August Genealogy Update
- Jewish Genealogical Societyof SacramentoAugust 24, 2011President Victoria Fisch called the meeting to order. She noted that members Mort Rumberg, Art Yates and Teven Laxer were attending the IAJGS conference in Washington, D.C. this week.The September meeting (Monday, September 19th) will feature Lynn Brown talking about Immigration and Citizenship. In October, Family History Day will be held at the State Archives, and we'll staff a table. Our October meeting (Sunday morning, the 16th) will focus on the Jews of India.Updates from Victoria: she noted that Gesher Galicia has just launced a larger database and that Steve Morse is beginning to post information on the 1940 census. There are no names in the index so you need to do an address search.JewishGen lists allow you to receive digests, "invaluable," Victoria noted. They are indexed and you can search discussion groups. Bob Wascou noted that they go with the Special Interest Groups, or SIGs.August SpeakerOur August program featured Linda Lucky, the co-director of the Family History Center in Sacramento. She focused on "Research Logs -- the Most Important Tool for Organizing Your Genealogy."Linda says it's just as important to write down if you don't find something as if you do.Research Logs-- Summary of significant findings and what you still need to find.Linda says good research logs cite sources, sort out what has and hasn't been found, show search strategies and reduce unwanted duplication."It can help in every step," she says. "It's the foundation on which the next generation of researchers can build."Linda suggests using your research log before you go the source, then after, summarizing what you found. She encourages genealogists to give it a try for six months."Research logs aren't the fun part of genealogy, which is the search," she admits.Linda talked about file folders, on which she writes the name of the head of household, date of birth and death, and also puts the name of the spouse. She keeps the folders in alphabetical order. She says you can use the type of folders with metal clasps, or not, depending on your preference.If you choose three-ring notebooks, Linda suggests dividing them into several parts, depending on geography, then separating by families.Order:In your folder or notebook you should have1) Family group sheet2) Pedigree chart3) Maps4) Research Logs5) Copies of numbered documentsLinda suggests putting the name of the researcher, the date the research was done, the purpose of the search (i.e.,death certificate, land records), call number, sources, document number, and finally, results.She says the Research Log is like a table of contents of the research you've done on the family. And it helps those who may inherit or make use of your research years later. "You want to make it easy for someone to come behind you and find the record," she says.Linda cites the book "Evidence Explained" by Elizabeth Shown Mills as a good reference for source descriptions. There is also the Chicago Manual of Style.Linda puts the notation "nil" on her log if she founds nothing. If she leaves it blank, it means she hasn't yet done a search.If you make copies, Linda says, use black ink and acid-free paper. "Write for someone looking at it 100 years from now." She also suggests printing out a copy of what you've done at the end of the day.Some suggestions:-- Use spill-over space, write yourself questions, suggestions, note discrepancies, etc.-- Keep correspondence in the research logs, noting letters, e-mails.-- One family equals one research log. For children, they would be included in the father's log until they're married, then would part of the husband's log.When you don't find something:-- write NIL-- select a new record to research-- select a new record type to research-- search a new jurisdiction-- search a different repositoryAvoid changing your goal until you've done the five items above.What To Do With Results:-- Photocopy the source, write footnote data on the margin in the front.Write on the back your full document number.What kind of data gathered by genealogists is most important?"Accurate documentation is the genealogist's path through the forest," Linda says. "Research logs will speed your work."Linda mentioned that the Family History Center in Sacramento has translators, for those who may be seeking help with a document. They also have a Reunion (Mac software) group that meets on the 4th Wednesday of each month, from 10:30 to 12:30.Linda's husband Ed talked about online ordering at the Family History Library -- they can't take money there, but you go online and pay for what you order (familysearch.org/film). They've had great success with the online process. You still get the material shipped to the library.