Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Top Ten Posts!

This is my last post of 2012. I thought it would be most appropriate to revisit my top ten most popular posts, especially since on January 1, 2013, Past-Present-Future, is celebrating it's one year anniversary!

#1. Holocaust Memorial Day: Learning from the Past, A Vigil Against Hate
#2. A Photo Worth A Thousand Words
#3. My Mitochondria
#4. Springfield Vermont, Home of the Simpsons and the Bloomfields
#5. Are You on the Fence? Top Ten Reasons to Jump Into Family History!
#6. Brick Wall Comes Down!
#7. Writing Prompt: First Driving Lesson
#8. Part VI: Which Ancestors to Research?
#9. Part I: One Ancestor and Celebrating Israel's Independence
#10. Three Tips for Genealogy Road Trips!

Somewhat to my surprise the number one most read post was the Holocaust post I wrote on Holocaust Memorial Day, which recently surpassed one of my earliest and most personal posts, A Photo worth a thousand words. My Mitochondria took a strong third, which was no surprise as it was picked up by many on-line newspapers for months after it came out. Another surprising result was Brick Wall Comes Down, posted only two weeks ago, and already at number six! The Bloomfield Series of Posts made the Top Ten list three times (#4, #8 and #10) making it my most popular series! I was glad to see a variety of post such as family stories and genealogy advice.

Thanks everyone for all the support! Most of all, thanks for reading and for giving me such positive feedback. Thanks for sharing forward on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and all the other possible ways to share!

I look forward hearing from you all next year! Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Should Genealogist Spill Family Secrets?

One of two photos Max Crane (far left).
One of my most mysterious ancestors is Max Hyman Crane.  His story has been difficult for me to tell. It's a "secret" family tale, full of taboos. Almost ninety years have passed since Max died, and though I struggle with making it public, I think it's a story that needs to be told. It's the kind of story you don't expect to encounter when you dig into your own family history, yet every family has stories like this. We can all learn something from them. I learned a lot from Max. I learned that like today, my ancestors struggled between their responsibilities and their passions, sacrifice and love. Most of all they were human.

Max was my great-grandmother Minnie's older brother. In Stored Treasures, Minnie credits Max with bringing his siblings to America. Here is how she describes her beloved Max. 
1903 was ".........the summer my brother Max came back from living in Pinsk.
Max was the second brother (the family’s third child). Max or Chaim Mordechai, as he was called in Hebrew, was a very sensitive boy. At a very young age, he was sent to study at the Yeshiva in Pinsk with my mother’s brother Hillel (Yarmovsky). Max went to continue his studies, help his uncle with the younger students, who were rich, spoiled kids, and sort of look after them. Max’s job was to wait on the kids, bring their lunches, run errands, and so forth. Somewhere in the process of study, he became indoctrinated with the ideas of socialism through some young revolutionaries. Uncle Hillel had a small printing press for his school. Max and his radical friends secretly printed propaganda leaflets on the school printing machines. Unfortunately, they were found out.
Pressure was put on Uncle. “Either you send Max away, or we tell the police.” He packed Max off home without any ceremony. 
Max found our small hometown to be intolerable. There was no one his age in Belitsa with whom he could exchange ideas. He left for America. Max was seventeen when he came to the United States. From America, he wrote his interesting letter telling us of his adventurous journey. Max’s ship, was not permitted to land at the first port of arrival because there was an outbreak of cholera at the port. 
 It took Max eleven months to finally land on United States soil.

Max arrived in New York. Mother’s brother, Harry Yarmove (changed from Yarmovsky), was there to greet him, but Max did not like New York. Instead, he headed to New Britain, Connecticut, where father’s youngest brother, Oscar Kranowitz (also known as Aaron) had settled. Uncle Oscar had five young children, two daughters and three sons, all of whom were nice to Max. They treated him like one of their own boys. He found work in a large food market. He went to night school and worked days as a clerk and delivery boy for the large market. Max was a young boy of seventeen or so, attractive with blond, baby soft, curly hair, blue eyes, fair skin, and a mischievous nature. The women customers liked to have Max take their grocery order and deliver it to them. Yes, in the pre-supermarket days, groceries were delivered. Max’s popularity with the ladies made a nice profit for the owner. Max could always get another job if the one he held did not suit him. Max made a nice living and saved his money. When he had saved enough, he sent for Brother Will (Vevel) and then for the rest of us."
She sprinkled only a few more Max tidbits later in the book. Max moved out of the family apartment to marry Freda Levit, a woman ten years his elder, whom Minnie didn't seem to like very much. She describes her as shy, and sickly. Minnie suggested Freda's often faned illness. They had a prodigy son, named Milton. What captured my attention was, that in her writings, Minnie failed to mention that Max committed suicide in 1925. He was thirty-six years old. She never explains the circumstances of his death.

