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South Africa: Seeking Ochberg Orphan descendants

Genealogists are detectives, so here’s a case many of us might be able to help solve.

David Solly Sandler of Australia is seeking 2,000 South Africans – the descendants of 60 Ukrainian war and pogrom orphans, known as Ochberg’s Orphans.

Writes David: 

In 1921, Isaac Ochberg, representative of the South African Jewish Community, travelled to Poland and the Ukraine and brought back with him to Cape Town 167 “Russian, Ukraine and Polish War and Pogrom Orphans” plus 14 “attendants and nurses,” mainly older siblings.

Half the children were placed in the care of the Cape Jewish Orphanage (later Oranjia) and half went to Johannesburg, under the care of the South African Jewish Orphanage (later Arcadia). Many children were adopted by Jewish community members, who contributed generously to a fund to bring the children to South Africa and care for them.

What’s David’s connection to Arcadia? Born in 1952, David grew up from age 3-17 at Arcadia, the South African Jewish Orphanage in Sandringham, Johannesburg. Now a semi-retired chartered accountant, he lives in Western Australia and has completed two books on Arcadia (see below for more information). For the history of the orphanage – established in 1899 – click here.

David is now in month 18 of the 27 months he’s allocated to record the life stories of the Ochberg Orphans. Of the 181 children, the stories of 90 have been recorded, contact has been made with another 30, but 60 still remain to be contacted.

How did he arrive at this number? David believes – for the so far “missing” 60 – that each child was born around 1910, married and had three children, nine grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren, thus there should be more than the estimated 2,000 descendants cited above. Of course, no one knows for sure.

However, what is really important in this story is that many descendants might not know their connection to the Ochberg Orphans. The children did not often speak about this and many tried to hide the fact from their children because of the stigma of being an orphan.

One descendant wrote, says David:

Today, as for the general South African Jewish community, half  of the 2,000 descendants likely have left South Africa and now live around the world in Israel, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

“The general attitude of the community was that it was a mitzvah to have adopted one of those poor orphans, a good deed in a dark world, but you really wouldn’t want one of them to marry into your family, would you? After all, you knew nothing of their parents and extended family, their health history and their genetic background. This is a generalisation that isn’t true of all the adopters but it was certainly true of a fair number, nervous, insecure, only to do nothing that would jeopardise their increasing prosperity and emergent social solidity.”

Here’s the kicker – here are the names of these orphans. If you have someone with this name in your family tree, born c1910, there’s a chance you might be an Ochberg Orphan descendant, so read the list carefully and if you find a name of interest, contact David (email below).

— BARMATCH Sara, BARUCH Leya, BERNFELD Hersh,
— CWENGEL Saul,
— ELMAN Blume, ELMAN Jentl/ Izzy, ELSHTEIN Abo, ENGELMAN Jakob,
— FREMD/FRIEND Max,
— GARBUS /GOLDSTEIN Shmul, GAYER Chawa, GEBENCOL/GOLZ Rochel, GERYNSHTEIN Abram, GINSBURG Mintcha, GUBER/GEIBER/GRUBER Tcharna (Charlotte ODES),
— H/GURWITZ Rosa,
— ISRAELSON Chaim,
— JUDES Rubin,
— KAHAN Channe, KAHAN Golda, KAHAN Morduch/Mordche, KAHAN Shachna, KAILER Rywka, KAUFMAN Cypora, KAUFMAN Soloman/Shlama, KAWERBERG Mayer, KAWERBERG Mees/Moshe, KIGIELMAN Jacob, KNUBOVITZ Zlata, KREINDEL Rejsel, KRUGERr Rejsel, KRUGER Abram, KRUGER Jacob,
— LIPSHIS Moishe, LIPSHYTZ Perel,
— MARGOLIN Sara, MILER Braindel, MORDOCHOWITCH Gutro, MORDOCHOWITCH Estel,
— NUDERMAN Gdalia,
— OCHSTEIN Salomon, ORLIANSKY Abram,
— PERRCHODNIK/PERECHODNIK Ussr, PINSKY/PINSKA Faywel, PINSKY/PINSKA Feyga (Birdie GLASER), PINSKY/PINSKA Maisha, PINSKY/PINSKA Zlata,
— REICHMAN Abram, REICHMAN Chaim, REISENDERRubin, REKLER Leya, RINSLER/RINZLER Chaskiel/Chaykel, ROSENBAUM Leon, ROSENBLIT Gdalia, ROSENBLIT Szamay,
— Y/J/SAGOTKOWSKY Jacob/Jacov, SCHTERN/SHTERN Szlema/Solomon, SCHWARZ Josef, SHTEINER/STEINER Chaskel, SHTEINER/STEINER Hersh, SHTEINER/SZTEINER/STEINER Isaac, SMITH Morduch/Mordche, SHTRASNER Feyga, STILLERMAN Hersh/Harry,
— TREPPEL Jacob
— WEIDMAN Sheindel.

