Sunday, October 28, 2012


I wrote a few weeks ago about errors in online databases and promised there would be a few more examples. The example then was based on transcription of the original record and policy about approximating ages. This time it's something different.

A few years ago, I found a set of records in JRI-Poland for the children of Jakob Pikholz and his wife Henie Malka Ginsberg of Skalat - ten in all.
There are actually nine children here - the first one has two records, six weeks apart. That has to be some kind of error. Perhaps the second was meant to be a death record, as we have nothing further on this daughter. But that's not the one that prompted this post.

Of the remaining eight, Jente came to Israel in 1943 after her husband was killed. She had a daughter who chose to live out her days in Poland and another daughter here in Jerusalem. The daughter here in town has a daughter whom I know and who was, in fact, here in my office last week. Here Jente was known as Jetty and her documents show her to have been born 12 June 1883, rather than the 18 June 1880 that is on the birth record. Using the date on her birth record, she was a few weeks short of ninety when she died.

The seventh child, Szyje Isak, was a butcher in Skalat and was killed in the Holocaust. I know nothing about his family. In fact the only information I have beyond the birth record is from a Skalater who lived here and mentioned him among the people he had known.

The sixth child, Abysch Abraham, died in Skalat before his fourth birthday.

The second child, Perec, who was named for his paternal grandfather, went to the United States in 1902 and was known there as Barney. He married and had a son and a daughter and I am in touch with his granddaughter. Barney died in 1940 in his sixty-second year, but the gravestone says "Age 66 years."

We have a 1912 New York marriage record for another daughter, called Rose, who could be either Bassie Rosa or Raze. The marriage record has her as twenty-six years old, which is closer to the age of Raze, so I have recorded her that way.

She also appears in a 1907 passenger list as Rosa, age twenty-two. We know that she and her husband Sam Greenberg had a son Max in about 1915, but we know nothing further of them. The curse of common names.

For the other children of Jakob and Henie Malka, we have nothing but birth records, so we have no idea what happened to any of them. Had they died in childhood, there would likely be notes on the birth records. So their lives are a large question mark, with no good prospect for solution.

Back to the results from the JRI-Poland search, where we see a few inconsistencies in spelling and in the names themselves, but nothing noteworthy - with one exception. Raze's mother is not listed as Henie Malka Ginsberg, but as Henie Malka BLEICH of Touste. Normally, I would guess that Henie Malka's parents were Ginsberg and Bleich, but we learned from the first births that she was from Skalat, so Touste is a problem.

At first I acquired only one or two births from each family, but as my budget allowed, I ordered the others.
This is what came for Raze. (Click to enlarge.) Sorry for the quality, that's what there is.
There are five births on this page. (It's a ledger, so some of the center is lost in the spine.) Raze the daughter of Jakob Pikholz and his wife Henie Malka is the fourth, the one with the X in orange on the left. She was born 28 July 1884. The mother's name is in the red box near the center. I cannot make out Henie Malka's father's name, but her mother is Szeindel Bleich of Touste. Our Henia Malka is the daughter of Abysch and Leie Marjem Ginsberg of Skalat.

The solution is on the next line, where we have the birth on 30 July of Isak Ber, the son of Wolf Rubin and his wife Sussel. Susse's parents (in the blue box) are Abysch and Leie Marjem Ginsberg of Skalat.

The recording clerk simply mixed up the mothers' parents of the two newborns.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


I wrote the following article for the Israel Genealogical Society's quarterly Sharsheret Hadorot about four and a half years ago.

Two Brief Stories From One Week
Israel Pickholtz
It Came to Pass Last Fall
One evening, when I was busy with a thousand and one things, a young man phoned me from London. He introduced himself as the son-in-law of one of the Pikholz descendants, from a family I knew, but was not in touch with. He asked for some information about the Pikholz Project website that I had built and wanted me to show him how to get to a particular group of pages. I did not ask him much since I still had a thousand things to do. I answered him and forgot all about it. I did not even ask him his name or the name of his wife.

