Sunday, September 29, 2019

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Your Most Frustrating Brick Wall Problem

I was driving home from Klamath Falls last night after teaching a four-course seminar there during the day.  I didn't get home until midnight and pretty much collapsed right after I got home anyway, so I was unable to post my response to this week's challenge from Randy Seaver in Saturday Night Genealogy Fun until now:

Here is your assignment, if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music, please!):

(1) What is your most frustrating brick wall problem?  Tell us what you want to know and what you have found to date.

(2) Share your genealogy brick wall problem in your own blog post or on Facebook, and leave a link to it in the comments.

I have two very frustrating research problems:  determining who the biological father of my paternal grandfather was (which I have posted about several times) and finding my great-great-grandmother immigrating with three small children to the United States.  By my definition, neither is a "brick wall", because I haven't exhausted every possible avenue of research yet, but I'm pretty close to that on the latter, so I'll write about it.

My Brainin family came to the United States in a chain migration, as was common with immigrant families.  The first one to show up was the oldest child in the family, Nachman (later Max), who arrived in New York Harbor on August 21, 1904 aboard the S.S. New York.  He said he was coming to his cousin H. Weinstein, whom I have not yet identified (and no one in the family knows of any Weinstein cousins).

Next came Chase (Lena), Sora (Sarah), and Dovid (David) on the Caronia on August 2, 1905, also into New York.  They were the next oldest children.  Sarah is my great-grandmother.  Per the passenger list, their fares were paid for by their brother, which should be Max, and they were going to their sister Sophie Rosen.  I know of no sister in the family named Sophie, and that wasn't Max's wife's name, but I'm sure it's the correct family because the rest of the information matches, plus the numbers written above Sarah's name on the page correspond with her naturalization file, which I have obtained.  Lena, Sarah, and David were detained for special inquiry because they were two single women and a young, unskilled man.  They were held for two days as likely public charges based on the number of meals they ate and were admitted on August 3, but the 1905 form unfortunately does not include the name of the person who picked them up.

The next family member I found on a passenger list is my great-great-grandfather Mendel Hertz Brainin  (he went by Morris and Max in the United States).  He arrived on April 17, 1906 on the Gneisenau, also into New York.  He was going to Max, and his son paid for his ticket.  The passenger list has a notation about a "Dr Cert", and he was held for special inquiry as a likely public charge.  He was there about seven days and was admitted on August 24, again with no note of who picked him up.

And in 1910 the entire family appears in the United States federal census:  Max (Mendel), Rose, Lena, Sarah, David, William, Bessie, and Benjamin at 236 East 103rd Street, Manhattan, and Max (Nachman) and his new wife and son, Nellie and Sidney, at 101 West(?) 94th Street, also in Manhattan.

"Wait a minute!," I can hear you say.  "You didn't tell us when Rose, William, Bessie, and Benjamin came to the U.S.!"

Yup, and that's my frustrating research problem.  I still haven't found them.

Seriously, how can anyone lose a woman and three young children?  That's four people who should be together on a passenger list somewhere.

But it's true.  I can't find them.

I know all of their Jewish (Yiddish) names.  Rose was Ruchel Dwojre, maiden name Jaffe.  William was Velvel, Bessie was Pesche, and Benjamin was Binyamin.  Ruchel Dwojre was born about 1866–1871 in the Russian Empire, Velvel was born about 1891, Pesche about 1892–1895, and Binyamin about 1896.  So I know the names and approximate ages to look for on the passenger lists.  Still no luck.

Since Chase, Sora, and Dovid came relatively soon after Nachman, I'm pretty sure they were the second set of arrivals.  I don't know whether Ruchel and the youngest children arrived before or after Mendel.  It's common both ways, for the father to come last or for the wife and youngest children to come last.  But I know that they had arrived by 1910 because they appear in the census, so sometime between 1904 (after Nachman's arrival) and 1910.

My beginning hypothesis was that they had come into New York, as did all other family members, so I focused my searches there.  When discussing this once with my grandmother, she said that she remembered her grandmother saying something about coming into Watertown, which led me to research Boston records.  I later discovered that there is a Watertown, New York which was a border crossing, so I searched Canadian border crossing records.

I have looked for Ruchel and the children in the Ancestry New York passenger record collection; the Ellis Island database, using the Steve Morse interface; microfilmed Ellis Island index cards at the Family History Library; the Ancestry Boston passenger record collection; the Ancestry Canadian border crossing collection; and the FindMyPast outbound UK passenger list collection.  I have searched using only their Jewish given names and have looked under Brainin and Jaffe.  I have found no one who even closely approximates them.

