Just Another Link in the Chain: Genealogy Anyone?

“If we’re lost, then this is a strange place to be asking for directions,” remarked my date nervously, as we drove up the long entrance of Mt. Judah Memorial Park.

“Well, no, we’re not lost. We’re actually here,” I slowly answered. Long pause.

“Here? Here where?” she whispered. I just stared ahead. “You’re taking me on a date to a cemetery?

“I…er…thought you would want to meet some of my family. Don’t worry,” I added with a grin, “it’s not a commitment.” I saw the joke was going flat.

I tried to explain to her how I was interested in knowing about my roots, and how I had finally discovered where my great grandfather was buried. “And since we’re in the neighborhood anyway (I really hope there’s a mini-golf course around here somewhere), I thought I could just pop in and get more information.” My words trailed off, as I saw the adventure of it was lost on her.

“Well,” she finally said,” At least you could’ve warned me.”

All of my grandparents were born in America, and none of my immigrant great grandparents were religious at all. In fact, I don’t even know where religious observance ended on any sides of my family. When I was younger, it certainly never occurred to me to ask questions, and when I became older, it was too late. Even though my grandmother lived into her 90s, she didn’t recall much, and remarked about her own parents, “They just never spoke about their families.” After I became frum, I decided to learn more about my elusive background, especially about my father’s side. But it wasn’t easy. Information came slowly, and crossing the ocean to know what happened in the old country was almost impossible.

As the years went by, I picked up names like Shloims, and Beinish and Feivel, and I learned we came from a chassidish town in Galicia. I learned to utilize online sources like stevemorse.org and jewishgen.org, and I discovered you could even use ancestry.com completely for free if your local library has its own subscription. For a few bucks I was able to obtain my great grandfather’s naturalization records from a certain county court, which told me how he came to America (finally). On the ships manifests, you can see who they left behind, which sometimes adds more names. But included in this is much time and frustration.

To me personally, it makes a difference. I know I’m a link in some unbroken chain, but it means something to me to actually be able to trace back to anyone who was shomer Torah u’mitzvos like myself. Not everyone feels this way, and I myself go through stages when I just drop the idea of finding ancestors, and think, I’ll meet them all after I’m 120 anyway.” And I have my own children with whom the chain will continue, and I hear the side to say that the chain will continue with them, and don’t worry about the past. But deep down, I would like to know. Are there baalei tschuva who have just more than simple curiosity of knowing also? It’s a feeling that so many can’t really relate to. Little by little I still hope to chip away at it, and one day pass down to my own sons information about their illustrious background.

“Tell me it’s not true,” begged the shadchan over the phone the next day. “Please.”

“I figured she was bored with hotels,” I said. “The scenery was nice.”

She sighed. “Let me suggest something. The next time you wish to take a girl somewhere…uh…different, try maybe an amusement park, or a boat ride. Much less morbid, you see?” Click. I never heard from her again.

73 comments on “Just Another Link in the Chain: Genealogy Anyone?

  1. Just a quick note…from now through Sept. 5, Ancestry.com is giving FREE access to all of its immigration records. This is very rare, and there are millions of records! If you have any interest, jump on this, right from your own computer at no exhorbitant subscription cost! Pay particular attention to Passport applications, as they include pictures of the person with the record. This probably won’t happen again…good luck!

  2. To Bob Miller #71: You are 100% correct. I also realized after I posted my comment that I was omitting the talmidim of the Mirrer Yeshiva who came to America by way of Shanghai, China, where they spent the war years. In addition, I left out the Sephardic Torah transmission by way of Aleppo, Baghdad, Cairo and Fez. I regret my error.

  3. Not to take away from your point, Judy, but it applies to the non-Chassidic part of Torah in America.

  4. Chana Leah #58: You just have to realize exactly how great Slobodka is. Literally all of the Torah of America began in the shiur of the Alter of Slobodka nearly eighty years ago. When Der Alter looked at his talmidim, he saw the “two Yankels” (later better known as Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky and Rav Yaakov Yisroel Ruderman), “Ahrele” (Rav Aharon Kotler), “Moishele” (Rav Moshe Feinstein) and also “Avigdor” (Rav Avigdor Miller). All of the Yeshivos Gedolos of America started in that tiny little classroom in Lithuania.