(from the British (original) version of the show:)Who Do You Think You Are? - JK RowlingSunday, 21st August 2011Who do you think you are? Hmm, it seems a strange question to ask the world’s bestselling author of all time, but BBC1’s leading genealogy series went ahead and asked it anyway, with JK Rowling as in ‘rolling’, not Rowling as in ‘fouling’ (you wouldn’t believe how often that’s bugged me), taking the opportunity to trace her fuzzy French roots. And while my foolish hopes were crushed in that she didn’t uncover any Hermiones who were burned at the stake, what she did find made for an arresting hour of television.JK’s first challenge was to find out more about her great-grandfather, Louis Volant, a Frenchman who was awarded a Légion d’honneur (an honour that JK has also received) for his services in the First World War. This fuelled a trip to London’s Savoy restaurant, before she crossed the border to France, alas, by Eurostar and not broomstick. (It didn’t even set off from platform 9¾.) Once there, she managed… well, the hundred-strong BBC production team managed to uncover even earlier generations, with some twists and turns, and even more tears, along the way. (I fear for the Thames Flood Barrier if Amanda Holden ever gets offered this show.)I should probably admit at this point that I’ve never seen an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? before, so this edition could well have been formulaic to people who have seen all of the previous seven series, but I found it fascinating. While I’ve no doubt that researching your own family tree, as I instantly wanted to do after watching this, would be more difficult than portrayed, I really liked how the episode showed that genealogy isn’t all plain sailing. The most memorable incident was where JK discovered that her Louis Volant had actually been confused with another Louis Volant, and had not, in actual fact, received the Légion d’Honneur.This led to more visits to yet more stunning buildings, housing some wonderfully crafted tomes, for which the description ‘book’ seems too demeaning. How I wish I had some of them on my bookshelves… though I don’t know how well they’d sit next to my £7.99 paperbacks.After deciphering handwriting that was on that fine border between beautiful and illegible, JK learnt that her Louis had actually received a different award for his fighting skills, after being unexpectedly involved in a brutal battle. It was a touching moment, with a very raw, natural reaction from JK that further increased my, already very high, opinion of her. (Though there really was no need for her to tell us that she finds bravery against impossible odds to be the most impressive. We’ve all read Deathly Hallows, love.)As the episode progressed, she traced her line back yet further, and it continued to be surprisingly fast-moving, interesting television, that must also be commended for the sensitivity and subtlety that was displayed throughout, never overdoing the background music, or the extreme close ups in emotional moments. Instead, the story was allowed to do the talking, and while this story didn’t contain any witches, it was spellbinding all the same.\For you baseball fans:
For Branca, an Asterisk of a Different KindRalph Branca
By JOSHUA PRAGER
Published: August 14, 2011For Branca, an Asterisk of a Different KindBy JOSHUA PRAGEREarlier this summer, Ralph Branca met me at a country club in Westchester where he lives, extending the arthritic hand that 60 years ago this October threw the baseball that became the most famous of home runs, the “shot heard round the world.”I knew the old pitcher well. A decade before, I had written in The Wall Street Journal that in 1951, the New York Giants used a spyglass to detect which type of pitch opposing pitchers were about to throw them at the Polo Grounds, their Harlem home. They had stolen the sign for Branca’s second fastball on Oct. 3. (The batter ultimately denied using it.)We entered the dining hall. Branca wore black shoes, chinos, a collared white shirt with three buttons. I had not seen the pitcher since the 2010 memorial service for Bobby Thomson, the batter who had felled him. Thomson had been the quieter of the two — a Glaswegian, a Protestant, a tenor, and Branca a New Yorker, a Roman Catholic, a bass. And it was clear on this summer Friday as we walked past the buffet that although arthritis in his lower back slowed Branca, he remained at 85 undiminished: broad and tall with big feet, big ears, big brown eyes and a big nose that had been bigger still before an operation to clear his sinuses. He was still pitching, too, insurance if not baseballs, and he greeted a waitress by name. Susan showed us to a table by a large window.Branca folded his bare arms and looked out onto the golf course. I asked if he had mentioned to anyone the reason for our lunch — the second revelation I had recently told him. He said he had told his wife, Ann.