STAGES OF MY SEARCH
From a very early age I was interested in my family's genealogy. My paternal grandfather Eliezer (Lewis) Simons, (who died when I was just 10 years old) had informed me that his grandfather Yoel went to live in Eretz Israel at about the same time as his descendants came to England. This was the period of what is commonly called the “First Aliyah” (although there were Aliyot to Eretz Israel throughout all the preceding generations). It is reported that whereas most Jews from Eastern Europe at that period went to the United States or Western Europe, there were a few who went to Eretz Israel.
Since my conversation with my grandfather took place well over half a century ago, I obviously cannot remember the exact details. It is possible that he said that Yoel went to Jerusalem which was likely since Jerusalem then had the largest Jewish community in Eretz Israel. My grandfather also told me that Yoel had gone blind and went into an old age home or home for the blind. On the occasion of my grandfather’s wedding in 1902, he had received a telegram from him.
He obviously, therefore died during or after 1902 – but when? My grandfather had seven sons in a row, the last being born towards the end of 1913 and he was called Yoel, obviously after his grandfather. Does this mean that his grandfather Yoel had died only after the sixth son had been born towards the end of 1911? Maybe my grandfather only heard about the death of Yoel years after the event. Then, there were not the communications of today.
I cannot recollect my grandfather mentioning Yoel’s wife. Did his wife go with him to Eretz Israel or was he already a widower?
Whilst sitting Shiva for my father in February 1975, my father’s brother Harry who had made a study of the family genealogy gave me a page containing the “Simons Family Tree Male Issue” which he had researched. Included in it, he wrote that his father’s father was called (Julius) Alta Moshe and he had a brother called Aaron. Aaron had a son called Yoel who died in Israel 1901. The name of Julius’ and Aaron’s father was Yoel and he was from Belz, Kishinev. Yoel’s father was P.F. also from Belz, Kishinev. He also wrote some notes on this Family Tree: Lewis [my grandfather] born 1879. Alta Moshe born 1848 (approx). Yoel born 1827 (approx), Fishel Frome born 1808 (approx). All research up to Yoel 1827 correct. P.F. 1808 hearsay not yet proven.
I feel that there are a number of errors in this family tree prepared by my uncle. Yoel, (the father of Julius and Aaron) died only after 1901. Therefore Aaron would not have called his son by the name of his father whilst he was still alive. It was Yoel (the father of Julius and Aaron) who died in Israel soon during or after 1902. The family tree states that Yoel’s father was P.F. – Fishel Frome. There was indeed a distinguished ancestor who was always referred to as “Fatta Fishel”. As my grandfather once told me, it was his grandfather Yoel’s brother-in-law who was this “Fatta Fishel” and whose name was Efraim Fishel. This is confirmed by the fact that the word “Fatta” is the Yiddish for “uncle” and as we can indeed see, he was an uncle. Incidentally, there were three members of the family named after this “Fatta Fishel” – my father, my grandfather’s brother, and my father’s cousin.
Yoel was buried in Israel, and I first assumed that it was on the Mount of Olives Cemetery. Therefore, at about the beginning of the 1980s I made some inquiries with some of the various burial societies in Jerusalem, and at a later date with the Blind Home in Jerusalem which was established in 1901, to try and find out more information about him, but without success. A difficulty I had at the time was that I did not know, what surname was used by the family in Russia – at that time I felt sure that it was not Simons but some Russianised form of Simons! In order to locate his grave, it was highly desirable to know what his surname was, and in addition, the name of his father which always appears on a tombstone inscription and the date of his death. Furthermore, it was possible that he had a name in addition to Yoel.
The last point was the easiest to verify. On the tombstone of his son who is buried in Edmonton Federation Cemetery appears the name of his father. I therefore in May 1984 wrote a letter to the secretary of the Federation of Synagogues:
“I am trying to trace the grave of my great great grandfather Mr. Yoel Simons who is buried on the Mount of Olives Cemetery in Jerusalem and would be grateful if you could please assist me. “His son is buried in your Edmonton Cemetery. His Hebrew name is Alta Moshe Ze’ev and his English name is Julius SIMONS. He died in the 1920s (I think about 1923). The inscription on his tombstone should contain the FULL Hebrew name of his father Yoel. I would therefore be very grateful if you could let me have the inscription on his tombstone.”
