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Source: Southern California Genealogical Society

Source: Southern California Genealogical Society

Sunday, June 7

My friend Pamela Weisberger gave a fascinating talk called “Cartography for Genealogists.” The most fascinating aspect of this talk was the discussion of cadastral maps, large-format, town-level maps that show the names of property owners at each address. These types of maps exist for the Austro Hungarian Empire and other locations (I recently saw one for Southern France). When vital records for a town no longer exist (as is the case for many Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, where my roots are), these types of maps can act as a census substitute.

After Pam’s talk I hurried to change into my “Dress as Your Favorite Ancestor” costume, so I could appear as my grand-aunt, Manya Klebanskaya. (A big thank you to Jean Hibben, who made a wonderful lady’s maid when I needed someone to pin a brooch on my shirtwaist). I had spent weeks trying to duplicate a photo of Manya taken in 1910. I doctored some existing wardrobe items, and used my millinery skills (that date back to junior high) to trim a chapeau so that it looked authentic to the period. There were about twelve contestants, and I did not win. My friend Linda Harms Okazaki was a knockout in a gold lamé flapper dress, and her winsome imitation of her flirtatious grandmother made her the audience favorite.

Source: Linda Harms Okazaki

Source: Linda Harms Okazaki

After the contest, I headed for another of Pamela Weisberger’s talks, “Jewish Geography/Jewish Genealogy.” Anyone who is just starting out researching Jewish roots would benefit from buying the DVD of this session, which was a concentrated introduction to the processes and record sets that are important for newbies to the field.


A shout-out to all the organizers and volunteers who make the Genealogy Jamboree possible. I have been attending every year for the better part of 20 years (since it was small enough to fit in half of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium), and it continues to offer opportunities for learning, research, networking, and making friends for the most reasonable price imaginable.


Saturday, June 6

Source: Southern California Genealogical Society

Source: Southern California Genealogical Society

In “Epidemics and Pandemics,” Craig Scott covered basic public health terminology to give attendees background enough to distinguish between normal disease occurrences and epidemics. He also described a dozen different conditions that we don’t see often in the United States today, but that were routinely experienced in earlier generations.

Paula Stewart-Warren described record sets pertaining to people who were poor enough to receive services from faith-based or government poorhouses/poor farms, children’s homes, and orphanages. Examples she gave ranged from Florida to New England, Arkansas to Wisconsin, and beyond. Although I have worked with orphanage records, I was not familiar with most of those mentioned, and now have some new paths to trace.

Another intriguing talk was “Civil War Matrons, Nurses, Laundresses, and Cooks.” Many women took part in the Civil War in a civilian capacity, and Angela Walton-Raji described the documents that confirms that service. These stories are not often told, and they need to be.

I am a DNA cousin (who isn’t?) of AJ Jacobs, who held the World’s Largest Family Reunion in New York on June 6. An enthusiastic crowd of AJ’s cousins celebrated virtually in the Burbank Marriott Convention Center lobby by singing “We Are Family” along with Sister Sledge, who were streamed onto a large screen. Beach balls were flying among the dancers and singers. Check out the video! https://www.facebook.com/SouthernCaliforniaGenealogyJamboree?fref=nf.

I also attended “Sprocket to Me,” which was given by Rhonda Vigeant. It was not listed as a sponsored lecture, but it was basically an exercise in self-promotion interspersed with some cute family home movies digitized so that people today could see and appreciate them after they gathered dust for 50 years.

How does Michael Lacapo pronounce his name? Inquiring minds want to know. It’s Lah’-kuh-po. His after-dinner speech at the SCGS banquet drew tears and cheers, as he tracked down his biological father and mother using DNA and traditional, shoe-leather genealogical techniques.


Source: Southern California Genealogical Society

Source: Southern California Genealogical Society

Friday, June 5

Friday morning found me at one of the giant tents pitched out in the parking lot for a talk given by my friend Thomas MacEntee — “Creating a Community Indexing Project.” I had signed up to be the door monitor, making sure that everybody trying to come in had registered, ensuring that everyone filled out an evaluation form, and shushing attendees who were loitering with the previous speaker taking selfies. While monitoring, I heard Thomas talk about managing an indexing project. I have worked on community-based projects as worker bee, but it was informative to hear about what happens on the organizer’s side of the fence.

