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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!

The Sentinel was a weekly magazine published for the Chicago Jewish community from 1918 to 1949. It has now been digitized and put online (http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16614coll14). This record set has been valuable for all of my personal and professional research about families who lived in the Windy City.

Today I want to highlight death notices that I found for my grandmother’s sister (Bertha Peckler) in 1938 and for her brother (Matt Peckler) in 1942.

Death notice for Bertha Peckler, The Sentinel, 16 June 1938. Source: Spertus Institute

This notice appeared on page 29 of the June 16, 1938 edition. The notice was brief, but even so, the obit reporter managed to make a mistake. Bertha was Nathan (aka Naftula aka Anatole) Peckler’s daughter, not his sister (although it was true that Matthew A Peckler was her brother). I already knew that Bertha had died in 1938 based on oral history interviews I had done with my mother and uncle. This mistake on the part of the journalist reinforces the importance of not trusting everything that you read.

This notice is particularly important genealogically, because other than a picture of her headstone, and her appearance in the 1930 US Census, I had no documents or pictures pertaining to her at all. Luckily, Bertha’s headstone includes a picture of her, although it has been damaged by weather over time.

Bertha’s brother, known as Matt, died in 1942 from diabetes. I already knew that based on oral history interviews. Unlike Bertha’s meager paper trail, Matt’s trail was substantial: I had several pictures and documents.

But this death notice is still genealogically significant because it mentions his wife (the spelling of her name made me laugh, as we usually see it as Manya, not a form of mental illness) and daughters (whose names I knew), and the place of burial, which I didn’t know. 

Death notice for Matt Peckler, The Sentinel, 26 Nov 1942. Source: Spertus Institute

Just a note for genealogists who research in The Sentinel. Be sure to download the cover page of each issue so you have the publication information for the source citation. The header of subsequent pages includes the date, but not the volume and issue numbers.

Today is Throwback Thursday, a prompt provided by my sister, whose Facebook friends post a picture from their pasts and describe it every Thursday. I will do the same, trying to extract every piece of information I can about the sitters for this portrait, which is from our family collection. In a long ago life, I was a costumer, so my analysis will emphasize what they are wearing, and what it reveals about them.

The picture was taken in Zhitomir, in a studio with a painted backdrop showing a forest scene. My grandma, Tanya Peckler, is seated on the left, with her sister Raya standing next to her.

At that time, people having their pictures taken had to stay still for a very long exposure. That’s why most people are not smiling – they are concentrating on not moving. If you look closely, however, there is a shadow of a smile on Raya’s face. Both girls have their hair parted in the center and drawn back from their faces. Since earlier pictures show that both young women have wavy hair, I suspect they each applied a lot of pomade to straighten it.

They are both wearing identical outfits, with high waists, and hems several inches above the ankles. Although they look like dresses, they may be separate skirts and blouses (or shirtwaists, as they were known then). At first I thought they were school uniforms – but my grandma and her sisters were taught at home. The bodice of the dresses is a middy style (ie, it has a separate shoulder yoke) and has eyelet inserts at the shoulders and the sleeves. This ornamentation also argues against the dresses being uniforms. Both dresses are made with what appears to be a high quality fabric with a metallic stripe woven through it. The bodices have the stripes running horizontally, while the skirts have the stripes running vertically. The skirts are top-stitched at the hem and about 3 inches above the hem. Top stitching is a sign of a high quality item, and the top stitching was very event, indicating that it was done by machine. The Peckler family was solidly middle class, so I suspect the dresses were made for them (there was very little off-the-rack clothing available at this time). But it is also possible that my great-grandmother, Eugenia, made them herself – after all, her husband sold Singer sewing machines.

Tanya’s skirt appears slightly narrower at the hem than at the hip, a so-called “hobbled” skirt. But Raya’s skirt bells out slightly from the hips, so the “hobble” may be an artifact of Tanya’s pose. This high-waisted, “hobbled” style of skirt was popular in the early nineteen-teens.  Given the girls’ unlined faces, the fact that Tanya already has a womanly figure, and the dress style and hem length, I estimate that this picture was taken about 1913, when Tanya was 17, and Raya 15.

Grandma has her right hand held behind her, the other hand draped against the curved bench on which she sits. Her left foot is hooked behind her right. Perhaps she was posed that way to show off her shoe, a heeled version with a strap across the instep. Raya is holding a book in both hands. Was she the intellectual one of these two sisters? Most likely, it was simply a prop provided by the photographer to make a pleasing composition. The spine and cover of the book appear to be embossed but it is impossible to read the title.

