Monday, January 21, 2019

Genealogy Fun

Janice Sellers, who writes the blog Ancestral Discoveries, passed on a genealogy challenge this weekend. It was to show an unbroken line of ancestors and descendants for whom you have photographs.
This weekend, I attended the Bat Mitzvah of a cousin who is at the newest end of such a line so I thought I'd post my response that way.

Lena Tepper
 First is Lena Tepper.  I don't know her maiden name.  I have found several of her children's marriage certificates, but each has a different maiden name for her.  She was born in about 1857,  probably in the town of Mirapol in what is now Ukraine.  This photo was taken in Philadelphia in about 1930.

Cherna (Jennie) Tepper Grosser
 Lena's oldest child, Jennie Tepper Grosser was born about 1880, also in Miropol (now called Myropil).  This photo was taken in Philadelphia in about 1944.

Albert J. Grosser
Jennie's son Al was born in 1904, in Philadelphia, PA.  This was taken in 1969 at his parent's 73rd wedding anniversary party.

Al's son was born in Philadelphia in 1937. I'm guessing that this was taken in about 1960 in Philadelphia.

Proud Father of the Bat Mitzvah girl

Latest Bat Mitzvah and sixth generation of the family.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

IAJGS 2018 in Warsaw - Part 2 Warsaw Outside of the Conference

Ghetto wall marker - Warsaw
     Before the IAJGS conference started, we took the opportunity to tour around Warsaw.  We did take one organized tour where we visited the (reconstructed) old town, the residence of the last king of Poland, the Warsaw uprising monument and other places that gave us some context for the Jewish history part of our trip.  Mostly we walked and explored central Warsaw. Everywhere we went I felt like I was walking on graves.
     The Warsaw ghetto was the largest in Europe holding about 400,000 people at its peak and surrounded by 11 miles of walls, most of them 10 feet high.  When the Nazis liquidated the ghetto and wiped out the last remaining resistance members, they leveled everything inside of the walls.  There are a few wall fragments left standing, but the Poles have placed markers on the streets and sidewalks to show where the wall once was.  There are also monuments to those who resisted, and those who were deported and perished from the ghetto. Wherever you walk you find them.  I also visited the Jewish Historical Institute (a co-sponsor of the IAJGS conference) which had a moving exhibit of documents from the Oneg Szabat archive.  This was a secret record collected by Emanuel Ringleblum, a historian, and his collaborators, of day to day life in the ghetto in the beginning, and then a record of the deportations from the ghetto and testimony of those who had escaped other towns and camps of the destruction of Jews and Jewish life in Poland.  Knowing that they were unlikely to survive, the members of the Oneg Szabat program buried the documents in metal boxes and milk cans, hoping that they would be found in the future and that people would know that the writers had existed. Two troves of documents were found under the rubble after the war. 
One of two milk cans containing part of
the Oneg Szabat archive buried in
the Warsaw Ghetto and found after the war.
   Towards the end of the war, when the Poles in the city also rose against the German occupiers, they were wiped out as well and the remainder of the central part of the city was also leveled by the Nazis.  Bodies that had been buried in courtyards or streets during the uprisings, as well as those who died in shattered buildings or in underground bunkers were left in place when the rubble was bulldozed after the war. Warsaw still commemorates the rising every year.  The anniversary was while we were here so all over the city there were fresh flowers and votives placed at large and small memorials.  There is a museum dedicated to the uprising that I visited before I left.  The story of the uprising and the subsequent devastation of the city was chilling. 
     In the middle of what had been the center of the Ghetto is a monument to those who were deported and killed, and those who, in the end, fought and died.  Facing that monument is the new POLIN museum.  This award-winning museum celebrates the 1,000-year history of Jews in Poland.  The museum was also a co-sponsor of the IAJGS conference and provided speakers at the conference, and special events and tours at the museum during the conference.  The main exhibition is beautifully done, filled with interactive displays illustrating the richness of Jewish life in Poland.  The Shoah has its place in the story but does not overwhelm the larger sweep of history.  A temporary exhibit focusing on the events of 1968 and how they affected the remaining Jewish population under the communist government brings the story up-to-date. 
   Warsaw was rebuilt at once after the war but as a dreary communist "paradise".  Now many of those dreary buildings are being torn down and replaced with gleaming modern architecture.  A new building called the Warsaw Spire, which was next to our hotel, was very striking and has won some European awards for its design.  There is construction  of new apartments, condos and offices everywhere. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.   

