Sunday, March 31, 2013


I think I am giving myself a break this week. Not because nothing is happening but because there is too much happening.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Changed my mind.  Here are a few quick stories from the past week.

We were at a hotel in Tiberias for the seder - not something we do often. The large group we were with was mostly English-speaking, though the majority were Anglos who live here, rather than tourists. We were joined there by my cousin Linda and her husband Mitch, who are visiting from West Virginia.

Of course, we have only one seder, but most of the tourists were keeping two days, so had a second seder. During the first day, I saw a sign in the lobby listing the rooms in which each of the various
Rachel Hammer Silberstein
tourist families would be having their second seder. The name LICHTIG jumped out at me, as the family of my wife's great-grandmother and partial namesake Rachel Hammer Silberstein had a number of connections with the Lichtig family. One of the third cousins lives in nearby Zefat and we hear from her upon the arrival of each new grandchild.

I inquired about the one with the second seder and it turns out he is a first cousin of the one in Zefat. I have his name and the names of his two younger brothers, but nothing further.

I spoke to the organizer, he made introductions and we had a very pleasant visit with this third cousin and his wife. The wife went to school with my brother-in-law and is a first cousin of my wife's best friend.

I left them my card and they will catch me up on the doings in their family.

I told this story to a friend who said "These things always happen to you." Maybe so, but if other people paid attention and made inquiries, they would probably happen to them as well.

When we arrived home Wednesday, I saw that there was a note from the post office to pick up a registered letter. So I went in Thursday morning, stood in line, gave the man the notice and my ID card and he said he couldn't give me the letter because the name on the letter was not close enough to my own name. I prevailed upon him to let me see who the sender was and saw it was a woman in Tel Aviv for whom I had ordered some records from Poland. Although I had specifically told her "regular mail," she sent the check for NIS 90 (~$24) registered.

The clerk said he'd have to send it back. On second thought, I told him to go ahead, because if he didn't think the name was good enough, the bank probably wouldn't either.

When I got home, I sent an email to the woman advising her of the trouble she had caused. I'll be curious to see if she has sent a new check immediately or if she will wait to get the old one back before sending a new one. By regular mail.

A young cousin of mine was married recently in the US. (Her late father was my first cousin on my mother's side.) I asked her husband Matt to give me his pertinent information for my database and somehow it came up that his family was from Przasnysz (Poland) which is where my mother-in-law's mother's family comes from.

Hannah Dynah Lindenberg
and her husband
Binyamin Yitzhak Mostek
That is not a family I have done much work on. I knew that the parents of my wife's great-grandmother Hannah Dynah Lindenberg were Avraham Israel Lindenberg and Devorah Goldszteyn and that Devorah's parents were Izrael and Haia (both Goldszteyn), but that's all I had recorded. (There is a cousin in the US who had done much of the research there and I was content to leave it that way.)

So Matt tells me that he has a connection to this family and sent me to a Geni site run by a woman in Sweden which includes some of the earlier generations of that family. I made the contact, saw the tree that she had made, looked up the documentation and added this new (very primitive) page to my family website.

I am ordering the first few documents from LDS and we'll see how to proceed from there. I am not sure how much I want to put into this line.
Index listing for the marriage of Izrael and Haia Goldszteyn, including parents and their patronymics

In my pre-holiday summary of the latest research developments in the Pikholz Project, I made a pitch to the Pikholz descendants for financial contributions to the DNA project.

Contributions can be made at
and the first one has been received.

Asking for money has never been a strong point of mine. Soon I'll be asking for some autosomal DNA tests as well.

A few months ago, I wrote about learning the identity of Aaron the singer, after his great-granddaughter Sharon contacted me from California.

A few days ago, Sharon wrote the following and said I could share it here on the blog.

Again, your email came so timely, as today we had a visit with the eldest grandchild of Aaron Lax, my cousin Joan Golfenbaum Sidell. She came out from New Mexico and visited her daughter Sue and grandson Justin, and we (my husband and I) met them in Seal Beach. We got to talking, and Joan later turned to me and asked if I had any more info from the Pickholz side. I said, Yes as a matter of fact, I just got birth records and a marriage record from Grandpa's nieces and nephews.

