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When You Don't Know the Language, but Hold a Treasure

I have been a very busy genealogist lately. I've toppled some amazing brickwalls in my own family tree that I'm excited to write about. I've also been completing some projects for clients, taking classes through the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, watching webinars, and prepping for the week-long virtual Institute of Genealogical & Historical Research (IGHR).

But there has been bountiful fruit from this labor. A major perk of the pandemic (I've been trying to see the glass as half full) has been my mother staying with us for much of it to help out. She also came bearing gifts. When going through old heirlooms of my great-aunt's during our last trip to Maine, we discovered correspondence written in Yiddish between my Great-Aunt and my 2nd great-grandfather, Aaron Michelson (originally Shtikan). Neither of us know Yiddish, but with the power of social media, that can't stop me!

My 2nd great-grandfather, Aaron Michelson.
Aunt Mim and Uncle Jim around 1929 in New York.

So among the treasures my mother brought were three postcards sent from Aaron to Great-Aunt Mim. Almost immediately, I snapped some photos of the documents with my phone and posted them to one of my favorite Facebook groups, Genealogical Translations. This group is completely volunteer-run and will translate from a number of different languages. I received responses within an hour of each post, which I am excited to share here. I may need to hire someone to fine-tune a translation and translate some longer eulogies written in Yiddish, but it's amazing that I have these family artifacts.

Dated 18 September 1933

The above reads:

"For a Good Year may you be written and sealed! [Common Rosh Hashanah greeting.]

Dear beloved children Miriam and Jimmy [Aunt Mim's husband], may you live happily! I have received with pleasure your greetings from Shertan/Tzerta [this may be my maternal grandmother's Yiddish name; there was some disagreement in the group over what it was]. We rejoice to know that you are making a living, thank God. Now I wish you for this coming New Year to have good luck in all your endeavors. And always feel fully in good health. And to hear happy news from all those far and near and have naches [contentment] from them all. And I wish for myself all that I wish for you.

Your grandfather,

Aharon Michelson"

Number Two:

Dated 4 March 1936. Some water damage on this one made it harder to translate.

"Dear good children Jimmy and Mirel [Nickname for Miriam],

May you live happily and in good health. I have received a letter from Hena [lots of Henas in the family! We think this one was Aaron's daughter Hena (Anna Michelson Kuslansky), not his granddaughter, my Great-Aunt Anna]. She's very upset that I have not brought her over when you were in New York [Aaron lived in Brooklyn with other family; the others lived in Maine]. After that Mirel, when you have been to her and she has explained to you the whole situation. You have seen like me that it was not possible. She is of frail health and even with one's own car (it's not to be done). She's not well enough to travel such a long way by truck.

She was willing to pay the fare for the whole way and then she asked me to come and get her. I had to write her an answer. Obviously she must have had a big business for not being able to come. That's what Jimmy has thought the second time on his own. I have not written anything to her and I won't.

I don't have any more news to write. I don't write to Hena what I write to you. I won't write as I don't have any stamp for my letter. If I were to use it for her I would not be able to write to you.

Your zeide [grandfather in Yiddish] Aharon"

And number three:

Dated 9 April 1936. Aaron died just a couple months later.

"Thursday, Chol HaMoed Pesach [one of the days in the middle of the 8 days of Passover]

Dear Miriam,

May you live happily along with your dear Jimmy, and may you all be well. I received your card. Was happy to hear of your good health and also for the greeting from Sylvia [my maternal grandmother]. Over here, there’s no news. I feel the same as when you saw me. Thankfully, am no worse, and I can hope for better...

Now to your question about the yahrzeit [the yearly memorial for the deceased]. You must remember that your father died on ‘achron shel Pesach”, which means the last day of Passover. He was buried the next day, which happened to be on a Sunday. Yahrzeit is counted from the date of death, not burial. Therefore, you should know that his yahrzeit will always fall on the last day of Passover. You must light candles on the evening preceding the last day of Passover. And so, no futher news. Be well, and have joyful times always, as your ‘zeyde’, Aharon Michelson, wishes for you. Send regards from me to your mother-in-law."

I love hearing my 2nd great-grandfather's voice here. These treasures are invaluable, and I have Genealogical Translations to thank for it. Definitely check out the group if you're in need of translations for your treasures!


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