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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 documented 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.