Sunday, April 15, 2012


The first attorney who wanted to hire me was a loud New Yorker here in Jerusalem, dealing with an inheritance. The deceased had filled out Pages of Testimony at Yad Vashem for five brothers and sisters. Another brother and sister had survived the Holocaust and had predeceased her – one lived in Europe and one in the US.

The latest version of an English Page of Testimony
This week is Yom HaShoah. Do you have family
who have not been memorialized? Go to
The deceased had also filled out Pages of Testimony for her parents, stating that they had nine children. The attorney wanted to know what happened to the ninth. I suggested that there may have been a child who died before the War and he agreed that this was likely the case, but he needed documentation. The family came from a town for which there were no surviving records, so it would be no simple matter to prove the death of a child or young adult in the 1920s or 1930s.

I told him my hourly rate and he refused. He wanted a flat fee based on results only. I wished him luck finding someone on that basis, and he eventually agreed to my terms. He did insist that I was to spend no time on Pages of Testimony, because he himself had checked all the possibilities and the ninth child was not there.

The eight known children had been born during the period 1908-1926, so I expected to find the ninth during that period, or perhaps a bit earlier or a bit later.

The first thing I did was to ignore the attorney's instructions and check the Pages of Testimony. He may have been the know-it-all attorney, but I was the professional. At least, that's what I was trying to be.

The deceased had submitted many Pages of Testimony, not just for her immediate family, but for other relatives and acquaintances, mostly from her home town. One was for the missing sister. She was married, therefore went by a different surname, and she had lived in her husband's town. The odd thing was that she was born in 1900, way before any of the others, and had two very young children who were born when she was in her late thirties. But the hometown and the parents were clearly identified and the deceased had identified her as a sister, so there was no question of accuracy.

I billed the attorney for two hours' work. He was not happy to have missed the Page himself. He shorted me on the check and I sent it back. When he asked me if I could find records of the deceased's cousins, I turned him down.

I should have agreed to a flat fee.

This week is Yom HaShoah. Do you have family who have not been memorialized?

One of my first clients was an Englishman living in Jerusalem. He wanted to know a few things about his grandfather, who had gone to England from eastern Europe around 1900. He had seen his grandfather's grave, so he knew the father's name, but didn't know anything about the mother. He also wanted to know about the grandfather's immigration to England.

I asked about other family members and he told me that the grandfather had two sisters who went to the same city in the US and both married Jews with common surnames, but he didn't know anything about their families and could see no point in going that route.

The immigration was fairly straightforward. I found the grandfather arriving in England several years later than expected, but his name, age and home town identified him unambiguously.

But there was nothing on the mother in any of the sources I could find.

I went after the sisters in the US. In most states, a death certificate has a space for mother's birth name. Of course that does not always mean it actually appears, but it is a reasonable way to check. Another possibility is the application for Social Security (SS-5) which also has a space for mother's birth name. But both the death certificates and the SS-5 forms required an unambiguous identification, and we didn't have that.

So I messed a bit with the US census records for 1910 and 1920 and eventually found someone who could be one of the sisters, with a son named the same as the client's father. The local Jewish community is well-organized and I figured I could get death and burial information from them – for a fee – and that I might find the sister buried in the same place. From there to death certificates would be an easy step.

I brought this plan to the client and he shot it down. "I said I don't want to look there."

I don't think it was just the money. There must have been something else. But he is the client, so that's where it ended.

On 8 February, prospective client – a genealogy researcher whose name I know - writes:
I would like to find in Israel descendants of my family who lived in the tsarist Russia and early USSR in Moldova, Bessarabia and someparts of Ukraine. Could you help me?
On 9 February, I respond:
[T]he answer to this kind of question is "maybe." It depends on so many things.

Tell me what you know, what you want to know and what steps you have already taken. Then I'll have a look.
On 14 March, I follow up:

[I]s there something you wanted to do with this?
On 16 March prospective client writes:
what do you mean by "is there something you wanted to do with this?"

I would like to find in Israel the surname [surname redacted] of those who came from Ukraine, Moldova and Russia proper.I have the census of 1858 in [town name redacted] are 6 males. I know to about 80 per cent their descendants. I would like to find those who came to Palestina and Israel.
So that's the answer to "tell me what you know." I wished her luck.


  1. This was so vintage Pickholtz, LOL. I think you forgot that the client is always right, or as my editor at my current job likes to say, "The client always has deeper pockets."

    I think a really fun idea for a blog would be for you to tell us your fantasy of the ideal client. :-)

    1. Someone with tons of money who wants to learn about my families?

    2. I guess that will be a short blog, then :-)