Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Learning about Ancestors from the Connecticut Military Questionnaire

Louis Harold Kranowitz
On Friday, we met Louis Harold Kranowitz. As promised, there is much more to the Louis Kranowitz story. The photo featured on Friday's Face from the Past post, is one of two photos of his photos my great-grandmother kept the album. Interestingly, the second photo is also from his service days. In this dreamy cloud portrait he looks even more handsome.

These two portraits, taken most likely before Louis left for war, sparked my curiosity about this family member. Military records seemed like a good place to start. Not many records survived from WWI, so I wasn't sure how much luck I would have.

Draft Registration

The draft registration card pulled up immediately and was surprisingly easy to read. The card provided the following information:

Name: Louis Harold Kranowitz
Address: 218 North Street, New Britain, CT
Birth: July 25, 1892 New York, NY
Age: 25
Citizenship: Natural Born Citizen
Occupation: Assistant Pharmacist
Employer: Clark and Brainerd, New Britain, CT
Dependents: Mother
Marital Status: Single
Race: Caucasian
Medium Hight, Slender, Brown Eyes, Black Hair. No disabilities.

Louis Harold Kranowitz, WWI Draft Registration Card.
(Click to Enlarge). Source: Ancestry.Com
Connecticut MIlitary Census

Louis Harold Kranowitz
Connecticut Military Census Feb 27, 1919
(click to enlarge).
Source: UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012
Original data: Connecticut Military Census of 1917. 
Hartford, Connecticut: Connecticut State Library.

Next, I recalled the Connecticut Military Census of 1917. In February of this year, I discovered and shared Max Crane's Military Census record. All men of 16 year of age  and older, filled these out. I had a little trouble finding Louis's Military Census since for some reason it was not indexed. Eventually, by scanning all the New Britain Kp-Kz records, I found it!
The document provides a few new facts about Louis:
  • He had no other trade than Pharmacy. 
  • He was 5'7'' tall and weighed 135 pounds (slim indeed).
  • Here he reported he supports two people, but doesn't disclose who. 
  • No prior military service.
  • He can ride a horse and handle a team, but can not drive an automobile or a motorcycle. 
  • He can not understand telegraphy or operate a wireless. 
  • He has no experience with steam engines, electrical machines or boats (power or sail). 
  • No experience with simple coastwise navigation or high speed marine gasoline engines.
  • Is not a good swimmer. 

Connecticut Military Questionnaire
Louis Harold Kranowitz (pages 1/4)

What I didn't expect to find was the following amazing document. A Connecticut Military Questionnaire 1919-1920. Now, if you haven't seen one of these documents, I highly recommend you take a look, especially if you have ancestors or family members from Connecticut who served in WWI. They are absolutely fabulous! It's a four page questionnaire handwritten by the veteran. In many cases if the soldier died on duty, the form was filled out for that person and a photo if available was attached.

In these questionnaire the veterans were asked to fill out many details about their service in the war. The information is very detailed and include among other information: draft date, unit, rank, military number, where and when they served, travel, injury and discharge.

Here is a summary of Louis Harold Kranowitz military service and other new facts about him:

Connecticut Military Questionnaire
Louis Harold Kranowitz (pages 2/4)
Click to enlarge:
Source: Connecticut,
Military Questionnaires, 1919-1920 
Provo, UT, USA: 
Original data: Connecticut State Library,
Hartford, Connecticut.

  • Mother's maiden name: Gross.
  • Drafted and inducted into the army on Oct 4, 1917, about 8 months after he first filled out the Connecticut Military Census. 
  • Reported to Camp Devens in Massachusetts.
  • Rank: Private
  • Unit: Medical Corps of the National Army (If you look closely at his photo, Louis is wearing a Medical Corps pin).
  • Identification #: 1690365
  • Trained at Camp Devens for about seven month until May 30, 1918.
  • While at Camp Devens he was promoted to Sergeant on April 4, 1918.
  • Embarked from Newport News, Virginia on Jun 20, 1918 on the USS Tenadores. 
  • The USS Tenadores arrived at Brest, France on July 13, 1918.
  • From Brest he proceeded to Cosne, France. The journey lasted 9 days and he arrived on July 22, 1918. 
  • Stationed in Cosne for five months until Dec 22, 1918.
  • Continued to Treves Germany where he remained for the remainder of the war, until August 30, 1919. 
  • Returned to the US aboard the USS Kroonland which arrived in Hoboken on Sep 10, 1919. 
  • Discharged from service at Camp Devens on Sep 16, 1919 and return to his civilian life as a pharmacist. 
(Note: Armistice day was Nov 1, 1918, but the war did not officially end until a series of treaties were signed in 1919 and as late as 1920).

