I Just Had to Know What Those 200 Year Old Documents Said

A couple of weeks ago, after anxiously waiting for a package to arrive from Germany, I had that euphoric feeling when it finally showed up. I felt like the kid who, upon receiving a birthday gift, optimistically thinks that the contents inside will rock her world.

I wasn’t sure what to expect and thought that the papers would surely provide some new and exciting details. Instead, the papers simply provided names, towns and lists of taxes paid by each adult male resident.

Tax Record - 1818 Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany

Tax Record – 1818
Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany

There was one small detail however that was interesting. Two of my ancestors were listed on the same document. I didn’t realize that they lived so close to each other.

Tax record - 1818

Iaaac Samuel and Bonnem Levy – 5th great-grandparents

My 5th great-grandfathers, Isaac Samuel and Bonnem Levy both had a child that married each other. From that marriage came my 3rd great-grandmother, Loget Levy Lorig.

Over time, Loget’s descendants moved to various different countries. The story of this union came full circle upon a recent family gathering. Some of Loget’s descendants finally came together after separating for over 100 years.

Is it worth it to request family documents when you aren’t sure what you’ll receive? In my case, I feel that it was worth the time and effort. I now have a better understanding of what records are and are not available for this region.

Genealogy Gems: Resources – Part 5 – A Tutorial for Records in Hesse, Germany

As the search for my family continued, I found some incredible resources for Hesse, Germany that I want share with you. If you have ancestors from this area, you’re in luck.

The first source is called, The Hessian Regional History Information System (LAGIS). Through this system, I was able to find ancestral records for the years 1808-1813. The holdings that were available for my own personal research covered the 19th and 20th century but this website contains records well beyond that parameter. I’m only going to discuss a small portion of what this site has to offer. There’s a wealth of information and it’s worth investigating.

The first step is to go to their homepage: http://www.lagis-hessen.de

Next, go to the Sources column on the far right side and click on the bottom link, Archive System HADIS. When the search page shows up, enter the name of the town you would like to research. The town of Kassel will be used throughout this demonstration.

Once you see the screen below, click on Kassel, Stadt located in the center on the right side.

I selected Kassel (21) on the right side of the next page because it provides the oldest birth, marriage and death records for my family.

Next, I selected item number 12 because it contains a family record.

After clicking on number 12, a smaller window will open up. On the top far right side you will see the word media. Click on that. It will bring you to the metric book. The record that I selected is on Seite (page) 18.

Frankel birth - 1811 Kassel, Germany

Frankel birth – 1811 Kassel, Germany

A man named Omer generously volunteered his time to translate this record for my cousin. Omer transcribed the document to English with the same style of writing as the original.

In the year 1811, on May 18, at 9 a.m., standing before the mayor and civil officer of the Jewish Community of Kassel, in the Fulda District of the Kingdom of Westphalia, Joseph Simon Fraenkel, 69 years old, Jewish hospital attendant in Kassel declared that on Saturday, May 8, 1811 at 6 p.m., a male child was born, which had been conceived by his son, Seligmann Fraenkel 27 years, at the moment residing in the camp at Catharinenthal and his wife Caroline Israel, and which the child, due to its great congenital weakness, had not been able to be recorded in the birth register, died on Friday May 17, 1811 at 1:00 p.m. at the age of 7 days, in the rented part of the house Nr. 1071, the rented mill place, belonging to the innkeeper Metzler.

This announcement and declaration occurred in the presence of Mr. Conrad Mergard, commissioner from Kassel, 50 years old, and of Mr. Jacob Pfannschmied, cabinetmaker from Kassel, 29 years old, and after we had been convinced about the deceased from the town surgeon, Kampfmüller, we made this account, which after reading over a second time had been signed by the witnesses. Joseph Simon Fraenkel declared that he was unable to sign the document because he was not permitted to write on the Sabbath.

Conrad Mergard

Jacob Pfannschmidt, Mayor

Jugo? Canstein

Based upon previous research, I knew that Seligmann Fraenkel, my 3rd great-grandfather was away while his baby was born. This record was very helpful because it provided new information which eventually helped answer some questions. Seligmann played a role in the Napoleon campaign but the information that I had prior to this record contradicted what his role entailed. A couple of clues in this birth entry helped point me in a direction which enabled me to delve deeper into Seligmann’s story.

There was one discovery in particular which I found through this website that was a nice surprise. My 4th great-grandfather’s headstone is not only intact but it is in good condition. The probability was high that his grave, like so many of my other ancestors would have been destroyed during WWII. The transcription of the headstone was found on the website in both Hebrew and German.

Joesph Simon Frankel Headstone

Joesph Simon Frankel 1815

German to English translation from Google:

Here rests Torah scholar Joseph Abraham, son of the venerable servant Simon of blessed memory of the association for visiting the sick in Kassel. Died on Monday, 26 Shevat, Feb. 6, 1815 and was buried on Tuesday, 27 the same month 5575 [Hebrew calendar]. His soul is bound up in the covenant of life.

Joseph Simon is buried next to his second wife at the Kassel-Bettenhausen Jewish Cemetery grave no. B258.

