Success: A twisted genealogical knot of inter-generational first-cousin marriages

Posted by Marla Raucher Osborn

We've all had this same frustrating family conversation with a parent or grandparent:

Question: “So, how is she related to us?”
Answer: “She's a cousin.”
Question: “Yes, but how exactly is she a cousin?”
Answer: “What does it matter? She's a cousin. I don't know how. She's a cousin.”

A nightmare conversation for me, the family-recognized genealogist and keeper of important trans-generational information.

osborn story
Great-grandmother Rose (Belfaur) Brownstein, c. 1910, Mohyliv-Pokilskyi with son Berl, nephew Schulim, and baby Ben
Questions of relationships—like the one above—take on headache-inducing proportions for my mother's side of the family, the Brownsteins. Why? Because the more I questioned and researched, the more knotted the ancestral picture became.

And twisted, metaphorically speaking, of course.

For at least three consecutive generations beginning at my great-grandparents' level, I found siblings marrying first cousin siblings: a Brownstein brother and sister would marry a Faber sister and brother; or, a Brownstein brother and sister would marry a Sarfas sister and brother.

This would then be reproduced again (no pun intended) at the next generational level: a child created from a first cousin union would then marry a child created from another first cousin union. And so on.

What was wrong with these people? Is this even legal?
The net effect—from a genealogical perspective—was a common ancestor for many generations that followed, and great complication as well, not only for creating a family tree using standard software programs, but also for keeping straight “who's who”. I cannot quickly and easily rattle off from memory family relationships on the Brownstein-Sarfas-Faber side of the family without inducing a severe headache. I need a paper drawing, and even then...
osborn story 2
Great-great-grandmother Leah (Sarfas) Brownstein in scarf, c. 1910, Mohyliv-Pokilskyi with daughter-in-law Lena (Faber) Brownstein, Schulim and baby Mojsche
To add insult to injury, none of the three families ever showed much creativity or imagination in choosing new names for their offspring. They just kept reusing the same old names. Result: multiple names like David and Sam and Esther in all three families.
So here is my genealogy nightmare—I mean, knot—in a simplified form:

My great-great grandmother Leah Sarfas of Kamyanets-Podilskyy, Ukraine, had three sons with her husband Aaron Brownstein of Mohyliv-Podilskyi, Ukraine: Louis, David, and Harry. David was my mother's grandfather and therefore my great-grandfather. (I will not be talking about brother Harry because he appears to have married and reproduced in a normal, healthy way.)

Leah also had a daughter named Anna Sarfas whose biological father is a family mystery; hence, she is known in the family and in the records as Anna Sarfas, not as a Brownstein like her (half) brothers Louis, David, and Harry.

Leah herself had a brother named Wolf Sarfas. Wolf had a son and a daughter. The daughter's name was Ida.

On the same generational level as Leah and her brother Wolf was the Faber family, likely also of Kamyanets-Podilskyy. That family had three sons (one was named Solomon) plus one daughter named Lena.
At some point, all three families—Brownstein, Sarfas, and Faber—lived in Mohyliv-Podilskyi.

In 1911, large pieces of these three families—women and children only—would emigrate together to Chicago, their husbands having preceded them.

The scene is set.
  • Leah's son Louis Brownstein married Lena Faber.
  • Leah's daughter Anna Sarfas married Morris Faber, the brother to Lena.
  • Wolf Sarfas' daughter Ida married Solomon Faber, the brother to Lena and Morris.
On the next generational level:

  • Louis and Lena Brownstein had seven children, two of which were named Sam (Schulim) and Dorothy.
  • Anna and Morris Faber had seven children, three of which were named Sam, Nettie, and Dorothy.
  • Ida and Solomon Faber had five children (all of which went on to marry spouses who were neither Brownstein nor Sarfas, so we can forget about them henceforth).
On the next generational level (aspirin necessary at this point):

  • Schulim Brownstein married Nettie Faber.
  • Schulim's sister Dorothy married a man named Kaufman (hooray, but short-lived, as we will see next) and they produced a daughter named Sondra.
  • Nettie's brother Sam Faber married Dorothy Brownstein, sister to Schulim.
Next generational level:

  • Sondra Kaufman married Herb Brownstein, the son of Ben—sadly, in my direct line—a younger brother to Berl Brownstein, my grandfather and son of David Brownstein, my great-grandfather.