Unfortunately, Louis chose not to elaborate much when asked to respond to his experience in the military (last two pages of the survey). He reported that he was in favor of serving and that his state of mind was good. According to him, the effect of his experience both in the US and abroad on his state of mind were good.

As you can see, this type of record is a gold mine of information. Armed with the wealth of details from this questionnaire I should be able to learn much more about his experience. I've also found similar records for his brother William Carl Kranowitz who served in Naval Intelligence, as well as Minnie's brother, their cousin William James Crane.

If you think you may have had a relative who died during WWI and was from Connecticut, be sure to check these records. While browsing the New Britain records, I also found many young men who died of influenza while still in training in the US. Often their photograph was included as well.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday's Faces from the Past: Louis Harold Kranowitz

Label on back: Louis Kranowitz
New Britain, Conn 1918

Louis Harold Kranowitz (1892-1960)

This handsome young soldier was a cousin of my great-grandmother Minnie. Louis and his family welcomed Minnie and her brothers into America and were influential in their decision to live in Hartford, Connecticut during their early years in this country. Louis, son of Aaron and Sophie Kranowitz was born in New York, but spent most of his life in New Britain, CT. He was the middle child, squeezed between two older sisters, Berth and Lena and two younger brothers, William and Bernard.

Remember the story of Max Crane (Kranowitz)'s beating in New Britain? In Part III:  of that series:  Why Was Max Hanging Around the Block?, I concluded that Louis Kranowitz, 16 years old at the time, was probably Max's companion the day he received the beating  which made headlines in 1909.

This photo of Louis Kranowitz was taken sometime in 1918, during the last year of World War I. Louis was twenty-five years old. I found the photograph in Minnie's album. Neatly labeled on the back, in her  own handwriting, she places Louis in New Britain, CT. He may have not left for battle yet. By 1918, Louis had graduated from Columbia University where he studied pharmacy.

Check back next week for more about Louis!

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Gift for Dad

My grandfather Baruch Lavi (aka Zigmond Jampel)
proudly showing me off.
Imagine growing up without grandparents. Difficult isn't it? This day and age, people live longer and longer. Most of us are lucky enough to know most or all of our grandparents, and sometimes our great-grandparents. Myself, I was fortunate. I knew all five of my grandparents and one great-grandmother. Yes, five. My grandfather remarried and his wife was a wonderful, bonus, grandmother to all of us grandkids.

My grandfather in a similarly proud pose with my father
My father is a pretty cool grandfather himself. Saba, or grandfather in Hebrew, is what my kids call him. In fact, almost all the kids who have ever come across my dad take to calling him Saba.  He has embraced the role of grandfather and has "adopted" a bunch of grandkids along the way. Ironically, my dad never met his own grandparents. He never experienced the luxury of spending the evening at his grandparents home and being pampered by them. He could only imagine what it would be like to curl up with his grandfather and read a book. Sadly, like many Jews of his generation, he lost all his grandparents in the holocaust, before he was born.

Despite this tragic loss, dad had a happy childhood. He grew up barefoot, running around the fields of a young kibbutz.  The kibbutz provided a freedom rarely offered to children today. Kibbutz children spent their days outdoors, playing in the orange groves, working with the livestock or swimming in the water hole. Most of the founding members of the kibbutz lost families in the holocaust as well. They became each other's family and sheltered their children from their own sorrow by never discussing the loss. When my dad tried to learn about his grandparents, he was usually turned away. Eventually, he stopped trying.

My father on Kibbutz early 1950s
It's been five years since I first presented my dad a small clue about his grandparents—four Yad Vashem Testimony sheets for each of his grandparents. This elusive testimonies, filled out by my grandparents, contained more information than we ever knew about their parents. Their names, the date and place of birth, their occupations, their parents names and their last known address. Reading these documents brought tears to my father's eyes.

Five years of genealogy research may be a long time, but progress has been slow, particularly in Eastern Europe. Today, I probably could have found the same Yad Vashem documents in a couple of minutes. Their search engine has improved tremendously. Back then, the search engine did not recognize that the letter "J" in Polish would be spelled with a "Y" in English. This problem, lead to months of frustration at the time.