That afternoon, I headed for an enticing title: “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: The Emotional Side of DNA Testing” by Bernice Bennett.  As someone who has been involved in DNA testing since 2004, I had dealt with some of the emotional overtones that Bernice mentioned. But the most meaningful outcome of this talk for me was discovering a fellow genealogy researcher and lecturer with a similar background to mine. Like me, Ms. Bennett has a degree in public health, has been immersed in the impact of emotional and mental health issues, and speaks Russian (she spent 10 years building sister-city relationships between US hospitals and their counterparts in the former Soviet Union; I majored in Russian in college). We spent a good 20 minutes sharing our life stories, and I treasure the opportunity to build a professional relationship with her.

I attended two sessions by Craig Scott on Friday, with time out for volunteering with APG. I had heard Scott before, and the combination of his deep knowledge of record sets at NARA and his wry wit make him riveting. His first talk was “Civil War medical research.” My own family had no one involved in the Civil War, but I recently started working with a client who has deep roots in Virginia, and I am just getting back in time to the Civil War period.

Scott’s second session was “Researching a World War I Ancestor.” My cousin, Bernard Sicoff, was supposedly an aerial photographer in World War I — back when airplanes were seemingly made of balsa wood and chewing gum — but I have been unable to document the family story so far. Scott recommended Gorrell’s History of the American Expeditionary Force Air Service 1917-19, which has been microfilmed and is also available, in its entirety, on Fold3. I get the feeling that one of my brick walls is about to crumble.

Friday ended with dinner at the hotel restaurant with friends old (Linda Harms Okazaki) and new. Conversation flowed easily and the food was delicious. A wonderful way to end a full Jamboree day.


Throughout the Jamboree, I volunteered to provide one-on-one research assistance (along with other members of the Association of Professional Genealogists) to attendees. For some sessions, I signed up in advance, but I think I had the most fun when I just dropped in to help when my poor overworked brain couldn’t absorb one more thing from a lecture. I helped people with questions about World War I service in the Coast Artillery, resources in Chicago and Oklahoma, and how to confirm whether a cigar-making ancestor who lived in New York and Philadelphia may or may not have been a rabbi.

I also helped my friend Ted Gostin by baby-sitting his Generations Press exhibit booth while he gave three (count them, three) talks. I enjoyed the chance to interact with visitors to the Exhibit Hall and with exhibitors at adjacent booths. It reminded me of the times I tried to catch the attention of attendees at Comdex, the monster trade show for the computer industry, while I was a marketing manager for a software company 20 years ago.

DNA Day – June 4

Source: freedigitalphotos.net/jscreationzs

Source: freedigitalphotos.net/jscreationzs


This is the third year that the Southern California Genealogical Society (of which I am a proud member) sponsored DNA Day. These sessions attract genealogists who are just starting to have their DNA tested, to veterans like me who first had relatives test over a decade ago. I have a good grasp of the basic science, and even give a lecture about the delights and disappointments of DNA, but even I learn something new at every DNA Day.

For my first session, I chose Diahan Southard’s talk, “Organizing Your DNA Matches,” because I administer almost a dozen sets of DNA results, and I wanted tips to keep track of them better. The first advice that I am going to implement is to set up a separate email address just for DNA correspondence (As it is, some of my correspondence is on my Hotmail account, some on a Gmail account, and some on an old Yahoo account that I hardly ever check). Then I shall follow Diane’s suggestions for using Gmail’s contact feature to capture info that is relevant to DNA. If I need more than that, I’ll set up an Excel spreadsheet with the column headings that she recommends.

Next I attended the session entitled “X Chromosome for Genealogists” by Kathy Johnston. Johnston pointed out that, genetically speaking, we are a patchwork quilt of all of our ancestors. She gave us the scientific background we needed to understand how analyzing the X chromosome can help genealogists, and then presented case studies, including one about identifying biological parents for adoptees.

Kitty Cooper described a DNA comparison process known as triangulation. I had learned the basics of the process by analyzing my own DNA matches based on what I learned from previous lecturers at DNA Day. But this lecture went several levels deeper, and I can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned.

