Family history and the Wonders of the Internet

I have been doing genealogical research on the internet on and off  for the past several years.  I found the  civil wedding certificate for my father’s grandparents in their town in  Konin, Poland.  I discovered that my very snooty maternal grandmother was snooty for a good reason. She came from a really illustrious family.


Yesterday I discovered that a really sad family story was even sadder than any of us knew.

My grandfather was one of many children, but only three made it to adulthood, Jacob, Dina and Fanya, Feige Tzivia in Yiddish.


Fanya married Nathan.  Fanya’s story was told to me over and over as I grew up. Fanya and Nathan had one son, Sol. Three years later, she gave birth to her second son. a few days later, she developed “ child bed fever”. The midwife  then took a herring, wrapped in in red flannel and put it at Fayna’s feet in hopes of drawing away the fever.

It didn’t work.

The midwife then  called in the doctor, but it was too late.  Fanya died leaving a widowed husband and two orphaned boys. Sol was three. The orphaned baby was named (E)Phraim  Benjamin.  Philip Benjamin, PH, PH Phillly as my grandfather, Jacob used to remind him, to remember  Feiga Tzivya , his mother , and Benjamin  because the Biblical Benjamin’s mother, Rachel also  died in childbirth.

My Aunt Dina took in the baby and hired a wet-nurse to feed Philly. Sol moved in with his grandmother, Fanya’s mother, Hodel.

Hodel took  three year old Sol to services every day so he could say kaddish.  Sol once told me that he understood that his grandmother was old, and it was hard for her to take care of him. He used to lick his plate clean and shiny, hoping that it would save her the work of washing the dishes. Hodel washed the plates anyway.


Jacob’s family and Dina’s family were both poor. The boys grew up both in orphanages as well as in foster care.  After a couple of years, their father re-married. The boys were reunited with their father. Their stepmother was by all reports, a nice woman and was kind to the boys.  Phil thought that she was his mother.

My mother was born in 1929 and was named for Feige Tzivia


When Sol was 11, his father died.  Their stepmother was too poor to care for the boys. Once again, the boys were back in the foster care system.  My grandfather, and Dina and her husband, did what they could for the boys. The boys made sure to stay in touch with family.


Both boys grew up and lived good productive lives and raised families of their own.  My mother adored both of them but also always felt guilty that her mother wasn’t big hearted enough to take them in.


So yesterday I looked up my aunt her husband Nathan in the 1920 census. Nathan was 32,  Fannie was 25, Solie was a year and a half. then came what for me, was the shocker, Yetta was two months old.


Clearly this little girl didn’t survive very long.  It made me think of the burden of sadness that Nathan lived with, first burying a child an  not very long after that, having to bury his wife.


I contacted Sol’s daughters  to let them know about the wrinkle in the family story. I mentioned that I had never seen a photo of Feige Tzivia who my mother was named for.


My cousin sent me this photo of Fanya with Nathan.

photo (2)

This is my grandfather with his other sister Dina.

papa dina

So now for the first time in about 90 years, we can see the three siblings together in one context.


  1. What a moving story! Thanks for sharing it. Yetta now has another way to be remembered! Did you notice those great buttons on Fanya's dress? Do you think the dress was made of silk faille?

  2. That dress with the zillions of buttons is fabulous. I love the diagonal line. I wonder if the sleeves are sheer.

    What struck me more than Fanya's great clothes is the open, modern expression on her face. My aunt Dina. my grandfather and even Nathan have more closed, formal expressions on their faces...Fanya's personality is just so present in that photograph.


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