A Family Adventure to Queens

Posted on August 31st, 2012 by

A blog post by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon.

This time of year always seems so bittersweet for me with the end of summer upon us, the kids going back to school.  The specific date of August 29th has so many meanings for me….. this year would be my mom, Barbara Sue Levy Dackman’s 83rdbirthday.  It was also the day 7 years ago when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans; which coincided with the first day that I started to work at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

My employment at the JMM was not something that I had intended…My connection with the JMM seven  years ago was only that I had made an appointment to meet with the JMM’s family historian, Dr. Deborah Weiner of the Robert L. Weinberg Family History Center to help me in my search for my own family’s past.  My father was always fascinated with his own family genealogy and was quite proud that his father, Zelig Dachmann travelled alone at age 20, to Baltimore from Dvinsk, Latvia on the Munchen, a ship that was a part of the Bremen Lines and arrived in Baltimore in March,  1899. I was delighted that I able to get a copy of the ship’s manifest from the JMM and show it to my father.

I was amazed by the breadth of information that was available for researchers at the Family History Center.  Researchers have access to Baltimore City directories dating from 1752-1963; US census records for Baltimore from 1900-1930; passenger manifests of ships that arrived in the Port of Baltimore; records of Jewish cemeteries in the Greater Baltimore  area; along with the communal records of birth,  circumcisions, marriages and death and so much more…….   I felt like a kid in a candy store- and also thought that I could spend so much time here at the JMM trying to really document my own family’s journey to Baltimore.

Fast forward -Seven years have passed since my first introduction to the Jewish Museum of Maryland and I am sad to say that I have not finished researching all that there is -but every once in awhile something reminds to go back and delve deeper into my own family’s roots.

There are places outside the JMM where you can do research from the confines of your home.  The website of Jewish-Gen which is an affiliate of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York offers access into many databases all over the world.  I was able to locate the surname of Dachmann from Dvinsk and I found the names of my own paternal great grandfather-Jankel Mowscha and his father-Simon Dachmann.  I also noted that Simon had a brother Mordechai.

The internet has really allowed us to have such an easy access to information and I decided to “google” my last name (maiden name)-and I discovered that there were  many people with  names are quite similar to mine, and I started to contact each one…..

Ilene Dackman and Barbara Dachman.

Last weekend-I had the opportunity to meet one of the descendants of Mordechai  Dachmann-my great-great grandfather’s brother.   I met  Barbara Mae Dachman (a similar name to my mother) who grew up in Queens, New York and has lived in Puerto Rico over the past 25 years.  Barbara was here in the US visiting her mom and sister Ileen (so weird that there are two Ilene Dackman/Dachman walking around on this planet).

Ilene and Barbara on the boardwalk – Far Rockaway Beach, Queens, NY.

I travelled to NYC and hopped on the A train to Far Rockaway Beach in Queens.  We had such a delightful visit-one of those moments that you take with you and just smile…..   I found Barbara to be a lovely person-her mom Lorraine was able to give us both an insight to Barbara’s father, Seymour and life living with Barbara’s paternal grandfather  – Samuel Dachman, who was the only son of Mordechai Dachmann-and the nephew to my great-great grandfather, Simon Dachmann. Our visit only lasted for two hours- but I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to meet a new relative- but I also think that I have also made a life-long friend.

Ilene, Lorraine Dachman (Barbara’s mom) and Barbara.

I encourage you to visit the Robert L. Weinberg  Family Research Center-it is so fascinating to touch documents from the past that bear the names of relatives that have lived before us… All of us have an immigration story-past and present. The JMM is a great place to start on your own family adventure.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Beyond Google

Posted on August 23rd, 2012 by

A blog post by Historian Deb Weiner.

I’m inspired by Marvin’s blog post on Google’s Sergey Brin to write about two other famous Maryland Jewish innovators. Actually they are not so famous. Also they are not so Jewish, since one probably had a non-Jewish mother and the other attended a nondenominational church. But so what. They are both definitely from Maryland and their innovations revolutionized their respective fields.

William Fuld’s achievement was arguably more important than Brin’s. Instead of merely giving us access to the world at our fingertips, he gave us access to the world beyond, also at our fingertips. Yes, he created the Ouija Board. In July 1892 he took out a patent for alterations to improve the “Wonderful Talking Board” invented by his mentor Col. Washington Bowie. Apparently Fuld greatly increased the communicating abilities of the board, because it became wildly popular after he and his brother Isaac began manufacturing it at their factory on High Street in East Baltimore, and marketing it as the Ouija Board.

If this is sounding familiar to you it might be because I blogged about Fuld about a year ago. But he certainly deserves repeated mention, don’t you think?

