Saturday, March 28, 2015

Crime/Catuna origins

     This is the earliest record1 I have found linking the Crime and Catuna families in St Thomas.  It is the 1841 census record, or Register of all free person living in the town of Charlotte Amalie in St Thomas.  It shows Matthew Catuna, and Antonio Crime living in the same house at 58 CrownprincenStreet. Matthew and Antonio were both my husband's third great-grandfathers.

     Matthew was the owner of the house.  He is listed as having been born in Venice, a Catholic, unmarried, and having the rank of Captain in the local militia.  He had a "Burgerbrief," a citizenship or loyalty oath for St Thomas since 1819, and due probably to his age of 52, was exempted from Militia service.  His family, Elizabeth L'Arcier (?)3 age 50, and his three children, Maria, age 26, Joseph, age 23, and Marco, age 17 also live there.  Elizabeth was born on St Lucia, and the children were all born on St Thomas.  Joseph is a private in the militia.

     Immediately beneath them in a list of others residing in the house, are Joseph and Antonio Crime. Joseph Crime, age 17, is listed as being born in Genoa, as is his father Antonio, age 42. (Other documents say Antonio was born in Malta but that is another problem).  Antonio is listed as a seaman and a widower.

     Some time later Maria Catuna and Joseph Crime began to live together in another house owned by Matthew Catuna  at 31c Krondprincens Street, and had their first child, Antonio Crime.  They are my husband's second great grandparents.

1. Census 1841 of St Thomas, Danish West Indies.  Family History Library film #0039197 Denmark, Rentkammeret (Vestindien) bk 1, 1841
2.  The spelling of the street name varies over the years and various records but it is the same street , "Crown Princes street" in Charlotte Amalie
 3.  My research indicates that it was far from unusual for couples to live together and have several children without benefit of marriage   Often a church wedding was held at a later date (sometimes near the marriage of one of the children) at which time the clergyman noted in the register that the couple acknowledged that the children listed by name were legitimate.  This allowed the child to be shown as legitimate on their own marriage register.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

S/Sgt Jerald Harlan Lieberman 1922-1943

Jerry Lieberman  1922-1943

      Jerry Lieberman was born, along with his twin sister Phyllis, on Dec 15, 1922 in Philadelphia, PA.  The family, his parents, Nat and Ida Lieberman, and older sister Elynore, moved to Trenton NJ in about 1938 where he lived until he was about 18 years old.   He dropped out of high school after only one year, and worked in his father's store as a commercial driver.  He was very active in the Jewish fraternity Aleph Zadik Aleph.  On Sept 10, 1942 after an argument with his father, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps1 where he was trained as a tail gunner on the B-17 bomber.  He was promoted to Staff Sergeant and assigned to the Dodson Provisional Group at Kearney Army Air Base, Nebraska.
     On July 3, 1943, he and the rest of the 10 man crew took off from Kearney to ferry aircraft Army 42-3379, B-17F, to Eglin Field, Florida.  The plane crashed about 200 miles away near White City, Kansas and all aboard were killed.
     A closed casket containing Jerry's remains was sent to the family in Trenton, and he was buried at Greenwood Cemetery.  Because of the war, the family was given only the barest details of the crash, and they always wondered what happened.  His mother wondered for years if he had really been killed since they had not seen the body.
     I recently came across a website called  They research recently released accident reports from the AAC, USAAF, USAF, and USMC filed between 1918 and 1955.  I contacted them and they provided 42 pages of documentation on the crash that killed my uncle.
    The report revealed that the aircraft took off from Kearney AAB at 2:10 PM under cloudy skies.  Weather reports in the area over the next two hours showed overcast to light rain with visibility unrestricted.  The ceiling varied from 10,000 to 3,000 feet with some light rain reported.  At 3:40, as reported by several civilian witnesses on the ground near White City KS, the plane was sighted nose down and spiraling to the ground.  The plane was engulfed in flames after it crashed and there were no signs of life.  The Chief of Police of White City was one of the witnesses, and he secured the area almost at once after the crash.  He and other witnesses described seeing some debris falling with the plane and landing nearby.  That debris, which was recovered immediately, was determined to be "one-third of the left stabilizer and elevator and the entire right elevator outboard of metal trim tab," {parts of the tail assembly} which were "torn off while airplane was in flight."2   The report was inconclusive as to the cause of the accident although the aircraft had been inspected days before and no evidence of sabotage was noted.  The tentative conclusion on the July 9 report was that "Accident was induced primarily by material failure, either due to weakened parts of defective material."3   Two witnesses who reported after the date of this description noted seeing a funnel cloud stretching from the ground to the clouds just prior to the crash.  This report was forwarded to the Army Air Base Topeka KS with the notation that it was "further evidence which might serve to clarify the cause of the crash." 4
     I never knew Jerry, but he was a presence in our family throughout my childhood.  I, my brother, Phyllis's son, and several cousins born just after the war were named for him.  I am glad to have found the details of the crash that took him away so young.

