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From a Shtetl Called Michalishuck

Finding my Palestin Family

"There are now 513 direct descendants of Shmuilo Palestin of Michalishuck on my Palestin/Polstein family tree, going back to the early 1800s."

By Rita Redlich as told to Meredith Hoffman

Raymond & Iris Taub in the 1950s

Great-Uncle Feivel Palestin

It all started in 1995 with a small family reunion in Connecticut. We knew that my mother's father, Isador Polstein, had come to this country from a shtetl called Michalishuck in the early 20th century. Three of his brothers and a sister had also come around that time.

It was wonderful to see my cousins and to meet many other family members. There were photos, singing, anecdotes and much warmth. I was given a family tree with what was known at that time, along with some information about family members. Well, I put it away.

In 1997 my brother retired from his medical practice. A friend of his suggested that he get into genealogy as a retirement hobby. He tried it and decided that it was more likely to be “up my alley.” Boy, was he ever right!

From that family tree from 1995, I contacted everyone I could in order to get names, dates, places and other information on them and their families.

I found that Michalishuck was in Lithuania (Vilna Gubernia), Poland or Russia, depending on the time period. Now it's called Mikhalishki and is part of Belarus.

“From posting on the JewishGen Family Finder I found others who were researching the same shtetl. Through them I met Boris Klor - a survivor from our town. Boris had a map of Michalishuck with the names of all the people who lived there before the Holocaust and the location of the ghetto. He showed me the bricks factory - the Palestin family business - on the map.

“Boris put me in touch with another survivor from Michalishuck. I visited Esther Katz Livingston in California. She had a room with a pool table and on that table were many photos of the people of Michalishuck. Esther gave me her story of her life in the town. She gave me a list about all the residents of the town. I have given all this information to JewishGen and it is on the BelarusSig web site.”

I learned at the family reunion that some cousins had come here first in the late nineteenth century. They had changed the family name from Palestin to Polstein and all Polsteins were related. I wanted to find out how these early arrivals were related to the rest of us.

I found JewishGen and entered the names I was researching. I searched the 1897 Lithuanian Census at JewishGen. From the Vilna Archives I obtained all the birth, marriage and death records that they had; they told me the rest were lost in fires and wars. I looked at naturalization records, census records, Ellis Island records, but still I could not find the family connection.

I did learn that my grandfather's grandfather was Israel-Iankel Palestin, and he had sons named Josel-David (my great-grandfather), Feivel and Mikhal-Zusman.

Jacob Taub (Eliau Rosenvald) and his daughter Gloria

Rita's great-grandfather Josel-David Palestin
from Michalishuck,
taken before 1900

I was beginning to realize that I needed to get more information from the “old country.” I contacted a Lithuanian genealogist who sent me copies of items from the 1874 Alphabetical List of the Jews of Vilna uyezd. Israel-Iankel was there and his sons - Josel and Feivel and Mikhal Zusman. Mikhal-Zusman's children were also there - Yudel-Leiba (Louis), Meyer, Josel-Hirsha (Joseph) and Itzko-Rubin (Isaac). As a bonus Israel-Iankel's father was also named - Shmuilo! So now I could connect the whole family in Michalishuck!

But what about the Polsteins in the US? I was lucky to find the 1938 New York Times obituary for Joseph Polstein (the Josel-Hirsha born in Michalishuck). It mentioned his surviving siblings - Isaac (Itzko-Rubin), Meyer, and a sister I had not known about - and his descendants.

I also found a marriage record for Meyer which listed his parents as Zusman and Annie Polstein. I emailed Joseph Polstein's obituary to my family tree list. One cousin informed me that Joseph was in Who's Who in American Jewry 1928. Yeshiva University had the book. They faxed a copy of the listing to me and - lo and behold - Joseph's parents were named - Michael and Anna Polstein!!

From my posting on JewishGen, relatives in Montevideo, Uruguay, found me, and a whole new group of cousins was added to the family tree. They are descended from Israel-Iankel's son Feivel.

There are now 513 direct descendants of Shmuilo Palestin of Michalishuck on my Palestin/Polstein family tree, going back to the early 1800s. I am thrilled to get photos and news from relatives in Jerusalem, Uruguay and all over the US.

September 2009

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Rita used many resources over her years of research. She posted the names and the town she was researching in the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF) and cousins from Uruguay found the listing and contacted her; she also found others who were researching her town. She donated some of the information and materials she collected to the BelarusSig pages at JewishGen - a practice which we encourage all researchers to follow.

Searching the JewishGen databases, she found her Palestins (Palestyn) in the Lithuanian census of 1897 (to see the actual record she found, click here). She received some records directly from the Lithuanian State Historical Archives in Vilnius.

You can search the JewishGen databases in a single search here. The 1897 Lithuanian Census Database currently includes the names of 13,465 Jewish individuals (2,475 families) residing in Kovna and Vilna Gubernya, extracted from the first official census of the Russian Empire. If you contribute a minimum of $100 annually to the JewishGen General Fund you can use an enhanced search that lets you combine multiple search criteria for more focused, targeted searches. In addition, she told the rest of the JewishGen community of her discoveries and success by posting to the JewishGen Discussion Group which you are encouraged to subscribe to if you do not already.

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Updated by MH on Monday, May 24, 2010.

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