Sunday, January 27, 2013


A proper genealogy study includes all the records. OK, so my own work doesn't qualify. I do not have birth records for my brother or my sisters. Or my parents. Or my cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles. Or even my grandchildren - except one.

So you could say I am sloppy. Or cheap. But at least in those cases, I know all the dates and other relevant facts.

In the case of the European records from the 1800s for the Pikholz Project, it is largely a matter of money. We have over four thousand people and when you have couples with seven or eight births in Galicia, it makes sense to order one or two birth records per family and rely on JRI-Poland index listings for the others, especially the stillborns and the deaths of young children.

That is good enough for basic documentation on a limited budget. If all you have are years for births, deaths and marriages, sometimes you have to settle. You can put together a nice piece of work without specific dates of birth and death. The post-1876 Galician births have the names of the mother's parents, but once you have that for one or two births, that's covered. Sure, there are house numbers and causes of death, notes and other miscellaneous information, but you can live without these if necessary. There is also the possibility that there was a transcription error in the index, but those are rare.

On the other hand, as you raise the level of your work, you find that you can develop analytical tools based on some of that information that appears only in the actual records. For instance, some years back, I began recording events in our main towns - Skalat and Rozdol - by house numbers. I was not sure where that would take me, but it turned out to be a useful tool.

Sometimes this kind of thing can help determine relationships between families or at least hint at the family structure. Below is an example which nailed down a relationship which seemed clear based on naming patterns, but which needed one more piece of evidence. I had already determined that a particular couple named David and Serka Pikholz were almost certainly the parents of a certain Yitzhak Pikholz.

We can see that David and Serka died in house #145 during the years that this Yitzhak and his wife Frimet were having children in that same house.

Not only would I have been less likely to reach my conclusion if I only had one or two births of Yitzhak and Frimet's children - without the full set of birth records, I probably wouldn't have attempted an analysis based on house numbers!

Another example is the family of Peretz and Perl Pikholz of Skalat. They were named in the birth records of the grandchildren that they had from their four daughters - Chaje Nesie Spacierer, Basie Ruchel Scharf, Sure Kornberg and Blime Brandes. Below you can see parts of some of the births which were recorded in Skalat, Zbarazh and Tarnopol.

Three records show the parents Peretz and Perl Pikholz. One shows only Peretz.
So we see that these four mothers are the daughters of Peretz and Perl Pikholz. As usual, I ordered a couple of births to each family and aside from those, the only document we have referring to the parents is the death record for Peretz. Therefore, we have no idea if the Pikholz here is Peretz or Perl. (As we know, when the marriage was not recorded with the civil authorities, the children were given the mother's surname and the father often adopted it as well.)

When the Lwow records became available, I saw in the JRI-Poland index that while six of Blime's seven children were born in Tarnopol, one - the fifth - was born in Lwow. It struck me as curious that the family had four children in Tarnopol, then one in Lwow and two more in Tarnopol, so I ordered the record, just to see what would turn up.

Here we see the parents names, Blime Pikholz and Abraham Brandes, residents of Lwow, with Blime's parents identified as Perec Pikholz and Perl Nagler.

This does not tell us why they were in Lwow - though it does indicate that they were living there, not just visiting - but it does clarify that Peretz is the Pikholz and that Perl's surname is Nagler.

This is the only record that we have on the surnames, including Perl's death record which became available only recently. The name Nagler is, of course, unknown to the living descendants - even to those who know the name Pikholz.

So we know there is value in getting all the records - the issue is the budget.

More on this in two weeks - but with examples from records from the United States.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


We were looking forward to the bar mitzvah. Jeff Garrett and Elana Bloom - who lived (and still do) in Pittsburgh - were making their second son's bar mitzvah in Jerusalem and we were invited to spend Shabbat with them in the hotel. "We" being Mother, as well as Frances and I.

We have known the Blooms forever and this is not the place to expound on that.* Suffice it to say that we were looking forward to participating in Benjamin Baruch's bar mitzvah. This was thirteen years ago next week.

At the time, we were still living in Gush Etzion, about fifteen minutes south of Jerusalem. Mother was still in Arad, about an hour south of us. And I was still working in Yeroham, about half an hour's drive on the other side of Arad. So the plan was pretty simple - I would pick up Mother Thursday after work and bring her to our house and Friday we'd go to Jerusalem.