When all of the information was gathered from different resources, everything reconciled to prove without a shadow of a doubt that this was the correct headstone for my ancestor.

In a future post, I’ll provide other valuable resources which contain Hesse, Germany archival holdings.



This is the homepage for The Hessian Regional History Information System (LAGIS).


This link will take you to the archive system’s search page. Enter the name of the town that you would like to research.

Family Stories – Can You Separate Fact from Fiction?

In my previous post, I investigated a story that sounded a bit suspicious. After a simple search, I confirmed that the family legend was…well exactly that, a legend.

I decided to look a bit further into the actual “facts” published about Joel Blackwell. The first thing I noticed was that birth and death dates for a Joel Blackwell living in Rutherford, North Carolina in 1810 were inconsistent. Apparently there were two people with the same name living similar lives during the same time period.

The historical society made many assumptions and then entered those ideas into some books about one man named Joel Blackwell. Researcher Eleanor Edmonton, a descendant of Joel Blackwell (ca 1737-1821) told me, “There are two different Joel Blackwells and no one bothered to separate them into two different men. Therefore, most of the books in print are incorrect.” In this case, even the experts got it wrong.

Unless you have hard proof such as real documentation, consider the family stories and trees a good starting point and investigate further.

Daniel Blackwell – Dismantling the Building Brick by Brick

Daniel Blackwell tore the original State Line Baptist Church down brick by brick after he was dismissed from the congregation for making whiskey. The congregants became tired of his loud, disruptive alcoholic behavior and the whiskey production was his final offense. The elders felt that he committed a serious misdeed so they banned him from entering the church. Daniel didn’t like this judgement and took revenge.

I thought that this story sounded questionable and decided to search for additional details.

According to a few documents, the original State Line Baptist Church was built on the property of and belonged to my husband’s 5th great-grandfather’s brother, Joel Blackwell. Mr. Blackwell purchased the property from J. W. Camp. The only other item that is clear is that Joel was a congregant of the church. Some legends claim that he was a lay Baptist minister who built the church himself. One fallacy to the story that is incorrect is the material that was used to build the structure. It has been recorded in the Heritage of Rutherford County, NC Vol. I that the first church was not made out of bricks at all but was instead built from logs.

Single room log church

Single room log church

In another version of the story from the same book, it was Joel and not his son Daniel that destroyed the church log by log while in a drunken rage. Furthermore, Daniel was charged by the church for making whiskey but he was not kicked out.

Papers show that Joel did indeed own the property and then upon his death, he left the property to his son Daniel.

Since these stories and others like them cannot be proven, they should only be documented as family lore.

If a family story sounds a little bit too good or too suspicious to be true, it’s nice to know that often times, we have the tools at our fingertips to help separate fact from fiction.


Moshe Bernfeld – Part 3: Resilience in the Face of Adversity

As I continued to learn more about Moshe Bernfeld, I realized that his life was constantly filled with challenges and sadness. He experienced persecution, the death of his future father-in-law right before his wedding, the untimely death of his young wife, poverty, a lawsuit, and shattered dreams. Yet despite his struggle, he remained committed to his goals. His resilience in the face of adversity is a powerful lesson.

Moshe wanted to make a difference in the world. Every time a door shut, he tried to open another. He encountered so many roadblocks in his life but he persevered, never ever giving up.

His dream was to enrich the lives of children through education. In the late 1860’s and early 1870’s, he made several attempts to open a school. During this time period, schools focused on religious education. Moshe wanted the curriculum to include more general secular studies. He had heard of a new type of school that was set up by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, and he wanted to model a school after his philosophy. Rabbi Hirsch’s school included subjects such as music, literature, art, philosophy, natural science and ethics.

In 1868, a few days after Moshe decided to open a school, a fire broke out in his hometown of Tysmienica. At 1:45 p.m., as the family was having lunch, the alarm bells rang on the eastern side of town. Moshe’s family lived on the western side. The day was humid and the strong wind spread the fire to the inner part of the city.

Most of the streets consisted of wooden houses that burned like tinder. Within a few hours, a large part of the city was up in flames. The marketplace as well as town hall were on fire. Eventually, the family heard the sound of the town hall tower fall to the ground.

As the fire appeared to be moving in a western direction and closer to the Bernfeld family home, Moshe became worried and started moving their belongings to a field. Throughout the evening, he ran back and forth from his home to the field. He brought clothing, linens, bedding and books to safety. His wife, Serke stayed in the house to guard their other things. They were concerned that someone might take advantage of the situation and rob them.

Moshe stopped moving their belongings around midnight because he became too exhausted to continue. Although the fire was getting closer to his street it was still a distance away. Eventually the flames were extinguished by firemen from Lviv and elsewhere but unfortunately, much of the city was destroyed.

The Bernfeld’s were fortunate that their home was saved from any damage. However, after the fire occurred, it was too difficult for Moshe to start the school and he had to postpone his plans.

His next opportunity to get involved with a newly established school happened about a year later. A friend, Hillel Kahana had recently started a school in Romania and asked Moshe if he would teach there. When Moshe’s mother found out, she begged him to stay in Stanislawow. He honored her request and did not accept the job offer. She died that winter. After her death, Moshe contacted Mr. Kahana but the position was no longer available.

