Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

All in the family

Finding family. Photos courtesy of R. Berman

This is a story of three siblings, maybe more. I’m trying to piece it all together a century later. Not an easy task. Both last names and first names changed. Burda in then Russia became Berman in the United States. At least with this branch of the family, unlike others, the siblings made sure their last names in America matched.

Morris was the oldest, born in 1879. His sister Bessie was likely born about 1885 and their brother Dave was born in 1888.

I recently learned that public library cards are magical. With them, you can enter historical archives that you would otherwise have to pay for. And so, I’ve been researching a lot. Besides tracking down manifests and naturalization papers and indices of weddings and deaths, I’ve found family members and connected to them. I’ve reunited my parents with first and second cousins they haven’t seen in decades. And I’ve built out our family tree. One newfound relative was kind enough to take his father to the cemetery and take pictures of graves so we could confirm dates and I could read their fathers’ Hebrew names.

As for our puzzle, let’s start with Morris’s wife Dora. On Dora Berman’s 1941 naturalization papers, she is listed as Dwoira Burda/Bourda, I searched for travel documents with that name, and once I saw her accompanied by Tillie and a son, I knew that the 1925 manifest and detention files I had found were correct. But, it listed a Burda Daniel back in Berdino GUB Odessa Russia as nearest relative where they came from. Assuming the last name was listed first, I was confused. Burda was her married name. So perhaps, the clerk wrote brother instead of brother in law?

I looked for Bessie Berman next. Knowing that Bessie was also called Pessa in Yiddish, I searched and found a Pese Burda. But where the 1909 manifest says she came from made less sense to me. Chariwke Cherdoir or something like that. And that was where her nearest relative, M Burda (unless it is a W) was. She was headed to Brooklyn. The 1910 detention paper says disposition of the case rested with her brother-in-law Abr. Fishman. We once had a Fishman come up in the tree, but it was a mistake. So who is this?

Thinking that Morris Berman was already here when she came, I next searched for him. I found the name attached to people the wrong age, etc. So I tried Morris Burda instead and found his arrival in 1914. The manifest says his wife is Dwoira Burda and that she is home, in a place that is hard to read, but looks like maybe Berdny in a place called Charny or Chassny. And that he lives in the United States. If that is the case, then he must’ve come earlier. When would that have been? I couldn’t find anything.

But then I somehow realized that Morris was more likely Moshe in Russia and decided to look for Moshe Burda. I found similar names, but not the right age. And then I found a 1910 manifest for Moische Chaim Burda. It says he is from Berduno and that his wife is Dwoira Burda in Burduno too. Traveling with him is what I think could be a brother, same last name, six years younger, so likely born in 1881. It looks like Daniel, but it also looks like it could say Dawid or David. We know one of the siblings is David, but he was born around 1888. I think there may also have been a Daniel back at home according to what Pese wrote – but that was earlier, in 1909. This doesn’t make sense. Still, could this be another brother? The manifest says that Daniel (unless it is David) is married with his wife also in the same town as Dwoira. Burdeny, Berduno, who knows? At any rate, his wife’s name isn’t clear. It looks like it could be Ider. What is that? I know that David Berman’s wife was named Sarah; this is not likely David, but a Daniel.

What I am thinking at this point is that Morris came over in 1910, went back and returned again in 1914, and in 1925, his wife and kids arrived (Tillie had been born in 1908 and Abram in 1910). I also know that Abram is no longer alive by the time the 1930 census was taken, The family story is that he was hit by a baseball and died. But I am unable to find any news stories. I’ve sent away for a death certificate, if the New York City records department can find it. But what if he changed his name? Abram Burda may have become Abraham Berman, but what if he chose Albert or something else? I actually ordered a book, Death at the Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities of Players, Other Personnel and Spectators in Amateur and Professional Baseball, 1862-2007, but am reserving hope. I wish the index had been online. But we shall see. At any rate, I think of Dora raising her children alone for nine years, and then within a few years of finally reuniting with her husband, losing her son. It is heartbreaking.

Leaving the mysterious Daniel aside now, I turned to David. I found two Dawid Burdas. One is a sailor and the wrong age. The other one could fit. A 1909 manifest which has him arriving three months after Pese says he is 22 and from Teraspol. And that his closest relative is Moische Burda in Teraspol, Chenson. Chenson may be like Chassny; the handwritings are not always easy to read. But how do these connect with the Berdeno/Burduno town that pops up more often? And where is Teraspol? In fact, the entire family has always thought that our family immigrated from Odessa. But I search maps and find nothing that makes sense. I even search sites which allow you to choose the era, and nothing close enough phonetically and geographically turns up.

But back to our story. Morris came in 1910 and left and came back in 1914. Maybe. Bessie came in 1909. So did David. Maybe. But now, this manifest from David says Moishe is still back in Europe. This makes no sense if Moishe/Morris is here. So I don’t know if this is our David. I labelled it “not likely.” I also look for David Berman and find many. Most do not have 1888 birthdays. I did find his 1942 “old man” draft card though. This isn’t the first I’ve found, and I know I want to learn more about 50-somethings and 60-somethings signing up for the draft in World War II.

Anyway, now I turned my attention to this mysterious Daniel. And I find nothing for Daniel Burda other than that manifest. I look for Ida and come up blank too. There are, however, tons of Daniel Bermans, And if I look for the 1881 birth date, I find one in Massachusetts, married to a Lottie. Ancestry family tree says they had a son Harry who died. but honestly, there is no way of knowing if this was him. Everyone else stayed in Brooklyn and Queens. Dora only moved to the Bronx after Tillie got married and Morris passed away. Who would go to Massachusetts?

So, if the earlier Moishe Chaim was correct and there was a Daniel, was he in Russia or in the United States? Was that him in Massachusetts?

Let’s not forget there were other David Bermans that I ruled out as incorrect without even looking at their actual documents. Given how often information on the computer doesn’t match what is in the documents, perhaps we need to go back to the drawing board. Of those I ruled out without opening, could some be worth exploring? I don’t know.

(courtesy, Ross Berman)

I do know that I’ve also started trying to research databases in the Ukraine and think I am in over my head. Though there were Burdas in Ukraine, place names match nothing. From one database, I found a name and reached out to a woman who years ago was researching them in the region, but have no idea if she will get back to me.

The Berman siblings’ tombstones’ name Yoel as their father, and so I think we need to find information on Yoel Burda as well as birth records for his kids if we’re ever to solve it all.

So this is my story. Can anyone offer any suggestions to help us answer any of these questions?

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Lawn Guyland, Wendy lived in Jerusalem for over a decade submerged in Israeli culture; she has been soaked in Southern life in metro Atlanta since returning to the U.S. in 2003. Recently remarried, this Ashkenazi mom and MIL to three Mizrahi sons and a DIL in their 20s splits her time between managing knowledge in corporate America, pursuing a dual masters in public administration and integrated global communications, relentlessly Facebooking, enjoying the arts and trying to bring a wider perspective to the topics she covers while blogging.
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