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23 January 2015 @ 03:49 pm
I have at least 2 more genealogy updates to write (and another one on recent life in general), but this is higher in the priority list. I decided that I would use the handful of theatre tickets I already have so I could review a few shows, but not buy new tickets until I’m through the mourning period.

On those grounds, I went to see Diner at Signature Theatre on Tuesday night. (I normally go there on Sundays, but had some scheduling issues, which will be the subject of another entry.) As I have noted before, I support Signature largely because they produce new musicals, and this was a particularly high profile one since: a) it was based on a very popular movie and b) the score is by Sheryl Crow.

It’s been a lot of years since I saw the movie, but I thought the adaptation was reasonably true to it. The main thing I remembered was, of course, the football quiz which one character (Eddie) requires his fiancée (Elyse) to pass before the wedding. Much of the rest of the movie is a bunch of 20-something guys hanging around a diner bullshitting. There was actually a bit more depth in this version, with more attention to the women. So we learn about the lack of communication between the married couple in the crowd (Shrevie and Beth), as well as the crisis facing Billy who wants to marry career girl, Barbara, who he’s gotten pregnant. There is also a big subplot involving Boogie, who has made a bet he can’t pay off. He’s in trouble with the mob, but we know he’ll get through it, because an older version of him narrates the whole thing (unlike in the movie). That narration is probably the weakest part of the book, being mostly unnecessary.

The key question about musical adaptations is always whether or not the music does anything for the story. In this case, a lot of the music served primarily to remind us that we’re at the end of the 1950’s, with a mix of rock, r&b, and doo wop styles. I thought the most effective songs were the ballads, which did more to illuminate character. "Please Be There," sung by Billy as he tries to reach Barbara on the telephone was particularly memorable. I also want to note "It’s Good," the duet about marriage between Shrevie and Eddie.

What about the performances? In general, I’d say the actors were well-cast. Nova Payton is always excellent, but she didn't have a lot to do in a series of minor parts. (And even most of those minor parts were racially anachronistic for 1959 Baltimore.) Bryan Fenkart showed masterful comic timing as Modell, who takes things too literally and tries to mooch rides all the time. Erika Henningsen was excellent as Beth, expressing the dilemma of women in the 1950’s. And Aaron C. Finley blew me away as Billy.

The sets were done very well, also. The weak link in the show (aside from the unneeded narration) was the choreography. This was much more "movement" than actual "dance." If there is going to be extraneous mood-setting music, there should be extraneous mood-setting dance in something other than a wedding scene.

Overall, I enjoyed this show, but I can’t see it working on Broadway. It needs to be tightened up a bit, but I also think it needs an intimate setting where it matters less that nothing much actually happens.
NADEL / NODEL: The branch of my family I know the least about is actually the one whose name I share. I’m going to use that search to illustrate some of the process and many of the difficulties and issues of this work.

The first place to start is always with your family. My brother had done a lengthy interview with my father a number of years ago, which was a good starting point in some ways and frustrating in others, as there were many gaps in Dad’s memory. For this entry, the main thing of note is that Dad believed his father, Leo (Leib in Yiddish) NADEL, was born in Vilna and that his parents were Pinchas NADEL and Civia CHVOLES.

First Search:
With that information, I went to Jewish Gen and searched the All Lithuania Database with surname NADEL and given name Leib. (I should note that Jewish Gen is free, but you do have to register. Of course, if you find it helpful, you should send in a donation.) The All Lithuania Database includes vital records (births, deaths, marriages and divorces), revision lists, tax records, and lots of other odds and ends. There were hits in several different databases for that search and I started with the births. Sure enough, there is a record for Leib NODEL, born on 18 Sep 1906 in Vilnius whose father is Pinchas, paternal grandfather Leib, mother Tsivia, and maternal grandmother Khatzkel. There are also records that appear to be for two siblings – Benjamin, born 2 Nov 1907 in Vilnius, and Masha, born 18 May 1909 in Naujoji Vilnius. There is also a note that the family is from what is listed as either Dusiatsky or Dusetos, depending on the record.

