All’s well…

As the bard said all’s well that ends well.  We boarded the plane in Salt Lake City, after having to do what neither of us anticipated to do at arrival. Checked luggage was fine – mine was way underweight, but my carry-on stuff had to be redistributed because I was told it was too heavy. Marek had to check a bag not just take a carry-one for the same reason. At check-in, the very nice but insistent person told us that the bags would be weighed before boarding the plane. Of course they were not.

We boarded the plane, and just as we expected it to take off, the pilot announced it would be delayed – the amount of fuel they had loaded was about 300 liters (I think he said liters) was too little and the people who do that sort of thing needed to come back and actually put in sufficient fuel for us to arrive at our destination.

We had less than an hour to make a connecting flight in Amsterdam, so this was a little concerning – there would be a rather large airport to rush through and passport control, but of course it was out of our control. So, we sat back to wait, because of course, there was nothing else we could do.

We arrived in Krakow safely after an uneventful flight and found that the flight we were to take had a delayed departure of about 25 minutes, and although there was a long line at passport control with only two windows open, we got to the gate just as boarding had begun.IMG_20190516_182754

Tired and  hungry, we got to Krakow and to our delight, saw sun outside! The weather forecast had prepared us for rain, clouds, thunderstorms and more of the same for the next week.

We arrived at our hotel. We had hoped that this hotel, the Hotel Wawel, situated close to Kazimierz, Krakow’s historic Jewish quarter would prove to be as charming as what we saw online – the hotel we stayed at last year, the Polski, didn’t have openings.  A short drive up a cobblestoned street, and we arrived at our destination.  The staff was wonderful the hotel is charming, and their recommendation for dinner – right on the main street, Miod Malina, was wonderful.  I had halibut over black beans, and kopytka which is a potato dumpling similar to gnocchi; and Marek had potato pancakes with goulash.  Ice cream of course followed when we walked through the streets of Krakow. The pistachio was less than supreme but the chocolate I chose (72%) was wonderful.  Who knew – the chocolate ice cream, like bars of chocolate comes in different percentages.

Tomorrow morning we are off to the archives.

Posted in Uncategorized

Getting Ready – Archives

I’m leaving today for Kraków and many other cities in southeast Poland: Wielopole, Rzeszów, Przemyśl, Limanowa, Mielec just to name a few. We’ll be traveling for two weeks, visiting civil and parish archives, walking ancient and modern streets, and, oh yes, did I mention archives? My handy travel bag with the tools I will need in the archives includes a tablet, camera, laptop,  multiple plug outlet including usb and of course an adaptor – I plug in all my electronics whenever possible, because there are places without electrical outlets.  I bring the multiple plug outlet because most of the time, there is only one available plug. Included in my gear is an sd card reader. Many modern laptops don’t have a slot for an sd card and I want to be able to back up the photos I take of documents every day. In addition to everything else, I bring a 128 gb flash drive (or two) so that my hard drive isn’t the only backup.

I also bring lint free cotton gloves – most of the archives we visit don’t require their use, but I cringe at the thought of all those fingers touching the beautiful paper and ink and their probable disintegration over time due to this.  I also bring a water bottle and granola bars.  Of course the latter I keep inside my bag – but, I don’t want to leave the archive until I’m done for the day, so when I need a quick pick-me-up, I grab the water and granola and head for the hallway. Many thanks to my wonderful client (and friend) for sending the box of snacks – nuts and dried fruits.

Most of the archives don’t have internet access, so I make sure that I have synched all the trees I am researching which reside on with Family Tree Maker, so that I have copies of everything I will need stored locally.  This way I  can put notes into fields associated with the people I am researching and then synch the trees again when I have a reliable internet connection. Maybe it’s overkill, but I don’t want to loose precious archival time because I forgot something.

I’ve been keeping my eye on the weather. It’s not great. Looks like lots of rain, thundershowers, and the best days will be very cloudy. Of course the weather is changeable, and some days I see the 10 day forecast will include a couple of sunny days, but when I just checked, the days that yesterday appeared as if they would be moderately clear,  no longer look that way. Our schedule is a little flexible, and we will try to use days when the weather isn’t stormy for cemetery explorations and walking the cobblestone streets of medieval cities.

I rarely write about the relationships I have with the people whose research I do. It’s impossible to research as deeply and broadly into a person’s family without becoming attached to the family. Thus, all the research I do becomes as meaningful to me as the research I do for myself. The people whose research I work on become friends, and we often share details of our lives over the long periods of time we work together. Making connections like that, becoming personally involved with clients and their families means that I share with them the joy and excitement of the precious details of their ancestry which are found during the research, and also the frustrations and disappointment when details for which we are searching remain elusive.

Next post will be from Kraków.

