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Brick Walls
Are you up against a genealogical “brick wall”? Let JGSMD members help you break it down! If you have a perplexing research problem and desire some guidance on where to look next or how to proceed, maybe our group members can point you in the right direction. See instructions for presenting your brick wall problem here. Submitted Brick Wall problems will be posted on this web page.

JGSMD group members are invited to contribute suggestions and pointers for resolving the problem—but should not do the research themselves. If you’d like to offer a research suggestion, please see instructions here.

When responses are received, they will be forwarded to the person who submitted the problem. Questions and responses will also be edited for publication in the next edition of our quarterly newsletter, L’DOR V’DOR, so that we can all share the learning experience. Contributors’ email addresses will not be published.

[For those who would prefer to receive help in a more personal and private setting, please consider our Mentoring program as an alternative. Contact Arlynne Brown (arbrown2@gmail.com) for details.]

Submitted Brick Walls--Can You Help?

Great Grandm's Mysterious Origins

Joseph Leahy

I have been researching my great-grandmother, Frieda Fannie WIENER (or WEINER), who was born December 15, 1878, in Germany. Oral family history says she emigrated from the port of Bremen to Baltimore, but we have no idea what town she was from in Germany, thus no way of knowing which German State Archive from which to request her birth certificate.

My search has been successful insofar as I’ve located her death and marriage certificates at the Maryland State Archives, but those records only indicate that she was from Germany, not her town/city of origin.

The best source of information so far has been the 1920 U.S. Census: it says she was born in 1878 and immigrated in 1895. I used that information to research ship manifests into Baltimore and New York using Ancestry.com, as well as the microfiche at the National Archives and Maryland Historical Society (just for Baltimore). No luck. I searched her name as Frieda/Freida and Fannie, and her surname as both WIENER and WEINER. Still nothing.

I have also requested information from every Standesamt (Vital Records Office) in each German state. All replies have been negative or require further information that I just don’t have.

Can you assist? Thank you.


Helen Dillon Freed

I need help finding information about Chiessa PODRABIN/FREED/RABINOWITZ, my children’s 3x-great-grandmother on their father’s side. She was originally from Lithuania (probably Kaunas). Family lore indicates that she immigrated to Baltimore, where she operated a store until her death in approximately 1916.

I am occasionally in Baltimore for short visits, and I would like to find evidence of Chiessa’s life in Baltimore. Since I want to use my limited time there most effectively, I hope that someone could direct me to the places where I am most likely to find information to help me.

Here is what I know so far: Chiessa had at least two sons, who may have been twins (per family oral history): Moses (Chaim Moshe) FREED, b. about 1865 in Kaunas, and Victor FREED, b. about 1867 in Kaunas. Moses and Victor were both jewelers and both immigrated, separately, to the U.S. around 1885–1887. Moses lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn; Victor lived in Baltimore (where he was naturalized in 1892) before moving to New York and, later, South Africa. Baltimore city directories show that Victor operated a jewelry store on E. Fayette Street in 1893 and on E. Baltimore Street in 1896.

Moses’ marriage license (1887) states that his mother was named “Chiese PODRABIN.” Victor’s marriage license (1892) states that his mother was “Chessa RABINOWITZ.” I have been told that she died during a visit to New York, but I can find no record of her death or burial in New York or Baltimore. I have also been told that she was nearly 90 years old at the time of her death.

I have a copy of a letter that was written in 1916 by Gerson ROBISON (b. 1870). In his letter, Gerson gives permission for “Chiessa RABINOWITZ” to be buried in the ROBISON family plot in Hebrew Friendship Cemetery in Baltimore. I have visited the cemetery, and there is, in fact, a small plot purchased by the ROBISONs, but there is no evidence of any burials there.

Gerson’s letter states that Chiessa was Gerson’s “aunt on my father’s side.” According to Gerson’s passport application, his father was “Lazarus.” If Chiessa was Gerson’s aunt on his father’s side, presumably she was Lazarus’ sister. I realize that she may, instead, have been the sister of Lazarus’ father, but given the similar ages of Chiessa’s children and Lazarus’ children, I suspect that they are part of the same generation.

Thanks to the internet, I know that the ROBISON family’s surname was originally “PODRABINEK.” I am aware of an 1858 Sedova record that shows a PODRABINEK family that includes a Gershon (b. 1848) and a Leyzer (b. 1840). I am guessing that perhaps Leyzer is Lazarus, the younger Gerson’s father.