Problem 1: Orthography:
The difference between NADEL and NODEL is just a difference in who was transcribing the record, which was written in Yiddish (or, in some cases, Hebrew) into the Latin alphabet. Similarly, Civia is the same as Tsivia, because the letter "c" is pronounced as "ts" in Lithuanian. The records from the period of independent Lithuania are even more complex, because they added gendered suffixes, so that males would be NODELIS and females NODELIENE.

As an even better example of how complex this can get, I mentioned previously that my KHONKEL family became HANKIN in the United States and aliceinfinland asked for an explanation.. The vowel transformation is easy, as vowels are almost always a matter of transcribing someone’s accent in a not necessarily intuitive way. The "kh" to "h" is also simple, since the former is really the voiceless velar fricative (i.e. like the "ch" in "loch"). So the only real mystery is how they got from an "l" to an “n.” I can think of two possibilities – misinterpretation of Cyrillic handwriting (the two letters look quite similar in cursive) or an intermediate step to KHONKELN, which would be a Germanic pluralization of the family name.

In fact, the problem gets even more complicated by the years in which the Russians were ruling over the region, because there is no letter "h" in Russian and the usual custom is to write the name with a "g" instead. So, for example, the man’s name shown as "Girsh" could be either short for "Gershon" or a Russification of "Hirsh."

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about most of this, because you have options to search the databases by "sounds like." That option will also take into account the equivalence of "c" and "ts," "s" and "sh," "w" and "v," "b" and "p," and so on, some of which are due to sound, some due to potential confusion in handwritten records. (By the way, the confusion between the Hebrew letters "sin" and "shin" is well-known as a Litvak peculiarity and was something I noticed when my father spoke Hebrew.)

Problem 2: Names of Towns:
Depending on what year it was, what language you are dealing with, and who was in charge, the name of a town could be quite different. So Dusiatsky, Dusetos, Dusyat are all the same place. Similarly, Kaunas is Kovno and Josvainiai is Yasven in Yiddish. Even more confusingly, Villiampole is Slobodka and Daugavpils (Latvia) is Dvinsk in Yiddish. Fortunately, there are lists that match things up for you. The reason this is important is that looking in specific towns can narrow down a search quite a lot if you are dealing with a common name and can help ensure you are looking at the right family. The Shtetl Links database on Jewish Gen is also helpful for historical background on the towns.

Problem 3: Multiple Names for the Same Person:
This doesn’t necessarily come up a lot if you are looking within records from one country, but comes up with respect to immigration records. It can also come up when looking at tombstones. For example, my father’s name was Eric NADEL. In some records, right after he came to the U.S., he spelled his first name as Erich. But you won’t find any European records for him under that name. All of those (if they existed, which they don’t to the best of my knowledge) show him as Ephraim. (Actually, there is one record – a list of Lithuanian Jewish Holocaust survivors.)

Similarly, all of the Lithuanian records for my grandfather have his first name as Leib, but he used Leo in the U.S. and his Hebrew name was Aryeh. All three of those mean "lion."

Things get even more complicated when you consider nicknames. And people who go by their middle names. Some of these will get picked up by the more inclusive search options, while other times you just have to try creative search options.

Yet another complication in this category is specific to women and involves divorce and remarriage. The whole subject makes my head hurt, frankly. The one saving grace is that some of the records from the period of independent Lithuania do show both the maiden name and name of previous husband for divorced women.

Problem 4: Conflicting Records:
Now, let’s turn to the search I mentioned above. Sounds great, doesn’t it? The problem is that my grandfather’s naturalization documents (both his declaration of intention and actual naturalization certificate) claim that he was born on 20 Oct 1907 in Kovno, Lithuania.

This particular case is simple enough to resolve. It was not uncommon for Shoah survivors to lie about their birthdates to make it harder for the Nazis to track them. I knew my father had done this, but had not realized his father had also. And I can verify the 1906 date is for the right person because there is also an internal passport record for Leib NODEL. It not only indicates he is a shoemaker, but should have a photo of him when I obtain the actual record, not just an index to it. And it says he was born in 1906.