Walla Maps
There was some talk of snow, but we were not concerned. Why? - I really can't recall. I guess it was our "We go about our business" attitude.

So I picked up Mother after work and we left Arad about four-thirty on our 71 km (~44 miles) trip north. The drive was uneventful most of the way. A bit of flurries as we passed east of Hevron. As we passed Highway 35, the snow was sticking.

At this point I was not yet worried, but I did want to get through as fast as possible. We had about twelve km to go. It was getting dark.

Neither our drivers nor our cars are equipped for snow and at the risk of sounding discriminatory, the rural Arab population is worse at this than the rest of us.

The road going down the hill from the Se'ir junction (road 3517) was not looking good. At the bottom, the road curved left before ascending to the northern entrance to Halhul, and cars were skidding. Others tried to pass them. Traffic stopped for a bit but eventually began moving up the hill in fits and starts. 

Mapa maps (click to enlarge)
It was snowing heavily and it was cold. We were well dressed for the weather, but still.

Everyone had the sense to drive slowly, but not everyone had the sense to stay in his lane. There was only one in each direction, but people drove on both shoulders, so that meant four lanes. At least.

We worked our way up the hill and began the approach to the descent past the junction near Karmei Zur. ("Near" is relative. It was not a distance we could consider walking if we got stuck. Which we did.) GRIDLOCK.

We sat. The army was not in evidence. There were a few policemen and I borrowed a phone from one to check in home, five minutes away. It kept snowing, but I couldn't keep the car running indefinitely, so it got colder. I tried to keep the windshield clear, just to prevent the effects of claustrophobia. The wiper on my side broke.

No one was moving. Mother was handling it pretty well. She pulled out a bottle of chocolate liquor that she had brought for us. We drank about half of it. From the bottle.

The snow kept coming down. Some of the young local Arabs were out trying to direct traffic, such as it was, and occasionally there would be some movement in the opposite lane. Lanes. I kept thinking that these guys are future Hamas recruits, while our army was slow.

The emergency center in Kiryat Arba
By 2 AM, mother was not doing so well. I eventually got the army to pack her into a track vehicle of some sort and take her back to Kiryat Arba. That allowed me to leave the car and join a group of tourists in the bus behind us. They had heat. I had some food and was happy to give it to a pregnant woman on the bus. They were going home on an early Sunday flight, which they had begun to worry about missing.

At 7 AM, they began evacuating everyone to Kiryat Arba, using army vehicles. They said to leave the cars with the keys and they took us to the emergency center in Kiryat Arba where they would get us organized for Shabbat. There was no talk of going anywhere, even though it was still early Friday morning.

Mother was at the emergency center being looked after as well as could be expected, considering the numbers of people involved. The local folks arranged places for people to stay. Many were taken to local families. A large Beduin family was housed in the yeshiva. I walked over to Zvi and Celia Ofer's apartment to see if they minded having two guests. Zvi and I had been roommates in Jerusalem thirty-one years earlier.

Mother, seventy-three at the time and handling it all like quite the trooper, was able to walk the couple of blocks to their place. I don't remember much about the rest of that day. I was able to call home. Frances did not try to go to the bar mitzvah. Jerusalem was pretty much snowed in, as was Elazar.
These two photos by Moshe Rubin, Jerusalem
Jerusalem on that very day

For Shabbat, they gave us some clothes that didn't fit, but that didn't matter. In the evening we stayed in. In the morning, Zvi stayed in but I wanted to go to shul, so he gave me directions and off I went.

It was the Shabbat of my own bar mitzvah and when I saw that the gabbai was someone I had known years before in Chicago, I asked him if I could read. He agreed. I see this fellow about once a year, usually at weddings of mutual friends. Most recently at a Chicago funeral in Jerusalem. Every time he sees me, he says "You remember the last time I saw you, when it snowed and you read your bar mitzvah?" No matter how many years go by, that remains the last time we saw each other.

We really had a very pleasant Shabbat and Mother stayed in touch with Celia and Zvi . Afterwards, we learned that the army had towed all the cars up to Gush Etzion and one of Zvi's sons drove us there on the reasonably-cleared road.

