

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I think I've mentioned this resource in the past, but I have been searching through it the past few days and came up with some terrific nuggets. Here is the description from the Carnegie-Mellon University Libraries page:

The Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project is composed of The Jewish Criterion (1895-1962), The American Jewish Outlook (1934-1962), and The Jewish Chronicle (1962-Present). This project serves as both an online reference source and as a digitized historical documentation of the Jewish community of Pittsburgh and its outlying areas.

The search functionality is terrific. I plugged in a few names and came up with a lot of accurate hits. The only drawback is that when the actual page comes up (scanned both as a small and large image) it doesn't highlight your search results in any way. So you have to read the entire page to look for the phrase you searched for.

I am constantly amazed at the level of detail in these old newspapers. The first thing that struck me was the donation listings. There are a lot of people donating all sums of money and everyone is listed. Even a 50 cent donation.

The second thing I noticed is the 'In Memoriam' sections. Families kept posting these for decades after loved ones had passed away. There are a lot of other family events such as births, marriages, engagements and obituaries. It has proven to be a very valuable and accurate resource for me.

Here are some of the funny snippets I have found these past few days. I guess that almost 100 years ago, other than word of mouth, this was one of the better forms of communication. I can't imagine some of these things showing up in local papers today.

On July 27th, 1923:
Miss Mabel Hytowitz, of Beeler
Street, is spending a few weeks in
Atlantic City.

On May 6th 1923:
On Sunday, May Sixth, Miss Es-
ther Weisberg, of Black Street, en-
tertained the members of the Sigma
Delta Phi Sorority with a card par-
ty. Prizes were awarded the Misses
Minnie Cooper, Mabel Hytowitz, Ruth
Schmidt and Selma Goldstein. After
a dainty luncheon had been served,
Miss Rhoda Selznick entertained with
several ukelele numbers, after which
the Misses Ruth Spector and Sara
Sbarsky, accompanied by Miss Ma-
thilda Miller, entertained with dance
and song numbers.

One of the things I noticed is that at the end of a lot of the clippings they add 'no cards':

On January 10th, 1922:
Miss Hazel Weiner, daughter of
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Weiner, of At-
lantic Avenue, has chosen Tuesday,
January tenth, as the date for her
marriage to Mr. Benjamin Hytowitz,
of this city, which will be solemnized
in the Rittenhouse. A dinner for the
immediate families will supplement
the ceremony, and will be followed by
a reception. No cards.

Does anyone know what that means?

Genea-Bloggers Group Games - Update  

Posted by Abba-Dad in ,

I haven't kept up with updates about my progress. Shame! So here goes:

1. Go Back and Cite Your Sources!

50 Citations - Platinum Medal

I knew this would be easy because I had almost 1000 people in my tree and almost no sources. Most of what I entered was from personal interviews with immediate family, but a lot has come from census data and other sources. I probably made a slight dent in the amount of sources I need to add, but I am going to get there. One of the features I like about RootsMagic is the Memorize/Paste option for source citations. If I find a source that has either multiple people or several facts I can easily copy it over and not have to do much else. So 50 citations was pretty trivial.

2. Back Up Your Data!

This is definitely an important task. Let's see where I stand:

A. Prepare a comprehensive backup plan for your digital research files and a security plan for your hard copies and photos - Working on it.

B. Secure your hard copies and photos in waterproof containers - Hmmm. I haven't even thought about doing that.

C. Backup all your data using a flash drive, an external drive, CDs, DVDs, or an online resource - Doing this as we speak!

D. Have all your hard copies and photos scanned and secure them either in a fire-proof safe or offsite in a safety-deposit box/secure environment - I don't think this is going to happen anytime soon, although I realize how important it is. I am in the process of scanning everything, but I doubt it will end up in an offsite secure environment.

E. All your data is backed up digitally and secured physically and you can recover from any disaster while losing only one month or less worth of research - Digitally yes, physically no (see D).

Complete Task C - Gold Medal - I will definitely be here at the end of the games.

3. Organize Your Research!

Complete five or more tasks - Platinum Medal - I have done everything but F. I'll work on that.

4. Write, Write, Write!

A. Write a summary of what your blog is about and post it on your blog – you may not have done this since you started the blog and it is a great way to have new readers learn more about your site. - This was my first post, July 29th, 2008.

