by Richard L. Baum
My parents, Joseph and Celia Sevransky Baum, were married on 11 March 1933 (their wedding photograph appears above), in the depths of the Depression, at the De Lux Palace, located on Howard Avenue, in Brooklyn, New York. I do not know if it was a fad in those days, but the bride and groom asked the guests to sign their names to the back of the dinner menus placed at each dinner table. Decades later I found this collection of menus among family papers. Most of the names I recognized as family; there were also unfamiliar names that I provisionally assumed were either my parents’ friends or neighbors from that era. To confirm my assumption (by this time I had been tracing my family history long enough to know to “check out” unknown names) I asked my cousin Gladys, who is twenty years older than I am, if she recognized any people on the list (Gladys and her parents lived in the same house together with my father and his parents); indeed, Gladys did recognize some names as those of friends of my father, but others were a mystery to her. There was one menu in the collection that listed six people, all of whom had the same unusual, and unrecognized, surname — Maultasch; two additional sets of entries, of two people each, had surnames that drew my attention — Hollander and Baum; the Hollander surname was also unknown to me, and the two Baum entries only had initials in lieu of given names and I wondered who they could be.
The Baum surname was of special interest to me, and I focused my attention on the two people who carried this name. I spent much time in the New York Public Library trying to make a connection to these two wedding guests. One of the difficulties in this search was that these two guests signed their menu only with the initial of their given names. After much effort scrolling through microfilm copies of the New York City Directories, I found a married couple with the right surname, with given names that began with the correct letters, who lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (not far from where the Baum family once resided), and whose occupation matched that of my paternal grandfather — junk peddler1. I was also able to determine that the husband of this married couple came from a shtetl in the Russian-controlled region of Poland, whereas my paternal grandparents came from a Galician shtetl (intriguingly, the two shtetls were not far from each other). These facts, however, suggestive as they are, were not proof of family connection; and there was certainly no way to even know if these Baums were the wedding guests. As I could not find any further information, I moved on to other, more promising, areas of research; I had all but forgotten about the other two surnames.
In May 2004 I was searching the Jewish Records Indexing – Poland (JRI-Poland) website for a name that was written in German script on the rear of a photograph of an apparent relative that I had gotten from my cousin Adrienne. When I did not get a “hit” for that name, I found myself spontaneously entering the Maultasch surname, one of the names that is included among the guests’ signatures who attended my parents’ 1933 wedding. I had no idea who the Maultasch family was. Six of them, though, had been at the wedding; such a large group suggested to me that they were probably relatives (I hadn’t considered this when I first saw this surname years earlier). To my surprise, a considerable list of vital records associated with the Maultasch surname materialized on my computer screen. All of the entries were from the Polish town of Rzeszów, which is northwest of Przemyśl. As I read through the list, I spotted an entry for the 1884 birth record of a Schloime Salmen Maultasch, whose mother was Chane Baum. The conjunction of the JRI-Poland information with the Maultasch signatures on the wedding list was immediately suggestive to me — the 1933 wedding Maultasch group was almost certainly my cousins! I needed documentation, however, to confirm my supposition; I sent for a copy of Schloime Salmen Maultasch’s birth record (I sent for all of the Maultasch records listed on JRI-Poland).
I first learned of Solomon Baum, my paternal great-grandfather, from both my grandfather Aaron’s headstone and from his 1930 death certificate. Grandfather Aaron’s headstone states that his father’s name was Shlomo Zalman; Shlomo and Zalman are name variants2, and both are equivalent to the English Solomon. Solomon’s wife was Sarah; her name appears on my grandfather Aaron’s death certificate. As the informant was most likely my grandmother Dora, I have a high degree of confidence that “Sarah” is correct.
The JRI-Poland birth records arrived. Schloime Salmen’s Polish birth record, as well as those of his brother and sister, Leon and Sure Neche, respectively, stated that their mother Chane’s parents were Salmena and Sury Nechy Baum. The birth records also state that Chane’s father Salmena was an innkeeper and that Chane’s town of birth is Ropczyce (other records, found later, state that Chane was born in Pstrągowa, a nearby shtetl). Schloime Salmen was born on 22 November 1884 in house 266 in Rzeszów. His father is Moses Maultasch. Schloime Salmen is listed as illegitimate. Chane’s parents are listed as coming from Pstrągowy.