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

IAJGS 2018 in Warsaw, Part one


The Old Synagogue in Kazimierz - still active
This years' International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies' conference is being held, for the first time, in Central Europe, in Warsaw, Poland.  Poland was the heartland of what was, before the Holocaust, the largest concentration of Jews in the world.  Although I, unlike most Ashkenazi Jews, cannot trace my family to any lands that were ever part of historic Poland, since DNA has proved that all Ashkenazi Jews are related to all other Ashkenazi Jews, what I am learning about Poland at the conference and in my travels, is part of my family's story, too.
     We came to Poland ahead of the conference to have some time to explore.  We spent three days in Krakow, an early capitol of Poland.  Through good luck, the city was not destroyed in WWII so it has a beautiful old center with a huge main square containing beautiful old churches including one dating from the 10th century.  While there were Jews living in that area from about that time, they soon moved to a nearby city of Kazimierz, which, since it was just outside of the walls of old Krakow, soon was absorbed into that city.  Kazimierz was the center of Jewish life in Krakow up until the population was liquidated between 1939-1944.  Today it is the "hip" part of Krakow with cafes and clubs.  Jews have begun to return to Kazimierz, and there is a new Jewish Community Center and at least two congregations using the synagogue buildings that were used as storage or stables by the Nazis and so were not destroyed.  Other synagogue buildings have been repurposed as book shops or cafes but in a way that respects the remnants of decorations that reveal their earlier function.  The new Jewish population is not trying to recreate the past, but rather to establish a modern Jewish community as part of the Polish citizenry.  A short walk across the river from Kazimierz is Podgorze,
Segment of the ghetto wall - Podgorze
the site of the ghetto established by the Nazis.  It was much smaller than the ghetto in Warsaw (more in my next post).  Walking through it you can see remnants of the ghetto wall, built to look like a line of Jewish tombstones, the square from which the residents were loaded onto rail cars for shipment to a death camp, and two bright spots - the pharmacy of Tadeusz Pankiewicz a Polish Catholic who brought medicines and food to his shop inside the ghetto and hid ghetto Jews, and the factory of Oskar Schindler, made famous by the film Schindler's List, who saved 1200 of the about 4000 Krakow Jews who resurfaced after the war.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Emmanuel Zelkovitch Manning, whose name was NOT changed at Ellis Island

Emanuel Zelcovitch Manning from his 1933
Declaration of Intention to become a U.S. citizen
Today I read a Facebook post by one of my cousins that perpetuated one of the most common myths in American genealogy - that because an immigrant could not speak English on arrival, a name was changed at Ellis Island.  I have no doubt that the person who told him that story about her father believed it, but the evidence says otherwise.

Emmanuel Zelcovitch (father-in-law of my 1C1R Herbie Lieberman) did arrive in New York from England on November 4, 1922, aboard the Aquitania from Southampton1, England. He likely did not go through Ellis Island to be processed, as the manifest says that he traveled second class, and only third class and steerage passengers were sent to Ellis Island unless, on brief pre-examination in the harbor, they appeared to have a medical condition.  His manifest does not indicate that that was the case.

Although he was born in Negresti, Roumania in 1889, both the UK outbound passenger list2 and the manifest of the Aquitania indicate that he was a UK citizen.  His later petitions for naturalization in the US (more on these later) also indicate that he was a naturalized British citizen.  His name is neatly printed on the Outbound UK list, along with his address in Manchester England.  The manifest of the Aquitania, which like all others for arriving passengers was prepared before the ship left Southampton by company personnel who spoke the various languages of the passengers, was likewise neatly typed and shows Emanuel Zelkovitch.  The inspectors in New York simply read the names from the manifest and did not make changes to them.  The manifest also states that Emmanuel was a manufacturer and was able to read and write English and had visited the U.S. on two prior occasions.  Emmanuel had been living in England for some years.   He married his wife Minnie Vogel on March 5, 1919, in Manchester and their first child, Enid (the source of the story above) was born in Manchester in 19213.   The 1922 Manchester phone book lists him as a manufacturer of raincoats there4.
Emanuel Zelcovitch on the manifest of SS Aquitania 1922

Minnie Zelcovitch and baby Enid also had departed from Liverpool, England in November of 1922 aboard the Samaria, and arrived in the US on November 12 through St Albans, Vermont via Canada, and thence by train to Boston where she would join her sister.5  Like her husband's manifest, this one was clearly typed.  It also noted that Minnie could both read and write in English.