Though I remained hungry for more information about those we lost in the holocaust, I've mostly come up short. For the past few weeks I've reported of my first major breakthrough on this branch of the family. I've not only identified a marriage record of my father's great-grandparents, but I also connected with a potential cousin. When he heard about my discovery he was amazed. "How pleased your grandfather would have been to know of your work and dedication to this project" he told me.

Today, I'd like to award my father, gift! A new document, this time pertaining not to his great-grandparents, but to his grandmother. Cecylia Jampel born Cecylia Reiter and fondly known as Cyla.
Five years ago, no one in my family remembered Cecylia's name. When I entered her onto my tree, she had no first name, and only a married name, Jampel. Today, I share with all of my faithful readers and my dad, Cecylia's birth certificate and try to reconstruct a little bit of her story.

Souce: JRI Poland/JewishGen

Cecylia (Cyla) born on Oct 1st, 1891 in the city of Lwow, (pronounced Lvov) in the province of Galicia which was then part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. She was born in house #27 of Zotkiewska Street (See: Map of Lwow from 1890. Ul Zotkiewska can be found at MNO 4&5 ). Three days later, there was a naming ceremony for her at the same address. Cyla, like many Jews of her generations was officially born out of wedlock. She was therefore recorded as illegitimate. This most likely means that her parents were only had a Jewish wedding which was not valid in civil courts at the time. Her mother Rachel Reiter was listed as single, residing in Lwow and  cohabitating with the shoemaker Yakob Zelnik. Rachel is the reported daughter of Ciny Reiter from the town of Kulików. The two witnesses to the birth were Hezz Rochmes and Leiser Reich, both lime dealers from Lwow. Betty Frenkel was the midwife. Note Cyla was given her mother maiden name Reiter, which in turn is her mother's maiden name as well. Again this is because the parents were only married according to Jewish law.

Zotkiewska Street, surrounds a large park in the city which surrounds the Union of Lublin Mound (Kopiec Unii Lubelskiej). This monument sits at the top of a man made hill known as High Castle. Construction of this monument to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Union of Lublin was finished in 1890, only a year before Cyla was born. I was able to locate the area in google maps today. The park looks run down, and I'm not sure the street numbers are the same, but here is what building #27 looks like today.

View Larger Map

From additional family records, I learned that my great-grandmother Cyla was the second oldest of at least eight children, five boys and three girls: Nachman b. 1888, Karol (Chaskel) Leib (Leon) b. 1889, b. 1893, Maurycy Herman b.1895, Regina b.1898, Anna b.1890-d.1891 and Kazimierz b.1903. Her father, whose full name was Simon Jakob Zelnik was born in 1864. For now the fate of her parents and siblings is unknown to me.

Cyla married Leon Jampel, a tailor, around 1910. She was a seamstress. They had my grandfather in 1913 when she was twenty two years old. Leon would have been around twenty five years old when they had their first child. They had their second and last child Michael, eighteen years later, in 1931. They lived and worked at #18 Kosciuszko Street, right next to Ivan Franko National University and another large park of the same name. (see map: Map of Lwow from 1890. L 6, 7). I couldn't quite find the street on google map because it's in Ukrainian, but the University is still there. This was their last known address before being expelled to the ghetto. They most likely were forced to work at the Yanovska forced labor camp and died either at the ghetto or the camp by 1943. Cyla would have been about 52 years old.

This is it for now! I am hopeful that I will discover more bit of this story in the weeks and months to come!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday's Faces from the Past: Bertha Ruderman

This is by far one of my favorite vintage photos. It's a picture of Bertha Ruderman with her mother (Rebecca Mishkind) and two sisters, Helen and Salllie Ruderman. Bertha married into my husband's family. The photo came to my attention thanks to ancestry's shaky leaf and the ancestry contributor who posted it, graciously shared it with me. The photo was taken in 1914.

I love everything about this photo, the pose, the distinct look in each of their eyes and their outfits. Most endearing is Bertha, who despite not wearing any shoes has a sense of elegance with her wonderful hat and red flower—a late retouch.

Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Brick Wall Comes Tumbling Down!

This is the moment genealogist live for—when hours of work finally lead to a breakthrough! The eureka moment!

Remember the Polish marriage record for Mechel Speiser and Rachel Jampel from last post? Mechel are my great-great-grandparents. They are part of a very large paternal brickwall. Finding such an important clue, about this Galician family lost in the holocaust, offered a glimmer of hope. Pulling out this first brick, might bring down the entire wall.mTo experienced genealogists, it's clear that bringing down a such a sturdy wall, requires the stars to actually align. It seems that seeing both the movie Gravity and Ender's game, helped align the stars for me!

