Saturday, August 6, 2011

I’m the Sherlock Holmes of the Family

by Michal Esterson

I’m a modern day Sherlock Holmes digging up information on my extended family. I’m still trying to find the missing pieces of my large family jigsaw puzzle.

My quest for information started 37 years ago with a high school science project about genes. We needed to do a chart of our ancestors with their height, complexion, eye and hair colors. For some unknown reason I was drawn to Sephardic foods, music and customs, never knowing why. It so happens that one branch of my maternal grandfather's family named their children after living relatives, as a lot of the Sephardim - definitely not like the Ashkenazim. I know his family was from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but where did they come from before the 1800's? I'm still adding branches and new leaves.

About 11 years ago, here in Israel, I did find out from a distant cousin living in Jerusalem that my maternal great-great-grandfather's family was originally from Spain. They left Spain and went to Lithuania via Germany. I'm still searching for more information. Yankl and Risha Cantor and their family lived in Meretz (Meretch) and Sirai Lithuania. Yankl gave his sons different last names (KAUFMAN, GODROV and STRAZH) to keep them from being conscripted into the Red Army. It’s known that they had 3 sons; no one seems to know if Yankl and Risha had any daughters. Yankl and his son Nissan owned a lot of land in the north of Lithuania and were farmers until the end of WWII.  Under the Czar, no Jews were allowed to own land (Lithuania Poland Russia).

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