A couple of years ago, at our Kranowitz/Crane family reunion, I learned a bit more about this tragic story. The Crane elders reported that Max was rumored to have had an affair, with his uncle Harry Yarmove's young wife. This is the very same uncle who received Max when he arrived from Russia and later offered work to the Crane brothers in Atlantic City. The lovers were about the same age, and almost a decade younger than their respective spouses. The wealthy, young aunt, was about to leave her husband, when he fell ill. Devastated, Max took his own life. No one was quite sure how (drowning, gas oven?). Freda, Max's wife was so angry, she threw away every photo she found of Max. Only two family photos were rescued from her rampage. He left behind a devastated wife, a young son (seven years old) and a torn apart family. I can only imagine the pain he was feeling and the stigma, shame and pain of those who loved him. My great-grandmother's choice not to share this story, reflects here generation. While today, memoirs are filled with traumatic events (or else it wouldn't sell), she chose to protect her family from such sorrow.
Uncle Harry Yarmove and his wife Annie (Back)
with their nephews Bernard and William Crane
at Bernard's graduation from Medical School
(University of Michigan) 1921

In his memoir,  Tales of A Clam Digger, Sidney Crane (Max's nephew), alludes to the affair. Referring to his great-uncle Harry Yarmove, Sidney wrote:
"Despite an early hectic family life, he treated his wife, Aunt Anne and children, as though they were the royalty he had once placed on thrones of gold."
According to Sidney, uncle Yarmove was a kindly mand and played an important role as patriarch. It was comforting for me to learn that the Yarmove family found a way to heal after such an ord.

Max himself remains as a puzzle and I decided to double check my document collection for clues. Years ago, before the internet, my cousin Minda spent long hours researching at +, YarEllis Island. Amazingly, she found four pertinent records and passed the information to me. According to Minda, Max arrived at Ellis Island on September 16th, 1905 aboard the Pretoria. The Pretoria departed from Hamburg. Here is the Ship Manifest I attached to Max, on the family tree:
Line 8 reads: Mottel Krainowitz, age 15, tailor, from Bilitz. He headed to Brooklyn NY with $15 dollars in his pocket. He paid for his own trip and was meeting an uncle, Joseph something (very hard to read, maybe Passisovsky?)
(Click to enlarge)

Since I've encountered this record three years ago, the following things have trouble me:
1. It is difficult to read. Many names are crossed out.
2. Kranowitz spelling is questionable. Ellis Island transcribed it as Kreinawitz while ancestry Krinsawitz. I can live with either. Misspelled Russian names are a dime a dozen in our line of work.
3. There is no other record indicating Max was a tailor. I can also live with this fact. Maybe he never worked as a tailor again. He was only fifteen. Perhaps he invented a profession because he was unskilled (a yeshiva student) and wanted to ensure his entry to the United States.
4. The Cranes had many uncles, none were named Joseph.  Illegible as Joseph's last name is on the manifest, it's neither Yarmovsky nor Kranowitz, the two known uncles in America.
5. Is Bilitz the same as Belitsa? I've never seen the shtetl's name spelled this way, but again, I could overlook this one.

Of all the many travel manifests I've found for my  numerous ancestors, this one is the least satisfying. Out of maybe fifteen facts, five are fishy. It was time to double check. I examined another record I had for Max, a US Naturalization Index Card. These cards frustrates me, because they don't provide much information. I can't afford to order so many records from the national archives. Instead, I wait for them to upload more documents while I save the index cards as a reference. I decided that, in Max's case, it was worth paying for the Naturalization Petition. These petitions, are rich with information, sometimes photos, and almost always provide information about how the immigrant arrived in the US. I bit the bullet, paid the ten dollars to our National Archives.

To my delight, they located Max's records quickly. On Monday, a thick envelope was waiting at my doorstep. Jackpot! Max's citizenship petition and records form 1908-1913. Low and behold, something jumped out at me from the page: Max was not aboard the SS Pretoria, from Hamburg. He departed from Liverpool, England on the Saxonia, arriving in Boston on October 5th, 1905!