I recently discovered that Binyamin (Benjamin) filed a Declaration of Intention to become a citizen, when my cousin (his granddaughter) suddenly told me she had a copy of the declaration.  On that, he stated that he had left Europe from Libau on the Coronia and had arrived in New York on September 15, 1906.  I did not find the ship arriving in New York on that date.  I have searched that ship’s passenger lists for other dates in 1906 on Ancestry and through Steve Morse’s site, but not exhaustively.

William said on his World War I draft registration that he was a naturalized citizen.  Willie was in the Army, and he likely had a fast-tracked military naturalization (such as his brother David had), which has almost no details; these naturalization documents often lack information such as the date and ship of arrival into the United States.  I did, however, request a USCIS index search to see if they could find his naturalization file.  I submitted the request in 2016 but never received the results.  When I checked the tracking system today, however, it said that the search was completed in 2017.  So I have just now sent a request for another copy of the search results.

I have one remaining clue I have not yet pursued.  On the 1910 census, there is a note that Max (Mendel) had filed naturalization papers, i.e., had made a Declaration of Intention to become a citizen.  I have not yet pursued this, because I strongly suspect the search will not be profitable and because it currently costs $65 to request an index search from USCIS.  In the 1920 census Morris/Mendel (who died before the 1930 census was taken) was listed as an alien, not as having filed papers.  It was common for older immigrants not to become naturalized citizens.  But there are discrepancies in other information on the 1920 census:  It says everyone in the family — Morris, Rose, Lena, Dave, and Willie — arrived in 1904.  I know Morris came in 1906; of course, I still haven't found Rose and Willie, so I don't know when they arrived.  It also says that Dave became a citizen in 1907 and Willie did in 1909.  I have Dave's naturalization papers, and he became a citizen in 1918.  So it is possible that Mendel did file papers, as the 1910 census states, and that the information on the 1920 is incorrect.  But right now I don't have the extra $65 to cough up for that search.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun (on Tuesday!): Your Best Genealogy Humor

I wasn't able to do this when Randy Seaver posted the most recent Saturday Night Genealogy Fun exercise, but who needs to be constrained by something as arbitrary as the calendar?  I finally had time today, so here it is!

Here is your assignment, if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music, please!):

(1) We're supposed to have fun doing this — show us your best genealogy humor:  joke, cartoon, story, etc.  The more the merrier!

(2) Share your genealogy funny in your own blog post or on Facebook, and leave a link to it in the comments.

I also have a collection of genealogy-themed comics that I've been collecting for several years.  As with Linda Stufflebean, however, I don't want to intrude on anyone's copyright (especially since I teach a class on the subject!).  So I too am including links (some of which took a while to track down), except for one of my favorites, the Bizarro cartoon, because he has a very nice policy for using his material.

Genealogist and genie sound pretty similar, right?

Rubes, October 21, 2015

Are you descended from a gnome?

Luann, September 9, 2012

Who thought the Ellis Island myth would show up in a comic strip?

Get Fuzzy, December 21, 2012

Closing out with a comic that isn't humorous but is a beautiful sentiment about adoption.

Family Circus, October 22, 1993

And I love the one Randy posted with Janet's sentiments about standing on her boobs!

Friday, September 20, 2019

RootsTech 2020 Is Coming and You Can Register Now!

Next year is the 10th anniversary of RootsTech.  It has changed quite a bit since its beginnings and is now the largest genealogy conference in the world (as far as I know).  And I will be there, because I had a presentation accepted!

I will be talking about how useful it is to learn something about the languages your ancestors spoke, as doing so increases the chances you will be able to find them in records and have better results from your research.  It's a brand-new talk, and RootsTech will be the first time I present it.

And if you are planning to go to RootsTech, you can register now!  Registration opened on Wednesday, and almost a thousand people signed up within the first few hours.  I don't think it can run out of spots, but better safe than sorry, right? You can click on the registration link on the RootsTech home page or go straight here.  The super special early-bird discount pricing is good through October 11, so do it soon if you want to save some money.

And I hope to see you next year in Salt Lake City!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday the 13th: A Day for Superstitions

Many people are aware of the reputation of Friday the 13th as a day for bad luck in Western civilization and are therefore extremely afraid when the 13th falls on a Friday.  There's even a word for that fear:  paraskevidekatriaphobia (try to say that three times -- or should it be thirteen times? -- quickly).

My mother was superstitious about a lot of things, but she flipped a couple of superstitions to the reverse.  So she considered Friday the 13th to be a good luck day.  She also said that black cats were good luck.  I agree with that one, because I think of all cats as being good luck.

But she taught me several other superstitions that I still follow.

Lot of people have heard that it's bad luck to open an umbrella in the house.  That one you can come up with some reasons why you wouldn't want to do it, and maybe they morphed into it being bad luck to do.

