When I last wrote about my great-grandmother Tillie Kopelman, I didn’t expect to write about her again. When Harry Met Tillie included a brief sketch, mostly based on my Uncle Jay’s memories. Origins: Taube Kurdabrin documented her arrival at Ellis Island and rehashed the earlier sketch. I didn’t think I had anything more to say about Tillie. But exchanges with two fellow genealogists taught me that other discoveries awaited, even if I was oblivious to the possibilities. Continue reading
When I began writing family history, I knew that I might come into conflict one day with relatives objecting to my account of our shared past. That day has apparently arrived.
￼My great-grandparents Harry and Tillie Kubrin came from a town called Volpa, which in their day was part of the Russian Empire. Nowadays it is called Voupa, or Woupa, and it is part of Belarus. How you identify this place depends on where you locate it in the long view. Over the centuries, Volpa has belonged to Lithuania, Poland, and Russia, in addition to Belarus, and it has been known by its Russian, Yiddish, Polish, and Belarusian names, which are rendered in English as Volpa, Volp, Wołpa, Voŭpa, and Wolpa. The purser who boarded my great-grandparents on the S.S. Finland entered this name on the manifest as Wolpy. This swirl of place names hints at the area’s history of conquest, and it makes for confusing research. If you like certainty and order, genealogy might not be for you.
When my great-grandmother Taube Kurdabrin disembarked from the S.S. Finland on June 25, 1905, she carried her first-born son Schmuel in her arms. He was one year and six months old. Because small children lack agency, they generally make poor subjects for portraiture. I prefer instead to pick up my grandfather’s story in his middle years. We see him above with his third child, my Uncle Jay, who has just caught a fish. The photo is cracked and stained. The world it portrays has vanished. People work miracles now with Photoshop, but I don’t believe in retouching old pictures. Flaws appear in every image and every life, and they are worth noting. The patina tells a story all its own. Continue reading
I never knew my great-grandmother was originally called Taube. I always thought her name was Tillie, the name she used most of her life, the name by which she is remembered today. But apparently I was wrong. I stand corrected now thanks to the record of her arrival at Ellis Island, which I located through the Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation. Taube, or Tillie, arrived on June 24, 1905, sailing on the S.S. Finland out of Antwerp, like her husband Chaim Kurdabrin before her. That’s Taube on line 22 in the image above. Her son Schmuel (later Sam) is on line 23. He became my grandfather. Continue reading
My great-grandfather Chaim Kurdabrin landed at Ellis Island on June 6, 1903, arriving on the S.S. Finland out of Antwerp. I make this statement with reasonable certainty, having located his arrival in records posted online by the Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, which also sold me a facsimile of the ship’s manifest. That’s him on the seventh line in the image at the top of this post. Continue reading
I’m celebrating the acquisition of a new piece of electronica—an AltoEdge USB foot pedal. This little gadget connects to my Mac via a USB interface and controls the ExpressScribe software I use to play back my oral history interviews as I transcribe them. The pedal and software combined take the sting out of a difficult job and boost my productivity in a key area of my enterprise. They also provide an object lesson in change, which is the underlying topic of all history. Continue reading
Long after my family history is finished, after the writing is done, after my book is published (or not), after all my relatives and I myself are gone, our voices will still be audible in digital recordings. Our words will also be legible, provided anyone takes the trouble to dig through my files. I have no idea how posterity might receive this archive. I’m still grappling with the oddity of this situation in the present. Continue reading
Back in March, I went to a presentation put on by the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta. I only moved to Calgary ten years ago, so my Alberta roots are not deep. I had been wanting to make contact with the local genealogy and family history community, though, and this presentation seemed like a good occasion. I’m glad I went. Dave Obee spoke about resources and techniques for researchers with Eastern European ancestors. Dave is highly accomplished in this field. His bio reveals that he is Editor in Chief of the Times Colonist in Victoria, B.C., and a columnist for Internet Genealogy and Family Chronicle. He has also written more than a dozen books, given over 400 presentations, and holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Victoria for his work as a genealogist and historian. Way to go, Dave! These are stellar achievements.