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Discovering Relationships between Families

By Ada Green,

Ada Green traced two branches of the GRUSHKA family of Krakes, Lithuania, using 20th century tombstones and 19th century family lists and death records, to the 1816 Krakes revision list. There are two GRUSHKA families on the 1816 list: Zelik, son of Leyba, and Girsha Orel, son of Nosel.  She used the 1784 Grand Duchy list for Krakes to discover the relationship between these  two lines of the GRUSHKA family – her own family and a branch who settled in South Africa. 

Family of Girsh Orel, son of Nosel: 1935 tombstones - 1874 family lists - 1863 death records - 1816 revision list

Even in the absence of vital records for the first half of the 19th century, the tombstones of Krakes-born Solomon Nathan GRUSKIN in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and his Krakes-born uncle, 100-year-old Elias Nathan GRUSHKIN in New York, which contained the Hebrew names of their respective fathers, enabled Ada to trace their ancestral line to the 1816 Krakes Revision list.

Solomon’s tombstone reads in Hebrew, Shloma Natan, son of Yehuda Leib; in English, Solomon Nathan Gruskin, died 3 September 1935, age 80, Port Elizabeth, South Africa.  Solomon Nathan is also found on the 1874 Krakes family list as Shlioma Nosel, son of Leyb, age 20.

A death certificate from theLithuanian State Historical Archives in Vilnius for Solomon’s father reads, "Leiba, son of Girsh Grushki, from Krakes, died on 8 January 1863 when he was 41 years old".

Leiba’s father was identified as Girsh Orel, son of Nosel, on the 1816 Krakes revision list. 

Solomon’s uncle, Elias Nathan Grushkin died in Brooklyn, N.Y., on September 4, 1935, age 100. His Hebrew name was Eliyahu Nachum ben Tzvi Hirsch. He appears on the 1874 Krakes family list as Eliash Nokhum, son of Girsh, age 36. Eliash’s father is Girsh Orel, son of Nosel on the 1816 Krakes revision list.  So the tombstone in South Africa and the tombstone in New York both lead to the same ancestor, Girsh Orel, in 1816.          

Ada advises: “20th century tombstones of Jewish emigrants who were born in the first half of the 19th century should not be discounted as a source for tracing ancestry, either in the absence of vital records, or to supplement and confirm existing records.”

Family of Zelik, son of Leyba: 1891 death record  1816 revision list

Ada used death records from the Lithuanian State Historical Archives in Vilnius for three of Zelik’s sons to identify Zelik on the 1816 revision list.   



The  1816 Krakes revision list shows Ada’s great-great-great- grandfather as the head of household for family #2: Zelik GRUSHKA, son of Leyba age 25. Girsha Orel GRUSHKA son of Nosel, age 28 (born in 1788) also appears as the head of family #11.

Ada then needed to discover the relationship between these two GRUSHKA families.  Since Zelik and Girsha Orel were close in age, she determined that  their fathers, Leyba and Nosel, were also of the same generation.

On the 1784 Grand Duchy of Lithuania census list, line 52 shows Nosel son of David, his wife (z=zona) and two daughters and a brother Leyba and his wife (2 males, 4 females).   So the two heads of household on the 1816 list, Zelik and Girsha Orel, were first cousins and their fathers, found on the 1784 list, were brothers! 

 1784 Krakes Grand Duchy List for Kieydany Kahal, Miasteczko (village) Kroki


Finding Nosel and Leyba’s father, David, on this list, takes us back another generation.  We know that Girsha Orel was born in 1788. We can estimate that his father, Nosel was born 25 years earlier, in 1763. We can also estimate that Nosel’s father, David was born 25 years earlier, around 1736.

This is an example of how a GDL census list with even minimal information (in this case, lacking given names of children and wives) can resolve genealogical puzzles.


about the author
Ada Green

Ada Green is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., with a degree in history and Judaic Studies. She has been researching her family history since early 1993, and has done genealogical research in Israel, Vienna, Ukrainian Galicia, Lithuania, Scotland, and South Africa, as well as numerous states in the USA.  She is a member of the JGS (New York) and was a former member of its Executive Council where she was Chair of its Cemetery Project. Her  proudest accomplishment was she single-handedly collected the gravestone data on over 75,000 burials that she submitted to the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR), including all known New York area Litvak landsmanshaftn plots for Ariogala, Babtai, Kvedarna, Dieveniskes, Gargzdai, Jonava, Jurbarkas, Kaunas, Kedainiai, Kelme, Krakes, Kraziai, Krekenava, Lida, Raseiniai, Rietavas, Seredzius, Seta, Siluva, Sveksna, Taurage, Vilijampole, Vilkija, and Ukmerge. With the assistance of Lithuanian guide Regina Kopilevich, Ada indexed the Jewish cemeteries in Kedainiai, Krakes and Vandziogala, Lithuania.   In 2006 Ada received the IAJGS Achievement Award for Outstanding Contribution to Jewish Genealogy via the Internet, Print, or Electronic Product for her cemetery work.  Ada also indexed synagogue memorial plaques for the JewishGen Memorial Plaques Project, most notably those in Beacon, Hudson, Kingston, Newburgh, and Poughkeepsie, NY.

Ada has taken 5 research trips to Lithuania and has given lectures on that subject in New York, South Africa, and Israel. Ada spoke on Lithuanian Jewish Genealogical Research at the 19th Annuali JGS Summer Seminar in New York on August 1999.  She has written articles for Dorot (the journal of the JGSNY) as  well as Avotaynu.  

In 1998 Ada was a member of the LitvakSIG temporary Advisory Board.  She served on the LitvakSIG board in 2006-7 and was co-ordinator of the LitvakSIG Kaunas District Research Group for 5 years.