Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Leonid's Story

[Notes: 1. Much of the narrative about Leonid's life an the initial search was written by Mara. 2. Many names of the youngest generations are not mentioned to protect the privacy of those involved].

It’s been a few years since I’ve been able to work on my own family history research. I’ve dabbled a little here and there when had a free week, but didn’t run across any “new” finds.

But back in October, my friend, Mara, approached me about a genealogy/family history project that she needed help with. She knew I liked history and had done my own family research, so she thought I’d be a good brain to pick.

Mara had recently returned from visiting Belarus and Poland, on a trip to help young people learn about their past. They toured Holocaust sites and had the privilege of meeting individual Holocaust survivors and hearing their stories. One man, Leonid Rubinstein,  was an 87-year-old, living in Minsk, Belarus. Not only did he survive the Minsk ghetto, which he adamantly states was "worse than any death camp," but he survived five concentration camps including Auschwitz and Dachau, where he was liberated in 1945. While Leonid lived in the ghetto, he lost 28 of his family members, at the time believing that every single one of his relatives had passed away.

After the war, Leonid returned to his homeland in Belarus at 18 years old. Surprisingly, the Red Cross contacted Leonid and said that he had an aunt in America who had contacted them. Leonid's aunt and cousin, Tamara, had immigrated to America in the 1920's before the war. Immediately, Leonid began corresponding with them, and his aunt started sending him care packages. However, the Soviet Union began interrogated Leonid and reprimanded him for receiving care packages and letters from their "enemy" (America). They forced him to write a letter, which they dictated, cutting off all communication with his only living relatives.

Seeing the sorrow that Leonid had, after losing his family a second time, Mara agreed to do as much as she could to help Leonid find his family. Although Leonid had recorded his family’s history in a short book, he didn’t have very clear details about his cousin and aunt, but he was able to tell Mara four specific things about his cousin: 1.Her name was Tamara (unfortunately, he didn’t know her last name), 2. She served as an U.S. army, and was a gynecologist/doctor in the liberation of Dachau in April, 1945. 3. Her husband was also a doctor in the army (but didn’t know his name), and 4. They lived in Brooklyn, NY when they were able to write letters back and forth. He also had two photographs: one of Tamara and her husband (in military uniform), and the other of her family on her wedding day. And additional info about his parents was given as well.

[As it turned out, not all of these things were true, but I’m getting ahead of myself.]

Immediately after returning from Eastern Europe, Mara started searching. She contacted national and international archives, multiple Holocaust museums, the Red Cross, the International Tracing Service, military libraries and museums, and census records, which all yielded no results.


Then, after a Sukkot service, Mara shared this all with me, and I agreed to jump on board as well. I was in the middle of a busy school semester, and had been dealing with some difficult health issues, but if you know me, I cannot say no to a research project! Mara helped me pay for a month’s subscription to’s World Membership, and I jumped right in. For the whole month, every spare minute I had was spent thinking, praying, and researching about Tamara and her family.

I began by creating a family tree on, to see if any hints would appear. Them I posted a short description of the inquiry and the photographs of Tamara and her family on various message boards on One person responded and identified Tamara's uniform. They suggested the U.S. Army Enlistment records, found at the National Archives (NARA) and on There were four people with the first name Tamara who lived in New York when they enlisted. Two of those women were born in the former Soviet Union. The first served as an aviation cadet, but Leonid had told me that Tamara served in a medical unit so we knew she couldn't be the one. That left one Tamara: Tamara K.

I shared this information with Mara in late October. She was optimistic but also unsure how we would actually contact this Tamara or any of her relatives. Through Public Records and Phone Directory Records on, I was able to give Mara a list of outdated phone numbers and addresses for all the "Tamara K's" in New York.

Mara called them, one by one. There were many wrong numbers, as I expected. For the last Tamara, there was a phone number but no area code. However, this Tamara was born in 1919, which would have lined up with Leonid's cousin's estimated age. . .

Having no luck with the phone calls, we decided that "Tamara K." was not the correct Tamara, and went back to scouring for anything to “click.” I looked at census records (hallelujah for the 1940 census!), military, and immigration records on; military history websites and I even went to the library and looked up books about the Army units that liberated the Dachau concentration camp, in case Tamara was important enough to get mentioned. Meanwhile, our subscription to was running out.

Then, five days before the subscription ran out, I received another response from the message board, encouraging us to reconsider "Tamara K." The person also sent a link to a K family tree on another genealogy website ( Geni’s family tree for the Klein family showed the connections I was looking for! Tamara’s mother’s name was Marya, and her father was Moti, the same name as Leonid’s father! When Tamara and Marya (Alyoshina) had migrated from Minsk in the 1920s, they (unknowingly to us), stopped in Turkey for a while. Therefore, many of their immigration records noted Turkey as their last location (which originally turned me off to a whole line of inquiry!). Crossing borders into the United States, their last name was changed. This information all came from confirming our speculation about Tamara Klein being the right Tamara. It was only then that I was able to confirm connections going both back, and forward in time. It was an amazing moment of discovery!

