Emigration: the messy middle

In this blog, I’ve talked about the origins of my Berkman family and a little bit about my most immediate ancestor, my father. I also looked at information about one of the family’s journey to the US.

But there is a whole lot of uncertainty around most of the Berkman emigrants to North America. Some of this is the relative scarcity of ships records. A huge issue is matching names on ship manifests to ancestors. In the case of Gitel Berkman (my great-great aunt), she had married and had two children when they travelled, so I was pretty certain that this family of four was the same as the one that I had identified in Vilkija.

When I try to track my great-grandfather Myer Abraham Berkman, I come up with a couple of different possible ships. I cannot find the births of my grandfather David or his sister Sadie in Russia (Lithuania? Belarus?), nor his marriage or the death of his wife Aidla Vaskoboinik before they emigrated. While I know that Myer died and was buried in Montreal in 1941, I can find no trace of him in Canadian census records. Where did he live?

So today I decided to take another look at my records for my grandfather, David Berkman. From the few accounts of those who knew of him, I believe he would be called a “player”, and there is some evidence of this in the divorce decree issued 9 years later.

But let’s start with some facts.

As I mentioned in a previous post, he married my grandmother Vera Elstein in 1922 and my father Franklin was born two years later. When (and where) was David born?

david berkman grave
Baron de Hirsch – De La Savane Cemetery, Montreal QC
Courtesy Stoneman. Copyrighted Image. Used with Permission.

I don’t have any direct information about his date of birth such as a birth registration. His headstone states that he died at age 68 in 1956, suggesting a birthdate of 1888. The informant was his sister Saidie’s son Frank Rubenstein and I have no reason to believe that this date is more or less precise. It is also the year of birth of Saidie herself. Maybe it was a best guess?

On the 1921 census taken in Regina Saskatchewan, David claims to be 28, suggesting a birth date of 1893. A David Berkman appears on a ships register for a 1898 Liverpool – Quebec route stating that he is 18 (birth date of 1880). Another (or possibly the same?) David Berkman is on a 1906 Antwerp-New York sailing and he’s stated as 23 (birth date of 1883).

He starts to appear in City Directories in 1907 in Ottawa where he is listed as a tailor, often in partnership with someone. This would suggest that a birth date of 1893 is unlikely.

So, rather than dwell on the pesky dates, I’ll focus my next post on David’s life post-emigration.

Gitel Berkman to Gertrude Freeman

Most of the historical and genealogical records I have used to trace my ancestors in Lithuania were collected and published by JewishGen and the Litvak Special Interest Group. I joined JewishGen years ago, but it wasn’t until I was able to trace my Berkman ancestors to Lithuania that I realized the full power of their collections.

In this post, I will look at the first of Hirsh and Sore’s children, their daughter Gitel, my great-great-aunt, sister of my great-grandfather, Myer.

Gitel was born in Vilkija in the early 1860s. In November of 1883, she married Leyb Freyman, also from Vilkija and they had two children, a daughter Chaya Beyle (1885-) and son Itsek Ber (1887-).

In October 1887, the family of four left for New York from Hamburg, via Liverpool, on the steamship City of Chester.  The manifest notes their port of arrival as “Grimsby (Amerika (USA) via Liverpool)” and I learned that this was a typical route for emigrants to the US. They were able to purchase a package ticket that would take them from Hamburg to the port of Grimsby (England), and then a train from Grimsby through Manchester, to Liverpool. From there, they could get a ship to the US.

city of chester
Steamship City of Chester

I haven’t been able to determine when they sailed from Liverpool to the US, nor what port they arrived at.

The next time I find the family is via the US Census of 1910. They are living in Boston. Leyb has become Louis and Gitel is Gertrude. They have had seven more children:  Rose (b. 1890), Mae (b. 1892), Morris (1893-1894), Sadie (b. 1896), David (b. 1896), Charles (b. 1900), and Harold (b. 1903).  These were all born in Massachusetts as per the census, so they arrived in the US not long after their journey through England.

The two children born in Vilkija are now Bessie and Benjamin. Father Louis is listed as a house painter, Bessie (23) a bookkeeper in a shoe store, Benjamin (21) a tobacco salesman, Rose (20) a Stenographer in a picture store and Mae (18) is an underwear maker in a factory. They live at 132 Brighton Street which they own (with a mortgage.)

By the time of the next census in 1920, Gertrude has been widowed. Louis died in 1915 at the age of 57 from chronic nephritis and secondarily, lobar pneumonia. His is noted as being in real estate in the death record. He had spent four days in the two-year-old Peter Bent Brigham Hospital at the time of his death on the 24th of December.

Peter Bent Brigham Hosp. Est. 1913 Courtesy: Boston Public Library.

In 1920, the family has moved to 17 Holborn Street where they are renting. Gertrude still has seven children living with her, plus her daughter Mae’s husband Morris Brown and their two daughters. She also has a female lodger.

Gertrude died in August of 1929 at the age of 66 and was buried at Adath Israel cemetery near her husband.
There is much more to this story, but I haven’t figured it all out yet. When I was searching for pictures of the houses on Brighton and Holborn, I came across this item from the Boston Post. I note the addresses 132 Brighton Street, 70 Brighton Street (the address where Rose was born), and that Gitel Freeman is noted as the “supposed present owner” of 101 Brighton Street. My next step will be to peruse some city directories to find out who lived where and when.

Taxes due at various properties owned by Gitel Freeman and various Berkmans.
“City Collector’s Notice.” (Unpaid taxes.)
Boston Post, 7 November 1896.

Final note: if you are related to this (my) family, I would love to hear from you. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me, particularly if I have made errors in my research, or just to connect!