Monday, January 30, 2017

Amanuensis Monday: Čekiškė Conflagration - 1887

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, newspaper articles, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them.

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust: A-J, Shmuel Spector, Geoffrey Wigoder, NYU Press, 2001, page 236.

CEKISKE (Yid. Tzeikishok) Kaunas dist., Lithuania. Jews first settled at the end of the 18th cent. a conflagration in 1887 left most Jews homeless. The J. pop. in 1897 came to 432 (65% of the total). In 1915, the retreating Russian army, together with local farmers, staged a pogrom against the Jews before expelling them to Russia. After WWI only some returned. The Zionist movement won widespread support. In 1940, there were about 60 J. families in C. After the German conquest of 1941, the Jews were killed on 4. Sept. 1941, according to a Nazi document, which reported the deaths of 22 men, 64 women, and 60 children.

Another source has more information:
In 1887, a fire broke out in Cekiske that burned all of its houses, including the two prayer houses and their valuable books. A young woman was burned to death. Only 3 houses remained intact. About 160 families remained without shelter and without any means. Among them was the Rabbi of the town, Rabbi Avraham Levental, who was a wealthy man and who lost his entire property in the fire. Jews from the nearby towns of Vilkija, Seredzius, Raseiniai, Girkalnis and other towns were the first to bring wagons loaded with bread and foodstuffs to the stricken families, who were living under the open sky. A call for aid in their names was advertised in the “HaMelitz” on July 1887. It was signed by Eliyahu Gorland.


When did my Cruvant ancestors immigrate from Čekiškė, Lithuania to America?

My second great grandfather's 1911 death certificate stated he had been in the US for 35 years, implying an immigration year of 1876. However, two sons appear in Lithuanian birth records for 1883 and 1885. I've theorized the death certificate was 10 years off, and 1886 is a more likely year.

It was said that my great grandmother, Bertha, was born in Missouri on the Jewish New Year in 1886 or 1887. In 1887 that would have been September 19. But no birth records have been found in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, or St. Clair County, Illinois. (Not exactly definitive since birth records weren't required in Missouri until 1910.) While she doesn't appear in Lithuanian birth records, either, could she have been born en route? If the fire occurred before July (when the call for aid was advertised), they may have been able to get to the US prior to September 19.

There were family stories told by some branches that they were escaping a pogrom. A home destroyed by a fire isn't exactly a home destroyed by a pogrom, but it's not difficult to envision the story being embellished upon. (And the neither description gives an indication of the cause of the fire.)

The earliest documentation of my ancestors being in St. Louis is a naturalization record from 1889.

There were cousins among the 22 men, 64 women, and 60 children who were killed on September 4, 1941.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Book Review: Dreams in the Mist

Several months ago I discovered Dreams in the Mist: Loyalist House Season I by Barbara Nattress

The short novel (156 pages) concerns a woman, Marilee, who after retiring from a teaching career opens a Bed and Breakfast in Niagara with her husband. Marilee starts to have dreams, populated by ghosts, through which we learn what happened in the home during the early 19th century.

I discovered the book in a Google Books search for my Van Every ancestors, who happen to be the ghosts. (Actually, the ghosts aren't my ancestors, but close kin.)

Noticing that it was self-published, I decided to save a few dollars with the Kindle version. I knew I was buying a work of fiction. However, I was hoping to enjoy a story set in a time and location of interest, with some characters closely related to my ancestors. I wasn’t disappointed in that regard.

The initial pages where the protagonist is retiring from her career, and seeking to purchase a B&B, go by slowly. However, when the house is purchased, and Marilee starts to have the dreams, the pace picks up.

The point of view switches back and forth between Marilee and the ghosts in her dreams. I was most interested in the dreams, and the description of Marilee’s research into the history of the house. The sections of the novel where Marilee describes the day-to-day business of the bed and breakfast were of less interest, and I found myself skimming those paragraphs for more interesting material.

The author is a retired teacher, who operated a Bed and Breakfast for eight years in Niagara, and is now a realtor. While those sections of the novel are written from experience, perhaps the author put a little too much in. I'd rather she had focused on  Niagaran history. However, someone with a passion for Beds and Breakfasts might feel different. There is a collection of recipes at the end of the book as well, which might interest some.

