Local History - CJH Genealogy Coffee Break shout-out #usa #records #names

Lee Jaffe

I would like to give a big shout-out to Center for Jewish History's weekly Genealogy Coffee Break series and in particular last week's session which lead to a big break-through in my family tree research.

Maybe the strategies and tools suggested in this program (you can see the recording at the above link)  might be second-nature to more experienced researchers, but it really got me to explore areas I hadn't considered before.   Specifically, following their suggestions I discovered that my grandfather's hometown newspaper (The Perth Amboy Evening News) has been digitized by Rutgers U. and is available to search and view through the Library of Congress's Chronicling America project (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/).  The search tools are quite good and it turned out that my great-grandparents and my grandfather and his siblings were very active in various social and political (and legal) arenas, enough to get mentioned often in these pages.  For papers of that time, "Mr. Joseph Schwartz motored to Princeton yesterday" was newsworthy.  Lucky me.  

There were a lot of meaningful items retrieved through a series of searches:  my grandparents' wedding announcement, my great-grandfather's run for election as alderman (Socialist Party) and his death announcement, a front page item detailing my great-uncle's arrest for grand larceny at the age of 14, and a letter commending the same great-uncle for meritorious service in France during WWI. I even found an item describing a boating party of young people listing my still-unmarried grandmother and grandfather in attendance.  

More curious were some of the more oblique references.  One of these included a description of the will of a recently deceased businessman, mentioning my great-grandfather as a trustee and brother-in-law, a family connection that was news to me.  There were a couple of social events attended my great-grandparents and a number of Weinblatts, which I believed was my great-grandmother's maiden name, but I had no documentation nor information about her family.

Refining my searches, I found my Rosetta Stone: a death announcement for the wife of the above-mentioned businessman, detailing her surviving family, including her husband, children, father, and six Weinblatt siblings, one of whom was my great-grandmother.  In two paragraphs, I added ten family members, including my 2x great-grandfather. 
True, it took several days of digging, reviewing more than 100 items retrieved through different search attempts.  There were a more than a few false leads, such as two Leo Schwartzes, one a city health commissioner and president of a local synagogue, when the Leo Schwartz who is my grandfather was still in knee pants.  
I mention this experience for several reasons.  First, I want to recommend the Center for Jewish History's weekly Genealogy Coffee Breaks.  Though they seem aimed mostly at the beginner, even an experienced researcher can learn something new.  I've been looking for these people for more than 20 years and the other approaches I tried haven't worked.  Finally, a caveat, that this particular strategy won't work for everyone: not every town has a newspaper (or archive) that's searchable online and, even for those that do, finding an item like the one I discovered has to be a rare event.  But it's still worth "thinking laterally" – going around brick walls when you haven't been able to break through them.  

Shana Tova,

Lee Jaffe

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