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27 October 2016

The Early Jewish People of Oregon

The very first Jews to arrive in the Oregon Territory, Jacob Goldsmith and Lewis May, arrived in 1849, 10 years before Oregon became a state. Both men were German born Ashkenazic Jews who being merchants opened a general Store in the city of Portland. The timing of these men was perfect, as over the next few years many mining camps developed along Jackson's Creek, as miners made their way from San Francisco in search of the gold which had been discovered.
While the gold first brought miners to Oregon, they were quickly followed by Jewish merchants who established stores supplying mining equipment, food and all dry goods to the people. These merchants were able to take advantage of family connections and brought all types of materials into their stores. They also expanded their base of influence and sent other members of the community into other cities of Oregon. Places such as Albany, Eugene and The Dalles soon had Jewish communities established by these new merchants.
These first German born Jews were quickly followed by Jews from Russia, Turkey and the Isle of Rhodes. However, the greater amount of new immigrants came from the Russian empire in the 1890's. They made their homes in Portland, where the community already was established with the things they needed such as synagogues and Kosher food. The Sephardic Jews established their own synagogue in Portland in 1910 and it still exists today. The last big wave of immigrants into Oregon did not happen until the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1980's. Today, the Jewish community is established statewide with congregations in well over 30 different cities. The Jewish Population of Oregon is today somewhere over 40,000 people.
Recently, FamilySearch has added a new database which could help people search for their ancestors who were in Oregon. The collection, Oregon Deaths, 1877-1952 includes over 114,000 images containing the vital records of much of the early Jewish community. As I usually do, I performed a basic search using the surname Cohen. The results that came back showed 227 entries contained in the records. Below, is the death certificate I found by doing a search for Ruben Cohen who I knew died in 1942. It is a very standard certificate and I was also able to find the name of his father (Dave) and spouse (Sophia).

While the death certificate is exactly what we would expect to find, the collection also has a few surprises. In the search of the surname Cohen, the record of Fred Cohen was included, however not with a death date, only a birth date. That would not be the way one would usually find someone on a death index. Following the link to his name, I found that the record for him was not a death certificate, but was a Registration of Birth for him. The record (shown below) is dated 23 Jul 1946 and appears to be the record of Fred Cohen having his birth recorded almost 55 years after his birth.

The beautiful thing about this record for a genealogist is how he has document the important information about his parents. We now know his father was George Cohen, born in Posen on 18 Feb 1840, and his mother was Mary Lewis, who was born in Abursuitz, Germany on 17 May 1854. This is wonderful information and just reinforces that no matter how much the index provides it is always a great idea to look at the original record.

04 October 2016

The Jews of Nicaragua

When compared to other countries, the Jewish community of Nicaragua is very small. The community began when Jews arrived from Eastern Europe after 1929, and the majority of them made their homes in Managua, the capital city. It was never a very large group, as the Jewish population probably never surpassed 250 members.  

In 1972, when the community was less than 50 years of age, the country was devastated by a major earthquake. Seven years later the government of Nicaragua was overthrown by the Sandinista government, who were not welcoming to Jews. In fact, they punished any Jews who remained for their support of the past government. These two events led most of the remaining Jews to flee to the United States or other Latin American countries.
In 1990, Jews began returning after the overthrow of the Sandinista, however as late as the year 2000 the population was still probably less than 50 people.
Even with such a small population and a short history, the Jews of Nicaragua deserve to have their records preserved. They should be able to document their history.  This all goes back to the great quote from Alex Haley, which states,

"In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know who we are and where we have came from".

For this reason I am very excited to introduce a very valuable database available at FamilySearch. The collection, Nicaragua Civil Registration, 1809-2013, has been updated to now include over 2.5 million images of these wonderful records. Of course, the smaller congregation of Jews will only be a small part of this collection, however the dates cover the entire time the Jews were here.
As an example I searched for the record of a couple I knew were married in the early 1950's. Searching for the marriage of Edward Bernard Cohen and Edith Retelny in the 1950's, I entered that information into the search box. The results are shown below.

