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Among all the clues, lies a story waiting to unfold.

Project details and research skills

Uncovering Lost Ukrainian Documents 

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The Data Acquisition Team at JewishGen’s Ukraine Research Division aims to uncover and preserve the rich historical heritage of the Jewish community in Ukraine.  My role on this team involves the acquisition of vital Jewish documents from Ukrainian archives. With an organized and systematic approach, I have created a Trello board that serves as a comprehensive repository of all the intricate details pertaining to Ukrainian archival websites. The structure of the Trello board ensures efficient access to relevant information, enabling seamless navigation through the vast archives. Additionally, I have harnessed Symbaloo to develop a unique resource map tailored to the needs of Ukraine research. This comprehensive system allows for easy navigation and access to various repositories that hold significant information related to Jewish history in Ukraine.  

By scouring these archives, I uncover hidden gems of Jewish documents that have historical and genealogical significance, and compile the gathered data into comprehensive spreadsheets, which are then incorporated into the JewishGen database. This database serves as a valuable resource for individuals seeking to trace their Jewish roots and learn more about their ancestry.

Ancestral Town Studies

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My current research focuses on ancestral town studies in four locations in Ukraine. Beginning with an extensive collection of vital records sourced from Brooklyn and Philadelphia, I undertook a comprehensive investigation of my Eastern European immigrant ancestors. I delved into vital records including census, birth and death records, as well as marriage and divorce records. To further enrich the research, I uncovered immigration documents which played a crucial role in unveiling otherwise obscure life stories. By scrutinizing ship manifests and naturalization documents, I was able to piece together the intricate puzzle of my ancestors’ homeland origins, highlighting the journeys undertaken to reach various destinations around the world. The inclusion of newspaper articles added yet another perspective, offering glimpses into the cultural and social contexts of the time. These efforts laid a solid foundation for understanding the lives and experiences of individuals from these ancestral towns. 

The Gemeindelexicon and cadastral maps from Arcanum Maps proved to be invaluable references for obtaining detailed information about my specific towns of interest. From there, I consulted various databases to find metrical records including: JewishGen, JRI Poland, and Gesher Galicia, along with Eastern European digital libraries and archives. These efforts resulted in a comprehensive understanding of the historical context and social dynamics of the studied regions. Notably, websites like Alex Krakovsky’s Wiki, Routes to Roots, Steve Morse’s One Step Pages, and Vera Miller’s website emerged as highly beneficial resources, enriching the findings and facilitating a deeper exploration of ancestral research.

Genetic Genealogy

Genetic genealogy is a fascinating field of study – one that presents new challenges for me as it continues to evolve. Having assisted people towards finding their biological families, each profile I encounter brings with it a new set of data and circumstances to unravel. The results of such investigations often come with a myriad of diverse emotions. Solved mysteries can present new information that isn’t always easy to come to terms with. While many of my clients are excited to learn of their ancestry, others struggle to accept what the data has revealed. I find working in DNA analysis usually leads to more questions than I started with, requiring diligence, meticulous organization, and critical thinking to unveil the full picture.

Among the genetic genealogy projects that I have worked on, is that of an older gentleman who wished to learn more about his paternal lineage. He grew up knowing an entire extended family in Philadelphia, but he had very little idea of how he was related to his various cousins. I started with a traditional genealogical approach and created his family tree. Found immigration documents enabled us to trace his family back to Ukraine. Although we were successfully able to establish relational lines with a number of his known family members, one important line remained a mystery. At one point we hit a brick wall and were unable to learn more about his paternal grandmother. We target tested a couple of his family members and used autosomal DNA on Ancestry, MyHeritage, and Gedmatch. Through a variety of strategies (Leeds Method, chromosome mapping, and the WATO), I was able to resolve many of the unknowns, and have come close to resolving this mystery. Unfortunately, because of his Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, endogamy stood in the way of easy answers. Nonetheless, I found Yad Vashem helped to fill in branches of unknown relatives for him. With the tremendous push for document acquisition in Ukraine currently, there is more hope that we will be able to find his family’s metrical records. With those documents, I hope to confirm some of our theories about his paternal line.

Murder Inc Fixer

Brooklyn, New York 1910-1940

Pictured: NYC police mugshot of Lena Freundlich

In 1903, Lena Freundlich arrived in New York City, escaping the pogroms of Easter Europe. As a young immigrant Jewish girl, she found work as a low income garment worker on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, but in a few short years became the owner of her own candy shop on Livonia Avenue in Brooklyn. Not long after, she expanded her business into bail bonds, which set her on a path to become involved with the Jewish Mafia. Under the tutelage of the infamous Louis Lepke Buchalter, she became the Jewish Mafia’s fixer. Eventually, the law caught up with her, resulting in a fascinating and entangled tale of fraud, deception, murder, and eventual escape from the law and the mafia. This project aims to uncover the story of how this cunning brute navigated her way through the underbelly of New York and survived to claim her own hard-earned freedom.