I am pretty sure that I have searched most of the immigration/birth/death/marriage records that are available online, yet I can find no record of Chiessa at all. Are there perhaps some records available in Baltimore that might help? What about the Jewish Museum? Are there any records about Jewish merchants, since Chiessa supposedly was a merchant? Is there any way to search electronically for her by her somewhat unusual first name? (I’ve tried that on Ancestry.com, with no success.) And are there any locally available family histories that might explain the relationship between Chiessa and the ROBISON/PODRABINEK family?

Many thanks for any advice that you can give!

A Mysterious Death

Sara Ani

I am in the processing of researching my grandmother’s eight siblings. My great-uncle, Joseph HOFFMAN, was born August 16 (according to the Pennsylvania death certificate) or September 16, 1903 (according to his tombstone). His wife’s name was Rae. In the 1920 census, Joseph is 16 and living at home. In the 1930 census, he is married to Rae, and they have a 2-year-old daughter, Marion. I could not find a 1940 census for the family.

Joseph died under mysterious circumstances. His body was discovered in the Monongahela River off the High Bridge in Homestead, PA, at 12:35 a.m. on September 1, 1944. The death certificate says he drowned. However, there is controversy over what caused the drowning, and this controversy caused ill feelings in the family. I would like to be able to find out whether there are more details concerning the death from a newspaper article, police report, or obituary. Some of the family believed that Joseph had an accident, some believed that it was a suicide, and others believed that he had a connection to the mob and was “done in.” I do not want to cause anguish to anyone, but I think it would be good to know what really happened and put this incident to rest.

Both Joseph (August or September 16, 1903–September 1, 1944) and Rae (June 7, 1908–July 10, 1968) are buried in the New Light (Ohei Chodesh) Cemetery in Etna, PA. Their daughter Marion (April 14, 1928–March 9, 1937) is buried next to them.

My question is: where can I look for more details concerning my great-uncle’s death?

FULD Family from Büdingen, Germany

Nan Lefenfeld

My great-great-grandparents, Jonas and Bessy (also known as Bettie or Berthe) FULD, immigrated to Baltimore from Büdingen, Germany, sometime prior to 1850. (Their names appear in the 1850 U.S. census records for Baltimore.) Büdingen is a small, medieval town situated about 30 miles northeast of Frankfurt. I have identified nearly 20 members of the extended Fuld family who arrived in Baltimore during the 1840s and 1850s, having come from that town. Most of these individuals are buried in Baltimore’s Hebrew Friendship Cemetery. I will be going to Germany and plan to briefly visit Büdingen. I would like to pose the following questions to JGSMD members:

1. Are you related to any of the Fulds of Baltimore, and/or have you done research related to thefamily?

2. Were some records relating to arrivals at the port of Baltimore in the mid-19th century destroyed at some point in time? I believe that I was told this many years ago and that the individual who mentioned this to me related the loss to the Great Baltimore Fire. However, I do not know if it is true and have no information about what records may have been lost. I have conducted archival research at the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the National Archives and consulted online sources (i.e., Ancestry.com), but I am unable to locate immigration records that I can link definitively to Jonas and Bessy Fuld, although I did locate a record for a Fuld family that arrived in New York in 1849.

3. Have you traveled to a small town in Germany to trace your own family’s roots, and, if so, can you share with me your experience in locating records? The Jewish community that existed in Büdingen in the 19th century was very small. By the late 1930s, nearly all of the town’s Jews had left. A few small Jewish cemeteries still exist, as does a small structure that was used as a synagogue. As I do not speak German, it has been particularly challenging for me to make inquiries to find out whether any records pertaining to the historic community still exist and, if so, where they might be located.

My thanks in advance for any information or advice you can give me on these questions.

The Meyer Cohen Family of Baltimore

Marsha Birnbaum

In working on my family history, I’ve been pursuing three challenging goals: ascertaining my great-grandparents’ date of arrival in New York, confirming whether or not my great-grandfather was ever naturalized, and finding out about another family group’s arrival in Baltimore. We have a wealth of oral history and little in documentation. The U.S. census listings for this family and their cemetery headstones contain as much fiction as truth.

Here’s what I have so far:

1) My great-grandfather was Meyer COHEN (actually, he was Isaac Meyer; he didn’t use his first name, but it is on his headstone). He was born in 1865 and died in Baltimore on November 1, 1939. His wife, Marcia Rosa Cohen, was born in 1870 and died in Baltimore on February 9, 1945. Meyer and his wife, along with their son Louis, sailed from Bremen and arrived in New York around December 1890. They were probably processed at the Barge Office, which served as the immigration facility in New York at that time. They were received by relatives in New York. The family moved to Baltimore after about a year, and Meyer went into business with his cousins.

