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Finding the Fraimans

There is a photograph that is “famous” in my father’s family. We believe it was taken sometime in the late 19th century in the shtetl (Yiddish for a small town in pre-World War II Eastern Europe with a sizable Jewish population) of Smilavichy, which was then located in the Russian Empire, but currently is in the country of Belarus. We no longer have the original photograph; we only have a clipping that was cut out of a date unknown issue of The Jewish Daily Forward (known today as The Forward), the newspaper of the burgeoning Jewish Community of New York City in the beginning of the 20th century.

If you can read the caption, it identifies my great grandfather Abraham Zabitz as the rather handsome gentleman seated in the front row, playing the flute. But who are the others in this band? The caption identifies it as a “family band.” My father’s cousins always believed that Abraham had married into a family of musicians and that these were his male in-laws.

My great grandmother, Abraham’s wife, was Shayna, daughter of Shraga Fayvish Fraiman. Shayna did not accompany Abraham to the United States. She passed away unexpectedly a very short time prior to their planned departure from Smilavichy. As I had been asking various family members about Shayna and her family, my father’s cousin Doris finally told me that she had been fortunate enough to meet some of the Fraiman family and kindly supplied email addresses for several family members. When I contacted them, they not only identified their great grandfather as Mendel Fraiman, a musician, but they also had copies of that famous photograph. Their great grandfather is the gentleman in the front row with the trombone.

But really and truly, was Mendel Fraiman the brother of Shayna Fraiman Zabitz, or could that be a coincidence? As a “good” family historian, I decided to find out using source documents to the extent possible.

Using the search engine at FamilySearch.org, I was able to find a census record for not Mendel, but “Max” Friaman and his family living in Ward 7 in Manhattan, New York in 1910 (see End Note #1).

The 1910 census asked respondents their occupations. What was entered for Max’s occupation? Musician! At least that fit!

But again, this could be coincidence. I still did not have a drop of evidence that Mendel and Shayna were brother and sister until I found an index (as opposed to a source record) documenting Max’s death (see End Note #2).

While I do not consider this to be “bullet-proof” evidence, at least it is a start. Philip (Max’s father) could be an “Americanization” of Fayvish. And so, my current thinking on the matter is that Max (or Mendel) and Shayna are brother and sister and that I have found some new cousins. Now, who are the rest of the musicians and will I be able to expand my family circle farther when I find out? Thank you for reading! Comment, criticism, and correction of fact always welcome.

End Notes:

#1 "United States Census, 1910," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/M5QR-5GS : 29 October 2015), Max Fraiman, Manhattan Ward 7, New York, New York, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 85, sheet 1B, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,375,021.

#2 "New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/2W1F-KSY : 20 March 2015), Max Fraiman, 29 Feb 1920; citing Death, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 2,021,316.

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