Translating the Marriage Certificate

Once again, marriage record for Mechel and Rachel so you wont have to scroll back to last weeks post.
(Click to enlarge)

Index from JRI-Poland for Mechel and Rachel's marriage record.
(Click to enlarge)

Step number one was to translate this Galician marriage record. If you look at the record closely, the first thing you will appreciate is the truly beautiful handwriting. No one write like this anymore.  Lucky for me, the person who recorde Mechel and Rachel's wedding in 1904 did. Another bit of luck was the quality of the scan. Without understanding polish, the names and the places are quite legible and concur with what the JRI-Poland Indexer had submitted for this record.

Clearly, there was much more information on the record. The next step was to translate the record in it's entirety.'s service ViewMate is ideal for posting a document or a photo such as a gravestone in need of translation. Within a few days, knowledgeable contributors from all over the globe response and help with the translation. I've had good luck with this service before, so I posted the record. When I hadn't heard from viewmate, I also posted on the facebook group Jewish Genealogy.

In the meantime, impatience got the best of me and I decided to take a stab at it myself. Using mostly google translator, a list of typical Jewish Polish occupations from and a magnifying glass, I set out to translate the one hundred and ten year old document.

Mechel and Rachel's Marriage Record Translation:

The bridegroom: Mechel Speiser, a native of Wola Jakubowa, residing in Rychcicach, innkeeper (or tavern keeper), son of the deceased alleged parents Seliga Speiser and Laji of the house of Freiman. 62 years old. Marital Status: Single.
The bride: Rachel Jampel native of Dobrowlany and living in Rychicach, daughter of Mendla Jampel from Dobrowalny and the deceased Laji of the house of Freilich. 40 years, 7 months and 2 days old. Marital status: Single.
Marriage recorded on 14th of August, 1904 in Drohobycz. Rabbi: Ch K Horowitz, Witnesses: Israel Hel, Merchant and Moses Freiman, merchant.

The Jewish Genealogist on facebook, were fastest to respond, and a lovely woman from Indiana quickly helped me decipher a lot of the basic information and conquered with my own conclusions. Other native speakers chimed in agreed. ViewMate contributors agreed as well. Only the last column on the right, titled notes, remains untranslated. This note seems quite long and mentions the date of the actual marriage several times. I can't make heads or tails of the polish for now.

Building A Tree for Mechel and Rachel

Ten days ago, I attended a workshop with Stanley Diamond, founder of JRI-Poland, sponsored by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston. The attendees were instructed to bring specific question and I was hoping for help with the Speiser/Jampel research. In preparation for the workshop, I was able to create a tree for Meche and Rachel. The amount of records available for the Drohobycz region on JRI-Poland was impressive. Equipped with a better understanding of marriage practices in Galicia and how to decipher polish vital records, I was able to carefully reconstruct a family tree. I identifed Mechel's parent, four grandparents, three siblings, two wives and nine children, going back to the late 1700s. Rachel, turns out was his second wife. So far, I've identified two of her grandparents  and two siblings.

One Eureka moment:

Mechel Speiser's signature!

Finding Mechel Speiser's signature! Mechel's signature appears on many of his children's birth and death certificates. Sadly, many of his children were stillborn or died young. This signature is from the birth record of Simon Jampel born on the 8th of March, 1898 and died in 1916. Mechel was the witness on occasions.

Description of mother of
Simon Jampel in his
Birth Record 
All of Mechel's children except one (Udel) were registered as illegitimate and under the their mother's maiden name, Jampel. Simon's record in particular, provides a wonderful insight. It actually documents Mechel and Rachel's Jewish wedding.

Under the description of Simon's mother it says that Ruchla Jampel (Ruchla is a nickname for Rachel), resident of Rychcicach, wife and then in a parenthesis (/: tylko wedle praw mojżesza ...) which means only according to the laws of moses. Thanks Google Translator! This government official, also with impeccable hand writing, clearly explained that Simon's parents were married by Jewish law, commonly referred to at the time as the Laws of Moses.

