Saturday, October 21, 2006

Polish family places

In my research into the Dershewitz (Deresiewicz) family, there has been a certain consistency in the area in Poland from which these leads come.  I guess in the late part of the 19th century, people didn't move far from their homeland unless of course there was some monumental turn of events.  Poland was a very turbulent place during this time with world powers using it as a geo-political football.  Anyhow, I thought it would be worthwhile to point out the area of Poland I am concentrating on and the particular cities and towns that may be important in this search.  I am listing these places in the order that I was lead to them.  By clicking on the town name you will get a Google map of the area.  You can see from the map links that all these to towns are within a 20 mile diameter circle.  A good place for focusing attention.

Stary Sacz - When I finally found my father's family Ellis Island records, the place of last residence in Poland was listed as Sharyshoutz.  Searching maps of the area around Cracow which is where I always thought my father said he was from, my son and I found Stary Sacz.  This was the first geographical lead to the family origins.  You can read more about this town's history.

Limanowa - When I first got in touch with my Aunt Belle through my Cousin Shelley Kohen, she related what she could recall of the family history.  Belle was only 2 years old when the family immigrated and recalls history that she heard from other family members.  She recalled that all the Dershewitz children were born in Limanowa.  This is a bigger town then Stary Sacz and an administrative center.  The railroad also goes through this town.  I has quite a history.

Lukowica - This is the village that Isaac and Rosa Singer, my grandmother's parents, listed as their last residence in Poland.  I believe today it's a very small rural community.  There was an interesting article written about the Jews of Lukowica.

Kamienica - I just received a photostat of my cousin Marty's father's Polish birth certificate. The birthplace was listed as Kamienica, not Limanowa.  It even had a house number (302).  So, I guess this was the actual birth village of at least Juda Leib Deresiewicz (Louis Dershewitz).  The birth certificate was however issued in Limanowa.  From the looks of the map today, Kamienica is just a bump in the road.

Mszana Dolna - This is where I found a marriage record for Ester Deresiewicz, probably Solomon's sister, to Wolf Leib Glashut in 1911.  They apparently died in the Holocaust.

These towns are but places in my imagination now.  I can look at maps, do Google Earth and read town descriptions and history but it is still somehow not real.  I would like someday to visit these places, plant my feet where my ancestors may have done the same to get firmly rooted in the reality of my family history.  Sounds like another adventure I will need to take soon....

Friday, October 20, 2006

Treasure from the past

My cousin Marty Dershewitz and I have been reconnecting after over 30 years going our own ways.  We've found that we both share an interest in saving what we can of our family history.  Marty was born and raised in New York, close to most of the original Dershewitz immigrants and consequently was able to interact with them and heard the stories they had to tell.  He has the memories of those experiences and is sharing them with me now.  I, on the other hand, was born and raised in California with a complete lack of exposure to the New York side of the family except for a couple of early childhood visits east and the rare visitors from the other side of the country.  What I have to offer to this family history effort is a knack for research and detective work.  To me, this effort is a puzzle and I love puzzles....

In one of our recent conversations, Marty had said he found an old document handwritten in Polish that he thought might be an immigration form of some sort.  I begged him to send me copy which he mailed out and I received today.  When I opened the envelope, I found an old photostat A4 in width and a little longer than A4 in length.  It was a boiler plate form with instructions in Polish and German filled out in handwritten Polish script.  Since I can read a bit of German, it was obvious that this was actually a birth certificate for Marty's father, Louis, my father's younger brother.

Some of the entries were obvious while others are going to take some Polish translation help to decipher.  Here is what I was able to glean in the first pass.

  • The birth was registered in Limanowa on November 30, 1920.  I can't make out the signature of the issuer.
  • Birth date was May 21, 1917 which matches Louis' known birthday.
  • Birth place was listed as Kamienica, house number 302.  I heard from Aunt Belle that all the children were born in Limanowa but this certificate indicates otherwise.  Kamienica is in the same vicinity as Limanowa and Stary Sacz, both places I've seen in other research.
  • Circumcision date was listed as May 28, 1917.  Strange to have a dedicated place on the form for that!
  • Given name was Juda Leib and was a male child
  • Father was Salamon Salman Deresiewicz of Kamienica.  His profession is listed as Tavern Keeper (szynkarz).
  • Mother is Gitel Leibler, daughter of Izaak Singer and Ruchela Leibler of Lukowica which is again in the same vicinity as Limanowa and Kamienica.
  • Names of the witnesses (mid-wife, circumcisor and another) which I need some help on.

This birth registration was done over 3 years after the birth.  I'm guessing this was needed to get immigration papers to leave Poland and enter the US.  If records are still intact in Limanowa, the birth certificates or registrations for the other children may be there as well.  Five months after this registration document was signed, the Dershewitz family passed through Ellis Island and started their new life in America.