From this incredible record we were able to learn the names of both sets of parents for this wedding that took place on 22 August 1954 in Managua. In addition, by clicking on the View The Original Document link under the original, a full size image appears (partially below).

These records are a wonderful example of how if we look far enough we can find records that will help us identify our ancestors. Even though they are not a Jewish record, and in fact for a large part of the time of these records, the government was very much against the Jews, these records are still available which help document the Jewish people. Thanks to FamilySearch we can even search for them from the comfort of our own homes.

30 September 2016

Rosh Hashanah 2016 (5777) - Happy New Year

As Rosh Hashanah approaches I find myself reflecting on all that has blessed my life this year. I find myself thinking of all my friends and family and thank you for being the people you are. 
I wish you and your families a New Year full of happiness, good health and peace.

L'shana tovah tikatev ve'techatem l'alter l'chayim tovim - may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year, for a good life immediately.

13 September 2016

Home of Peace Cemetery, Los Angeles, California

 Over the last few days I had the opportunity to visit California to meet with some members of the wonderful Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles. It was a great chance to renew old friendships as well as make new ones. It is at gatherings such as this, that I am reminded of why I enjoy Family History.

Our meeting was held at the Burton Sperber Jewish Community Library of Los 
Angeles, located at the American Jewish University. The library was very comfortable and inviting, which caused many of those gathered to come together in groups to talk about family. This is almost always my favorite part, learning that even though our families may come from different places at different times, their life experiences when handed down to us, make us more alike than than we would have expected. Before and after the meeting I was able to enjoy one of my other favorite family history events, visiting some local Jewish cemeteries. On this occasion the majority of my time was spent at the Home of Peace Cemetery in Los Angeles.
 The Home of Peace Cemetery was founded in 1901 when a local Jewish man, Kaspare Cohn,  donated 30 acres of land for the cemetery. Other cemeteries are nearby but I found myself drawn to this place. The reason I like to visit cemeteries is most likely the same as everyone else, to feel the incredible amount of history contained in the lives of those buried within.  The Home of Peace, while not as big as some cemeteries, has more than its share of history.
It is true that we may never know all that these people experienced in their lives, because all we sometimes have is a name, date of birth and date of death. With that little to start with, it may only be the family that can fill in the blanks. However, there are some stones that give us a little look into the lives of those buried here. It is a few of those types of stones that show a little bit of the history here.

The first stone, that of Max Davidsohn, in just a few short lines, lets you know something about the life this man led. It states,

"Beloved and Devoted Husband, Father, Grandfather and Great Grandfather, Saved Thousands of Jews From Death Camps. We Shall All Miss Him."

It may be impossible to truly know how many people today have him to thank for their lives, but words only can not possibly be enough to honor him, we should never forget him.
The second stone, also shows someone who affected many lives but in a totally different way. During a time when many needed a way to take their minds off their troubles, whatever it may be, including the concern for their families in Europe during the war, they looked to comedy and movies. 
One of the groups that filled this need were three Jewish brothers from Brooklyn, the Three Stooges. Born to parents Solomon Horwitz and his wife Jenny Goldsmith, both of Lithuanian ancestry, the Three Stooges became one of the most famous acts of the time. Eventually, Jerome (Curly) and his brother Samuel (Shemp) would change their last name to Howard and make their homes in California. Upon their deaths, both would have the Home of Peace become their final resting place. 
Their lives were much different, yet they all touched many lives. One helped people flee, and the others helped people cope. In life, they may never have known one another, yet in death they all contribute to the history and the story that remains at the Home of Peace Cemetery.
May they all be remembered.