That particular family was descended from Yosef ben Yeroham Fischel Pikholz from Skole in east Galicia. Yosef was born about 1865 and his wife was Raisel Langenauer from Rybnik. They had ten children, five of whom survived childhood, and I have quite a bit of information on their living descendants. My information is not up-to-date, and in fact was not even up-to-date when I first received it some eight years ago. From what I was given, the five children of Yosef Pikholz had 227 descendants, with some using Pickholz while others used Langenauer as their family name.  

Yosef and Raisel had a son named Avraham Chaim Langenauer, who is buried in Raanana. He and his wife Henie have 153 descendants, including five children, four of whom are still living. Their second daughter has seven children and I know of sixty-eight of her descendants but keeping up-to-date with them is no small task.  

On Friday, less than two hours before Shabbat, the third son of that second daughter telephoned from London. This man is a great-great-grandson of Yosef and Raisel. "My son-in-law spoke with you earlier this week," he began, continuing with questions about the family ancestors. He was particularly interested in the name and date of death of Raisel Langenauer's mother. I did not have the information at hand but before Shabbat I found her parents' names and sent them to him. After Shabbat, I continued searching my files as well as other sources and sent him additional information on the Langenauers, including some that differed from printed sources.  

Sunday morning I received an email from London telling me that they did not need any further information. I was told that their daughter and son-in-law had decided to name their daughter Rachel, after the maternal grandmother of the grandmother Henie. This name descended five generations at once, landing on a baby girl of the sixth generation, in London. I wished them mazal tov and explained that I had not realized that this was the purpose of their inquiry. The Londoner said he would send me a proper list of descendants.

And in the Very Same Week
Jim, my second cousin in the United States, was killed when a careless driver hit his motorcycle.  His wife was hospitalized in serious condition. Jim was eighteen years younger than I, and my father was eighteen years older than his first cousin, Jim's father. Actually, I did not know him at all, as I left town at age nineteen. His family then moved to Louisiana, where he lived and died. We saw each other once in the intervening years. I spoke with his wife in the hospital more times than he and I had ever spoken.

Yosef Pikholz, not the one from the first story, who lived in Skalat, in east Galicia was one of the earliest recorded Pikholz. He died in 1862 at age seventy-eight. From his death record, we learned that his name was actually Yitzhak Yosef. Soon after his death, two family members were born and were named Yitzhak Yosef and a third was born in 1879. We know nothing about the first two but the third went to the United States and his descendants never knew that he had two names. Like his namesake, he was known simply as Yosef. Others named after the original Yosef received only the single name, probably because the double name was not something that the younger grandchildren knew about.

I do not know the names of the parents of my great-great-grandmother but I believe that her father was the original Yitzhak Yosef.   In 1890, another Yitzhak Yosef was born in east Galicia. His younger brothers were David, Jim's grandfather, and Mendel, my grandfather. I knew Uncle Joe well. I even knew that his name was Yosef Yitzhak and that is indeed what it says on his tombstone. In fact, he was another Yitzhak Yosef who went by Yosef but in his case the Yitzhak was preserved as a second name. Uncle Joe died in 1965 and a few months later the last male of my generation entered the family. They called him Yosef Yitzhak, James Joseph in English and Jim, for short.

Double names tend to deteriorate over generations and of course the Holocaust thinned out the family, so Jim is, for now at least, the last person to bear the full name of our likely ancestor.

Our Fathers' Names
By and large, people today do not continue to use their ancestors' names, as they once did. They do not like old-fashioned names and do not see the value in passing them along to the next generation. Some choose names with a similar meaning or a similar sound or even just the same first letter. Or they will use the old name as a second name, after choosing something more modern. Double names are sometimes dismantled and a child receives his own double name, derived from two different people.

Yet there are still those who reach as far back as six generations for a name. Sometimes parents think they are honoring the memory of some recently deceased relative but in doing so they perpetuate a name and an ancestor long gone.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

(both last week)

The yahrzeit for Jim, whom I mentioned above, is 2 Heshvan. That was Thursday of last week.

The yahrzeit for Ellen, a first cousin on my mother's side, is 4 Heshvan. She died two days after Jim, following suffering many years with a brain tumor and the results of treatments and operations.