Udel's birth record is fascinating as well. Udel, born in 1905 was the only record I found for a child born to the couple after their civil marriage. She, unlike the rest of her siblings is registered as Udel Speiser. In this record, Rachel, for the first time, is recorded as Rachel Speiser of the house of Jampel (see right hand column). Mechel and Rachel's civil marriage is clearly documented in this record (see box under Mechel's name). It provides the 1904 record locator as Karta #45 and entry #89.  Note, Udel is reported as legitimate, that is not being born out of wedlock, slubne. Another important gem found on many of these records is the family's address: House #225 (see left). At the time, since the villages were so small, there were no street names, Instead houses were numbered. House #225 must have been the inn where they lived an worked. If a cadastral map of the village exist, I should be able to locate the exact location of this property.

Very quickly I became an expert at deciphering the polish understanding these old documents. By discovering so much information, I was answering many of my own questions. The only question left for the head of JRI-Poland was: what about the records whose scan quality is so poor that I can't make out the handwriting? Unfortunately, some of the older records I uncovered were practically illegible aside from the names and dates. This was the question I saved for the workshop.

Brick Wall Tumbles

The wedding record unlocked such a wealth of information, I was ecstatic. Bricks were tumbling all around me. And then...the night before the JRI-Poland workshop, I received a note in my Inbox. Participants in the workshop were encouraged to submit a list of the surnames and towns they are researching. One of these participants noticed that her and I shared the surname Speiser and the three Galician towns where the Speisers roamed. A potential cousin! I couldn't believe it. Less than thirty, local genealogist were to attend the workshop the next day. What are the chances to connect with a cousin?

We met briefly at the workshop and promised to talk afterwards. When I asked Stanley Diamond  how to obtain better quality scans, he explained that this particular set of digital records from AGAD originated from microfilm. The two step process in creating the scan, reduces the quality. If sharpening the image on photoshop doesn't work (I tried, it didn't), there does exist a possibility of obtaining better scans directly from the polish archives which is constantly updating it's digital collection. He kindly gave me some suggestions of how to go about obtaining them.

Finding An Actual Cousin

This is not the first time I find a cousin. The internet has brought me together with many known long lost cousins. This is the first time though, I find a potential cousin I only knew about in theory. I always believed that my Polish grandparents, who lost everyone in the war, must have had aunts or uncles and cousins. I knew nothing about these lost cousins, except for the fact that my grandparents searched for years for survivors and never found anyone. My grandfather had only one set of cousins in Australia (last name Reiter). My grandmother had a brother who survived Auschwitz and one cousin who left Poland before the war, resided for several years in Israel and then moved to America. I found it hard to believe that at a time when there were such large families, my grandparents didn't have any distant cousins who survived the war or survived by leaving Europe before the war.

Turns out, this potential Speiser cousin is a descendant of one of Mechel Speiser's siblings, Lea Speiser. Our common ancestors are Mechel Speiser's parents Selig Speiser and Leibe Freiman. Both of us have been studying at the same Polish documents and feel with a large degree of confidence that we have the correct family. According to my new found 3rd cousin once removed, her great-grandmother Lea came to America in 1907. At the age of 50, widowed with most of her children in America, she finally joined them. This would explain why my grandfather did not know about this branch of the family. My grandfather was born in 1913, six years after Lea left Galicia. He never met this great-aunt Lea, or any of her children. Lea, passed away in 1933, six years before WWII and around the time my grandfather made Aliya to Palestine. It's difficult to say if Lea's nephew Leon (my great-grandfather) kept in touch with his aunt, but by the time was a young adult, he was far removed from Lea's family and probably had no way of getting in touch with them after the war.

Interestingly, while my story is steeped in Holocaust tragedy and loss, for my new found cousin, losing relatives in the war was a revelation. Their extended family immigrated to America before World War I. They felt blessed to have made the choice to leave Galicia and like many American Jewish families, watch the War with horror but were not personally affected. Since she was born after the war, it is very likely that the elder generations in her family, such as her grandfather, did know of many cousins who lost their lives in the war, but to her recollection, and not surprisingly, no one talked about it. Meeting me, had opened her eyes to the story of those who were left behind. Like me, she knew leaned of these extended Speiser branches only thanks to her detailed genealogical research.

Family historians live for the moments when brick walls crash, living relatives are found and better yet research collaborators are discovered. The best part, we live in the same city! Together, we hope to learn more about our shared family history.

What's next?

The next logical step is to prove our family relationship via DNA. In the meantime, we've joined each other's trees and have began sharing our work.'s little leaves would have made the connection between us eventually, but we beat them to it. The amazing thing was that we found each other at a small workshop. I can't wait to tell my dad that I not only found his third cousin, but that there are lots more cousins where she came from!