06 September 2016

Denmark Census, 1911

One of the newest databases at FamilySearch, the 1911 Census of Denmark, shows how we all benefit when websites and archives work together. This census, which was the 13th census conducted since 1787, is now available because of the work of many. The original images of the census were provided by the National Archives of Denmark, the name index was provided by MyHeritage and they are now available for free at FamilySearch. The records are in wonderful condition and very easy to use.

The collection consists of 447,000 images which have been indexed by name, gender, marital status, relationship to head of household and birth date. In addition information such as religion and place of birth can be found on the original images from the census.
The image below, is a great example of this census. It shows Jacob Cohen, who was born on 10 Oct 1865 and his wife Olga, who was born on 10 Oct 1883. The final member of the household is son Elieser who 3 years old, having been born on 7 July 1908 in the city of Copenhagen. All 3 members of the family are listed as being Mosaiske in the column showing religion.

This collection is not only wonderful for those whose ancestry leads to Denmark, but it also gives all of us a great deal of hope that the future of genealogy will include many more examples of people working together for the good of all. A big thanks to all who came together for this collection.

01 September 2016

European Days of Jewish Culture, 4 September 2016

This Sunday, September 4, is the European Day of Jewish Culture (EDJC). Over 2 dozen countries will be celebrating. In 2016 the theme of European Days of Jewish Culture will be Jewish Languages.
A great amount of information pertaining to Jewish languages as well as some wonderful information Jewish Culture and Heritage is available at the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage (AEPJ) website.

What a great opportunity this provides for Jews all over the world to learn a little more about our heritage. A great thanks to the European Association for the preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage for making this possible.

29 August 2016

The Jews of Albania

Albania is a country that has a Jewish history that may date back as many as 2000 years. There are historians that believe the first Jews in the country arrived as slaves on ships from the Roman empire. The first synagogue was built in the 5th century in the Southern port city of  Sarande.
 The history of this time is not well known, and its almost 1500 years later before we know much about this community.  
By the early 1500's, communities of Sephardic Jews had began to be established. Most of the major cities of Albania had these established communities, including Berat, Elbasan, Vlore and Durres. These Jewish families were the descendants of those Jews who were expelled from Spain and Portugal. In 1520, the city of Vlore had Albania's only Synagogue and over 600 Jewish living in the city. That synagogue was destroyed during World War I. 
Over time the Jewish population of Albania slowly declined, until 1930, at which time the national census only recorded 204 Jews. In 1937, the Jewish community was officially recognized by the government. With the rise of the Nazi's many German and Austrian Jews took refuge in Albania. Even in 1938, the Albanian embassy was perhaps the last European country to issue Visa's to the Jewish people, which caused it to become a safe haven to the Jewish people. The Jews in Albania were protected by the Muslim's who lived there. This protected even continued after the Nazi's occupied the country. Because of becoming known as a safe haven for Jews, the Jewish population had risen to over 2,000 people by the end of World War II.
When Albania became a communist county, all religion was banned from the country, which meant the Jewish community was now isolated from Jews in other countries. This was true of all religions and not just the Jews. With the fall of communism in 1991 the Jews were dealing with tough times. This was not because of anything against them, but more to do with the general economic state of the entire country. This condition led to the majority of the Jewish population emigrating to Israel, leaving only a few dozen Jews within the borders of Albania.
Today, the Jewish population is probably no more than 50, however a new synagogue was opened in Tirana in 2010.

22 August 2016

California, Napa and Butte Counties, Obituaries, 1866-1992

FamilySearch has added some obituaries for 2 counties located in Northern California. The bits are part of the collection of California, Napa and Butte Counties, Obituaries, 1866-1992. The collection as of now has just a little under 50,000 images, however the information provided is very good.
I did a search for someone I knew who should be in this collection. Sadie Cohen was the wife of Nathan Manuel Appel. Not only did I find her listed in the obituary of her husband but the information provided in the basic search  gave me many family connections.

The original clipping of the obituary is also available but I have not added it here. If your family resides in this area this could be a very valuable collection. As with all FamilySearch collections it can be searched free of charge from home.