Research update: Bad News, Good News, Bad News

As you may recall, on October 31, I sent a request to the USCIS  for the naturalization papers for Max Brotman in the hope that they would reveal where Max and thus the other family members were born in Galicia.  According to the automated message on the USCIS phone, it could take at least 90 days to get a response.  Well, I figured the news wasn’t going to be good when I received a response yesterday only 35 days after making my request.  And it wasn’t—they had no records for a Max Brotman who fit the dates I had submitted.  In fact, all their naturalization records start in 1906, and I should have known that Max was naturalized before 1906 since he was the witness for Abraham in 1904.

I then went back to and rechecked my search of their naturalization records where I had been able to find records for both Abraham and Hyman.  I checked and rechecked pages and pages of indices, searching for anything that might relate.  I found one for a Max Bratman born in Germany who worked as a conductor for the railroad and emigrated in 1882, but dismissed it because the name, place of birth, and date of immigration seemed wrong.

Max "Bratman" Naturalization Card

Max “Bratman” Naturalization Card

Then I went back to the records I already have for Max, including several census reports, his marriage certificate and his death certificate.  While reading through the 1900 census, I noticed that it said Max was a conductor.  At that time he and Sophie were just married (the census was taken in June; they had married in April) and were living at 113 East 100th Street in Manhattan.  When I saw the entry that he was a conductor, I knew it rang a bell, but at that point I could not remember where else I had seen it.

1900 US Census Report for Max and Sophie Brotman

1900 US Census Report for Max and Sophie Brotman

I began to search through the naturalization records again and could not find any reference to a Max Brotman who was a conductor.  I started thinking that I was losing my mind! Then I remembered that there had been a Max BrAtman and searched for him, and lo and behold, found the naturalization card again for the conductor.  I looked at the address on that form and sure enough, Max Bratman was living at 113 East 100th Street in Manhattan in 1900 when he filed this application.  Obviously this was the same person, our Max, but why did he spell his name wrong? Why did he say he was born in Germany and emigrated in 1882? The birth dates also did not exactly line up, but I am used to the fact that no one ever reported their birthday consistently.

When I looked at the handwritten application, I saw that the signature was definitely Max BrOtman, not BrAtman.

Max Brotman naturalization petition

Max Brotman naturalization petition

My guess is that the clerk who filled out the card just could not decipher the handwriting.  As for the wrong date, I have no guess except that Max was confused, wasn’t clear, or was trying to make it seem he’d been in the US for more than just 12 years.  As for why Germany? I wish I knew.  I know from Joseph Margoshes’ book that secularized, modern Jews were referred to as “German” in Galicia. Perhaps that’s why Max said Germany.  Perhaps the clerk thought he was German because of his name, accent and use of Yiddish and suggested it to him and Max just agreed? I have no clue.

The census form was filled out just a month earlier than the naturalization form.  The census says his place of birth was Austria as does every other document listing Max’s place of birth.  The census says he emigrated in 1888, which is also consistent with almost all the other forms.  It would have made little sense for Max to have emigrated in 1882 when he was only four years old.  So once again, we have evidence that forms are unreliable, that our ancestors were not too reliable, and that much must be left to conjecture and speculation.

So where does that leave us in terms of identifying where our family lived in Galicia? Hanging on the thin thread of Hyman’s own unreliable documents, our best guess is Dzikow near Tarnobrzeg.  I contacted Stanley Diamond who manages the archives of documents for JRI-Poland, and he sent me a list of all the records of all Brotmans and Brots from that area.  They are almost all of people born after 1900, and Stanley said that the records for that area are rather limited.  He said it would probably take a trip to archives in a few cities in Poland to learn if there is anything else and that that is probably a long shot.

And thus, my cousins and friends, I think that for now I have hit a wall. I am still waiting for Tillie’s death certificate and Hyman’s marriage certificate, but I am not putting any hope into finding out more information about their place of birth from those documents. I am in touch with a researcher in Poland, and I am hoping to travel there perhaps in 2015, but for now I guess we have to accept that the best we can do is hang our hopes on Hyman’s references to Jeekief and Giga and assume that Dzikow near Tarnobrzeg is our ancestral home.

6 thoughts on “Research update: Bad News, Good News, Bad News

  1. Two things that they drilled into constantly during my BU coursework: people lie (even on legal documents) and there was no such thing as standardized spelling until about 50 years ago. Everything was spelled phonetically and literacy rates were very low. Don’t sweat the small stuff 🙂


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