Posted in Uncategorized

The circle goes round and round

We all follow rituals for various reasons. In Judaism, I am used to paying attention to the circle that the holidays and ceremonies create to hold the year. I look at the sky, see a full moon, and know which holiday approaches. I know the ancient harvest cycle which we observe today, often with other meanings embraced by those holidays.

Passover begins two new annual cycles. During the morning of the first day, we change from the recitation of the prayer for the bounty that rain during the fall and winter bring, to the gentle mist of dew in the spring and summer.  Later that day, after sunset falls, and for those who celebrate a second seder, at the end of that seder, we begin a special count, one that takes us through the next 49 days until, on the 50th day, Shavuot, the ancient late spring harvest arrives. For thousands of years, we have also, on that day, celebrated chag matan Torah the holiday of the giving of the Torah. The ancient Rabbis designated that day as the anniversary of the giving and receiving of the Law.

From Pesach (Passover) until Shavuot, nightly, after sunset, we recite the prayer and count another day of the omer. The omer was a barley offering brought to the Temple. This tradition comes from the Biblical verse in Leviticus (Va’Yikra) 23:15 where it is recorded that you should count seven weeks from the day the offering was brought

וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם, מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת, מִיּוֹם הֲבִיאֲכֶם, אֶת-עֹמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה: שֶׁבַע שַׁבָּתוֹת, תְּמִימֹת תִּהְיֶינָה

So, one might ask, very reasonably, why do I do this.  After all, there are many rituals and ceremonies which I do not follow.  My answer is simple and complex. It all has to do with family. I did not grow up following this tradition.  My dad has been following this, however, for a number of years.  Several years ago, one of my sisters joined him for a nightly phone call to count together. I joined them a year ago. When we’re in the same time zone, we count together. When we are not, each of us counts individually and sends a text message to the others letting them know we’ve counted. Rituals keep us together and create memories.  A gift I recently received has inscribed on it “family is where your story begins.” I believe that. Do you? What stories do you have?
the ganze mishpocha

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Reflections – Passover present and past

By 1924 all of my grandparents were living in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York. One of the 4 was born in the US, 1 came at age 6 and 2 in their late teens or early 20s.  The first record of a seder for my family in NY was published in 1924 in the פֿאָרווערטס‎, Jewish Daily Forward, the Yiddish daily newspaper. At that time, the whole family lived in Brooklyn.


Flash forward 95 years – the family has grown by leaps and bounds and are now scattered all over the United States. On Passover, the logistics of everyone getting together are sometimes impossible, as it was this year.  A valiant attempt was made:

2019 Seder Westport

Of course seder memories not only from these two abound. Some are memorialized in photos, most are imbedded in our minds and hearts.

Dana Jenna Jonathan

Families share precious moments, connecting one generation to another. Passover for our family is a time for us to be together and create memories.

Posted in Jewish Genealogy

Missing Records, Missing Connections

As a genealogist, I recognize the importance of going back to databases I’ve previously reviewed. If the database is digital, online, there’s always the possibility that there will be additions made to it, or that transcriptions have been updated and corrected. It’s always possible that a name or place was transcribed incorrectly and thus indexed wrong, and thus not findable, and thus and thus….use your imagination to figure out all the things that can go wrong.  Digital databases are not the only ones that can change. Sometimes we notice that the indexed cards in an archive seem to be missing parts of the alphabet or that groups of names are simply not in the index.  We look through books of records and find the ones from 1858-1861, but 1862-1863 are just not there.

If we return to those same archives 6 months or a year later, perhaps the missing books or cards will have returned to their proper place. Perhaps they were misfiled or were packed away somewhere or being held at a different archive and were returned to their proper place.  Research is full of surprises and hidden places.  DSC01435.JPGDSC01536.JPG

Without paging through all of the papers gathered together in one of these “books” you wouldn’t be able to tell if a page is out of order or even missing.

It’s not only revisiting repositories onsite or digitally that often provide new answers to old questions.  In 2009 I visited Ukraine for the first time, and started a blog,   to document the trip and its planning.  This week, I received an email from a cousin I had never met, who, in an idle moment of web-surfing, decided to google the name of one of her grandparents, and found me! What an absolute delight.

The takeaway? If you keep at it long enough, even the seemingly unsolvable might be resolved.

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Genealogy, Jewish Genealogy, piecing the puzzle together, research tips

Looking Ahead, Reviewing the Past

Purim Clip Art FreeIn just a few days, it will be Purim. Every year, I order a box of hamentaschen to share with my colleagues in my office, and think about all the years I made dozens and dozens of them with all sorts of filling. The recipe I used was the one I grew up with – the one my mother always made.  It’s made of the thinnest possible dough, and she always used a glass to cut out the circles before they were filled with lekvar (prune butter).  I added other flavors to the ones I made, and my favorites became those with chocolate chips.

