Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Guest Blog on How I Met the Bloomfields

Today, I was featured on's blog! It was an honor to be invited to write for their blog. I am a big fan of and their website. In my guest blog titled: "How I Met the Bloomfields" I share with the Geni community how their website connected me to the Bloomfield branch of my family.
    Visit to read my latest post!

To read another guest blog by Smadar, visit the 10DayBookclub

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Genealogy Art

Most of the time my immediate family is a bit tired of hearing about dead relatives and genealogy. Between you and I, who can blame them. I'm addicted to this stuff. There are more photos around my house of dead relatives than living ones (in my defense, I left a lot of the more recent framed family portraits in Mexico when we moved). I spend hours each day, researching my family history, writing this blog and promoting my book. I live and breathe genealogy, but my family does not. Not that they are not supportive or understanding. Last month, I wrote about how they unknowingly enjoyed genealogy on our vacation. Yet, in general, they are just not that interested. They don't need to be. I'm the official family historian, and I'm preserving the story for them, so they don't have to worry.

A while back, I had come across a big discovery in my research (which I wrote about in an earlier blog Never Give Up and Good Things Will Come). Finding Yad Vashem documents for my family who died in the holocaust was very powerful. This time, my husband, who normally, stays on the sidelines of my work, was heavily impacted as well. One the one hand, I had been digging up, amazing vintage photos of his family. On the other hand, I had just uncovered important documents of relatives we knew little about. He couldn't sleep, and in the morning he shared a remarkable idea with me.

His plan was to make an art installation inspired by our ancestors. The idea was in it's infancy, but he knew he need my images. Somehow he wanted to represent how our forefathers are the foundation of our lives. He experimented with all kinds of materials and after much trial and error he produced an amazing installation which he titled: Our Ancestors.

Our Ancestors
Jaime Belkind-Gerson
Images, Rocks, Sand and Water

The art work consist of eighteen large rocks, set in a reflective pool. Most are covered with the faces of our ancestors going back five generations. The bare stones represent those ancestors we lost in the holocaust. This installation, is one of the most power pieces my husband has ever created. The sheer size of these bolders, reinforces the importance of our ancestors. While as a genealogist, I often think of my ancestors, as branches of a tree, this installation, flips the tree around, placing the ancestors at the root holding the tree together. The number eighteen, symbolizes Chai, meaning life in Hebrew, as these are the people who gave us life. My husband explained that while he dedicated this work to our grandparents who represent the past, our children—who are our future— were his inspiration. 

Visitors, stood in silence and awe for a very long time, as they observed the rocks. Some related the rocks to tombstones, other recalled the small stones placed on Jewish graves, yet others saw the installation as an altar. Family members and strangers alike, were brought to tears by this powerful exhibit. Some were struck by the resemblance of our grandparents to my husband and I.  Others, were mesmerized by seeing their own reflections in the water blending together with the reflections of our forefathers. This moving reflection, augments the mystical or spiritual aspect of the work and symbolizes the eternal presence of an aura or soul. Seeing one's refection in the work, merges the viewer who is in the present, with the ancestors of the past and the future that is built on these strong foundations.

Our Ancestors  at Studio5 as part of the Permanence and Disappearance exhibit 2010.

I'll let the work, speak mostly for itself. I thank my husband for this remarkable collaboration, where he expressed the importance of the work I'm doing in his unique and beautiful way. I hope, this exhibit will one day find a permanent home in a museum or a park. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Honoring Women Ancestors on International Women's Day

Six Generation of Women
Left (Top to Bottom):
Minnie Bloomfield (Crane)
Ethel Bogdanow (Bloomfield),
Shoshana Lavi (Celnik)
Anna Celnik (Rosenblum).
Right (Top to Bottom):
Feige Kranowitz (Yarmovsky),
 Mollie Bogdanow (Katz)
Barbara Lavi (Bogdanow),
Smadar Belkind-Gerson (Lavi)
Frieda Toby Bloomfield (Pomerantz),
Tzvia Pomerantz (Friedman)
Yesterday was International Women's Day and as a someone who is so fascinated by genealogy, I decided that despite the fact that I already posted my weekly post on Wednesday (Solving the Mystery of an Award Winning Photo) I thought it would be fitting to write a special post in honor of my women ancestors should be honored this week. 

This photo collage may look like a typical genealogy collage of family photos. It took me exactly ten minutes to prepare this morning, utilizing a fantastic photo collage app called posternio. Yet there is nothing ordinary about this selection of photographs. It has taken me three years worth of work to collect these images. You might recognize me, I'm fourth one from the top on the right-hand side. The nine women, surrounding me, span five generations of my foremothers, going back to Tzvia Pomerantz (Friedman) who is my third great-grandmother (bottom right). 

I did some math so bare with me. We all have thirty-one women ancestors going back five generations: 1 mother, 2 grandmothers, 4 great-grandmothers, 8 second-great-grandmothers and 16 third-great-grandmothers. After three years of research, I can name all but twelve of my thirty-one women ancestros. I've collected portraits of nine of them and I have personally met only four of these amazing ladies. 

I know a lot of my grandmothers and quite a bit about my great-grandmother Minnie (whom by know is quite famous on this blog, and beyond, through the publication of her memoir). Minnie's writings introduced me to both her mother, and mother-in-law. Yet the large majority of the women whose blood flows through my veins, are mostly a complete unknown to me. 

On international women's day, I am humbled by the women whose DNA I carry (and am studying, see: My Mitochondria and Me, results due in April!). I am grateful of the sacrifices they made and hope to honor them everyday by discovering and sharing stories.

