Our 20th Century Jewish Immigrants

My partner, Mitchell, comes from a Jewish family. His family knew very little about their genealogical background. He had never thought that he'd be able to uncover very much about his family and, therefore, we had never done much research. It was always so bittersweet for us when I was discovering another 25 greats-grandparent and Mitchell could only go back three generations. His family history environment was further complicated by a lack of consistent agreement within the family regarding basic information about the family members who did come to this country. Questions such as "Where were people born?" or "When did they come to this country?" generated a range of responses and lively disagreements among the various family members.

We are currently working on five primary families who are Mitchell's ancestors:

1. The Block family: Mitchell's paternal grandfather, Isidore Block, came from Minsk, Russia or from an area near there. He arrived in the U.S. in October 1912. We have discovered the names of Isidore's parents: Joseph Benjamin "Iossel" Block and Sarah Chernomordak, but have no specific information on these individuals nor any ancestors beyond them.

2. The Fishman family: Mitchell's paternal grandmother, Chava or Eva Fishman, allegedly also came from Minsk. We have discovered her father's name, Shlomo Fishman, but have not yet uncovered any more specific information about her or her ancestors.

3. The Hershkowitz family: Mitchell's maternal grandfather, Samuel Hershkowitz, came from Warsaw, Poland. We have not yet confirmed the actual date of his immigration. Samuel's parents were Hyman "Chaim" Wolfe Hershkowitz and Eva "Chava" Gittel Shmeltz. Samuel's sister, Tessie, immigrated to the U.S. in about 1913. She married, became pregnant, and died tragically before giving birth, during the flu epidemic of 1918. Tessie's father refused to let any other family members emigrate to the U.S. because he didn't want any of them to die in a foreign land.

Solomon & Cripe Balowitz
Mitchell's great-grandparents
4. The Balowitz and Midlarsky families: Mitchell's mother's maternal grandparents, Solomon or Samuel Balowitz and Cripe or Celia Midlarsky, came from Czarny, Poland, a small shtetl about 19 miles from Lomsa, Poland. We have been focusing extensive energies on the Balowitz family at the present time and are meeting cousins who we never knew before and developing wonderful new relationships.

For a gentile like me, Jewish genealogical research is extraordinarily challenging. One of the difficulties is connecting Yiddish given names with their "Americanized" equivalents.

Another challenge is that spelling variations occur everywhere one looks. For the Balowitz family alone, there are 11 different forms of spelling for this family name on various records in the U.S. Dates are problematic. Many times, a specific date wasn't deemed to be that important. The variations among the Hebrew, Julian, and Gregorian calendars add complexity to dates for births or deaths. Political and social discrimination and persecution have also caused challenges for families trying to survive; dates may have been changed or ages altered to enable people to escape from persecution.

Therefore, recognizing these challenges, the discovery of another name or another generation or another fact is cause for great celebration for Mitchell, his family, and me.

Gerald Lowell

18 October 2008