A few weeks later I received a reply:
“Our records show that Mr. Julius Simons, who died 22 June 1923 – 8 Tammuz 5683, is buried at our Cemetery at Edmonton (Reference No. C.1752, indication P.20.33) and his name as shown on the tombstone was אלטר משה זאב ב"ר יואל [Alta Moshe Zeev ben Reb Yoel].”
At a later date, I consulted with a cousin of my wife, who is an expert in genealogy and he suggested that I try and find the naturalisation papers of the members of the Simons family who came to England. I accordingly searched the indices of the National Archives of England under Naturalisation papers and found entries for a “Lewis Simons” and a “Philip Frank Simons” which were the names of my paternal grandfather and his brother respectively. Since “Simons” is not such an uncommon name, I decided that since with “Philip Frank” there were two identical names, it was most likely to be my great uncle and I would thus put in an inquiry regarding this entry.
I wrote to the National Archives: “Can you please let me have the surname of Mr. Philip Frank Simons (my great uncle) as it was in Russia, and the town in Russia he came from. I require these details in order to locate the grave of my great great grandfather (the grandfather of Mr. Philip Frank Simons) for a memorial ceremony.”
A few weeks later I received a reply by e-mail, informing me that his surname appeared as “Simons,” his father’s name “Julius Simons” his mother’s name “Golda Simons nee Perrel” and that he was born in “Beltz, Bessarabia in Russia.” [Incidentally his tombstone incorrectly gives the name of his father as Yoel - it would seem that someone mixed up the name “Julius” with “Joel”!] .
I still felt a bit doubtful that the surname in Russia was “Simons.” In addition I knew that an error had crept in concerning his mother’s name. The family knew that Perrel (or more accurately Pearl) was her second forename and not her maiden name. I therefore wrote a further letter to the National Archives explaining my doubts and asking them to give me the information appearing on the Naturalisation papers of Lewis Simons. In reply they wrote that his original name was Simons, his mother was Golda Pearl Simons nee Friedmann and that he was born in Beltz, Bessarabia.
A telephonic inquiry made at a later date to Edmonton Federation Cemetery asking them what the name of Golda Pearl Simons’ father was – it is written on her tombstone. The answer I received was Aharon.
In the mid-1970s I had heard that the Simons family had come from Belz, and I had assumed that maybe they were Belzer Chassidim. On receiving the reply from the National Archives, I asked on “Wikipedia” for certain information on Belz in Bessarabia (today Moldova). I was told I had made a mistake and that Belz was in Ukraine. I investigated the matter and found that there were two Belz – one in Ukraine and one in Moldova. (The Belz Chassidim came from the one in Ukraine). The official name of the one in Moldova is Beltsy (or Balti in Romanian).
I then began a search on the Internet regarding Beltsy. I found that the Moldova National Archives had many vital and other records on Beltsy mainly from the 19th century and that someone had stated that the Mormons had recently photocopied them. I also found that the Greensboro Jewish Federation in North Carolina was twinned with the Jewish community of Beltsy (which before the First World War numbered over 10,000 Jews).
In mid-February 2006 I telephoned them and spoke to Alina Spaudling, the person in charge of this twinning. In my conversation I asked about the photocopying of the Beltsy Jewish records by the Mormons, but they knew nothing about them. I immediately made a detailed search on the Internet and found that the Mormons had indeed microfilmed the vital Jewish records from Beltsy, that an index of the microfilms appeared on the Internet (but this did not include the actual entries of names in the microfilms), and that there was a Mormon library in Greensboro, about 3 miles away from the Jewish Federation. I sent all this information by fax to the Jewish Federation, which they were very pleased to receive.
Alina passed on my query on “what the Russianized form of the name ‘Simons’ might have been,” to Vicky Michaeli who lives in Jerusalem and is the Regional Program Manager for Moldova. Vicky passed on my query to her “team in Moldova” and then wrote to me “that to improve our chances for finding information” could I supply certain further details such as “what period are we talking about?” and information about my grandmother such as where did she come from and what was her name.
I immediately sent them the information which I knew and this was immediately passed on to Moldova .
