(No. 13/2005 – November 2005)
Editor: Fran Bock

From time to time we will publish the stories of people’s searches for their ancestors, their methods, difficulties and successes. Here is the story of Dorothy Harper’s investigation of her grandparents, the Kaplans from Belarus. The problems of different names and spellings will probably be familiar, but we doubt there are too many of you who share her additional complication . Read on!!!

We thank Dorothy for sharing her family’s story with us.


This article is copyrighted by Dorothy Harper.

Reprinting or copying of this article is not allowed
without prior permission from the copyrightholders


The Kaplans from Belarus

by Dorothy Harper


These are the oldest photos I have of my grandparents Ezra and Fanny Cohen Kaplan (above), and their first cousins Ezra Joseph and Rose Kaplan Metter (below). 

I also have the photo of my grandfather Ezra Kaplan with his oldest son, my uncle Benjamin who looks to be about 7 or 8 years old.

Ezra Kaplan immigrated to Ellis Island in 1904 and settled in New Haven, CT, noting that he was going to his in-laws the Cohens. He showed his city of origin as Minsk.   Fanny and Benjamin (age 2) joined him two years later. 

Kozlovitz (sounding like) was the shtetl that my uncle would talk about.  I thought it was mythical like Camelot. My cousins and I would play that we were the royalty of Kozlovitz.  Later, when I found out that there was a really was a shtetl near Minsk sounding like Kozlovitz, I decided to look for it

After joining Jewish Gen, the first thing I did was search for this town.  "Koszylowce" yielded 17 matches. Kozlovichi is shown eight times, all with different coordinates from MinskKozloviche is shown twice, also different coordinates from Minsk. However the last item, Kozlowicze (Kozlovichi)  seems the closest phonetically and is closest to Minsk, only 62.2 miles away.  So, being creative, (and not knowing what else to do,) I have deemed this shtetl my family home.

After Fanny died in 1922, my grandfather moved the family to Toronto to stay with his sister, Rose Kaplan Metter, and her husband,  Ezra Joseph Metter, a first cousin.  I haven't been able to verify any immigration records for Metter to Canada.   From Ezra Joseph’s son, I have some names, but don't know how to connect them.  Apparently his father told the admitting clerk that he was going to a Medder, Mutder, Madder? So the clerk simply entered his name as Metter. We aren’t certain how many times he may have been married.

To make matters even more complicated, my grandfather Ezra Kaplan’s name is listed as Israel Caplan in the 1910 and 1920 New Haven censuses. His Death Certificate (1924) shows the name Ezra Caplan, and was signed by his cousin (and brother-in-law) as Israel Madder instead of Ezra Metter

Ezra Joseph and Rose Metter had several children, including Molly Metter.  She and my uncle Benjamin grew up together, fell in love and married.  Thus 2 generations of first cousins on the Metter side married.  My aunt was my dad's sister-in-law and his first cousin, and she used to say: she was her own grandma.  They were sweethearts and best friends until they passed away.

Ezra Joseph also had a sister Rose, whose married name was Kateman.  She lived to be an old old lady, and we called her "auntie Kateman" . It wasn't until I got involved in genealogy that I realized that she was Ezra Joseph Metter's sister.

So you see the conundrum I face.  Two sets of cousins, both named Ezra, with sisters named Rose, one a Kaplan/Caplan and the other Metter.. 

I was sure that my Family Tree Maker software would burp as I was entering names and merging the two families.  Of course it asked if Rose and Ezra were brother and sister, and if Ezra and Rose were husband and wife. After whirring and humming, it took!

I have nothing to add to my little family.  My grandfather's Death Certificate states that his father's name was Aaron Caplan, from Russia, and there is no mention of his mother.

My grandmother Fanny's Death certificate shows her father as Joseph Isaiah Cohen. Her mother's name was Freda Karnevitch.  Both born in Russia.

About 5 years ago I visited a friend in Connecticut and asked her if she would help me find my bubbie's grave.  With the help of the New Haven Jewish Genealogy group and the information on her death certificate, I was able to locate the cemetery, old but well kept.  With no office on the grounds, we would have to search for her grave.

B'nai Israel Cemetery is in an old part of town. When we arrived, the gates were open, the grounds well kept and very clean. I took one side, my friend took the other.  After about 2 hours of looking,  I realized that even though it was a small cemetery, it would take hours to look at every tombstone..  We were both exhausted, several stones were un-readable, or entirely in Hebrew including dates.  My uncle Ben told me that they took great care in choosing a nice tombstone for her, but they were too poor to even see it.  At one time my aunt Esther tried looking, but this was before the internet and she gave up.

Just as I was about to tell my friend that I was giving up, she said: Look! here she is! I was standing right behind her tombstone.  I couldn't believe it, I brought rocks from California where I live, (and a few that I picked up near my friend’s house in Connecticut).  I told her of her family, her grandchildren, great and great-great grandchildren.  I took pictures for my cousins. I was the first one to visit her since she had died. 

My girlfriend returned and made a "rubbing" of the stone and sent it to me, I had it shrunk down at Kinkos and faxed it to a friend who offered to translate it.

It says: n K

Here is the deceased, (acronym)

Mrs. Fayga Kaplan

Daughter of Joseph Isaiah Rav

Died on 28 5683 Kislev


DIED DEC. 15, 1923 (they got the date wrong it was 1922)


I remember my dad, telling me that she died on the first night of Hannukah, when he was 12 years old. I light a candle just for her every year next to the menorah.

My friend from Connecticut is not Jewish never knew her grandmother.  I told her she could share my bubbie.  Every time she is in New Haven, she goes there and brings my bubbie rocks.

Copyright 2005 Belarus SIG and Dorothy Harper

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