Thursday, February 28, 2013

Simon Zweighaft's will, the National Farm School and Alliance Colony

Simon Zweighaft's 1911 will has been a treasure trove of information, much still to be revealed.  He died at the Marburg in Atlantic City.  Not the run-down apartments of my imagination, but a state-of-the-art, pink high rise, a marvel of its time.  When the building was torn down in 2008, the Atlantic City Press reported that the building was "most likely patterned after Thomas Edison's reinforced concrete model, a revolutionary style at the time that included imbedded metal in the concrete". In the 1990's, the building housed several lavish seven room apartments with two bathrooms, so it was likely equally upscale in 1912 when Simon was there.
Simon’s 1911 will also lists a bequeath to the National Farm School in Doylestown, PA upon the graduation of his nephews, Bernard and Abraham. The National Farm School was a school established in 1894 to teach Jewish boys agricultural skills.  The picture below depicts the chapel.  


Below is a link to the 1914 annual report for the school. It lists Bernard Zweighaft as a graduate, Simon as a donor and Bernard’s home address as Alliance, NJ.

Bernard's home in Alliance was a Jewish agricultural community established in 1882.  Here is the wikipedia entry on the Alliance Colony:

Looks like we need to plan another genealogy road trip – the founder’s house is still standing and there are plans to turn it into a museum. Add that to the NYC Municipal Archives, Cypress Hills and Bayside cemeteries, Seaview Hospital and Haines Falls trips. Plus Pilica, Poland and Stockholm. I KNEW I should have started this 40 years ago!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Philadelphia Research Trip

Yesterday I took the train from DC to Philadelphia for my first, dedicated genealogy research trip.  I was excited and nervous about catching a 6:30 a.m. train, so was awake by 3:30 a.m.  Not well-rested obviously.  But the trip did not disappoint, and the excitement of being there and wondering what I would find next kept me awake, if not alert.  
Municipal Archives and City Hall buildings, the two I visited, look like relics from some 3rd world country – at least the record rooms where I was:  decrepit books and files, leather bindings hundreds of years old, shredded and flaking, haphazardly stored everywhere on dilapidated furniture. City Hall was the worst and really sad to see those priceless records in such a state of neglect.  I’m used to the pristine, well-staffed facilities, overrun with volunteers, at the National Archives and Library of Congress. In Philly, you’ve got lifer civil servants, many of whom really don’t want to deal with people looking for records for genealogy (Says the old woman behind the counter when I asked about getting a copy of a marriage license for which I had the license number, "You got a number?" "Yes, I have the marriage license number." "You need a number.  Go across the hall and get a number." I'm thinking, a customer service number? book number? I've got a number.  I go across the hall.  "What?  Who sent you over here?  Why did they send you here? What number do they want?")   And on it went.  But, I had been advised to just put a smile on my face, be highly apologetic and appreciative, and indeed, generally people came around and I got what I needed in the end.
It’s quite an eye-opener to see what’s NOT digitized and probably never will be – municipalities just don’t have the funds and, if the records don’t have a lot of commercial value, deep-pocketed companies like Ancestry just aren’t going to bother. I’ve read that far less than 1/10 of historical records have been digitized; now I believe it.

So, first, 5 hours at the Municipal Archives where they have birth, marriage, death, naturalization and deed information. Struck out on the birth certificates for Geremiah, Louis and Helena Zweighaft, Bernard’s siblings born between 1873 and 1889. (Bernard was the oldest sibling, born in 1865 in Pilica and came to the US as an infant with his parents in 1867.) The research assistants  said it was not unusual for births to go unrecorded during that time period.   But I did find a birth certificate for Jacob Zweighaft, son of Simon and Sofia, born at their home at 230 N. 8th St. So at first I thought I had found a long lost grand uncle, but then realized the date of birth was the same as his brother Louis S. –11/20/1881 (although Louis himself, on his WWI draft registration listed his birth as 11/20/1880 not 1881; other records for Louis do list his birth date as 1881.) The research assistant thought that Jacob probably just changed his name to Louis S. sometime between 1881 and 1900 where Louis S. is on the census in Simon’s household. Seems like a strange change, so that's a mystery to return to. But there is an older Jacob, born in 1866 in Russia (which actually could have been Pilica, Poland) around Bernard’s birthdate in 1867 – he’s the one whose widow, Sarah, returned to Pilica in the 1900’s on an emergency passport. So maybe young Jacob wanted just wanted a separate identity. 
Other records I found were:
  • Sophia Zweighaft's April 25,1908 death certificate of heart disease at age 61
  • The elder Jacob Zweighaft's September 19, 1888 naturalization petition
  • Marriage certificates for 6 other Zweighafts to be mailed (hoping to piece together more Zweighaft relationships)
  • a December 5, 1914 birth certificate for Morris Aaron Zweighaft, son of  Louis J. Zweighaft (b. 1892) and Bessie Mason.  Louis J. is not to be confused with our grand uncle Louis S. Zweighaft (b. 1881).  I'm pretty sure this is the Aaron Zweighaft listed in Dad's 1950's address book along with his brother Bernard (Aaron in Tom's River, NJ and Bernard in Harrisburg, PA).  So I feel confident this "Louis J." Zweighaft family is related to ours.
  • Simon Zweighaft's October 20, 1875 naturalization petition and certificate (and I missed the fact they they didn't give me the Declaration of Intent which may have additional information of genealogical interest.  Gaining citizenship was a 2-step process. One could submit a Declaration of Intent after residing in the U.S. for 2 years with the final naturalization granted upon petitioning 3 or more years later.)
  •  deed abstracts showing puchases and sales for several pieces of property in Philadelphia owned by Simon and/or Sofia Zweighaft.  One very interesting fact was that Sofia had bought property in her own name in 1875 which must have been quite unusual for a married woman in that time.  That makes me wonder if it was she and not Simon who brought the most money to their marriage.
  • at City Hall (room 410, Orphan's Court), an extensive, 3 page entry of all the transactions related to the James Fabian Zweighaft estate.  After Dad's father died in 1907, his mother was appointed guardian, which seems strange for a mother to have to be appointed guardian of her own child, but that's how it was done in those days upon the death of a father.  She then had to manage his estate or what we might call today a trust.  So these submissions to the court detail mostly real estate sales to generate money for Dad's estate.  They are going to pull the files for me if they can find them and give me a call as to the size of the file.  It costs $3/page to copy and the research assistant said the file might be hundreds of pages.  He was quite surprised by the extent of the entries.
So, by this time I was quite exhausted, with no more energy to wander over to 230 N. 8th Street where Simon and Sofia lived, nor the Jewish museum nor U. Penn. library where we may find more information on our grandfather Bernard, class of 1888 Biology and 1891 Medicine.  See the copy of his alumni catalog biography with information submitted by his wife, Blanche.   (Having just looked up 230 N. 8th Street on Google maps and seen a parking lot, I'm glad I didn't bother to go there.) Lots more to learn on a return trip someday!  Who wants to come with me?