“I said,” recalled Branca, “‘do you know you married a Jew?’” •Branca’s mother, Kati, immigrated to the United States in 1901 from Sandorf, Hungary. (The town is now Prievaly, Slovakia.) Her maiden name was Berger. I had included this fact in the book I ultimately wrote about the Thomson home run, “The Echoing Green.” A psychiatrist from Brooklyn named Michael Bennett had read it, and he e-mailed me last December wondering if Kati was Jewish.I telephoned Branca. Best he knew, his mother had been a Catholic all her life. He encouraged me to let him know what I found.I passed the question to Michael Miller, a close friend and a professor of Jewish history in Budapest. He contacted a Hungarian Jewish genealogy group. And now, at the country club where Branca has lived since 1977, I laid before him the records that Miller and the group had found. They included:¶ The 1884 marriage of Ignatz Berger and Antonia Gipsz, a ceremony at which Jakob Friedman, a rabbi in Sandorf, had officiated.¶ The births of the couple’s eight children over the next 12 years: Kati, the eldest, and Miksa, Sandor, Irma, Fanni, Sandor, Moricz and Jozsef. (The first Sandor died as a toddler.)¶ The mohels and sandeks who performed each bris and held each boy during the circumcisions.¶ The arrival of Kati in the United States. On Nov. 17, 1901, a gatekeeper at Ellis Island categorized her as single, Hungarian, a seamstress, white, literate and “Isr”— Israelite, signifying a Jew.And there was the death of Jozsef. On June 12, 1942, the Nazis deported him, his wife, Janka, their daughter, Helene, and their sons, Henrich and Ignatz. Jozsef was killed at the Majdanek concentration camp, his wife and children at Sobibor. Kati had two other siblings who remained in Europe. I did not learn how Moricz died. But helped by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, I later learned that Irma, together with her husband, Arthur Grünmandl, her daughter Paula and her son Oscar, died at Auschwitz in 1942, one year before Branca turned professional in Olean, N.Y., pitching at age 17 for Manager Jake Pitler.When I had phoned Branca and told him that his mother, Kati, was Jewish and that thus, according to traditional Jewish law, he and his 16 siblings were, too, the loud man was quiet. But when I had told him of the murder of his uncle, Branca had looked for words. “Uh, oh, boy,” he had said. “My mother never mentioned this to me.”Branca took hold of the papers, a burden of identification suddenly real. I asked how his wife had responded to his newfound past. “You’ve always practiced, you’ve always been a Catholic,” she had said. They hadn’t spoken of it since.•Branca ordered a Caesar salad, and I asked if he was interested in learning more about Judaism. There was much to tell, starting with the fact that the worst day of his life, 60 Octobers past, had been a minor Jewish fast day.“I know enough,” he said. “I know their customs, Passover Seder.”Kati had raised her children to be open-minded, to accept the Jews, blacks, Irish, Germans and fellow Italians who packed the 4.21 square miles that made up Mount Vernon, N.Y. Their town was teeming with new last names, with the turning over of new leaves. And as is often the case with those who take up a new religion, it was Branca’s mother and not his father who was the more devout Catholic, he said. She saw to it that the children were baptized and confirmed. She frequently went with Branca to Mass during World War II. And she gave him a medallion of St. Christopher to wear when he broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944. (Through three and a third innings, the Christian martyr warded off all dangers save a solo homer by Phil Weintraub — one of four Jews in the league.)Back at the country club, Branca eyed four duffers through the restaurant window. “Maybe that’s why God’s mad at me — that I didn’t practice my mother’s religion,” he said. He was smiling but sincere, a Job wondering about the root of his suffering. “He made me throw that home run pitch. He made me get injured the next year. Remember, Jesus was a Jew.”For Branca to posit that