Further Searching – Grandpa’s Generation: That first search above gave me a few new pieces of information – names a generation further back than I knew, as well as a place name. But even before that, there were still hits from the first search I didn’t mention. Among the death records, I found that Pinkhos NODEL, my great-grandfather, died of appendicitis on 15 Dec 1909 in Vilnius at age 45. So that means he was born in 1864. And Grandpa was only 3 years old when he lost his father. That raises all sorts of interesting questions about what his mother did and where the family went.

So what about Grandpa’s siblings? Benjamin died in Vilnius of pneumonia on 2 Oct 1912 at the age of 5. So the family stayed in Vilnius at least a few more years.

Now, Masha is an interesting problem. There is no death or marriage record for her. But there is an illegitimate birth of a Rokhel NADEL on 1 Feb 1931 in Panevezys whose mother could be her. It’s not conclusive since there is a birth record for another Masha NODEL in 1904. I tried searching for NADEL in Panevezys, but didn’t turn up anything that had an obvious connection. So far, there is a dead end as far as she is concerned.

My Father’s Generation:
Let’s take a brief look at my father’s generation. I know I won’t find my father in the Lithuanian records, since he was born in Koenigsberg, Germany (now Kaliningrad, Russia) on 1 September 1930. (The American records say 15 Sep 1929, because Dad had lied to the Nazis and the original records were not available. He celebrated both dates as his birthday.) We know he had at least 2 sisters, who according to Nahum FEINSTEIN in a page of testimony at Yad Vashem were named Michla and Leah. If they died in Auschwitz in 1944 when they were 11 and 7 respectively (along with my grandmother), then Michla was born in 1933 and Leah in 1937. I did find a little other info in the death records from the Jewish Gen search. My grandparents had a stillborn child on 24 Aug 1929. That probably explains why his mother mistrusted Lithuanian doctors and went to Koenigsberg. They also had a daughter, Rochel, who died of pneumonia on 16 April 1938 at the age of 1 year, 9 months. So she was born about September 1936.

I will briefly note that Grandpa did remarry after the war and had two more daughters. It’s my general policy not to write publicly about living people in these posts, so that’s all I’ll say on that subject.

One More Note About My Grandfather: I will have some things to say about the earlier generations in another post, since this is long enough. But I wanted to note the single thing I found that made me say "wow" out loud. One of the other databases in the search is of Yizkor books, memorial books printed by various communities. There is one very lengthy one called Lita (Yiddish for Lithuania) and there was a link to two pages of it from my search. What I discovered is that Grandpa had actually written an article (title translated as "Elchanan the Shoemaker") for this book, which was published in New York in 1951. I assume this was due to a connection from his Landsmanschaft (an organization of people from the same community) and the chapter hasn't been translated yet, but it was an exciting find. I haven't figured out where his name shows up on the other page, yet, which didn't appear to be related, so (as always) there is more to do.
This is a bit long, but I wanted to put in some detail so other people might benefit from the process I used to find this information. I'll also note that I will use the varied spellings of first names from different records and will use the modern names of towns, so will (for example) write Kaunas instead of Kovno. That's because most of the records I was working from are Lithuanian and the translators of them typically do it that way.

My father had told me that his grandparents, Shachne FEINSTEIN and Chaia (nee KHONKEL) had 4 surviving children – Ethel (my grandmother), Nachum, Beila, and Velvel. Shachne also had a brother who had at least 3 sons. This brother had been able to emigrate to South Africa in the 1930’s, going to one of the sons, who had gone there earlier. Another son was a well-known artist, who lived in Minsk where he directed the Jewish museum. The third son was Shlomo, who I mentioned in a previous entry, and who we knew since Dad had reconnected with him on my parents’ first trip to Israel and he later stayed with us for a bit while getting medical treatment in New York. (Nachum, along with my father and grandfather, survived the Shoah and went to Israel. Dad wrote to him regularly and I am in touch with his daughters and granddaughter, by the way.)

Both the artist and the South African connection are the sort of things I find interesting, so I’ve been trying to chase them down. And I believe I have, at least partially, succeeded. There were two key pieces of information that broke my deadlock – both of them from a page of testimony at Yad Vashem. Nachum submitted a page about his sister, i.e. my grandmother. I had always known of her as Ethel FEINSTEIN, but that page identified her as Dvora Etel. And it gave Shachne’s first name as Issachar.

