Found photo, lost names


Feigl, my grandmother on my mother's side

I was convinced that there only existed one photo of my grandmother Feigl, and one only, but while going through my family photos, I came across the one above. I can’t recognise anyone, except Gitta, my mother and Feigl, my grandmother, probably not long before she died. They must have been visiting someone.
There is no date at the back, but I would say that it must have been taken around 1927, from the way my mother looks.

In order to get my brand new passport, I had to get quite a lot of different ID papers, among which my parents’ Marriage Certificate and my mother’s Death Certificate.
One weird thing I noticed, is that my grandmother’s name is not the same on both documents.
On the Marriage Certificate, she appears as Fajga SZESZEL, (at least that’s what I read) and on my mother’s Death Certificate, her name is Fania KWINT.
The Marriage Certificate is a handwritten document, and the second one is typed. However, the names look pretty different to me. I would tend to think that Fajga Szeszel would be right, as Gitta was alive and well then and must have provided the necessary documents when she got married.
However, I always heard her refer to my grandmother as Feigl KWINT.
I suppose that Feigl was the Yiddish transcription of Fanya, but KWINT and SZESZEL have little in common. Maybe they are my grandmother’s father and mother names?
One of those things that I’ll never know, as no one is alive to testify.

However, the Internet brought me a small birthday present today. Googling my grandfather’s name, JELJAN with the name of his hometown, Slonim, I came across this link that lists part of the telephone directory of Slonim, in 1937.

How moving to see his name, listed as Jeljan, Josef, owner of a cinema, with his address: Sienciewicza 44.

To listen to this post in French, click below

  1. Hear, hear! Susan at sazsecrets has just produced her first piece of vlogging! Don’t miss it!

7 thoughts on “Found photo, lost names

  1. Hi Claude – I don’t understand a word of French but I love listening to you speak French.

    I find your old photos fascinating. I discovered them on your Flickr account a few Sundays ago and spent a lazy morning with giant cups of coffee going thru them. Once I started I couldn’t stop! Thanks for posting this and all the others. I look forward to more “Diving Into The Past”.

    Thanks also for all your Vlogging help – I finally got it right.

  2. I was wondering who was who in the photograph and then when I went to Flickr and ran my mouse across the photo the names showed for those you indentified. That is neat how you can do that.

  3. It drives me nuts when I find a beautiful old family photo and not all the faces in the picture can be identified. That’s a great picture. Are we going to see more of those? (I’m a big fan of old family photos.)

  4. what a compelling photograph, claude. the perspective draws one into
    the porch, then through the window. amazing. i ran to get my spouse
    to join me in looking at your family. he knows yiddish and says your
    grandmothers name, feigl, means “bird.” the larger picture of your
    grandmother reminded him of his own mother who was born in bialstok
    in 1897 when it was controlled by the czar.

    we were both fascinated bythe phone book from slonim. powerful post.
    thank you for sharing with all of us.

  5. Claude, I was fascinated by your genealogical adventure.Naomi is correct.Feigl does mean bird in Yiddish (and probably also in German). It a very popular Ashkenazi name, or really a nickname. (I thought you were Sephardic.) Most Jewish women also had Hebrew first names in that era, used largely in a religious context. I have a baby-boomer American-born friend who is still called Feigie by her friends–using the affectionate diminutive.

  6. This piece is especially interesting because of the family photo, history you are uncovering for yourself. Interesting about the different last names — so many unanswered questions, often, when we just have pieces of information, and/or look at pictures of our ancestors.

    I also enjoy listening to your French narrative to see what I can comprehend. You articulate so very clearly at a rate that maximizes my efforts to understand.

  7. What a lovely, old photo. A real sense of almost being there.

    As to the confusion of names, I know many people in the U.S. whose family names are confused too. What happened a lot in the U.S. is that when immigrants arrived at Ellis Island, the officials spelled names any way they felt like it, particularly eastern European names that were hard for them to pronounce, let alone spell.

    And sometimes, officials just arbitrarily gave immigrants more American-sounding names that had no resemblance to their real names. So a Liebowicz, for example, might have been recorded as Lester.

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