Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pilgrimage to New Britain Cemetery

This week, I had a chance to visit the Beth Alom Cemetery in New Britain, Connecticut. The cemetery has been on my to do list for a long time. The small cemetery, is the resting place for Aaron Kranowitz, along with many members of his family. Apparently, Aaron is the first of the Kranowitz's to come to America well deserving a tribute visit to his grave. In addition, to saying a blessing in his memory, there was hope the stone itself could answer some research questions. I've driven past New Britain scores of times in the past few years. Usually, the car was packed with my family members who were eager to get home and had no desire to trample through an old Jewish cemetery, looking for forgotten ancestors.

My family is in the midst of a transition period. Only three weeks ago, my oldest son left home to begin his college journey. Turns out, he couldn't live without his keyboard. The nice mom that I am, I decided to make the two hour trip and drop it off. Clearly, I had ulterior an motive in agreeing to take the drive. Mostly, I just wanted to visit him. We had a lovely visit and a great brunch together (some of the best banana pancakes I've ever had). On the way home, I realized I had time for a short detour to New Britain and there was no one in the car to complain about the genealogy field trip.

There are a lot of research destinations on my New Britain/Hartford list: the public library (to look at New Britain High School yearbooks), various address where my ancestors lived and the Rose garden my great-grandmother loved. Since my time was limited ( I had another son who needed to be picked up from school), I decided that the cemetery would be the quickest and most productive stop.

Google had no problem locating the small cemetery at 48 Allen Street, only about ten minutes out the way home. The gate was wide open and I parked near the office. I was hoping to find a map, but as luck would have it, the office was locked and gave the appearance that it has been locked for many years. The search for the graves, took a bit longer than expected without a map, but eventually I did located most of the graves. Most importantly, I found Aaron Kranowitz's grave and next to him, his wife Sophie. I did my best to clear the overgrown grass, laid a small stone on each grave and said Kaddish for my relatives. Before heading back to Boston, I photographed all the graves.

The quick trip, was a reminder of how important it is to obtain original documents, in this case, the actual gravestone.
I had two questions regarding Aaron Kranowitz was:
1. What were his parents names?
2. What was his Hebrew name?

Aaron Kranowitz, is Moshe Aaron Kranowitz (my second great-grandfather)'s brother. While Moshe Aaron's parents according to our family tree (compiled by family elders including my great-grandmother) were Lazar and Chaya Bryna. None of Moshe Aaron's siblings were on the tree, but I've since learned the names of 4 brothers and 2 sisters from various sources. Aaron, was one of the brothers. The problem is that Aaron Kranowitz's entry on JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR) (a database of names and other identifying information from cemeteries and burial records worldwide) listed Aaron's parent's names as Leibel and Bertha.

Name:Aaron Kranowitz
Birth Date:1863
Death Date:26 Dec 1916
Age at Death:53
Burial Plot:G 30
Burial Place:New Britain, Connecticut, United States
Spouse Name:Sophie
Father Name:Leibel
Mother Name:Bertha
Cemetery:Beth Alom
Cemetery Address:Allen Street
Cemetery Burials:2060

Since there is much proof that Aaron is indeed Moshe Aaron's brother, my sense was that the JOWBR entry was mostly a mistake. The way this database is entered on Ancestry.com it is not clear where the information came from. It is not specified whether it came from the cemetery or the burial record? Could there be a transcription error?  This is the reason for my first question. What were the names of Aaron Kranowitz's parents, Lazar and Chaya Bryna, or Leibel and Bertha?

The second question, concerning Aaron's Hebrew name, arrises from the fact that Moshe Aaron and Aaron Kranowitz, shared the name Aaron. It seemed unusual, yet not unheard of, that the brothers would have the same name. My great-grandmother Minnie, refers to Aaron as Oscar or Osher in her memoir, but in all the US records  (including city directories, census records, naturalization records), he appears as Aaron. I postulated that Aaron (though Hebrew) was the Americanized name he chose for himself. Possibly he chose the name in honor of his brother Moshe Aaron. My guess was that he had a different Hebrew and/or Yiddish name. Osher was probably his Yiddish name and the name my great-grandmother heard back in Russia. Often people continued to use their Yiddish names among the family even though on legal documents they used a more Americanized name. This would explain why my grandmother thought of him as Osher and maybe wrote Oscar in the memoir, thinking it was the Americanized version her readers would understand. On the Russian Voter and Tax registration list from 1875, Lazar is listed along with five sons. There is an Osher, son of Leizor (Yiddish for Lazar) in Belitsa (the Kranowitz' hometown). Is this Osher, indeed Aaron Kranowitz?

