Samuel and Fannie FEINBERG: Family History from Gossamer Threads and False Leads

by Joyce R. Weaver

This is the story of the reconstruction from public records, most of which are now available online, of my mother’s family history. The best advice for beginning genealogists is to start with the information you know and then ask family members for more. But many times very little is known and what is known is misty and may be false.

My mother was Anne FEINBERG, born in New York City on December 12, 1902. She was the first child born in America to Samuel FEINBERG and Fannie VILNER, who she told me arrived in New York “in the 1900s” with four older siblings born in Europe: Rose, 16; Abe, 15; Charlie, 12; Lou, 5. Four others, of whose names she knew only Molly, had died in childhood and one more, Morris, was to be born in New York, living only five months. She said that her mother told everyone she came from “Grodna” and was from a prominent family. “People would bow to her on the streets.” She said that her father and his brother (whose name she thought was Solomon) came to America first and then sent for their wives and she said that her father “told [her] mother what name to use” on the ship.

She said she grew up in the Bronx and went to a school on Brown Place there. She said her father died when she was five years old and that her mother died when she was sixteen. She said that her sister Rose married Max ZUCKERMAN shortly after arriving in New York and moved to Windsor, Ontario, Canada and then to Detroit, Michigan, and that her brother Abe was hard-of-hearing and became estranged from the family.

I knew my uncles, Charlie and Lou, and Charlie’s wife Dina, and that Lou never married. I knew there were cousins in Detroit with whom she corresponded and I met a couple of them when they visited. I knew that my grandmother’s Jewish name was Sheine Feige because I was named for her. I also knew that her father had died when she was three years old and that her mother had remarried and had three other children with her stepfather.

When I became interested in researching the family some twenty years ago, I asked my mother for more information. I learned that the name her mother was told to use for immigration purposes was something that sounded like “Dye-buck.” I learned that she was a cousin to Judge Samuel I. ROSENMAN, advisor to FDR and Truman. She also told me that she was somehow related to Isaac GELLIS of deli fame and that she had an uncle, Mr. PERLMUTTER, who was an auctioneer on Lispenard St. in Manhattan and had a son named Sam who was a pawnbroker and had no children. She also mentioned a SOBEL family with a lawyer and dentist in its ranks.

That seems like a great deal of information to use in a search for documentation and I’m grateful to have it because it did provide a good start. It also provided a great many false leads and unanswered questions. To this day, I do not know how my mother is related to any of the families named above, although I think I’ve identified the right PERLMUTER and SOBEL families.

I started my search in the time-honored tradition by obtaining birth, marriage and death certificates. At the NY City Municipal Archives, I found the birth certificates of my mother and her baby brother and the baby’s death certificate, as well as her sister Rose’s marriage certificate. Other than the name of my grandfather being given as Simon FIENBERG instead of Samuel FEINBERG on my mother’s birth certificate, and the information that my mother was born on 14th Street in Manhattan while the family lived farther downtown on Montgomery St., there were no surprises there.

It was when I tried to find my grandparents’ death certificates and ships’ manifests for their arrivals in New York that the research began to be “interesting.”

In the years before the 1930 census was published, I had found the family in the US 1910 and 1920 censuses and in the New York State census of 1905. I knew something wasn’t right about what I’d been told when my grandfather, who should have died by 1908, was in the 1910 census in Manhattan and my grandmother, who should have died by 1919, was in the 1920 census in the Bronx.

I tried Street Directories for Manhattan and the Bronx, never finding my grandfather listed, but finding my grandmother and uncles beginning in 1913 and moving from the Bronx to Manhattan and then back to the Bronx, with listings for my grandmother into the 1920s. Those Directory addresses were verified in the World War I Draft Registrations of my three uncles. (Uncle Abe signed his in Hebrew script, but there was no notation of deafness. Charlie gave his birth place as “Brisk” which I learned is Brest, now in Belarus).

