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Rootstech 2013 – which is where I am from now through Sunday —  occupies a goodly portion of the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, and its 6700 attendees take over a goodly portion of the city’s hotel rooms. The massiveness was more than a bit overwhelming, so after a quick tour of the Expo Hall with all the Rootstech bloggers (of which I am one) at 7:30 this morning, I headed over to the Family History Library for some much-anticipated research.

I had been over-the-moon with excitement when I found that the FHL had microfilmed tax census documents (revizki skazki in Anglicized Russian) for Tiraspol, the ancestral town of my Kishinevsky family. So I headed to the basement, snagged the 4 films, set myself up with a 42x magnifying microfilm reader (my eyes not being what they used to be), attached my digital camera and my bendy tripod to the microfilm lens mounting, and settled in for the long haul. A 6 and a half hour haul, to be exact. That’s how long it took to slog through crabbed 19th century Cyrillic script. Some documents were badly faded, others had been written by clerks who were barely literate. Many were written with pen nibs that were so wide, the ink bled through the foolscap paper of the ledgers, making text on both sides practically illegible. One ledger had been so badly neglected you could see hundreds of mold spots on every page. I found Vasilys, Grigoris, and Gerasims (traditional Russian first names) enough to choke a horse, but only two Jewish first names: Xaim and Moisei. And not a Kishinevsky to be seen! After six and a half hours!

By then my eyes were terminally crossed, but I also wanted to check out what promised to be another interesting source – police records of the murders (and other interesting events – that’s in the title) that took place in Chicago 1911-1920. Why did I want to see these? I had hoped to find the statement made by one Arturo Fabbri, who was of interest in the gunning down of Big Jim Colosimo on May 11, 1920. Fabbri, who had been married to my great-aunt Jeanette, was cleared in the case, but I wanted to see evidence of the police making him sweat. I found the entry, but it was one measly paragraph, starting with “Colosimo, James, age 47, shot at entrance to his café.” No mention of Fabbri at all. Another dead end!

Back at the Salt Palace, I was able to catch Patricia van Skaik’s session “Beyond Home Movies: Youtube Genealogy.” I want to be able to share family stories in a way that will entrance my two kids and my two nieces – if that is at all possible. Patricia’s presentation was just the ticket. There are several items in my notes that will be transferred to my genealogical to-do list when I get home.

Rootstech arranged both a reception for attendees at the Leonardo Museum – a lovely contemporary venue where I met at least a dozen intriguing people. From there, I tagged along with Pall Howes and his lovely wife to a specially-arranged concert by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The 360-voice choir sounds otherworldly with its embroidered harmonies, and the organ (12th largest in the world) is awe-inspiring. Thanks Rootstech organizers for arranging this musically spiritual experience!

Today is Thankful Thursday, and the end of the Family History Writing Challenge. Here is what I am thankful for, now that the Challenge is complete.

  • I am thankful that I was able to create 25 of the planned 28 posts during February, more than all the posts I have created in the 6 years that this blog has existed. I have learned that even with the FHWC to kick me in the butt, I still face challenges with blogging daily.
  • I am thankful that I have learned that if I create a blog calendar, I can devote several hours over a weekend to creating posts for the entire week, and schedule them to be posted in advance.
  • I am thankful that I now know that every document I have collected in the last 20+ years of research can generate at least a 250 word story (that was my commitment). In general, I can write the first draft within a half hour, and craft it to my standards within an hour.
  • I am thankful that I have learned to tag each post before previewing – this is important, because I neglected to tag the earliest posts for this blog, not realizing that I needed to scroll down in order to see that option. I have edited all earlier posts and tagged them properly.
  • I am thankful that I know how to drag and drop more than one image into a post, and can add images to any part of the post, not just at the start of the first paragraph.

Thank you, Lynn Palermo (The Armchair Genealogist), for sponsoring the Family History Writing Challenge. Even though I don’t plan to blog daily, I feel confident that I can maintain the discipline to create twice weekly

Morris Newlander was my great-grandfather Isaac Kishinevsky’s older brother. Practically from the time he arrived in Chicago from Tiraspol, Morris owned a cigar factory of one sort or another.