B. Participate in a genealogy or family history related blog carnival. See the AnceStories post "August Is..." for a list of these carnivals and their submission URLs and deadlines. - I was going to do this, but the topics didn't really spark any memories. I will see if something comes up by the deadline.

C. Prepare several posts in draft mode (if possible with your blog platform) and pre-publish. - I'm not sure I understand what this means. I usually blog my findings and the excitement comes through. I can't recall a single post I have made (on any of my blogs) that was drafted and pre-published.

D. Write a brief biographical sketch on one of your ancestors. - Done. And I plan a few others by the time the games are over.

E. Sign up to host a future carnival: - I am such a newbie and I am not even sure what you need to do to host on of these things. I might volunteer to host the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy. We'll see.

Complete any two tasks - Silver Medal - Achieved!
Complete any three tasks - Gold Medal - Possible?
Complete any four tasks - Diamond Medal - Possible?

5. Reach Out & Perform Genealogical Acts of Kindness!

A. Comment on a new (to you) genea-blog. - Pretty much every day.

B. Join another genea-blogger’s blog network on Facebook Blog Networks. - Multi-done.

C. Invite other genealogists to join Facebook. - Tough one. I don't know many non-blogging genealogists. But since I have added several links in posts, I guess I kind of qualify? I'll take it.

D. Assist another researcher with a research request or lookup. - I am definitely going to do this. One of the things I can do is translate from Hebrew, so let me know if there's a need. But I will go through the entire list and see what else I can do. So many people have been commenting and leaving me valuable tips and I have to start paying back.

E. Participate in an indexing project. - That one might be tough, but I will try to get there.

F. Join a genealogical, historical, heritage or lineage society. - I am planning to join two: I am thinking about joining the Georgia Genealogical Society but I am definitely joining the Jewish Genealogical Society of Georgia.

Complete any four tasks - Diamond Medal - Done!
Complete five or more tasks - Platinum Medal - Hope to get there!

So that's it so far. Here's the final tally:
2 Platinum
1 Diamond
1 Gold
1 Silver

What a find!  

Posted by Abba-Dad in , , ,

On the way to dinner with my wife last night, we discussed my new hobby and how enthusiastic I am about it. I lamented the fact that I would really love to have some actual physical evidence to work with, rather than websites and online databases. I want to roll up my sleeves and dive into some photographs and aged documents. Most of that stuff on my side of the family is scattered amongst my relatives in Israel. I don't know how difficult it is going to be to pry it out of their hands, but I will give it a shot.

My wife said she thinks she might have some old photos and perhaps a copy of the eulogy for her grandmother given by her priest. She sent herself a reminder to check it out when we got home.


One of the storage boxes she had so neatly organized was titled "Brannon Family". When we opened it up we found a lot of scattered photos, documents, war bonds, letters and a photo album. Some of the photos were labeled with names and dates. Some had complete stories printed on the back. Some were in great shape and some not so much. But all I could think of was, wow! This stuff is awesome!

Turns out my wife's great-grandmother, Pattie, was a photographer (among some of her talents). She even had these little stamps on the back stating that the photo was taken by her and what her address was. Amazing!

After going through the box I decided to see what else was in that cabinet. I found some additional photos from the Hytowitz side (my wife's maternal lineage) sent two years ago to my mother-in-law. They are reproductions of older photos by they are splendid. I also found something I had tucked away and had forgotten about. The last copy of The Wall Street Journal for the 20th century and the first copy of the 21st century. You can see those in the photo above.

The album that was discovered is a travel journal of my wife's grandmother, Emily-Ann, traveling to Germany with her husband who served there with the US Air Force. It included beautiful portraits and even some postcards sent to her from her husband while he was away on a mission looking for a downed bomber in North Africa.

Today I started organizing all these photographs. I saw that there were a lot that had the same theme, size and texture, so I grouped them together. Then I saw that on the back they had some markings, like a studio stamp with 3-4 numbers and sometimes a letter. I used those to group the photos again. I tried to find out what these mean, but was unsuccessful. Any one have an idea about these markings?

As you can see from the image on the left I laid them all out on my poker table and tried to get an idea of what I was dealing with. This afternoon I went to Michael's (the craft store) and got a photo organizer box that can handle about 2000 photos in separate compartments. So now all the photos are nicely sorted in that new box. I have a lot of work ahead of me.

