Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It takes a village

On Jewishgen, in the Jewish Records Index-Poland, I find the following:
Bodzentyn 1869-73,77-84
Kielce Gubernia / Kielce Province
Located at 50°57’ 20°58’
Last updated January 2000

It’s the wrong part of Poland, and the wrong year. We think that “our” Leibl Korenbaum was born in Siedlce, and was either a twin or close in age to my grandmother, who was born in 1889 or 1890. This Lejbus Korenbaum was born in Kielce Province in 1874. But the name is so close (Lejbus and Leibl are variations of the same Yiddish name) and we know that my great-grandfather Kalman was wandering during those years. Maybe if we can see this record, we can learn something helpful. At this point, I have given up on finding anything easily, and have realized we need to cast a wider net.

This record, unlike the others I have found, is not in Poland, but is held in the archives of the Mormon church. Apparently, as part of their missionizing efforts, the Mormons have traveled the world copying vital records, and copies of some (but not all) Polish records are held at the Mormon church in Salt Lake City.

A friend’s brother lives in Salt Lake City, and is a semi-professional genealogist. I ask him if he can get a copy of the record. After three or four emails back and forth (I don’t really understand what I’m asking for, and give him the wrong information at first), I give him the film number listed for this record (which I now understand is the number of the microfilm page on which this record is located). A few days later, an email arrives with a photo of the record:

I am stunned. I don’t know why, I should have thought of this, but I haven’t. Of course, the document is hand-written in a language I can’t read. (Is it Russian? Polish? I’m not sure.) This is not a formal 20th century birth certificate. It is a page from a ledger, written by a 19th century clerk. I am amazed that my friend was able to find it. (I realize now why the film number was so important).

What do we do with this document? How do we turn it into something useful?

I send it on to my father and cousin Rich. Rich shows it to some foreign language professors at the college where he works; one thinks it may be Flemish. My father says no, it must be Russian, because the area was in Russian control during those years. He shows it to an acquantaince, who has trouble making out the writing and thinks the name is something other than Korenbaum. I show it to a friend who can read basic Russian, and he confirms that it is Russian, but the letters are different than modern ones. He deciphers the name Leibush Korenbaum, but can’t make out much else.

I worry that I will never know what's in all of these documents that we are finding. But then I remember that wonderful solution to any modern problem: Facebook. I post to Facebook: Can anyone translate from Polish and/or Russian?  Several friends respond. No one I know can translate, but my friends have friends who may be able to help. So I email this birth certificate to one friend-of-a-friend, and I email Liba’s property deed to another friend-of-a-friend.

I also email friends and ask if anyone knows someone who can translate from Yiddish. Three people refer me to the same man, who runs the Yiddish club at the JCC. He says he will be happy to help translate the inscriptions on the photos, but he’s away for the summer. He offers to meet me in August, and translate whatever documents I have at that point.

So now I wait. My next steps are dependent on the kindness of strangers. Apparently, it takes a village to research family history; a village, the Mormons, and good technology.

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