A week or so later, Vicky telephoned me and told me that the people in Beltsy had made investigations. They had found a family called Simon, which they thought was probably my family since they could find no other surname similar to Simons. They also found various graves of the Simon family in the Beltsy cemetery which were all since the 1960s. Some of the family had immigrated to Israel but my attempts to locate them by telephoning the various people in Israel whose name is ‘Simon’ or ‘Simons’ have as yet been unsuccessful. I can say however that whether or not this Simon family is my family, it can be seen that the name of my family could easily have been Simons a century ago in Beltsy. [However, as we shall see below, this was found to be not the case.]
Nearly five years later, towards the end of 2010, I resumed my research on this branch of the family. I telephoned the Greensboro Jewish Federation and was told that Alina no longer worked there and that Deborah Kintzing dealt with Beltzy. I suggested to her that it would be a good idea if we could put the Mormon’s 12 reels of microfilms containing the records of the Jewish Community of Beltzy onto a DVD. Deborah very much liked this idea.
My further research showed that the Mormon’s were in fact looking for volunteers to digitalise their enormous microfilm collection, and in a telephone call to Deborah a few weeks later I suggested that their Federation could offer to do so with these 12 reels. She said she would look for a volunteer and a couple of weeks later, she told me that she had found one. There is nothing further to report on this line.
The parents of my Simons grandfather (as well as many other relatives on both my father’s and mother’s sides) are buried in Edmonton Jewish cemetery (in London) which is one of the Federation of Synagogue’s cemeteries. Therefore, at the beginning of 2011, I asked Gary Nelson (whom I had been in contact with for a number of years since a branch of both our families came from Przedecz and we found ourselves to be distant relatives) if he ever visited Edmonton cemetery he could take some photographs of the relevant tombstones. He replied that he went on rare occasions and on the next occasion he would photograph the graves I requested.
It was nearly two years later that he was there and he took 6 photographs of Golda Perel’s grave. [Location: Block V, Row 45, Grave 12]. He also informed me that the Federation had on record her last address: 53 Maplin Street, Bow, London E3. He also tried to photograph the grave of Julius [Location: Block P, Row 20, Grave 33] but the photograph did not come out. He sent me 6 photographs of Golda’s tombstone. However there was “some sort of shadow over part of it making it impossible to read some of the words. One of the words covered is her father’s name, which is very important for genealogical research.” A few weeks later Gary again went to Edmonton cemetery and took a number of photographs of both Julius’ and Golda’s tombstones (as well as many other photographs of other branches of my family). He sent me all these photographs by e-mail. After all these years these two tombstones were not in a good condition and some of the inscriptions on the tombstone were hard to read.
Both the names of Julius and Golda Perel can be found on the 1911 British census (although not on the 1901 census even though they were almost certainly in Britain at that period). There they are stated as living in Spitalfields in the East End of London, and their place of birth Bessarabia Russia; Julius’ age is given as 56 and his occupation as a “Teacher of Hebrew” and Golda’s age is given as 50 and no occupation is given.
There were no further developments until towards the end of 2014. It was then that I discovered that JewishGen had gone through the Mormon microfilms for this area. I went to their website and fed in the name “Simons” but got no results. I then suddenly remembered that my father had once told me that the surname was “Shmoyshman”. I fed in this name and lo and behold I received translated into English, the birth record for my paternal grandfather Eliezer (Lewis), and his brother Fishel (Philip) and another brother Aharon who very likely died when he was young. [The Hebrew name of my father’s brother Harry was Aharon, and he is very possibly named after his uncle Aharon.] Since the birth records for Beltsy were extant only for a few odd years, there were no records of other births of my grandfather’s siblings. JewishGen had also brought out translated into English, from the Mormon microfilms, Jewish entries from the various Russian Revision lists (censuses) from the mid-19th century. From these lists, I was able to go back to six generations of my family. There were seven relevant records – four from the Russian Revision lists and three from the birth records.
I wanted photocopies of the appropriate frames from the Mormon microfilms and I saw from the Internet that one could order photocopies free of change but that they were closing that photocopying department about a week later. I therefore immediately put in a request for such photocopies but they informed me that they were on the Internet. After some searching I found that those appertaining to the Russian Revision Lists were on the Internet and I managed to find the appropriate pages and download them. However I could not find the birth records and I duly informed the Mormons. They claimed that they were on the Internet and on searching I found that only the Church birth records (but not the Jewish ones) were on the Internet. After an exchange of e-mails with the Mormons, they finally sent me by e-mail the three birth records I required.
