I am in the process of switching to a new genealogy database.  Rather than importing the data I am entering it by hand and taking this opportunity to review material, assess what I know and yes, clean up those source citations we have all heard WAY too much about recently. While I enjoy some of the OCD aspects of this project, it is a bit dull because it consists only of facts and not the story behind the facts.

The intersection of facts and stories struck my fancy, so I thought I would show anyone who is interested how I move from the bare facts to the story of my family.  This will probably be a multi-part adventure.

I started with my grandfather, Alexander Silver.

What I Have


1.  The 1900 U.S. Census

Some facts from this census


1.  The name is Silverman, not Silver.

2.  The Silverman family is living on Forsyth Street in Manhattan.

3.  Alex is living with his parents, Mendel and Lena, his wife Pauline and his

daughter, Hatti–my Aunt Ethel

4.Alex was born in November of 1876 and was 23 years old.

5. Pauline was born in December of 1878 and was 21.

6.  Ethel was born in July of 1897 and was 2 years old.

7.  Ethel was born in New York, everyone else was born in Russia.

8. Alex and his parents emigrated in 1891, Pauline in 1888.

9.  Alex had petitioned for naturalization

10.  He was in the novelties business.

11.  Alex and Pauline could read, write an speak English


2.  Alexander Silver’s Declaration of Intention and Petition for citizenship














Some facts from the Declaration and Petition


1.  The declaration of intention was made in 1907.

2. Alex and family were living in Detroit in 1907

3.They were living on South 7th St. in Philadelphia, PA. in 1911 .

4. Alex came to the U.S. from Russia via Havre on the S.S. Campagnia.

5.  He arrived in New York an Aug. 20, 1891

6.  He had three children, Ethel, born July 10, 1898 in New York, Sylvia, born

Nov. 25, 1902 in New York and Stanley born May 10, 1909 in Detroit


There’s much more of interest in these documents, but I’ll keep that for later.


The story as I like to tell it will be Part Two.  Some facts may get bent, but not broken  and some things will be implied from the facts.  Context will be added to truly tell the story.


In a variation on the theme, this post is about three sisters who came to America and went in different directions.  There actually were more than 3 Yellin sisters and there was a brother too.  And some of them did eventually go in different directions.  But before they did, all of them migrated to Syracuse New York.  Somehow Syracuse had become the hub for the family and most of them lived there for some period of time.

The Yellins I’m interested in were the children of  Abraham David Yellin and Chaya Fage Singer, who met and married and lived in or near Jalowka, Gubernya Grodno, Volkovysk District, Russian Empire (an area that has been in Russia or Poland depending on the year and the politics).  This is the same area that the Levin family came from, and it was Abraham David’s aunt Dvora Yellin who married Itzhak Levin, parents of Lena and Harry Levine and Sam Levin.

According to Cousin Nancy the family story was that Abraham David Yellin wanted to send his children to the United States and had planned to send his oldest daughter, Esther, first.  A ticket was probably purchased in her name, and then it seems he may have decided that he needed her to stay and help him in his tailor shop.

Ester Jelin 1899

Ester Jelin arrival 1899

So we think a younger sister, Ida, was sent in her place, to an uncle (Chaya’s brother, also named Abraham David) in New York. This was in 1899 and Ida would have been just a young girl (about 10-14).  She apparently traveled with another young woman from Jalowka. Three years later, Esther did migrate, probably going to her aunt (father’s sister)  in New York.

Ester Jelin #2

Ester Jelin arrives 1902

Esther and Ida lived in a tenement on the Lower East Side and worked long hours in a sewing factory (a true sweatshop).  If you visit the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street, you will get a strong sense of what lives were like in such tenements.  Judy and I did one of their tours a number of years ago and it was amazing.

These two sisters lived and worked in New York City until about 1905-1906 when Sam Levin (a first cousin once removed who was older than the Yellins) moved his family to Syracuse and invited Esther and Ida to join them.  Both sisters met their husbands in Syracuse, and both married in 1909.

Selde Jelin 1921

Selde Jelin arrival 1921

Their younger sister, Zelda, came in 1912 and so she went directly to Syracuse rather than spending any time in New York City first.  And their younger, and only, brother Sam came in 1921 via Boston.   He arrived less than a year before their father Abraham David died.

Szmuel Jelin

Szmuel Jelin arrival 1921

Sister Merke had married in the spring of 1921 and she and her family migrated to Argentina between 1923 and 1926.  The remaining sister, Friedel married Hershel Levin in Jalowka and stayed in Russia.   Perhaps Hershel was a relative of Dvora and Itzhak Levin.

This left their mother Chaya and the youngest sister, Jeanette, still in Russia. Jeanette migrated through Canada after her father died.

Szejna Jelin 1926

Szejna Jelin arrival in Quebec 1926

I have not yet been able to find her entry into the U.S. but Cousin Nancy says that she had to go through Canada because of quotas at the time.  She arrived in Quebec in June 1926. Chaya was apparently able to come directly to the US at that time, because she was the mother of people already here.  I haven’t found her official entry yet either.  In a nutshell, this is what we know about the migration of each of the Yellins.

