The Myth of Ellis Island, Part 2
Genealogy Proof Standard Study Group Homework
Chapter One--What is the Genealogical Proof Standard?
Christine Rose, Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case 4th Edition Revised, (San Jose, California: CR Publications) 2014.
Here I endeavor to establish the reliability of family stories as a genealogy data source.
My mother’s mother, my maternal grandmother, the late Bessie Lipschultz Waldman (1891-1991), left her descendants a treasure map; treasure not of money, jewels or gold; but treasure in the way of family history. Bess Waldman wrote down the story of how her mother and her grandparents left Czarist Russia in the late 19th century and immigrated to America, the new world, in a book she called “The Book of Tziril: A Family Chronicle,” hereafter referred to as “Grandma’s (or Bessie’s) Book.”
Like the conventional kind of treasure map, the one left to me by my grandmother does not directly tell me where to find the buried treasure, but provides me tantalizing hints and clues about my ancestors. I have decided to use my newly developing skills as a family historian to research Grandma’s stories and determine fact from fiction.
The first piece of buried treasure I am setting my sights on, came to me as a result of writing two previous blog posts, What’s in a Name and The Myth of Ellis Island Part 1. The buried treasure, also known as a research question, was to determine when my second great grandfather, Bessie’s grandfather, officially changed the family surname from Wilkimirsky to Friedman. According to Bessie’s book, Yussel, her grandfather, changed the surname sometime before her mother and grandmother left Kovno in Czarist Russia. In her description of Yussel’s last visit back to Kovno, before my great grandmother and her mother joined him in Jersey City, my grandmother wrote, “Later in the day…Yussel showed his citizen papers. He was now an American citizen…He had officially changed his name to ‘Joseph Friedman,’ and so his visa and papers read.” [See End Note #1]
I would direct the reader to the previous blog posts for details.
Bessie loved idea of “story-telling,” and did quite a bit of writing as a young woman. Bessie used the name Tziril Gordon, the name of her maternal grandmother, as a pseudonym. Although I knew this as a child, I had never seen confirmation of anything she had written; but that changed with the advent of the internet search engine. When I entered the phrase “Tziril Gordon,” I was truly delighted when Google returned the following results:
In Chapter One of our reference text, the author, Christine Rose, reminds us that in the application of the GPS to answer a research question, we must evaluate the data we collect by asking three questions. What is the source of the data? Does the data provide us with primary, secondary or indeterminate information? And, does the data provide direct, indirect or negative evidence for our research question? And so, I must evaluate my treasure map.
My evaluation of Grandma’s book is as follows:
What is the source of the data? I am calling Grandma’s book an authored source. I can best describe it as a work of fiction, based upon her recollections of stories told to her by her mother and her grandparents regarding their life in Czarist Russia (think “Fiddler on the Roof”).
Does the data provide us with primary, secondary or indeterminate information? The information is secondary, as the book was written late in Bessie’s life, committed to paper a very long time after my grandmother first heard the stories.
Does the data provide direct, indirect or negative evidence for the research question? I evaluate the data to be indirect to the research question. My grandmother certainly implies that Yussel had changed his name in the process of naturalization, but to me, this is not stronger that an inference.
My evaluation of Grandma’s book as a data source makes it very clear that I cannot depend upon it alone if I wish to uncover any of that buried treasure. I have plenty of work to do!!
Thank you for reading! Comments, criticism, and correction of fact always welcome.
#1 Bess Waldman, The Book of Tziril: A Family Chronicle (New York, New York: Adama Books, Second Edition 1988), page 139.