Just before emigrating from Mohyliv-Podilskyi to America in 1911, three portrait style photographs were taken at a professional studio of the three families, Brownstein, Sarfas, and Faber. These photos are precious to me for several reasons.
osborn story 3
Anna (Sarfas) Faber (center), c. 1910, Mohyliv-Pokilskyi with mother-in-law Dora Faber and children Dorothy, Mark,
Harry and Nettie

First, they each came to me from different sources in the family and at different times. It wasn't until all three were united and I sat facing them on my desk that I realized they were shot at the same photography studio, possibly on the same day: the stylized backdrop for each photo—the palm tree, the vase on the Victorian stand, the wooden rocking horse—is identical in all three.
Second, the photos, taken together, represent three generational levels, with the matriarch, Leah (Sarfas) Brownstein, my great-great-grandmother, as the common link.

Third, two of the photos have Leah (wearing the scarf) with her daughters-in-law and their children.
In one photo is Rose (my great-grandmother, married to David Brownstein) and her two children, Berl (my grandfather, on the wooden rocking horse) and baby Ben (whose son Herb would later marry Sondra Kaufman, born as a Faber and discussed above). Also in the photo is Schulim, the son of Lena, the other daughter-in-law.

In the second of the three photos is Leah (again in scarf), but this time with daughter-in-law Lena and her two children, Schulim (now he is on the rocking horse) and baby Mojsche (Morrey).
osborn story 4 Sarfas Family, c. 1928, Kamyanets-Podilskyy
In the third photo, which came to me quite a while after the other two, Leah is not present. However, present in her place, at the center of the photo, is Leah's daughter Anna (the one with the unknown biological father, bearing her mother's maiden name of Sarfas but now married to a Faber) and four of Anna's children, including baby Nettie who would later marry Schulim (a Brownstein)! Also present is Anna's mother-in-law, Dora Faber.

The women and children of the three photos would a few months later travel together from Mohyliv-Podilskyi to Chicago, via Bremen and Baltimore, to join their husbands.
In subsequent years, many (including my great-grandparents David and Rose and their children, including my grandfather Berl) would move to Los Angeles; other Brownsteins would follow, some changing their names to Bronson.

In the late 1990s while living in California, I visited Fanny Golob nee Sarfas. She was in her 90s. My (non-Jewish) husband Jay enjoyed a tongue sandwich with Fanny—much to her delight—at a nearby west Los Angeles deli. Back at her apartment, Fanny shared with me family stories and photos. One photo was of her and her Sarfas family (parents and siblings) taken in Kamyanets-Podilskyy around 1928. Her father Yosel was the son of Wolf, the brother of Leah, my great-great grandmother, and the common ancestral link in the three families, Brownstein, Sarfas, and Faber.

Off to the Louvre to soothe my headache.

November 2012
Paris, France

Getting The Most Out of with Crista Cowan-Program- December 2 JGS Conejo Valley and Ventura County

Posted by: Jan Meisels Allen

The Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County (JGSCV) will hold a general meeting, co-sponsored with and located at Temple Adat Elohim, on Sunday, December 2, 2012 Temple Adat Elohim 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks, CA

The Program: Getting The Most Out of

Do you have an subscription (or are thinking about getting one) but suspect that you are only using a fraction of what can be done with the powerful tools and resources available on this website? Spend an afternoon with Crista Cowan, The Barefoot Genealogist, as she shares what's new on  She'll show you how to access key record collections to assist with your Jewish and other European family history research.  She'll also share some of her favorite search tips and site tricks.  Join us to learn more about unleashing the full potential of on your family history.  Even if you've been using for years you are sure to learn something new!

Speaker: Crista Cowan, Community Alliance Manager "The Barefoot Genealogist" has been employed at since 2004. Crista has been involved with family history research for over 20 years and is the owner of Legacy Family History Services, specializing in descendancy research, Jewish immigration, and sharing family history with the genealogically challenged.

Our schmoozing corner starts 20 minutes before the program (1:10 p.m.) facilitated by Hal Bookbinder, founding JGSCV member.

We will have Categories A & D of our traveling library available beginning at 1:00 PM to shortly after the meeting. The list of books which are in the JGSCV library is located on our website under

There is no charge to attend the meeting and all are welcome to attend. Our 2013 membership dues campaign has started-any one joining or renewing at our December 2nd meeting and is in attendance at our December 2nd  meeting is eligible to have their name drawn for great genealogical gifts! Membership forms are available at the meeting, on the website and in our newsletter, Venturing Into Our Past. Annual
dues are $25 for an individual and $30 for a family. Dues paid are good through December 2013. Light refreshments will be served celebrating Chanukah and our membership drive.

The Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County is dedicated to sharing genealogical information, techniques and research tools with anyone interested in Jewish genealogy and family history.

For more information, including directions to the meeting, please see the JGSCV website:  

Jan Meisels Allen
President, JGSCV

Time Life Never Before Published Photos From Ellis Island in 1950 and Inside Nazi Occupied Poland 1939-1940

Posted by: Jan Meisels Allen

Most of us concentrate on the immigrants that arrived at Ellis Island in its earlier years and forget that it while it opened in 1892 it was receiving immigrants until November 1954.  Time-Life  recently posted 30 photographs never previously  published by famous  Life photographer Alfred Eisenstadt who visited Ellis Island in the fall of 1950.  Nearly one-third of all Americans can trace their ancestry to one of the 12 million people  who arrived in the US at  Ellis Island at New York Bay.
Some of the pictures in this gallery appeared in the November 13, 1950 issue of LIFE 
To see the gallery go to:
original url:
Time-Life also posted photographs from  Inside Nazi Occupied Poland in 1939-1940-- a German photographer and ardent Nazi named Hugo Jaeger documented the brute machinery of the Reich, including the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. presents a series of photos from Warsaw and from the town of Kutno, 75 miles west of the Polish capital, in 1939 and 1940. In June 1940, all of Kutno’s roughly 8,000 Jews were forced into the ghetto.
Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images ©
Never published. Twenty-four-year-old Schulim Pewzner, a rabbinical student from Warsaw, Poland, at Ellis Island, 1950
Hugo Jaeger—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images ©
Kutno, Nazi-occupied Poland, 1939.
 Read more:  click on:
Thank you to David Oseas for sharing the information about  the website with us.
Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Vice President
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

National Archives of Ireland

Posted by: Jan Meisels Allen

The National Archives of Ireland has a new genealogy website that was launched on November 8, 2012.

You can access the following free on the website:
Census records for 1901 and 1911,
The Tithe Applotment Books for 1823 to 1837;
And the Soldiers’ Wills for 1914 to 1917.
More records will be added over the coming years.  To read more go to:
The archives home page may be accessed at:
Its genealogy area may be accessed at:
Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Vice President
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

JDC's Cyprus Collection Available On Line

Posted by: Jan Meisels Allen

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Cyprus Collection (1945-1949) is available online for the first time.  The collection includes 16,667 pages of textual files including personal letters, group petitions and newspapers published by the deportees.  From 1946 until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the British confined some 53,000 Holocaust survivors on the island of Cyprus. From August 1946 to February 1949, the deportees lived behind barbed wire in 12 camps on Cyprus. During this period, 53,000 Jews passed through the camps, 2,200 children were born in the camps, and 150 Jews died there--nearly all of the deportees were survivors of the Nazi death camps.  The collection also has 180 photographs taken at the detention camps. See:
original url:
[ ]

To read more about the collection go to:
original url:

To view highlights the files click on:
original url:

To see more of the collection go to search the collection and type in "Cyprus" in the query box

There are video tutorials available to help you search on the website.

Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Vice President
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

Judaica Europeana

Posted by: Jan Meisels Allen

Judaica Europeana is a growing network with currently 30 institutions: libraries, archives and museums in Europe, Israel and the US.  Judaica Europeana is led by the European Association for Jewish Culture working closely with the Frankfurt University Library and the National Library of Israel.  It provides integrated access to digital collections which document Jewish life in Europe via Europeana, Europe’s digital platform for cultural heritage. To date the project has made available online 3.7 million items. It can be searched in 30 languages and by geographic area. One can find books, photographs, manuscripts to the culture of Jews .
To view the website go to:
They also have a free electronic newsletter:
Thank you to Saul Issroff for informing us of this very interesting and diverse website and newsletter.
Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Vice President
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

Congratulations to Genie Milgrom-Winner of Florida State Genealogical Society Genealogy Outstanding Achievement Award

Posted by: Jan Meisels Allen

Please join me in congratulating, Genie Milgrom, president, JGS of Greater Miami on being awarded the Florida State Genealogical Society's Genealogy Outstanding Achievement Award!  Genie's research involved the evidence of the Medieval Notary Records that helped her trace an unbroken maternal lineage as proof of Jewish roots found through Catholic records.  Genie has been able to trace back 15 grandmothers to her ancestral roots to Fermoselle, Spain.  Her research took her genealogical journey from Jewish (pre Inquisition) to Crypto Jewish to Catholic back to Jewish.  Genie's recently published book, My 15 Grandmothers tells her story--the Florida State Genealogy Award is not for the book, but for her extensive research which led to her writing the book.

