Google Book Search

By Ann Rabinowitz
Very often we overlook older resources for our American ancestors or the towns they settled in.  These resources can usually be found in libraries, but with digitization of books, many can be found on-line and for free.  Recently, I found a resource on Google Book Search. The book was entitled “Eminent Jews of America:  A Collection of Biographical Sketches of Jews who Have Distinguished Themselves in Commercial, Professional and Religious Endeavor” which was published by S.B. Goodkind in 1918.  The biographical sketches or, what amounted to who’s who entries, were accompanied by many hard to find photographs which were further reasons for viewing this book.
One of great things about digitized books is that they can be searched easily and this book is no different.  For instance, one can use such search criteria as the person’s name, town of birth, where the person lived in America or his/her profession.  In this particular book, there is no standardization of spelling for town names from overseas.  The author generally spelled them as he heard them from the individual being interviewed.  So, for instance, there is Vilna, Vilne, etc., and such peculiar spellings as Keltz, guberne, Russia, or Oshtchiluga, Poland.

An instance, of what one would find when looking for a town in America, is the information provided for those individuals who were either born in Detroit or who came there to settle.  There are, at least, thirty references for individuals living in Detroit as of 1918.  Examples of this are the following people with their birthplaces and birth dates:

  • Captain Julius Berman, Russia, January 14, 1880
  • Herman Eichner, Torna, Hungary, March 26, 1880
  • Philip Ettinger, Lemberg, Galicia, December 10, 1873
  • Benjamin Fealk, Beroswitz, Volina, Guberne, Russia, April, 1882
  • Israel Fealk, Beroswitz, Volina, Guberne, Russia, April, 1885
  • Sam Fealk, Beroswitz, Volina, Guberne, Russia, December, 1874
  • William Friedman, Detroit, MI, April 1, 1880
  • Samuel Goldstein, Onopol, Volina, Guberne, Russia, 1870
  • Harry S. Grant, Byalostock Grodno, Russia, September 22, 1879
  • Harry M. Greenberg, Lechavith Muisk, Guberne, Russia, November 7, 1879
  • William Jackson, Dalena, Austria, October 21, 1880
  • Jacob Kovinsky, Suwalk, Guberne, Poland, September 15, 1883
  • Louis Lebster, Husiatyn, Austria, September 15, 1879
  • Joseph Lefkofsky, Bilistock, Russia, February 16, 1864
  • Jacob Moskovitz, Bassarolia, Kishnip, Guberne, Russia, December, 1867
  • David Oppenheim, Detroit, MI, April 16, 1872
  • Charles Rosenthal, Newburgh, NY, March 17, 1869
  • Joseph Sanders, Austria, April 19, 1887
  • Bernard Schwartz, Oshtchiluga, Poland, April, 1872
  • Benjamin B. Schwartz, Ivia, Vilna, Geberne, Russia, April, 1883
  • Joseph Selikowitz (Selik),  Grodno, Russia, 1872
  • Jacob Shlain, Vladimir, Voline, Geberne, Russia, December, 1872
  • Jacob Singer, Volkovish, Grodno, Guberne, Russia, July 4, 1883
  • Sam Teper, Kovel, Russia, April 15, 1890
  • Goodman Velick, Kurland, Koski, Russia, September 15, 1860
  • Hyman P. Weller, Austria, April 4, 1874
In addition to the names of the featured individuals, the wives and their families are named, when they married and where, and where they came from originally.  Further, people they worked for or were partners with are also mentioned as well as organizations their belonged to and charities they contributed to.  This, too, enlarges the pool of names for individuals who made Detroit their home.

An example of a complete biographical sketch is that of Sam Fealk, the son of Scholem Fealk, and one of several Fealk brothers who settled in Detroit:

“The Jews are the world’s greatest merchants.  They have also taught us some valuable lessons in conservation.  That we, as a nation, have still a great deal to learn is evidenced by the immense fortunes they are amassing from material which has been cast away.

Such is the business history of Sam Fealk, who was born in Beroswitz, Volina, Geberne, Russia, in December, 1874.  He inherited much of his business instinct from his father, who was a successful merchant and a very learned man.

He did not come to America until May, 1903, when he landed in New York with practically no money and a wife and family dependent on him.

Going to New Hampshire, he received sufficient assistance from a Jewish friend to enable him to begin peddling, which he continued for six years.  Coming to Detroit, he started in business for himself, but was very unfortunate as the panic of 1907 swept away his entire savings.

With the invincible will which characterizes so many of his brethren, he started peddling again, bravely defying an unkind fate in his effort for a new start in life.

Two years later, he opened a metal and iron yard at his present place of business, 174 Clinton street, where success crowned his efforts.

Mr. Fealk was twice married:  once in Russia and his wife dying when he came to this country.  He was again married in 1906 to Miss Gittle Ginda, daughter of Josel and Lea Ginda of New York.

Mr. Fealk is the father of eight children, all of whom are going to school with the exception of David, who is in business with his father.

He is a member of Tefereth Israel Congregation and other Jewish organizations.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Fealk are very generous in their assistance of the poor and unfortunate and contribute most liberally to all charities who ask their assistance”.

Another Google Book Search find which mentions Detroit is “The Forerunners:  Dutch Jewry in the North American Diaspora” by Robert P. Swierenga, published in 1994 by Wayne State University.

This can be found here.

In this book are mentioned the early Dutch Jewish settlers of Detroit who settled there between 1860 and 1870 and numbered about a dozen families and totaled about approximately 100 individuals.  These included the van Baalen family and the Davis family amongst others.  In addition to Detroit, other mid-west places such as Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Toledo are mentioned as well as larger east coast cities such as Baltimore, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

Another later Google Book Search title is “Images of America:  Jewish Detroit” by Irwin J. Cohen, published in 2002:

This small book provides a brief history and photographs of the Jewish community’s beginnings in 1762 with Chapman Abraham and continues with a discussion of the German Jewish settlement in Detroit and goes through the modern age.  Whilst it does not provide extensive lists of family names as the other books do, it does provide photographs of Jewish-related businesses, institutions, and families.


The three books mentioned above regarding the Jews of Detroit are just the tip of the iceberg to locating information on ancestors from that particular place.  Further probing with Google Book Search will reveal additional resources including magazine and journal articles.

The use of Google Book Search can provide access to either antique books or later ones which incorporate the very details needed to fill in family histories or the community’s history.  This tool is particularly useful as it has a search engine which can locate specific facts the genealogical researcher may be looking for.  The indices for these books can also give an insight into what and who is covered and what to search for with the search engine.

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