Before “Prince”, “Prensky” – “Pren” – the Jewish Name for Prienai, Lithuania -2
Doing Genealogical history. Some Notes
(Note – I would imagine that for other than people in my family line – and perhaps even they, what follows would be extremely boring (other than the first paragraphs). And while I am garnering personal details, actually I am as interested, in probing the social history of the families as finding out detailed facts about the family past. What was the world they left? I know that – it was pretty rough? What was it like for them living in the USA in the first half of the 20th Century?, etc). Anyhow I will continue to write about it.
1. Why do it?
First – what this is not about – I am not trying in any way to find some kind of “pedigree”, pure family line. I consider that racist bullshit and have no interest in it whatsoever. And I might add – as among us Jews one often hears something along the lines “Oh we’re all so smart – it must be genetic”…(not said so often but usually implied – occasionally said by more Orthodox types) …that too is nonsense. Racism has always cut two ways. On the one hand it stigmatizes some as being “inferior”, “lesser”, and as such opens the doors to what amounts to as exploitation up to and including crimes against humanity and genocide.
On the other hand, there is the “flip side”: those who really believe that they are “God’s gift to the world, “chosen people” (one of the more dangerous ideas floating around) – that they are smarter, better mentally or physically or both, have a genetic talent to be rich (that is what Carnegie and Rockefeller – two late 19th century Social Darwinist Robber Barons thought of themselves). Also a bunch of crap – a way to hide a life time of exploiting other human beings under the veil of genetics. So let’s forget that, cross it out, throw it in the garbage can, whatever. I am quite proud of my mongrel roots…broader gene pools = greater genetic diversity = what geneticists used to call “hybrid vigor” – fuck purity – another word for incest and the inheritance of all kinds of mental and physical diseases. Besides somewhere along the way we’re all mongrels.
So this is not what doing genealogy is about for me.
2. Then what is it about?
It’s about connecting with the social history of my families – what was – and it is – although virtually no one in the next generation of my family lines seems to care (ie – daughters, nieces and nephews) – it’s a history – or at least the part of it that I can dig up – that I hope to pass on. I know, I know, it’s hard to connect to the past – much easier, especially when one is young and “becoming” (becoming whatever), to look forward to the future. Understandable. There is also the allusion among many that whatever success they have in life they have done on their own. That is such arrogant bullshit that I don’t even know anymore how to comment on it. We’re all a part of something bigger – of a social network, of a shared history, of a “collective wisdom” whether it has to do with our social or economic practices. Our values and world views are a product of our experiences, our socialization. Nobody makes it on their own, no one – and especially not those who think that they do; we all do so with more than “a little help from our friends” (and relatives) and those who came before us. Of course when you’re young and stupid and think you know everything – real schmucks – it’s hard to see this. But then it is possible to be old and stupid too about such things, especially in this great land of ours. If you are fortunate, lucky, life itself will humble you. Maybe not. Being humbled doesn’t mean being a softy or a coward. It just means realizing that the world doesn’t center around YOU, your desires, needs…and where we live in world where we need each other’s help to keep the whole darned thing going (darned thing = life on earth).