One of three documents I received from the National Archives reporting Max Kranowitz, born 3/15/1889 in Belica,
Russia declared his  intention to become a citizen on Nov 8, 1908. He was 19 years old and a metal worker.
According to this document he arrived at the port of  Boston, Mass on the Saxonia, on 10/4/1905. 

Armed with this information, I was instantly able to located the Saxonia Passengers List:

Line 29, lists a Motel Kranowitz, 15 years old, a tailor, heading to Brooklyn New York. He paid for his won trip, carrying only $11 dollars and met his uncle with the last name of Yarmovsky, and if I'm not imagining it, the uncle's first name might say Hirsh (note: Uncle Harry Yarmov's Yiddish name was Hershel. 
(Click to enlarge)
Minda was very close! Her Motel, very much resembled our Motel. They were both fifteen and tailors! But this is our Motel-Max Kranowitz, who later (January 13, 1913) changed his name to Crane. Minda could not have known that Max enter the United States through Boston and not Ellis Island. (I will have to update the second edition of Stored Treasures with this information).

Here is my second favorite find of the week. It's from a new database recently released by the Connecticut, Military Census, of 1917.
Connecticut, Military Census, 1917 for Max Crane
Aside from the standard information, I learned some fascinating thing about my ellusive great-uncle Max. He was not only tailor, metal worker and shopping clerk, he was also a meat cutter! He knew how to ride a horse, handle a team of horses and drive a vehicle. He also considered himself to be a good swimmer!

The Crane siblings after William returned from WWI. Max is seated in the front,
 with his son Milton in his lap and wife Freda to his right.
The Crane/Kranowitz descendants, owe much to Max. He was the first to make the journey across the Atlantic. His experience not only shape his life, but encouraged his siblings to follow. His hard work was instrumental in bringing his family to America and helping them during their early years as new immigrants. He was the first to change his name to Crane. He was far from perfect, and sadly, his story met a tragic and premature end. As I am not from my great-grandmother's generation, I decided to share his story.

Now, I could use some help from my genealogy friends and of course family members who might have some information I don't. As always, the more I discover, the more questions arise. Here are a few:
1. I have not been able to corroborate Minnie's story of Max being stuck at sea for eleven months due to a cholera epidemic. Any ideas?
2. I would like to find a record of Max's death. I only know he died around 1925, but I don't know where. I would love to find his death certificate and his grave.

And here is another question for you all:
Do you think genealogist should "spill" these kinds of family secrets?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Brick Wall Comes Down! Running into brick walls, is what we do. Advancing in spurts, I vacillate between weeks  filled with a flourish of activity and frustratingly weeks full of dead ends. Nothing progresses and everywhere I turn, there are steep, thick, fortified brick walls. Clinging tightly to it's neighbor, cemented and stubborn, each brick obscures the treasure behind it. Daily, I chip away at this wall with my tiny chisel. What keeps me engaged in laborious work of unearthing the past is the hope of finding a tiny crack. Last week, I had one of those moments, a fissure which brought down a whole section of the wall. A river of information is now flowing through this widening crevice. I wanted to share this discovery with my readers, because there is much to be gained from reviewing the event and peaking through the crumbling bricks.

A few months ago, I connected with a fellow genealogy enthusiast on Howard is not quite a relative. We are barely related by several marriages, but he happened to be working on distant members of my family, and I happened to notice. Our trees crossed, and it sparked my interest. Full disclosure: my Geni tree has 236 matches at the moment, most of which I ignore. I ignore them, because:

  1.  I've tried to merge them in the past, but received no reply
  2. I've merged and it was a disaster because the other person didn't know what they were doing so I had to undo the merge
  3. I'm not sure it's a true match
  4. It's such a distant part of my tree (not blood relatives), that it doesn't seem to belong on my tree.
Passport  photo of
Chaim Bobrowsky
 (My second cousin thrice removed),
Posted by Howard

So why did Howard's profiles catch my attention? What attracted my attention was the fact that I did not know any living relatives from this particular branch of the tree, the Friedman branch. One thing I like to have, is a "living" contact from all my tree branches. Ideally, it's great if the contact is into genealogy, and become a collaborator. I identified Howard as such, and decided to contact him. He was adding old passport photos of distant relatives and I wanted to merge our trees, offer him information about ancestors he didn't have and learn from him about the descendants he was connected to.

