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Jewish Genealogical Society of Oregon

Tales of Genealogy

by Sue Axel 



When I started doing our family history research I truly knew nothing about how to proceed. Then my husband and I took an excellent week long Elderhostel program in Utah that was a marvelous introduction to the pastime. I say that because doing genealogical research encompasses many things:

- It is hard work.

- It is being extraordinarily patient

- It is listening well for cues.

- It is like a giant puzzle.

- It is also plain luck!


While doing a taped interview with my uncle he casually mentioned that his father, now an American citizen, had applied for a passport in 1922. That clue led to finding out where his siblings had gone. It also led to enough information from the passport application 
to ask, while in a small group meeting at the International Jewish Genealogical Conference in London last summer, if anyone knew of my family. In a heart stopping moment, someone did and put me in touch with them.

Since that time I have found relatives all over the world. Some of my cousins are in the United States and we have met and formed a wonderful relationship. We are looking forward to meeting more of my relatives in Canada this summer. Everyone in the family has been marvelous about sharing stories and information that can be documented.


The other side of the family has been more of a problem to locate, i.e., not much in the way of clues, hard data, or reliable information. My 90+ year-old aunt told me where she thought her mother's family had come from. We looked through census after census of the Jews in Hungary but found nothing. Obviously they had to have come from some place, but as the years we were searching were in the 1800's, nothing was forthcoming. It was an extremely frustrating enterprise.



We knew the general area where my mother's family lived and decided to explore it on a recent trip to Hungary. We went to every town mentioned by anyone in the family. The towns were amazing. I had read of shtetls and assumed they had a market square with houses around. This was not the case in northeastern Hungary. The houses bordered each side of the road with large yards, many including a barn, stretching away to fields. Other than the main road, we rarely saw streets. Some of the towns had clearly been recently rebuilt, probably due to flooding of the Tisza River.
We came upon a dilapidated, overgrown cemetery by the side of the road near Nyirlovo. Unfortunately most of the stones were impossible to read and brambles precluded going deeply into the cemetery. There were a few newer stones, but they were not of my family.

A Jewish cemetery near Nyirlovo, Hungary.

The former Kisvarda synagogue is now the Retkoz Museum.
Our trip continued to Kisvarda. The town had been mentioned by my aunt, as was Nyirlovo. We went into a magnificent building that had been the Ksvarda synagogue and was now a museum, as are so many in Eastern Europe. 
Inside the West entrance, the walls were covered with names in Hungarian and Hebrew of more than 1,000 Jews who died in Auschwitz, June 1944. There on the wall was my family. The feeling was bittersweet, as here I had documentation of where they had lived and where they had died, but what can one say, seeing your family's name and knowing what had transpired? It definitely was not the best way to obtain documentation.

Hungarian Jews (including the author's family - Moskovits) who died in Auschwitz.

We went to the city hall to find the street where they had lived. We found the street, but my cousin said it was the wrong house. This cousin is the granddaughter of my great uncle. Her father survived the war in Budapest or in the nearby woods. My aunt was correct about the towns, but it was not her mother's side of the family, but her father's who lived there. So in the end all the research, clues, persistence and luck have been well worth the effort. Best of all, connecting with our family has been a fabulous experience.


Sue Axel is a board member and treasurer of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Oregon.




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