Van-Loo cigar label (Collection of the Author)

Business names and year of establishment were M Newlander & Company in 1899, Van Loo Cigar Company in 1911, and La Polina cigars (year unknown). The first company was formed with partners W Warshawer and Lawrence Schat. He also owned farm land in New Hampton, Iowa and Vanceburg, Kentucky on which he grew Turkish tobacco.  In the early 19-teens, a cigar factory would not have been the size of an airplane hangar. M Newlander & Company consisted of a few rooms at 49 Franklin Street near downtown Chicago.

Morris Newlander’s factory was described in a human interest news story from the Chicago Daily Tribune in August 14, 1910. The reporter wasn’t necessarily interested in the hard working cigar makers – 50 men and women worked there, some recruited from as far away as Puerto Rico and Cuba. But the reporter was interested in the pretty young woman Morris had hired to read to the workers. Ethel Vipon read in two hour segments, with twenty minute breaks, from the time she punched the time clock in the morning, until the workday was over. Mr. Newlander hired her to break the monotony for the cigar makers, and so that the workers could improve their English. A secondary gain to Morris was that production of the ten cent cigars also improved from seven cigars to eight during the same length of time – a 14% increase!

The company paid Ethel $3.50 per week, but the majority of her income came from the workers, who each contributed 25 cents. All told, she earned about $16 a week. That’s almost three times what my grandma Sophie earned sewing shirtwaist dresses in a sweat shop just 2 years later!

Daily readings included the daily newspaper (including headline stories, society news, and the sports pages); short stories by Guy de Maupassant, Lev Tolstoy, and Upton Sinclair; magazines; and history books.

Ethel Vipon reading to cigar makers, 1910 (Courtesy of Chicago Daily Tribune)

Morris got the idea of hiring the reader from having seen the same thing done in cigar factories in Cuba. Once the practice was established, none of the workers wanted it to be discontinued. According to Morris, ”At the hours when this reading is not going on there is an apparent restlessness and discontent.”

On this Tech Tuesday, I am creating my schedule for attending RootsTech, the conference that targets people who are at the intersection of genealogy and technology. This means software programmers who write programs and apps for genealogists to use, and genealogists who want to learn more about how technology can help us both with genealogy research and connecting with others who share our passion.

So what sessions appeal most? Any session that will help me tell family stories in a way that engage younger family members. So far, tops on my list are sessions on Friday and Saturday. I’ll be posting summaries here, and as an official RootsTech blogger!

But actually, what I am most looking forward to is spending time at the Family History Library in Salt Lake. This is the genealogy research candy store – I know, because I’ve researched there before. This trip, I want to look at microfilm that is new in the catalog – revizki skazki (tax censuses) for Tiraspol, the ancestral town of the Kishinevsky family. There are 5 rolls of microfilm, and rather than order them at great expense to look at them at my local FHL, I want to look at all 5 in SLC, determine if alphabetical indexes exist and if so, where on the microfilm they are. If I still have time, I’ll look for Kishinevskys, and if I find them, use my digital camera to photograph the relevant entries. If I don’t have time, at least I’ll know which specific microfilms I’ll need to order later. I have found other Kishinevskys listed in records from Kishinev, the capital of Moldova, but I have no way of knowing if, or how, they relate to mine. Maybe the Tiraspol films will help me figure it out.

There’s still time to register ($179). RootsTech runs from March 21 to March 23, 2013: www.rootstech.org.   

Slonim and Surrounding Towns (Source: http://dlib.rsl.ru/viewer/01005452506#?page=872)

For Mappy Monday, I just found a little gem tucked into the end-pages of Vsia Rossia, the All-Russia business directory, digitized by a library in Russia. The document was published in 1895, so it is long out of copyright, and fair game for using here. Guberniya (provincial) boundaries are shown in green, and roads in red. The center of the 5-pointed asterisk (or maybe it’s more like a starfish) in the middle of the map is the town of Baranovich. Slonim, the town where my grandmother Sophie Klebanskaya was born in 1895, the year this was published, is just to the left of Barnovich. Heading north the road passes through Lida, all the way to Vilna. Heading northwest (which grandma did on the train 100+ years ago) gets you first to Volkovysk (where grandma lived from age 10 to 17) and then to Bialystok. Heading northeast, you get to Minsk. Heading south you’d eventually get to Pinsk (Sounds like the lyrics to Lobachevsky, an old Tom Lehrer song: Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachev…but I digress).