I look for a resemblance between my grandmother and me, but I don’t see one. She looks a little bit more like my sister Laurie did in her youth. But I definitely inherited her fashion sense — except that I never wear horizontal stripes!

Photo credit: Peter Bellis/Flickr

Today is Welcome Wednesday. This prompt inspires me to write about my ancestors’ arrival in the United States. My grandma Tanya’s brother Alexander (aka Sasha) Peckler was the first member of the family to come to America.

Sasha left Zhitomir (which is now in Ukraine, but was then the Russian Empire) in 1910, when he was 22. He traveled under the name of Schaje Pekler in steerage class on the SS Hannover, which left Bremen on September 22  and arrived in Philadelphia on Oct 5 1910. His marital status is listed as single. But he did not travel alone.

Listed right after him in the passenger list were three young women: Lise Gorlowsky, Malke Gorlowsky, and Rebecca Gorlowsky – all of them single and of marriageable age (24, 17, and 20). Ditto marks in certain columns indicate that the 3 sisters traveled with Sasha.

It was scandalous for a single woman to travel with a single man – especially on a journey that would take 2 weeks to cross the Atlantic. The Victorian era had only ended in 1901, and most of its strict moral standards trickled over to the Edwardian era.

How could this have happened? Perhaps the fact that Sasha was a teacher meant that he was so well respected that he could act as a travel companion, even though he was 2 years younger than Lise.

I know from personal memory that Sasha married Lise (plus I have a copy of their marriage certificate). I suspect that Sasha was already engaged to Lise at the time they emigrated from Russia. Under those circumstances, especially since she had two sisters with her who could act as chaperones, it might have been considered socially acceptable.

But there is an even better explanation. There is a column on the passenger list in which the nearest relative who remained in the passenger’s home town is listed. Sasha listed his father, Naftula Pekler. The three women indicated Naftula as that person also, and that he was their uncle; thus, Sasha would have been their cousin, and therefore a suitable travel companion. As far as I know, the Gorlowskys and Peklers were not related. So this little white lie was likely how the sisters protected themselves from being perceived as behaving improperly.

Interestingly, there are marginal notes that record the naturalization certificate numbers that were later issued for Sasha, Malke (who was known as Manya in Chicago) and Rebecca (who was known as Rivka). Sasha was  naturalized in 1916, and one of his witnesses was Jacob Patofsky, who later became president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers’ Union.


I plan to live as long as my maternal great-grandma Eugenia – who was about 108 years old when she died…

Great-grandmother was born Gittel Gumenik about 1861 near Zhitomir, which was then in the Russian Empire. Gittel was her Yiddish name; Eugenia was her official Russian name. Her maiden name means someone who works on a threshing floor making sure  sure no one steals anything from the barn where the grain is separated from the chaff. The surname may also have derived from the village of Gumenikki (which is about 10 miles northeast of Zhitomir).

When she was 16, Gittel married Naftula Pekler, who was a traveling salesman for the Singer Sewing Machine Company – which had a factory in Russia. He was a snappy dresser, and by all accounts, a ladies’ man. Gittel gave birth to 11 children, but only 7 lived until adulthood: Sasha, Matt, Tanya (my grandmother), Raya, Bertha, Esther, and Philip.

Gittel dutifully followed her husband from Zhitomir to Rovno (which was then in Poland), where the family lived with false papers for a year before they could emigrate in 1922. Evidently, she had been warned that American immigration officials were likely to deport her as “likely to become a public charge” if she revealed her true age. Back then, when typical life expectancy was about 50 years, someone over 60 was considered unemployable. So she shaved a dozen years off of her age for that voyage, and claimed to be 48. Eugenia kept up that ruse well into the 1960s, claiming to have been born in 1871 when she applied for a Social Security number so she could work at my grandpa’s clothing store.

Once the family left Zhitomir, Gittel’s feistiness blossomed. She absolutely refused to live with her husband any more. In the 1920s, this was not the done thing, but she stood her ground and never lived with Naftula again. The 1930 census, the first one in which members of the Peckler family appeared, shows that Eugenie was living with her children Bertha and Philip (and claiming to be a widow, even though her husband was still alive). Anatole was living with Sasha and his wife and kids.

Eugenia was determined to become a naturalized citizen. It took her nearly 20 years living in the U.S. to achieve it, and the day she took the oath in 1943 (when she was 82) was one of the happiest in her life.

When great-grandma moved to the Chicago Jewish Home for the Aged, she was the oldest resident who had ever lived there. She died in 1969 at the age of 97 or 108, depending on whether you believe her headstone or her naturalization certificate. With her as my role model for aging, I confidently expect to live to be a centenarian. Thanks, great-grandma for providing some outstanding DNA!

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