The entries on the left hand side of the Jewish birth register were in Russian and the right hand side were in Hebrew. The entries included the names of the father and mother of the newborn, the maiden name of the mother and also the names of the two grandfathers. For my grandfather: father and paternal grandfather – Moshe Ze’ev the son of Yoel Shmoyshman; mother and maternal grandfather – Golda Perel the daughter of Aharon Fridman. It also states that the father Moshe Ze’ev came from Telenesht (which is about 50 kilometres south east of Beltzy).
There were the dates of birth both on the JULIAN calendar and on the Jewish calendar. [the Gregorian calendar was only adopted in Russia in 1918.] For boys, the date of the Brit Milah is also given. For my grandfather the dates given for his birth were 10 June 1879 on the Julian calendar [this was 22 June on the Gregorian calendar] and 1 Tammuz 5639 on the Jewish calendar, and the date seven days later for his Brit was also given.
On just the Hebrew side of the birth entry is given the name or names of the Mohel – often there were more than one Mohel – presumably they divided the various stages of the Milah between the Mohelim. For my grandfather, they were Abram Shkolnik and Aron Dov Kolpochnan.
From the microfilms of the Mormons, in addition to learning that the family name was Shmoyshman, they gave a wealth of information which I had not known previously. JewishGen had extracted the Jewish entries from these Revision Lists and translated them into English, and one is able to search them by the family surnames. From the Revision Lists which were made by the Russians in 1848 and 1854, I learned that for many generations the Shmoyshman family had lived in Teleneshty and it was during my great grandfather’s life that the family moved to Beltzy.
It was also at about that period that I learned that Hillel Horovitz, a resident of Hebron, was in charge of the various cemeteries in Jerusalem. I asked him whether he could check out whether Yoel was buried in the Mount of Olives cemetery. By this time from the Mormon records, I had further details regarding the family of Yoel and I sent to Hillel the following information: Yoel’s full name, names of his father, mother (or step mother), and wife, his city, and the year of his birth. Hillel asked me if I knew which cemetery and I answered that I assumed it was the Mount of Olives. Hillel made a search and informed me that he did not find Yoel’s burial record in either the Ashkenaz (Perushim) list or the Chasidim list. I was left with having to look at the records of other cities, for example, Hebron, Tiberius, Safed, etc.
In May 2017, I had an idea, namely that if there were registers of the population of Eretz Yisrael during the last part of the Ottoman rule there, I might discover in which city Yoel lived. I submitted a question to Wikipedia Reference Desk asking “where I might find death registrations of the Ottoman Empire - more especially of the Vilayet of Syria and the Sanjak of Jerusalem - of the beginning of the 20th century”. One person suggested looking in the Israel State Archives. I accordingly first looked on the Internet and saw that in the late 1970s the Israel State Archives had microfilmed 87 reels of Nüfūs Registers (Ottoman census and population registers of Palestine) 1883-1917.” Almost all of them were in Turkish written in Arabic script. However, there was one in Hebrew (no. 62a) which was the Jerusalem (City) Mukhtar’s register of the Jewish Ashkenazi population 1883? - 1901. I contacted the Israel State Archives and they informed me that it had been put on the Internet and they gave me the link.
I scrolled through this register and found under family no. 245 the following:
Yoel ben Moshe Blinder, place of birth Telenesht. This was followed by the number 1229. At first, I did not know what this number represented until I suddenly realized that it was the year on the Muslim calendar. This was 1814 on the civil calendar. Why is the name given as “Blinder” and not “Shmoyshman”? Blinder is the Yiddish for blind and Yoel was blind (at least towards the end of his life) and he was probably therefore called the Blinder – the blind one. All the facts in this register are almost identical to those in the Russian census and that therefore the Yoel in this register is well beyond any reasonable doubt my great great grandfather.
I passed this information on to Hillel Horovitz with a photocopy of this entry in the Mukhtar’s register for him to do a further search which he is now doing.
