Where Were You Born?? Jewish Geneology


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The More Things Change,
The More They Stay the Same

- Or -
What Little Leaguer Danny Almonte Has In Common with my Aunt Molly!

By Nolan Altman

Here's a simple question for you. Do you know when you were born? Easy, right? Or is it? Think about it…how do you really know the right date?

Well, if you were born in the US in the last 50 years or so, chances are you were born in a hospital where your birth was recorded at that time. As I've seen with my own children, as soon as the umbilical cord was cut, a wristband gets slapped on their wrist and in our "organized bureaucracy" (is that an oxymoron?) the birth was recorded.

But what if you or your ancestors were not born in a hospital? Or in the US? Would their birth get recorded and how? With all the press about Little Leaguer Danny Almonte's age and birth certificates, I was surprised how, in some cases, recording births haven't changed in over 130 years!

The Curious Case of Aunt Mollie's Birthdate. My Aunt Mollie told me that she was born in 1913 and celebrated her birthday each March 21st. She was born in a little shtetl (town), southeast of Warsaw, Poland called Demblin. But was March 21st the day she was born? After finding her father's naturalization papers, I found that Mollie's birthdate was listed as June 10, 1912. So now, I was faced with the possibility of two different birth dates and two different years. But I wasn't done yet! According to my aunt's school records, she was born in November! Alright, now I had three dates! What would explain these differences? Which was right?

Being an amateur genealogist means trying to sort out the best information available and making reasonable decisions. When I spoke to my aunt about the discrepancies, she helped to explain some of the differences.

Her mother told her that she was born the first night of Passover. That seems to be a rather significant date and easy way of remembering such an event. Therefore, I give it the most believability. Chances are that in Europe, her birthday were remembered and celebrated based on the Hebrew (lunar) calendar. On our Gregorian calendar, Passover is usually celebrated in March or April and that makes March 21 a reasonable date. The November date made sense when I was told that my grandfather used that date to enroll my aunt in school when she arrived in the US from Poland at the age of 7.

And what about June 21, 1912? Well, let's just say that I don't think my grandfather was very good with dates! None of the dates or years he listed on his naturalization papers match other recollections or documents. Maybe he was unsure with the language or flustered by the process or just wanted to get through the paperwork. In any case, I gave that date the least credibility. Oddly enough, of four children, three were born on the 21st. Was that coincidence or some affinity for the number 21? I will never know.

So I was willing to go with my aunt's date of March 21st, 1913. But do we really know for sure? No. Will I ever know? Not really. And that's where we get to the recording process.

Great Uncle Abraham & the Twin. Listening to my favorite sports radio station, I heard the report of how Danny Almonte's father procured his son's birth certificates. Mr. Almonte went to the town clerk who had a large hand written register. He told the clerk that a son was born to him on a given date and the clerk recorded it in the book. Mr. Almonte did not have to do this on the day of Danny's birth, nor even during that year. In fact, he might not have registered the birth at all if it wasn't for the fact that a birth certificate was needed to bring Danny to the US. Did the clerk check the actual date of Danny's birth? No. How could he know? And there you have the very imprecise procedure for registering births in the Dominican Republic. (Keep in mind there might be different procedures for city and rural areas.)

As I listened to this, I realized this was exactly the same procedure that my great grandfather went through to record the birth of his first son in 1870! All of this was explained in my most prized genealogical document which came from the administrative birth records of Ryki, Poland. The handwritten birth certificate, as you can see attached, is written in Polish script and documents not only my great uncle's birth, but facts about his parents; my great grandparents. The translation is as follows:

"Meeting in Irena 14 December 1870 at 3 p.m., there appeared in person the Jew Munyish Altman, 24 years of age, residing in Stezyce, accompanied by the witness Gabrijel Szed, 73, literate, and Michael Cytrinbaum, 47, homeowner, both residing in Irena, and announced to us twin male babies. Further, they were born in Stezyca on the 6th of December of this year to his legal wife Zlata, nee Rozenwajn, 24 years of age. The children were named Abram and Josef. This act was read to those present and signed by the witnesses and this official."

The Bottom Line. As we've seen, the answer to the simple question posed above may not be so simple. If you don't have an "immediate and timely" birth recording, chances are you would celebrate your birthday on the day your parents told you that you were born. Why not…you wouldn't remember it! It's interesting though, that whether it's my great uncle Abraham's birth in 1870 or my aunt Mollie's birth in 1913, that the same procedures are still used in some places in the world today. It's just one of the interesting things about genealogy. My next simple question…where were you born?


from the November 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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