May their memories be for a blessing.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


When I was in the first stages of my Pikholz research, I searched the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for anyone with our surname. Some of those who turned up were people I could easily identify and some were not. One of the latter was Leo W. Pickholz, born 24 April 1894 who died in January 1971. The Social Security number had been issued in New York State and his last residence was in New York City (zipcode 10024). His location for last benefit was undefined, which often means he lived outside the US.

I ordered his SS-5 (the application for a Social Security number, filled out in his own hand) and found that his parents were Berl Pfeffer and Lea Pickholz. He listed his birthplace as Austria without a town name and his birth year was listed as 1892, rather than 1894.

I did not yet know Berl and Lea, but as I saw other documents, it became clear to me that Leo had some connection to the family of Simon Pikholz and his wife Chana Waltuch - what we call the DORA family.

When the Ellis Island data became available, I found him listed as "Wolf Pikholz" with the additional information that his nearest relation in his country of origin was his father in Vienna and that his own birthplace was Kopyczynce.

When birth records became available for that town, we found that Berl and Lea had nine children there during the period 1882-1895, at least four of whom died in childhood. The eldest, Dwora, turned up later in New York, with a curious story of her own. Joel had a daughter in Chernovitz in 1912 and was killed in Germany. Joel's daughter lived in Mexico, but we have not succeeded in tracing her family. There was a son Marcus, who I think was a musician or a conductor in Belgium, perhaps going by the name Marcel Pfeffer. (Dwora and Joel also went by Pfeffer.) And there was Wolf Leib, born 24 April 1892 - we know him as Leo.

Those birth records showed Lea's parents as Simon Pikholz of Skalat and his wife Dwora Waltuch. Dwora died in 1861 at age twenty-three leaving young Lea and even-younger Breine about whom we know nothing. Simon then married Dwora's sister Chana and they had nine children, several of whom lived in NJ-NY. A descendant of one of those remembers her Pfeffer relatives very vaguely.

I also found an inquiry by Leo in 1962 and living in New York, about his sister Amalie, who had last been seen in Brasov Rumania during the war. He wanted to know if she had ever contacted the Jewish Agency about making aliyah. Recently we found that Amalie - followed by Julie and Maurice were born to Berl and Lea in Czernovitz.

There is a 1913 death for a Lea Pickholz in Czernovitz and I am guessing that this is Leo's mother.

Upon arrival  in 1923, Wolf Leib Pikholz
declares his intention to become a US citizen.

Wolf Leib announced his intention to become a US citizen immediately upon arrival in New York and received citizenship in 1928.

In 1931, Leo became engaged to Sophie Wechsler, but instead, in 1932, he married Frances Wechsler (perhaps related to Sophie, but they had different parents).

From the NY Times, 8 March 1931

Frances died of a brain tumor in 1944 and is buried in Beth David Cemetery, in Elmont NY. She had no children. Leo is not buried with her.

I spent some time looking for a grave for Leo, but could find neither a grave nor a death record. The Department of Health in New York searched and could not find a death certificate.

Then quite out of the blue, Arny Pickholz - of the Cleveland family - received an email asking:

Is there a Leon P[ickholz] in your family that worked overseas for the US Government? 
He worked for the Pentagon/Defense Intelligence Agency in the old West Germany.

A follow-up inquiry led me (and Arny) to a man who wrote - about someone in Boca Raton, whose name I do not have permission to use, so I will call him A:

"A" was a kid from Brooklyn (Williamsburg) who walked the point at the Battle of the Bulge. His first wife ... was in a kinder transport to England.
"A" was Pentagon/Defense Intelligence Agency for almost 40 years; all in West Germany.
I wrote to "A" and he responded:
[Leo] was a member of our organization, in Europe, for many years before retiring to Lugano, Switzerland.
My late wife and I visited him there, but lost track of him shortly thereafter.
I have taken steps by contacting other members of our former organization in the hope that they can provide additional information which may help to identify Leo Pickholz, who may the man you are seeking.
I next inquired of the Jewish community of Lugano. After an extensive search, they located a grave for Wolf-Leib Pickholz, his original name. The location is "2-76," but they have no date or next of kin and there is no marker.