In 1871, after returning home from a lengthy teaching job in Russia, Moshe once again decided to set up a school in the area where he was working. He received an advanced payment of several hundred rubles. The money was given to him to relocate from Tysmienica to Russia. But his wife did not want to live in Russia so the opportunity fell through and he gave the money back.

By 1872, Moshe was still unable to fulfill his dream and decided to alter his plan. He moved with his family to Lviv, a large city which offered a better opportunity. In Lviv, he became a private teacher. Parents would hire him to teach their sons. His house also became well-known as a center for adult learning. People came from all over the city to learn.

In the near future, I hope to find out if Moshe ever came closer to achieving his original plan. There are additional pages that need to be translated from his son’s autobiography.

Moshe’s memory lives on through his legacy of education. He taught many students who in turn went on to become great thinkers and educators in their time.

The resource for this information came from the autobiography of Rabbi Simon Bernfeld which is found in Reshumot (Tel Aviv 1926) vol. 4.

Wikimedia Commons – National Archives Records and Administration – A Future Gold Mine Resource

There’s a wonderful resource called Wikimedia Commons. It’s a database with over 21,000,000 freely usable media files which include images, sounds and videos.

The focus of this post is Wikimedia Common’s National Archives Records and Administration (NARA) page. NARA recently made an announcement that it will be uploading all of its holdings to the Wikimedia Commons page. I decided to learn more about this resource and would like to share some of the items that I found.

The following are just a few of their many interesting topics:

“Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War” by Alexander Gardner

195 Civil War photos are included in this series.

Officers at Headquarters, Army of the Potomac Fairfax, Virginia 1865

Officers at Headquarters, Army of the Potomac
Fairfax, Virginia 1863

Headquarters of the army of the Potomac during the Battle of Gettysburg

Headquarters of the army of the Potomac during the Battle of Gettysburg 1863

Petersburg, Virginia Army Forge

Petersburg, Virginia Army Forge 1864

The photograph above shows a group of military personnel preparing to shoe a horse in the camp’s temporary blacksmith shop.

Alexander Gardner’s “Portraits of Tribal Delegations to the Federal Government” compiled 1872

These photos are of North American Indians representing various tribes.

Daughter of Gap in the Salt - Comanche tribe

Daughter of Gap in the Salt – Comanche 1872

Jose Pacati - Yuma Indians 1872

Jose Pacati – Yuma Indians 1872

Afraid Of The Bear-Ma-To-Ko-Kepa  Cut Head, Sioux Reservation 1872

Afraid Of The Bear-Ma-To-Ko-Kepa
Cut Head, Sioux Reservation 1872

Personal papers from John F. Kennedy and his family

Rose Kennedy's letter to her children

Rose Kennedy’s letter to her children

Presidential Letters 1789-1875

Letter to James Madison Announcing the Surrender of Louisiana to the United States by France - 1803

Letter to James Madison announcing the surrender of Louisiana to the United States by France – 1803

Stereographs of the Civil War, compiled 1861 – 1865

General Grant (bending over the bench)

General Grant (bending over the bench)

The photo above piqued my interest and I wanted to learn more about it. The passage below is an explanation of the photo. An enhanced image follows.

This view shows “General Grant’s Council of War” in the field near Massaponax Church, VA., May 21, 1864. The pews or benches have been brought out under the trees, and the officers are gathered to discuss the situation. It has been a disastrous day for the Union troops; the losses have been heavy, with nothing apparently gained. General Grant is bending over the bench looking over General Meade’s shoulder at a map which is held in Meade’s lap. The Staff Officers are grouped around under the trees; the orderlies are seen in the background; the ambulances and baggage wagons can also be seen in the background.

Enhanced image - General Grant talking to General Meade  May 21, 1864

Enhanced image – General Grant talking to General Meade
May 21, 1864

Files on Project Mercury, compiled 1952 – 1968

Fact Sheet-Astronaut John Glenn's Space Mission - 1962

Fact sheet-Astronaut John Glenn’s space mission – 1962

Photographs of FBI personnel and activities taken during the tenure of J. Edgar Hoover

George G. Liddy aka G. Gordon Liddy   Special Agent - 1964

George G. Liddy aka G. Gordon Liddy
Special Agent – 1964

G. Gordon Liddy had a talk show in Washington, D.C. as well as a very colorful past which included participation in the Watergate scandal.

Currently, NARA has over 100,000 uploads of material specifically selected to appeal to a broad audience. The goal is to upload everything. That’s great news for people participating in family history research as well as history enthusiasts. I’m looking forward to another promising resource.

Madison School – Bridgeport, Connecticut 1935

MadisonSchool Bridgeport, Connecticut

Madison School – Bridgeport, Connecticut

What became of the sweet school boys with the mischievous sparkle in their eyes?

Or the girls, so modest and refined.

Did they go off to war?

Did they succeed, have families, travel the world?

The journey of life is filled with surprises.

I hope they found what they were looking for.