SCHUSTERS’ escape to the New world

Belarus, 1890

Pictured: Celia Schuster and her three daughters, Elizabeth, Beatrice, and Ida circa 1922

Celia Schuster, born in Belarus in 1892, was a hell raiser from the start. As a teenager, she joined a communist revolutionary group in a country that was facing tremendous upheaval. By the time she was 14 years old, she had endangered her family with her political activism and was compelled to board the SS Roland for Philadelphia where she met up with her father. She married four years later and had her first daughter. It was a tumultuous marriage, riddled with poverty and illness. She left her husband and took her three girls to New York. One was placed in the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian (a home for orphans) while she was forced to lock the other two up at home, in order that she could earn a living as a single mom in New York’s garment industry. Researching the gripping story of the Schuster clan back to the 1800s in Baranovichi, Belarus, has been a great challenge. Sadly, Yad Vashem records have uncovered several family members lost in the Shoah. In addition to this, websites such as Miriam Weiner’s Routes to Roots along with Belarus SIG and FamilySearch Library have offered in-depth information about my ancestral town of Lyakhavichy. Other genealogical documents were discovered to help expand the many branches of immigrants in both the United States and Israel. Utilizing the FAN principle has made a tremendous difference in this particular project.

Norwegian Immigrants’ Saga

Wisconsin, 1890s

Pictured: Regina Halvorson circa 1900 – class photo

Regina Wilemina Halvorson was born in Wisconsin in 1891 to Lars Halvorson and Synneva Trondson. Her mother died at the young age of 28 leaving her father alone to raise Regina and her brother. Shortly after the tragic event, her aunt came by boat from Norway to marry her father. With his new wife, Lars had six more children, three of whom didn’t survive childhood. Having grown up in a poor hardworking Norwegian immigrant family, she went to work at an early age. As a teenage short order cook, she met her husband. While at the same time, her brother left to join the circus when more tragedy struck this family. Uncovering the narratives of this family history project has been both intriguing and heartbreaking. Genetic genealogy has revealed new generations of unknown connections alongside the long history of Norwegian farmers dating back to the 1700s in Hordaland, Norway. Moreover, the complex patronymic naming system has presented some challenging facets to this project. Research resources included: Digitalarkivet, bygdebøker, and the Norwegian American Genealogical Center in Wisconsin.

A Multi-generational journey

Lebels – From France 1580 , Canada 1662, to Wisconsin 1915

Pictured: Kermit, Wendell, Waldo, James, and Amy LaBelle circa 1925

I was named after a man who was larger than life: my grandfather, Wendell LaBelle. Born in 1915, Wendell grew up in the rural town of Boyceville, Wisconsin. His father was a newspaper man and his mother was an entrepreneur trying her hand at several small cottage industries until she found her way running her own tavern. Wendell was raised primarily by his mother as his parents had divorced by the time he was a young teenager. Together with his two spirited brothers, Wendell led quite a colorful life, traversing America from Wisconsin to California, and multiple careers, including pharmacist, housing developer, and entrepreneur. This project focuses on the ancestral research of the LaBelle family lineage which dates back to 1580 in Normandy, France. Including six generations of French-Canadian ancestors, the immigration stories within this line of my family are as intriguing as the people who journeyed through them. The Wisconsin Historical Society has been a tremendous resource as has the Library and Archives of Canada.

Below are two lists of surnames that I am researching and their corresponding locations.

If you are curious about anything, or have more questions, please feel free to contact me at researchbyraven@gmail.com

Eastern European Jewish Surname List 

Freundlich and Durst – Zloczow (Podhajce), Ternopil, Ukraine

Glosman – Korosten (Ushomyr), Zhitomyr, Ukraine

Schuster – Baranowicze, Minsk, Belarus

Shulman – Novi Velednyky, Zhitomyr, Ukraine

Weinger – Lyakhavicy, Minsk, Belarus

Zitron and Haar – Złotniki (Podhajce), Ternopil, Ukrainę 

Western European Surname List

Chase – Buckinghamshire, England

Ferguson – Edinburgh, Scotland

Lebel/LaBelle – Normandy, France and Quebec, Canada

Harrington – Devon, England

Dolan – Wicklow, Ireland

Halvorson Seljestad – Telemark, Norway

Trondsen Sandven – Hordaland, Norway

Stone – Derry, Ireland