It Only Takes One Document

A JDC record cracks a genealogist’s case wide open

Doing family research can be both fun and exciting, and tedious and frustrating. There will be times in your research when you keep finding new leads, family members, and records, and there will be other times when you find yourself spending excessive hours trying to locate that one family member’s birthplace in 1930s Poland. But sometimes it is luck – being in the right place at the right time – that can break your family research wide open.

Judith Gidden experienced this little bit of luck – with the help of JDC Archives records.

Judith is an avid Jewish genealogist – she does not consider herself a professional, but does like to help others with their research. When she moved to Chicago, one of her aunts lived 15 minutes away from her new home – so Judith decided to start talking to her aunt about their family history and taking notes of their conversations. Eventually, they met twice a week. Her aunt remembered a fair amount about their large family despite being in her late 80s. Judith soon learned that her grandmother had a brother who had not come to the United States. Her grandmother would send packages and money to her brother and his family, but eventually stopped hearing from them. They assumed he died in the Holocaust which, as it turns out, he did.

Photograph of Judith Gidden’s grandmother and Aunt Sylvia, 1918.

This is where Judith hit a snag. Where would she start in her research about him?

After a few years collecting information, Judith found someone with the name she was looking for – Grodzensky. She thought she was looking for a unique surname and that it would be easy to pinpoint a hometown or location, but it turns out it was fairly common in the Jewish world – more specifically, in Grodno Gubernia (which is a rather large area to begin with). She had given up entirely until she found a document in the JDC Archives.

An online resource that Judith regularly subscribes to posted about the JDC Archives and a list that included about 7-8 pages from Grodno and Bialystok – the exact locations she was researching. This particular list from 1921 was of Polish Jews, grouped by town, who were requesting assistance from relatives in the United States. Judith figured she had nothing to lose, so she might as well take a look.
As it turns out, this was the key to opening everything.

Portion of the page from a JDC Archives document showing the name of Alter Grodzensky.

In searching through this list, she found an Alter Grodzensky – the name of her grandmother’s brother – right next to her grandmother’s name, Esther, as the stateside relative from whom he requested aid in Poland. What made this list stand apart from all the other material she searched through, was that it listed the town in which he resided – Suchowola. Armed with this piece of information, she was able to find out even more.

Judith logged onto JewishGen. In their Family Finder feature, she was able to see that there was someone else looking for the same last name she was researching – Gross (some relatives shortened Grodzensky to Gross when they came to the United States). She found out that this woman’s father was one of Alter’s sons. Alter’s son had come to the United States in 1904 and stayed with Judith’s grandmother, then moved to Boston. Judith’s aunt had been aware of him, but did not know the exact connection to the family. From there, Judith located Alter’s great-granddaughter and began to flesh out her tree – which had just grown surprisingly and exponentially!

Judith Gidden, 2018.

Last summer, Judith attended the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies’ (IAJGS) annual conference in Warsaw and was able to visit the area she now knows her family came from. She had the opportunity to visit Suchawola with a terrific researcher and group of fellow genealogists, and had the opportunity to see what the town looked like before the war and what it was like for Jews to live in the area before the rise of Nazism.

Judith says that if she hadn’t found the list from the JDC Archives, she would never have found the town she was looking for and, as a result, would have never been able to reach out to her long-lost family. Since stumbling upon this list three years ago, she says, she has not found any piece of information that would have made the same breakthrough in her research.

At the end of the day, it only took one JDC document to bring her family back.

Want to explore your own family history? Search the JDC Archives’ Names Index. You can find more information on the lists included in that database, including the list that helped Judith, here.

About the Author

Judith Gidden is from Chicago, Illinois. This story was shared with her permission.