Thursday, November 26, 2015

Finding Pearl Groiskop Shapiro

Pearl and Hyman Shapiro
     One evening, a few days after Mother's Day last year, my husband answered a phone call at the house.  I heard him say "She is my wife." and "Yes, she is trying to contact a Doris Kleiman, who is her cousin."  He had a strange look on his face, and when he handed me the phone said simply, "It's the police!"   That was the climax of my search for Aunt Pearl. 
      When I began my family tree I started with my great-grandparents, Elcon and Jennie Grosser because they were the family that I knew the most about.  I remembered them, their children, and some of their siblings who appeared at every family gathering.  I heard from family stories that Elcon had a sister named Pearl, who had died before I was born.  None of the relatives that I interviewed when I began my tree knew any more about her than that her married name was Shapiro, and her husband was probably named Hyman.  They had come to America, and Jennie's scrapbook that I inherited had a few photos annotated "Pearl's son Abe" or "Pearl's son Max'. 
     My search for Pearl and her family in the records was somewhat successful at first.  I found a record for Hersch Schpaira, from Ostropol Russia, a laborer, age 34 arriving in New York on July 5, 1905 aboard the SS Finland from Antwerp.  He declared that he was going to his brother-in-law, Elkuny Grosser in Philadelphia.[1],  Then I found Chaim Shapira, a 42 year old, married, day laborer from Ostropol Russia, departing Hamburg on Nov 9, 1912 aboard the SS Stockport bound for the port of Grimsby in England and then to Liverpool [2].  He boarded the SS Haverford in Liverpool and arrived in Philadelphia on December 4, 1912, noting on his arrival that he had previously resided in the US for two years.[3].  This second arrival was the one he would use on his petition for naturalization.  The first two of his children followed  him in early 1913, arriving aboard the SS Dominion and stating that their father then living at 1015 S. 2nd St in Philadelphia did not have enough money to bring their mother and siblings from Russia[4].  Pearl and three more children finally arrived on September 10, 1913 in Baltimore aboard the SS Nekar from Bremen.[5]
     The family's naturalization record of 1920 had a wealth of additional information.  Hyman (as he was now known) was born in Ostropol on Feb 10, 1869.  Pearl was born in Lubin (another spelling for Labun where Elcon was born), Dec 18, 1878.  They were married about 1895, and had six children born in Russia between 1896 and 1902 and two more born in 1908 and 1909 after Hyman returned.  Their last child Benjamin, was born in Philadelphia in 1915.[6] 
     Hyman began working as a driver [7] for a bakery company and later was a salesman for the company.  The family moved to Pennsgrove Ave in Philadelphia where they owned their house [8].  Pearl died on June 16, 1940 of pancreatic cancer,[9] and Hyman died a few moths later on Dec 1, 1940 of stomach cancer.  His death certificate gave his parents names as Phillip and Eva Shapiro, but these were probably anglicized versions of their names[10].
     Of course, I didn't find all of this information at first.  In fact, for many years I was unable to find much of anything about Pearl and her husband after their arrival.  I had no luck tracing any of the children or finding any descendants.  Except for the first arrival record, that listed a brother-in-law Elkuny Grosser, I wasn't even sure that the few records I had found were records for the right family.  Every so often I would go back over what I had and see if any new clues had come on-line.  I asked every new cousin that I discovered if any of them knew anything about Aunt Pearl.  No luck for about 15 years.  That's when things went a bit sideways.
     One day I was in my office working on another part of my tree when I went to a bookcase to pull out a reference book.  Fallen behind that book I saw a small white leatherette book that I recognized at once.  It was a prayer book, of the type that is given out at weddings, and I had had it since I was a child.  Someone in the family had given it to me after attending a wedding and I had kept it.  Inside were crayon markings and a note written in the colored fountain pen ink that I favored in about sixth grade. Over the (many) years since then I had opened it many times, but this time my eye was caught by the inscription printed in gold on the cover:  IN HONOR OF THE MARRIAGE OF DORIS SHAPIRO AND JEROME KLEIMAN MARCH 6, 1952.  Doris Shapiro??  I didn't know either of these names, but was it possible that this Doris Shapiro was a descendant of Aunt Pearl?  Some family member had gone to this wedding so maybe she was a relative.  A note handwritten inside indicated that Jerome was a Doctor.  With bated breath I looked for a Dr. Jerome Kleiman in Philadelphia.  I found several listings including one that gave his wife's name as Doris.  I checked the 1940 census in Philadelphia and found a Max Shapiro (Pearl had a son Max) with a daughter Doris who would have been the right age to be married in 1952.  Then I found a recent obituary for Jerome that gave his wife as Doris (nee Shapiro).  I was on the trail!
      My next step was to try to find a current address for Doris.  When I discovered that she had moved to only a few miles from where I now live my excitement was so great that I did something I usually don't do, especially with older folks.  I called her.
     She was very polite, quizzed me about who I was and how I thought we were related but did not confirm that she was a descendant of Pearl or give me any real information about herself.  The questions she asked made me confident that I was on the right trail.  I could sense her caution so I told her that I would write to her and give the information from my tree so that she could look it over and get back in touch when she was satisfied.  I quickly gathered a simple tree and some photos and mailed them off with a cover letter including my contact information.  This was usually my first step when contacting a new relative.  I hoped that since Mother's Day was a few days away that she would share it with her daughters and call me back.  I was so excited that I shared my hopes with my husband who is generally not interested in the details of how I make my discoveries.
     That led to the call from the police.  After questioning me politely for several minutes about my relationship to Doris and my genealogy quest, the officer appeared to be satisfied.  She explained that Doris had recently attended a class about identity theft scams targeting older people.  She had specifically been warned about people calling out of the blue claiming to be relatives and later asking for money.  She and her daughters had decided to have the police check me out. I laughed and told the officer that Doris had been a good student and had not given me any information, but that I hoped she would do so now.
     Two days later I had a call from both of Doris' daughters.  They apologized for calling the police on me (partly my fault for making that quick phone call) and we arranged to meet.  We had a lovely brunch and I enjoyed meeting all of them.  From a genealogy perspective it was a gold mine as Doris had lots of details about Pearl's family, photos of Pearl and Hyman and all of their children, and an audio tape of Doris' father Max telling about their trip from the old country and their early life in the US.  Most of the information cited above was the result of those conversations.  I'm still mining that trove, but that's for another blog post[11].