Genie just returned from a trip to Fermoselle, Spain where the town's mayor proclaimed to be making an Official Act and handed her the Symbolic Key to the Jewish Quarter of The Village along with a Pergamino 
(a formal parchment used for writing) to serve as a Document of Historical Memory being given  to a descendent of the Jews that had lived in this town of Fermoselle. In history this is only the second time that a Mayor in Spain has given a Symbolic Key to a descendent of the Spanish Jews. 
The Florida State Genealogical Society Genealogy Outstanding Award in Genealogy is given to an individual,  society,  or institution to recognize contributions toward the promotion of genealogical interests or activities within the state of Florida. This could include a publication; a sustained work in the area of  extracting,  preserving, accumulating or collecting genealogical/historical data (regardless of what state in  which the data  originated or to what state they apply) for the genealogical community; an instructor of genealogy or local history; or  any person who has aided in furthering the interests of research in genealogy over a period of five (5) or more years. To read more about the award and award recipients go to:  The award was given on November 9, therefore, it may take a few days for Genie's name to be added to the list of previous award recipients on the above-mentioned website.  

Michael Milgrom, Genie's husband, nominated her for the award.
IAJGS is proud of the accomplishment that Genie has done as an example of the excellence that a Jewish genealogist achieved. It is an example for all of us to strive to attain.  IAJGS and its member societies are indeed fortunate to have leaders of such caliber.
Jan Meisels Allen,
IAJGS Vice President

[UK] National Archives Starts Commemoratiuve Series For Centenary of WWI

Posted by: Jan Meisels Allen

The National Archives of the UK is launching a  series of commemorative activities for the upcoming of the centenary of World War I .  Their first activity is a blog entitled "My Tommy's War" a blog series following members of staff at The National Archives as they research their own First World War ancestors. By following this blog you can learn  how to use the vast archival records for your research.  Click on:
Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Vice President
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

[UK] Western Front Associaton Preserves 6.5 million WWI Soldiers Penison Archives

Posted by: Jan Meisels Allen

The Western Front Association (UK) announced that it secured 6.5 million soldiers pension records from WWI. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) [sic] was no longer able to retain and manage its archive of Great War soldiers' pension records cards and related archives. The records were due to be destroyed if a haven was not found.  During the "Great War" dependents of each serving British soldier, sailor, airman and nurse who was killed were entitled to a pension, as were those service personnel who were wounded or otherwise incapacitated due to the conflict--there is a card for each person.
The Western Front Association's intent is to create an online, searchable archive.  They  plan to scan the records digitally and to make them findable with a searchable database.  This will take funding and their fundraising activities are about to start...therefore, it will be a while before the online searchable database is available.
To read more and see several examples of what is contained on the archival pension records go to:
Thank you to Lost Cousins newsletter to alerting us to this new resource of WW I UK records.
Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Vice President
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

(USA) Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews-Exhibit at UCLA Fowler Museum

Posted by: Jan Meisels Allen

For those who may be visiting Southern California between now and March 10, 2013 you may find of interest a new exhibit at The Fowler Museum- Lucas Gallery at UCLA (University of California Los Angeles): Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews. The exhibit tells the story of one of the oldest Jewish communities which dates back nearly 2,700 years since the first Jews exiled from Jerusalem to Babylonia settled in the Persian sphere. Over a hundred objects, including archaeological artifacts, illuminated manuscripts, Judaica and amulets, paintings, and photographs demonstrate the long, complicated, and vibrant history of Iranian Jews. The exhibit includes from the crypto-Jewish community of Mashhad whose residents were forced to convert to Islam in the mid 1800's, a pair of miniature phylacteries, designed to fit beneath a man's Muslim head-covering.  The exhibit continues in the Fowler Museum Goldenberg Galleria, where the exhibition focuses on the twentieth century and ends with Hasan Sarbakhshian's photographs of Jews remaining in Iran--of which today there are at least 25,000 practicing Jews-- and installations by artists Shelley Gazin and Jessica Shokrian about the dynamic community of Iranian Jews in Los Angeles.

Genealogy includes the study of the culture, society and artifacts of our ancestors. This exhibit depicts those areas for the Persian Jewish Community.

This exhibition was created and organized by Beit Hatfutsot-The Museum of the Jewish People, Tel Aviv, Israel.