Because my grandfather was still living in 1910, I expanded my search for his death certificate by a few years and found that he died on July 17, 1912 while living on 109th St. in Manhattan, that he was buried at Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn, and that his parents were Shea FEINBERG and Rachel GREENBERG. From the cemetery, I learned that his father’s Hebrew name was Yehoshua and that he was buried in the landsmanshaft burial plot of the shtetl of Wisoko-Litowski, now Vysokoye, Belarus. If this was the shtetl in which my grandparents had lived, then both my grandmother’s naming of Grodno and my uncle’s naming of Brest were correct. Vysokoye is in the Brest oblast of Grodno Gubernia.

It was not until I looked at the St. Albans records for Canadian border crossings that the ships’ manifest questions began to be answered. I had looked at Ellis Island records in vain until it occurred to me that my aunt Rose (FEINBERG) ZUCKERMAN, who had moved to Canada, might have come home to visit the family in New York at some point and, indeed, she did. It was on her 1911 crossing card that I learned the name of the ship on which she and her brothers and my grandmother had come to New York: Palatia. She gave a 1903 date, which I knew couldn’t be right if my mother was born in December of 1902, so I began the search, using Steve Morse’s one-step search engine for the name FEINBERG in 1900-1902 and the ship Palatia. No luck.

Then I remembered the name my grandfather told my grandmother to use and searched “Sounds Like: DYBUCK.” And there they were, on February 25, 1902: Sheine DEIBOCH, age 35; Rachel, 15; Abram, 9; Shire, 7 ; Yoel, 3, going to husband/ father, Samuel Deiboch, 141 Delancy St., Manhattan, and they came from “Wisoko-Listowsky,” confirming the burial plot information of my grandfather.

I still had not found my grandmother’s death certificate or my grandfather’s immigration record or a naturalization record (though I’ve now concluded that he was never naturalized.)

When my mother passed away in 1991, I found a copy of my Uncle Lou’s will among her papers. In it, he said that he wanted to be buried in “Mt. Judith Cemetery like my mother and brother Charles.” I immediately wrote to Mt. Judah Cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens, NY, where I knew Charlie was buried, having obtained his death certificate previously. Based on the date range I gave them for my grandmother’s burial, they could not find her record, but they did find a Fannie FEINBERG buried in December 1934 in the Wisoko-Litovski plot. Could that be right? My mother said she was sixteen when her mother died. This would mean that my mother was actually double that age by the time her mother passed away! I sent for the death certificate and sure enough, the date was correct. (Sadly, she was buried on my mother’s birthday).

The death certificate brought further information: Uncle Charlie had given her parents’ names as Abraham PETRUSKITZ and Ida (unknown), and in the cemetery her tombstone called her father Abram Yitzhak. Every other document I’d seen called her father Aharon Lieb VILNER or WILLNER. I knew that her mother had remarried, but I’d always assumed that VILNER was her birth father’s name.

Now I had the name of their shtetl, the names of both grandparents’ parents, though no surname for “Ida” who I thought must have been Chaya in Yiddish (later confirmed in records from my grandmother’s half-sister). I still didn’t have my grandfather’s ship manifest or the reason for using the DEIBACH name.

Around the time I found my grandmother’s death certificate, I joined a JewishGen group interested in the Jews of Brest oblast. Jeni Buch, from Australia, as coordinator of the group, posted a list of “Army Deserters” published in Russia in 1880. These were apparently 21-year-old men who did not show up for service to the Czar. On that list was Shmuel-Ber DAIBOG, son of Ovsei, living in Wisoko-Litovsk. Could that be my grandfather? The age was about right. The name was right if DAIBOG was his original surname. The father’s name translated to “Joshua” in English, just as my great-grandfather’s Yiddish and Hebrew names did. I had to conclude that this was very likely my grandfather.

I began seeking information about that surname with the help of paid researchers at various Belarusian archives: Brest, Grodno, and Minsk. In the1834 and 1850 Revision lists were families of the DAJBOG name in Wisoko-Litovsk, but no Ovsei / Shea. The All-Russia census of 1897 for Wisoko-Litovsk was, I was told, too damaged to read. But at the Grodno Archives there were a couple of documents signed by Shmuel DAJBOG son of Ovsei in the 1880s and 1890s. These were pertaining to an oversight committee for local Jewish institutions such as the secular school. Slowly, I became comfortable with the idea that DAIBOCH, with whatever spelling, was my grandfather’s original surname. Perhaps the name he had really told my grandmother to use on the ship was FEINBERG, but she forgot or ignored the instruction.