I'll leave you with a portrait of Joseph W. (Hytowitz) Hyde, who would have been 100 years old last month. Handsome fellow, don't you think?

UPDATE: I added a sample of the markings on the backs of the photos I found. Click to enlarge:

Milton B. Tuggle - Confederate Army Volunteer  

Posted by Abba-Dad in , ,

My wife's 2nd-great-grandfather, Milton B. Tuggle, volunteered to join Company C ("Dawson Grays") of the 3rd Georgia Volunteer Infantry regiment, Confederate States of America, Army of North Virginia, commanded by Capt. R. L. McWhorter, in 1861, when he was only 16 years old. It took them a year to figure out he was a minor before discharging him.

Two years later Milton re-enlisted to the same unit and served until Lee surrendered at Appomatox on the 9th of April, 1865. He stated in his application for a pension in 1900 that he was with his command when the war ended and had his gun too.

I found this information in the notes of one of the GEDCOM files I downloaded from One World Tree, so this could all be fiction. But if someone went to all the trouble of writing this elaborate note (and there is a lot more to it, including information about his employers, address in 1900, etc.) I would assume that a lot of it is true. I will obviously mark it as a 'questionable' source and try to dig deeper and uncover the actual facts. I was going to contact the GEDCOM file owner, but alas, he/she is listed as unknown, so that's a dead end for me.

I did start to look into who Capt. R. L. McWhorter was and came across this information:

Robert Ligon McWhorter was born June 19, 1819 in Bowling Green, Oglethorpe County, Georgia, the third son of Hugh McWhorter and Helena Ligon.

He attend Mercer University and was married to Nancy Winifred Janes, who was the daughter of Absolom Janes and Cordelia Callaway. Winifred lived only four years following their marriage and died, leaving one son, Robert Ligon McWhorter, Jr.

In 1849 Robert Ligon was married to Nancy Pope Thurmond. Their five children were: James Vason, John Alexander, Hamilton, Julia Pope, and Jessie Boyd McWhorter.

McWhorter enlisted in Company C ("Dawson Grays") of the 3rd Georgia Volunteer Infantry regiment as Captain on April 24, 1861. He was elected Major and Assistant Quartermaster of Wright's Brigade on April 28, 1862. He surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865.

Robert Ligon served in both houses of the State Legislature and as Speaker of the House during the Reconstruction period.

Contributed by Thomas Baumgartner (descendant of the McWhorters of Greene County, Georgia), "3rd Georgia Volunteer Infantry Veterans - Robert L. McWhorter", http://www.3gvi.org/ga3vetrmcwhorter.html, August 2008.

How can you pass up on these kinds of great stories?

Genealogy or Mythology  

Posted by Abba-Dad in ,

Miriam Robbins Midkiff commented on my previous post, about the validity of online family trees, by saying:

Amir, there is a well-known quote in the genealogical world: "Genealogy without sources is mythology."

Even if you have researched all your information carefully and have the documents to "prove" it, if you don't list your sources with your information when you publish it or post it online, it must still be considered mythology.

Good sources allow another family historian to retrace your steps through the same documents.

Thomas MacEntee responded to my question on the Genea-Blogger Group discussion thread along the same lines:

Amir, for me, none of the Ancestry tree data - be it One World Tree or others - is reliable unless there are source citations. I am a stickler for that.

Sometimes I will use the data in my database but place a citation of UNSOURCED with it so that I know I have work to do down the road.

And Bob Franks concurs as well:

I concur with Thomas about this. I treat unsourced data as research hints only until source material can be obtained to verify the data. I've also seen a lot of online trees where the source is listed as other online unsourced trees. It seems these spread like wildfire.

I have to agree with all of them. For one thing, they've been doing this for a while and I bet they know what they are talking about. But also, as I started drowning in a sea of ahnentafels, I was able to find some GEDCOM files that contained actual source references. Not a lot, but I guess that's better than claiming your ancestors are the Kings of Asgard.

I have decided to add this kind of information and tag the source as 'questionable'. This will help others who might come across this information in the future as well as allow me to return to these parts of the tree and continue a more thorough research at a later time. I find it kind of ironic that while researching the past you leave behind clues for people who might come across this research in the future. Kind of cool.

