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15 September 2014

The Jews of Guatemala

The Jewish history within Guatemala is shorter and much smaller than most of its Central American neighbors. While there were certainly Jews in the country who came during the Inquisition, the present day community's roots begin in mid 1800's. Those first group of German immigrants were small in number and for the most part isolated from other Jews in the region, and because of this the did not have much influence with other Jews in other countries.
The second wave of Jewish immigrants, those whose impact is still visible in Guatemala started arriving in the early 1900's. The first arrived from Germany and various Middle Eastern countries, and were followed in the 1920's by Jews from Eastern Europe. Many of this latter group did not plan on staying long. They arrived in Guatemala from Cuba and were hoping to have visas from the United States so they could continue on their journey.
Being Jewish in Guatemala has not  
always been favorable. The country has at times acted to limit the arrival of new Jewish immigrants. In the early 1930's, the government ordered the expulsion of all peddlers from the country. This was meant to hurt the Jews as the majority of peddlers were Jewish. The order was not carried out, however laws were passed to ban peddling. This ban forced many Jews to emigrate elsewhere as they could no longer support their families.
In 1936, under pressure from the German community, laws were passed that would limit the number of immigrants of "Asian origin" which included people from Poland, the majority of who were Jewish. Due to these restrictions, the Jewish population was less than 1000 people in 1939. The majority of them lived in Guatemala City, Quezaltenengo and San Marcos.
Guatemala, even with their history of trying to restrict Jewish immigration, was the first country in Latin America to recognize Israel and it was also the first country to open its own embassy in Jerusalem. Today the majority of the 900 Jews still live in Guatemala City still struggle to maintain numbers as many of the Jews still seek ti immigrate for a better future.
Over the last few years more genealogical records of the people of Guatemala have become more accessible to researchers. As of today, FamilySearch has six databases of records from Guatemala, including Civil Registration from 1877-2008. The record shown below is the birth record of Augusta Stahl Cohen, daughter of Adolo Stahl and his wife Rosa Cohen. She was born on 28 Jun 1888 in Guatemala City.

The Stahl family were part of that first group of Jews who immigrated into Guatemala from Germany int the mid 1800's.

08 September 2014

The Jewish Community of Leadville, Colorado

The history of Leadville, Colorado can be traced to the early Gold Rush of the late 1850's. In 1859, Gold was discovered in California Gulch which started the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. In 1860, near present day Leadville the town of Oro City sprung up and by 1861 its population had grown to over 5,000 people, all trying to make their fortunes. The boom in Oro City was brief as the mining was hampered by the presence of heavy black sand.

It wasn't until 1874, however, when the gold miners from Oro City, discovered that the heavy sand that had hampered gold mining actually contained a high content of silver. They traced that sand back to its original source and found several silver lode deposits. The city of Leadville was founded near these deposits in 1877, which started the Colorado Silver Boom. By 1880, Leadville, which at an elevation of 10,152 feet is the highest incorporated city in the United States, had become one of the worlds largest silver camps, with a population of over 14,000 people.

The first Jews began arriving during the boom times of Oro City, in the early 1860's. While there may have been a few who came to mine, the majority are listed in the various census records as merchants, tailors and business owners. In fact, one of the most well known of these merchants was David May. May, who was born in Germany in 1849, arrived in Leadville in 1877, and got into business with Moses Shoenberg. He also became very involved in the Jewish community and in the City itself. He was one of the organizers of the Hebrew Benevolent Association and later was elected vice president of Temple Israel and was chairman of the building committee. He served Leadville as County Treasurer.
In 1877, he opened a new clothing store in Leadville. That first store would over time become The May Department Stores Company, which would go on to become a multi-billion dollar company. In 1880, he married Rosa Shoenberg, the sister of his business partner. They however left Leadville shortly before the turn of the century and moved to Denver. The 1900 United States Census (below), shows the couple with their three children. His occupation, listed as Clothing Manufacturer, is very understated for what he would become.

 During the summer of 1884, the synagogue in Leadville was built. That synagogue,  Temple Israel, took only two months to build and was dedicated on Rosh Hashanah on September 19th, 1884. That synagogue survives to this day, although it is mostly used as a museum reflection on the rich history of the Jewish community in this old frontier town.
In the late 1870's it became very clear that the community had a need for a burial ground. In June of 1879, Gustave Jelenko, known as Fred, died, and in early 1880, became the first to be buried in the Hebrew Cemetery. By 1880, over 100,000 square feet of land in the southwest corner of Evergreen Cemetery had been transferred to the Hebrew Benevolent Association, to become the final resting place of the Jews of Leadville.

The burial ground (above) sits in a beautiful wooded setting and the Jewish community has done a tremendous amount of work to reestablish the missing markers and preserve this beautiful place. It was truly a beautiful, peaceful place that I enjoyed visiting very much.
The information from the markers was documented and will be a part of the Knowles Collection - Jews of North America after our next update.