Tax and Voter's list 1875 (Litvak Sig) [Click to Enlarge]
The answer for both questions, was indeed on the gravestone:


The top Hebrew line is difficult to read (I should have done a better job with the grass), but the caption reads: Buried here is Asher son Eliezer (Hebrew for Lazar or Leizer). Aaron, is indeed Lazar's son. The JOWBR entry which is a secondary source, is less reliable and very likely incorrect. Aaron's Hebrew name is Asher (Hebrew for Osher). He indeed is the same Osher from the Russian Voter and Tax payers list.

Sophie Kranowitz lay next to her husband and her stone contained two new pieces of information as well:



Sophie's Herbrew name was Shifra, and she was the daughter of Abraham. Thanks to this new piece of information, I discovered another record for Aaron and Sophie, a marriage certificate index. I have not seen the microfilm of the original marriage certificate yet, but this is the index I found:

Index Lithuanian Marriages and Divorces, All Lithuania Database (Litvak Sig) entry for Osher Krainovich and Shifra Grozen, 13 Jan 1886 [Click to enlarge]

I had seen this record before, but since this was a record from Vilna and not Belitsa, and I didn't know Sophie was Shifra, I was unable to confirm this marriage corresponded to Aaron and Sophie. On the 1900 US census, Aaron and Sophie reported being married for 15 years which places their wedding date to about 1885, consistent with the above record dated 13 Jan 1886. Aaron also reported arriving in the US in 1886. Since he married in early January, we can assume he arrived shortly after he married. Aaron is listed as 27 years old, placing his year of birth as 1859, while the tombstone implies he was born about 1862-3. This four discrepancy can easily be explained by the fact that many people did not know their exact year or date of birth. They also had many reason to want to appear older or younger at certain points so it is not uncommon to see different years of birth for the same person on different documents. Aaron's date of birth is 1863, 1862 (1900, 1910 US census), 1859 (Hamburg ship manifest for Isser Krinowitz from Wilno, arriving 17 Aug 1886). Interestingly, the earliest record, the ship manifest, closes in date to the marriage record and the one most likely to have Aaron himself as the informant, is the most consistent with the year of birth in the marriage record. All of this evidence suggests that the marriage record indeed corresponds to our Aaron Kranowitz and his year of birth is likely to be in about 1859.

Luckily this microfilm from Vilna is available through LDS familysearch.org and I should be able to review it in a few weeks. This 1886 document promises to be the oldest original document for the Kranowitz family that I will be able to examine. For now, I look forward to returning to New Britain for further research.

If you haven't visited a cemetery on your list, I highly recommend you take the trip. Has a visit to a cemetery help move a long your research? Do share your story!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Treasure Chest Thursday: Bingo! A letter from the Genealogy Program at USCIS!

How long have I been researching my great-grandmother Minnie Crane (aka Menuche Kranowitz, Minnie Bloomfield, Minnie Heintz, Minnie Falk and Moma)? At least five years! In these five years, I have amassed a large amount of information about the only great-grandmother I had the privilege of knowing, and as most of you know, I even published her memoir. Yet, holes in this research remain. One of these glaring holes is Minnie naturalization papers.

Don't you love naturalization papers? I do. They are full of important genealogical pieces of information. Information such as place of birth, arrival information including ship manifest and sometimes even photos. I have successfully found naturalization papers for many relatives, near and far, but Minni's has managed to remain hidden.

Research Background: The first time Minnie appears on the US census was in 1920 (1), living in Hartford, Connecticut with her brother Harry, his wife Sarah and their oldest son Herb (the one who just passed away last month at the age of 94). On the census, Minnie was listed as an alien. By the end of 1920, she married my great-grandfather, William Bloomfield in New York City (2). William, was enumerated in Houston, Texas on the 1920 census. He was living with his uncle Morris Aaron Pomerantz and family. William's immigration status on this record was listed as Pa, which stands for Papers Filed, meaning he had submitted his declaration of intent and was in the process of becoming a citizen. By the 1930 US census (3), they were both naturalized and living in Houston (after an almost three year period in New Hampshire).

Texas naturalization records, are not readily available online. Because of the time period, it is not clear whether Minnie was naturalized as a "derivative" of William's naturalization, or became naturalized on her own right, as was required by the Cable Act passed in 22 Sep 1922 (4) when women began filing for citizenship independently from their spouses. It seemed prudent to search for William's papers first. In any case, William's papers, promised to answer more of my research questions: where was William born? Aboard what ship did he arrive to America? I already knew the answer for these questions for Minnie who was born in Belitsa, Russia (now in Belarus), and she arrived aboard the Grosser Kurfurst, on 7 Jan 1914 (I have the manifest) (5). Therefore, finding Minnie's naturalization, was not high priority, while William's documents took precedent.