Immigration Record

1940 Census Record

[But back to my original side note: in all this we discovered that Tamara was never at Dachau, nor a gynecologist/doctor. She was in the U.S. Army, but served in a home-front capacity, as she was pregnant with her daughter Judith at the time. Her husband Michael K. fought in WWII, but also did not make his way to Dachau either. What we thought was vital information, was not true at all.]

With this information, I turned to Google. I found Tamara K.’s obituary (she must have been the Tamara who was born in 1919 who didn't have an area code!), as well as her daughter’s (Judith) obituary. I anticipated the fact that Tamara had passed, but I was saddened to learn that Leonid’s next best connection was as well. But through the wonders of Facebook and Google, I found out that Judith and her husband moved from New York to San Francisco to begin a social service agency, where their three grown children still work today! I sent Mara the information right away, and she began calling the siblings. Finally, after a few weeks, the oldest son called Mara back on Christmas Eve!

He was hesitant at first, but confirmed some of Mara’s questions about his grandmother, and then she sent him the photograph of Tamara and her husband. He was floored, “ Oh!! That's my Grandpa Mike and Grandma Tam! I've seen that picture before."

Through their phone call, we realized we forgot about trying to contact Tamara’s son, who is still living. So Mara emailed him, and it turns out that he had the most interest in meeting Leonid.

When Mara shared all of this with Leonid (through an interpreter), he listened quietly while she spoke, and then tears started streaming down his face. "Unbelievable, unbelievable," he said. Leonid had been trying to reestablish connections with his relatives since Belarus became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. His last communication with Tamara and her mother was in 1946.

Leonid immediately began writing a letter to Tamara’s son, the form of communication he last had with Tamara. Everyone laughed, telling him that he could email or video chat with his American family! Later in January, they did just that, and began making plans to visit Leonid in Belarus.

In their Skype call, Leonid said,  "I would like to invite you to come to Minsk so that I can put my arms around you and hug you. I want to take you through the ghetto and show you where your great grandparents died, where your aunts and uncles died, where your cousins died." He asked, "What could 6 million people have done? Perhaps one of them could have found the cure for cancer. Perhaps one of them could have written the next great symphony....."

He implored them to continue telling the stories of those who had passed away. "Someday, I will be gone, but these stories must live on.” And said, "It's not my story. I'm no hero. All I did was survive. And because I survived, I have to tell this story---for those who have died and can't tell their stories."

Fast forward to June 2015:

Mara and her contacts in Belarus, and a camera crew stood waiting at the airport. Leonid joined them, proudly wearing a suit, and appearing 10 years younger than he had earlier. Leonid’s son was there, as well. More people began arriving: the rabbi who along with his wife started the congregation in Minsk that has cared for the Holocaust survivors for the past 20 years; the woman who had coordinated all the survivor visits; the translator. They all stood in a half circle, in front of the glass doors, waiting for Leonid's family to walk through them and into his life. 

After several minutes, the doors finally opened, and out walked Tamara’s son (with his wife), grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. The camera flashed and Leonid began meeting his family one by one. Tamara had written Leonid letters and sent care packages almost 70 years ago, and today, they were meeting Leonid face to face!

Leonid’s son planned a very special dinner, and everyone talked and showed family pictures. When the meal began, Leonid stood up for a toast: “I will not speak here about the tragedy that took place in Minsk in the ghetto. I will not even say right now how many of my relatives died. I will save that for tomorrow. Today is a day of joy. At my table at home, I always had more friends than relatives. And today, I’ve got 8 people who are my relatives, and honestly, it’s still hard for me to believe that you’re here from such a far land in America. My dear relatives. Tomorrow, I will share about the tragic things but today, I wish you all happiness and health.”

That is the story I got to be a part of. As Mara has said many times, it was like watching a miracle unfold. When I agreed to help, I had no certainty that I would find the family, but I am completely certain that the search would have failed without the immeasurable power of God behind it. God is a God of redemption and faithfulness, and He truly shone redemption into that which was lost.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Family History in Public History: Presenting at the NCPH/OAH 2012 Poster Session

This weekend I attended the National Council on Public History/Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting in Milwaukee, WI. While there, I had the opportunity to present a poster/board about my Family History research and it's connection to Public History (also the topic of my Master's Essay in 2009). It was super fun putting the board together over the last couple weeks and then getting to share my information with fellow public historians.

Stay tuned for updates (on this blog), from my poster board.

Monday, April 2, 2012

My first find: Isadore (Robert) Silverman

Because the 1940 census is being released online first, before going to microfilm, there is not an index yet. That means you can't just search for names like you can with other censuses on (or similar sites). The only search fields are for State, County, City and Enumeration Districts. So you need to know addresses.

I was determined to be a super-slueth and find at least one of the Silverman family members the super hard way. I decided to start with California, and as luck would have it, that was ones of the first states ready to look at today. Last week I scoured City Directories for all the Silvermans who moved out to California, and I found quite a few good matches. But for Robert/Isadore, I found one for San Mateo, CA in both 1939 and 1940. Today I found the San Mateo Enumeration Map and paged through lots of tiny font and curvy roads until I found the street that had been listed in the city directory (Bellevue). Then I went to the 1940 Census and searched by the enumeration district. Easy enough, but I still had to find the family. It's not exactly clear how the enumerators scoured their neighborhoods, but I eventually figured out their rhythm (one side of the street, cross streets, and then the other side of the street). I had to scroll through 38 pages (only had a minor heart-attack about even-odd numbered houses), but I finally found the listing for 1429 Bellevue, the home and work place of Isadore, Anna and one of their sons, Albert (lines 6-8). You can not begin to imagine my excitement! Not only that I found their record, but that I found it the old-fashioned way! Woohoo for the technological age making us do grunt work for a change.

Here are two images to remind you who we're talking about. Isadore (Robert) is my maternal grandmother's uncle. Click here for more details about the family.

This Isadore (Robert) when he was younger, living in Montreal, Canada
And this is Isadore (Robert) closer to 1940.
Here are some images from my search:

1940 City Directory (close-up)-- Burlingame, San Mateo, California
1940 Enumeration Map (close-up)-- Burlingame, San Mateo, California-- 1429 Bellevue Ave.
1940 U.S. Census (close-up)-- Burlingame, San Mateo, California-- Isadore, Anna and Albert Silverman
Here is the full image of the 1940 Census

The 1940 Census is Here!

Please forgive me while I bombard you with all things 1940 Census, but this is a perfect place to share some of the great images and videos I've seen in the last week or so.

I almost forgot this one! I found this on Ancestry's Facebook Page this morning. These are the hard drives holding all the Census data, right before NARA staff began uploading it online. Crazy! has a pretty fun blog called Sticky Notes. It's a great space for every-day people and Ancestry staff can post things they find and share stories. This specific page is high-lighting the 1940 Census record of the great Franklin D. Roosevelt. Pretty exciting. Click on the image to visit the site.

Here is one great example of photographs depicting a 1940 Census enumerator, going to the farthest corners of the country to make sure everyone got recorded.

And lastly, this is a pretty great site that I stumbled upon last week.  It's a site sponsored by public and private genealogical organizations who are devoted to making the 1940 Census accessible and understandable. I signed up to be a blogger and indexer, and I'm super excited to join their efforts!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

1940 Census: April 2, 2012!

Get excited folks, we're less than a week away from the release of the 1940 Census! But before your get too carried away, there's some important things you need to know. This article describes some of the things you'll encounter. Unlike previous censuses that were released first on micro-film, the 1940 census is primarily going to be available on the internet. The effects of this much information entering the world-wide-web won't be evident right away, however, because there won't be a searchable index for at least six months. But be patient--the index will come eventually, and with it, the joy of finding your family's history!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Exciting New Records at in 2012

This week posted a list of 12 things we can look forward to in 2012. Personally, the most exciting is the release of the 1940 U.S. Census! But there will be thousands of new records and documents to peruse and examine. Click on the image below for more details.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Rebecca Silverman Triber

This is all my collected information on Rebecca "Beckie" Silverman Raichlin Triber, my great grandmother and namesake.
  • Beckie was born in 1896 in Chudyn, Austria (Which today is called Chernivtsi, Ukraine) to Rachel Katz and Nathan Silverman. She was one of nine children, seven daughters and two sons.
  • Around 1903 Beckie, her mother Rachel, and some of her siblings emigrate from Europe to Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
  •  The 1911 Canadian Census records the family living in Montreal.

1911 Census. Silverman Family
  • 1914: Beckie marries Nathan Rachlin, an immigrant from Belarus. 
Beckie Silverman

Nathan Raichlin

Beckie and Nathan's Wedding Kettuba, 1914

Beckie and Nathan's Marriage Record,  1914
  • 1916: They give birth to a daughter, Jennie.
Jennie, 1916
  • Later that year, Nathan Raichlin dies from the influenza epidemic.
  • 1918: Beckie marries Charles Triber
  • 1920: They give birth to a son, Abraham.
Beckie, Abraham and Jennie, 1920. The picture excludes Florence Triber, Beckie's step-daughter.
  • Later that year Beckie, Charles, Jennie, Abraham and Charles' daughter Florence move to Florence, South Carolina.
Border Crossing Record, from Canada to U.S., 1920

  • 1923: Abraham tragically dies after being hit by a car.
  • 1924: They give birth to another son, Harry.
  • The 1930 U.S. Census records the family (minus Harry, for an unknown reason) living in Florence, S.C.
1930 U.S. Census

Jennie and Harry Triber

Beckie with her mother, Rachel and daughter, Jennie. Sometime in the 1940s.

Beckie (top right) with her mother, Rachel (next to her) and six of her siblings.
  • 1948: Charles takes his own life, in front of a train.
  • 1949: Beckie passes away, most likely from depression and grief.
Beckie Triber's Obituary, 1949
  • From the time they moved to South Carolina until shortly after Beckie's death, the family ran and operated a Shoe Store in Florence, S.C.
Advertisement for the Triber's Shoe Store, bottom left