Some of the cars had been partially trashed and broken into by the future Hamasniks. The government insisted that these were attacks of vandalism rather than "nationalist hostility" so there was no compensation. I sued and won.
* Two and a half hours after I wrote that sentence last Wednesday evening, I received a notice that Elana's mother Mrs. Evelyn Bloom had passed away. May her soul be bound in life.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


2 Shevat 5773, Jerusalem.

Although there were two posts before the beginning of Shevat last year, it is that month when I actually decided to try to do this regularly. Once a week seemed like an enormous task, requiring more discipline than I can usually muster, but I have pretty much done it. I skipped a few holiday weeks, but this post is number fifty-two and we have entered Shevat once again.

Having covered most of the our own personal family yahrzeits last year, I don't really want to do them again, but in case anyone missed them or wants to revisit them, I'll try to link to them at the start of each month, as they come again this time around. There was my grandfather Raymond Gordon, a few of my wife's ancestors (including her father, her maternal grandfather, her paternal grandmother and others), my mother and my sister - all in Shevat.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Most genealogy research includes all kinds of loose ends. People to whom you think might be related, people to whom you know are not related but have similar names, alternate spellings (or alternate identities) of people you know, etc etc. Or, for instance, these three New York graves.

Eva (on the right) had her named changed from Pickholtz (back?) to Barron by court order, after her death.

These three are almost certainly women who married Pickholtz men late in life, but I have not been able to determine who those men were. There is one Pikholz in New York who had at least one wife late in life, maybe even two, but his grandchildren do not remember anything about her/them. I have made inquiry about the three women and in at least one case acquired a copy of the death certificate, but there is nothing to solve the puzzle. So I have these three women as loose ends, of no genealogical significance, but, although they belong in our database, I am not going to allocate resources for that. However, since other researchers will run across them and point them out to me from time to time, I should have a record of what I know.

A reverse example is the first wife of my wife's grandfather, Mendel Baum, whose yahrzeit is this week (7 Shevat). He left Hungary - or more properly, Slovakia - for London before WWI, a childless widower in his forties. The family thinks the first wife died in childbirth, but no one has any specifics.

He had told people both that he was from Tarcal and that he was from Vidrany, so I assumed that he was born in one, but the other was where he lived as an adult, perhaps his last residence in Hungary.

Thanks to the database of the JewishGen Hungarian Special Interest Group, I found the family in the 1869 census, for Vidrany and I ordered the document from LDS in Salt Lake City.
Cemetery in Kurima
The census record shows two year old Mendel (line 4) with his parents (Abraham and Ester) and brothers. The three brothers were born in Vidrany (column 9) and the parents in Kurima. Inquiries in Kurima showed a number of Baum families, but it is not clear how they are related to one another.

So I figured that he had lived in Tarcal later, as an adult. A few years later, when the database expanded, we found his marriage record to the first wife, in Tarcal.
Click on this image to see a larger version
Reading from the left, we have the groom Emanuel Baum (as he was also known), son of Abraham Baum and Ester Baum. Then towards the center we see the bride Rebeka Weisz, the daughter of Israel Weisz and Fanni BAUM. Some kind of cousin, perhaps? I don't see her in Kurima, but the available records there are not comprehensive.

I have not made much effort to follow up Tarcal records. I have not gone into this deeply - there is always so much else to do. I don't see the death of Rebeka or anything about a child.

One thing for sure, this is not a loose end and this first wife must be considered in a study of the Baums of Kurima.

Oh, and while we are on the subject of Baums, last week was the fourth yahrzeit of Fraydelle Goldson, whose husband Jerry is a Baum descendant from the US - a second cousin of my wife. (His grandfather was born after the 1869 census, so does not appear there.)

I participated in the graveside memorial and the following evening we went out to dinner with Jerry, his daughter Adina and Adina's daughter Zehava who is just after high school and is here studying not far from us. I expect we will see Zehava from time to time during the coming months.

My mother-in-law was also there - her first time meeting any of the descendants of her father's brother. She thinks that Jerry looks like her brother Uncle Shia. The nose is certainly the same. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013


One of the nice things about the name Pickholtz is that it is both uncommon and unusual. As a result almost anyone who has ever met one, remembers the circumstances. Another result is that other researchers notice the name in the course of their own work and send me leads. Most leads of this sort are people I already know, but occasionally someone new pops up.

