Friday, June 5, 2009


This is the start of a blog that I anticipate will deal with genealogy and art, my two passions. My impetus for this blog is an upcoming trip to the Vilnius Yiddish Institute in Lithuania where I will study Yiddish and be involved in cultural events in the surrounding area. I also am planning a trip to Belarus where my grandmother and great-grandparents came from as well as some side visits to Riga and Tallinn. I hope to continue this blog while I am there, but it occurs to me that my planning for the trip may also be of interest to readers. I also anticipate using this blog to discuss other genealogical and artistic explorations.

I am a researcher and planner and you will see that I use those skills to inform my trip and minimize the stresses that can occur with travel. While I was frequently grateful for web resources, I often wished there was more available on the web. Others who have traveled to this region and worked in the archives offered considerable information which I will share within this blog. I hope that the information that I learned will prove useful to others who may contemplate a similar trip.

A little bit about myself….I am both an artist and a genealogist who uses my artistry to inform my genealogy and my genealogy to inform my art. Having made my career in finance for most of my life, I also use the analytic skills I’ve honed in my work in my genealogy research.

So a little about my artwork… I paint primarily figurative imagery often using metallic paints. Usually I work in acrylic on board, but have also delved into collage. I share a studio with my partner in the California Building in Northeast Minneapolis. My most recent bodies of work include a series focused upon family history and a series on the people of the Yunnan province of China. You can find my work on my website at

I currently am working on a series reflecting colorful Yiddish expressions with the language incorporated into the piece. In my family history series I frequently used language and words within the body of paintings and am very intrigued with the languages of my ancestors. Coming from the Ukraine, Belarus and Poland they spoke Yiddish, but lived within a broader world of Russian and Polish. I have begun studying Russian and will continue my language studies with Yiddish. I particularly like languages that don’t use the Latin alphabet with which we are so familiar. We tend to experience words in Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian as a graphic image initially, particularly if those are not our dominant languages. That allows me to incorporate them into paintings as a visual element, yet one laden with meaning.
My other passion, genealogy, began with family oral histories over 20 years ago. For many years I had hesitated to dig further into my genealogy. Living in an area where many of my friends are of Swedish ancestry, I was intrigued by their reports of family history and perhaps a bit envious. Unlike them I knew I would not go to the ancestral village and find relatives. With Jewish ancestry, I would only find Holocaust monuments at best. I wasn’t sure I wanted to discover the specifics of my family’s fate.

When Ellis Island went on-line, I had made a half-hearted attempt at locating family. Entering “Weinberg”, I quickly had a hit, in fact thousands of them and that was only the ‘A’s. I quickly concluded that I didn’t have sufficient information to find anything meaningful.

A few years later I was cleaning out boxes when I stumbled across a couple pages of a history that my grandfather had written. My mother had given this to me some time back. In the history he talked about my grandmother’s family and gave some very specific dates and places. With that information I decided to take another run at Ellis Island. Fortified by the fact that my grandmother had a less wide-spread name, “Kishlansky”, I typed that into the search engine. With only a handful of hits, I quickly arrived at my great-uncles’ immigration records.

Armed with a search engine and an obsessive nature, I set out to locate other relatives who had immigrated. I queried my parents and through e-mail connected with my father’s cousins. After I had searched extensively for my grandfather, my mother reported that she believed he had changed his name. In fact she was able to resurrect the letter in which he told her he had changed it from Schiecher to Jaffe. One of my father’s cousins reported that my paternal great-grandfather had changed his name from Raichel to Rothchild following the practice of an earlier immigrant cousin. Another cousin knew family was buried in an area of the cemetery for immigrants from Dunilowicz. And my mother knew her mother came from Kamenetz-Podalsk although whenever my grandmother used to speak of where she was from my mother had thought she was saying “Communist”. It wasn’t until years later that she read a book by someone from Kamenetz Podalsk and the light bulb went off. With scraps of information on surnames and towns my search began in earnest and I gradually found each of the immigrants who had made their way from Kamenetz Podolsk (Ukraine), Radom (Poland) and Dunilowicz (Belarus) to the United States.

I had many excited late night phone calls to my parents to report on my early successes. I then availed myself of the resources of the Family History Library, both locally and through annual trips to Utah with a Jewish genealogy group. That led to the discovery of many metrical records (birth, marriage, death) from Poland documenting the lives of family as far back as my great-great-great grandparents in the late 1700s. I hired a researcher who found records in the Ukraine. I learned how to decipher Polish and to pick out likely family records from a maze of handwritten Cyrillic Russian. I found census, draft records and death certificates. I traveled to Germany to examine newly released Holocaust records at the International Tracing Service. Through these efforts I located relatives in Israel, Paris, New York and California. Working both forward and back I knit a rich tapestry of family connections.

As I learned I shared my knowledge through genealogy seminars, both locally and nationally. I began to use the wealth of genealogy materials and stories in my artwork. I exhibited my work and began to do workshops and talks about how to create collages to express one’s family history. When I speak about artwork and family history, I am often amazed at the response. These interests that I had pursued quietly for so long proved to have an audience. People are moved, images speak to them. Telling one’s family history story can often meet with glazed eyes as we talk about our third cousin once removed. A visual medium makes the stories accessible, providing a vehicle for others to engage with the story and to think of their own family stories. I am hopeful that my travels to Vilnius will add context to my artwork and my research and plan to share my discoveries in this blog over the next several months.

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