The Zelkovitch family moved to Savannah GA where he became a grocer, and they had two more children,  He began using the last name Manning for business, but did not use it in all circumstances. The earliest record that I found was the Savannah city directory of 1924 that lists Emmanuel Z. Manning (Minnie) as a grocer operating a store at 320 Gaston6.  In 1927, he filed a Declaration of Intention to become a U.S. citizen in the court in Savannah7.  He used the name Emanuel Zelcovitch on that document and pledged to renounce all allegiance to the King of England.  He did not complete the naturalization process at that time, however.  The 1930 U.S. census taken in April of that year, shows Minnie using the name Manning with the three children living in the Boston area without her husband8.  On September 25, 1930, Emanuel (Manea) Zelkovitch entered the U.S. through St Albans, Vermont9.  Again the certificate of arrival is clearly typed. When he again filed a Declaration of Intention to become a U.S. citizen in Boston MA on August 9, 1933, ( the process required continuous U.S. residence of five years prior to naturalization) he indicated that his residence immediately prior to the U.S. had been in Montreal, Canada10.  In answer to the question of nationality, he states that he is British through naturalization. In March 1936 when he petitioned for naturalization (along with Minnie and Enid) he again applied under the name of Emanuel Zelcovitch, but at that time he requested that his name be changed legally to Emanuel Zelcovitch Manning11.

Something caused Emmanuel Zelcovitch to begin using the name Manning fairly soon after his arrival.  Many immigrants changed their first or last names to something that sounded more American to them.  Perhaps he liked the sound of the American nickname"Manny" with the alliterative last name Manning.  We will probably never know exactly why he changed it, but the evidence shows that he was not given a new name at Ellis Island.  There are other questions about this man.  Why did he and his wife travel separately to the US?  Why did he go to live in Canada without his family between 1927 and 1930?  Maybe some other family member knows the answers to these questions.  I'll keep looking.

1., New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2010),, Year: 1922; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 3215; Line: 29; Page Number: 45 Record for Emanuel Zelcovitch

2., UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 (Provo, UT, USA. Operations, Inc., 2012),

3., Georgia, Naturalization Records, 1893-1991 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2012),, National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, D.C.; ARC Title: Declarations of Intention for Citizenship, compiled 1825 - 1980; ARC Number: 2387451; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States; Record Group Number: 21. Record for Emanuel Zelcovitch.

4., British Phone Books, 1880-1984 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc, 2007),, BT Archives; London, England; British Phone Books 1880-1984. Record for Emmanuel Zelcovitch.

5., Massachusetts, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1963 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2006),, The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Boston, Massachusetts, 1891-1943; NAI Number: 4319742; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; R.

6., U.S. City Directories (Beta) (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2011),, Database online. Record for Emanuel Z Manning.

7., Georgia, Naturalization Records, 1893-1991 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2012),, National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, D.C.; ARC Title: Declarations of Intention for Citizenship, compiled 1825 - 1980; ARC Number: 2387451; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States; Record Group Number: 21. Record for Emanuel Zelcovitch.

8., 1930 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc, 2002),, Database online. Year: 1930; Census Place: Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: ; Page: ; Enumeration District: ; Image:. Record for Minnie Manning.

9., Massachusetts, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2011),, National Archives at Boston; Waltham, Massachusetts; ARC Title: Petitions and Records of Naturalization , 8/1845 - 12/1911; NAI Number: 3000057; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009; Record Group Number: RG 21. Record for Emanuel Manea Zelkovitch.

10., Massachusetts, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2011),, National Archives at Boston; Waltham, Massachusetts; ARC Title: Petitions and Records of Naturalization , 8/1845 - 12/1911; NAI Number: 3000057; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009; Record Group Number: RG 21

11., Massachusetts, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2011),, National Archives at Boston; Waltham, Massachusetts; ARC Title: Petitions and Records of Naturalization , 8/1845 - 12/1911; NAI Number: 3000057; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009; Record Group Number: RG 21. Record for Emanuel Zelcovitch petition for naturalization

Friday, August 18, 2017

DNA Testing and My Family Tree

It's that time of year again and I just ended another whirwind of genealogy activity at the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies annual conference.  This year it was in Orlando FL. As usual, the schedule was packed with great sessions on all sorts of topics, but a highlight was a full track on the latest innovation in genealogy, using DNA to help build your tree.

You've probably seen the commercials for the DNA testing companies on TV.  "Find out where your ancestors come from", "Find your lost cousins."  Maybe you were intrigued.  (To my cousins:  If you have tested or are interested in doing so, please PM me!).  This can be really interesting but unfortunately, traditional techniques of using DNA to find relatives do not work well for Ashkenazic Jews.  It's much harder.  We are an endogamous population; everyone is related to everyone else.  Everyone who tests comes up as a match to everyone else who tests.  This problem was not addressed at the outset by the companies performing the analyses for general consumers, but with advances in analysis and the advent of two companies and many researchers that put a focus on Ashkenazi Jews, DNA analysis has been added to our toolbox.

