Tag Archives: Montreal

Mining (a document) for genealogical gold.

I started my family history journey 30 years ago, specifically when I became interested in the Jewish side of my ancestry. I knew very little. My father (Franklin) was an only child, and both he and his mother (Vera Elstein) had died by then. Plus, his parents (David and Vera) had divorced when he was quite young and no information about his biological father was ever forthcoming. I knew from David’s marriage certificate that his father’s name was Myer Berkman (b. Minsk) and that his mother’s name was Adela. Her surname was not particularly legible but my best guess is Vaskoboynik.

At some point, I requested death information from the Province of Ontario and got a computer generated extract with the basics: name, date of death, parent’s names (no maiden name for mother). At the time, I’m not sure that one could request a photocopy of the actual death certificate and that it contained much more information of interest to genealogists.

Death Extract, David Berkman
Death Extract, David Berkman

Note the typos (“BERKHAN”, “BECKMAN”), the place of death as Cornwall, and undetermined marital status.

A few weeks ago, I submitted an online request and received the full statement of death.

Statement of Death for David Berkman
Statement of Death for David Berkman

It sent me off on a research journey and I seem to have discovered a branch of my family of which I was not aware.

The first thing I noticed was that David didn’t die in Cornwall as per the extract, but rather in Hawkesbury Ontario, and that his place of permanent residence was the (now demolished) Manitonna Hotel in Brockville. Originally a furrier, he had also been a merchant in ladies wear and millinery. So I supposed that he might have had a store in Brockville. While I was driving through the town on my way home from Montreal, I dropped by the Brockville Public Library and perused their business directories from the 1950s but couldn’t find him there.

Manitonna Hotel. Brockville Ontario
Manitonna Hotel. Brockville Ontario

The marital status field was not filled in, but the name of his ex-wife Vera (my grandmother) was there. I also noticed that the informant on the certificate was described as a nephew. This would imply that he had at least one sibling. Unfortunately, the signature of the informant is illegible.

I noticed from the certificate that he had been in Hawkesbury for a month when he died, and that he hadn’t worked for much of the previous year. So maybe he was living with this nephew. I did a Google search for [berkman hawkesbury] and the first hit was a Sadie (Berkman) Rubenstein (born Russia), who gave birth to a number of children in Hawkesbury after marrying Samuel Rubenstein in Montreal. And then I remember the legal matter.

In going through my father’s papers with my mother a number of years ago, I found an agreement dated 1957 between my father (Franklin Berkman) and a Frank Rubenstein (living in Kingston), regarding David’s estate. There seems to have been some issue with the settlement of the estate and my father would have been his father’s next of kin.

Back to Ancestry.ca and I find Samuel and Sadie Rubenstein’s first child was named Frank. The place of death address on David’s certificate was their home in Hawkesbury.

Sadie had (I believe) nine children. I spent some time finding marriages for (some of) them, births of children, death dates, etc. And it would appear that I have some second cousins living in Montreal. I used a couple of newspaper sites to search for marriages and obituaries. Here’s an example of one for one of Sadie’s children, Helena.

Helena Rubenstein wedding

This experience underscores the importance of locating original documents when doing genealogical research. I was able to discover an entire clan based on a couple of addresses and names, and the word “nephew”.

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in high school anymore….

My trip to Montreal last week to visit Michael was as lovely as it could have been, given that I had a cold and was not feeling 100% (or even 25%, to be honest.) Because I was driving from the cottage, the trip was only three and a half hours or so, the start of which was through lovely Ontario farmland as I headed west to the 401 at Brockville. I stopped there to walk around a bit and re-energize myself, and arrived in Montreal late in the afternoon.

I checked in to the charming Hotel Kutuma, recommended to me by a friend and offering an excellent rate on Hotels.com. It’s on St. Denis near Sherbrooke, walking distance to Michael’s apartment, and surrounded by cafes and shops. It’s small hotel above an Ethiopian restaurant, and my room was luxurious with an African theme. It had a kitchenette, gorgeous bathroom, multiple heating and cooling controls, and a little balcony overlooking the rear of the building. There were even two wrapped toothbrushes with mini-toothpaste tubes in the bathroom, a first for me.

The bonus for this post-Thanksgiving trip was that Michael had performances with two of the ensembles he’s in, on two successive nights. He’d elected not to come home over Thanksgiving so that he could have more time to prepare his repertoire, and his flat-mate, another music student, did the same.

We had a quick dinner at a local pub (Ye Olde Orchard Pub and Grill) where I realised I was having my first drink in a public location with my son who, in Quebec, is of legal age (18). His call was for 6:30 so I dropped him off at the music building and took my time finding parking (a difficult feat I must say in this bustling city.)

The concert was Opera Choruses presented by the Schulich School Singers and was very impressive. The director, Patrick Hansen, walked us through the different chorus groupings, and the choir was joined by members of Opera McGill when required.

Schulich School Singers, October 2013.
Schulich School Singers, October 2013.

The concert finished with the spectacular show stopper Who holds himself apart from Peter Grimes (that I’d seen very recently at the Canadian Opera Company.) Michael confessed to me afterwards that there was some amount of chaos in the choir during a couple of moments of the performance, but with Britten, it’s sometimes hard to tell. It sounded fantastic to me.

Michael is one of a handful of non-voice majors in this ensemble and remarked that his voice is really [technical stuff that I didn’t understand but is good.] He likes to push himself and be around musicians working at a higher level than he is. He credits his voice teacher here in Toronto (Paula Wickberg) for giving him a great foundation for singing at this level, and also for talking him (texting him?) through the audition process.

I spent much of the second day lounging around at the hotel, trying to feel better. I had told Michael that I’d take him to Costco or wherever, but I really didn’t feel up to it and his schedule didn’t have very many openings. So we simply had dinner at Frites Alors! and arrived at Tanna Schulich Hall for his second concert, this one with Jazz Orchestra I.

Michael auditioned on his bass trombone for the McGill jazz orchestras (big bands, in other words) and didn’t think he did very well. The audition was just sight reading, and he hadn’t picked up his trombone very much over the summer as his main focus was getting ready for the tuba ensemble auditions. So he was surprised to get placed in the top of the three orchestras, the only non-Jazz student. The group is led by Joe Sullivan and the concert featured three of his original compositions, as well as pieces by Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, and John Coltrane. No doubt his years in his high school stage band and two years with the Jazz.fm Youth Big Band paid off, as well as a series of lessons with Barnaby Kerekes and Jules Estrin.

McGill Jazz Orchestra I
McGill Jazz Orchestra I

They sounded great, and I was hoping to find a video online of the band but no luck. Michael plans to take some courses from the Jazz department (even though he’s in the classical program) as he’s headed for a rather eclectic musical career.

The next morning we met for breakfast before I headed home. I recall the last couple of years of high school, when all he wanted was for it to be over and to be able to focus on what he loved: music. He seems really content, is making friends, and enjoying Montreal. He’s managing to combine all of his interests (classical tuba, jazz trombone, and singing) into an academic program that will prepare him for whatever comes in the future. We’re proud of him for following his dream and, as parents, that is what you want for your children.




Review: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler.

The Apprenticeship of Duddy KravitzThe Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was probably my third time through this novel, although I didn’t read it in high school like so many other Canadian kids. I was prompted for this reread by the Books on Film presentation of the digitally-remastered copy of the film that was recently completed.

I love everything of Richler’s that I’ve read, probably most of his canon. In this case, he writes what he knows: Jewish life in the St. Urbain neighbourhood in Montreal. He portrays a young man seeking, ultimately, the approval of his grandfather, whose advice is that “a man without land is nothing”.

Highly recommended.

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