With that information, I searched (suing the "sounds like") options on the All Lithuania Database on And I found my grandmother’s birth record, which shows Dvoira Etel FAINSHTEIN born on 14 Feb 1907 in Kaunas. More importantly, it shows her father as Shokher and her paternal grandfather as Shimkha, her mother as Khaia Tsipa and her paternal grandfather as Efraim. And it indicates her father was a resident of Yasven [Josvainiai]. Aside from matching what I already knew, there are two new pieces of information for me in this – the name, Shimkha, and the town.

Between vital records, revision lists (essentially the census) and the internal passport database, it was fairly straightforward to find Shimkha’s children and, hence, answer some questions. What I’ve come up with is this list of my great-grandfather’s children and those of his siblings, along with their birthdates and birthplaces:

Shokher (Shachne) FAINSTEIN and Chaya Tsipe KHONKEL :

  1. Noson Wulf – 1903 (The record in the internal passport database says 1923, but that record is from 1920 and it also shows him as an employee, so I am guessing that 1903 is the most likely. I am also assuming this is Velvel, since that is a common nickname for Wulf.)

  2. Dvoira Etel - 14 Feb 1907, Kaunas. As noted above, this is my father's mother.

  3. Beile – 1908. All I found for her is a marriage record.

  4. David Mishel - 5 Aug 1910, Kaunas. He apparently went by his middle name, Michle, and died on 25 Sep 1930. The death record says he was 18, but he would actually have been 20.

  5. Nokhum – 1916, Slutsk (then Russia, now Belarus)

Itsko (Itsyk) FAINSTEIN and Chaya Sora PAPERN (or PAPIRNO):

  1. Abram Faivush - 9 Jan 1906, Kaunas

  2. Nokhum Gersh - 19 Feb 1907, Kaunas

  3. Izrael Mordkhai - 4 Dec 1909, Kaunas. He died 13 Jul 1910 (at the age of 1) of pneumonia.

  4. Khone Meir - 2 May 1911, Kaunas

  5. Solomon – 1916, Zinovyesk (Ukraine). For those unfamiliar with Hebrew names, this translates to Shlomo.

Rokhe (or Rachel) FAINSTEIN and David VIATRAK

They disappear from the records after their marriage in 1907. He was from Makow (Poland), so they may have moved there, but I haven’t found anything yet.

Note that the two births in 1916 were not in Lithuania. This is because the Jews were expelled from most of Kaunas Guberniya in 1915 while the Germans and Russians were fighting World War I. They returned in 1918, at the end of the war.

So where does this take me towards answering the questions I started with? Reading up on Lithuanian Jewish artists of the right period turns up a Chaim Meyer FEINSTEIN and I have tentatively identified him as Khone Meir, above. I’ll put my confidence on that as low-medium because I have no documentary evidence to prove it.

I do, however, have some documentary evidence from South Africa. The shipping lists there show Isaac and Chaya FAINSTEIN going to their son in 1936. He’s identified just by the initial “N,” so is, presumably Nokhum Gersh. And there is, indeed, a shipping record for Nachum FAINSTEIN in 1927, showing him as age 20. Bingo!

There’s still work to do on the South African side. I’ve found Chaya Sora’s burial record from 1941 in Brixton Cemetery in Johannesburg. But I haven’t found what became of Isaac or Nachum. I suspect one or both of them anglicized their names and I have one lead there on the latter (a burial record for a Norman FAINSTEIN, who was born in 1907). The most intriguing puzzle involves Nachum’s shipping record, which indicates he was going to a cousin, S. MELTZER in Southern Rhodesia, i.e. what is now Zimbabwe. But when his parents came, they gave his address as a post office box.

Once again, there are always new puzzles to solve.

