Glamorous Aunt Tillie


Our mother’s aunt Estelle “Tillie” Klein was a legend in the family. She was a glamorous fashion designer who lived in Paris with her sculptor husband Nat Smolin.

Tillie was born in New York on September 7, 1883, the daughter of prosperous Hungarian Jewish immigrants. Her father, Joseph Klein, immigrated at age 18 and become successful in the real estate business.

Tillie married twice. According to the 1910 census, she was a widow, living with her parents. with the name Estelle Leonard.

A marriage record from 1901 indicates that a woman named Tillie Klein married David Levy in New York. Aside from the name Levy, other details in the marriage record seem to match . Although it is possible that the marriage record is not our Tillie’s, our suspicion is that, like many Jews at that time, David and Estelle changed their name. We plan to research this further to see if we can confirm this theory.

In 1920, Tillie applied for a passport, and appears on a passenger list arriving in New York from France, as Estelle Leonard. Her second husband Nat Smolin appears on the same passenger list. We don’t have an exact date of marriage, but believe that they were married during the 1920’s, and moved to Paris.

Looking at photos of Tillie and Nat lead us to believe that they lived an exotic and glamorous life. Our mother loved to tell the stories of Tillie’s visits, with her fashionable clothes and thrilling tales She and her cousins were mesmerized when Tillie entered a room!

Sadly, Tillie’s fairy talel ended in Paris when she became ill. A passenger list from October, 1939, shows Nat Smolin arriving in New York by himself, leaving Tillie behind. Six months later, in April, 1940, Tillie died in France. The family story is that Nat abandoned Tillie, never to be heard from again, and she was given shelter in a French convent, where she died, a few weeks before the Nazi invasion.


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A Case of Mistaken Identity

In our book, Finding Your Ancestors, we start with the basic genealogy advice to “start with what you know”. It turned out, for us, that what we “knew” about our great-grandfather was incorrect. This taught us a valuable lesson. Although you may think you know something, it is important to be open to the possibility that your information may be inaccurate.

All of our lives, we believed that the name of our great-grandfather was Isidore Rabinowitz. This was the common belief among all of our relatives, including our father, who had listed Isidore as the father of our grandfather Nathan on his death certificate.

This misinformation led us on a very frustrating path as we attempted to find records about Isidore and his family. Although we knew that Nathan immigrated with his parents and siblings, we were unable to find any record of the family in the Census or on any passenger list. We were unable to do a search for our great-grandmother because we did not know her name. Frustrated, we decided to do a search for Nathan. Our search turned up a family in the 1910 census with six children whose names and ages matched those of Nathan and his siblings. However, the father was listed as Morris. Could this be our family? Why was the father listed as Morris? After some brainstorming, we decided to obtain a copy of Nathan’s social security application. On the application, Nathan wrote that his father’s name was Morris! The identification of the family also gave us the name of our great-grandmother Minnie. Armed with this new information, we were now able to obtain additional documents. We found the passenger list for the SS Patricia, which arrived at Ellis Island on December 28, 1901 with the entire family aboard.

So who was Isidore? Morris’ death certificate identifies his father as Isidore. Isidore, it turns out, was our great-great-grandfather. Mystery solved!

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The Rabinowitz Sister Left Behind

We had always believed that all our grandfather’s siblings and half siblings had immigrated to the United States . Through our research we have discovered this was not the case. A second cousin who found us through told us the story of a sister who did not leave Russia. She recalled family discussions about sending money to the sister and her family after the Nazi invasion. After the war when there was no communication, the family conducted a search for the missing sister, her husband and her children. They were never found.

Unfortunately we do not know her name which makes finding her almost impossible. We have searched the Yad Vashem data base, which allows one to look for someone according to father’s name, but without further information we have reached a dead end. The only thing that remains of our great aunt and her family is this Rosh Hashana card sent during the 1930s.

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William Rabinowitz

William is the son of Banat Rabinowitz, our grandfather’s half brother. During the course of our previous research, we came upon a public family tree which we believed may have been that of our relative William, but were unable to find data to back it up. A message sent to the tree owner was never answered. We decided to see if we could verify our connection to the tree.