the home run, the great hinge of his life, was a curse was a striking departure for him. Hours after it flew, a Jesuit priest had put forth to the Catholic pitcher an explanation of his victimhood that rang true: God had chosen him to yield the home run because God knew his faith was strong enough to sustain him through what would follow. Yes it was, thought Branca. And so ever since, even as the goat endured public discourteousness for 60 years, he praised God, reciting every morning and night the “Our Father,” a “Hail Mary” and a couplet of his own: “Make me worthy of your love; make my love worthy of you.”Branca paused from his lunch to let forth a burst of philosemitism — declaiming the health benefits of kashrut and circumcision, the synonymy of Judaism with charity, leadership, patriotism, brains.“When I was in school, the smartest kids were the Jewish kids,” he said. I pointed out that he was one of them. (He went to New York University.) Branca answered, “I didn’t know that.”Branca had to find room for his Jewishness in his life story, and quite literally. His autobiography, “A Moment in Time,” was due out in September. He inserted two sentences.Branca’s roots may well increase sales among the People of the Book. In 1951, one of every three Brooklynites was a Jew, and many held as fast to their chosen team as to their inherited religion. But when word gets out that the great goat was doubly chosen — that the baseballer most identified with victimhood was born to a Jewish mother — will his landsmen hold him dear?Branca swore good-naturedly when I mentioned that his 88 victories were the eighth most among Jewish hurlers. “If I didn’t get hurt, I’d be No. 1,” he said.I wondered what it was like for Kati Berger to become Katherine Branca, to leave a Jewish home in Europe at 16 and start a Christian home in America a year later. I phoned Bill Branca, Ralph’s manager and nephew, and wound up talking to his mother, Mildred. She was 86, had been married to Branca’s brother John, and told me a story.Mildred had once visited Kati’s sister Fanni, who had immigrated to the United States. Fanni was openly Jewish and lived in a Jewish nursing home in upstate New York.Fanni had told her that Kati had written their parents a letter from New York. In it, she had asked two questions. Would they allow her to marry a Catholic? Would they allow her to raise her children as Christians? Fanni told Mildred she had seen the letter and the letter her parents sent back. Yes and yes, they wrote. And so Kati had married John Branca, a trolley car conductor from Italy.Over the years, Mildred said, Fanni shared with several of Ralph’s siblings that their mother was Jewish. She told his oldest sisters, Antoinette and Annunziata, and his youngest brother, Al.“I used to question my mother about it,” Al, 83, said last week. “ ‘Are we Jewish?’ And she never would give me a definite answer. I don’t see why she didn’t come out and say it.”Kati died in 1969, buried in a Catholic cemetery in New Rochelle. Ralph and Al are the last of her 17 children living.I asked Branca what he and his mother would say to each other now that her secret was out. “Ralphie, I’m glad you know,” Branca said, channeling his mother. “Thanks, Mom,” he would say. “I’m glad I know.”I have known Branca for 11 years. He is an honest man and has an astonishing memory. (In 1961, he won 17 straight games on “Concentration,” an NBC game show that measured recall.)Given that Branca, like some of his siblings, also once visited Fanni, some may wonder how he never learned that his mother was Jewish. Some may wonder if, like his siblings, he had. “He should have known,” his brother Al told me.But perhaps, as he says, no one told him. Further, not everyone is eager to pursue questions that might complicate his identity. As Branca told me when I first wrote about the Giants’ cheating: “People don’t want history changed.”Our Friday lunch at the club ended. I mentioned to Branca the approaching Sabbath.“I have to get my money from Mrs. Lichtenfeld,” Branca said.What? I asked. Branca explained. He told me that as a boy in Mount Vernon, he had lighted the stove for a Jewish neighbor every Friday night. He had been a Shabbos goy, doing something that was forbidden for Jews to do on the Sabbath.Here was a memory that elevated experience over genes, that affirmed Branca’s sense of self. He was a Catholic, not a Jew.“If I was Jewish, I couldn’t have done it,” he said. He added, “I’m not going to sell my soul for a penny.”Joshua Prager will be a Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Jerusalem this fall.