David adds that by the end of 2010, the lifestories of some 130 of the children will have been collected. They will be included in a book to be published and sold internationally with all proceeds going to Arcadia and Oranjia, as are the Arcadian Memory Books.

Readers who recognize names of interest should email David for more information, or if you are a descendant and want your family’s story included.

“100 Years of ARC Memories” (March 2006) celebrates the centenary book of Arcadia, formerly the South African Jewish Orphanage.

“More ARC Memories” (December 2008) is the sequel to the first volume, and includes 17 chapters on the Ochberg Children.

Together, the books total 1,100+ pages and hold the memories of more than 250 children. All proceeds go to the Arcadia Children’s Home that still exists and looks after children in need. By the end of 2009, some Rand 365,000 had been raised and the target is Rand 1 million. The set of two books costs $100 plus $10 shipping (click here for more information).

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Ancestor Approved: 10 things about my ancestors

Tracing the Tribe has received the Ancestor Approved award from Pat and Judy, the GenealogyGals.

Their blog is a joint effort.

Award recipients are supposed to report on 10 things learned about our ancestors that have surprised, humbled, or enlightened us, and then pass along the award to 10 more genealogy bloggers who are doing their ancestors proud.

1. Surprised: At the life of my maternal great-grandmother Riva BANK TALALAY – born in a shtetl outside Kovno – who was ran away to the Gypsies – so the story goes – to avoid a disliked marriage. Along the way, she learned herbal healing, midwifery, reading tarot cards and palmistry. When she did marry Aron Peretz Talalay and moved to his agricultural colony Vorotinschtina, some 12 miles southwest of Mogilev, Belarus, she was known for creating the first closet in the shtetl. In Newark, New Jersey, she was also a midwife and healer and well-known for getting her way to make living better for her family.

2. Surprised: That the generation-to-generation one-liner – “This was our name in Spain” – has been corroborated by archival research in Spain and DNA genetic testing.

3. Enlightened: Our TALALAY family’s first immigrant ancestor met an English-speaker on the boat over in 1898 who advised him to change his name as no one would give a job to Mr. Tell-a-lie. Thus TOLLIN, TALLIN, TAYLOR, TOLL, TALL and – of course – those lost Philadelphia FEINSTEINs, came about.

4. Enlightened: My maternal FINK (Suchostaw, Galicia -> Ukraine) grandfather and his brothers had a large building maintenance company in New York City. Once, during a window-cleaners’ strike, a worker was quoted as calling his employers, “those rats, the FINKs.” According to family story, the term “rat-fink” was born.

5. Surprised: On hearing that my mother, as a teen, used to swim across Kauneonga Lake (Catskills, Sullivan County, about 10 miles from Monticello) frequently. It is a very large lake!

6. Humbled: To have found at least one lost branch of the Dardashti family, and thus fulfilling a request of my husband’s eldest aunt Nane-jan – made more than 35 years ago in Teheran – to find the lost branches (descendants of relatives who became Moslem) and tell them that they had cousins who thought about them all the time.

7. Humbled: To think about the difficulties Nane-jan underwent as the first Jewish girl to go to school in Teheran in 1902. The community stopped buying from her father, a butcher, and she endured taunts and attacks on her way to school. All her sisters also went to school, with some of them becoming French teachers. It wasn’t easy being a father with such advanced enlightened thinking in those days.

8. Frequently flabbergasted when thinking of our newly-connected TALALAY-KATSNELSON relatives (from Bobruisk, Belarus) in Melbourne, Australia. Their eldest daughter Nelly is a journalist and her daughter is Miliana. I’m Schelly, a journalist and our daughter is Liana. Do you also hear Twilight Zone music?

9. Surprised at how much cousin Leon in Melbourne and I resemble each other. His mother was a Talalay whose father (Gamshei) had moved (reasons still unknown) from Mogilev to Bobruisk.