  5. Interesting idea. That could be very helpful in organizing this massive collection of scribbled notes, documents and printouts of things. I don’t have many photos though, and from what I understand that makes up the greater part of scrapbooking. Somewhere in my parents’ former apartment, now occupied by another relative, there is a box of old photos. Looking forward to the day I can locate and retrieve it.

  6. My wife and daughter are into this thing called scrapbooking. Even with limited information, it might spur some interest, especially if you can get kids to help you. My wife made one for each one of the kids, but I, of course, didn’t help, because I have no sense for graphic design things. But it looked cool afterwards.
    The most I’ve done is take a 5×7 card, paste a few lines of a ship manifest with relative’s names on one side, and a picture of the ship on the other. Then threw it into a drawer somewhere, but I’m not sure which one.

  7. DY: What you say is so true. One wonders, how much more can American family life disintegrate? Maybe it will be reactive like elections and after it reaches the lowest point, start an upward trend again? In any event, you paint a sorrowful and lonely picture. B”H the extended family, and the passing on of ancestral knowledge, is alive and well in frum circles.

    I actually have an assortment of kids with respect to their religious standing, but none of them really got excited over the research. In truth, the only people I find are really excited are other researchers.

    BTW, does anyone have any connections to Minsk, Kovno/Slobodka, Kalvariya or Radoshkovich?

  8. It would be nice if there were some local Jewish geneology group that met in person, not on the scale of the JewishGen conventions, but just to share with likeminded researchers. After just a year of research I had so much information; I think I need some direction and encouragement to put it all together in something presentable for the kids, whenever they become interested.
    Ross: so good to hear you had some time to ask your grandmother—it’s a worthwhile message to the young BT’s to go after their older relatives and get as much of the story as they can, while they can.

  9. Yeah, but if you don’t think you have a captive audience, then why bother? In the past we weren’t exactly booking grandma for interviews about her daddy on the
    USS NoMorePogrom. Who did she have to talk to? We were all busy with my own modern problems.

  10. “Well, dear, you never asked, did you?”


    Whose responsibility is it to ensure continuity of mesora? Mi sh’aino yodeah lishol — at pasach lo.

  11. I woke up before my grandmother passed away at 96. I asked whatever came to mind, and was incredibly astonished at what she told me. (“You knew this the whole time, grandma, and didn’t say anything?!” “Well, dear, you never asked, did you?”)

    But some questions I missed, and now it’s too late.
    Last year I called total strangers from my very extended family tree who remembered my gr. grandfather who died in the 30s. Wow! Don’t be shy…impose on them, they might actually appreciate it.

    I hit dead ends, but I’m laying the groundwork for my kids if one day they also wake up and have an interest.

  12. ChanaLeah, i understand your kids’ lack of interest in the geneaolgy thing because, like so many other things in their lives no doubt, they cannot yet appreciate what exactly this all means. kind of a taking-it-for-granted thing.

    also, presumably your kids are ffb. i do not think it is possible for ffb’s to feel the same burning drive for…validation? connection?…as felt by a bt.

    in general, many young americans (and not too long ago i myself was included in this group) simply feel that extended family is…well, irrelevant. it’s true. the american dream built the nation, built personal fortunes, built corporations and built world history as we know it – but it also destroyed the concept of continuity as something precious to be cultivated. as frum people we have to “learn this back” into our lives as we mature.

    the concept of a large, vibrant extended family who all believe in the same thing and are proud to be related to one another is a dream that does not come easily to americans.

  13. ross: I hear; in my case I haven’t been too successful in motivating enthusiasm for my research in my kids. They listen politely, but really don’t connect, yet (and they are adults). I think back to the days when I was a child living with my immigrant grandmother—these kinds of questions were the furthest thing from my mind!!! How I wish I had those precious hours back, knowing what I do now.