So she asked if I remembered her telling me of a ring Grandpa Aaron made for Gloria Swanson (famous US actress in 30's, 40's and 50's) and he made a duplicate for ma (grandma Pauline), but without the diamond, using a blue
zircon instead. Then she proceeds to hand me the box with the ring, and said, "I want to keep this in the family. It's yours." I was so touched, I had tears in my eyes, and was teary all the way home. You see, Aaron was a jeweler in Los Angeles/Hollywood area, and made many pieces for the top celebrities in the 30's and 40's. This is so special to me. I tried to get a good photo of it, but I don't have the right camera and lens. Maybe my son can get a good photo.

I am attaching the photo here. Plus our get together at lunch today. The picture, l-to -r is: Joan Sidell, Sue Sidell, Justin Sidell My cousin Jan's son), (myself) Sharon, and my husband Elliot Fisch. I give you permission to retell any part of this in your next blog whenever you do another one.

So Aaron the singer is also Aaron the jeweler.

I shall wish everyone a happy conclusion to the Passover holiday.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


If our forefathers had not left Egypt, we and our children and our children's children would still be slaves to Pharoah.
It has been a busy week, what with the holiday preparations and a few other things going on, so I considered taking a break from blogging this week. But I didn't want to leave last week's uncomfortable blog on the front page for another week, so I will briefly introduce those who have not seen it to the PIKHOLZ PIONEERS page.
Why that? Well, we will be telling our children Monday evening about our ancient exodus from Egypt, so I thought it appropriate to show the page that documents those Pikholz descendants who left eastern Galicia before the Holocaust, whether to the United States, to Palestine or to other supposed safe havens. For had our forefathers not left when they did, we know what have happened. For we know what happened to most of those who didn't.

You reach the Pikholz Pioneers page from a link on the main Pikholz Project page and that bring up this:

The page is arranged chronologically, according to the dates of arrival of the various heads of the families, regardless of whether other family members arrived earlier or later.

Like almost everything I do, the chart looks to me to be self-explanatory, but since other people rarely see it that way, let me lead you across the green row of headings. The first column is the head of the family - whichever of the husband and wife is the Pikholz - or in some cases an unmarried individual, usually travelling alone. Other family members are mentioned in the second column.

The third column is the town of most recent residence, usually as listed on the passenger manifest. That is followed by the destination and the date of arrival. The sixth column is the name of the ship that carried the person listed in the first column and that is linked to a page which generally shows the passenger list itself, as well as the manifests of other family members. Sometimes we do not have the ship name, so it is blank.

My own family, who arrived in the US in four parts.
The manifest is Aunt Becky and Aunt Mary who were fourteen and twelve.
The next column is the family identification name. I did not link those, but you can find them on the Tree page. The last column is comments.

The list goes until the spring of 1940 and is color-coded by destination: New York, other US, Palestine and "others."

Of course, what would the run-up to Passover be without some
Housekeeping Notes:

I had submitted two proposals for talks at the Boston Conference and one was accepted, that being the one that discusses the Pikholz DNA Project, which I have described here on several occasions. My previous two talks at IAJGS conferences were scheduled for early the first day, before many of the antendees had arrived. Nonetheless, I had full rooms both times. This time they have not yet announced the schedule so I have no idea when I'll be speaking.

The extract for the lecture reads as follows: 
A DNA Skeptic Turns His Family On Its Head - And Remains A Skeptic

As a genealogy research tool, DNA is very tempting because it tests the scientific genealogical makeup of possible family members, but at the same time uses analysis based on statistics and probability that can lead to incorrect or unfounded conclusions. The experts' explanations often confuse more than they illuminate, especially when you consider that some of these experts are the ones selling the testing services. So what is the lay researcher to do?

This talk will tell the story of one researcher, strictly a layman, who – despite his skepticism – used DNA testing to turn his basic family structure on its head, with more plans on the way. And despite his intentions to continue with this kind of research, remains something of a skeptic.
I have also begun to schedule my travel plans. I arrive in Boston on 1 August and have a friend who is arranging me a place for Shabbat. If anyone in the area wants to meet Thursday evening or Friday during the day, let me know.