I never heard further from "A" but he is still in the phone book for Boca Raton, so I emailed him again a few days ago to see if any of his former colleagues can flesh out Leo's life. This much we know - he was a widower of fifty-two with no children in 1944. Perhaps at that time - though perhaps earlier or later - he began working for US Defense Intelligence and apparently remained there quite a long time. He was certainly a German-speaker. Earlier he referred to himself as a jeweler (in Vienna) and a furrier (in NY).  He was living in New York in 1962 and was still unsure about the fate of one of his sisters, Amalie, who had been living in Brasov Rumania.

And his grave has no marker.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


The 1874 Revision List record of Srul Rozenblum

Probably a dozen years ago, the Belarus Special Interest Group (SIG) indexed the 1874 revision lists for Borisov, the place where my mother's mother was born. (Revision lists are similar to census records.) I looked up the Rosenblooms and was pleased to find a reference for Srul Rozenblum, age 22, son of Jankel (=Jakob), living with his widowed mother Shayna Liba. Srul was listed as head of the household.

There was no question in my mind that this was my great-grandfather (and namesake) Israel David Rosenbloom, whom we knew was born somewhere around 1850 and whose first child was born about 1880. I didn't know his parents' names, but his first grandson was Jakob and his youngest daughter was Shayna Liba, so it all made sense.

My mother's aunt, Shayna Liba, 1910
For some reason I never made a screenshot of the search results, nor did I ever get around to ordering the record, but I did record the information, including both parents' names.

The Belarus database also had a list of names from Borisov, which included both Srul Rozenblum born 1852 and Jakob Rozenblum born 1827. I inquired about the source for this information, particularly Jakob's age, and was told that it was all based on the 1874 revision list.

Eldest grandson, Jakob, on the right.
Sometime in the late 1920s.
Well, I could see how they got to 1852 for Srul - he was twenty-two in 1874, so 1851-2 would be right. And Srul's patronymic Yankelovitch would mean his father was Jakob, even if it didn't say outright. But Jakob was dead in 1874 (his wife was listed as "widow"), so there was no age for him, nor did I see anything in the revision list index.

I inquired about Jakob's age and it was explained to me that since there is a  basic assumption of Jewish genealogy that men had their first child at twenty-five and women at twenty-two, if Srul (Jakob's only known son) was born in 1852, then Jakob would have been born in 1827.

That made no sense to me whatever. The 25/22 indicator is a fine rule of thumb, but it is certainly not dispositive. Perhaps Srul was not his first child. Perhaps he was twenty-one or thirty-one when Srul was born. And in any case, it seemed wrong to me that the database should list "1827" without some indication that this was based on a rule of thumb calculation rather than an actual document.

But they told me that this was the way they had decided to present the data. I preferred not to list a birth year for Jakob in my own database.

A few months ago, I did that same search again and the revision list came up differently.

Here we see Srul listed as head of the household, as before, but instead of his widowed mother Shayna Liba, we see his father Jankel, whom we thought was already dead! I could not imagine where I had gotten the earlier version, if not here, but this new version seemed pretty unambiguous.

So I ordered the record from Salt Lake City, which I should have done years ago. And here it is, with the empty parts trimmed off.

A Russian-born fellow in my shul had a look and told me that it shows Srul Yankelovitch Rozenbloom, age twenty-two and his widowed mother Shayna Liba. This is of course what I had seen a dozen years ago and not what appears currently in the database.

This is not meant to be a criticism of the Belarus SIG database, though I question the listing of birth years without any kind of documentation. Every database has errors and their current database coordinator is investigating the specific issues, particularly the matter of Jakob's purported birth year.

My point here is to show readers that errors exist and that we should get the originals where possible and take sensible precautions. Remember, if you are the family genealogist, once you write it down, everyone will accept it as fact.

I'll probably have other examples of this kind of thing in future posts.
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Srul had a daughter "Mary" from his second marriage who was a physician in Moscow. (This would be my grandmother's half-sister.) Our last news of her was in about 1930, when she gave her brother Hymen her address - in a letter that cited her last name, Goldin.

I recently inquired of a Russian researcher about finding more about her. I heard from him about two weeks ago and he confirmed finding a listing that appears to be her. He quoted more for the full research than I am willing to pay at this time, so we'll see if we get back to it later. There may be living descendants.