The tricky part in figuring some of this out has been that the names are not always what I would expect.  For example, in all the emigration records found so far Yellin (as they spelled it in this country) was spelled Jelin. (And the village of Yalowka is also spelled with a J.) The most likely reason that we found two Ester Jelins and no Ida was because one of the Esters was actually probably Ida (who we’re pretty sure came first).  The first Ester was listed as having her passage paid by an uncle and as going to her uncle, A.D. Singer at 57 Norfolk Street in New York City.  This was the address for Abraham David Singer on the 1900 federal census so it was most probably one of the Yellin sisters in our family.  In the case of the second Ester Jelin, her ticket was paid by an uncle Abr. Dewis Singer and the address she was going to was that of an aunt, Anna Singer Schneider, in New York City.  Selde Jelin who arrived in May 1912 was going to her brother-in-law Killian (Esther’s husband) in Syracuse, so it is a reasonable guess that this was Zelda.  And Szmuel Jelin who arrived in Boston in 1921 listed his father as David Jelin of Jalowka and also was going to his brother-in-law Killian in Syracuse.  The combination of father’s name and village as well as the brother-in-law make us sure that this was little brother Sam even though his age given was off by 5 years.

When I look at these names I realize that only one of the 4 children of Abraham David and Chaya Yellin who came to America went a different direction.  The usual genealogical tale is that 3 came to this country and they all went different directions.  This family, and the Levines as well, showed the more common pattern of collecting in a place and mostly not moving too far away from the rest of the family here.  In the Yellin family one exception was one of Ida’s daughters, who left Syracuse and moved West after marrying; Ida and her husband followed.  They did not lose touch with the family though.  Jeanette and her family also moved west as far as Michigan, but did not lose touch with the family. In the Levine family one branch (Harry Levine’s family) moved west to Michigan as well, to be closer to his wife’s siblings.  They lost touch with much of the Levine family for several generations although it was known where they were and there were occasional letters or visits.

Update:  On further communication with Cousin Nancy I have a couple of corrections/additions to make to this story.  The simple correction is that of course, if you add up the Yellin children I talk about, there were 5 who came to America.  I’m not sure who I wasn’t counting when I said 4.  And it was 2 of the 5 Yellins who moved on and away from the rest of the family.  The longer addition is that the shift to California was not the way I described it.  Apparently Ida and Morris were the first to go to California, because Morris had a job painting naval ships; this was about mid-1943.  Their daughter Lillian went with them, and two of Morris’s sisters were already there which may have influenced the decision to go.  Not too long afterward their other daughter went to join them, since her husband was serving in the military overseas.  And finally, I should note that Jeannette’s original name was Shane Toby (or a variation of this spelling) as she was one of the children named after her grandfather, Yoshua Todros Yellin.  So she showed up in migration as Szejna.

I’ve been chipping away over time at putting together the story of my husband’s grandfather, Nathan Greenberg, and how he came to this country as a young man.  The family has (don’t we all?) a story about it, but no hard and fast details.  Nathan didn’t talk much about his past, even when he was asked.  The general story line is that he ran away from an abusive apprenticeship in Russia/Poland at a young age (he said he was about 11, probably in the 1890s), and ended up in England where he met a fellow traveler, Harry Levine, probably in London.  They lived and worked in London for some unknown amount of time and then Harry was going to America.  He told Nathan that he should come to America too, and marry Harry’s sister, Lena.  So he did.  This picture is of the Lena and Nathan, probably early in their marriage or maybe even a wedding picture.  What we know about Nathan and the family starts at this point.

It has been particularly difficult putting this family’s information together, since Nathan pretty much refused to talk about his life before coming to upstate New York.  With the ever-increasing resources available on the Internet, and the help of several family members, I have collected some information about Nathan, and have been wanting to find a way to put  it together to tell Nathan’s story.  But I see so many holes in the narrative, that I hadn’t come up with a satisfactory way.  Until I discovered this website:  http://www.dziga.com/victor/, Everything I know about Hyman Victor, which is a wonderfully-done example of putting together a life story.  When you go to this site, click “start with Exhibit 1” to see the story unfold one page at a time.  This site inspired me to focus on what information I could find about Nathan.

And just this past week I discovered George Geder’s One-minute biography (page 9 of the breathtaking new magazine from the footnoteMaven: http://www.shadesofthedeparted.com/2009/11/shades-of-departed-magazine.html).  This article is about putting together a multimedia presentation of a relative’s life which can be posted on a blog, the ubiquitous YouTube, a website, you get the idea.

The best thing about both of these is that they show how you can start without much information and create a full story about a person’s life.  And as George says at the end of his example biography, it can be expanded as more information is found.  Now all I have to do is start putting together the information I do have on Nathan, and I can tell his story!  Stay tuned!