Poland – as we would recognize it today — is to the west, and the towns of Warsaw (Varshava), Radom, Lublin, and Lomza are prominent. Further to the east are the towns of Igumen, Mogilev, Gorki, and Vitebsk. All names that roll trippingly off the tongue, and some of which I plan to visit sometime in the future.


I’m declaring yesterday as Slonim Sunday (I somehow always seem to get behind when blogging…). Slonim is the town in which my grandma Sophie Klebanskaya was born in 1895. It was in Poland then, and she and her family spoke Polish (not Yiddish) at home. Today it is located in Belarus.

Title Page of Grodno Adres' Kalendar' 1912

Something exciting and Slonim related happened to me last week. Somehow (and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t write it down) I found that several new digital sources about Slonim had been posted to the Russian Goernment Library Online Review of Documents site (http://dlib.rsl.ru).  These sources are called Adres’-Kalendar’, a cross between a city directory (like a telephone directory, but before telephones were widely available) and an almanac. The documents cover several uezds (districts) besides Slonim, all located within the Grodno guberniya (province): Sokolka, Bialystok, Belz, Brest, Kobrin, Pruzhany, and Volkovysk.

Individuals are listed if they owned a business, had a profession, or provided a service (like teaching) to the community. Individuals are listed under the category of business/service they provided, somewhat like a yellow pages phone directory does today (for those of you who know what yellow pages are). The books included calendars of local secular events, and separate calendars for Roman Catholic/Lutheran, Muslim, and Jewish events for the year.

The ones I found online were published in:

Masha Klebanskaya - listing as a dentist in Grodno Adres'Kalendar' 1912

Until these documents appeared, I had no tangible evidence that my grandmother’s mother (Anna Vatnika Klebanskaya) or older sister, Manya Klebanskaya, ever existed in Slonim. I had a listing for my great-grandfather Klebansky as a store owner in 1899, and a few pictures of Anna in Israel in 1952, but no documents. The documents are searchable if you have name available in Cyrillic. So I pasted in the name Klebansky (derived from Stee Morse’s English into Russian tool at www.stevemorse.org) and – shazaam!

In the 1911 and 1915 books, there was a listing for great-grandma Anna as a teacher in the local girl’s school. There was also a listing for Masha (a Russian nickname for Manya) Klebanskaya, listed as a dentist. Grandma Sophie had told me Manya was a dentist, but I did not know that Manya lived in the town of Svisloch. Now I do.



In honor of Thrifty Thursday, I want to compare what food cost 100 years ago to what it costs today.

Image: http://wide-wallpapers.net

A nifty website from the Historical Text Archive shows costs for many food staples for the years 1914, 1924, 1976, and 2002. The more recent data comes from Starkville, Mississippi, rather than the large urban area I live in (Los Angeles), but the comparison is informative nevertheless. Let’s look at items that appear regularly on my grocery list.

Eggs were 35 cents a dozen in 1914, and 89 cents in 2002. Currently, I pay $1.49 or so at Trader Joe’s, less than what is charged at my local chain (unless my friend Ann shares some of the bounty from her backyard chickens).

Milk was about 9 cents a quart in 1914, compared to $1.49 in 2002. I don’t buy milk in that small a quantity, so I don’t know what the price is today.

Bread went for 6 cents a pound in 1914. Now, they did not have Wonder Bread back in the day, so this would have been for an unsliced loaf of dense bread. In 2002 in Mississippi, bread went for $1.49 a pound. That’s 23 times more for the staff of life than the 1914 price.

Potatoes were $0.18 a pound in 1914, compared to $.89 in 2002, a surprisingly small increase given the time span.

Bacon, one of my favorite foods for dinner when I was kid (along with cinnamon toast), went for 27 cents a pound 100 years ago, but had skyrocketed to $2.39/lb in 2002. So pork belly prices are 13 times more in 2002 than it did just before the start of World War I.

Only the price of sugar has dropped in that time, from .59/lb in 1914 to $.44/lb in 2002.

A table below the one I just described shows prices for a wider range of foods, including cornmeal, beans, and rice for the years 1913, 1924, and 1925 for the city of Chicago, based on another data source, the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you’re trying to write a family history that describes daily life of your ancestors in those time periods, hie yourself to this web site (http://historicaltextarchive.com/sections.php?action=read&artid=418) and incorporate some of this information about food prices! And then check out the articles and e-books at the Historical Text Archive, which describes itself as “one of the oldest history sites on the Internet.”

