This is a picture of my great-grandmother
Celia Vogel holding me in her left hand and my cousin Howard on her right.
On August 15-17 I went to St. Louis to for a family reunion of my mother's
cousins--the decedents of Abraham and Celia Vogel (My mother's maternal
grandparents). We had about 48 family units with about 130 cousins attending.
It is amazing that Baba and Zeda managed with 6 children and one on the
way to settle in St. Louis.
One of my tasks for the reunion was to prepare a speech to put the family history in an historical perspective. I had many months to prepare for the speech. I wanted to find information on the history of Jews in St. Louis and about Falticeni, Romania where my great-grandparents emigrated from. I searched the library catalogs for books about St. Louis and Romania without success. I searched other library catalogs without success. I searched encyclopedias, but found little useful information. There didn't seem to be any general histories on St. Louis or Romania.
About two weeks before the reunion I searched the Web using the terms, "Jews, St.Louis and history." I found one book, Zion in the Valley : the Jewish community of St.Louis, by Walter Ehrlich published by the University of Missouri Press in April 1997. I quickly tried to find the book. No local library owned it. I ordered the book from our supplier and received it 3 days before my speech. The first of three volumes covers the period of 1807-1907. (The other volumes have not yet been published.) This included the year 1897 when my Zeda arrived in the US and 1903 when they arrived in St.Louis.
Walter Ehrlich, who was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home in St. Louis, is professor emeritus of history at the University of Missouri--St.Louis. He was always interested in American Jewish history, but his graduate school mentors dissuaded him. He was encouraged to study history on a more national scope. He went into the field of constitutional history and eventually wrote and published important books and papers in that area.
Why did he write about St. Louis Jewish history? I found out the answer before I ever heard of his book -- No one had ever done it before. This was surprising since I easily found histories of New Orleans, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Columbus, Ohio all smaller cities with smaller Jewish populations than St. Louis.
In some ways St. Louis was a microcosm of the American Jewish community. There was the tension between the established Jews with German backgrounds and the Eastern European immigrants; and between the Reform and Orthodox. There were some crossovers. For example there was a German Orthodox congregation and Russian Reform congregation.
St. Louis had a long history of active Zionism that included all factions of the community. Groups such as Rishon le Zion Lodge, Dorchai Zion, Daughters of Zion, Poalei Zion, Ahavath Zion, Ha-Achooza and B'nai Zion were active. They represented different Zionist philosophies. In 1905 Simon Goldman founded the St. Louis Zionist Council to better co-ordinate Zionist activities in St. Louis.
Like most histories, Zion in the Valley centers on the movers and shakers of the community. I was looking for what the every day life of a Jews was in St.Louis. I am still looking for descriptions or even fictional accounts of everyday Jewish life in St.Louis.
Another thread to explore was documentation about my family. I had family recollections, but I wanted some documentation. My great-grandparents were not movers and shakers. They were not listed in the American Jewish Year Books or in Ehrlich's book. We have not yet found out the names of our great-grandparents' parents. We have not been able to find out the names of their sibling. One way to find out such information is to read their Social Security records. I looked them up in the Social Security Death Index. The names were not there. That means they probably did not have Social Security cards and no one collected a death benefit. We tried to find their immigration records and were not successful.
We do have a lot of documentation on our current family that includes a family directory and a list of the family tree that includes birth, marriage and death dates. We still have a lot of research to do our family history and the history of communities we come from.
The HTC Library is frequently a source
for researchers to find out about their family. Last week a reader was
partly successful. He was researching the Karrol family and had traced
his genealogy back to a 13th century paytan named Abshalom Kara. We found
an entry in an encyclopedia of rabbis. The entry gave a short biography
and included the text found on his grave stone in Prague.
August 11, 2011 Note: Since this was written we have found many names of ancestors and cousins. Zeda Abraham's parents were: Aizic and Pesa Feigler. I am not sure when he changed his family name to Vogel, but it was before he left Romania. Baba Celia's parents were: Herscu and Hantza Rosenthal.
We have fewer names for my father's side of the family. My father claims to have never known the names of his grandparents. Only recently did I discover some of their names.
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