I found a great little Civil War story to tell, but I will just post it separately later. Thanks for the help and comments. Keep 'em coming!

One World Tree  

Posted by Abba-Dad in ,

How much faith can I put in One World Tree sources?

I ask this because tonight I found out that my wife's family tree dates all the way back to the BC-to-AD switch and beyond. I went back to the yellow legal pad her father scribbled some information on and found her great-grandmother was a Tuggle. When I started doing some research on that family I quickly found myself going down a long winding path back to London, then Denmark and eventually Ancient Troy and Jesus era Jerusalem. I found all kinds of "Princess of the Vandals" and Olaf "The Mighty" along the way as well.

The thing that initially struck me as odd was that the further I went, the more trees were linked to these names. At certain points I had over 300 trees linking to the same data. I understand that the further up the tree I go the more people are likely to converge and cite the same sources. But this is ridiculous.

How do you use this resource? Is it worthwhile? Should I flag it as 'questionable'?

Summer 2008 Genea-Blogger Group Games  

Posted by Abba-Dad in

I need to list the events I will participate in. This is an easy one since I am such a beginner and need to pretty much do everything in every category. My only issue would be time constraint. So here goes:

1. Go Back and Cite Your Sources - I have a lot of work to do in this department. I already added Sources and Citations to over 200 people in my tree (I described the process in my previous post).

2. Back Up Your Data - RootsMagic does a backup every time I close it, but I definitely need to move everything to an external drive. I just freed up a lot of room on one so this should be an easy one to do.

3. Organize Your Research - My idea of organization, so far, has been to put digital images in properly named folders in my genealogy directory. Much work to be done here. Only problem is I don't have that much hard copies or non-digital materials.

4. Write, Write, Write - Self explanatory. I love to write.

5. Reach Out & Perform Genealogical Acts of Kindness - Since I am a newbie, a lot of these are going to be easy to do.

So that's it. Let the games begin!

Source & Citations  

Posted by Abba-Dad in , , ,

I am quickly understanding that proper source citations are extremely important. Not only to allow you to backtrack and find the source of the information you are using, but also to allow fellow researchers to connect the dots when they run into something you claim is true.

When I started out building our family tree, I mostly used oral interviews and some research that my mother-in-law did for my wife a few years ago. But then I started adding information from other sources, especially online. Pretty quickly I was making a big mess of it. I needed a better system.

One of the things I noticed on Ancestry.com is that it allows you to attach a record to your online tree. What that does is put all the proper sources and citations with that record and makes it very easy to tag a whole family. For example, if you have one family member that you find in the census you can add that record to this person as well as to his entire family (depending on the census year, some older census records will only attach to a single person).

But I don't use my online tree as my primary database. It just doesn't have the breadth of features I get with RootsMagic. And worse of all, I can't just merge new information from one to the other easily. So I decided to just use the online tree for source gathering. Here's the process:

1) I create a new tree on Ancestry.com named after the home person.
2) I start researching online and adding sources and citations.
3) I expand the tree and use the 'hints' that the site uses to try to link to other records.
4) I add whole families, making sure to keep adding all sources.
5) Once I reach a point where I feel I have enough to transfer offline I export a GEDCOM from the online tree.
6) I load this GEDCOM into a new database in RootsMagic.
7) I arrange this new database, getting rid of all the duplicates.
8) I merge this database into my master file.
9) I make sure all the sources and citations are in the right places.
10) I delete the old online tree and upload the new organized one back in it's place.

Seems like a lot of work, but using this method I added over 200 people to the Brannon side of the family in my main tree, all with the proper sources and citations.

Does this make sense to anyone else? Are there easier methods to add so much source information?

7/29/08 - Current family members: 1118 in 330 families.

Google Books - Conrad Auth  

Posted by Abba-Dad in , , , ,

I am drowning under the amount of information and keep finding more and more methods to find additional sources. I'm not even sure how I got there, but I found a video of Miriam Robbins Midkiff talking about using Google Books in her research.

So I open up the site and plug in the first name I can think of, Conrad Auth. Conrad was my wife's 2nd-great-grandfather, was born in 1832 in Germany. He married Elizabeth Bannantine, born in 1839 in England, and lived with his large family in Pittsburgh, PA. I have very little information on Conrad and his family outside of what I could find in census data and a GEDCOM file I received from another Auth. The 1880 US Census lists his occupation as Glassblower.