1.  National Archives and Records Administration, U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records 1938-1946 (Provo, UT, USA record for Jerald Harlan Lieberman
2.  U.S. Government Printing Office, War Department, A.A.F. Form 14. "Report of Aircraft Accident" Aircraft B-17F, no.42-3379, dated July 9 1943
3.  Ibid.
4.  Letter, July 22, 1943, Sixth Heavy Bombardment Processing Headquarters, Army Air Base, Herrington, KS.  to Commanding General, Twenty First Bombardment Wing, Army Air Base, Topeka, Kansas. subj: Supporting Papers for Form #14

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Tepper Family Arrival

Manifest of S.S. Lituania Dec 22, 1907

     Finding the correct manifest for a person or family can be a challenge.  Voyages were usually booked using the Yiddish name or nickname of the traveller.  Transliteration from Yiddish, which is written in Hebrew characters, to English means that there was no consistency of spelling.   It is necessary to match up the information on the Manifest with what you already know to be sure that you have the right family.  It took me a while to find this one.
      On December 22, 1907, Meier Teper and most of his family arrived at the port of New York aboard the ship S.S. Lituania.1  The Lituania sailed from Libau, at the time one of the major ports in the Russian empire.  The family, along with thousands of other migrants, probably reached the port using the network of railways connecting with the port.
    The Manifest contains a wealth of information.  First it lists the family using their Yiddish names as told to the official at Libau who made up the manifest.  It shows their age, sex, marital status, and occupation.   Also, the town from which they came (in this case Baranovka) and where they were going (Philadelphia). On arrival, the relationships among the passengers was added by immigration officials.  Traveling on this trip were the Tepers:
Name           Age   Sex  Relation  Status  Occupation
Meier             56     M                     M        smith
Leie               53      F    wife          M        wife
Avorum         19     M    nephew     S        smith
Schlome        18     M    child          S        smith
Aron              11     M    child          S        child
Ruchel           23     F     niece          S        tailoress
Rivke            16     F     daughter     S        tailoress
Sosse             10     F     daughter    S        child
Miryam           9     F     daughter     S       child

     I was able to identify each of the family members except the niece and nephew.  Meier David and Leie kept their Yiddish names.  The other children became Sam, Harry, Bessie, Celia, and Mary.
     The manifest has other valuable information.  It lists a point of contact in Baranovka as Moschko Weinstein.  I still don't know who that was.  On the second page, it says that Meier arrived with $7.50, and that the family is going to the son-in-law, Mr. E Grosser at 814 South 4th Street Philadelphia.  (see previous blog post for more about Elcon Grosser).  Leie's entry also has a note that she had 4 children already in the U.S.  This note sent me off on an interesting voyage of discovery at the end of which I tracked down a son that I was unaware of.  But more on that experience later. Finally, it gives a town of birth, Miropol, in the gubernia of Wolyn.

Since I knew the names of many of my great-grandmother, Jennie Tepper's siblings, and I knew that she was from Baranovka, this manifest seemed like a good bet.  At the time I found it, I did not know her parent's names (I had photos and a drawing done by my mother, but they were labeled "Zeyda  and Bubbe Tepper").  I did know that my great-grandfather Elcon Grosser had sponsored many of his and Jennie's family members, and I knew where he lived on 4th St. so when I found his name on the manifest I was sure that I had the right family.

