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October 25, 1991 - Image 55

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-10-25

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

FOCUS

Family Ties

A religious heirloom is providing genealogy
for hundreds of Jewish families.

on her own and generated ad-
ditional interest in the find.
Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern of
New York, author of First

SUZANNE CHESSLER

Special to The Jewish News

Photos by Glenn Triest

1

111 he German language
Jewish Bible dates
to 1819, but its hand-
written family register
precedes the edition by more
than 700 years, listing a line
of ancestors reaching back to
1205.
The religious heirloom,
found by retired Detroit Prin-
cipal Emmit Polk, recently
was presented as a gift to the
Jewish Genealogical Society
of Michigan (JGS), with the
membership turning over the
text to the American Jewish
Archives at Cincinnati's
Hebrew Union College.
"I developed a fascination
for Jewish history through
my Jewish friends," Mr. Polk
told the group while making
his presentation. "When I
realized what I had, I felt like
I had found the Dead Sea
Scrolls!'
Mr. Polk, who began tracing
his own lineage a decade ago
through black organizations,
came upon the Bible at a
home being dismantled after
the owner's death.
Offered four cartons of
books kept at a private
residence on Beaverland in
Detroit, Mr. Polk was happy
to accept. With the quantity
he got, it took the former

school administrator two
years to make his way
through all the volumes and
finally focus on the historic
Bible from Lancaster, Pa.
Although the cover was tat-
tered, the pages were intact,
and Mr. Polk thumbed
through the work, which is
the size of an unabridged
dictionary.
"I knew immediately the
genealogy was of great value,
and I called every Kaufmann
in the phone book to learn if
any of them had a connection
to the long list of Kaufmanns
whose lives were recorded,"
he said.
Unable to locate anyone
with a direct knowledge of the
family, Mr. Polk turned to
friends Walter and Sylvia
Zukin, who helped put him in
touch with the Jewish
Genealogical Society.

Emmit Polk
and his historic Bible.

"The genealogy Mr. Polk
brought us is really very
unusual and special," said
Pam Gordon, JGS president.

"Some of our
members have
been able to trace
their relatives to
the early 1800s."

Pam Gordon

"Some of our members have
been able to trace their
relatives to the early 1800s,
but going back more than
seven centuries had not been
seen by our group until now."
According to Mr. Polk, the

family register he uncovered
has generations calculated as
slightly longer than 45 years,
bringing its span to 16
generations.
The lengthy register is not
uniform. There are some
dates of birth and some dates
of death. There are some mar-
ried names such as Wasser-
mann, Lantz and Schultz,
and there is mention of moves
to foreign cities like Ham-
burg, Belgrade, Odessa, Lon-
don and Dresden.
In rare instances, the
genealogy includes anecdotes
about the listed people;
business initiatives, religious
practices and personal rela-
tionships are noted. The book
even contains postcards used
to inquire about family ties.
As she prepared to in-
troduce Mr. Polk to the group,
Ms. Gordon did some research

American Jewish Families
and a retired history instruc-
tor, asked for genealogy
copies to distribute to other
experts in the field. They also
are intrigued with the
number of years represented.
Rabbi Stern, an authority
on ways of tracking ancestry,
explained that Jewish
genealogy documents having
prefaces written by rabbis can
be most readily authen-
ticated.
"Mr. Polk's experience
shows how fascinating this
hobby can be," said Susan
Horwitz, who edits Genera-
tions, the local genealogy
newsletter. "We all have to be
detectives!'
Once Mr. Polk's contribu-
tion becomes part of the ar-
chives in Cincinnati, it will be
available in copy form to
those interested in in-
vestigating the relationship
of the people listed to their
own forebears.
"We are very pleased that
Mr. Polk found what he did
and cared enough about
another ethnic group to make
sure all the materials ended
up with people for whom they
would have such an impor-
tant impact!" Ms. Gordon
said. ❑

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

55

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