I'm planning on sharing a hotel room at the Conference with a third cousin of my wife's. He is from Monument Colorado and we found each other a couple of years ago.

The next Friday, after the Conference ends, I'll be flying to Miami, where I have never been before. I want to have a chance to visit the various Pikholz descendants there, including my father's cousin Herb whom I met only once before, when I was fourteen. There are a number of other Pikholz descendants in the area, mostly from the Rozdolers. I hope to meet as many of them as possible, but I'll leave the organizing to them.

There are also at least twenty-four Pikholz graves in six south Florida cemeteries and I have photographs of only five of them. So visiting those is also on my list. I'm guessing I'll leave Florida on Tuesday for points unknown.

Everything between then and my return home 26 August (from Chicago) is open, as there are some family matters which have yet to fall into place.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


On 29 January last year, I received the following email from a young American-born woman living in Israel. (I have removed some identifying information)
[M]y siblings and I are looking to find out the name, and any information about my Granfather's (sic) child who was killed during the Holocaust. My grandfather has been deceased for over a decade, and he never spoke about his first wife and child who perished. We don't know much, but here's what we know:
[M]y grandfather was from Drohobycz in the Lviv Oblast (province). We believe he was from
When Hitler declared war on Poland, my grandfather] was 27 years old. He was married with a son. [He] joined the Polish army, and when it collapsed shortly thereafter, he bribed his way into the Russian army and that is how he survived.
We have no idea at what point or how his wife or child were killed, just that they were.
We are looking for information in general about his wife and child, but the most important thing is to find the son's name. Would you be able to find this out?
What are your rates for this kind of job?
I replied that "[t]here are no guarantees with this kind of search," and I discussed at length some suggestions regarding how we might approach the matter. I suggested inquiries at Yad Vashem where there might be records of their deaths and the International Tracing Service where family members - including her grandfather - might have inquired after them. I suggested contacting other researchers with common interests.

And I suggested sending a researcher to look at the births in the Civil Records Office in Warsaw, where records are held for at least a hundred years before they are sent to the appropriate archives.

Eventually they decided to try all these, but the only one that didn't come up empty immediately was the records office - and that was because it took a few months to set up. We had to provide the folks in Warsaw with a notarized authorization which included an affidavit stating that the family is legally entitled to the information.

Miriam Weiner is the authority
on what records are found where.
See her site at
The family authorized a search for the birth records for the years 1938-1941. Unfortunately, 1940 is missing.

It took a few months to get the notarized authorization but eventually it came, I paid the researcher and the search was done. Without success.

The family then decided to search 1935-37. Here there was some considerable delay because the researchers husband was ill.

In the meantime, the family came up with the surname of the grandfather's wife - the mother of the child - and we considered the possibility that the birth had been registered under her name. So the 1938-1941 search was done again. The family then came up with a variation of the wife's surname and yet another search was done. (The researcher did not charge for these follow-ups, perhaps because of the delay caused by her husband's illness.)

The searches were done, nothing turned up and all I could do was throw up my hands and write a final report, a page and a half reviewing the searches and the results. I had been paid a few months earlier - the exact amounts that I had paid the researcher in Warsaw plus two-and-a-half hours of my time, way less than I had actually put in.

A few days ago, three weeks after my report, I received the following email:
Thank you for the final report.

As I'm sure you can imagine, we are very disappointed with the outcome.
It's a shame that this process dragged out as long as it did, and I felt that the case could have been handled more professionally at certain points.

Do you have any recommendations for further pursuit of the information we are looking for? If it were your relative, what would your next step be? 
My work has never been called "unprofessional" before and I found the idea that were it my relative, I would have some secret trapdoor access to information, to be bordering on insulting.

I am not sure how I'll respond. I don't work with a formal contract, but that would not have solved the problem. And I did say up front that there are no guarantees except my best effort. The fact that 1940 births are missing gives us a plausible explanation for the lack of a birth record. The grandfather could have gone off with the Polish army in 1939, leaving a pregnant wife who gave birth in 1940.