We successfully merged our trees and had several interesting exchanges in September, and then our correspondence died down as each of us got busy and distracted with other things. The main The Friedman Tree is fairly blank on my tree. I have mostly names but no dates or locations. A common name such as Friedman is difficult to research without details especially where they are from. I'm a descendant of Yaakov Friedman. He is my fourth great-grandfather. I know a little bit, about his daughter Tzvia Pomerantz (Friedman), my third great-grandmother. She died on May 7, 1926 at the age of seventy-six in Bialystok. I have a remarkable photo, not only of Tzvia, but also of her grave. She married, Isaac Pomerantz, and the Pomerantz family has done a remarkable job on their branch of the tree, so much of my research has focused there. Tzvia was my great-grandfather, William Bloomfield's grandmother. If you've been following my blog, you know that I am writing an ongoing series about the Bloomfields. What remains a mystery to me, is where the Bloomfields are actually from in Russia. The name of the actual village. Though we believe they lived in Malec at some point, we are unsure where were they born. Being Friedman descendants, learning more about the Friedmans may answer some of my questions about the Bloomfields.

Yad Vashem Testimony Sheet for Abraham Bobrowsky (1872-1942c),
submitted by his son Meyer Bobrowsky and found by Howard.
Last week, Howard requested I make public the profile status of some of the ancestors because he found Yad Vashem records pertaining to them, but had limited access to my family. When I told him that I spoke Hebrew, and wanted to see the original records, he gladly shared them with me. Howard, had done a remarkable job finding these records. He knew a piece of history about the Bobrowsky branch of Friedman descendants, which I didn't know. He knew, they lost many family members in the holocaust. Sadly, my tree has many barren branches due to World War II, but because I have hundreds of ancestors, I don't tend to specifically look for Yad Vashem records unless I suspect or know that they remained in Europe around the time of the war. These are very powerful records which provide a wealth of information about the victims. As I examined this set of records, I was struck by the large number of family members who perished, by the fact that two cousins submitted all the information and that there were pictures attached to some of the testimony sheets. Most importantly, I learned the name of their village.

A Necrology page from the
Kamenetz-Litovsk Yizkor
 book for 10 members of
the Bobrowsky family
 (8 of whom perished in the holocaust).
After spending time on the Yad Vashem site, I find it difficult to sleep. Armed with what I learned from these records, I decided to search the Yizkor book from the town Kamenetz-Litovsk.  Many survivors of Jewish communities obliterated by the Nazi's published memorial books called Yizkor books, in order to preserve and document the story of their lost communities and of the victims. These books are mostly in Hebrew or Yiddish with some sections in Hebrew. They are available on-line through the New York Public Library. JewishGen.Org has links to the available translations. I'm pretty skillful at looking at these Books, and my Hebrew allows me to study the index and locate family members in both the Hebrew and Yiddish sections. It took, very little time, to find what I was looking for. The Kamenetz community had several edition of a memorial book. As I suspected, the Bobrowsky family was very active in this project. The not only submitted information about the relatives they lost, but they wrote articles, provided pictures and were active members of the committee which put the book together. All the wall came tumbling down! 

Thanks to a wonderful collaboration with Howard, I can now share, the story our family members so diligently preserved of their past. Before I met Howard, I didn't know anything about Tzvia's siblings, except their names and the names of their descendants. I now know, not only their names, but also, where they are from, what they look like, what they did, and how they lived their lives. As I pull each brick from the rubble, I continue to process and translate much of what I found. I'm confident that it will lead to many more discoveries both about the rest of the Friedman clan, as well as the Pomerantzs and the Bloomfields.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Next Big Thing!

Blog Hop

This week, I've had the honor to be invited to a blog hop! The purpose of the blog hop is to introduce readers to books and authors, the may otherwise haven't heard about. Honestly, before last week, I never heard of Blog Hops, but my mom, who happens to be a social media wiz, invited me to join. My mom, Dr. Barbara Lavi, is the author of a self help book called The Wake Up and Dream Challenge. As a clinical psychologists, she developed a goal setting technique to help her clients transform their lives. Her book, applies this technique to help people achieve their dreams. It's a unique book since it not only changes people's life, but it helps support 21 non-profit organizations, all of whom share the common goal of transforming lives. The fun thing about this blog hop, is that I get to introduce my readers to books from different genreas, not just genealogy which is my focus. As you will see, at the bottom of this post, I will invite you to visit authors whom have inspired me.  First, I will answer ten questions about my book, and then recommend other authors, who will be writing about their books next week!

My book, Stored Treasures, A Memoir, was published last year and is the story of my great-grandmother Minnie Crane's life. It is a compilation of her journal writings, my grandmother's writings (her daughter) and genealogical research work I did.