I have two adult children who have expressed no interest in genealogy. But the lecture by Blaine Bettinger at his talk “DNA and Pop Culture: Using Harry Potter and Star Wars to Teach DNA” may change that. Blaine showed descendancy charts for the fictional characters in movies (Star Wars”), television (“Game of Thrones”) and books (“Harry Potter”) as a way of enticing younger folk into developing an interest in genealogy. I know my kids love HP, and my husband and daughter have watched “Game of Thrones,” so I will definitely try Blaine’s suggestions.


Today I followed through on two of the tasks I posted about yesterday — starting a new Legacy database and creating a formal research log for the Kishinevsky family line in Excel.

Once the research log (derived from a template I already use for my clients) was done, I started to populate it. Item #1 – my name and birthdate. I sourced the entry with data from my newly scanned birth certificate. I transcribed the entire birth certificate and evaluated the quality of the data (marginal, since the certificate had been folded and unfolded so often it fell apart, and had been taped back together, obscuring some of the pre-printed information).Then I created a source citation using the QuickCheck Model for Local Records on page 425 of Evidence Explained. After that, I hopped over to Legacy, and entered my name, and that of my husband, father, and mother into my new database. Once my minimal data were in, I added the source citation for my birth certificate using the Legacy SourceWriter. I have taken a number of workshops relating to source citations in Legacy over the years, so I had no trouble with the process. Well, except for the fact that the whole thing took two hours. Doing genealogy this way is certainly more time consuming than the slapdash way I started with 25 years ago.

Certificate of Birth, Jane Neff

Certificate of Birth, Jane Neff

The object of the GDO process is to look at each document as if we’ve never seen it before, so I tried to look at it with beginners’ eyes. I have already noted several pieces of data from the birth certificate that I had never absorbed before, although I’ve had it in my possession for decades.

Firstly, it includes the address where my parents lived when I was born. Now, I’ve heard the story about that 5th floor walk-up in Chicago with the bathroom down the hall shared by all the tenants many times over the years. But I never knew where it was. Now, I will make a note on my to-do list to locate a Sanborn Fire Insurance map so I can pinpoint the location, the construction materials used to make the building, and what landmarks were nearby at the time the map was made — many of which are, no doubt, long gone. I will also locate it on a modern map, and one day will make a Google Earth presentation and include that apartment as well.

Secondly, seeing the name of the obstetrician who delivered me, Joseph Teton, reminded me of the story my mom told me of the day I was born. My dad was an intern at Henrotin Hospital at the time, and he almost delivered me, because the doctor was late. Remember, this is long before fathers were even allowed in the delivery room for the births of their children.

After that, I logged my dad’s delayed birth certificate, and sourced it in Legacy. Lastly, I scanned my marriage certificate, and used the same steps on the data from it.

I’m exhausted! And intimidated by the thought of logging and sourcing the hundreds (maybe thousands) of documents that pertain to my father, mother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins that I have collected over the last 25 years. But it’s not a race, and I’ll do what I can, as I can.

It feels strange to do this as baby steps, as if I know nothing about my family history. But I can already perceive the benefit of the exercise.

1900 US Census I Kisinowsky familyAs of today, I am participating in the Genealogy Do-Over community in conjunction with Thomas MacEntee and the GDO community. I have chosen a modified Genealogy Go-Over approach.

Here’s why.

I already have paper and digital file organization that work for me, although digital file names are not as consistent as I’d like. I have color-coded folders for paper documents and I may download the software program that color-codes digital files to match my paper filing system. I also have redundant back-up systems in place, although I have just downloaded iDrive to compare with the systems I currently use.

But my biggest genealogical weakness during 25 years of personal research was not to keep a formal research log. I use a modification of Thomas MacEntee’s Excel research log for my genealogy clients, but like the shoemaker’s children who go barefoot, my genealogist’s children also had no shoes, ie no formal research log. Back in the day, I made sketchy notes on Xerox copies or lined notebook paper. More recently, I copied document titles as-is from online sources and pasted them at random into a Word document entitled “Notes.”

Of course, with inconsistent research logs, I had inconsistent — or nonexistent — citations back then, too. It wasn’t because I was glomming other peoples’ unsourced trees onto my own. Because I started my research before the internet, I was never tempted to do so. However, although I have started to enter citations into my Legacy software several times, I always felt too overwhelmed at the sheer volume of documents I had collected, and the inadequate citations I had copied and pasted into my notes, and always gave up mid-way. I will be reversing that trend during the next 13 weeks (I actually started typing “years” there…LOL!).