  14. “These questions taunt me, so glad I will know the answers in olam haemes!!!”

    But it’s still a shame we can’t pass down the answers to our kids. If stories aren’t passed down, we’ve lost them forever.

  15. “You may have wanted to mention in your previous date how much you love geneology.”

    Would that have helped? If I had taken her to the Archives and we sat shmoozing next to the microfilm machines, I could see some understanding with a pre-explanation. But could’ve prepared her for a cemetery? for all I know, maybe afterwards she had nightmares of being set up with a ghost! (Where do you go for dinner?)

  16. I would love to see this thread revived, really one of my favorite topics!! I recently learned that one branch of my family probably lived in Villijampole (aka Slobodka). This is so fascinating and I would love to have known what was their relationship to the situation surrounding them, where did they stand in relation to the various religious movements such as the Mussar of the Alter of Slobodka versus the “anti-mussar” of Kovno across the river, etc… Or were they already completely removed religiously from any of this? Even those who did not feel close to the religious community in the shetlach, still had red lines much closer in than that of the disconnected Jew today. So how much did they observe, and what did they observe? These questions taunt me, so glad I will know the answers in olam haemes!!!

  17. Geneology is a very powerful and emotive science. It was one of the major catalysts that sparked my interest in Yiddishkite. I wanted to know why my family practiced, against all odds.

    Now it still powers my growth – when my immediate family tell me that I’m doing the wrong thing by being religious, I think to my great grandfather who kept fully kosher, baked matzah in their shtetl, etc. It’s my immediate family that changed (I don’t blame them at all, communist Russia did this to most people), I’m just re-connecting the dots to a long long history of practicing Jews.

    A really good family tree builder that’s free is at http://www.myheritage.com. Hatzlacha with all your searching.

    Oh, and as for the date. It would be a big shock being taken to a cemetery. You may have wanted to mention in your previous date how much you love geneology.

  18. Hi Rivkah (comment # 54),

    Bialkamen is in territory that is now Ukraine. The town’s modern Ukranian name, according to http://www.jewishgen.org, is Belyy Kamen or Bilyi Kamin’. It’s coordinates are 49°54′ North and 24°50′ East and it is located 254 mi W of Kyyiv (Kiev).

    If you paste “BiaÅ‚y KamieÅ„, Obwód lwowski, Ukraina” into google maps, you will find it. It is about 45 to 50 miles east of Lviv (aka Lvov/Lemberg). Other nearby places are Zolochiv (to the south) and Brody (to the northeast. Circa 1900, Bialkamen had a Jewish population of 1704. Since Brody and Zolochiv had larger Jewish populations then, I suppose that even today Bialkamen is a relatively small (and sadly Judenrein) town that may not appear on many maps unless you zoom closely.

    I have read that there are several Bialkaminer burial grounds in the NYC area. The one with which I am familiar is at Mt. Zion Cemetery in Maspeth (Queens) NY 11378. Their website is

    Best wishes for success in your search.

  19. Hi Gary,

    I too have family roots in bialkamen, although I cannot seem to find any information about it, nor is it on any map I’ve found.

    Do you have any idea how I can find out more?

  20. Take advantage of these live sources while they are still with us. There are plenty of questions that I wish I had asked the older generation before they passed on. Get as much information as possible, you’ll be happy years from now that this valuable resource was not lost forever.

  21. I’ve been contacting the older generation in my family. They know nothing about the old country, not even names. But they’re thrilled that I called, as opposed to looking at it as an intrusion on their lives. And wow…do they love to talk!

  22. Polish and Lithuanian place names have changed also. Some became Germanized and other names Russianized.

    My father A”H told me years ago that there was a town named Big Mezeritch and a town named Little Mezeritch. I’m still not sure which town he was from, probably the smaller one. The bitter joke in my family was that the Jews in his home town were so poor that the Goyim went to another town to make a pogrom. Sounds almost like the Sholem Aleichem story where the Goyim like Tevye even though they have to make a pogrom in his town, so they tell him to break his own window.