Or maybe for some unknown reason the birth was in some other town, though her own family was in Drohobycz, making that unlikely. But we are already in "unlikely" territory.

And I did say at the start that there are no guarantees except my best effort. But I repeat myself.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


The month of Nisan begins Monday evening. My mother's mother and maternal grandmother died during Nisan and last year I wrote about that here with some follow-up on the Rosenblooms here

To this we can add the "lost" photograph of Etta-Bryna's grave. (I though I had posted that, but cannot find it in my previous posts.)

It shows my grandmother's younger sister Shayna Liba standing next to her mother's grave, shortly before she went to America at no more than twenty years old.

Now on to the subject of the week.

PIKHOLZ DNA - Where are we holding?
When we last looked at the Pikholz Project's DNA just over six months ago, the situation was thus:
The red circles were those who had tested or had ordered tests, the greens said they would and the blues were targeted.
In addition to my own tests, my father's sister and a first cousin also tested. This has been very helpful in keeping things sorted out. (They also both tested on their mothers' sides, which is useful but for another discussion.)

The Y-chromsome for Vladimir was not what we had hoped for. While Dalia's nephew and I are a perfect match in haplogroup R-M269, Vladimir is J-M172. So barring issues of a "false father," we have at least two Pikholz male lines. We must keep in mind, however, that we do not know that Vladimir belongs to the Skalat side. He may very well be a Rozdoler. In the autosomal test, Vladimir is a remote cousin (further than fourth cousin) of Dalia and of the my father's sister and cousin.

(One of the Rozdolers asked why I have not encouraged his side to test. I told him that I wasn't really up to chasing after potential testees, but would help anyone else who would take it on.)

The autosomal test for the Kansas City cousin was even further off the charts. I expected that she would be a fairly close cousin to Vladimir, but she shows up as not even remote to him or to any of the rest of us. On the other hand, she could be a fifth or sixth cousin and there are any number of other testees who show up as connected to her and to one or more of us.

Our testing company, Family Tree DNA, has had a few discount opportunities, but despite my encouragement, no one had taken advantage of any of them until now.

I don't know how much longer the
$39 price will be valid. You can order at
A few weeks ago FTDNA tried a new kind of discount - $39 for the most basic Y chromosome test. This test is for twelve markers, much simpler than the thirty-seven markers that Dalia's nephew and Vladimir did and the sixty-seven markers that I did. From our standpoint, it is enough to check possible connections while also getting the DNA sample into FTDNA's sytem so that we can do more extensive testing later.

I contacted everyone as usual and mentioned it at the end of one of my weekly blogs. This time there were results. First off, one of the Rozdolers ordered a test. A Y-12 is not enough to say that there is a common male line, but it is enough to say there isn't. Later we can do more - and perhaps another Rozdoler or three will test as well. 

Tests were ordered for the two Israelis on the chart - Moshe and Aharon. The trick now will be to get them to actually submit the DNA samples. I am speaking in Kiryat Tiv'on next week and if the kits arrive by then, I will try to visit one of the two on my way north.

The possible Polish cousin agreed to test and a kit was ordered for him. His concern was that none of his neighbors should find out he is Jewish. Here if he seems to fit a known Pikholz male line, great. If not we can upgrade his analysis to an autosomal and do a comparison with Jacob, who is a known Pikholz, but without a male line. Not to mention the RITA and TONKA families whom I assume are descended from the same Nachman Pikholz who is known to be Jacob's third-great-grandfather.

I had high hopes that "M" would test. We had a bit of conversation, but he did not address the specific question of testing. I heard nothing from the other two - but perhaps they ordered kits without telling me. (I can dream, can't I?)

We now have tests or kits on order for eleven supposed Pikholz descendants and we are all in a surname project at FTDNA called "Pickholtz." Those who wish to contribute to the Project without actually testing are welcome to give a donation. This can be done online here. Thank you.