I scanned the birth certificate but had to make 2 passes since it was too long for my flatbed scanner.  So you can either look at the top or bottom images.  Enjoy.... 

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Keeping track of family history research

Family history research is like a jigsaw puzzle with many puzzles all mixed together.  Our job is to first determine which puzzle pieces are ours and then put them together.  Keeping track of these pieces is a real chore.  Organization is the key.... 

As a computer professional I tend to organize my things electronically these days.  I looked at the software solutions the were available for storing family history and was surprised at how many there were.  I checked out reviews, watched demos and finally ended up with a "trial" version of Family Tree Maker.  This software was very easy to use.  I could store the information I'd found, display it in various ways, produce reports and nice family trees suitable for framing.  There was an Internet research feature that was disabled and required the full version and subcription to be active (the hook).  I hate when software vendors do this but they all do, give you a taste to entice you and then bait you with the part you really need.  FTM does this to the max.

 I finally took the bait while shopping at Costco a couple of weeks ago.  I saw Family Tree Maker version 16 on their software table for $40 and decided to become legal.  One nice thing about buying the software is that it came with a 9 month subscription to, an Intenet genealogical research website.  I had already done a trial subscription there and knew how useful this was.  Installation and registration of the software was very easy, almost too easy.

And here's the really annoying part....  As part of the registration process, you are required to give them a credit card # to activate the subscription to  Why, you ask?  If you read the fine print you are signing up for an automatic annual renewal that will cost you $155.40 if you don't cancel at least 2 days before the renewal date.  To make matters worse, they don't really tell you when the renewal is and make it very difficult to get in touch with the right people to actually cancel.  How many people are going to remember this 9 months out?  Maybe users of the sofware will want to keep the subscription intact but I find it downright sneaky the way has done this.  This has become a very common practice among software vendors desiring a steady income stream from complacent users.

Anyhow, enough for my rant.  The software is actually very useful.  The Internet search feature saves a lot of time by passing saved family information to to focus searches in their databases and saves found data and citations back into FTM.  It's so easy to spend hours searching through bits of history. 

I've already marked my calendar to call on June 15, 2007 just to let them know that I'm on to their game.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Taking Inventory - 1930 Census

Every 10 years, the US Census Bureau goes door to door and attempts to count every nose in America.  They have been doing this since 1790, collecting a variety of interesting data about the people it finds.  They have a policy of not releasing the actual census records until 72 years have passed.  So, the last records made public were the results of the 1930 census. 

While the Census Bureau does not have data online, they do sell and rent microfilm versions of this data to companies and individuals.  One company,, has taken on the task of transcripting and indexing the data and placing the actual census sheet images online.  This makes a superb genealogical search tool for people looking to trace family in the United States.  Of course you must pay a price for being able to use this service. does offer a 14-day free trial which I tried and spent countless hours extracting what I could and then cancelling at the last minute.  I will go back and pay the fee when I have more fine tuned research questions to ask.

So where was the Dershewitz family in 1930?  They were fairly easy to find since the surname was listed as it is spelled today.   The census page image yields quite a bit of information.

  • The census information was taken at 2136 Honeywell Ave.  They were paying $40 a month rent (cheapest on the page).
  • Here's who was living there:
    • Solomon (age 42 - Head)
    • Gertrude (age 38 - Wife)
    • Estelle (age 17)
    • Jacob (age 15)
    • Adolf (age 14)
    • Louis (age 12)
    • Bella (age 11)
    • Helen (age 10)
    • Issac Singer (age listed as 67 but may be wrong, Gertrude's father)
    • Rose Singer (age listed as 63 but may be wrong, Gertrude's mother)
  • Ellis Island records show both Issac (Isaak) and Rose (Rozalia) as 61 in 1921 which would make them about 70 in 1930.
  • Age at marriage columns shows the Solomon and Gertrude were married around 1910 in Poland.
  • Solomon was employed in or owned a delicatessen and Estelle had a clerical job in a bank.  No other jobs listed.
  • All were listed as being able to speak English except Rose Singer
  • All were listed as naturalized aliens except Isaac and Rose Singer
  • The oldest daughter, Gert, was not in the household at this time.
  • You can see that the children had taken on americanized versions of their first names.  My father was going by Adolf at that time but was legally Abraham.