Meanwhile in June 2017, I telephoned the following Chevra Kadishas of the Mount of Olives cemetery: Ashkenaz(Perushim), Chasidim, Galitzia. All of them looked up their records but could not find any record of Yoel. I then discovered that this cemetery had a website on which one could complete a form to find a grave. I did this.They searched but could not find the grave. I then again spoke to Hillel but received the same answer. He added that some records might no longer be extant. In conclusion one can say that Yoel is almost certainly buried there and hope that in the future his grave will be located.
a) my direct ancestors
Avram SHMOYSHMAN (my great great great great grandfather) name of his wife, dates of birth and marriage unknown.
Their son was Moyshe Volf (Volf is Yiddish for Ze’ev) SHMOYSHMAN (my great great great grandfather). Date and place of birth 1785 Teleneshty Bessarabia. Listed as “Middle class” in Revision List. He died in May 1848.
Name of his first wife is unknown. His second wife was Basya. Born 1790, Date of marriage unknown, but before 1826/7 (since her son Srul was born in 1827)
Children of Moyshe Volf
1) Yoil (Yoel) (my great great grandfather), born 1817 in Teleneshty. Listed as “Middle class” in Revision List. He married Khaya (Chaya) (my great great grandmother), born 1817. Date of marriage unknown. Yoel went to Eretz Yisrael and died during or after 1902.
2) Srul, (son), born 1827. Listed as “Middle class” in Revision List. Name of wife: Sura, born 1828. Name of son: Shmul, born 1849.
3) Berko, (son), born 1829. He left Teleneshty in 1852 and is listed in the Revision List as being “on a run”, possibly to avoid be put in the army
4) Enya, (daughter), born 1839.
Children of Yoel and Khaya
1) Shendlya, (daughter), born 1840.
2) Sura, (daughter), born 1846.
3) Moishe Volf (Altar Moshe Ze’ev) SHMOYSHMAN, my great grandfather) born 1852 in Teleneshty and died in 1923 in London. He married Golda Perel FRIDMAN, (my great grandmother), born in 1861(?) and she died in 1936 in London. Date of marriage unknown. Her father was Aron FRIDMAN (my great great grandfather). Name of his wife, dates of birth and marriage unknown.
Children of Altar Moshe Ze’ev and Golda Perel
1) Aron (son), born 1871. He probably died at a young age.
2) Clara (daughter) born (date unknown).
3) Sophie (daughter) born 1878, married Israel Kotlar in 1899. She died in November 1967.
4) Luzer (Eliezer, Lewis) born 1879, (my grandfather). Married Ethel NAGLI (my grandmother), in 1902. She was born 1879 to Haim Dov and Freidy NAGLI, (my great grandparents He died 5 December 1952.
5) Barnett (son) born (date unknown) He died December 1952 a few days after his brother Luzer.
6) Jane (daughter) born 1887, married Woolf Boxer in 1906. She died in June 1960.
7) Fishel (Philip) (son) born 1889, married Sadie Etherton in 1915. He died 23 August 1966.
8) Bluma (daughter) born 1890. Died 16 May 1913.
9) Rebcca, (Becky) (daughter) born (date unknown), married Morris Cohen in 1939. Date of death unknown, but possibly in latter part of 1970s.
10) Nathan (son) born (date unknown), married Gertie Tumber in 1926. He died 12 July 1979.
Shmoyshman (Simons) family in Russian Revision Lists
translated into English by JewishGen
Shmoyshman (Simons) family in Bessarabia Birth Records
Shmoyshman (Simons) family in Bessarabia Birth Records
translated into English by JewishGen
Entry (no. 245) for Yoel Shmoyshman (Blinder) in Mukhtar's Register of Jews in Jerusalem towards the end of the 19th century
Julius and Golda Perel Simons entries in England and Wales Census for 1911
Death and burial records of Julius and Golda Perel Simons
Tombstone of Alta Moshe Ze'ev (Julius) Simons in Edmonton Jewish Cemetery in London
Tombstone of Golda Perel Simons in Edmonton Jewish Cemetery in London
Lewis (Eliezer) Simons documents
Philip (Fishel) Simons (brother of Lewis Simons) documents
Simons Family Tree prepared by Harry Simons in February 1975