With the above in mind, today I decided on my major goals in participating in the Genealogy Go-Over:

  • Start a new Legacy database
    • Since time is limited, I will concentrate only on the Kishinevsky line
    • Every item of information I enter will have  proper citations associated with it
  • Improve my evidence analysis skills by looking at existing docs with new eyes — and skills that I didn’t have when I saw my first US Census entry 25 years ago [xerox copy shown above, complete with yellow highlighter] and burst into tears
  • Establish a formal research log for the Kishinevsky line and enter every genealogically relevant document I have, with complete citations and transcripts
  • Redo any remaining file names for consistency for every Kishinevsky-related document I have
  • Consolidate all paper and digital to-do/to do/research plan lists and pick 1-3 things to accomplish for the Kishinevsky line in 2015 (I still have a living to earn, after all…LOL)
  • Blog about the process

I do not expect to complete the above within 13 weeks. But the Do-Over/Go-Over is the kick in the pants I need to apply the same rigorous research techniques to my own research that I use when working with clients. And if Thomas runs this program again next year, I will apply the same techniques to another grandparental line.

By 1923, my great-grandfather Naftula (aka Anatole) Pekler, his wife and all 7 children were living in the United States. We assume, but don’t have documented proof, that he left siblings or cousins back in Zhitomir. There was a shoe shop owner named S. M. Pekler listed in the 1911 edition of Vsia Rossiia, the All Russia business directory. Perhaps this was one of Naftula’s relatives.

Even if these were Naftula’s brothers or cousins, I have no way to prove it at the moment, although it is rumored that the Zhitomir vital records may be microfilmed or digitally photographed in the near future.

I would like to contact other people named Pekler or Peckler (it is not a common name, at least here in the United States) to see if we are related, and thereby reconnect long separated families. But for now, the only way to potentially link to others where there is no paper trail is to test DNA.

So where does Sandy Peckler come in? Sandy is the son of Alexander aka Sasha, who was Naftula Pekler’s son. Since Naftula’s other sons, Matthew and Philip, only had daughters, Sandy is the only direct male in our Pekler/Peckler line. So 6 years ago, I asked Sandy if he would give a saliva sample for 12-marker Y-DNA testing. Only males have a Y chromosome, and two men whose Y-DNA markers match at enough locations share a common male ancestor. Since children in Western cultures take the surnames of their fathers, if two men share the same name and similar DNA, they must be related.  Ideally, another male offspring of one of Naftula Pekler’s brothers or cousins would also test, and voila! We would be able to contact each other and reconnect the families.

But is life ideal? Of course not. Those theoretical Pekler cousins may have been murdered during the Holocaust. If they survived and had male children and grandchildren, the offspring may not have tested their DNA.

So far, after 6 years in the FTDNA database, Sandy’s DNA matches 70 others, not one of whom has the same name. Even so, I write to those who match and ask if they come from the same geographic area. Some people respond, most don’t. None of those who have responded were from Zhitomir. Eventually, I will have Sandy’s sample tested for a larger number of markers, but at the moment it doesn’t seem useful to do so.

The data on this certificate belongs to someone else. If you are a Peckler/Pekler who has had your DNA tested, please comment below with your contact information, and let’s talk.

Alexander, aka Sasha, Peckler, c 1937

I remember my great-uncle Sasha Peckler as a serious, mild-mannered kind of a guy. He was a pharmacist who established his own drug store on 5736 W. Grand Avenue in Chicago. The very last person I would think of as owning a gun, much less using one.

But a story from the Garfieldian shows that my assumption was wrong. Sasha and his family lived in an apartment above the drug store. One Wednesday night in late April, 1944, Sasha heard a strange noise. He grabbed his gun, dashed downstairs, and fired a shot through the glass pane of the door. He was a good shot, too – apparently hit the presumed burglar in in the ear. The shooting victim – John Peter Skoczwinski — claimed he was walking innocently by when Sasha fired. The police had him taken to the hospital, but there was no further follow-up that I could find.