Where did William file for citizenship? By 1920 (6), he had been living in Texas for about 5-6 years. In all likelihood, he filed in Texas, but prior to his Houston stint, he lived in Claremont, NH, Pittsburgh, PA and New York City. It's possible he filed in any of those places. NARA had no records for William. After months of waiting to hear from USCIS, I got a disappointing reply that they also were unable to located any naturalization papers for William.

What next? When the search for William's naturalization record reached a dead end, I decided to try my luck one more time and order a second USCIS Index search, this time for Minnie. Having had no success with USCIS so far, I must admit, I was reluctant. It costs $20 for an index search and takes about 3 months to receive a reply. It then costs another $20 or $35 to order the documents they locate. When you are researching as many ancestors as I am,  $55 per document can really add up. But Minnie's naturalization papers are important to me, and not just for the sake of completeness. I am hoping the they will provide a clue to William's missing papers. And so, I bit the bullet and paid for yet another index search.

Advantages of ordering naturalization papers from the USCIS over NARA: If you are not familiar with the USCIS genealogy program, you should check out their website http://www.uscis.gov/genealogy. The advantage of obtaining naturalization papers from the USCIS, is that their files may be much more complete than NARA's records and may include the following types of documents(7):

Naturalization Certificate Files (C-Files), September 27, 1906 to March 31, 1956
Alien Registration Forms (Form AR-2), August 1940 to March 1944
Visa Files, July 1, 1924 to March 31, 1944
Registry Files, March 1929 to March 31, 1944
A-Files, April 1, 1944 to May 1, 1951

To learn more about what each of these categories of files contains, visit http://www.uscis.gov/history-and-genealogy/genealogy/historical-records-series-available-genealogy-program#C

Bingo! Last week, I finally heard back from the USCIS genealogy department about Minnie's Index search (see letter). According to the letter they located a C-File for Menuche Krainowitz Bloomfield. The personal identification information they provided all checks. The second file for Menuche Blumovicz is not hers.

Letter from USCIS re: Index search Minnie Bloomfield29 May 2014 (8)
A C-File is a Naturalization Certificate File which according to their website contains "copies of records relating to all U.S. naturalizations in Federal, State, county, or municipal courts, overseas military naturalizations, replacement of old law naturalization certificates, and the issuance of Certificates of Citizenship in derivative, repatriation, and resumption cases. Standard C-Files generally contain at least one application form (Declaration of Intention and/or Petition for Naturalization, or other application) and a duplicate certificate of naturalization or certificate of citizenship. Many files contain additional documents, including correspondence, affidavits, or other records. Only C-Files dating from 1929 onward include photographs."

Unfortunately, Minnie was naturalized on 22 Nov 1928 (before photos were included), but I am now hopeful that her paperwork, may reveal some information about William Bloomfield and might help identify his ship manifest and/or his naturalization papers.

I've now paid the additional $20 fee to obtain Minnie's C-File. I promise to report back when I get my hands on this precious documents!

Have you received any interesting files from the USCIS, or do you obtain all your naturalization papers from NARA? I'd love to hear what you've discovered.

Sources:

         (1) 1920 U.S. census, Hartford City, CT, population schedule, Hartford County, ward 2, p. 375D (stamped), Enumeration District  (ED) 54, sheet 8A,  dwelling 42, family 149, Minnie Crane; NARA microfilm publication, T625 roll 182.

         (2) New York City Department of Heath, marriage certificate 271 (1920), William Bloomfield-Minnie Crane; New York City Department of Public Records, NY. 

         (3) 1930 U.S. census, Houston City, TX, population schedule, Harris County, ward 2, Enumeration District  (ED) 55, sheet 34A,  dwelling 237, family 248, William and Minnie Bloomfield; NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 2345.

       (4) Family Search Wiki (www.familysearch.org: accessed 12 Jun 2014), "United States Naturalization Laws," last edited, 13 October 2010.

         (5) Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897, microfilm publication M237,  (Washington: National Archive and Records Service), roll 675, arranged by date of arrival; SS Grosser Kurfurst, 7 Jan 1914, for Menuje Krajnowitz, p. 144, line 22; New York, "Passenger Lists, 1820-1957," digital image, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com: accessed 12 Jun 2014).

         (6) 1920 U.S. census, Houston City, TX, population schedule, Harris County, p. 84 (stamped) Enumeration District  (ED) 39, sheet 6B,  dwelling 40, family 145, William Bloomfield; NARA microfilm publication, T625 roll 1812.

         (7) United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (www.uscis.gov/genealogy: accessed 12 Jun 2014), "Historical Records Series Available From the Genealogy Program,"last edited 27 Sep 2013.

         (8) Lynda K. Spencesr, Chief Genealogy Section, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Washington, D.C., to Smadar Belkind Gerson, letter, 29 May 2014, Index search for Minnie Bloomfield, GEN-10115890; Personal correspondence, privately held by Belkind Gerson, MA.