Sunday, September 30, 2012


About thirteen-fourteen years ago, I received a phone call from Shuki Eckert, a Galician researcher with whom I have some overlapping interests. He was at Yad Vashem and he had found a set of about a hundred Pages of Testimony for Pikholz family members. Did I want them?

Well, of course I wanted them. I had inquired a few months earlier and Yad Vashem had been able to provide me with twenty-four Pages, so this would increase the set considerably.
Undated Page of Testimony
for Moshe Pickholz of Budzanow

Among this new group was a couple from Budzanow, for whom no submitter was listed. The father was Moshe Pickholz, born 1888 in Buczacz, with no parents' names listed. The mother was Tema Pickholz, born 1990 (sic) in Budzanow. Her parents were named as Jonah and Matel. They were shot in the Trembowla ghetto in 1942, as was their unmarried son Munio, who was born in 1920.

As I say, there was no submitter listed, nor was there a date or a place where the Page was filled out, but the style was consistent with the first big names project in 1956-57. The only identifying information was the signature of the person from Yad Vashem who assisted in filling out the form. Weidenfeld.

The Pages for Tema and Munio were the same way.

There is a Pikholz couple whose children were born in Budzanow in the 1880-90s, but Moshe does not seem to have anything to do with them. I have not been able to locate the one living descendant.

Moshe's family sat untouched in my "unconnected" pile for several years.

I had never paid much attention to the signature of the Yad Vashem representative on any of these Pages. Apparently, during the big project in the mid 1950s, Yad Vashem sent people around to survivors, asking them to fill out the forms and helping them to do so. Many of the Pages are unclear or incomplete - perhaps because some survivors filled out so many, perhaps because the task was emotionally difficult, perhaps because it was the person from Yad Vashem doing the writing. In many cases, these helpers were students.

In one memorable case, I was looking at a Page on behalf of another researcher and I was surprised to see that I recognized the scrawled signature of the Yad Vashem helper. I'll call him J and I knew him as the Chief Financial Officer of a company where I worked for a few years around 1980, in Beer Sheva. I showed Dov, another co-worker from that period, twenty-odd years earlier, and he agreed - the signature was J.

J was originally from Nahariyya (on the coast, north of Haifa) and would have been a university student in the mid-1950s, which fit the profile of those sent by Yad Vashem to help collect these submissions.

The Page said Moshe was from Buczacz and there is, in fact, a Pikholz family from Buczacz - a family I have mentioned several times in this blog. Chaim Yaakov Pikholz had four sons and I was in contact with a few of the descendants - who in the course of time have been determined to be my fourth cousins. Most of the living descendants lived in the Haifa-Netanya area. There was also a daughter Taube, about whom we knew nothing. 

Some time later, I learned that there was another daughter, Rivka, who married Binyamin Hersch Bernstein of Radauti, in Bukovina. The couple lived in Radauti. because of the distance, there was probably less contact with these Bernsteins than the Buczacz families had with one another, but here too there are a few living descendants in the Haifa area. Actually, three of the Bernstein children lived in the Haifa area - one other was killed in Bukovina.

The last of the three who had lived here died in 1985 at about age eighty-three. She lived in Kiryat Motzkin and has two daughters. Her husband was Avraham Weidenfeld, who died in 1974.

Five years ago, I attended the IAJGS Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Salt Lake City and I took some time to examine any number of record sets at the library there. One of those record sets was for Budzanow and included the marriage record for Moshe and Tema. Ours is the second one on the page.
Moshe Pickholz married Tema Baltuch in Budzanow, 8 August 1911
The groom is Moshe, the son of Juda Mendl Pickholz and Heni Schutzman, from Buczacz, born 1880. The bride is Tema Baltuch, the daughter of Jona Schutzman and Marjem Baltuch, Marjem being from Mikulince. Tema was born 23 August 1884 in Budzanow. (I looked at the Schutzmans and determined that the bride and groom were not first cousins.)

