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Varshavchik (Warshavtzik/Warshaw) and Ginzberg (Gintzberg/Gunzberg) families from Kaunas, Lithuania

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  • Asher Osher Gunzburg (c.1809 - d.)
  • Sophia (Sotsa?) Smolian (1853 - 1933)
  • Chatskel Gunzburg (c.1798 - d.)
    Finding Buried Treasure on One’s Family Tree: How I Discovered my Connection to the King of Poland AVOTAYNU: SUMMER 2020 By Mark StraussMost everyone who starts researching their family hopes to find a...
  • Hanna (Chaia/Khaia) (Chaia) (Anna) (Ida) (Golda) Merkel (1860 - 1912)
    Finding Buried Treasure on One’s Family Tree: How I Discovered my Connection to the King of Poland AVOTAYNU: SUMMER 2020 By Mark StraussMost everyone who starts researching their family hopes to find a...
  • Enta/Etta Varshavchik (aft.1823 - d.)
    Finding Buried Treasure on One’s Family Tree: How I Discovered my Connection to the King of Poland AVOTAYNU: SUMMER 2020 By Mark StraussMost everyone who starts researching their family hopes to find a...

The project is created for descendants of both Varshavchik (Warshavtzik/Warshaw) and Ginzberg (Gintzberg/Gunzberg) families from Kauans, Lithuania. If you have such ancestry, please join this site and add key family members to the project.

In my case, my 2x Great-Grandfather was Faivuch/Feivel Varshavchik, (ben Elyash), who was a Jewish Merchant in Kaunas. His house was referenced in Nijolė Lukšionytė–Tolvaišienė’s book, “Buildings in Kaunas. Jewish Cultural Heritage in Lithuania”, Editor Alfredas Jomantas. Vilnius, 2006.

According to the book, the design was drawn by Simon Gorskij. The construction work was never completed. “Once having started to build a large warehouse-barn the owner must have run short of funds to complete the residential premises.” In 1990, the house was restored.

I descend from Faivuch's first wife, Enta Ginzberg (bat Hatskel). In the Summer 2020 Issue of AVOTAYNU, I revealed how I discovered my Ginzberg ancestry in the article, "Finding Buried Treasure on One’s Family Tree: How I Discovered my Connection to the King of Poland.”

Most everyone who starts researching their family hopes to find a significant ancestor, connected to history. For non-Jews, finding a link to royalty is especially exciting. For Ashkenazi, we generally do not have such roots, so we are usually content if we find a link to a famous rabbi or to a famous Jewish Family, such as the Rothschilds. Therefore, imagine my surprise, when after many years of researching my maternal grandmother’s family, I not only found a connection to a famous Rabbinical Dynasty, but to an ancestor, who was purported to be King of Poland, albeit for one day.

In early 2019, I made an important family discovery. Since I began my genealogical research, over ten years ago, I had not been able to find the surnames of any female spouses of my maternal ancestors, beyond my great-grandparents. I was also never able to find a death certificate for my maternal great-grandmother Anna Warsaw Markel. She was born Khaia Varshavchik, in Kovno, Russia, (now Kaunas, Lithuania), between 1860 and 1866. On the JewishGen.Org website, I had found records for Khaia’s marriage to my great-grandfather, Emanuel Markel, who was listed as Shimeral Merkel, and as the son of Movsha Merkel, from Kedainiai. For Khaia, the marriage record revealed that that her father was Faivush Varshavchik, but her mother’s name was not listed. I found records for male ancestors of Faivush going back to the 1700’s, in Kaunas, but before the 1880’s, most spouses never had their surnames listed on Litvak records,

After immigrating to the United States, Emanuel and Anna/Khaia raised a family in Somerville Massachusets, before settling in the Bronx, and later Mount Vernon, NY. From census records, I knew Anna/Khaia’s death occurred sometime between the 1910 and 1920 census. In February 2019, the Avotaynu Newsletter (NU? What’s New?) published an updated link to Jewish burial information in New York City on JewishGen, (https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/krosno/NYCem.htm), and I searched all Markel listings at all the Jewish Cemeteries. This led to an important discovery. I finally found a listing for my great-grandmother. The cemetery listing included a variation of my great-grandmother's original Hebrew name, Chaye Markel, and revealed that she died May 17, 1912, at the age of 46, and was buried in Montefiore Cemetery in Springfield LI. (Her age was probably incorrect, because her marriage record suggested she was born about 1860.) I used the burial information to request a death certificate from New York City, which arrived a few weeks later. The record confirmed Chaye/Khaia’s father as Faivel Warshavsky (a variation of Faivush Varshavchik), and it also listed her mother's surname as Ginzberg. I was not able to decipher the first name on the death certificate.