I’ve tried to track down other documents related to John Peter Skoczwinski. I found a John P Skoczynski of the right age in the 1930 US Census. His family was living at 2122 N Austin – less than half a mile away. But there is no sign of John in the 1940 census or in any other documents, other than one who died in Chicago in 1934, 10 years before the alleged burglary attempt took place.


I am calling today Talented Tuesday so I can highlight people in my family who were artistically talented. Today’s spotlight is on a distant cousin by marriage, Joseph Cutler, known as Yosl Cutler.

Tracing out how Yosl is connected to my family is complex. My great-grandmother, Eugenia Gumenik, had a brother, Chuna, whose daughter Bertha married one Hyman Cutler. Yosl was Hyman’s brother.  He was probably born in Troianovo (now in Ukraine), based on Hyman’s World War I draft registration. Hyman was in the US by 1910, but Yosl apparently did not arrive until 1911.

Yosl Cutler was an artist of some distinction. He designed posters for Yiddish theater, inked cartoons for the Communist newspaper Morning Freiheit, and constructed puppets. In partnership with Zuni Maud, another artist, he wrote and produced satiric puppet shows that were wildly popular at the Yiddish Art Theater on the lower East Side of New York. He and Zuni traveled the U.S. and abroad presenting their puppet shows in the 1920s and early 1930s, including a trip to the USSR in 1932.

Yosl Cutler died in car accident in June of 1935 near Iowa Falls, Iowa. He was on his way to Hollywood to make a film. He was so beloved, that 10,000 persons attended the funeral. Yosl was buried at the cemetery of the International Workers Order, now known as New Montefiore Cemetery.

Fortunately, a short film of his puppetry survives at the Yiddish Book Center and a few other locations. Unfortunately, the nearest one to me is 400 miles away, so I am unlikely to get to see it any time soon.

Today’s mystery is one that has challenged me for more than 20 years – when was my great-grandmother, Eugenia Gumenik Pekler, born?

Because she was born in Europe, and I don’t know exactly where, I do not have a document that clearly states her date of birth. It is possible that even if I knew exactly where she was born, that her parents never registered her birth officially. Jews in the Russian Empire were understandably reluctant to have anything to do with government officials. Even if they did register her birth, the tome in which births were registered that year may not have survived pogroms or World War II.

So what do the documents that I have show about her likely date of birth?

The first document in my possession that pertains to Eugenia’s date of birth is the passenger manifest. Eugenia, her husband, and 3 children arrived in New York on 17 January 1922. According to the passenger manifest, she was 60 years old. According to my mother, however, Eugenia shaved years off of her age, and off those of her daughters. She may have felt this to be necessary in order to avoid being considered too old to work, and therefore someone who might likely to become a public charge. They were probably warned about this possibility by their older sons, Sasha and Matt, who had already immigrated to the United States. Had she really been 60, she could have been born sometime between 1861 and 1862.

The US Federal Census usually asks the age of each member of a household. Eugenia arrived in the United States in 1922. So the first Federal Census in which she appears is 1930, which was enumerated on April 9. As I remember her, Eugenia always spoke with a heavy Eastern European accent. In 1930, her English was probably not that good. Perhaps Bertha or Philip (the only two children who still lived with her), whose English was better than hers, was the person who provided the information to the census enumerator. In that census, Eugenia’s age is listed as 55. If that were accurate, she would have been born no later than July of 1875. Looks like she was shaving off the years again.

I have not found her entry in the 1940 US Census. This is odd, because her husband had died 3 years before, but she wasn’t living with any of her married children.

I found two index cards for her naturalization. One card (dated 17 Sep 1943) states she was 82 years old. If she gave her correct age at that time, she would have been born no later than late September 1862. The other index card says she was born Feb 22, 1861 (Peckler Gittle natzn card).

On Eugenia’s death certificate, her birthdate is given as November 1872. The certificate also said she was 96 years old. Her tombstone says she was 97.

So, I have 6 different birth years ranging from Feb 22 1861 to July 1875.We can eliminate the 1872 and 1875 dates, because I speculate she was unlikely to lie about her age to make herself older on the passenger list. Based on the other information on hand, the closest we can estimate is that Eugenia Gumenik Peckler was born is between February 22, 1861 and September 1862. In either case, when she died in 1969, Eugenia would have been between 107 and 108 years old. I don’t really need to know her birthday – just that I have inherited some pretty amazing longevity!

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