The name Juda Mendl is totally unknown to me among Pikholz descendants. Mendel in any form or combination is rare and we have no other Juda among the Skalat Pikholz families. (There are some Leib and Aryeh, but no one specifically Juda.)

But the most likely solution was that Juda Mendl was a previously unknown son of Chaim Yaakov of Buczacz. After all, that's where Moshe was born. But I certainly did not have enough evidence to record him that way, so Juda Mendl and his son Moshe remained among the unconnected.

Some time later, I had the occasion to have another look at the Pages for Moshe and his family (by now online) and I saw how Yad Vashem treated the matter of the missing submitter.

They listed their agent, Weidenfeld, the fellow they sent to help the survivors fill out the forms, as the submitter. I checked with them and they said they assumed that this Weidenfeld had been the submitter himself, as well as having worked for Yad Vashem.

Makes sense to me.

I asked them if they would have any idea who this Weidenfeld was and they hadn't.

Then it occurred to me that perehaps this was Avraham Weidenfeld whose wife - the daughter of Rivka Bernstein - may have been a first cousin of Moshe.

If so, it seemed odd that Avraham Weidenfeld submitted pages only for this one cousin and his family, not for anyone else from the Buczacz family. I looked at pages submitted by anyone named Weidenfeld and saw nothing clarifying. It also seemed odd that if Moshe were the cousin of the submitter's wife, Moshe's parents would not be named on the Page, but his wife's would have

I spoke to Avraham Weidenfeld's two daughters and neither was willing to tell me anything - not even if the signature looks like it might have been that of their late father.

But now I had a more specific question - did Yad Vashem ever employ a man named Avraham Weidenfeld of the Haifa area, in their names project. I gave them an approximation of his age as well. Yad Vashem's personnel department told me that they had no information on who did that work in the 1950s and in general had no record of any Weidenfeld.

So I phoned J. It seemed predestined.

J had lived in Nahariyya, so he probably did his work for Yad Vashem in the Haifa area during the summer or other university vacation periods. So perhaps he knew the others working in that project in the same area. Perhaps they had been in a training seminar together.

J is retired and lives near Beer Sheva. He was very surprised by my call, moreso by my question. He had no idea about any Weidenfeld, but suggested I call his older brother who had been involved in the names project for a longer period of time.

The older brother didn't remember any Weidenfeld, but then he said there was not much contact among the Yad Vashem people in the field. He did tell me that they were not employees of Yad Vashem, but rather worked as part of the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University. So I tried the Institute and the personnel department at the University, where they thought I was really nuts.

Maybe I am, but it seemed like a good idea.

So for now, I am left with my puzzles and theories. I am recording this so as to be sure not to mislead anyone who might someday examine my database.

My talk in Givatayim on DNA is 14 October, not 10 October as previously announced.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


I had prepared a post this week, based on this record which I found through the Belarus SIG database and ordered from Salt Lake City.
My great-grandfather and namesake Srul Rozenblum in a revision list from 1874.
The blogpost referred to some issues which I thought it fair to ask the database coordinator to comment on, and he asked for some additional time to check it out.

So I am postponing this post for a couple of weeks.

Unfortunately with all the holidays, I did not have a back up ready to go in its place, so all I have here is to wish you a gemar hatima tovah and a meaningful fast.

Monday, September 10, 2012


The last few weeks, I have been blogging about our efforts to learn about the Skalat Pikholz families through DNA testing.

I will be speaking on that subject at two of the Israel Genealogical Society branches in the next few weeks.

Here are the announcements and the lecture description.

A DNA Skeptic Turns His Family On Its Head - And Remains A Skeptic

As a genealogy research tool, DNA is both very tempting because it tests the scientific genealogical makeup of 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?
FOR SOME REASON, THE DATE ON THIS IS WRONG. Correct date is 14 October.
This talk will tell the story of one researcher 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 a something of a skeptic.

I am also scheduled to speak on another subject - one which I have done before, both here and in the US.