Do you feel connected to the women of your family? I would love to hear their story and how you learn about them.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Solving the Mystery of an Award Winning Photo

Winner of Orphan Photo Contest
Last week, thanks to Sara Esther, I won!  I never win anything, so winning a copy of Melissa Mannon's book The Unofficial Family Archivist is very exciting! Winning also has heightened my awareness of Sara Esther.

The contest was for orphan photos and their story. The photo I submitted (shown here on the left) is orphaned—unidentified. So why Sara Esther you ask? Simple, I think this may be a picture of Sara Esther, but I can't prove it. As in detective stories, family stories are full of mystery and Sara Esther is one of ours. I believe part of her story is hidden behind this unidentified photo.

Do you own vintage orphan photos? Most of us do. Fortunately there is something about the quality of these sepia prints which prevents us from tossing them. We tend to place them back where we found them, hoping next time we'll know what to do with them.

Genealogists work tirelessly to collect, preserve, study, archive and identify these priceless treasures. Even unlabeled, they contain a fragment of the story. This portrait and the story behind it, won me the prize. The story is not just about Sara Esther Kranowitz, but also about the work that goes into preserving her legacy. By writing about this process and sharing helpful tips I hope to encourage you to pull out and beging studying old photos. At the same time, I look forward to your collaboration and contribution to the Sara Esther story.


Step one: contacting relatives. Sara Esther was my great-grandmother's—Minnie—youngest sister. I began by consulting my great-grandmother memoirs. Sara Esther was the youngest of eight siblings. Minnie, five year the elder, cared for Sara Esther like a mother. She described her as "the baby of the family.... pretty as a picture with fair skin, blue eyes, golden blond curly hair and a mischievous smile." The last time Minnie saw her sister was when she left for America in 1913. Sara Esther was a young girl of about twelve and stayed behind to help their elderly parents. (More about her parents in the post: A Photo Worth a Thousand Words). The Kranowitz home was the town post office and Sara Esther partook in the family business, the mail. According to Minnie, the peasants who came to collect their mail specifically requested the "beautiful" Sara Esther for help in reading and writing letters.

From my uncle Larry, I learned how Sara Esther almost drowned. Once the family was crossing a bridge in their horse-drawn cart. This was the same rickety cart they used to pick up and deliver mail. Sara Esther, who was very young at the time, slipped out of the wagon, tumbling into the Neiman river. It was cold enough for the Sara Esther to be wearing her winter coat, but not cold enough for the river to freeze. Sara Esther did not know how to swim, but the down feathers caused the coat to floated, raising Sara Esther to the surface.
A photo of a young woman who
I think may be Sara Esther.

She remained in Belitsa (now part of Belarus) until she married a man named Altman and moved to a nearby (unknown) town where they owned a store and had a child (possibly his child from a previous marriage). I don't know his first name or the child's. We do not know if the child was male or female. All three perished in the holocaust. She is the only Kranowitz sibling with no living descendants. My cousin Flossie, found the award winning photo as well as the photo on the right. She believes both may be Sara Esther. Unfortunately, neither is labeled and Flossie can't be sure. This second portrait appears to be of the same woman but when she was younger.

The rest of our family elders believed there were photos in the family collection of Sara Esther. These two photos fit the description Minnie painted of her sister. One of Sara Esther's nieces, was a young child during the holocaust. She met Sara Esther only a handful of times when visiting the store. She agreed that the woman in the photos has distinct Kranowitz features, but her memory of her aunt is so faint that she could not confirm her identity.

Crane (Kranowitz) brothers.
Step two: cross referencing. From close inspection of the faces, I have pretty much convinced myself that the two unidentified photos are of the same woman. This woman, particularly when she was young, has a very a strong Kranowitz family resemblance. To me, she looks very much like two of the Kranowitz siblings, Max (left center) and Bernard (right center) in the Crane Brothers photo.

Step three: looking for clues within the photo and dating. At first glance these two photos do not provide many clues. There are no studio names engraved into the photo for example. But even my untrained eye can pick up a few hints. Both photos have a Europan flavor. The the young woman in the older print is seated posing for the photographer. The chair is placed on a dirt floor, but she is decked-out in her best dress, in-front of a studio backdrop. The formal style of dress and the studio backdrop, even though it is taken outdoors, date to the early 1900s maybe 1910-1920 when portrait taking merited dressing up. The later photo, looks like it was taken in the 1930s or so, when Sara Esther would have been in her thirties. This woman, appears more affluent, which could certainly be explained by what we know about Sara Esther, who left the poor shtetel of Belitsa to become a store owner.

Step four: hire a professional. There are experts in do this kind of work. When you feel stuck, you might want to consider hiring one. I have submitted several of my photos to a photo genealogist whom I met through twitter. Sherlock Cohn specializes in Jewish Genealogy.  I hope to learn from her more about these two photos and others in my collection. I promise to share what I learn in a future post.

Step five: exposure.  Increasing the exposure of your photos will increase the chances of identify them. The mystery of Sara Esther, how she lived and how she died remains unsolved. Publishing her photos in my book, entering them in the orphan photo contest and writing about them in this blog, will help expose the photos to family and the world. Perhaps another relative owns these photos, but their copy is labeled? Though the chances are slim, someone who knew Sara Esther may still be alive. In an earlier post, Facebooking Orphan Photos, I wrote about how helpful Facebook can be in identifying photographs. Websites dedicated to photo identification, such as ViewMate, are also extremely helpful.

Have you had success identifying orphan photos? I would love to hear ideas of further identifying these two orphan photos. Which websites do you use for unidentified photos?