Previously, I had found records from Lithuania on JewishGen, which had shown that her mother’s first name was either Enta or Etta. The Revision List Passport Records listed the given name for Khaia’s mother as Enta Varshavchik, and in 1869, she was 45 years old, which would mean she was born about 1824, I suspect that my grandmother, Ethel Markel Brodie, who’s Hebrew name was Etta, was named for her.

After discovering the Ginzberg surname for my great-grandmother’s mother on her death certificate, I searched records for Enta Ginzberg from Kaunas on JewishGen, and found only one potential match on the All Lithuania Revision List Database – Part 1. The list showed an Enta Gintsberg, daughter of Hatskel Gintsberg, who was about eleven years old in 1834, which made her birth year consistent with the passport record I found for Enta Varshavchik, from 1869. The Revision List record also referenced the father of Hatskel Gintsberg as Itsko Gintsberg and revealed that Hatskel was the owner of a wooden house and was about 36 years old, in 1834.

Beyond this information, I could not find definitive proof that Hatskel was my 3x great-grandfather, but the Jewishgen Revision List records seemed to support this hypothesis. As such, I included Hatskel and his father, Itsko, on my family tree, with a note that these people were unconfirmed. As I searched for more records that would show Enta as the daughter of Hatskel Gintsberg, I posted a query on the Jewish Genealogy Portal Group on Facebook, and a member of the group suggested I search for Yenta, instead of Enta.

Following this suggestion, I did a soundex search for Yenta Varshavchik, and I found a birth record for a daughter, Frume Sore, born in 1850 that included Enta’s given name as Jenta, with her father's name listed as Khatskel. Oddly, the family surname was listed as Eliashovich, which I later realized was the patronymic reference to Faivush's father, Elyash Varshavchik. The birth record also listed Jenta’s maiden name as Varshavchik, which is in fact her married name. Nevertheless, this record combined with the Ginzberg maternal surname on my great-grandmother’s death record provided me with confirmation that Jenta/Enta Varshivchik was the daughter of Hatskel Gintsberg. A Kaunas Family List for 1858 revealed that Hatskel/Chatskel died in 1854, and that his wife was Liba. The list showed that the family was living with Hatskel’s brother, Osher, and his wife, Shifra. The list also included other children for both families, but the Family List did not include Jenta/Enta, because by 1858 she was married to Faivush Varshivchik, in her own household. At that time, my great-grandmother, Khaia, was not shown on the lists, because she was not born, yet.

This is all the information that I had on my maternal Ginzberg family until new information emerged as I researched a recent DNA relative, just before the 2020 New Year. On 23andMe, a new third cousin match, Reena K, was revealed. The overall autosomal DNA connection was only about 1%, 76 cM, across 6 segments, but she had one very large 38 cM segment match on chromosome two, which I discovered was also shared by a known third cousin, Beth E, who I knew to be the great-granddaughter of Khaia’s sister, Sophia Varshavckik Smolian, who had immigrated to Boston at the same time as my great-grandparents came to Massachusetts, and then settled in Mount Vernon, NY, where my Markel family eventually settled. I understood from my mother that Sophia Smolian and my great-grandmother, Chaia, were very close.

I was not aware of Reena and had no reference to her family on my family tree. In addition to her surname, Reena listed a few other unfamiliar family surnames, (Jospe and Pierce), with her DNA profile. I sent her a message on 23andMe, but she did not immediately reply, so I started to do my own research on Ancestry, with the family names that she provided. By searching with both the Jospe and Pierce surnames, simultaneously, I soon discovered that Reena’s mother was born Faye Jospe, and her maternal grandmother was born Hannah Pierce, and that the family had settled in Montreal, after immigrating from Lithuania. I was also fortunate to find several public trees on Ancestry and Geni, which showed how her family was potentially connected to mine, through my Ginzberg lineage.