I’ll also note that I was able to go back a few more generations for the FAINSTEIN family, but will put that in a separate entry since this is long enough.
13 January 2015 @ 01:53 pm
I'm planning several posts on my recent genealogical progress, due to the huge expansion of the availability of Lithuanian vital records and revision lists. (The latter are a sort of census that was done for tax purposes.) There are several documents I've found that I need to obtain copies of, particularly internal passport cards and applications for them. I should note that I've sent a nice contribution to Litvak SIG for the helpfulness of these records.

So let's start with the easy one, the KHONKEL clan. (The name was Anglicized to HANKIN by relatives who came to the U.S.)

Before this round of searching, this was the best documented part of my family, largely due to the late Beryl BLICKSTEIN (whose wife is a distant cousin). I learned a few new things out of searching this time. Namely, I found the death record for my great-great-great-grandfather, Efroim KHONKEL, who died in Kaunas on 8 May 1927 of cancer at age 71. That means his birth year was 1856. Because my father, who was born in 1930, was named for him, the 1927 date makes more sense than a previous claim I'd seen which suggested he had died in 1936 . It also gives his father’s name as Tevjus (i.e. Tevje) and his mother’s name as Vichna Dveira. His wife’s name is not given, which may mean she predeceased him, but is not definitive. There’s also a death record for his daughter, Seina, who died on 3 Jan 1938 at age 45 of heart disease.

But the one I really didn’t know about is that Efroim apparently had a sister, Cipe MEDINTS, who died 8 Jun 1936 at age 74 of heart disease (so born in 1862). I’ve actually made a match with another researcher regarding her, so hope to get more info in that direction soon. According to that source, she married Leon MEDINTS. There are several records in the right general timeframe showing a Leib or Arie Leib MEDINTS as the father, which are good matches. (Leib is Yiddish for lion, and is Aryeh in Hebrew. My grandfather, Leib NADEL, became Leo in English.) Those all identify Leib as being from Seta.

Also, the revision lists have some info. I already had the names of Efroim’s children (and a lot of other info regarding them). But the 1892-1894 revision list gives his wife as Pesa Risa, rather than the Leja we believe (and is on Seina’s death certificate). So there’s a mystery to solve. And the internal passport list gives Efroim’s occupation as a shopman and indicates he was from Seta, but that 1892-1894 revision list shows him as from Pakruojis, Panevezys uyezd, since 1882, and the family was living in Vandziogala at that time. The connection to Seta increases my confidence that Cipe is indeed his sister. There is also, by the way, an internal passport card for Leyb MEDINTS from Kaunas, indicating he was 71 in 1920, came from Seta, and was a merchant.

But that migration between Seta, Pakruoijs, and Vandziogala raises new puzzles, too. (Ending up in Kaunas itself makes sense, since that was the big city.) And, of course, I don't know anything about Tevje KHONKEL, Vichna Dvoira, and Leja and/or Pesa Risa. Then there's the whole MEDINTS line to pursue. I can't close the books on this part of my family tree by any means.
07 January 2015 @ 12:08 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Mario Cuomo was a governor of New York. Bess Myerson was the first Jewish Miss America and later became a consumer affairs activist. Edward W. Brooke III was the first African-American elected to the Senate, back in the days when the idea of a liberal Republican from Massachusetts was easier to believe.

Weather: I know it is January. But I also know I live in Virginia. Please turn the dial back up.

Genealogical stuff: There are a lot of new vital records on Litvak SIG (on jewishgen) and they raise as many questions as they answer. There are a number of records I need to obtain and, in particular, I am hoping that the internal passports for my grandfather and my great-grandmother may address some, though the latter is what may be the most puzzling. There is ambiguity about her maiden name and potential new information about where she was born. Of course, there could also have been more than one Tzvia Nodel who was a dressmaker in Kaunas, but I am reasonably sure I am finding the right record because there is another name right next to it which I know as the name of someone who worked for her in her dress factory (and who later lived near my family in the Bronx).

But, really, the first thing I should be doing is computerizing the various notes and records I have. I’m a bit torn re: software in that it doesn’t appear that any of it really handles some of the ambiguities well. Right now, I am leaning towards Family Tree Maker for Mac but there also appear to be some pluses to Reunion. Gramps also looks interesting, especially because it is open source.