For instance:
On 23 Mar 2005 at 22:29, Mitchell Sklar wrote:
> Israel,
> The Jewish Genealgoical Society of LA recently got a trial  subscription to ProQuest newspaper indexes. After searching my own family names, I tried searching for Pickholtz and  variants.
> I found a few matches in the New York Times and LA Times. Let  me know if you want me to email you any of the following articles as pdf files. I included file sizes in case that's a problem with your mail reader or connection speed.
> Aaron Pickholtz LA Times 22 Oct 1926 size 64 kB
> Short music review of singer Aaron Pickholtz from Austria.

That article appears here on the left. I outlined the relevant paragraph in red.

Click to see a larger version of the Given Name Analysis
I had no idea who this Aaron may have been. I saw no reference to him later or earlier, not in the US or in Europe. I contacted the radio station and ASCAP, but got nowhere. I looked in my Given Name Analysis to see if there was any Pikholz descendant named Aaron of about the right birth year, which I figured would have been anywhere from 1860 to the early 1880s. Nothing.

I entered him in the Given Name Analysis as perhaps born 1880.

I would revisit this from time to time, but with no results. Until a few weeks ago, when I received an email from his granddaughter in California, Sharon Fisch.

She wrote as follows:
Dear Israel,
How delighted I am that I found you, your site, and my ancestors. I have been at this amateurly for 50 years, and more deeply in the last 3 years.
I never knew any more than my grandfather, Aaron Lax whose father was Jakob or Yacov. I found somee information that I was going to check out, when a distant relative contacted me, this past Tuesday, through my information I input on Find a Grave, regarding my Grandfather Aaron (Aron, Arrin, Arin)
Lax (Laches, Laks). He had me check out his site on My just two days ago. I then put in the family name of Pikholz, and Bickholz, as my great grandmother Gittel was named, and found the Rozdol birth lists, and your site and family tree.I am so excited. I have the rest of Aaron's tree, and can send you that now, and am working on biological information, nothing near as detailed or exciting as yours, but as I just wrote in your November blog, there are a couple individuals who made an impact on our Jewish community north of Los Angeles. Aaron was a cantor, and his son, my wonderful uncle Benjamin Lax, was local temple president, and founded Camp Ramah, a first of its kind Jewish Camp here north west of Los Angeles. He was a prominent figure here, and left us way too soon.
Let me know if you want me to send this family tree. The only documentation I have on Aaron Lax is a US military registration with his birth info, and a death certificate, plus a couple of US census records. We
are a small group but to me very vital.

Sharon had seen Aron Lax on one of my web pages and recognized him as her grandfather. I have his 1881 birth record from Zurawno. His mother Gittel is one of the ten children of Moses Pikholz and Sara Steg, on the main branch of the Rozdol Pikholz family. The age was right, he lived in Los Angeles and he was a cantor. Perhaps so as not to sully his cantorial image, he used his mother's name Pickholz on the radio.

(Only a few days ago, in another context, my cousin Jerry laughed at the idea that anyone might use Pickholtz as a stage name. I told him to stay tuned for this week's blog.)

Aaron Lax should have been on the Given Name Analysis, but was not. I guess I had missed him. Oops.

Nor had I ever searched for him or his older brother and sister in the US. I have five children each for his brother and sister - the sister's married name is Badian. I have not seen any traces of them other than the birth records, thusfar.

Aaron Lax died 12 Teveth 5718.
His fifty-fifth yahrzeit was two days
after his granddaughter contacted me.
Neither Sharon nor I knows anything about the families of Aaron's sister and brother, but Aaron and his wife Perl (Pauline in the US) have forty-one descendants through four generations. Of their six children, two were born in Lwow (where Perl was from), three in Philadelphia and one in Los Angeles. Sharon has provided me with names and dates for the descendants and they are now in my database and on the Pikholz Project website, subject to the usual limitations due to privacy concerns.

We have nine new family graves in our virtual cemetery, mostly in Eden Memorial Park in California.

And we now have him in the list of Pikholz Pioneers who left Europe before WWII - with the passenger lists for Aaron in 1913 and Perl with the two children in 1914.

So we welcome Sharon and her extended family to the Pikholz Project and look forward to seeing what else is out there.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Housekeeping announcements:

I am scheduled to speak for the Israel Genealogical Society on Wednesday, 9 January in Haifa on:

The meeting is at the Pisgat Ahuzzah Retirement Home, 6 Sinai Street (corner of Moriyah). Doors open at six-thirty, my lecture is at seven-fifteen. The lecture is in Hebrew.