    The town of Auschwitz (in which the infamous death camp was located) was actually the German name for a town called in Polish by the name Oswiecim. The Satmar Hasidim name their group from a town in Hungary called Satu Marei (actually “Saint Mary’s” if you translate it into English).

    Much of Jewish geography is depressing in the sense of, “Jews used to live there.”

  23. A funny thing about European Jewish geography is that there are many places with the same name, and they are a significant distance from each other. For example, there is a Jaroslaw in Galica, one in southern Poland, and one near Danzig/Gdansk. When a friend told me that one of his parents came from Jaroslaw, we couldn’t be sure about which one, until he mentioned that the other parent came from Komarno. We “decided” that his family came from Galicia, since the Jaroslaw in that area is the one closest to Komarno.

    There is something exciting about uncovering this information on my own, but at the same time I am sad that I didn’t get a whole lot of it from my parents, A”H, or from my older cousins who knew my foreign born aunts, uncles and grandparents, A”H.

  24. Gary #48: I thank you for your comment. There is actually a lot about Rabbi Shlomo Kluger in many ArtScroll Judaica English-language works. He was a prolific writer and commentator in the mid-eighteenth century.

    The gap is not really that large, chronologically, as R. Shlomo Kluger lived about 1750 and I can trace my family tree back to about 1830. I think I am only two or three generations short. There is still the big possibility that I am not related at all, as Poland is a big country and I believe that my ancestors came from a town closer to Warsaw than to Galicia or the Ukraine.

  25. Judy, in #14, you mention your search for a connection to Rav Shlomo Kluger. I came across his name today in the biographical section of the Artscroll Chumash, and read that he was the Rav of Brody, Galicia.

    If you are in fact a relative of his, our ancestors were neighbors of sorts. I know that some of my relatives came from the nearby towns of Zloczow and Bialkamen. These towns and Brody are now in Ukraine.

    Shavuah Tov.

  26. This thread has had unexpected longevity. Like one of my great uncles. Anyway, I wanted to mention that Footnote.com has been continuously putting up free census reports. I thought Ancestry only had the rights to these, because they charge you to see them. These reports reveal quite a lot of interesting things, unlike the simple one I filled out last week. I wish on the old reports they would have asked the NAMES of the parents of even the head of household, not just the nationality of each. Since I’m making a wish list, I also wish they would’ve all kept mandatory diaries and buried them under their houses. I’d be digging!

  27. More than 400 Jewish cemeteries in Poland are located in towns where there are no live Jews.

  28. cemetery plots owned by chevras are another part of the sad story. when they were established, many could not conceive of a time when their descendants or successors would find shuls and perhaps even jewish burial as irrelevant. but many plots have fallen into a no-man’s land when the society or shul who owned them/administered them fell by the wayside or, even if they may be technically still in existence, are not active. see http://www.forward.com/articles/14060/

  29. If a defunct shul was associated with a currently functioning cemetery, the current cemetery staff might have a contact who “represents” the shul organization such as it is.

  30. Writing to a shul is a problem because obviously, the shul building of bricks and wood is not going to write back to you, a flesh and blood person in the name of the shul is going to write back to you. This is an ongoing problem and has been historically for almost as many years and locations as shuls have existed: who legally owns, transacts business, or talks for, the shul? There have been many legal battles just in New York State alone over the “last member standing” of some old shuls that were sold, who gets the money (sometimes a considerable sum). It might be best to try to call the shul during daytime hours to speak to a live person, then use that person’s own email address for further information about the shul and its history.

  31. I always wondered who has the records of these old American shuls. Many were turned into churches, so what was done with the archives? I recently wrote to a (now) conservative synagogue in a place where my ancestors docked, and which has been around for almost 100 years. I haven’t heard a response yet, but I’m curious to know.