1  1907; Arrival; New York, New york; Microfilm Serial T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm roll; R1064; line9; page 133.  Accessed at, on-line database; New York Passenger Lists


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Elcon Grosser - Part 1

Elcon Grosser about 1902
   When I was deciding who to feature in my first real post, my great-grandfather, Elcon Grosser, immediately came to mind.  He was a larger-than-life figure to me, all during my childhood until he died when I was 25 years old.  He and his wife Jennie were the centers around whom the extended family revolved.  Their passing began the process of our drifting apart.  He was 103 when he died, and his life has so many stories that I will have to come back to him several times.
    Elcon was born in August 1870 in the town of Labun, Volhinya Gubernia, Zaslav District, Russia[1].   This town is now called Yurovschina, Ukraine.  His name at that time was Elkunah Groiskop.  He had at least three brothers, Zise, Moishe, and Jossel, and a sister Perl.  Elkunah was not tall, but he was sturdily built and known for his strength, a trait that lasted throughout his life.
    Labun was a small town in the so-called Pale of Jewish Settlement, in a predominantly agricultural area, but with a significant Jewish population.  In 1897 the nearby town of Polonoye, where the railway station was, had a Jewish population of nearly 8,000, nearly half of the town.  Jews were artisans, specializing in printing, porcelain, and parquet flooring.  All of the Groiskop brothers described themselves as blacksmiths or ironworkers.
    Elkunah served in the Russian army, probably from 1891 to 1894.  Although many Jews tried to avoid conscription, Elkunah was always proud of his service.  He was in the cavalry, probably serving as a smith.  According to the various stories recalled by grandchildren and great grandchildren, he attained the rank of Sergeant, and received a medal for killing an enemy officer in battle.
    When his service was over, Elkunah moved from Labun to the larger nearby town of Baranivka.  Possibly this move was because Labun was too small to support three blacksmiths.  Baranivka had a large Jewish population since the 17th century, and in the 19th century the Jewish population was nearly 2,000, to form a majority of the town.  Here Elkunah found the love of his life, the tall, blond, blue-eyed, Czerna Tepper.
    Elcon described the meeting in a newspaper article in 1970.

       " I had an honorable discharge", he said, 'and in those years when a young man finished the army, he was a valuable piece of property because he had lived through the danger and had the promise of a future.  When I came out it was September, and on Rosh Hashanah I went to the synagogue and my friend showed me a picture of my lovely wife....I went in myself to see her - without a matchmaker, " he bragged, "I gave her my picture and she accepted it...and that's when I began to court my lovely wife."[2]

      They were married in August 1896 in a ceremony in her home. Elkunah worked as a blacksmith in Baranivka, and the couple soon had two children, Chaija born in 1898, and Chaim born in April 1900.
      Shortly after Chaim was born, Elkunah left Baranivka for America.  He joined the stream of emigrants traveling across Europe to Liverpool, England.  In Liverpool he boarded the S.S. Pennland on July 4, 1900, and on Tuesday, July 17, he arrived in Philadelphia,  He listed his occupation on the manifest as "smith".[3]  At that time, Philadelphia was an industrial giant.  "Pennsylvania in general established itself as ...the center of heavy industry, of iron and steel, coal and oil, America's foundry.  Philadelphia became its...chief port for the foundry, nerve center of transportation, producer of finished goods of an enormous variety but particularly of steam engines and steamships."[4]    As Elkunah described it, he arrived in Philadelphia on a Tuesday and by Thursday he had a job paying $6 per week at the Baldwin Locomotive Works.[5]  He began saving to bring the rest of his family to Philadelphia.

[1]  The date of 1890 was reported by him in various documents, census records, naturalization papers, and in many newspaper articles in the Philadelphia Bulletin, Inquirer, and Jewish Exponent.  He generally cited the date of August 16 when a date was specified.
[2]  Jewish Exponent, August 14, 1970. "Couple Will Mark 74th Anniversary, His 100th Birthday at Sunday Fete." copy held by Mary-Jane Roth
[3], Philadelphia Passenger LIsts, 1900-1945, (Provo, Utah, USA, Operations Inc. 2006) Database on-line. Roll T840_32, line:5,  record for Elkan Groskopf .
[4] Russell F. Weigley, editor, Philadelphia: A 300-Year History (New York: W.W. Norton and Company,1982), 471.
[5] "Couple Married 74 Years invite 300 to Celebrate"  Unattributed newspaper clipping in collection of Jennie Grosser, now in possession of Mary-Jane Roth.