I’m also debating where the best place to publish information (aside from jewishgen, which is obvious). I want to scan in various photos and make them available to family members, so I will probably do this via a password protected website. Research info will probably go here.

Any and all advice accepted, though not necessarily obeyed.
05 January 2015 @ 04:28 pm
I think this is the latest I have done a year in review for the previous year. But I was trying to get various things done at home over the past few days and sitting down at the computer (beyond checking email and facebook) was a low priority. Behind a cut due to lengthCollapse )
01 January 2015 @ 09:17 pm
I am not quite ready to review 2014. Maybe tomorrow.

I had hoped to do the annual New Year's Day volksmarch in Columbia, Maryland. But the temperature was in the 20's and climbing back under my quilt made more sense.

I did get some household paperwork done, including finding and tossing some coupons that expired in 2013. But other dimensional creatures borrowed my to-do list.

At least I managed every day of holidailies.
31 December 2014 @ 07:29 pm
I am spending an exciting New Year's Eve doing laundry and reading. So it's a good time to write up the few movies I saw over the past 3 months. Just three this time.

  1. Boyhood: The concept of using the same actors over a long period of time was interesting, but, overall, I thought this was too long, with too little happening. Okay, but not great.

  2. Jersey Boys: I watched this on a plane and liked it more than I expected to, but I admit that was mostly because the music was fun. The ending could have been a bit more fleshed out.

  3. Breakfast at Tiffany's: Thanks to United's streaming entertainment, I finaly watched this classic, which I really enjoyed. Holly Golightly is exasperating, but interesting and, besides, Audrey Hepburn had a great wardrobe in this film. Cool clothes and a cat made it right up my alley.

30 December 2014 @ 01:56 pm
I made an interesting family discovery.

One of the complications in my family is the large number of schisms, which end up with various branches not speaking to each other over various slights, real or imagined. These range from drunkenness at a wedding leading to a serious injury to how nice a coat someone bought his wife. Since these things happened on both sides of my family, I assume they are not actually uncommon. They’re just annoying, because they make it hard to track down people who might have genealogical information.

The short version is that my father had once said that my great-grandfather, Shachne Feinstein, had a brother who was an artist and who at one time was the director of the Jewish Museum of Minsk. For a variety of reasons, I believe that artist may have been Chaim Feinstein. (I have no evidence yet, but reading about Lithuanian Jewish artists of the right time period turned up Chaim who worked in woodcuts and was from Kovno, both of which would fit what I had been told.) There is a tenuous connection to my father’s cousin, Shlomo, who also had a brother who may have emigrated to South Africa in the 1930’s, around the same time that Shlomo emigrated to Petah Tikva (in what is now Israel). Incidentally, Petah Tikva plays a big role in my family because my mother’s father got his smicha (rabbinical degree) at a Yeshiva there.

Shlomo actually stayed with us briefly in the 1970’s, when he came to the U.S. for medical treatment. And we visited him and his family in Petah Tikva around 1974. I figure there is a fair chance his daughter would know something. But I haven’t been able to track her down. My other relatives in Israel want nothing to do with that branch of the family, so it isn’t so simple.

I knew Shlomo was an architect and that he was responsible for a fair amount of the early development of Petah Tikva. What I didn’t know until today is that there’s a junior high in Petah Tikva named after him.

That doesn’t help me at all with my search for info on Chaim, but it’s still cool.
29 December 2014 @ 03:08 pm
I left my planner on my kitchen table this morning, so I am spinning my wheels at work even more than usual. If I have to be loopy, this is a good day for it, since a lot of people are out. Notably, both my bosses (both government and corporate).

My mind is largely on: 1) things I need to get done, starting with decluttering at home, and 2) things I might want to do in the next year, starting with travel. Also, cats. I know it isn’t realistic for me to have a cat right now, given how much I travel. But I found out that a cat café is going to open in DC in the next year! That may qualify as something I want to do in the next year.

I have also just added to the list of topics one might think twice about discussing at work. A guy in the next aisle of cubicles is talking about giant mutant rats. I didn’t hear quite how the topic came up, but he’s now ranting about radiation that would kill people but just increases the size of rats. Hmm, maybe I need a giant mutant cat.