  32. But there are also places cursed by the blood of the dead. Just this past week, there was the shocking death of 95 Polish dignitaries aboard a plane going to Russia, with the intention of reaching forgiveness for the Katyn Forest massacre of 21,870 Polish army officers by Stalin. Maybe the dead are telling us that some things can’t be forgiven and can’t be forgotten. The Ukrainians had planned in the early sixties to build a sports stadium over the site of the massacre at Babi Yar, where more than 100,000 Jews were murdered over two days, including Yom Kippur. After the plans were announced, a giant mudslide occurred which destroyed a tramway over the site, killing many Ukrainians, and incidentally also bringing to the surface fragments of human bone from the massacre. The Ukrainians quickly shelved the plans for the stadium and never talked about building anything on that site again.

  33. there are so many stories yet to be told. when you travel through small town north america in out-of-the way places you still find some remnants, clues on the trail. old shuls, cemeteries…there were jews who cared in these places, and we have no clue what energy is still alive deep within those old brick walls and simple stone fences. wish it were like SimCity where you could see the pipelines, the equipment still in place. whether we can see it or not, it is there. netzach yisrael lo yishaker.

  34. DY #38: I clicked on that link and went back to your 2008 post titled “Forever.” It was incredibly beautiful and thoughtful. We are who we are due to the earlier links in the precious chain, going back beyond memory.

    Do we even know the names of those Jews who lived in 1510 and in 1660, picking up the pieces of their lives after the Expulsion from Spain and the Gezeros Tach v’Tat? Well, they were our ancestors, the great-greats of our great-greats. How about the Jews of the year 210 of the Common Era, living after the War of Betar, more than a century after the Churban Bayis Sheini? They no longer remembered eating the Korban Pesach in Yerushalayim, although it was handed down by their mesorah that it had happened and would happen again when Moshiach came.

    Give praise to these unknown but still blessed generations of Jews: the first Jews who came to America, the first Jews who came to Poland, the first Jews living in Babylonia, stretching all the way back 3300 years to Har Sinai.

  35. To FFB #28: Thank you for the tip about the person named Shloima Kluger working at the library of YIVO or the Arbeiter Ring. I’ll have to bli neder investigate it further.

    To DY #29: That was a truly meaningful comment. Please note that many of the Yidden who came to the United States between 1654 and 1880 (before the great waves of Polish-Russian Jewish migration from 1881 to 1921) either assimilated or intermarried to the extent that they no longer considered themselves Jews. Think about the ancestry of well-known gentiles like Barry Goldwater and Jackie Kennedy’s mother Janet Lee Bouvier Auchincloss, the “Lee” having once been “Levy”; also the rumors about Elvis Presley’s maternal grandmother.

  36. Ancestry is a great source for a lot of things, but they don’t have things like birth & death certificates, and other local resources which may not be on the internet at all. I am supposedly descended from the Ari, and one relative did much searching, but the ‘brick wall’ seems to be eastern Europe..so many records have been lost over the years, I really don’t know if that story would ever be possible to prove.

  37. This story could have been from me. I recall asking my husband, while we were dating, to take me to the cemetary where my parents and grandparents are, so see, you’re not the only one who’s done this as a “date activity”.

    I’ve spent years on jewishgen.org, learned a lot of interesting things. Recently, we’ve been building our tree on geni.com, which is fun because of all the potential merges, and finding out that your neighbors are somehow, according to Geni caculations, “connected” to you.

    But there’s a sad part of this for a BT, watching the various branches end, as they break off into intermarriages. But on the other hand, B”H, we’re building our own forests!

  38. Stories like these are fantastic and it’s really a gift from Heaven.
    Regarding Ancestry, It’s not in my budget to pay for a subscription (and I’m too scared of the “free trial”…difficult to cancel, or maybe I’ll forget, etc.) The library has a subscription for free, but even there I think I reached the end of the line.
    Great chizuk…and best of luck on your husbands side!