To read more about the exhibit go to:
original url:

The Fowler Museum is also selling a book on the exhibit-more can be read
about the book at:

Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Vice President

(USA) Guests of the Third Reich--National WWII Museum

Posted by Jan Meisels Allen

The National WWII Museum (USA) [] located in New Orleans, Louisiana will be holding a special exhibit  November 11, 2012 through July 7, 2013, Guests of the Third Reich: American POWs in Europe  There is an interactive map depicting the locations of  selected European POW camps.
Over 120,000 out of 16 million Americans serving in WWII spent time as prisoners of war (POW).  While the Nazi's "generally adhered " to the Geneva Convention, those American troops captured  in the Pacific by the Japanese -- 27, 465-- were not protected by the same restraints--over 40 percent died.  Wartime circumstances and the leanings of individual camp leaders dictated the fates of those held captive in Europe--92, 820 men lived to tell their experiences.  About 1,100 or 1 percent of the Americans held as POWs by the Nazi's perished. These approximately 93,000  Americans were anything but "guests" of the Nazis.
In the exhibit there are several panels that  explain how, for the most part, Jewish-American POWs, many of whom either didn't designate a religion on their dog tags or ditched them before capture, were not separated from their comrades and sent to concentration camps. [I had a family member taken and kept with his comrades and Stalag IVB in Mulberg].   There were exceptions. In January 1945, the commandant at Stalag IXB rounded up 350 prisoners based on name or physical characteristics, and shipped them to the Berga concentration camp.
Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Vice President
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

Do You Subscribe to JewishGen Discussion Groups?

Posted by Gary Mokotoff

Do you subscribe to those JewishGen Discussion Groups that cover the areas of interest in your family history research? JewishGen currently has 24 such groups, each oriented toward some geographical area of ancestry. These message boards post regularly—usually daily—announcements about the latest resources for Jewish family history in their area. They also include inquiries from people as well as responses to these inquiries. Many of these inquiries/responses are educational.

Each week I pour through every message posted to each of the JewishGen Discussion Groups looking for potential news items for Nu? What’s New? Many of interest to subscribers of the Discussion Group only are not included in this e-zine because the information is of interest only to the local area covered.

A list of all the Discussion Groups and how to subscribe can be found at There is also a “Main Discussion Group” all should subscribe to that includes information of general interest. All groups are moderated to filter out messages of little value or those that do not adhere to JewishGen guidelines.

All messages are archived. The Main Discussion Group archives contains every message posted since September 1993. This is a great resource for information posted in the past. It is located at Back editions of the Special Interest Groups since July 1998 are at

Here are some recent postings to these groups:

Austro-Hungary. If you had relatives that fought in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I, then an Internet site at might be of interest to you. It does not name individuals but provides interesting background information about the units that fought, badges and uniforms (which might help decipher pictures), engagements and battles, and other useful information.

Galicia. A project has been started on seeking to connect all Jewish families from Krakow on to one family tree. Information can be found at

Germany. A biographical memorial book to the Jews of Munich murdered in the Holocaust is now online. It was originally published in book form in 2003 and again in 2007 by the Munich City Archives. Information about an individual can be extensive including name, occupation, date/place of birth, deportation date, date/place of death, names of parents including maiden name of mother, date/placed of marriage, who married to including maiden name and date/place of birth, names of children including birth date/place. There also may be a photograph of the victim. The database can be searched at

Lithuania. For the 20th year, veteran genealogists Howard Margol and Peggy Mosinger Freedman will be organizing another group trip to Lithuania. It will be from June 25 – July 5, 2013. Persons interested in tracing their roots in Lithuania, Latvia, portions of Poland close to Lithuania, or Belarus, may find the trip valuable. The group is limited to 25 people.

Included are visits to the archives, synagogues, ghettos, Holocaust sites, meetings with Jewish leaders, sightseeing, guide/interpreters, and two days to visit and spend time in your shtetl or shtetlach of interest. All meals are included (except for one dinner and two lunches), the finest hotels, buses, and much more. The trip planners are on a first-name basis with the archivists and directors of main places of Jewish interest.

For details and a full itinerary of the trip, see or contact the planners at

Romania/Moldova. The World Memory project has added information from questionnaires distributed by the World Jewish Congress in Romania in the Spring, Summer and Fall of 1945. Information at the site includes name, birth date, place of residence, marital status and relationship to head of household. For a specific individual, the names and relationships of all members of the household are shown. The database, a description, as well as its historical background can be found at