The noise makers I used for Purim, were not the typical groggers (noise makers), but remnants, I think, from some long ago new years eve – they look like small metal cans with wooden sticks and make a lot of noise.  There was also a copper cow bell.  They are all on a shelf somewhere.  For this Purim, I bought something special. I won’t be using it – I left it with my dad to use at his Orthodox synagogue which is possibly a closer service to the service at which it was last used, over 70 years ago.

If you are a reader of this blog, you may recollect that last summer, my team and I had an incredible adventure, driving through Eastern Europe. On August 15 we were in Augustów, Poland where at a flea market on the site of what used to be the central market place, I saw cases of items that once, before the Shoah, belonged to a Jewish family. I bought one of the items in the case, and I felt like I was redeeming it from its captors.  It was, as you’ve probably guessed, a grogger. My intent was for it to be used in the proper context once again. So, I asked my dad to please use it for this Purim, and then next year, I will use it at my own synagogue, which is less traditional.DSC01986.JPG

This spring, I’ll be going back to Poland, in two trips, and thinking about that day in the market in Augustów, and keeping my eyes open for other remnants of the community that was, and perhaps bringing back something else that can once again be used in its proper place, at the proper time.

If you observe Purim, I wish you a joy-filled holiday and a celebration of life and freedom.

חג פורים שמח  / א פרייליכן פורים

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Jewish Genealogy

25 October – Research and Tears

DISCLOSURE: I am trying to update this blog a day or couple of  days at a time but am often doing it several days after the fact due to internet connections

On Thursday, 25 October, we had planned for a very full day that I was hoping would not be too full. We started the day at the amazing Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem. Actually, that’s backwards, since we are still in Tel Aviv until tomorrow, Friday morning. We drove from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and I was very excited not only to be going to the CZA but also since neither Lindsay not Brian had been to Jerusalem before, I was happy to be with them. It’s a city I first visited as a teenager, and although I’d love to speak  about that trip, it will have to wait for another day and time. I know I have to talk about what happened earlier today.181025 Outside the CZA.jpeg

As many times as I’ve visited Israel, somehow, I’ve never gone to the CZA.  The archivist was very gracious and spent considerable time with us describing the holdings and the history of the archives. Because so many of my clients have ancestors that lived in Israel either after Statehood, during the Mandate period or even during the Ottoman period, these archives are very important to our research. Although I have never been to the CZA before, I have used many of their resources that are available digitally, and relied on the indexing of many of their resources that’s been done by IGRA – the Israel Genealogy Research Association.

101825 CZA Jerusalem

Jerusalem, unlike the eclectic appearance of Tel Aviv, is all one color. That doesn’t make it blank. It is soothing, inspiring, and tugs at my heart. The CZA with its wide scope of material dedicated to the state from almost a century before it’s creation until the present was the perfect beginning to the day. Like the archives in Europe that Lindsay and I had explored in August, the treasures to be found here are beyond valuable. I have no trouble speaking of this part of the day or the ending, it’s the middle that is an issue.

Our next stop was a place that rips at the heart.  Mount Herzl. Mt. Herzl is also known as Har ha-Zikaron (mountain of remembrance). It is the site of the National Cemetery.  Five mornings each week (Sunday through Thursday) at 11 AM there is a memorial service for those soldiers who fell on that date. Herzl is buried at the pinnacle of the mountain, Golda Me’ir and other luminaries are also buried at Mt. Herzl.  The tens of thousands of people, mostly young, buried in these graves, when considered against the total population 1s Israel is shocking. Walking these grounds brings a sense of holiness and the layout of the graves, neatly marked with the name of the deceased, the place of birth, parents’ names, place of death and age at death, at least means that anyone visiting and reading with have at least momentarily remembered that soldier.

181025 Memorial Service Mount Herzl

The bricks on the walls behind us during the ceremony have the name of the soldier who died, the date and year. This was the hall in which the ceremony was held.  From there, we went with Dorit and Steven, members of a volunteer organization called “Faces of the Fallen” into the cemetery.

181025 Mount Herzl with Steven and Dorit from Fallen Soldiers

They described the cemetery and its layout and  told us of the important work in which they are engaged.  Many soldiers fell about whom little or nothing is known.  More can be read about the organization at

There are several mass graves in which the bodies of those who fell are buried individually.  Their names are known, but what is not known is which name belongs to which of the dead.

181025 Mt Herzl mass grave

As genealogists, we work tirelessly to identify and connect people whose names have faded from memory. Identifying them and finding details of their lives restores them to memory. Most of the people for whom we search died long ago. Some of these soldiers died relatively recently, and yet they have not been connected to their family. They gave their lives for the establishment of Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel) or in her defense in a relatively recent time period. It’s astonishing how quickly details of some of their lives have been lost, and how difficult it is to restore those details and even connect them to living family members.  As I said, it rips at the heart.

There was more to the day, but it’s beyond my ability to discuss the rest right now.

Posted in Israel, Jewish Genealogy