  39. ross: BTW, I totally understand your fascination with cemeteries. There is so much info to be found on tombstones. Here is a cute story:
    I once got an e-mail from another researcher on Ancestry about a name we shared on our trees. I noticed his e-mail had letterhead from Michigan, and I knew the ancestor after whom I am named was buried there, so I asked this person a favor—Was he near this cemetery and would he mind stopping in and taking a photo of my great-aunt’s tombstone for me? Yes, his reply was that he passed the cemetery often. Understanding my odd request entirely, he quickly agreed and within a couple of days I had an e-mail photo of the tombstone. I had always wondered, and noone was able to tell me, whether her name was Chana Leah, as mine is, or just Chana. Sure enough the tombstone said in Hebrew, Chana Leah, and also told me she was Bas Levi.

  40. ross: Ancestry has a couple of neat features that aid the researcher. One is that they will send a message to me whenever there is a document on their database that appears to match a person on my tree. This is in addition to my own searches, which have B”H been fruitful. The site also notifies me if anyone else using their service has the same people on their tree as I do on mine, etc. I must say though, that not every search will be as productive. In all of this time we have had little success on my husband’s side, only a few documents. However we recently were referred to someone who had my husband’s relatives on their tree as well; as a result my husband found a new 2nd cousin (their grandmothers were sisters).Since they were close geographically they actually met and shared memories and info. This happened to me as well and caused the discovery of a large family of 2nd cousins , and a lengthy e-mail correspondence with at least one of them.

    Ancestry is subscription based, though, as you know, and when we first signed up, we thought we would only keep it for a few months. Now it is very difficult to stop using the site, especially since they are continually adding new databases so there is always the potential to find new records. Kind of addictive.

  41. Tevya, the New Square community is very hospitable and the people there love having guests. I spent some time there before I was married (8 years back) and I recall that there were people who built additions on to their homes for the purpose of hosting strangers to the community.

  42. Heartwarming, DY. “Eludes my capture” is the perfect phrase for this.
    I’m in awe, Chana Leah. How did you do all that from one site?

  43. i can identify totally with this post. to me, knowing something about those generations who came before and cared about what propels my own life seems like a missing piece of me that alludes my capture. i am fifth generation american on one side and i know that way back in the 1880’s already this family was not frum.

    it is a nechama to me to know that the tears and prayers of my ancestors have been added to the power pack of my neshama. i stand on their shoulders. although my grandparents, etc did not choose to use this nascent spirituality in the manner that Hashem presented them with opportunities in their own lives, i am connected to them all through the thread of our continuity.

    in Michtav Me’eliyahu Rav Dessler ZTL explains that on one level zechus avos empowers children with the strength to do things that would otherwise seem to be beyond their grasp. through the nisyonos of Avraham Avinu, we were empowered with the strength to withstand many trials. His experiences implanted this koach in us. how else, Rav Dessler asks, could you explain the almost supernatural strength of baalei teshiva to do what is right despite the great difficulties they encounter?…

    chazak v’ematz

  44. Hi everyone.

    To Judy Resnick:

    There is (or was) a Shloima Kluger working in the library of Yivo or Arbeiter Ring. I asked him if he’s descended from R’ Shlomo Kluger and he said yes. Perhaps you can get in touch with him. Hatzlacha.

  45. I have been working on ancestry.com and jewishgen.org for about a year now, and have built a fairly nice family tree, even connected with a few 2nd cousins unkown before, but unfortunately it is just more of the same—intermarriages, everyone secular, etc. I have some good information about the town of Radoshkovichi, in Belarus, where some of my ancestors lived, and there seemed to be a palpable tension there at the turn of the century between the religious population and the “maskilim” or those moving away from religion and pursuing art and culture, secular zionism, etc. I do want to explore further, but after a year of working on ancestry.com in particular, I have almost 200 documents (census, military, birth/death records, naturalization, immigration records, etc.) Kind of sad that my close relatives are only mildly interested.

  46. Around 25 years ago, a famous Orthodox Rabbi wrote an article in THE JEWISH PRESS, urging all Jews to document their genealogy.

