When I first started researching my family history, I didn’t know you were supposed to start from the present and work your way back. I knew only that my Kishinevsky family was living in the US by 1901, because my great-aunt Sadelle was born that year in Chicago. So I decided to search the 1900 U. S. Census.
In those days, before census indexes or digital images were available online, all research was done from microfilms at a local Family History Library. So I headed out to West Los Angeles, which had one of the largest collections available outside of Salt Lake City.
The first step was to figure the Soundex code for the family name that interested you. Because spelling of surnames varied so greatly, the National Archives had established a filing system that categorized names that sounded alike, even though they were not spelled alike, rather than in alphabetical order.
The Soundex code for Kishinevsky was K251. Within that Soundex category, first names were in alphabetical order. Families were filed by the first name of the head of household, so I was looking for my great-grandfather Isaac. I rapidly cranked the handle on the right side of the microfilm reader through the K251 section. First names starting with A, then B, C, etc. flashed past my eyes. I was well into the I section before I realized it. I cranked the handle more slowly to the first names beginning with Isxxx. There were a few Isaacs, but none were for the last name of Kishinevsky, or any variant of it. I was so frustrated – but I realized that I must have missed something. A family with 5 children just wouldn’t have been missed by the census taker!
So I went back to the very beginning of the I section. And suddenly – there it was! Kisinowsky, I. Not Isaac, just the first initial. Could it really be? Spouse, Lirba. My great-grandma was Lena. I was crushed. But then, I saw the names of the 5 children. Adella – great-aunt Della? Now I was excited! Next – Jacob – my grandfather’s name. I burst into tears. This had to be them, even though the 2 names of grandpa’s sisters also didn’t match the names that I knew them by: Martha matched, but Lizzie — not Lydia; Tillie — not Thelma.
I was doing everything wrong, from point of view of genealogical methodology, but I was doing everything right as a family historian. I had found my family – and I was hooked!
As a result of seeing that index card, and the matching census record itself, I was able to find even more information about my family. They lived at 412 Maxwell Street – - the heart of the Jewish neighborhood. The census entry said that great-grandpa had arrived first, in 1896. I eventually found the passenger list showing his departure from Hamburg in that year. Similarly, I was able to find the passenger list for the arrival of my grandpa Jacob, along with his mother and 4 sisters. Although I now know that census data is often unreliable, my grandpa’s birth year (1884) matched what I had been told, and I was overwhelmed to think that my great-grandfather was born as far back in history as 1859…