Don’t Kvetch*- Use Timelines and Locations to Reveal Secrets

*Kvetch- to complain

Part One: Locating the Homeland


If you’ve attended any genealogy class, webinar, or read a book on the subject of family research you’ve been told that it is important to look at timelines for individuals.  Sure, we know this, but how often do we actually stop to examine our family’s timeline?  Yes, I have been guilty of kvetching about how I couldn’t find so-and-so in a certain time period or location.  However, I have learned my lesson and now take advantage of this valuable set of tools.  Let me share a little story of how I used these methods to make breakthroughs in my research.  In past articles I have shared with all of you some details on my maternal 2X great grandfather, Samuel Engel, and now I’m going to tell you the story of how I found his ancestral town.

When I first began my research I had little to go on (as do so many of us!) and relied on my grandmother’s biography for clues on where to look.  For example, this excerpt was where I started:

“As well as I can deduce, my great-grandmother on my grandmother’s side had been married twice. Grandmother, Dora Fleckman Engel, was born in 1864 in Austria-Hungary probably in the same city as that of my grandfather, Samuel Hirsch Engel, born in 1861. I do not know if Grandpa Engel had any sisters or brothers.

Dora Fleckman and Samuel Engel were married around 1885 and their first son was born in 1887 who was called Otto…. they married in Austria. After this birth, they came to Chicago, Illinois, to settle. My grandfather had worked at a shoe repair trade. My mother, Antonia Jeannette Engel (Tony) was born on May 24, 1889, in their flat at Bunker and Halstead Streets. A second boy, Jacob (Jake) arrived on June 18, 1890. Following came Uncle Harry Engel born in 1892 at their next address of 600 Division St., Chicago. Blanche, the last daughter, was born August 21st, 1895. In 1896 Grandfather Engel became a United States Citizen and gave up allegiance to the King of Austria making all the Engel children citizens too.”

Many of you may be thinking, “Wow!  I wish I had that much to start with!”  Yes, I do realize how lucky I am to have such detail.  My grandmother was a bit of a family historian and so I have picked up where she left off.  I hope to be able to track down some details for my many cousins, aunts, and uncles so that her writing can carry on with educating our family.  I was fortunate to inherit the copy of Samuel’s naturalization certificate that was framed and kept in grandma’s upstairs hallway for many years.  This confirmed the time frame of his becoming a naturalized citizen and his birth date.

Naturalization Certificate for Samuel Engel
From the Author’s Personal Collection


I also had a document that was assumed to be some kind of work permit from over in Austria.  I took advantage of JewishGen’s Viewmate service to get a rough translation of the document.

Work Document for Samuel Engel
From the Author’s Personal Collection

“This appears to be a trade certification for Engel Hersch Samu. The town appears to be Eperjes (Sz. Kir. Varos), but since there were several with that name, I can’t be sure which one it is. Perhaps, for that reason the “Sz. Kir Varos” is attached to the name to better identify it.  As for the date, the document is signed on the 14th day of April. At the top, the year of the document appears to be 1887, however in the printed text of the document, the year of 1884 appears. The document is #2129.  

There were several places with this name but only one of them was a town and that is Presov in Slovakia now.”

So I knew that the Presov area was most likely where I should be looking for my 2X great grandparents before coming to America.  Research on the Jewishgen shtetl finder states that though it was Austria at the time that he was naturalized it became what is present day Slovakia.  Needless to say, I don’t know the language or geography there and know very little about the country as a whole.  So, I created a timeline to try to narrow the years of interest for the search.


Created by the Author

Looking at the timeline above, I was able to think of several record types that may be useful in determining Samuel’s birthplace.  Here’s a summary of the documents I considered researching.

Samuel Engel—Birth Record, Synagogue Records, Tax Lists, Marriage record, Passenger List, Declaration of Intent Application.  Other potential sources that may have his birthplace town:  World War I draft card, Death certificate, obituary, South Bend Synagogue Records

Dora Fleckman—Birth Record, Synagogue Records, Marriage Record, Passenger List. Other potential sources that may have her birthplace town:  World War I & II draft cards, Marriage application, Death certificate, obituary, South Bend Synagogue Records

I would be remiss if I didn’t include their son, Otto who was born in Austria and came over with them.

Otto Engel—Birth Record, Synagogue Records, Passenger List.  Other potential sources that may have his birthplace town:  World War I & II draft cards, Marriage application, Death certificate, obituary, South Bend Synagogue Records

In Part 2, I will discuss how I found Samuel Engel, Dora Fleckman, and their son’s places of birth.

This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of The In-Depth Genealogist.  To read Part 2 in the upcoming newsletter… sign up now by subscribing HERE.

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