Tag Archives: Russia

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”.

Mystery solved!

Thanks to the good folks at e-transcriptum, I got my postcard translated, at no charge!

As I posted a couple of days ago, I have a card with a photograph on one side and Russian handwriting on the other. While googling around for translation services, I found a link to e-transciptum on Cyndi’s List, a popular genealogy portal. I filled out a form and attached scans of the card mid-afternoon. A couple of hours later, I had a response.

Here’s the text again:


A translator named Evgeniya Vasilenko sent me the following reply:

The translation is: For me dear brother Konstantin Ilshtein (Elshtien) for a good memory. A. Ilshtein (Elshtein)
Leningrad, 20th of June, 1926

I also enquired about the embossed stamp in the corner.

Stamp: The word in the center is Leningrad, the date below is 1925, October, 18 (or 28)
First line is not clear, starts with A  ends with TER. It’s name of photo studio I guess. If you need exact name I can ask some specialists.

I am absolutely thrilled to get these details. The image in the photo is my great great uncle Abraham, the brother of my great-grandfather Konstantine Elstein.

Abraham Elstein, brother of my great-grandfather Konstantine.

Could this be an ancestor?

I found this postcard amongst my late grandmother’s things, and I’ve had it around for 20 years or so, wondering if it might be her father or uncle.

SCAN0339The reverse of the card has Russian writing that I have not had translated yet.


If any of my readers can help me out, I’d be much obliged.

My grandmother, Vera Elstein, was born in 1903 in the town of Alexandrovsk, Yekaterinoslav region, Russia, now Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. She was born to a Jewish father (Konstantine Elstein) and a Russian mother (Alexandra Meznekoff) and though she was raised as a Jew, she was baptised three days after she was born at Saint Nicholas Church. She was the first of ten siblings. Two years later, possibly because of the rise of anti-semitism, Vera and her parents emigrated to Canada. A sister Nadia was born onboard ship and died during the voyage. The remaining eight siblings were born in Winnipeg, Manitoba where Konstantine worked as a teamster and cattle dealer.

Vera Elstein and her mother Sarah Meznekoff, Ottawa, 1950s.
Vera Elstein and her mother Sarah Meznekoff, Ottawa, 1950s.

Konstantine’s sister Anna married a Michael Jampolsky and they emigrated to Canada around the same time, settling in Lipton, Saskatchewan. Jampolsky was a farmer, as was his brother Kostea (short for Konstantine….). Both Anna and Alexandra (known as Sarah) named children Vera.

I have a large box of photos, and would really like to identify some of the people from my past. If someone can help me with the translation above, it would get me started.