3. Finding one’s past.
In any case, every time I stumble upon a new fact in my family history I get genuinely excited. It happened today. It brought new insights, new confusion. It came with a copy of the marriage certificate of Abraham Prensky and Molly Jackson that arrived in the mail today which is printed above. So much information on it that is new to me…like:
1. that Abraham Prensky, in 1911 when he was 24 years of age, lived at 330 E. 120 St, Manhattan, New York. And here I thought he always lived in the Bronx! A google search shows that 330 E. 120 St no longer exists. Must have been torn down at some time and now in its place is Marcus Garvey Park. Once – a hundred years ago – there were Jews living in Harlem and my grandfather Abraham Prensky was one of them. My hunch is that there were a lot of Jews who lived there side by side with Blacks (and Puerto Ricans) who are still there. It makes me want to read a history of Harlem. Was my grandfather, an exception, which I seriously doubt – ie one of the few Jews living among Blacks in Harlem, or more likely there was a strong Jewish immigrant presence there, maybe not as much as in the Lower East Side (where Grandma Molly lived) but still. It’s something I would like to look into
2. that Abraham Prensky’s occupation was a “plaster”…I am pretty certain that means he was a plasterer (as we would say today); this fits. He started out as a construction worker, was able enough to become a contractor who seemed to have been doing rather well until the stock market crash of 1929 hit and he – and the family – his wife, Molly, my Aunt Ruth (Bradspies) and my father, (then) Herb Prensky – suffered a great deal and were driven into poverty. Here again, very interesting in a number of ways. It is out of the construction trades that some Jews became contractors and developers, got into real estate and made their fortunes. Names like Pinsker (Chicago), Loup and Mizel (Colorado), Morganthau (New York City) and many others come to mind. It was not an uncommon path to wealth (among those Jews fortunate enough to take that journey). And Abraham Prensky (and along with him, Herbie Prensky) was on his way to the big time, when – da-dah – capitalism struck again! He got wiped out and never recovered financially. And it certainly – from the little that I have been told – affected the family life of my father and aunt – as they were growing up. My dad was 11 when the stock market crashed and the depression began, Aunt Ruth 14, very impressionable ages. Their lives were thrown into chaos and confusion as well as poverty. Family life deteriorated in other ways as Grandpa Abraham became an alcoholic and treated Grandma Molly …well, let’s simly say – rather poorly.
3. There is Grandpa Abraham’s mother’s- my great grand mother’s (my daughter’s great-great grandmother’s) maiden name – Ida Poirs. That is an interesting name – “Ida” is Jewish enough, plenty of Jewish women of that time and this named Ida…but Poirs? Maybe it was a misspelling? Certainly doesn’t have an early 20th century Eastern European Jewish ring to it…but then neither does Jackson – Grandma Molly’s maiden name. So the first thing here is to see if I can verify that last name, to see if it appears somewhere else in the record. This is what I’ll do – I’ll search all the public records I can – and also look in the wonder “Prensky Genealogy” book that one of my father’s cousins sent me (and my sisters) some ten years ago. Who was Grandpa Abraham’s mom? I don’t know but intend to look into it.
4.Then there is Grandma Molly. This marriage certificate has many interesting details of her life as well. She was 20 at the time of her marriage to Grandpa Abraham. Particularly interesting is the address given at the time of her marriage: 55 Forsyth Street, Manhattan, New York. She too grew up (or at least lived ) in Manhattan but in a quite different area from her husband. She hails from the Lower East Side – the traditional New York City Jewish Ghetto. The exact address, like Grandpa Abraham’s, no longer exists. It is just off of the Manhattan Bridge right next to Canal Street. Sometime, it appears from the photo (Google Maps) that the tenement (I assume) where she lives was torn down. When did that happen? Could have been when the bridge connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn was built. Not sure. Again, I might look into that and at the very least, when I am back in NYC I intend to visit both 55 Forsyth St and 330 E. 120 St. in Manhattan just to “feel the vibes” of both places. And if they lived so far away from one another, how is it that they met…as they were married here in the USA, not in back in Eastern Europe.
5. There is another very curious thing about this marriage certificate – it says that Molly Jackson was the daughter of Julius Jackson and Lea Dubinsky. This has opened up a whole new live of research. I have long wondered about my grandmother’s maiden name – Jackson is not exactly a Jewish name although the name of her mother, Dubinsky certainly is. So did Julius Jackson change his name on coming to the United States? That is what my dad did in 1946, changing our family name from Prensky to Prince for “business reasons,” I was always told. If so from what? And what of Ida Dubinsky? So there are Dubinsky’s in our family tree? (and on my mother’s side Wyshinsky’s)…It’s not all Prenskys and Magaziners. The plot thickens. Now Jackson is a really hard name to trace – there are literally millions of Jacksons and thousands of Julius Jacksons. Very depressing to come up with anything. But, if one puts Julius Jackson together with Ida D. Jackson (presumably the “D” stands for Dubinsky) a precious few names come up and what comes up sounds right – ie – that Ida D. Jackson was born in 1865 (that would be about right), and that a Julius and Ida D. Jackson lived in Kansas City in 1939 and in California in the 1940s. If they are Molly’s parents – they lived to a ripe old age and my hunch is they died on the West Coast. But then why did they leave New York City? Dunno.