I got 20 results for my search of "Conrad Auth". The first book in the list was:

Sons and Daughters of Labor: Class and Clerical Work in Turn-of-the-Century Pittsburgh
By Ileen A. DeVault
Published by Cornell University Press, 1995
ISBN 0801483077, 9780801483073
194 pages

I clicked on the link and found the following section in the book (I used OCR to get it in text instead of the screenshot I took, but many books actually have a plain-text version as well):

Charles Auth entered the Commercial Department in 1900. His father, Conrad, was a Pennsylvania-born glassblower of mixed German and English heritage and national treasurer of the Glass Bottle Blowers’ Association (GBBA). Glassblowers like Auth made up almost 3 percent of the skilled workers represented in the Commercial Department. Conrad Auth, his English-born wife, five sons, and one daughter lived in a house with a fully paid mortgage near the glasshouses on Pittsburgh’s South Side. Charles was the youngest son. His two oldest brothers held manual jobs; one was a glassblower like his father, and the other was an unspecified "steelworker." During the year ending with the federal census taking of June 1900, Conrad Auth and his glassblowing son had both been unemployed for twelve full months. Even as treasurer of his national union, Auth, Sr., did not receive a salary, although he did sometimes receive per diem payment and costs for time spent on union business. Auth`s steelworker son had been unemployed for seven months of 1900. Faced with this dramatic experience of the precariousness of the skilled trades, the Auth family switched to a new plan for their three younger sons. When fifteen-year-old Charles entered the high school's program, his other two brothers worked as clerks, one for a plumbing business and the other as a grocery clerk. Unlike their older brothers, neither of these young men employed in white-collar jobs had any periods of unemployment in 1900. Since the family had paid off the mortgage on their home, their economic situation had not always been so bleak as it was in 1900. Nonetheless, the pattern of employment in the family demonstrates a change in strategy for the sons' futures over the course of the 1890s.

WOW! Look at all this information! I love it! This kind of data breathes real life into our ancestors. It takes them from a bunch of census data and source citations to an actual family, living in times of hardship and persevering. I would have had to dig deep to find out that Conrad was the national treasurer of the GBBA. And this was just the first link!

I kept going through the list and found out that he testified in the tariff hearings before the Committee on Ways and Means, First Session, Fifty-third Congress, in 1893. There was a lot more information but I was already completely overwhelmed. I tried a few others and kept finding more and more.

So obviously this is a huge resource that I will use in the future. One of the things that's kind of annoying is that not all the books have full view. Some only have snippets and point you to where you can buy the book. But even these snippets can be extremely valuable.

Some of you veteran genealogists are probably snickering at my ridiculous newbie discovery. But since I have no formal genealogical training and I haven't even read an "Idiot's Guide To Genealogy" book, this is still a big deal to me.

Any more 'WOW' tips out there? I sure hope so!

Genea-Bloggers Group Games  

Posted by Abba-Dad in

Since I am new to the Genea-Bloggers, I am trying to learn as much as I can from others more experienced than me. I started reading a few genealogy blogs ( I will add a blogroll soon, I promise) and ran across something called the Genea-Bloggers Group Games. It's basically a bunch of genealogy themed exercises like adding proper citations, backing up research and writing posts. So I thought it would be an interesting thing to try to do if I have time. At the very least I will get a little organized.

One of the things I had to do in order to sign up is to create my flag at WeAreMulticolored which represents my ancestry, heritage or personal expression. This is what I came up with:

My flag represents Israel (where I was born and lived most of my life), Nigeria (where I spent 5 years of my childhood) and the US (which I call home these days).

The Mystery of Margret Bishop/McElrath  

Posted by Abba-Dad in , , ,

One of the reasons I am enjoying this genealogy thing is the fact that it's like a big gigantic puzzle. Or perhaps a mystery that needs to be solved. There are facts, hints and clues everywhere and you just have to put it all together to make it work.

My most recent road-block is my wife's paternal great-grandmother. That whole side of the family is shrouded in a lot of genealogical fog. My wife's grandfather, Lawrence Brannon, was married for a short time (long enough to have one son) to Emily Ann Wiley. She later divorced him and married Wallace Brannon (sneaky trick on her part marrying another Brannon). Lawrence was a tough nut to crack until I found out he had a brother, Lester Travis Brannon, who was the father of Dr. Dabney H. Brannon.