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Housekeeping note
I am speaking (in Hebrew) at the Israel Genealogical Society's Kiryat Tiv'on branch on Sunday evening 17 March at 6:30.  The subject is

Sunday, March 3, 2013


CLARIFICATION. Nothing in this story should be considered a ruling according to Jewish law. When I write about things I was told in this particular instance, they should be considered anecdotal. Other rabbis may cite other rulings in similar circumstances.

Next Sunday, 10 March is the twenty-eighth of the month of Adar, the seventh anniversary of the elections for the Seventeenth Knesset. On that day, we buried Marvin.

A few months earlier, I had received an email from J. It was the first I had heard from her - or anyone in her close family - though I knew who they were because I had done some work on their family's genealogy. She wrote:


I commented that "It was not our doing" sounded like this was the "evil second wife," which indeed turned out to be the case. I think Marvin's daughters inherited the "big jar" from her after she died. Perhaps "took possession" is a better term. By the time of our correspondence, Marvin had been dead for eleven years.

I know a bit about burials, having been an active member of the Jewish Sacred Society in Chicago,  a volunteer organization which prepares bodies for halachic Jewish burial. (My day was Monday.) But I knew nothing about burying ashes in a Jewish cemetery. I did not even know, for instance, if an Israeli cemetery would accept such a burial.

At the time, we were living in Gush Etzion, about fifteen minutes south of Jerusalem, so I called one of the burial societies in Jerusalem to clarify the ground rules and costs. They said they had no problem, provided the deceased met two conditions. One that he is Jewish. The other that the cremation had not been at his own instruction. Marvin met both conditions, though I was not sure how they might want me to prove either one. What they did not require, to my surprise, is some proof that the ashes were actually Marvin.

The bigger surprise was the cost. They said they would not charge anything. So much for Americans getting ripped off.

Over the next few months, I discussed with J the technical questions of actually doing this, in particular, the timing. She wanted her sister A and A's two teen-aged sons to be involved in this burial. A third sister wanted nothing to do with it. And their mother didn't understand whay anyone would bother. (J herself has no children.) We finally settled on late March, when they could all make the trip. I suggested the upcoming election day, since here in Israel election day is a day off work.

I discussed the whole matter with my local rabbi and in the process learned that ashes do not have the halachic status of a dead body, so there is no problem transporting them even in the presence of a kohen. No need, for instance, to transport the urn in the baggage compartment of the plane. In fact, A's sons are kohanim and my rabbi said they could even participate fully in the burial, so long as they stayed the proper distance from real graves. I also learned that we should bury him in the urn, rather than say dumping the ashes into the grave.

Eventually we decided that for the sake of convenience, we would bury Marvin in our local cemetery near Kefar Etzion, rather than in Jerusalem. I discussed this with the head of the local burial society and he had no problem. We picked out a spot off to the side. He had one condition, that the place be properly marked, so no one would inadvertently dig it up later. It was understood that there would be a donation.

The big day came. I voted early, put some shovels in my car and later in the morning, drove down to the Ayala junction - near where David offed Goliath - to meet their van. Their hired driver was not pleased with coming up to Gush Etzion, which he considered "cowboy country" and kept insisting that he wanted it to be over quickly. They - J and her husband, A and her sons - followed me for the fifteen minute drive up the hill.

Meir ben Yosef HaLevi
J's husband and A's boys dug the grave, deposited the "big jar" and covered it up. We arranged some stones to mark the site until they could put up a proper marker. Some words were said, though I have no recollection what. There was no minyan or anything, just the six of us and the driver, whose patience was short.

Over a period of probably a year, I reminded J and A (whom I met when I was in New York a few months later) about the marker for the grave and the donation for the cemetery. Nothing ever came of either.

So much for Americans getting ripped off.

May Marvin rest in peace and may he be an advocate for his family.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Pickholtz DNA Project at Family Tree DNA is growing. For now, I have been asking specific people to test, though others who wish to to so are welcome. I would request that if you do, you tell me so I can add you to the Project. This holds for members of my other family lines, as well.
Those who wish to contribute to the Project without actually testing are welcome to give a donation. This can be done online here. Thank you.