It must have been a rough time right after the stock market crash and the beginning of the great depression.  At least the prohibition years were about to end although I heard stories of the Dershewitz children mixing up alcohol in the bathtub for Dutch Schulz during those rowdy times.  We'll see what other stories we can get out of the family members.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Ellis Island - Coming to America

Like most immigrants to the United States in the late part of the 19th and early 20th century, the Dershewitz family arrived at and was processed through [EllisIsland].  Finding the family's Ellis Island record was the breakthrough I needed to go further back into the family history.  It doesn't really tell of why they left Poland, the hardships they faced on the trip over and what it was like actually passing through Ellis Island and into their new life in this country.  We'll have to wait for family memories to fill in the blanks.

The immigration records were ledger size so the scanned images are on two pages.  Thankfully, the immigration official typed most of the entries so they are very legible.  I have looked through many pages and handwritten entries while quaint can be very difficult to decipher.  Anyhow, here are the clues that I could glean from these records:

  • The Dershewitz family members are listed on lines 6-14 on the immigration manifest for the ship Saxonia that arrived on April 10, 1921.  The surname was spelled Dereszewitz.
    • Solomon (Father age 37)
    • Gita        Gertrude (Wife age 34)
    • Gita        Gert       (daughter age 10)
    • Ester      Estelle    (daughter age 8)
    • Jacob     Jack       (son age 6)
    • Abram    Adolf       (son age 4)
    • Juda       Louis      (son age 3)
    • Beila      Bella       (daughter age 2)
    • Hema     Helen      (daughter age 6 months)
  • Last permanent residence was listed as Sharyszoats while place of birth was listed as Staryshoutz.  This is probably the modern day Stary Sacz, Poland.
  • Name of nearest relative in Poland is listed as J. Deresziwitz of Sharyzoats parent of Solomon and Gita and grandparents to the children.
  • Family sponsor was Louis Singer, 286 Fort Washington Ave, N.Y.  He was the brother of Gertrude Singer, Solomon's wife.
  • Both Solomon and Gertrude were listed as being 5 feet 5 inches tall.
  • There was also a Fradli Bodner, age 24, travelling with the family.  She was a cousin of Louis Singer, a bookeeper, spoke Polish and German and listed her last place of residence as Nawyshoutz,  probably the modern day Nowy Sacz, Poland.  She also listed her nearest relative as sister Sonia?? Bodner.
  • Gertrude Singer's parents, Isaac and Rose also came to America on the same ship but were listed separately from the Dershewitz family.  More on them later.

Well that's what I could glean out of the Ellis Island records.  Now to follow other leads.....

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Start of the Search

I guess I'm the type of person that lives for the day and leans toward the future.  I hadn't spent much time looking back beyond my own life.  At times, however, I would wonder where I came from, how am I the product of the generations that came before me?  For the last several years, probably since the deaths of my father and mother, I have thought of beginning a quest to discover my roots.  It's ironic that I didn't ask the people who could help me the most while they were still alive.

My father never really talked about the past.  He was a quiet kind of guy and kept most things to himself.  I know he was born in Poland, Krakow he said, but other than that not much was ever told and I didn't ask.  It was the same for living in New York, serving in WWII and moving to California.  I just wasn't interested enough at the time and didn't ask.  Since my family lived in Los Angeles, California we were separated from the bulk of the Dershewitz family that lived in New York.  Growing up I had very little contact with the rest of the extended family.  Only rare trips back East (last one in 1960) and rare visitors out west brought us together.

I knew my father's family came through Ellis Island.  When the immigration records became available online I tried many times to find when the Dershewitz family started their life in America.  This search was fruitless until earlier this year.  I know names, especially foreign names, can get mis-spelled or changed in a variety of different ways.  My family name is the rule rather than an exception.  The Ellis Island records have been transcribed from the original immigration or ships manifests.  Key data was put in a database and indexed back to the actual manifest page/line the name was found on.  This way it's fairly easy to search in a variety of ways and finally get back to the original documentation. NOT!!  Only if your ancestors spoke English and had very well known names.  For those of us not so fortunate, any manner of errors could occur.  My ancestors did not speak English, the immigration official probably wrote/spelled what he heard.  If the immigration people had bad hand writing more errors could be introduced in the transcription.  Also, first names were likely to be the pre-Americanized  versions that were used in the country of origin.

Anyhow, after many attempts I finally made the breakthrough.  I found Solomon Dereszewitz, wife Gita, 7 children and a cousin all listed as a group starting on line 6 of page 0222.  They arrived in America April 20, 1921 aboard the ship Saxonia from Cherbourg, France.

Monday, August 7, 2006

Birth of DershSpace

Since beginning my quest for knowledge of family history I have discovered how important it is to reach out.  My family knowledge is but a small piece of the entire puzzle that is the Dershewitz family.  Since my father and mother moved away from New York and the bulk of my father's family in the late 1940s, I grew up not really knowing one whole side of my family relations.  What started out as genealogical research has lead to a rediscovery of family that I only vaguely knew I had.