My grandmother, Yetta/Etta (or Addie), was born in New York on July 8, 1891; this date has been confirmed by a birth certificate showing that Yetta was born to Rosie Pondfeld Cohen and Isaac Cohen at their home, 6 Essex St, New York City, on that date. The family’s estimated date of arrival is tied to the fact that Marcia was pregnant during the voyage and stated on the 1900 U.S. census for Baltimore that a baby girl was born in July 1891.

My goal is to obtain my great-grandparents’ date of arrival. The little family of three—Meyer, Marcia or Rose, and 2-year-old Louis—haven’t shown up under the surnames COHEN or GERSTEIN/HERSTEIN (a name used by some relatives) on any passenger search at Ancestry.com or SteveMorse.org for the estimated time period. During the past few months, curators at the Hall of Records in Annapolis and the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington DC have also searched for me on Ancestry.com and didn’t find anything. What should I try next?

2) I am not certain whether Meyer Cohen was ever naturalized. I found an index card at Ancestry.com showing a Meyer Cohen who was naturalized in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore on April 28, 1904 (Cert JWC#23 Folio 74). My intuition tells me that this is the right Meyer Cohen, but I can’t be sure. The index card does not give a street address or names of other family members. The card does give the name of a witness, Joseph Cohen, but Meyer did not have a brother or other known relative by that name. The curator at the National Archives in Philadelphia told me that the index card reflects the information that the court collected at that time. Beginning in 1906, the record-keeping system was expanded and became more standardized. More detail was included, such as the names and ages of children.

Before 1922, wives and children became citizens automatically with the man’s naturalization. If Meyer was naturalized in 1904, his son Louis should also have been naturalized at that time. However, military documents show that Louis entered the military in 1918 as an alien and gained citizenship with his honorable discharge. The only explanation I have is that early record keeping was so chaotic and varied so greatly among the many U.S. courts, it was like the Wild, Wild West.

I am curious as to whether Meyer was ever naturalized, but I particularly hope that a naturalization document will provide the family’s date of arrival. In the 1900 census, a false arrival date was given, and it was claimed that Louis was born in the U.S. And in the 1920 census, the respondent was someone who knew the family but gave wrong ages and dates. (The family owned the house, but they had moved.) As for the year of arrival, this respondent actually reported that the parents were living in America while Louis was born overseas!

I’ve contacted the National Archives online to ask where to look for a Declaration of Intent or Petition for Naturalization. If either exists, it should confirm that I have identified the correct Meyer Cohen and give his date of arrival. If these searches are unsuccessful, how can I ascertain whether Meyer was naturalized?

3) Meyer brought all his relatives into Baltimore, including his father, Jacob COHEN (1840-1918), his sister Lena COHEN, and her future husband, Morris PONDFIELD. It might be possible to find them on passenger lists, although the Cohens may have sailed under the name Gerstein. Lena and Morris were born in the 1870s and married in Baltimore on June 7, 1896; thus, it is likely that they arrived in Baltimore between 1891 and 1896. Jacob sailed with other relatives and may have arrived as late as 1904. They probably sailed from the port of Bremen on the German America Line. However, I can’t find any evidence of their arrival. Where should I go from here?

The documents I hold include: the 1900 and 1920 U.S. censuses for Baltimore; death certificates for Meyer, Marcia, my grandmother Etta, and Meyer’s father, Jacob (Hall of Records, Annapolis); a new certified marriage certificate for Jacob Cohen in his old age in Baltimore, 1918; a birth record for Etta’s next sibling, Reba, who was born in Baltimore in 1893 (Annapolis); photos of all their cemetery headstones; Louis’s induction and honorable discharge documents; and the naturalization index card for a Meyer Cohen of Baltimore (National Archives).

MONSON in Katerburg

Selene Scherr

I am researching my mother’s parents. Esther MONSON, my mother, came from Katerburg, Russia or Poland, as an 8-year-old child with her cousins and aunt after her mother was killed by the Bolsheviks during a pogrom between 1918 and 1920. I found out about the murder through a family member, just a few months ago. Previously, I thought my grandmother died of an illness. I’d like to find a death record or perhaps an account of the pogrom in the area. I do not know what happened to my grandfather. I think his name was Frayim.