August 15, 2011Pondering the Meaning of Branca’s Jewish RootsFor Shel Wallman, a co-editor of the Jewish Sports Review, the searching question, if rather high profile, was not uncommon: should Ralph Branca, historic goat, get to join the magazine’s list of official Jewish athletes?Wallman, whose publication has come out six times a year for 14 years, weighed the competing information. Branca had been raised Roman Catholic and had in fact credited his Christian faith with having helped him endure six decades of regret and abuse. But now it had been revealed that Branca’s mother was Jewish and that he, by traditional Jewish law, was considered Jewish, as well.For Wallman, the decision — he might have called it a ruling — was straightforward, and, to him, anything but Talmudic. Branca, he said, had not been a practicing Jew. Case closed.“He could say, ‘I’ll practice the Jewish religion from here on’ — we wouldn’t add him,” Wallman said.Wallman was not alone on Monday coming to terms with Branca’s startling late-life revelation. Branca said he had never known of his mother’s Jewishness until a reporter did research proving it this year.The revelation of Branca’s Jewish roots, nearly 60 years after he gave up the pennant-winning home run to the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson on Oct. 3, 1951, is now being absorbed and assessed by Catholics and Jews; priests and rabbis; Brooklyn Dodgers fans and aficionados of Jewish baseball history.Where does a man long remembered for infamy fit in? Is he now a Jew? Is he still a Catholic?“Of the roughly 17,000 guys who’ve played professional baseball, precious few are Jews,” said Scott Barancik, who runs the Jewish Baseball News Web site. “Anytime you see the list grow, it’s fulfilling. It’s a heartwarming story: a guy comfortable in his Catholicism finds his past is more nuanced than he thought.”But is it more than nuance? Is there naches, or pleasure, in knowing that Branca’s mother was a Jew?Even more, is it possible that Jews could do this newfound brother a spiritual mitzvah by absorbing some of the guilt Branca felt for giving up the home run to Thomson?“We’re experts at assuming guilt,” said Barancik, a Jew. “So I’ll take responsibility for that home run.”Bill Kent, the president of the New York Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society, responded to news of Branca’s Jewishness with a wisecrack.“Well, I wouldn’t hold it against her,” said Kent, who is Jewish.If Branca belongs on a list of Jewish athletes other than Wallman’s, it might be the one at jewishmajorleaguers.org, between Lou Boudreau, the Hall of Famer, and Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers. His landsmen in Brooklyn Dodgers history would include Moe Berg, Harry Eisenstat, Goody Rosen, Cal Abrams and Sandy Koufax.Koufax and Hank Greenberg are the most famous Jews in baseball history. Branca, for all we knew until Monday, was a Catholic who asked counsel from a Jesuit priest after the Thomson home run.“Ralph Branca is not a Jew,” said Alan Dershowitz, a Brooklyn-born Dodgers fan, lawyer and Harvard professor. “Whatever the definition, it doesn’t include someone who willingly accepted a different religion. He didn’t stay home on Yom Kippur like Koufax.” (Koufax, of course, knew he was a Jew.)Dershowitz, in fact, theorized that Branca, to his eyes as a boy, did not pitch “Jewishly.”Jewishly?“Koufax altered strength and guile and knew that you pitch for six days and you rest on the seventh,” he said. “Branca was straight-on; you could see there was nothing Jewish about Ralph Branca.”Note: Dershowitz said he turned to atheism (at 13) after Branca’s fateful pitch to Thomson.Doris Kearns Goodwin, who turned memories of her rooting for the Dodgers as a girl from Rockville Centre on Long Island into the autobiographical “Wait Till Next Year,” said that hearing of Branca’s Jewish background prompted an immediate discussion with her husband, Richard Goodwin.“I’m Catholic and my husband is Jewish and he said, ‘Oh, we get blamed for everything; now we’ll get blamed for this!’ ” she said from Concord, Mass., referring to Thomson’s home run. “I said, ‘No, he was brought up Catholic.’ And my son Joe said, ‘I’ll get double blame!’ ”William Donohue, a Yankees fan who is the president of the Catholic League, said he was impressed to learn that Branca’s mother had instilled in her family a tolerance of Jews, blacks, Irish, Germans and Italians in the Branca family’s neighborhood in Mount Vernon, N.Y.“She sounded more open-minded at the time than some Catholics were,” he said. “At the time, Catholics were very ethnically oriented. Jews were more inclined to reach out.”David Zaslow, a rabbi in Ashland, Ore., was raised in Coney Island a devout Dodgers fan, with Branca one of his heroes. “Everybody in Brooklyn loved Ralph Branca,” he said. “All of us identified with him for his sorrow, for the heartbreak itself, when he made that pitch.”Knowing that Branca’s mother was Jewish made Zaslow think this was a new step in the old pitcher’s life. “This is a very Jewish story — even the story of not knowing you’re Jewish,” he said. “Thousands of people every year discover they have Jewish roots.”But in Flushing, Queens, Irving Aks, a child of East New York, had his doubts.The day before Branca’s fateful pitch, Aks said, he sneaked into the Polo Grounds carrying a funeral wreath his brother made that he planned to rest at home plate to celebrate the hoped-for baseball death of the Giants. He said he slept in a custodian’s closet and the next day retrieved the wreath from its hiding place in the ninth inning, with Brooklyn ahead, 4-1.Branca’s pitch undid his mission, and Aks left the wreath at his seat in foul territory in left field.Aks simply found it too much to believe that Kati Branca never celebrated a Jewish holiday or divulged to her 17 children that she was born Kati Berger.“I can’t believe there was never a hint,” said Aks, who is Jewish. “Through the years, she had to say something, observe something. I can’t believe she went through life, as a Jewish mother, and you don’t know from Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur or Pesach? It’s hard to believe.”Branca will never, it seems, celebrate his inclusion in the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Commack, N.Y., where the baseball inductees include Koufax, Berg, Ron Blomberg, Saul Rogovin, Art Shamsky, and Mike Epstein, who was once nicknamed Super Jew. But Branca, who was 88-68, with a 3.79 earned run average, not a bad career record, is excluded.“I, too, am from Mount Vernon and always felt an affinity for Mr. Branca,” Alan Freedman, the director of the hall of fame, wrote in an e-mail. But, he said, consideration of a nominee is not based on the parents’ or grandparents’ backgrounds, but on whether he was raised Jewish and considers himself a Jew.Another slight for Branca.“Here’s a good question,” Barancik said. “If you’re a Jewish baseball fan, would you rather find out Ralph Branca had a hidden Jewish past or that Bobby Thomson did? All things being equal, give me Thomson.”Joshua Prager and Hunter Atkins contributed reporting.From the newsletter of the JGS of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County:VITAL RECORDS FOR SLOVAKIAN TOWNSBirth, Marriage and Death records for the following Slovakian counties may be accessed online at http://tinyurl.com/3pm4mzn: Banska Stiavnica, Bardejov, Dunajska Streda, Galanta, Giraltovce, Humenne, Krupina, Malacky, Myjava, Nove Mesto nad Vahom, Pezinok, Piestany, Presov, Sabinov, Senec, Senica, Skalica, Stara Lubovna, Stropkov, Trencin, Tmava, Vranov nad Toplou, Sala. The records can be found under the heading: “Slovakia Church Books,1592-1910.”UPDATED US DEATH RECORDS, CEMETERIES AND OBITUARIESThe Online Searchable Death Indexes and Records (click above to access) website has updated data for the following states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, DC, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts,Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York,North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah,Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.PRE-HOLOCAUST JEWISH PROPERTYProject HEART has compiled a searchable database of 1.5 million Holocaust era property records considered to be the largest, publically available single-sourcedatabase of lost Jewish property assets from the Holocaust era. To view the data go to~~~~~~~~~~~See you September 19th!