Because my family left New York when my mother was pregnant with me, in late summer 1951, I didn’t get to know my grandparents well. We made more-or-less annual treks back to Brooklyn, usually for Passover, sometimes in the summer. Those were twelve-hour car trips which we did in one day, stopping at a roadside park for a picnic lunch that my parents had packed in an old green, metal cooler. They were long trips, with three bored kids in the back seat, one of whom was a big brother who liked to tease. I couldn’t read because I got car sick easily. We played a lot of “Geography,” kept track of the license plates we saw from different states, tried to remember the names of the tunnels along the Pennsylvania Turnpike and through the Allegheny Mountains (I can remember “Tuscarora”). Driving past the smelly New Jersey chemical plants and then through the Holland Tunnel meant that the trip was essentially over, though it probably took another hour.
My grandfather Sol and my grandmother Mary came to Detroit a couple of times; I remember picking them up at the grand old Detroit train station. While there, Mary would visit her sister, whom I knew only as “Mrs. Seligman.” I have no idea whether Sol visited his brother-in-law, Harry Challov. As I’ve described elsewhere, we had no connection to him at all as a family.
Sometime between 1973 and 1975 I visited New York and spent some time with my grandfather Sol in his apartment. At one point he went to his bedroom and furtively came back with some photos, glancing around to be sure my grandmother Mary didn’t see what he was doing. He showed me photos of Mollie, my biological grandmother, and asked, “Do you know who this is?” I told him I did; it was sad to see how hard he tried to prevent Mary from knowing that he was invoking Mollie’s name and image.
I was already interested in genealogy, so I asked him some questions: where he from was, his parents’ and siblings’ names. From this I learned:
- He was from Terespol, Poland,
- His parents were Berko and Yachet nee Rozensumen
- Berko was a “tallis macher;” that is, he made prayer shawls,
- They were “rich,” meaning they still had lice and used an outhouse like everyone else,
- That he was the youngest of 11 children, eight having survived,
- The siblings names he provided were Moishe Yiddel, Meier, Shimon, Usher, Chaya and Tillie,
- That Usher’s wife was Devorah and that they had 11 children,
- That Tillie married someone named Weinstrom and their daughter Layke survived the war and went to Israel,
- That he had a nephew, Sol Goldstein, who also survived and went to Israel, but came to New York at some point,
- That when he was 15, he started smoking and playing cards and that’s when he stopped believing in God,
- That when he was 19 his father gave him 200 rubles and sent him to his brothers Shimon and Meier in New York in order to evade the inevitable Russian draft.
From earlier conversations I knew that he had been a milliner, though early on he’d tried being a “paintner,” as he pronounced it, working with his brother Shimon and hanging wallpaper, but he didn’t like it. Millinery was seasonal work and during the off season, he played a lot of cards. When he retired, he “returned” to religion by being the one who set up the chairs for the “Golden Age Club” minyan. I also knew that he considered himself a “Brisker,” that is, someone from Brest Litovsk. Later I learned that Terespol is across the Bug River from Brest Litovsk (the Bug is the natural boundary between Poland and whatever entity is across the river – once Russia, now Belarus).
This gave me a lot of information. I went to the Madison, WI Latter Day Saints Family History Center where I was able to locate the indices for much of Terespol’s 19th century metrical records (birth, marriage, death), order the appropriate microfilm and then view the microfilm on their equipment. Thus, I found Sol’s mother Yachet’s 1849 birth registration (Yachet and Yetta are diminutives of Yocheved) which gave me her parents’ names, Berko Rozensumen (1804-1888) and Hindy Hirschenfeld (1809-1875). Searching her parents’ names, I located their 1829 marriage registration, which gave me their parents’ names, Yudko and Beyla Rozensumen and Uszer (1775-1842) and Ryfka Hirschenfeld (d. 1836). I have some Polish friends who graciously translated these two documents for me. Subsequent such documents have been translated either by them or by volunteers on JewishGen.org.
From my father Isadore Goldstein, I had the names of the families of Shimon and Meier Goldstein, the brothers in New York – their wives, children and sometimes the children’s married names, but not much more. Once in the early 1990’s when my father was in the hospital and I visited him, he was contacted by Barry Goldstein, son of his brother Jack (Meier’s son). Barry had relocated to Detroit, looked him up and came to the hospital while I was there; they looked startlingly alike. I never saw Barry again and I doubt that Dad did, either; Isadore was not very focused on family, to say the least. In all the years we visited New York, I never met Dad’s uncles or cousins, nor have I ever seen photos of them.
Now that the Internet has developed into such a rich source of genealogical information, what I’ve been able to find has been remarkable and I’ve been able to fill in quite a bit, especially for Yachet’s family, including some of her likely siblings, their spouses and children. Equally remarkable is how much I have NOT been able to find. Yet.
One of the Internet resources I use is JRI-Poland (Jewish Records Indexing), a project of JewishGen.org, the premier website for Jewish genealogy. In fact, when the project began about twenty years ago, I helped with some of the indexing as a volunteer. Finding the location of a record is the first step in getting one’s hands on it and the information it contains. Nowadays, records found on this index link directly to the Polish State Archives, making it possible to actually see a scan of the record (written in Polish, which uses Latin characters and therefore is somewhat legible to English readers). One can order the original, for a fee, though doing so can be problematic. I’ve discovered that I can download and save these records, which I’ve then had translated.
We are fortunate that Terespol is in eastern Poland and was occupied by Napoleon in the early 19th century. After the Congress of Vienna in 1815 it was known as Congress Poland (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congress_Poland). During Napoleon’s occupation, he introduced the French system of recording metrical (vital) records, which is a rather long and detail-rich narrative document that continued in use at least through the 19th century. The records were kept in Polish even though that part of Poland was part of the Russian Empire after the three partitions of Poland in the late 18th century. However, after the Polish nobility rebelled against the Russian Empire in the 1860’s and were defeated, the Russians lost patience and said okay, from now on your records will be in Russian. Therefore, documents from the later part of the 19th century are in Russian, which I cannot read. I can pick out a few things here and there and can recognize names if they are familiar. Identifying that a document is relevant necessitates recognizing the Yiddish version of a name written in either Polish or Russian letters, hand-written in script and therefore more or less legible depending on the handwriting of the records.
Luckily, birth registrations almost always write the child’s name in larger letters, so it stands out and can be readily found. As a result of all of this, I’ve been able to identify birth, marriage and death records, primarily of Yachet Rozensumen Goldstein’s family, going back into the late 18th century. It’s hard to get much further back than that in Ashkenazi Jewish genealogy, because until the early 19th century, Ashkenazi Jews did not have last names unless they were from an important rabbinic family.
One of my goals has been to identify and then locate any Goldstein family members who may have survived the Holocaust, in addition to Layke Weinstrom and Sol Goldstein.
Please let me know your thoughts, fill in facts and feel free to write what YOU remember and/or know and I’ll put that on the website, with your permission.