What was the working title of your book?
The working title of the book was Stored Treasures of My life. It came from a sentence Minnie wrote about her ambitious undertaking of writing a memoir. I had been digging up clues about my family history for years, and when I came across her extensive writings, I truly felt they were a treasure. I was stuck by the insight she had, that the act of telling her story was equivalent to sharing a hidden treasure. Eventually, I decided to shorted the title to Stored Treasures, which added a touch of mystery. The shorter title also expands the definition of this work from the story of one life to something much bigger. Personal histories, shed light on society and culture as a whole. While standard history focuses on war and heros, there is much to learn from ordinary people's lives. Minnie lived through an incredible period in history, two world wars, pandemics, great migration and the great depression. Her story is personal as well as universal. The details preserved in her tale are true gems and the inspiration for the title of the book. 

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I never set out to write a book. As an avid genealogist, I was doing research for my family tree. As often happens, I ran into a brick wall. I had a lot of unanswered questions, and it seemed that my great-grandmother's journals might have some answers. Minnie, who passed away in 1981, had written journals for the last twenty or so years of her life. These handwritten books, were a family heirloom, tucked away in attics and long forgotten. I requested my own copy, with the hope of finding some clues into the past. When I finally got a hold of the manuscript, it was, as rumored, difficult to read, confusing and repetitive. To make heads or tales of the material, I decided to "clean it up." I transcribed it, organized it into a sensible chronology and omitted irrelevant details. Once I was done, I was shocked. Staring at me form my computer screen was an amazing story! I saw right away, that this was the beginning of a book.

What genre does your book fall under?  
The book falls under non-fiction, memoir. In addition, it's a wonderful tool for genealogy. Anyone who has spend time doing genealogical research and wondered what to do with piles of information they collected, should read Stored Treasures. Minnie's story, could not have become a book, without the photos, supplemental research and documents I unearthed over the years. It's an excellent example of how to bring a family story to life and make it relevant to a larger audience. 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
This is a great question. I've long thought that Stored Treasures would make a great film, and could easily be adapted into a screenplay. Casting would be difficult as it would require at least two or three actresses to play Minnie, one as a very young girl, one as a younger woman and the third, the narrator and older woman. I chose three actresses who stand out to me for their beauty, softness and kindness on screen. I think Jennifer Connelly would make a great young Minnie, Amy Irving from Crossing Delancey could play the middle aged Minnie, and Tova Feldush who played Golda Meir could play the narrator and older Minnie. I would cast Russel Crow as Minnie's husband, William Bloomfield. 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A young woman's brave journey from girlhood to womanhood, from old Russia to America at the turn of the twentieth century.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Stored Treasures is self-published. Never having written a book before, I decided to self-publish. I  did not want my book to sit on an agency's desks for years, while I struggled to get recognition. It was more important to get it out there, especially now that the publishing industry is in such  a flux. I loved learning about publishing a book. Self publishing has become very user friendly. I received a lot of support from, and apart from paying a professional editor, I did the everything myself, including the cover design, the layout etc. 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The very first draft took only a month, but it was only the very first part of the book, which was Minnie's actual writing. The complete first draft, which included all the sections took about nine months. 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
There are two books in particular that come to mind. The first is ELSIE: ADVENTURES OF AN ARIZONA SCHOOLTEACHER 1913-1916 by Barbara Ann Waite. This is one of the books I'm highlighting in my blog hop. Like me, Barbara Ann Waite turned her grandmother's diary into a book. Both Elsie and Minnie provide an incredible glimpse into the life of young women in America during the turn of the century. One, a Jewish immigrant in the East Coast, and the other a pioneer in Arizona. The second book is Missing Lucile by Suzanne Berne. Missing Lucile is about a grandmother Suzanne Berne never met. What impressed me the most about this book, was Berne's ability to piece together her grandmother's story with so little to go by. 

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
Minnie was my inspiration to write and publish the book. My great-grandmother died when I was thirteen years old and more than thirty years before I published her story. I was her oldest great-granddaughter and knew her well. Yet getting to know her again, as an adult through her writing, transformed my image of who she was. Her strength and determination continue to inspire me everyday.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Stored Treasures is an unusual book since it is a collaboration of four generation of women. It's full of pearls of wisdom, hidden treasures and surprises!

Now for blog hopping! I invite you to visit the following talented, diverse and inspiring group of women authors: