Farmers without a farm: Researching rural Irish ancestors

“What class of men do you mean by laborers?” — “The men who use the spade.” “Do you mean by labouring men, men who have no land?” — “A man who has no land; who goes out with his spade or pitchfork on his shoulder, and hires for employment.” 1 In the 1850s in Coolkeragh, a rural townland in County Kerry, Ireland, there were two men named Philip Stack. Born just two or three years apart, they lived on adjacent…

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Who’s your daddy? Using DNA to find find unknown parents

Wondering how to start the process of using DNA research and genealogy to find your biological family, or help an adoptee do the same? Here are a few tips. Get tested at both Ancestry and 23andMe. Both have big databases but you can’t compare your results to the people in their database unless you test with them directly. If you can only test with one, start with Ancestry because their database is larger and users there are more likely to…

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When doing DNA research consider adoption’s troubled history

Like most genealogists who have taken a DNA test or three, I’ve come across several adoptees in my DNA match list. I was intensely curious about where these people fit in my family tree, but I had never given much thought to the process behind these adoptions, or known that babies could be taken from unwilling mothers who desperately wanted to keep them. Reading journalist Gabrielle Glaser’s compelling new book, American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History…

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A 1915 Visit to Przedbórz

A few weeks ago I came across this story from the October 23, 1915 issue of a German weekly, Die Woche. It’s a travelogue of a visit to Przédborz written by Dr. H. Roesing, believed to be Dr. Lieutenant Roesing of the German Royal Wuertemberg Army Corps. It’s a fascinating look at pre-war Przédborz and its Jewish community, infused, of course, with the prejudices one might expect. In trying to learn more about this piece, I found a PDF translation…

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Przedbórz burial societies

Landsmanshaftn were organizations started by Jewish immigrants as a multi-purpose fraternal organization, health insurance, death benefits, and aid society. There were two New York landsmanshaftn for Przedbórz, the First Przedborzer Benevolent Association and the Independent Przedborzer Friends Society. The former has sections at three cemeteries in New York, at Floral Park, Montefiore (Block 53 Gate 469/E), and Union Field (Block 72). The latter has one at Beth David Elmont (Section G Block 7). Unfortunately, the paperwork for these organizations has…

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Mike Schackowitz, Satanover Benevolent Society

Michael Schackowitz is the reason I started photographing the Satanover Benevolent Society. My elusive great great grandfather Moses Schechowitz or Scheckowitz (or indeed, about 30 other spellings of this name) was registered in the nearby town of Volochisk, so when I saw that there were several Scheckowitzs and Shackowitzs buried in the Satanover Benevolent Society plot at Mount Hebron, I thought I might as well research all of them, and figure out if they had any connection to my family.…

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Taube Spilka Scheckowitz, Satanover Benevolent Society

Last year I visited Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens, New York and spent a few hours taking photos of every headstone in the section for the Satanover Benevolent Association landsmanshaft. Mount Hebron has a very useful website where you can search for people by name or by burial society, and I discovered that there are a group of people named Scheckowitz in the burial society for Sataniv, Ukraine. This Scheckowitz family is my great white whale, and the whole story…

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The Przedbórz synagogue

The wooden synagogues of Poland, with elaborate carvings and brightly colored interiors were a “truly original and organic manifestation of artistic expression—the only real Jewish folk art in history,” according to art historian Stephen S. Kayser in Wooden Synagogues by Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka, a Polish couple who were the world’s foremost experts on wooden synagogues in Eastern Europe. To get a sense of what Polish wooden synagogues looked like, check out the wooden replica of the Gwoździec synagogue at…

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But which Catherine Stack and Tom Collins?

In the 1800s in rural Ireland, people weren’t about to get creative with their children’s names. They drew on a very small number of popular names when baptizing their children, often using an Irish naming convention that named the children after their parents and older siblings. It’s not uncommon to find families in which a man’s mother, wife, and daughter are all named Bridget. This can be a problem when researching a common surname in small Irish towns, most of…

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