I am declaring today as Vatnik Vednesday.

A vatnik, or quilted jacket. Photo: blog.langsom.com

My great-grandmother Anna Klebansky’s maiden name was Anna Israelovna Vatnik (1858-1954). The name Vatnik is based on the Russian root word “vata” which means batting – the stuff that gets put into quilted bedding or clothing. The name Vatnik means a quilted jacket, and by extension, “maker of quilted jackets.” In Northern Europe, including the town of Slonim where Anna was born, it gets bitterly cold in winter. Thus, the need for tailors who make quilted things to wear. Anna’s parents owned a dry goods shop in Slonim, so I’m guessing that the original makers of quilted clothing were several generations further back in history.

This photo illustrates a telogreika, a quilted jacket that was issued to soldiers serving in the Soviet army. The method of construction (at the top) shows the batting between two layers of fabric, with lines of quilting stitches making channels of batting, preventing the innards from bunching up when the item is worn or washed.



Sophie Klebanska with 2nd class passengers, SS Finland, Dec, 1912

My grandmother, Sophia Klebanskaya, was 17 when she left Volkovysk for the United States in 1912.  She traveled on the SS Finland, from Antwerp to New York.

She remembered traveling in spring; but according to her passenger list, the ship left Antwerp on November 30 and arrived in New York on December 12. She was an unaccompanied minor, but evidently traveled using her sister Mary’s identity. She is listed as Mary Klebanska, age 24, from Volkovysk, slated to go to her sister Juliette Fabry in Chicago. She was befriended by a woman on board, a nurse who helped her find the train station once they arrived, so grandma could travel on to Chicago. One memory that stood out in her mind nearly 80 years later, was the sight of another woman passenger sitting quietly, moving her mouth back and forth, looking like a cow chewing her cud. This was grandma’s first experience of chewing gum.

The SS Finland was a ship of the Red Star Line. Next August, the Red Star Line Museum will be opening in Antwerp, and this picture, and the story that goes with it, will be part of the exhibition. If at all possible, I plan to attend the museum opening in September.



I’m a genealogist, so I am interested in the stories of those who are no longer with us. But I am also concerned with finding the offspring of those who are long dead, to knit back parts of families that have long been separated.

Obituaries can be a wonderful source of information – a skein of yarn to start the knitting. This recently found one is for a person of whom I knew little, but which gives me clues I will need to move forward 2 generations in time.

“]According to this obituary from the Syracus (NY) Post-Standard, Lee Wachtel died in a car crash on August 1, 1963 at the age of 44. I had never heard the name Wachtel, and would never have seen this newspaper story if it hadn’t mentioned her mother by a name I did know, Eva Newlander. Eva was married to my grandfather’s first cousin, Manuel Morris Newlander. Manuel, who had been born in Chicago, had moved to Michigan years before I started my genealogy research, and no one I knew had ever heard of him. But I knew he was the son of Morris Newlander, my great-grandfather Isaac Kishinevsky’s brother.  If Eva was her mother, then this Lee was the girl I knew as Leonora Newlander, born July 14, 1919.

One thing that is remarkable about this obituary is what it doesn’t say. Were the other passengers in the car injured or killed as well? Luckily, the obit says that the accident took place in Winnemucca, Nevada, and that the family lived in Bethesda, MD. Possibly there were newspaper stories in both towns that covered the accident or that included other obituaries that might have more information.

This obituary included some information about other people I already knew about. Lee’s mother Eva is still alive in 1963 (In fact, the same day I found this obit, I found one for Eva as well, and she lived until 1984). I already knew of Lee’s brother Daniel from census documents. I even knew that Leonora had a sister, Mildred, but I didn’t know her married name – but it’s here: Mrs. Cohen of 135 Victoria Place, Syracuse, NY.

The obit includes information about 3 people I had never heard of: her husband, and her two children. Louis Wachtel was a commander in the US Navy, and the family was driving to San Francisco at the time of the crash for him to take up a post there. I have never worked with naval records before, but there is likely a trail I can follow. And the two children were named Ilene and Robert. Ilene may have been married and lost in time, but a Robert Wachtel would likely be traceable.

I have enough yarn to cast on to my knitting needle and can’t wait to get started finding the rest of the skein!


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