Moving on, my most recent discovery is Harry Lobe Straus, “The Man Who Gave America the Tote,” according to biographer John C. Schmidt. I’m not talking about a bag you carry around with you. The “totalisator,” or “Tote Board,” was an electronic system that “printed and issued betting tickets at racetracks, automatically computed the bets and odds, and displayed them on a large board,” according to the Hagley Museum, which holds Straus’s papers.

A City College and Hopkins engineering graduate from a prominent Baltimore German Jewish family, Straus created the system after a 1927 incident at Pimlico, when a horse he bet on at 12:1 won, but paid off at only 4:1. The Tote brought fairness, speed, and accuracy to horserace gambling, making modern, large-scale racetrack betting possible. Portions of the system were first installed at Pimlico in 1930, though Chicago’s Arlington Park hosted the first complete system in 1933. The Tote then spread, Google-like, to racetracks around the world.

Of course I used Brin’s search engine to discover much of this information. And to bring the story full circle, it should be noted that Straus was one of the first entrepreneurs to recognize the potential of the computer. In 1948 he convinced the directors of his company, American Totalisator, to invest in a struggling young computer firm called EMCC. Amtote received 40 percent of EMCC’s stock, Straus became head of its board, and the firm used the infusion of cash to finish developing the UNIVAC, the first commercial computer sold in America. (According, of course, to Wikipedia.)

Unfortunately Straus did not live to see the UNIVAC rise to fame in the 1950s. He was killed in 1949 when his private plane crashed en route to Baltimore. As it happens, Fuld’s life also came to a sudden end: he fell off the roof of his factory while overseeing the replacement of a flagpole. The year was 1927, the same year that Straus was cheated at Pimlico, leading him to invent the Tote. Coincidence? Perhaps we should use Fuld’s creation to ask them.  Or maybe just Google it.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




And What About Ranch Dressing?

Posted on July 23rd, 2012 by

By Deb Weiner

We are in the midst of preparing a traveling exhibition that will explore the participation of Baltimore Jews in the great national rush to suburbia that occurred in the two decades after World War II. It’s called “Jews on the Move” and will open in October on the campus of Johns Hopkins University. JHU students helped develop the exhibit as part of a museum studies class they took last spring.

Marvin, our new director, took a look at the exhibition script earlier this week and questioned our use of the word “rancher” as shorthand for ranch house. Is it too slangy? Was it really in common use? “I’m from Chicago,” he said, “and I’ve never heard this term before.”

Jews on the Move

“I’m from Chicago too,” I replied, “and I’d never heard it either!” I started thinking, hmmm, maybe I better look into this. The word appears several times in the text, which was originally drafted by our guest curator Dean Krimmel, native Baltimorean and noted expert on all things Baltimore. I trusted Dean, but once the question had been raised it occurred to me that maybe, just every once in awhile, he might slip up.

From our upcoming exhibition.

So expert historian that I am, I googled the term “Baltimore rancher” to see what would happen. When the search page appeared on my screen, the results were so immediately conclusive I had to laugh. One Baltimore rancher after another being advertised in real estate listings. Apparently ranchers are so popular that the term was even used to advertise a “gorgeous 2nd floor end unit,” which seems to me to be stretching the definition beyond common sense. Everybody knows that a rancher (or “ranch house,” as Marvin and I would call it) is a detached, one-story home.

Jolly Rancher candies

Just to see what would happen, I googled “Chicago rancher.” The first item was a very interesting video about a rancher located about sixty miles outside Chicago, who supplied grass-fed beef to city restaurants. Check it out:  http:///vimeo.com/36095119. Unfortunately the next couple items reported his sudden death, shortly after the video came out. Then various items related to “Jolly Rancher” candies (which I had never heard of before), a high school team called the Ranchers, etc.

Baltimore ranch house. Image courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Industry.

My fact-checking was complete, but my curiosity was aroused. Is “rancher” like “hon” — one of those uniquely Baltimore quirks of language or style?  I started googling “Philadelphia rancher,” “Miami rancher,” etc. I discovered that as shorthand for ranch house, the word does seem to be in common use in the mid-Atlantic region. (Philly and Newark yes, Miami and Boston, not really. One Boston item, “Idaho Rancher Revealed as Gangster from Boston,” was pretty entertaining). But only in Baltimore was the term used to describe a second-floor end unit.

This kind of fact-checking can be fun, but it’s also important. We don’t want to have any errors in the work we put out there for the public to see, read, etc. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a quick google search, but we also go to much further lengths to make sure we’re getting things right. (In fact, the web must be used with much caution, since so many websites repeat errors and falsehoods.) So I’ll continue to trust Dean, but check up on him every once in awhile.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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