The author includes a short bibliography, for which I am grateful as well, indicating where she conducted her research on the family, time, and setting. Of the four sources listed, I've  downloaded a free ebook of one, found a copy of another at a local library, and can purchase the third - though it is also searchable via Google Books. The fourth only appears to be available from the Canadian Archives.

While I enjoy reading historical fiction and have dabbled with writing fiction myself, the idea of fictionalizing the lives of my own ancestors troubles me. I don't think I could do it. I don't mind reading it, but I think I would be unable to write it.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Newspapers Can Make Mistakes

I found the below news story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch archives and considered it for my Amanuensis Monday series. But further research led me elsewhere.

St. Louis Star and Times, Sept 23, 1916, page 7


Four-year-old Harry Feinstein, 1340 Semple avenue, hid a burning wood brand under a chicken shed in the rear of the butcher shop of Fred Turpeson when a playmate shouted to him, "Your mamma is coming."

The shed and its contents of poultry and feed were damaged $325 by the fire which followed and a shed belonging to Mrs. M. Vogel, 1345 Arlington avenue, was damaged $50.

My second great uncle, Harry Feinstein, brother of my great grandfather, Herman Feinstein, would have been 32 in 1916. So this is definitely not him.

I can find no record of other Harry Feinsteins in St. Louis at the time. So I instantly knew the newspaper had made some mistake. But what was the mistake they made?

Harry had a son, Willard, born in 1912. Did they put the father's name in the newspaper by accident? That was certainly a believable option. And I knew that my great-grandfather had lived on Semple when he registered for the WW1 draft. Did his brother live nearby?

But several years ago I researched the St. Louis City Directories. I checked my notes, and Harry Feinstein and his family weren't recorded as living on Semple in 1916.

A 1918 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article indicates a Bornstein family living at 1340 Semple. Were they living there in 1916? An error with similar surnames is also a distinct possibility. There was a Harry Bornstein, but he was born in 1909, so he would have been 7 in 1916. (Did a handwritten 7 in a reporter's notes get mistranscribed as a 4? I've done that.)

I don't know who the child was, but I suspect he wasn't a relative.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Top Ten List of Top Ten Lists

When the family history blogger is unsure what to write about, there is always the ever-popular Top Ten List. Here is my Top Ten Top Ten List Ideas for Top Ten Family History Bloggers.

1) Top 10 Online Databases
2) Top 10 Genealogy Software Programs
3) Top 10 Research Tools
4) Top 10 Research Suggestions for (Geographical Location/Historical Event)
5) Top 10 Books on (Geographical Location/Historical Event)
6) Top 10 Discoveries I have Made in my Research
7) Top 10 Brick Walls I Have Yet to Topple
8) Top 10 Embarrassing Mistakes I Have Made in my Research
9) 10 Female Ancestors with the Highest Ahnentafel Numbers
10) Top Ten Words Family History Researchers Use that Generate Blank Stares From Others

Friday, January 6, 2017

Selig Feinstein - Donation to Jewish Charitable and Educational Union

I had a chance to conduct some more microfilm research recently at the local library. I am slowly going through archives for The Modern View - a St. Louis weekly Jewish newspaper from the early teens to the 1940s. I can go through about six months of issues before my eyes get too tired. I'm mostly scanning for surnames, but items of historical note tend to slow me down.

So far, my ancestors don't appear often in the social notes; in the early part of the timespan, they were still climbing their way out of the tenements. However, they do appear in lists. For example, The Modern View published annually a list of youth being confirmed by local synagogues. In 1915, they published a list of people who had given money to the Jewish Charitable and Educational Union, along with dollar amounts. My second great grandfather, Selig Feinstein, appears on the list for $6.

This may not have been a simple annual donation, though. Selig passed away in March of 1915. (A competing newspaper, The Jewish Voice, had an obituary.)  I have had difficulty tracking down a will so far. He resided in the city of St. Louis, but there is an online index for city wills, and he doesn't appear in it.  I've searched the St. Louis County index on microfilm without success. It's also possible the money was given by family after his death, but in his name.