My mother taught me that it's bad luck to put a hat on a bed.  She had a minor fit the day I graduated from high school, because when we got home after the ceremony I tossed my mortarboard onto my bed.  She ran over and grabbed it off the bed, kvetching at me about how I dared do such a thing.  I told her I hadn't really thought of the mortarboard as a "hat", to which she responded, "You put it on your head, don't you?"  So I've never put a mortarboard on my bed again.

It's also bad luck to put shoes on a bed.  I can't say that I remember putting shoes on my bed, but I remember my mother telling me I shouldn't do it.  I'm sure she would say that slippers count as shoes because you put them on your feet.  I may have put slippers on the bed once or twice, but never around her.

For several superstitions, you can come up with a logical explanation of why you might not want to do that or why it could be bad for, but superstitions aren't really about logic.  Bad luck for seven years if you break a mirror is another commonly known superstition.  It's also one that you can come up with a good explanation for -- now you have a lot of broken glass around and you might cut yourself.

Don't walk under a ladder, because that's bad luck.  Okay, that makes sense also.  If you walk under a ladder, something might fall on you from it, or the ladder itself might fall on top of you.

But what's with knocking wood?  Why is it good luck to knock wood?  Well, maybe not good luck, but a way to ward off bad luck.  You say something and then knock wood.  Yup, my mother did that a lot.

Do you know the one about salt?  If you spill salt, you're supposed to take some and throw it over your shoulder, or bad luck will come to you.  I've read that one probably comes from the days when salt was extremely expensive, so spilling it was wasteful.

Along with these starter superstitions that my mother provided for me, I have learned additional ones on my journey through life.

My mother said that if someone dies on a piece of furniture, such as a couch, you have to get rid of that furniture.  Sounding like a corollary to that is if someone is wearing shoes when he commits suicide, you can't use the shoes again but have to get rid of them.  That one didn't come from my mother but from a published family memoir.  (I've been told these are specifically Jewish superstitions.)

How about picking up a penny?  "Find a penny, pick it up, all the day you'll have good luck."  Sure, I learned that from my mother.  But someone later in my life (I think my friend Eileen?) taught me a second half to that rhyme:  "Find a penny, leave it lay, bad luck will follow you all the day."  I know it was Eileen who taught me a variation on this:  If the penny is face up, you're supposed to pick it up, because that's the good luck side.  If it's face down, you don't pick it up, but you flip it over so that the next person who comes across it can pick it up to get the good luck.  Bet you didn't know superstitions could be that complicated, did you?

Eileen also taught me a superstition for necklaces.  Often, while you are wearing a necklace, the latch circles around from the back of your neck and ends up in front touching the pendant.  When that happens, you're supposed to kiss the latch for good luck and then return it to the back of your neck.

I learned my first "foreign" superstition when I worked in the USC Industrial and Systems Engineering Department.  We had three Turkish professors in the department, and they all followed this.  You can't take a knife directly from someone's hand; if you do, the two of you will fight soon.  Once I gave a letter opener to Ali Kiran, one of the Turks.  He quickly put it down on the counter and lightly spat in its direction.  I, of course, asked him just what in the world he was doing.  He said he had taken the letter opener from me without thinking but then, realizing that it, in terms of superstitions, was essentially a knife (kind of like the mortarboard and a hat), he had to counter the bad luck -- which is done by getting the offending item out of your hand immediately and then spitting on it.  So I filed that away in the back of my head to remember.  Scissors count for this one also.

Another superstition I picked up somewhere (maybe the Chinese roommate I had for a while) was that spilling rice from your bowl is bad luck.  This sounds similar to the one for salt, because rice is such an important food staple that you wouldn't want to waste it.  I don't remember it there is a way to remedy the situation if you do spill some, however.

Do you know any interesting superstitions you learned in your family?

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Grandparents Day

To celebrate Grandparents Day this year, this is a photo of my five grandchildren last year when we went to Sauvie Island for the corn maze and choosing pumpkins for Hallowe'en.  Unfortunately, the light rain that started when we arrived turned into a torrential downpour before we were halfway through the maze, which we bailed on, and we all ended up looking very soggy.  This photo was taken when we had only been dripped on a little bit.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Create Your Own Tombstone

Is it morbid to create your own tombstone?  Randy Seaver of Saturday Night Genealogy Fun apparently doesn't think so!

Here is your assignment, if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music, please!):

(1) Create your own tombstone at  And/or create one for a relative who doesn't have one, or one for an event or significant issue.

(2) Share your creation with the genea-sphere in your own blog post, or on Facebook or Instagram.  Be sure to drop a link in a comment to this post.

Here's mine:

I couldn't figure out how long I want to live, so I left it up in the air.

I also created a tombstone for Moses Mulliner, one of my Revolutionary War ancestors.  His brother was a Loyalist who was hung for treason, yet he has a tombstone that is regularly replaced.  Moses has no surviving tombstone, even though he was a Patriot.  So I figure Moses deserves one.