Years ago when I first embarked on my family history journey, I spent a lot of time at the local Mormon stake, ordering and reviewing scores of microfilms. One of the volunteers there said with absolute conviction, “Our ancestors want us to find them.”
And so it’s been with my maternal grandfather, Avram Mendel Pryzant (aka Max Perlman). I visited his shtetl in northeastern Poland in 2008 to research a novel that took place there (one of the many novels I’ve written that are under the proverbial bed). In the last week or so, as I’ve been exploring the details of his paper trail, I’ve come up with some revelatory moments:
- According to U.S. census records, he left school in the fourth grade, presumably kheder. That meant he was probably apprenticed after that in some trade.
- His passenger record shows he’d been a joiner.
- In America, he worked with his business partner, his cousin Ruchel’s husband, Mottel Smola (aka Max Cohen), as a paper hanger.
- The joiner and paper hanger vocations are somewhat related in that they require precision and math.
- He changed his name from Pryzant (pronounced “prison) to Perlman and his cousins Marsharin and Gittel Kruk (“crook”) changed their name to Cohen.
- He bought an apartment building in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn sometime between 1925 and 1930. He was living the American dream while his shtetl was about to undergo an antisemitic economic boycott.
Over the weekend, my cousin gave me this photo of my grandfather (left) with another man who may be Mottel Cohen, his fellow paper-hanger. She said they papered Ethel Merman’s apartment and the Empire State Building. My sister said our grandfather papered our entire northern New Jersey family home before we moved into it in 1959. That meant he was actually present in every room of the house.
I want to verify the identity of the other man in the photograph and see what other stories about my grandfather I can collect from cousins. I also need to follow up on a clue my cousin gave me about where my great-grandparents, Chaim Joseph and Esther Toby Drewno Entel/Antel are buried.
As for new writing, nothing comes to mind. I’ll have to see if anything bubbles up.
THE Empire State Bldg. & THE Ethel Merman!
How wonderful if somewhere there are archival fotos of those wallpapers.
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