Given the matching data in the Polish and American vital records (and data from my grandfather’s headstone), it seems clear to me that Chane Baum Maultasch is my great-grandfather Solomon’s daughter, is my grandpa Aaron’s sister, and is my great-aunt. Following Ashkenazi custom, Chane named her newborn son after her father, Shlomo Zalman who, therefor, died before November 22, 1884. Consistent with the same custom, great-grandmother Sarah died sometime before October 26, 1886, the date of birth of Chane’s daughter, Sure Neche, who bears her grandmother’s name.
Once I found the Maultasch surname, I began searching JRI-Poland for other surnames that are connected to the Baum surname and that come from the same region. Among the JRI-Poland entries are the names of Leib and Jakob Vergeslich, both of Rzeszów, whose mother’s maiden name is Chaje Baum. Chaje came from Ropczyce. Her father was Leizora Baum. I believe these people are likely related to my great-aunt Chane Maultasch, though I have found no documentary proof to support my belief. Other possible relatives that I found in the JRI-Poland entries are Malka Baum, who is married to Moses Keller; Golde Baum, whose husband is Wolf Hollander (there were two Hollanders at my parents’ wedding, one of whom, it turns out, was Bessie Hollander née Maultasch, whose mother was Chane Baum3); Feige Baum Todres, whose parents were Samuel and Reisha Baum; and a Sarah Baum Messing. I have not, unfortunately, found any records that connect these people to my great-aunt Chana Baum Maultasch (nor to one another, for that matter).
The Maultasch family members who attended my parents’ wedding, I am quite sure, are my cousins. And Schloime Salmen Maultasch, who immigrated to America in 1904, together with his siblings, was my father’s first cousin. I searched the internet for, and found, people who have the Maultasch surname. I sent them letters (and sometimes telephoned) to introduce myself. Each letter included a copy of the wedding dinner menu; one of the letter recipients told me that she recognized her mother’s signature. Eventually, I located and, together with my sister, met with descendants of the Maultasch wedding guests.
It is ironic that my initial attempt at using the wedding menu list to find Baum family members failed because I focused on the Baum surname. It was the Maultasch surname that was the key to discovering both my great-aunt Chane Maultasch née Baum and an associated family branch!
New York, New York, USA
1. Another cousin, Jean, told me that Grandpa Aaron traveled around the city driving a horse and wagon, collecting junk that he then sold to a junk dealer. Jean would help our grandfather sort each day’s collection; she recalls doing the sorting somewhere on Avenue D, between Sixth and Seventh Streets, not far, it turns out, from 752 East Fifth Street, the address of the married couple that I suspected might have been the wedding guests.
2. Jewish Personal Names, Their Origin, Derivation and Diminutive Forms; by Rabbi Shmuel Gorr (publ. 1992; p. 33)
3. Found together with the dinner menus was a telegram sent to my parents on their wedding night. The telegram was sent by Nathan and Bertha Sonnenblick. Bertha’s maiden name, it developed, is Maultasch, and Bertha’s mother is Chane Baum. Altogether, Chane Baum and her husband Moshe had six surviving children.
Research Notes and Hints
Richard’s initial resource was most unusual — signatures on the backs of dinner menus from his parents’ wedding.
At the New York Public Library, he scrolled through microfilm of old New York City Directories to identify some of the wedding guests who had only used their first initials when signing the menus.
He found vital records listed on the Jewish Records Indexing – Poland database, and ordered copies of these records. Together with the JRI-Poland records, American vital records he had obtained, and information from his grandfather’s headstone, Richard was able to determine the relationships among his newly discovered Maultasch cousins.
Richard took the next step of searching resources on the Internet for telephone numbers and addresses of people with the Maultasch surname, calling or sending letters to each of them. He successfully located and met descendants of his parents’ Maultasch wedding guests.