10. Still shocked: My late cousin Victor Talalay (Toronto) and I both located information about the family branch in Israel at the same time, decades ago, when we separately visited Israel and found the data in the English phone book. We each dutifully copied the info and held onto the scraps of paper with name, address and phone number for decades. I finally wrote and located the granddaughter as her grandfather, who placed the entry every year, had died only a year or so prior. He had placed the info in the English phone book every year hoping that US relatives would find it and contact him. He had arrived from Berlin (after leaving Mogilev in 1902 and going to London and Germany) to Israel in 1933. Moral: Never procrastinate when it comes to following up on all clues to family history.

Since I am coming into this award late – procrastination still runs in our family – and I believe almost all bloggers have already been tagged, I am awarding this coveted prize to everyone who has not already been noted.

Hong Kong: On a clear day….

Doesn’t it always happen like this?

You visit a new place and weather conditions are such that you can’t see more than a few buildings down the road. Then, on the last day, everything is beautiful and clear.

On both my visits, I could barely see the harbor from the hotel window. Today, I could see the hills on the far side.

At least I have this great shot!

Hong Kong has been a great experience and I am grateful to the Jewish Community Center events committee for making it happen. Mira, Tara, Erica, Howard and everyone else were most gracious and very kind.

This trip afforded many opportunities to talk genealogy with so many diverse individuals and I hope that they may go on searching their own ancestry, whatever it might be.

My visit to Australia was a dream come true as well. Ziva and Sam Fain were very caring hosts and it was hard to tear myself away from them (and the two dogs); the conference was excellent and I thank everyone on the committee who made it possible.

Meeting my Melbourne cousins from Bobruisk (Alex, Jenny, Nelly, Leon, Fleur) was a wonderful experience, and my Sydney cousins Bob and Di were delightful, as usual.

Meeting up with geneablogging colleague Randy Seaver and his wife just added to the overall good memories of Sydney. That’s Randy and me on beautiful Manley Beach (right).

It was a great pleasure making in-person connections with gen colleagues Kerry Farmer and Carole Riley in Sydney, and finally meeting Linde Wolters, a member of MyHeritage.com’s farflung family.

I will always remember the great people I met on this trip, talking genealogy in two countries and with fellow passengers. I’d like to travel there again for the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival in November. We’ll see!

For now, it is back to Tel Aviv tonight, attempt to get ready for Pesach, and to catch up on a huge pile of work for upcoming conferences and other events.

Tracing the Tribe wishes a Happy Pesach to all readers who celebrate this special holiday.

Australia: Visiting Sydney, Day 1

Ziva drove me to the airport, before dawn, to catch an early morning flight to Sydney to see my cousins.

Bob and Di met me at the airport and, since time was so limited, they drove me around to get a feeling for this beautiful city. The weather was sunny and breezy and Bob shared his love for the city where he has lived for more than three decades.

For lunch, we went to the Sydney Fish Market for fish and chips. An amazing building full of fresh everything that can say “glub glub.”

Some of them were still speaking!

Name a creature of the water and it is on ice or in a tank somewhere here. There are also other kiosks inside (sushi and more).

At 2pm, Bob and Di dropped me off at the Kent Street site of the Society of Australian Genealogists, where I met the SAG program director Carole Riley, a GenClass.com colleague Kerry Farmer and MyHeritage.com’s Linde Wolters (who lives in Sydney). From left, Carole, Kerry and Linde:

We had a quick tour of the excellent facilities, library (there is another archive offsite), talked genealogy – what else? – and went for refreshment to the cafe across the street. First it was 3.20pm and the next time we checked it was 4pm. If I wasn’t being picked up by my cousins, we could have gone for several more hours.

For dinner, we went to a Lebanese restaurant with our cousins’ friends and had a great time talking genealogy, DNA and much more.

Tomorrow, say my cousins, I’ll get to see koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, emus and other unusual animals. Looking forward to that!

Vienna: Searching JASSNIGER

At the Bendigo Famiy History Expo, attendee Margaret Brown told me about her JASSNIGER relatives from Vienna, and even went home to bring me the birth and death certificates.

Click on each image to see them better. Each holds detailed information on various individuas, including maiden names of mother and grandmother, etc.

If you are researching Margaret’s father’s rare name, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with her. Some dozen burials are in Vienna; she knows there was a US branch but has not yet checked for it.

Australia: Bendigo family history expo

On Sunday, we drove up to Gold Rush country for the Bendigo Family History Expo, visited the famous Hanging Rock, saw my first wallaby, and saw the view from Mt. Macedon (left).