I do not have Esther MONSON’s Petition for Naturalization, but I have her Certificate of Citizenship. I also found the Petition of her aunt, Bessie (Pesya) FIRESTEIN, on Ancestry.com. Bessie and family, including my mother, Esther, arrived in New York on September 20, 1920, on the ship Oscar II. The family moved to Baltimore and settled there. I cannot locate any record of Esther MONSON in Poland or Russia or in the immigration records. Perhaps she had a different name in Poland. I am hoping that the new records from Ron Doctor’s Kremenets project will uncover something, and I plan to look through those records soon.

I have been trying to locate Bessie FIRESTEIN’s obituary in the Baltimore Sun to learn her maiden name; her date of death is documented as August 5, 1950. My great-aunt’s maiden name would be the same as my grandmother’s.

I’ve consulted Jewish Records Indexing-Poland and thought I found the family listed under FAYERSHTEJN/FAYERSHTEYN in Katerinovka, Poland, but I’m not sure that is the right family because the birth dates in that record do not coincide with the dates of birth on the Petition for Naturalization.

Any help or tips would be much appreciated.

Who Is Barbara or Eve Vanderslice?

Amber Hennessey

Here is my dilemma on finding my ancestor: I am trying to find a woman (or, possibly, two women) named Barbara/Barbary or Eve. According to census records, her husband, Moses VANDERSLICE, was born about 1801 in Holland. I already have some information about her. I have combed through Ancestry.com and many Google and Jewish genealogy society sites.

In records of Mikveh Israel Jewish Congregation in Philadelphia, her name is given as Eve, the wife of Moses Vanderslice and the mother of Elsey (b. 1835), Isaac (b. 1837), Rachel (b. 1840), and Aaron (b. 1842). It is possible that, if Eve and Barbara are two different women, Eve died around 1842.

A marriage record for Moses Vanderslice indicates that he married Zibaure/Zibora ___ in 1843 in Philadelphia at Rodeph Shalom Congregation. In the 1850 census, Moses Vanderslice’s wife is listed as Barbara, and in the 1860 U.S. census and 1865 Massachusetts state census, she is Barbary. In 1860, two other children, Ann (b. 1842; possibly written mistakenly for Aaron) and Joseph (b. 1845), are living in their household. Barbara was born in Baltimore in 1804 or 1805, a time when there were only about 15-20 Jewish families in Baltimore. Barbara Vanderslice died on 1/12/1880 in Philadelphia and was buried by Congregation Rodeph Shalom.

My questions are: How can I determine whether Eve changed her name to Barbara, or whether Eve died and Barbara was the second wife of Moses? Also, how can I find her birth name? Who were her parents, and where were they from?

I thank you kindly for all your effort and help.

Morris (Moshe) Levin or Levine, Early 1900s Shochet In Baltimore

Jane Alpert

Can anyone help me trace the early history of my ancestor Morris (Moshe) LEVIN or LEVINE in Baltimore? My family believes he was well known and established in the Jewish community from the early 1900s. He was a shochet, had a shop in Lexington Market, and was a scholarly man who affiliated with Shaarei Zion shul and was close with their long-time leader, Rabbi Israel Tabak. Eventually, he owned a number of rental properties that made him and family fairly well off. Yet, none of his descendants has any details on his background in Europe, other than that he came from Novogrodek in Russia (now Belarus) and his parents were named Lazar and Leah. I am interested to know what brought him to Baltimore, how he became successful here, and whether he maintained any ties with the family in Novogrodek.

My research so far has turned up a 1904 Baltimore City Directory, listing him at 213 Pearl St. Also, the 1910 U.S. Census has him at this address with his wife, Lena, and three children, Ida, Rebecca, and Louis. I have also found a 1910 passenger manifest for my great-grandmother, Bella LEVINE (“LEWIN” on the passenger manifest), showing that she and the children were coming to live with my great-grandfather Samuel at the same 213 Pearl St address. Samuel and Bella eventually settled with their children at 774 Saratoga St.

There is a family legend that the name in Russia was ELETZKY (phonetic spelling) and was changed by Morris after he came to Baltimore, when a signmaker told him it was too long for a sign on his schochet shop. The family has told this story for years, but no one has been able to document the original family name.

I need to know my family’s original surname to make progress tracing back the family in the old country. I would also love any additional information or insights into their lives and work in Baltimore in the early 1900s. I have not found passenger manifests for Morris or Samuel, only for Bella, who was the last of the family to arrive.

I would be grateful for recollections, hints, or advice.

What Ever Happened to Dreske/Dora/Thelma?

George Rothstein

I am looking for a first cousin once removed on my father’s mother’s side. She immigrated as ‘Dreske,’ appears in census reports as ‘Dora’ and has always been known to her family as ‘Thelma.’

