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Letters in a Photo Album:

Searching for My Mother’s Rabinowitz and Pinsley Cousins

By Sam Glaser

fraya glaser

Fraydell Zlotnick Glaser c. 1938


My mother's family never spoke much about distant relatives and by the time I started researching my genealogy she and all her siblings had passed away. Contacting my cousins on that side of my family turned out to be completely useless since they had no names and only rumored anecdotes. This left me relying on memories of what my mother had told me and some letters she had sent to her sister that were later recovered.

Sarah Rabinowitz 1931 Obituary

When I was growing up my mother, Fraydell (Zlotnick) Glaser, told me she had cousins on her mother's side in the U.S. whose last names were Rabinowitz and Pinsley (formerly Pinski). I knew one of the branches lived in Chicago and the other lived in Kansas City, but which was where I had never asked. I knew that one cousin's first name was Louis. She also told me that when she was little she had a dream that there was a plane wreck—and a week later one of her cousins died in a plane crash. This story stayed with me, but didn’t lead to any more information about my family history.

I asked my mother what my grandmother's maiden name was, but she responded, “We never talked about that.” Later, from my grandmother's death certificate, I learned her maiden name was Golaboski and she was from Kobryn, Belarus, indicating her sisters had married into the Rabinowitz and Pinsley families.

Upon my mother's death in 1996 my sister pulled out an old photo album in which my mother had pasted letters she had written to her sister during the time she was in the Women’s Air Corps during World War II. This was the first time my sister and I had read these letters. I was fortunate that some of the information we gleaned from these letters stuck with me.


Wedding Photo of Sylvia Golabulsky and Sam Pinsley c. 1901, Kobryn, Belarus

By the time I began an in-depth look into my maternal grandmother's family it was 2009. I asked my sister to go back over the letters we read together and pull out any relatives' names she found. In a couple of weeks she got back to me with the unfortunate news that she couldn't find any references to family members. This pretty much stopped my efforts. Without additional names I had nothing new to search on. Previously I had posted to the Belarus Special Interest Group (SIG) at JewishGen without any luck.

Two months passed and it was time for my annual trip to visit with my sister and get in some skiing. At that time she offered the letters to me thinking maybe she had overlooked something. She brought out a shoe box which I'd never seen before. I reminded her that the letters we had read were contained in a photo album. She brought out the album and I spent the rest of that evening identifying key information to further my search. Louis it turns out was Louis Rabinowitz from Kansas City, Missouri, and he had several sisters and brothers who were also identified. This also meant that the cousins in Chicago were then Pinsleys. I was ready for more research when I got back home

I picked up the investigation again beginning with There, using the combination of names and the location (Kansas City, Missouri) I was able to identify that my great aunt's name was Sarah and that she had married Davis Rabinowitz. Back I went to the JewishGen Belarus SIG with my new-found knowledge. This elicited responses from several members with additional information extending my family tree. One of them was extremely helpful notifying me that the state of Missouri had a free death certificate site online and also that there was a woman I could contact who kept a history of Jewish burials in Kansas City. I wrote to her and she supplied me with the obituary of Sarah Rabinowitz. Success! It stated Sarah was survived by her sister, Mrs. S. Pinski of Chicago.

Mrs. S. Pinski—I thought I had hit the jackpot! But wait, was the "S" her given name or her husband's. A quick look at Ancestry told me there were male and female Pinskis and Pinsleys in Chicago with the initial "S" in 1931. I took a break from my research.

pinsley registration card

Sam Pinsley WWII Registration

With some time to think about my approach I decided to try a combination of Pinsley/Kobryn. Ancestry now gave up a 1942 military registration record of a Sam Pinsley from Chicago whose next of kin was William Pinsley. Searching on Sam Pinski from Chicago turned up a couple of plausible results. One was married to a Sylvia who had a child named William. I searched on Pinskis with a father whose first name was Sam and a mother whose first name was Sylvia. This turned up a birth certificate for Hymen Solly Pinski with the father listed as Sam Pinski and the mother listed as Sylvia Golabulsky. That was too close for coincidence—names started with "S", name change from Pinski to Pinsley, Sam was born in Kobryn and Sylvia's maiden name was listed as Golabulsky, clearly a variation of my grandmother’s maiden name, Golaboski. This had to be them.

Next I searched on Ancestry for Pinsleys with family trees and came across one listing a William Pinsley. I contacted the owner who confirmed that the family was from Chicago, they had changed their name to Pinsley from Pinski in the 1930's, and that one of the children had died in a plane crash in 1931, confirming my mother’s story.

I've now been in contact with some of the descendants of these families. It's pretty amazing that something I never thought could be achieved was possible given the current technology and help from some very kind people who responded to my inquiries to the JewishGen Belarus SIG and

October 2012
Fairfax, Virginia, USA

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Research Notes and Hints

Old letters stuck in a family photo album gave Sam Glaser some leads regarding his mother’s cousins. He received suggestions from other JewishGenners when he posted an inquiry to the Belarus Special Interest Group (SIG), including a tip that lead him to a crucial obituary. The obituary gave him the names of other possible relatives and, following these clues on, he used a creative combination of names and places to find other vital records—and ultimately to connect with previously unknown family members.

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Updated on October 18, 2012 .

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