"Beyond a Doubt: What We Know vs. What We Can Prove"

What do you do when the hard proofs just aren't there, but you are as sure as you can be what they would say if you could find them? If you fold your hands and wait, you may never get anywhere with your research, but if you accept your suppositions as fact, they may never be questioned again. Not by you nor by your research heirs.

This presentation will use examples from the east Galician single-surname Pikholz Project to consider when what you know is beyond a reasonable doubt and if that is indeed good enough.

I am not sure if I'll be blogging next week, so let me offer best wishes to all of you as we enter the new year 5773. May you and your families be written and sealed in the Book of Life and may you enjoy a year of health and prosperity.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


I wasn't planning on getting into this so soon after my three-part blog on DNA and the Skalat families, but a commentor last week brought up the subject so I figured I may as well deal with it.

What do we want to know?
Actually, there are two questions. One has to do with the internal structure of the Rozdol families - those we understand to be descended from Pinkas and Sara Rivka. We have death records with ages for two of their sons, so we know that Israel Joel was born about 1807 and Aron was born about 1818. There appear to be at least two other sons - Izak and Samuel or David or more likely David Samuel.

There are, however, some complications, particularly with the descendants of the son Isak, and there is a possibility that DNA testing can shed some light here. Unfortunately, the best candidates for autosomal testing are second- and third-great-grandchildren of Pinkas and Sara Rivka, which is pretty distant for that kind of testing. And there are enough cousin marriages in those families to make those tests even less reliable than usual.

My best estimation of the Rozdol Pikholz families. (Click to enlarge.)
The red bars indicate relationships for which we have no direct evidence.
The other question is whether or not the Rozdol family is connected to the Skalat families. You might think this a simple question, since we have quite a few father-son lines among the Rozdolers and the Y-chromosome does not deteriorate over generations. Pinkas of Rozdol is probably in the same age cohort as Nachman, Isak Josef and the other male Skalat Pikholz born  about 1780-1795, so if he is a brother, his Y-chromosome would be an easy match.

And maybe that is indeed the case.

Rav Juda Gershon Pickholz tells us much about his family in his books. Here is what he says about his grandfather, Rav Pinkas of Rozdol, in the first version of his book Mahane Yehudah.
Although Rav Juda Gershon mentions his father (elsewhere) as Pikholz, he never seems to use the surname in connection with his grandfather. Between that and the fact that the given name Pinkas is totally unknown among the Skalat families, I have been thinking that if there is a Skalat connection, it is through the wife Sara Rivka - which would make a Y-chromosome test quite useless.

There is the possibility of a Mitochondrial (mother-daughter line) test in the MENSCH family, which would go back to Sara Rivka, but we don't really have anyone to compare to on the Skalat side, except perhaps in the RISS family.

So that leaves autosomal tests. But any attempts to match Skalat and Rozdol Pikholz descendants would be at the fifth- or sixth-cousin level and autosomal tests are not really appropriate for that - unless perhaps they show no connection whatsoever.

So how can we proceed?
Eric, who made the comment that prompted today's discussion, is not a Pikholz family member. That's too bad because I'd like to have responded "Good idea. How about if you take the initiative and I'll help in the background?"

Fact is, I have too much on my plate right now, but I will be happy to lend support and direction to any of the Rozdol Pikholz descendants who might want to undertake this project.

A Y-chromosome inquiry is easy. There are plenty of descendants of direct male lines.

Autosomal tests are more tricky since we want to stay as close to the early generations as possible. I did a cursory survey and see one living great-great-granddaughter of Pinkas and Sara Rivka in the BREZDOWICZ family. (At least I think she is living. People do not always keep me informed on a timely basis.)

In the next generation, I see living descendants in four additional families. Beyond that is probably too far to test in any meaningful way.

If someone from the Rozdol side wants to take this on - which involves getting people to agree to be tested and to pay for the tests, aside from questions of analysis - talk to me.