On the Ancestry tree, I found that Hannah Yetta Pierce was born in 1884, in Kaltinenai, Kaunas, Lithuania. Her profile showed that she died in Montreal in 1968. The tree also revealed that Hannah was the daughter of Fay Pierce, (nee Bernstein), and that Fay Pierce’s grandmother was Chaya Sora Friedland, (nee Ginzberg), who was born in 1784, in Lithuania. Moreover, the same tree revealed that Chaya Sora’s father was Isaac Gunzberg and her mother was Ester. A few days later, I heard from Reena, and she confirmed that she had Ginzberg ancestry from Kaunas, Lithuania. Additionally, I reached out and heard back from the owner of the Ancestry Tree, Jeffrey B, who confirmed the information that was on his tree and his relationship to Reena K.

With the DNA connection and the family tree information that I had discovered on Ancestry, I learned that Reena’s 3x great-grandmother, Chaya Sora Ginzberg, was probably the older sister to my 3x great-grandfather Hatskel Ginzberg, born about 1798. The tree also showed a third child of Issac/Itsko Gunzberg, Asher Ginzberg, who was born in 1809 and died in 1867, in Kaunas, and included Asher’s wife, Shifra. With the 1858 Family List for Kaunas, we knew that Chatskel/Hatskel Gunzberg’s family was living with his brother, Osher and his wife, Shifra. Jeffrey B’s Ancestry tree confirmed my connection to this family.

What is also interesting about the Ancestry tree is that in addition to identifying Isaac/Itsko Gunzberg, the tree went back another 12 generations, and connected my Ginzberg/Gunzberg family to Naftali Gunzberg, who died in 1697, and was married to Rivke Wahl, the grand-daughter of Saul Wahl Katzenellenbogen, who occupied the throne of Poland, for one day, in 1587. According to Wikipedia, Saul Wahl Katzenellenbogen (1541-1617) was a wealthy and politically influential Jew, who became the advisor to the Polish Noble, Nicholas Radziwill.

“When King Stephen Báthory died in 1586, the Poles were divided on the successor. Polish law at that time stated that the throne might not remain unoccupied for any length of time, and that in case electors could not agree upon a king, an outsider should be appointed "rex pro tempore" (temporary king). Radziwill proposed that Saul Wahl Katzenellenbogen be appointed temporary king, and Wahl was elected to the office. Traditions disagree as to the length of his reign. Some state that he ruled one night only; others make it a few days.”

Saul’s father was Samuel Judah Katznellenbogen, the son of Rabbi Meir Katzenellenbogen, (MaHaRaM), famed rabbi of Padua (1482-1565). Much of the research for the Gunzberg Family connection to Rabbi Katzenellenbogen, was conducted by the grandson of Ascher Gunzberg, Louis Ginzberg, a longtime professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, who died in 1953. Moreover, author Neil Rosenstein, has written a five-volume series of books, entitled, “The Unbroken Chain,” which documents the descendants of Rabbi Meir Katzenellenbogen. In Volume One, the book details the Gunzberg connection down to Asher Gunzberg, in Kaunas. Since the 1858 Family List identifies Asher as Chatskel/Hatskel Gunzberg’s brother, this confirms that my own family also descends from Meir Katzenellenbogen and Saul Wahl Katzellenbogen, the King of Poland, for a day.

As I described in the opening paragraph to this article, my mother, Helaine Brodie Strauss, died as I was discovering new information about her family. In addition to her celebrated ancestry, my mother also had significant accomplishments of her own. She was one of the first women appointed to head a Jewish Y, when she became the founding leader of the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center, in Commack, NY, in 1977. She nurtured the center for 18 years as its executive director, building it from a small office to one of the largest JCC’s in the United States. Additionally, she came from a very cultured background. As a teenager, she played cello with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and her mother was a concert pianist. Her maternal background differed greatly from that of her father’s, who was a war hero in the Spanish American War and became one of Atlanta’s first Jewish Policemen, in the early 1900’s. I had written about his exploits in an article for AVOTAYNU, in the Winter Issue of 2018.

Just before my mother passed, I shared with her my latest discoveries, including that her 10x great-grandfather, Saul, was the first and only Jewish King of Poland. In my mom’s eulogy, I referenced my genealogical discoveries about her maternal family and concluded with the following: “Helaine Brodie Strauss has always had a regal bearing about her, and the truth can now be told, that she indeed had royal blood. Mom, you were a force to be reckoned with, and your legacy will remain with us for the rest of our lives.”