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Michael Richman and the Ostrow-Mazowiecka Research Family

Michael Richman

I started researching my family history in 1975, when I was 11 years old, questioning my grandmothers about their families. By 1976, I was asking about my grandfathers' families as well. I learned that my father's father's family came from Poland. I confirmed in 1977 with a first cousin of my grandfather that their town of origin was Ostrow Mazowiecka, Poland.

Around 1980, I learned that the LDS (Mormon) genealogy library had microfilmed Jewish records from Ostrow. The records only extended through 1865 - long before my grandfather was born, but shortly after my great-great grandparents would have been born. So I ordered the films from the period in which I thought my great-great grandfather (who died in Poland in 1919) and his brother (who came to the United States in 1989 and settled in Portland, Oregon) would have been born - the late 1850s. When the microfilms arrived, I could not read the Polish, and I did not see any indication of the name I was looking for, so I gave up.

Michael Richman in the Ostrow
Mazowiecka Civil Records Office,
in 1995.

Turning the Corner

In 1986, when I was 22 years old and in school in New York City, I found myself in proximity to a Mormon Family History Center. I also now knew my great-great-grandmother's maiden name, Gerstein, and learned about a book on how to read 19th century Polish records. So I thought I would try again.

I found a family with the right name - Gersztejn - but I wasn't finding the right first names, as the parents' names were not repeated in my family. After I saw a daughter Sora born in 1856, I figured it must not be the right family, because my great-great-grandmother Fejga Leja had a son in 1876, at which point I figured she must have been at least 20.  But then there was a daughter Fejga, born in 1857. There was one more daughter, Ester, born in 1860.

At this point, I assumed I had the right family. It was hard to be sure since the microfilmed records ended before the time when my great-grandparents were born, making connections difficult. But I did find out for sure approximately five years later when another person I had come to know through this research, Morris Spector, found my great-great-grandparents' marriage record - in the nearby town of Sniadowo, in 1879. Even before then, though, I learned the name of a first cousin of my great-grandfather and discovered that her mother's name was Ester, so I was fairly certain I had the right family. I learned even later that there were in fact family members named for Fejga's parents, but they had both died young back in Europe.

There was only the one Gersztejn family in Ostrow, so I went back in the records and found the marriage certificate of the parents, which led me to the Goldfarber family. But there was only one Goldfarber family. I went further back, trying to guess based on naming patterns about other possible relatives. What I eventually found was an 1831 death record for Zelman Sznejer, which, fortunately for me, listed all five of his surviving children (not all death records did that), including my ancestor Sora Goldfarber. And suddenly I was connected to several other families. As I re-reviewed the records, more and more connections appeared. And that happened again as I broadened my search to nearby towns.

Creating Family Trees for the Jews of Ostrow Mazowiecka

The only way to keep track of all the connections, and possible additional connections, was to do family trees for each of the principal families of the town. I eventually developed an extensive notebook (actually two loose-leaf binders) of all of them, with a cross-referenced family name list. This proved quite useful for my research, as many of the families were extensively connected across the years.  By 1992, the notebooks contained 166 family trees, from Abramczyk through Zylber, covering the period from 1808 (when the records started) through 1865 or so, with some individuals having been born as early as the 1740s, and a number of towns and villages in the Ostrow Mazowiecka region.

Reaching Out to Fellow Researchers 

Around that time, I was thinking that the information might be useful to other researchers as well. I wanted to find a way to let the larger Jewish genealogy community know that I had collected this information, and perhaps that would lead me to find relatives or to get other information about my own immediate family. I contacted the people in the Family Finder who listed family from Ostrow Mazowiecka, and I contacted others who placed notices about the town in the family finder column in AVOTAYNU. But I wanted to reach a broader audience. I wrote to the editors of AVOTAYNU and eventually got a short article in MISPACHA, the publication of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington. However, it was not until the Suwalki-Lomza Interest Group was organized that I was able to make extensive connections to people with an interest in the same region as myself, including Stanley Diamond of Montreal. That contact, in November 1993, led to our trips to Poland together in the fall of 1995 and 1996, the discovery of many more records and connections, and the project to index all the Jewish records of Ostrow not filmed by the Mormons.

The Ostrow Mazowiecka Research Family

At the International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Washington in July 1995 the Ostrow Mazowiecka Research Family was born. The meeting was attended by Stanley Diamond, Alan Droz, Judie Goldstein, Jerry Jainchill, Gary Palgon, and Michael Richman. Annual meetings have been held ever since. 

For more information on the family trees created by Michael Richman,
write to Stanley Diamond at smsdiamond@aol.com