The easy ride from Melbourne went through gently rolling green hills, populated by cows, sheep and horses. There were many wineries, historic towns and mineral springs along the way, but no time, unfortunately, to stop and smell the grapes!

At the expo, there were some 60 experts, local groups and societies filling a large hall at the Bendigo Leisure Center (community center, in the US), but there were no classes or workshops as is usual at similar US events There was a steady stream of visitors all day.

Within 15 minutes of putting up two signs (Jewish Research and MyHeritage.com), and starting a MyHeritage overview looping powerpoint presentation, several people had come over to ask questions about both.

Questions included where to find more information about the families SIMEON (Liverpool, UK) and ISRAELOWITZ (Melbourne), while others shared information about postcards from Israel (pre-state)brought back by fathers and grandfathers who had served in the British and Australian armies.

I learned about Jews who had settled in Avoca, a small area community, and met a man who carried his 13,000-name family tree on his iPhone (using Reunion software).

One young woman stopped by to ask about her great-grandparents named ENGLANDER and MOVRIN (both from Germany). I offered various websites for her to access.

Margaret Brown told me about her JASSNIGER relatives from Vienna (see separate post).

Unfortunately, there was no Internet access at the expo or I could have helped more people directly.

As people came up and asked questions, I wrote down websites for them to access at home, including JewishGen and its many components, Ancestry and others. All public libraries in Victoria carry the Ancestry Library Edition, making it easier for researchers.

Here’s my first in-person long-distance wallaby (left). A mob of them were eating grass at the Hanging Rock racecourse.

Melbourne: Meeting the family – at last!

Thirty years ago, Alexander Katsnelson, his wife Jenny and toddler Nelly arrived in Melbourne from Bobruisk, Belarus.

Later on, his father and brother Leon arrived from Bobruisk. Alex and Leon’s mother was a TALALAI whose family was from Mogilev.

In the photo below are (from left) Leon, Schelly and Alex.

About seven years ago, members of the Australian Jewish Genealogical Society – notably the late Les Oberman – located Alex and Jenny after information from new-found Moscow cousins indicated they might be in Melbourne.

We communicated for awhile until I experienced a major computer malfunction and lost much data (including emails). Yes, I know. Tracing the Tribe always advocates backing up, backing up, backing up. I goofed and thus our family lost years during which we could have been in contact.

However, as soon as I landed in Melbourne, I told my hostess, Ziva Fain, that we needed to find them. Fortunately, we found L. Katsnelson in the online phone book (cousin Leonid), who gave me Alex’s number.

Today was cousin day.

Alex and Jenny came to take me to their home – which is very close to Ziva’s – where Alex’s younger brother Leon, their older daughter Nelly and granddaughter Miliana, 2, were waiting. Later that day I also met Nelly’s son Jordan, 5, and Nelly’s sister Fleur.

Nelly has a degree in journalism – is it genetic? – while Fleur is an attorney. Our daughter is Liana, Nelly’s is Miliana.

We went over family charts and photographs. Leon told us many anecdotes from his childhood. As the younger brother, he was closer to his grandmother and he remembered a large photo on the wall of his mother’s family in Mogilev.

When Alex and Jenny left, they could not take any family photos with them. When Leon left, he took many small photos, but was not permitted to take other family memorabilia. His mother’s sister went to Brooklyn later on and took other items, including the photo. She has since died; no one knows where the large photo of the Mogilev family is now, but Alex and Leon said they will try to find who has it (and many other photos) and have them scanned.

After lunch, Jenny showed me a Russian-language site that translates as “classmates” – sort of a Russian Facebook. We checked for TALALAI and were amazed to find so many, although some I knew. This could be a very valuable resource for genealogists. Names can be typed in English, but everything else seems to be in Cyrillic.

I showed Jenny and Nelly how to use both Ancestry and JewishGen. Everyone was surprised to see how many FamilyFinder entries for KATSNELSON from Bobruisk were listed. A few years ago, Leon had been contacted by a US researcher who sent him information and charts but they couldn’t see how they were related; he did not hear from that researcher again.

Many of the KATSNELSON researchers in the Family Finder are either deceased or have not logged in since 2004.

Jenny is also looking for her HEIMAN (sometimes written KHAYMAN) family of Bobroisk. Her grandmother lived in Bobruisk, but her family had moved to Riga, Latvia, where she grew up and attended school. How and why they moved to Riga is a story in itself.

Jenny and I later went to dinner and we didn’t stop talking all evening. There was an instant connection, as if we had known each other for a lifetime.

There will be more to tell. And this time we won’t lose the connection!