    This was intended to counter the confusion caused by the so-called “Jewishness by patrilineal descent” of the Reform movement, and the non-Halachic so-called “converts” of the non-Orthodox.

    That Orthodox Rabbi was Meir Kahane.

    To receive free quick quotes from Jewish holy books and short true stories of Orthodox Rabbis, go to:


  47. Thanks for the encouragement. Now I hope I definitely have a way in with them. I been there a couple of times and they are very friendly. It is really surprising to me that my family was that religious at one point because I am not really frum at all. Take care.

  48. …And if your gr.gr. gandfather had won the Powerball, oooh…that would be even better!

  49. I’ve found the Skverer Chassidim to be very friendly.

    Our younger son’s chasunah was in their wedding hall in the New Square / Spring Valley area, and everyone on staff was extremely helpful.

  50. Hi there. I am also very interested in geneaology myself and I found out that my mothers mothers grandmother was from Skvira and they were actually Skver Chassidim. They were chassidim of the current Rebbe’s great-grandfather up in New Square today. I have a picture of them that I want to show the Skverer Rebbe Shlita. Now I really want to know more about the Skver Chassidim and their customs and teachings. I do not know how to go about it because they are not into kiruv like the Chabad Lubavitch movement today but I am hoping there is a way. Take care folks.

  51. To Gary #19: In comments #14 through #18, Ross Kryger (the “mechaber” of this article) and I were bantering rather tongue-in-cheek over the topic of obtaining “instant yichus.” I still think that winning the Powerball lottery does it fastest. Even if I could establish some kind of distinguished rabbinic ancestry (which I highly doubt) I bet it will make nada difference in 2022 to any erstwhile matches for my aineklach.

  52. As I recall, when we married off two of our children, hardly anyone (including shadchanim!) asked us about our yichus. We could have supplied the info if asked. Where they attended school seemed to be a higher level consideration.

  53. Judy (#18) wrote:

    “My married children are thinking about ancestral yichus for their kids, my grandchildren.”

    As second generation FFB’s who are descended from grandparents who will be then be 50-year BT’s, “yichus” should be the least of their worries!

  54. All my daughters are married already, so it doesn’t make a difference for them. I do still have one unmarried son, who is turning 20 shortly, so he will not be looking for a shidduch for a couple of years yet (although he could surprise me). My married children are thinking about ancestral yichus for their kids, my grandchildren. Now that’s at least twelve years away.

  55. Instant yichus to me means that someone is looking into your daughter for a shidduch, but hears that you don’t have much in the way of yichus, which for whatever reason is important to them, (people have a right to want what they want), and their son is beyond fantastic. So you catch the first flight out to Mezritch Internationa Airport, grab any taxi whose driver understands panicked sign language, and speed to the Jewish cemetery (you only have 2 hours till your return flight), and rush around with head bent and a canister of Endust (and a rag) until you finally reach (at the last stone, of course), an enscription reading Elya Dovid ben HaRav Shlomo, snap a quick picture, and run to your flight home. Insant yichus, and Mazel Tov to all. (I hope nobody really does this.)

  56. Ross, I think that winning 211 million dollars in the Powerball lottery would also convey “instant yichus.” Unfortunately, the winner was not me.

    Interestingly enough, the latest winner of the Powerball lottery has not yet stepped forward to claim the prize. The ticket was purchased in Northern New Jersey, so maybe the winner was a frum Jew from Teaneck or Passaic or Fairlawn. One can only hope.

  57. Ok, Eric, I read the Kurzweil piece. very interesting reading, but I think its stretching things a bit. Their work is very noble, but I don’t think they’re really racking up all those mitzvahs.(I should be careful what I say…maybe I’ll need them someday;)
    Judy, I like that term, “instant yichus”. It’s like “overnight celebrity”.

