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Finding Paya's Family: Part II

Updated: May 11, 2020

Like many others, I grew up with stories of my family. These stories are priceless, and I implore anyone engaging in family research to ask your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and your oldest generations about your family history as their first step in their #genealogy journey because these anecdotes can be key to unlocking information you might ignore or miss or even spend more time researching because you didn't just ask in the first place. I discuss best genealogy practices and strategies in a previous post here on the blog.

Among the stories, my mother repeated many times how my great-grandfather Abraham and my great-grandmother Sophie married and had their first child, my Great-Uncle Jack, "the first Pauline" who died as a child, and my Great-Aunt Rose in Lithuania before they immigrated. The next four children, including my grandfather and "second" Great-Aunt Pauline, were born in the United States.

Uncle Jack Birth
Translation of birth record for my Great-Uncle Jack at JewishGen.

For whatever reason, I compartmentalized this information instead of purposely using it to research my family tree. After I located the likely marriage record for my 2nd great-grandparents, which you can learn more about in Part I of this blog series, and could not find further information on my 2nd great-grandmother, I put this research question aside and continued to peruse the records, seeing what stood out and if, by chance, anything happened to match a 2nd great-grandmother Rivka.

However, when I started to look more into the vital records, particularly birth records, something finally clicked. First, I found Uncle Jack, who of course only went by "Jack" in the United States. Until I started the research, it never dawned on me that that Jack wouldn't be Jack and Pauline wouldn't be Pauline. Still living in Lithuania, Uncle Jack was Yankel Yosef, named after his father's father, my 2nd-great grandfather. In Ashkenazi Judaism, it is customary to name children after deceased relatives. A son would likely be named after a deceased grandfather, a daughter after a deceased grandmother, although these were just customs and there are many exceptions. My 2nd great-grandfather Yankel Yosef died in 1894 and Uncle Jack was born in 1898.

Yankel Yosef death record
Translation of my 2nd great-grandfather Yankel Yosef's death record from JewishGen.

Yankel Yosef death
Digital copy of Yankel Yosef's deaths based on the above.

I also found the birth record for "first Pauline," who in fact was Paya. Additionally, I found her death record, which alerted me to how easily records could be wrong. According to her death record, her name was Shifra. In fact, Shifra was her mother, my great-grandmother Sophie, so her name was inputted in error instead of her daughter. I also sadly realized that my great-grandfather Abraham had already immigrated to the United States when his oldest daughter had died.

First Pauline birth record
Translation of birth record for the "first Pauline" who was in fact Paya.

Paia Berzak death
Great-Aunt Paya had her name recorded incorrectly at her death. Her mother, my great-grandmother, was Shifra.

Still, I hadn't put two and two together until I found a birth record for what appeared to be Moshe Leib's first daughter. As explained in Part I, Moshe Leib was the older brother of my great-grandfather, the only other child of "Rivka," my 2nd great-grandmother. Lo and behold, he named his first daughter Paya, too.

Paia Berzak's birth record
Moshe Leib's daughter Paya's translated birth record from JewishGen.

It was not a coincidence that both brothers named their first daughter Paya, nor that when "first Pauline" died, there was to be a second one. Although no one in the family knew it, the answer was in front of us the whole time. My Great-Aunts Pauline were Paya. My 2nd great-grandmother must have been named Paya!

Aunt Pauline yearbook photo
My Great-Aunt Pauline ("Second Pauline") in her 1929 senior high school photo. Located at

Now, the question became was Paya really Paya Rivka or was this another typo in the records? Or did I have the wrong marriage record for my 2nd great-grandparents altogether? On this I can't be positive, but additional records seemed to indicate I was moving in the right direction. More importantly, now that I had found Paya, I was determined to find her family.

To be continued.


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