All that back-story is important because the only way I was able to piece it together was when I found Dabney's obituary in The Northwest Arkansas Times. The obituary opened up that whole family and allowed me to find William T. Brannon, my wife's great-grandfather.

One of the goals of this whole genealogical research is to find out my wife's Native American roots. The only clue we have is that her father said that his father had a grandmother that was a Cherokee Indian. But that's it. That's all I have to work with. The fact that it's a grandmother means it will be harder to figure out because there is little information on maiden names.

I've been able to track the Brannon's all the way back to Caren (Caron, Karon) Brannon, who was born in Ireland about 1687. But the maternal lineage has proven to be a lot harder. William's Wife was called Selena. In the US Census information I found on Ancestry.com her name had been misspelled and mis-indexed several times: Selene, Selena, Celina (Alina). I was also able to confirm that her maiden name was Bishop. But this is where the trouble starts. I can't find her father and I have a problem with figuring out exactly who her mother was.

The problem really starts in the 1900 US Census. I found a record from Fulton County, Georgia that shows Margret McIlrath (age 40, widow) living with her two daughters (Eva Bishop and 'unknown' Brannon) and her son-in-law, William T. Brannon:

But I also found a 1900 US Census record for William T. Brannon, married to Selena, living with their two children in Madison, Morgan County, Georgia:

So are these two the same William T. Brannon? The first record shows that they have two children and so does the second. The first shows that William was born in Feb. 1873, in Georgia with parents also born in Georgia and so does the second. Both records show that his wife was born in South Carolina as did her parents. My only conclusion is that these are the same people and they were perhaps visiting or moving and even though the enumeration is only a few days apart, they were counted twice. The 'unknown' Brannon has to be Selena because in 1910 and 1920 I see William as married to Selena, so that one is pretty clear.

But why is Margret recorded with a last name of McIlrath? Her daughter Eva has a last name Bishop. Had she been re-married and widowed a second time in a 20 year time span? Did she give her maiden name to the enumerator? I tracked her back to the 1880 US Census:

Here she's still living in Beech Springs, Spartanburg County, South Carlina with her 5 children. And she is listed as being 28 and a widow! But she is recorded as Margret Bishop (with children John, Ellis C., Jonah, Selena and Eva). One of the assumptions I have been trying to make is that she lives one farm away from another big Bishop family, headed by Andrew B. Bishop. Andrew has 5 children living with him and wife Lizzie, but when I went back to the 1870 census I saw that they had an older brother, Calvin Rufus Bishop (I figured out the middle name from public member trees on Ancestry.com). He would have been just the right age to be married to Margret. So my guess is that they were married, lived next door to his parents and he died, leaving her behind with 5 kids.

I also found Margret in 1910, living with her daughter, Eva Hubbard (widow at the age of 30) and her son Archie. Eva's brother Jonah and his wife Nannie are also living in the same house. But once again, Margret is listed with the last name McElrath:

If I try to assume that McElrath is her name from her second marriage, then I also have to assume this second marriage occurred between 1880 and 1900. Since there is no 1890 US Census to work with, that is a bit of a blind spot right now. If I assume that McElrath was her maiden name then I find a Mulatto family of Thomas and Harriet McElrath from Spartanburg County, South Carolina all the way back to 1870. I am not sure which path to take and how to verify that this information is actually correct.

Here are my questions (feel free to take it as a genea-challenge and help me out):

1) Are the two records for William T. Brannon in 1900 for the same person?
2) Did Margret marry Calvin Bishop?
3) Did Calvin die before Margret was 28?
4) Did Margret re-marry a McElrath or did she just go back to her maiden name?
5) If this was her maiden name, is she the same Margie McElrath I find in 1870 listed as Mulatto?
6) What was the definition of Mulatto back then? Was it just used for a mix of Black and White or was it also used to describe Native Americans? I see there is an option of M (Mulatto) and I (Indian) but could the enumerator have gotten it wrong?

UPDATE: The Margie McElrath from the 1870 Census is not my Margret. I found the entire family in the 1880 Census and Margey was still living at home. Oh well, back to trying to track down her descendants to look for more clues.