  58. My maiden name is Kluger. My father Joseph (Yosef Chaim) Kluger was born about 1910 in Mezritch, Poland, and came to America on Election Day in 1920. Since he was one of the youngest children of a big family, I assume that his father, Menachem Alter Kluger, was born about 1860 or 1870. Going back to an earlier generation, I know that his father was named Elya Dovid Kluger and was probably born about 1830 or 1840. There the genealogical trail backward ends, unless I actually one day travel to Poland and check out the old Jewish cemetery in the town of Mezritch. There are no live Jews left in Mezritch (they were all gassed at Treblinka) so any secrets to be discovered must come from the gravestones. My children are very anxious to discover that we are somehow related to, or descendants of, the well-known Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, which would give us “instant yichus.” I somehow doubt it, but I think I would not be ashamed of any of the ancestors of Elya Dovid Kluger. After all, they were brave enough to have Jewish offspring in a hostile place and time.

  59. David (#7),

    Don’t underestimate your Conservative relative’s desire and ability to adapt his home to your needs, or to spend a “halachically correct” Shabbat at your home. A consultation with a Rabbi may be helpful in determining what accomodations you should offer him, and under what circumstances you can still host him if he declines to spend the entire 25 hours with you.

    Meeting contemporary relatives may not always help you trace family history. Nevetheless, we can expand our group of like-minded, (but not always identically-minded) present and future relatives.

    I contacted my mother’s cousin about a Yahrzeit date. I didn’t get the information I was seeking, but she referred me to a family member she had recently met for the first time at a wedding. As a result, I now have three “new” cousins whose extended families cover a wide range of observance (mostly Orthodox) and Jewish life-experience. One cousin’s father-in-law served in the US Armed Forces in WWII, and then joined the volunteers from many nations who fought in Israel’s War for Independence. Quite a cast of characters, if I may say so.

  60. I suggest to the moderators of Beyond BT this future topic of discussion: “Advice for the Shabbos Guest,” because baalei teshuvah are likely to find themselves playing that role.

  61. Thanks, Eric, for your most encouraging and understanding words. I always had a nagging feeling that it was a waste of time, and therefore a sense of guilt at taking time out to pursue this. But if others can relate, then perhaps I’m not so far off. (Well, besides the cemetery date.)

  62. It is also interesting to me the different spin that can be put on family history depending on who is telling it.
    For example, being a BT, I would view it as sad that my family gave up frumkeit. Most of my relatives view it as neither good or bad, but natural and inevitable. A sizable minority views it as positive; a sign of “how far we have come” in this country. They tell tales of abandoning observance with glee.

  63. While I understand the sense of loss at not being able to trace back to Torah-observant ancestors, I think that pursuing and recording one’s family history is still a valuable activity.

  64. Tesyaa,
    I wasn’t looking for info, I was looking for a relative that shared my lifestyle and could relate to. Although “3rd cousin X” is very nice fellow, I can’t go to him for Shabbos, etc, nor would he have any interest in coming to me. Since this relative is very slightly more Jewishly involved than most American Jews, my relatives mistakenly interpreted this as being Orthodox.

  65. David, your Conservative Third Cousin could still have a wealth of information. No reason to dismiss him or her because of his synagogue affiliation!

  66. I have run into this problem when trying to research my family history. Older relatives seem very happy to answer any questions about their parents, grandparent, etc; but if they find out that I’m interested in finding out when the family stopped being Orthdox, or if we have any distant Orthodox relatives left, they don’t want to talk about it.
    Or they’ll tell me, “Call your 3rd cousin X, he’s Orthodox.” And then it turns out Third Cousin X is Conservative.

  67. While I had been a BT for many years before I found out much about my family history in Europe (courtesy of distant cousins who were well along in a genealogical project), learning about it was very valuable to me. It gave me a heightened sense of where I fit into the overall scheme of our people.

  68. I certainly relate. I actually traveled to Eastern Europe to see my great grandparents graves hoping to learn something more about who they were. Sadly, the inscriptions were so badly faded that I couldn’t read enough to find out but I would like to know more about who my family was, what our traditions were, et. al and that knowledge elludes me. Best

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