My middle name, Hillary, was given to me in memory of my great-grandmother, Hannah Wolfson Blieden. I knew only a little about her, but until today, I knew basically nothing about her father. (Her mother is still a mystery.)
Hannah came to America with her youngest child, Reve, in 1903 after her husband, Aron Blieden, died and none of her children wanted to run the family mill in Wenden, Latvia, outside of Riga. She settled in Brooklyn, NY, where her sister, Yetta Blumberg, was living.
I was aware that Hannah had some siblings here in the US: her sister, Yetta Blumberg, who, as mentioned, settled in Brooklyn, NY, another sister, Lena Shapiro, who settled in the Chicago, IL area, and a brother, Julius Wolfson, who settled in Harrisburg, PA.
In 2006, I emailed Baruch Blumberg, grandson of Yetta, to see if he could shed some light on his grandmother, Yetta, and her sister, my great-grandmother, Hannah. (I am proud to say that Baruch Blumberg. won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1976.) He replied and said he his son, George, was interested in family history and gave me George’s contact information. I contacted George, but when I asked if he knew anything about my great-grandmother, Hannah Wolfson, and her sister Yetta, he replied that Yetta’s last name was Schocket and he never heard of Wolfson. That perplexed me. This was the first I was hearing the name Schocket in reference to my great-grandmother. Since “schocket” means butcher, was their father using this sometimes as his name, or were Wolfson and Schocket actually two different people? This was something I needed to figure out.
Many years went by and I could not make a dent into figuring out this mystery. Then, last year (2019), I was finally able to locate the tombstones of Hannah, Yetta, and Lena. Hannah and Yetta are buried next to each other in Mt. Zion Cemetery in Queens, NY. Lena is buried in Forest Park Cemetery in Chicago, IL, next to her husband.
What was puzzling was that Hannah’s father’s name was carved as Yechezkel Wolfson, but on Yetta’s and Lena’s tombstones, their father’s name was Samuel. On various documents for Hannah I sometimes saw her maiden name listed as Wolfson and sometimes as Schocket. What did the different given names on the tombstones mean? Did they mean the sisters had different fathers, or did the same man go by 2 different names, or did whoever wrote out the information for the tombstones not remember the name properly? Or, were they really birth sisters? For over a year, I wanted to get Julius’ tombstone to see what it said for his father’s name.
I finally located Julius’ grave in Kesher Israel Cemetery in Harrisburg, PA, by using the website FindAGrave.com. Months ago, I emailed the cemetery about obtaining a photo, but never got a response. Yesterday, I decided to try again. I emailed the synagogue that runs, or cares for, this cemetery asking how I could obtain a photo. Today, the person I emailed, went to the cemetery, took the picture, and emailed it to me!
I put the picture I received on a Facebook genealogy group I belong to called “Tracing the Tribe” and the Hebrew on the tombstone was immediately translated for me.
It seems my, great-great grandfather, Hannah’s father, was Yechezkel, “the Holy (Ha’Kadosh”) Vulfson. Why did he have that phrase after his given name on Julius’ tombstone? People commented that it meant he was a martyr. I asked what could he have done to make him a martyr? The answer was simple. It meant he was killed for being Jewish, and thus, died due to anti-Semitic persecution. How sad. That information gave me the chills.
The different names now made sense, though, based on the birthdates of his children:
- Julius was born in 1846
- Hannah (my great-grandmother) was born in 1852
At some point after 1852, Yechezkel was killed and his wife remarried. We know she had at least 2 more children with Samuel Schocket:
- Yetta, born in 1861
- Lena, born in 1867
That makes Julius and Hannah half-siblings to Yetta and Lena.
Because Yechezkel’s children were so young when he was killed, Samuel raised the children and they considered him their father. Why do I assume that? Hannah’s oldest child, Rose Lily, visited Riga as an adult and had the tombstone of her grandfather (Samuel Schocket) replaced. It had been knocked over and destroyed by the Russians. Yechezkel was her birth grandfather, but obviously, she also considered Samuel her grandfather.
Thanks to Jim Greve, the husband of a cousin, Gail Garfinkle (1954 – 2007), a great-grand-daughter of Rose Lilly, and a great-great-granddaughter of Hannah, I have the photo of Samuel Schocket’s grave and the story. I became virtually acquainted with Jim while researching the family tree. He and I have been exchanging stories and photos ever since.
So, today, I was able to add a new leaf to our tree, that of my great-great-grandfather, Yechezkel Vulfson. However, how depressing it is to realize how my great-great-grandfather and his immediate family must have suffered due to religious persecutions.