By now I was pretty sure that I needed to look for my grandfather’s arrival in America under some variant of Shmuel DAIBOCH. I quickly concluded that he did not arrive at Ellis Island or at other Atlantic ports under either that name or FEINBERG.

It finally occurred to me that he could have arrived via Canada and, after all those years of searching, there he was: “Schamuel DAIBACK” in the St. Albans Crossings, having landed at St. John, New Brunswick on March 28, 1900. His listing says that he was going to an uncle, “D. SHIFFMAN” at 119 Delancey St, corrected to 119 Division St., NY.

The Delancey Street address was of interest because, in trying to find my grandfather’s arrival at Ellis Island, I had compiled a list of everyone who had given a variant of Wisoko-Litovsk as their last place of residence. Among those immigrants, there was a man named Leiser KAPLAN who arrived on December 9, 1899 and went to his uncle, Jossel SHIFFMAN at 119 Delancey St. Two men, arriving three months apart from the same town were sponsored by uncles named SHIFFMAN at the same address (if the change to Division Street was disregarded). This was exciting. But my mother had never mentioned any SHIFFMAN relatives.

I searched the 1900 census for SHIFFMANs living at that address. I browsed the census for residents of both 119 Division St. and 119 Delancey St. Nothing! It was either a business address or they had moved between March and June 1900 when the census was taken.

I did find a Joseph SHIFFMAN with wife Eva at 26 Willet St., Manhattan (later this couple lived in Passaic and then Newark, NJ). Next door, at 24 Willet St., among a group of six men, each listed separately, was a Samuel SHIFFMAN, age 39, married 16 yrs., from Russia, no arrival date, watchman. Can read & write; does not speak English. Could this be my grandfather using his uncle’s surname? Everything fits except for the occupation, which could have been temporary until he could find a job as a house painter. Was Joseph SHIFFMAN Leiser KAPLAN’s uncle Jossel? And who was Leiser KAPLAN and where did he go?

I have not answered those questions yet. But I have continued to search for documentation of the family history once my grandparents were together again and had chosen to use the name FEINBERG. The mysteries continued to grow.

Despite the fact that my mother told me she grew up in the Bronx, she did not live there until 1913, after her father’s death, and even then the family moved back to Manhattan from 1915-1917 as documented in Street Directories.

Even stranger is the fact that she never told me she had lived in Canada when she was eight years old. I found that information quite accidentally when I decided to see if my Uncle Abe, estranged from the family, might have gone to Canada before the 1920 census in which I could not find him in New York. I reasoned that he had a sister living there, so maybe that is where he was. A search for Abraham FEINBERG in Canada at the site brought up two listings in the 1911 census for Toronto. That was earlier than his estrangement, but I looked at the census anyway. The whole family was there, once as the nuclear family of Sam, Fannie, Abe, Charlie, Lou, and Anne, living on Terauley St. and a week later with Rose and her family on D’Arcy St.

Rose had been listed in New York with Sam and Fannie, but without her husband and children, in the 1910 census. Now they were all in Toronto in 1911 at two different addresses.

A year later, my grandfather died in New York. Except for Rose crossing from Canada to the U.S. in March of 1911 to visit her family in New York, the family’s border crossings in either direction in 1911 and 1912 do not appear to exist. Nor does a crossing for Rose before the 1910 census in which she is listed in the New York household. In fact, when she crossed in 1911, she said she had not been in the US since 1907. Did my grandparents list Rose in 1910 because she was their daughter rather than listing her because she lived with them? Did Rose list her parents and siblings at her D’Arcy Street address even though they were living on Terauley Street?

After searching so many document sources and finding so much information, I still do not know why they changed their name to FEINBERG, how they relate to all the family names my mother gave me, why my mother lied about what age she was when her mother died. My research will continue, and despite some false leads, I have learned a lot about my mother’s family

Joyce Rosnel Weaver is the daughter of Anne Feinberg and Samuel Rosnel. She has lived most of her life on Long Island, NY and is a retired Mental Health Counselor and Hypnotherapist. She has been researching her family history for over 20 years.