I have been trying to incorporate DNA results into my research.  It can be especially useful where traditional document based research can't confirm a suspected relationship.  I have several places in my tree where everyone agrees that two branches are related but we don't know exactly how.  I have written about some, "the Other Roth Family" here, and the "Tepper Zimmerman" connection here.  My research indicates a common ancestor for these branches, or a family story says that a couple were close cousins, but there is no documentation.  That is where DNA may be able to help.

It takes a fair amount of work, and for many family members to test.  Because everyone has a 50/50 chance of inheriting any piece of DNA from either parent, after a few generations, the amount of shared DNA goes down significantly even among direct descendants.  In my family, I have almost reached the limits of reliable testing material since my missing connections are four or five generations back from me so it is important that as many of the oldest generations still alive test now so that their DNA is available for the future.  The test that I have found to be the most useful in my research is the autosomal DNA (or "Family Finder") test.  This isn't limited to only direct male line descendants (Y-DNA) and it can be more specific than MtDNA which can say that the person is in a direct maternal line, but not how far back the common ancestor is.

Over the past two years, I have been getting DNA tests from some relatives.  After the test (a quick cheek swab, no pain, no blood) either they administer the results themselves (look at matches, answer e-mails from potential matches, analyze the results etc) or I act as administrator for them.  At the conference, I  heard about how several companies now allow you to upload the results from one company to another and use their tools for analysis.  A representative from Family Tree DNA, the company I use, also told me how to group all of the kits that I administer into one private family project to streamline my analysis.  I've started that process and am looking forward to making my life easier.  When it is complete, I will also be able to invite others into the project, if I am not the administrator of their results.

I hope that with more family members testing, and more work on my part I may be able to confirm or deny some suspected relationships in my tree.  Several companies have sales on the tests going on right now so if you are interested in giving it a try, let me know.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Gone too Soon: Little Esther Grosser

     Esther Grosser was the last child of my great grandparents, Elcon and Jennie Grosser.  She was born on May 2, 1909, at the family's home at 814 S. 4th St in Philadelphia [1].  She was remembered by her older sister, my grandmother, as a happy child.  By 1920, the family had moved to 344 South St, where Elcon had a retail store selling hardware items.[2]
814 S. 4th St Philadelphia, taken Nov 2015

      According to my grandmother, On October 31, 1920, Halloween, Esther was in her costume.  As it was dark, she reached to light the gas lamp, and her costume caught fire.  The death certificate says her clothing caught fire, not specifying a costume, but agreed with the gas lamp lighting.  She was burned over most of her body (flameproof childrens' clothing was not the norm at the time).  She was taken to Pennsylvania Hospital, about one mile away, where she died on November 1, 1920 [3].  She was buried at Har Nebo Cemetery in Philadelphia on November 2, 1920[4].

1. Ancestry. com, Pennsylvania Birth Records, 1908-1909 (Lehi, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2015), Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania (State). Birth certificates, 1906–1909; Box Number: 240; Certificate Number 79776. Record for Ester Grosser

2., 1910 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc., 2006), Database online.Year: 1910; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 3, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: T624_1387; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 48; Image: 797. Record for Colkin Grosser.  

3., Pennsylvania Death Certificates, 1906-1924 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2014),, Record for Esther Grosser.