1. New York Passenger Lists , 1820-1957(Provo, UT, USA, operations, Inc. 2010) Year 1905; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 0597; Line: 10; Page Number: 29. Record for Hersch Schapira.
2.  Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc. 2008) database online. Record for Chaim Shapira.
3., Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1800-1945 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2006),, database online.  Roll T840_108; Line 22. Record for Chaim Shapira.
4., Philadelphia Passenger LIsts, 1800-1945 (Provo, UT, UA, Operations, Inc., 2006)., Database online.Roll T840_116;Line 4.
5., Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948(Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2006), Database online. Record for Perl Schapiro.
6. Ancestry, com, Pennsylvania, U.S. Naturalization Originals, 1795-1930(Provo, UT. USA., Operations, Inc., 2011) Databse online.
7., 1920 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc., 2009), Database online. Year: 1920; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 24, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: T625_1628; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 742; Image: 122.
8., 1930 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc., 2002), Database online. Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia.
9., Pennsylvania Death Certificates, 1906-1963 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2014), Record for Hyman Shapiro.
10., Pennsylvania Death Certificates, 1906-1963 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2014), Record for Pearl Shapiro.
11. The story of finding Doris Kleiman is adapted from an article I wrote that was published in the Summer 2015 issue of "Mishpacha: the Quarterly Publication of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington."


  1. Wow! You've never seemed a threat to me! I've cold called quite a few people and NEVER had anyone call the cops. What a story! Congratulations - I think.

    1. It must be the times. After this event, I noticed an article in the AARP magazine warning seniors about "relatives" calling out of the blue and scamming them for money.