19 August 2014

New Zealand, Archives New Zealand Probate Records, 1848-1991

Familysearch has just published a collection of probate records held by Archives New Zealand for the time period 1848-1991. The records come from various courts throughout New Zealand. The published collection has over 2.7 million images, however the images for probates issued during the past 50 years are not available for viewing.
The collection is very easy to use as it is name search able. Searching for the name Cohen, there were 158 different probates for that name. The record below is for Siegmund Cohen, whose will was probated in 1903 in the court of Wanganui. The index information (shown below) gives all the vital information.

The original record can be found by clicking on the "View the Document" linked located in the upper right corner. The wills are very easy to read and in the case of Siegmund Cohen give a lot of good family information. The record below is page one of the will which gives the name of his wife, Mathilda,  the names of their four sons,  Maurice, Louis, Edward and Leon, and their sons.

Page two of the will also provides the names of his two daughters, Clara and Lena. This collection may not have as many Jewish families as a European collection but it does give great help to those with ancestry in the Pacific.

13 August 2014

Maine, Vital Records, 1670-1907

For those with Jewish ancestry in the State of Maine, one of the newest collections at Familysearch will be of great benefit. That collection, Maine, Vital Records, 1670-1907, contains over 1.8 million images of birth, marriage and death records from Maine. Also included in the collection is a complete name index which makes it a lot easier to search for your family.
The records in the collection come from 2 sources, the State Board of Health, Division of Vital Statistics and the State Archives. The collection is divided into three parts, Vital Records Prior to 1892, 80 towns, Vital Records, 1892-1907, and Delayed returns for births, deaths, and marriages, 1670-1891.The records themselves, are very easy to understand. The 2 examples shown below, are a birth and death.

The marriage records are slightly different, they are actually a two part document. The first part is a simple record of the marriage. The record below is for the wedding of Max Cohen, a 37 year old widower, and Rebecca Povich, a 30 year old widow. The marriage took place on 16 November 1903 in Ellsworth, Maine.

This marriage record provides very good information, however the second part of the marriage record adds even more vital information. The document below, gives the information on the parents of both the bride and groom. With that information and due to the fact most of these records are during the census years, it makes it possible to locate the families in the various United States censuses.

As with all of the collections at, these records are available for free from any computer.

05 August 2014

IAJGS 2015 Jerusalem, 6-10 July 2015

The 2014 IAJGS conference in Salt lake City, was another very successful event. Now its time to start looking ahead to the 2015 IAJGS conference to be held in Jerusalem. Follow all the upcoming news about the conference at Hope to see you there.

18 July 2014

Alabama, County Marriages, 1809-1950

The Jewish history of the State of Alabama is as old as the United States itself. As early as the 1750's and 60's, a number of Jews called Mobile home. Later, in the 1820's, the first permanent Jewish community in Alabama was
established in Mobile.
The Jewish community of Mobile was large enough that in 1841 they purchased their own cemetery. In January of 1844, Congregation Shaarai Shomayim u-Maskil el Dol was chartered.
The longtime president of the Congregation was Israel Jones, who was a London born tobacco merchant.
Another very prominent Jew in Mobile was Rabbi James Koppel Gutheim, who was originally from New Orleans. On 14 December 1858, Emilie Jones, the daughter of Israel Jones married James Koppel Gutheim in Mobile, Alabama.
The record of that marriage (below) is part of a collection of marriage records from the State of Alabama, that have now been added to the Historical Records Collections at

The collection, Alabama, County Marriages, 1809-1950, has over 1,000,000 marriage records and is name search able. In the later years of the collection, the records give much more information. The record below is the marriage in 1948, of Karl Bernard Friedman and Gladys Marie Cohen. 

In addition to the marriage information, we are now provided with the date and place of birth, occupations and the parents of the bride and groom. For those with Jewish family in Alabama, these are incredible records. As always these records are freely available at

27 June 2014

United Kingdom, World War 1 Service Records, 1914-1920

As this year marks the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of World War 1, a lot of well deserved attention is being given to those who served. This has also led to more and more records becoming available. As part of this, FamilySearch has just added a wonderful new collection, United Kingdom, World War 1 Service Records, 1914-1920.
This collection is a little unique in that even though it has been added to FamilySearch, the custodian of the record, The National Archives in London, has restricted the use of the images to only include the Family History Centers and the main Family History Library in Salt lake City. To locate the closest Family History Center to where you live, visit the link below;

This collection, which contains the records of W.O.  363 and W.O. 364 contains over 43.5 million images. However, its very important to remember that many of the soldiers had multiple records so the number of people covered is far smaller. The collection is not name search able however it is alphabetical by surname.
The records do provide some very good information on the soldiers. In the case of Jack Gluckstein, there are about 20 pages of documents. Some examples of the type of information in those is shown below.

 From his records we now know where he was born, the name of his father, his current address, and his age at enlistment, which when subtracted from the date of enlistment will give us his birth date.
If your ancestry is from the British Isles, this is a very important database for you. If you are attending the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) conference later this month in Salt lake City, who will be able to visit the library and review these documents.

25 June 2014

IAJGS 2014 - Salt Lake City Utah 1 Month Away

The 2014 International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies (IAJGS) is only a month away. The time to register is now. The conference is July 27th-August 1. Come learn about researching your own Jewish families from some of the best researchers from all over the world. Follow the link below to access the registration form.

I look forward to seeing you there.