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  • Writer's pictureJessica Feinstein

Patience and perseverance pays off (Happy 2023!)

I had a feeling yesterday that I might make another breakthrough this year. I’m not sure why, but it feels as though slowly and steadily I am able to make progress on the more difficult parts of my tree, and one major discovery a year feels about right. I’m talking about the kind of discovery that gives me a new ancestral surname to add to my DNA match list.


Having my Ahnentafel chart to hand is very helpful, because I can see where there are gaps that I need to attack. This morning I decided to look at my Feinstein line, where I had a question mark over my great-great-great-grandmother who was married to Abram Feinstein.


The first new piece of information I found, thanks to JewishGen, was the death of Abram in 1877 in Liepaja, Latvia, from tabes, which is a complication of untreated syphilis. (I knew that he must have died before 1888 when my great-grandfather named his son Abram, so i think that this is the right person.)


What I found next was Abram’s wife, who was called Bassa, and four more children that I hadn’t known about before. Bassa (Bessie) is interesting because she had originally been in the wrong part of my tree (assigned as the mother of my great-great-grandmother Sophia Brenner rather than Abram’s son, my great-great-grandfather Isaac; see chart below. I found out last year that Sophia's mother was actually Sarah Oppenheim).



Bassa's death record which I found this morning is in the Latvian Archives, which you can search through the Raduraksti website (see https://latvia.jewishgen.org/research/archival-resources/raduraksti). Hers is record no. 51.


It tells us that she died of old age at 100. And when I went back to my original information, from one of her American descendants, Lola Solomon, I found a note that said “Bessie lived till 105 and was an herbalist and healer”. (Lola can be seen talking about her family tree at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdhX8m7SVcM)


I suspect that my grandfather Louis’s sister, Bassa Riva (known as Bessie), who was born in 1894 in Liepaja, was named after Bassa.


Before this morning I hadn’t known the names of any of Abram and Bessie’s children apart from Isaac, born in 1827. But I have now found two more sons, Meier (born 1838) and Salomon (1847) and two daughters, Sarah Dina (1840) and Rael (1843). And these birth records tell us that Bessie’s father was Yankel.


Although I haven’t found her surname yet, it is a giant step!


I hope it is encouraging to others to hear about how these breakthroughs can happen. It’s often the case that the records were there all along but you only find them when you are particularly focused on a certain person or event and choose some effective search terms or combinations of names and places. Looking at naming patterns is often helpful. You can narrow down someone’s dates of death in Ashkenazi families by looking for when children were named after them. Or even guess an ancestor’s name by seeing similar names among the great-grandchildren. Also perhaps you get better at spotting patterns, going with your hunches, and knowing more about names, places and records. And you really do have to be patient and look at things again and again from different angles.


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