Ancestral Recall: Tracing My European Jewish Heritage to Poland, Moldova, and Russia

As I wrote previously, 50% of my DNA is “European Jewish.” It wasn’t surprising, considering my mother’s side of my ancestry was entirely Jewish…

I knew my great-grandmother, Esther Feinglass, whom we called Gram, for the first 18 years of my life. She died in July 2002, shortly before I went to college. As the first grandchild (and therefore great-grandchild), I had the experience of spending more time with her than my cousins and brother.

I learned from her that she grew up in Poland, lived there until she was a teenager, and immigrated to the United States, settling in Chicago. Gram never spoke much about Poland, but I also didn’t ask much about. I only knew she grew up speaking Yiddish, and a little Polish, and learned English after coming to the United States. The name of her husband, my great-grandfather, was Isadore, and I never met him because he died 1969, 15 years before I was born. Gram spoke highly of him. He was from somewhere in Russia, and after his family immigrated to Chicago, he went to law school and became an attorney.

The only other person I knew of in my mother’s side of my family tree was a woman whom they called “Bubbe Jenny.” (Bubbe being a Yiddish term for grandma.) She was Gram’s mother, my great-great-grandmother. But that was it.

Thanks to Ancestry.com’s access to historical records, including census documents and passenger manifests for immigrants traveling through Ellis Island, I’ve been able to learn more but still not a lot about that side of my family’s history.

I discovered that Gram grew up in a small town in Poland called Raczki, a small town in northeastern Poland less than an hour drive from the modern day border with Lithuania, with the surname Karabelnik, which was changed to Kabel after immigrating to the United States. Isadore, her husband, wrote “Kishniev” on some of his immigration documents, a reference to modern day Chisinau, the capital of Moldova.

Isadore’s last name was Feinglass, which I found was an Americanized variant of Feingluz, and once I used the latter term I was able to dig up a bit more information, including the names of his parents, Morris and Anna. While Anna would be a common name for a Modolvan, Morris would not be, and I found out that was an Americanized version of Moishe, the Yiddish variant of Moses. Morris’s parents names were Schmuel (Samuel) and Pasie, and they indicated on their immigration paperwork that they were from a town called Kodna in Russia. I haven’t been able to find a town of that name, and that’s entirely possible considering many Jewish neighborhoods were razed entirely during the persecutions by the Russians and, of course, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. It’s very possible the town just doesn’t exist anymore.

And that is where the trail ends, with Schmuel and Pasie, born in 1849, and 1851 respectively, somewhere in Russia.

The trail also goes no further than Bubbe Jenny and her husband Harry. Unfortunately, I found no further information on the Karabelnik family in Poland, and this, too, is not surprising considering Jews of this era were not considered to be Polish citizens (or really citizens of any country in which they lived) and therefore would not be found in Polish records.

I also had no luck searching for the ancestors of my maternal grandfather. His mother’s name was Dora Rabinowitz, married to a man named Isidor Sturm. My grandfather knew very little of his father because he was never around and seemed to have run out of the family, which is why my grandfather, his sister, and two brothers spent many of their younger years in youth centers and foster care. He said that he thought his parents hailed from Germany and Austria, which would make sense considering the name Sturm, but I found very few records of Isidor Sturm and Dora Rabinowitz, only that they were married and where they lived. With no records of their parents names, the trail ended there.

And that explains the 50% of my “European Jewish” ancestry, as Ancestry.com puts it. Unfortunately there is no more, but this is expected for Jewish ancestors.

In my next several posts, I’ll explain the other side of my lineage, which has much more detail and can be traced to the 1400s in Germany and colonial America.

For more information about why I started this project, visit my first post, Ancestral Recall: A Series of Posts Dedicated to Sharing My Lineage or click the “Ancestral Recall” link just below this paragraph.

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