Despite the timing of the listing, it could be a simple donation. Selig was very active in the community. He helped start a Free School for Jewish children, was active in the Chesed Shel Emeth Society, and was one of the founders of Tpheris Israel Congregation,

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Degrees of Separation - Genealogical

Benedict Cumberbatch and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are related researchers recently announced.
Common Ancestor: John of Gaunt (1340-1399).
16th cousins, twice removed. 18 degrees of separation.

Media have reported John of Gaunt relationships before.
For example: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are 19th cousins.
If you have to go back to pre-Colonial aristocracy to find a common ancestor, the connection isn't noteworthy, in my opinion. 
Here are the fifty-one celebrities Ancestry’s We're Related app has currently alleged are related to me, sorted by degree of relationship. While I don't know for certain if it's true for everyone, for me at least, the app hasn't indicated any cousin relationship greater than 10th cousins, which limits cousins with a degree higher than 11 to mostly historical figures. (If a limit is coded for either cousin and/or times removed, 10 is psychologically a very likely choice.)

14 degrees (1)
• George Washington (6th cousin, 8x removed)

13 degrees (1)
• Benjamin Franklin (4th cousin, 9x removed)
• Jane Austen (7th cousin, 6x removed)

11 degrees (17)
• John Brown (4th cousin, 7x removed)
• Zachary Taylor (5th cousin, 6x removed)
• Helen Keller (8th cousin, 3x removed)
• Henry David Thoreau (8th cousin, 3x removed)
• Walt Disney (8th cousin, 3x removed)
• Ann Coulter (9th cousin, 2x removed)
• Avril Lavigne (9th cousin, 2x removed)
• Bill Clinton (9th cousin, 2x removed)
• Britney Spears (9th cousin, 2x removed)
• Carrie Underwood (9th cousin, 2x removed)
• Elon Musk (9th cousin, 2x removed)
• Jake Gyllenhaal (9th cousin, 2x removed)
• Johnny Depp (9th cousin, 2x removed)
• Kate Upton (9th cousin, 2x removed)
• Meghan Trainor (9th cousin, 2x removed)
• Peyton Manning (9th cousin, 2x removed)
• Willie Nelson (9th cousin, 2x removed)

10 degrees (19)
• Ralph Waldo Emerson (6th cousin, 4x removed)
• Rutherford B Hayes (6th cousin, 4x removed)
• Thomas Edison (7th cousin, 3x removed)
• Abraham Lincoln (8th cousin, 2x removed)
• Johnny Cash (8th cousin, 2x removed)
• Warren Buffet (8th cousin, 2x removed)
• Bill Gates (9th cousin, 1x removed)
• Harry S Truman (9th cousin, 1x removed)
• Matt Damon (9th cousin, 1x removed)
• Sarah Palin (9th cousin, 1x removed)
• Virgil Grissom (9th cousin, 1x removed)
• Christina Aguilera (10th cousin)
• Elvis Presley (10th Cousin)
• Harry Reid (10th Cousin)
• Jessica Simpson (10th cousin)
• Lady Gaga (10th cousin)
• Mitch McConnell (10th cousin)
• Ronald Reagan (10th cousin)
• Stephen King (10th cousin)

9 degrees (8)
• Mark Twain (6th cousin, 3x removed)
• Edgar Allan Poe (7th cousin, 2x removed)
• Barack Obama (8th cousin, 1x removed)
• Dolly Parton (8th cousin, 1x removed)
• George HW Bush (8th cousin, 1x removed)
• Mitt Romney (8th cousin, 1x removed)
• John Kerry (9th cousin)
• Marilyn Monroe (9th cousin)
• Meryl Streep (9th cousin)

8 degrees (1)
• Kevin Bacon

I do find it somewhat ironic that the celebrity of the closest degree of separation for me is Kevin Bacon. The We're Related app appears to lean slightly towards living celebrities. However, Patrick Swayze, if he gets added to the database, will be a 7th-degree relationship for me. (7th cousins)

While he wrote the screenplays for Murders in the Rue Morgue and Captains Courageous, among others, Dale Van Every may not quite have the celebrity status necessary to appear in this database. If he did, he'd only be five degrees separated. (3rd cousins, twice removed) It's possible my grandmother met her third cousin, but that's a different post.

Sunday, January 1, 2017