We knew that William was married to Anna and suspected that her maiden name was Auerbach, based on a New York marriage record found on the Italiangen website. We also knew, based on information given to us by William’s nephew, that he had two daughters Barbara and Sandy. The tree in question also listed Anna’s maiden name as Auerbach, and a daughter Barbara, as well as an unnamed living daughter.

Our search started with the 1940 Census, which turned up an entry for William and Anna Rabinowitz, living with their daughters Barbara and Sandy. In addition, the census lists Anna’s mother Ida Auerbach as living in the household, along with Anna’s brothers Herman and Louis. This information was enough to confirm that Anna’s maiden name was Auerbach. We are extremely excited because we now know the names of Barbara’s husband and 2 of her children, as well as the birth and death dates of William, Anna, Barbara, her husband, and the deceased children. We also know that she had 2 children who are still alive, whose names are confidential, so we do not now their identities.

This leaves us with 2 burning questions. Who are the living children? Where are they now?

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Harris Rabinowitz: Part 2

With questions burning in our brains we set to work. We began with a search of the 1940 Census on Our search revealed that Harris, Kate, and Hilda were living at 2055 Grand Blvd. in the Bronx. Harris’s occupation was listed as insurance agent and Hilda was working as a hospital bookkeeper. The absence of Irving and Tinnie led us to believe that they had married between 1930 and 1940 since they were both listed as members of the household in the 1930 Census.

We then attempted to locate Tinnie and Irving in the 1940 Census but were unsuccessful in finding them. We found several people named Irving Rabinowitz but not knowing his spouse’s name was a problem and therefore were unable to identify if one of them was ours . Similarly, our search for Susan was of no avail.

One thing that sparked our interest was finding a Tina Osgood in the Social Security Death Index who died in New York in 1987. Could this be our Tinnie?

Then, a possible breakthrough! We located a public family tree on The tree contains a Harris Rabinowitz family which matches ours. Harris, Kate, and their children all appear with additional family members. This is where we saw Tinnie listed as Tina with a death date of c1987. The tree lists Irving as Irving Robins. We know that many members of our Rabinowitz family changed their name to Robins. Of course, we have contacted the owner of the tree and hope to hear back soon.

Not bad for a day’s work!

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Our Family Tree: Harris Rabinowitz

It’s been a while since we last posted but we have been extremely busy engaging in our passion.  For about 6 years we have been researching our family tree.  We have found about 345 relatives, both living and non living on both sides of the family.  Our most recent research involves our great uncle Harris Rabinowitz.

We first came across Harris during our research of our paternal grandfather’s family. Harris was the half brother of our grandfather Nathan Reben (Rabinowitz).

What we have already learned from our research:

Harris was born in Russia on May 15 ,1874. His parents were our great grandfather Morris Rabinowitz and his first wife Hilda Berger. Harris immigrated to New York as Hirsch Rabinowitz with his brother Louis on July 15, 1891 aboard the Wisconsin. He married Kate Herder in New York on February 22, 1903. Harris and Kate had three children; twin girls Tinnie and Hilda born c.1905 and a son Irving born c. 1910. As of the 1930 Census, all three children were unmarried and living at home. Harris died February 13, 1941. His obituary states that he is survived by his wife, children, and his granddaughter Susan. We have been told by a relative that Tinnie married Victor Osgood.

 What we would like to know:

Whose daughter was Susan?

Did Hilda or Irving get married?

Were there additional grandchildren?

Are there additional descendants?

 Our Plan:

We will start with the 1940 Census and see where that takes us. Check back for updates!

We have written a book,called Finding Your Ancestors,  available in both electronic form and paper back to help people get started in genealogy.

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My Heirloom Tomato Seeds Are Sprouting!

For the last couple of weeks, I have been experimenting with growing heirloom tomatoes from seed.  I purchased an heirloom tomato at the farmer’s market, and, following directions I found online, fermented and dried the seeds.  Nine days ago,  I planted 12 of the dried seeds in an egg carton and placed it next to my kitchen window.  Four of the seeds are growing!  The seedlings are very tiny, but hopefully they  will continue to grow. When they get a little bit bigger, I will transplant the seedlings into some larger pots.


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