4.  Ibid.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Phyllis Lieberman Schlesser Swern 1922-2017

Phyllis Lieberman about 1944
    Phyllis and her twin, Jerry Lieberman, were born on December 15, 1922, in Philadelphia to Nathan and Ida (Grosser) Lieberman.  Phyllis told me that she was overweight and always felt unattractive as a child.  The family moved to Trenton, NJ in about 1940. Phyllis, who had dropped out of high school, studied cosmetology and hairdressing.  The family was not a happy one, and the stress grew worse when Phyllis' twin Jerry was killed in 1943 flying for the USAAC (see post here).
    As she grew older, Phyllis learned to highlight her beauty.  In May 1944, Phyllis became engaged to David Bernard Schlesser, son of Selig and Minnie Szlesser of New York City[1].  The Szlessers had immigrated to the US from Austria in 1932[2], and David had signed up to fight for his new country in 1942 at age 20[3].  He was a private in the US Army, probably stationed at nearby Ft Dix.  When they married on September 5, 1945[4,] he had recently been mustered out of the Army and returned to Trenton.  The couple was active in social activities at the Har Sinai synagogue and in October 1948, just before the birth of their son, David purchased a delicatessen at 64 Market Street in Trenton [5]. The marriage only lasted a few years, part of which the couple spent living in the Lieberman home.  By March of 1949, David posted a notice in the newspaper disavowing any debts not contracted by himself[6].  David moved to Miami, Florida, and after the divorce in March 1951[7], Phyllis officially became a single mother.
Phyllis and her son
     Phyllis wanted a more exciting life, and by 1953 she and her son had moved to Manhattan where they lived in an apartment on the Upper West Side, a block from Central Park[8]. Looking back, I suspect that the apartment was subsidized by her long time gentleman friend, although my family never said as much in my hearing. She became a dress designer.  She was always very chic. I remember frequently visiting her there as a child. She took me to lunch at elegant restaurants and ordered me my first oyster. She travelled to the Caribbean, and to Europe.  Her son soon began his education in a series of boarding schools and overnight summer camps, and Phyllis enjoyed the New York social life. By 1960 they had moved to a high rise apartment building at 3 Washington Square Village [9] and she had opened her own dress shop in Greenwich Village.  She designed and made all of the clothes, often using hand painted fabrics made by other artists in the Village.  The clothes were popular, but she was not a good business person, and the store closed, despite contributions from various family members who tried to keep it afloat.  Despite her financial troubles, Phyllis was always generous.  She always had a gift for me, even if I now realize that she was often re-gifting something that had been bought for her.  Sometimes the gifts were not perfectly appropriate.  I remember after a trip to Switzerland and France, she brought my six year old brother some skis, and she brought eight-year-old me a french string bikini.  I loved it, but the rulers of the Jewish Community Center swimming pool decreed that I could not wear it to swim there.
Phyllis in India
    Meanwhile, like many people in Greenwich Village and elsewhere, by the mid-sixties Phyllis had become interested in Eastern religions, and she embraced the idea of shedding worldly goods and living a simpler life.  She moved back to Trenton for a while, and in 1967 briefly married Marvin Swern[10], a widower from a prominent Trenton family who was also going through some difficult times.  They were divorced in 1973[11], although they had separated before that time.  She then went to to India in the mid 70s to study with her guru.
    Although I would see her often at family gatherings in Philadelphia or in Florida over the next decade, I was too involved in making my own life to be aware of hers.  I'm not sure where she was living or what she was doing.  Sometime after her son married and had sons of his own in the mid 1970s, she moved to Portland Oregon to be near his family. In her mid sixties, she decided to take advantage of a program for seniors and continue her education.  She got a GED, and then went on to complete undergraduate and graduate degrees in fine art.
     Phyllis finally moved into a senior citizen apartment building on Northrup Ave in Portland and lived there until the end of her life.  She had a small but nice upper floor apartment with a spectacular view of the city.  She continued to use her designing and sewing talents, making items to sell at crafts fairs for some years, and then in the last few years, making hats for a local charity.  When I visited her last year, her apartment was filled with boxes of fabrics and her dining table was shared with a cutting mat and sewing items.  She was very independent, continuing to drive her car and running her own errands.  Her son and grandchildren were the focus of her life.  In December 2016 she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  She refused treatment, staying in her apartment and continuing to be independent as long as she could.  She died on March 2, 2017.

1.   Trenton Evening Times, Trenton, NJ. Sunday May 14, 1944. p.10 "Society: Number of Engagements, Miss Phyllis Lieberman" database on line.
2., New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc. 2006),, database online.  Record a SS Alfred Bain from Hamburg.
3., U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death file, 1850-2010 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2011), Record for David Schlesser.
4. Trenton, Mercer, New Jersey Marriage Certificate:  David Bernard Schlesser and Phyllis Lieberman 5 September, 1945. original document. Papers of Phyllis L. Swern.
5.  Trenton Evening Times, Trenton, NJ. Sunday October 10, 1948. p.16.  "Delicatessen Store Changes Ownership" database on line.
6. Trenton Evening Times, Trenton, NJ. Thursday March 3,1949 p.35.  "Personals" database on line.
7., Florida Divorce Index, 1927-2001 (Provo, UT, USA.The Generations Network, Inc., 2005),
8., U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2011),, Record for Phyllis Schlesser.
9., U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2011),, Record for Phyllis Schlesser.
10.  Kettubah between Marvin Swern and Phyllis Lieberman Schlesser, Dec 23, 1967., Dec 23, 1967, Phyllis Swern papers; privately held by Phyllis Swern, Portland OR, 2017
11. Divorce of Phyllis Swern and Marvin Swern June 1973., Papers of Phyllis Swern; privately held by Phyllis Swern, Portland OR, 2017.