Here is what I already know about her:

Probable match on ship`s manifest shows Eva Leah (Chava Leie Lewin) arriving on the Netherlands-American Line Obdam from Rotterdam on November 11, 1897. Accompanying her are Josef Elie (Albert?) aged 10, Dreske (Dora/Thelma?) age 8 and Mendel (Victor Emanuel) aged 6. If Dreske is Thelma her age and Mendel`s age may have been switched.

1900 US Census shows her name as Dora living with parents, Israel and Eva and brothers Albert, Emanuel and Samuel at a rented apartment at 423 Delancy Street, New York City. Shows her date of birth as December 1885, shows she immigrated in 1897, that she can read, write and speak English and that she is in school.

1905 NY State Census shows Dora living with her parents and 4 brothers and my grandmother, Lena Levine, at 60 E. 98th Street in NYC. Her age is given as 19 and her occupation, milliner.

[From Barbara Levine, her niece] Struck and killed as a young woman in a car accident. Was always known to the family as Thelma. "When Dad [Irving (Abraham Levine) Levine) - b.NYC 1902] moved to Baltimore he told me this story: He was a kid living in New York. Previously he had told me they lived on the Lower East Side. He was coming home from school and other kids yelled at him "Hey Levine, Your sister`s dead". He then found that she had been struck by a car near their place. Information from the Ivy Dall Family Tree

1910 US Census shows Dora's parents and two youngest brothers (including Irving/Abraham) living at Lincoln Park and Boonton Turnpike in Pequannock, NJ. Dora is not

1920 US Census shows parents and Irving/Abraham living at 390 Berraman Street in

Possible match: Dora Levine, died 28 October 1915, age 26, buried in Bayside Cemetery,

Possible match: Washington Cemetery, 5400 Bay Parkway,Brooklyn, NY, 11230, 718-377-8690. Dora Levine, died 12/30/1918 on Grant Street in Manhattan, Cemetery 1, Post 19, Row 7, Grave 5. Sent for photograph 6/7/13. NO this Dora was 54 years old per death record.

I have done the following research:

Looked at Italian Gen for deaths of all Dreske/Dora/Thelmas (regardless of last name) who died between 1905 and 1930. Obtained death certificates for any candidates born around 1885.

Looked at all Jewish cemeteries in NY area that had location finders.

Looked at Brooklyn Eagle and NY Times data bases for reports of a car accident involving a Dreske, Dora, Thelma or Levine.

Questions: Could Thelma have lived separated from her parents as a single Orthodox Jewish woman? Could she have living in NY with a relative or at a boarding house when her family lived in NJ? Could Irving have remembered incorrectly and his sister actually died in NJ? I haven’t been able to search local NJ papers for the accident. Irving was born in 1902. If he was coming home from school he must have been at least 6 years old. But sometime between 1905 and 1910 he was living in NJ. Could he have remembered incorrectly where he was living when his sister died?

I would appreciate any suggestions you can make to track down this elusive relative. Thanks!

Bessie Klivansky – Great-grandmother

Minna Culiner

Bessie Klivansky was born around 1866 in Russia to Samuel Klivansky and Frada (or Freda) Levine. I believe she arrived in the U.S. around 1886 or 1887, but I am not sure what city or port she arrived in. I have a feeling she lived with a cousin when she first arrived in Baltimore; however, I have no information to confirm this theory.

She lived in Baltimore around 1887 and married my great-grandfather, Morris Friedlander, about the same time. They had four children between 1887 and 1895. Her children are as follows: Rose Friedlander, born May 1887; Minnie Friedlander, born July 1889; Bessie Friedlander, born July 1891; and Israel Friedlander, born June 1895.

I found an 1897 death certificate for her. The certificate had no information about her spouse or parents. She died in childbirth at 1144 East Lombard Street and was buried in the Mikro Kodesh Synagogue Cemetery on Philadelphia Road. The undertaker was J. Gittlesohn of 800 East Lombard Street. The gravestone no longer exists, and there is only an empty plot, per Beth Israel.

She is not listed on any census or city directory from 1887 to 1897. Unfortunately, there is no 1890 census, either. I did find her brother, Jacob Kline, in Raleigh, Wake Co., NC.

His obituary in 1925 did not mention his parents’ names or his deceased siblings’ names.

I am trying to find out: 1) what country she came from, 2) when she arrived in Baltimore, MD, 3) the ship she arrived on, and 4) if she has any living family members who were told any stories about her. Where would you research next?
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