Fred Blum rifles through records at the National Archives, the Pennsylvania Historical Society, the Philadelphia Free Library and the Philadelphia City Archives. He scours official Census records. He finds the links that others missed in the nooks and crannies of history. And he puts these sleuthing and research skills to good use as someone who helps the Red Cross reunite members of families separated during the Holocaust.
Blum grew up in the Oxford Circle section of Philadelphia and now lives in Huntingdon Valley. He has been cultivating his investigatory mindset his entire adult life. At B&R Services for Professionals in Philadelphia -- a business he founded right after graduating from high school -- he leads an attorney-services firm that does court filing, court reporting and investigations.
Throughout the course of his work, the 56-year-old eventually became more curious about finding his own history: "As I got a little bit older, I started wondering about my family."
Blum had originally thought his maternal grandfather was from Vienna, Austria, but he found through the International Genealogical Index -- run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- that he was actually from the shtetl of Radziechow, a town that changed hands frequently, from Austria-Hungary to Poland to its current country, Ukraine.
He also discovered that he had a 94-year-old living aunt in Israel, and cousins in Winnipeg, Canada, and New York state. These newfound family members included Holocaust survivors who had been looking for his branch of the family.
"They knew all about our family, but we knew nothing about them," said Blum. His work culminated in a family reunion in 2003 in San Francisco, where the dispersed members got a chance to meet each other.
One Down, More to Go
He began to use his talents for others after he saw an advertisement in 2005 in none other than the Jewish Exponent.
The Red Cross was looking for a relative of one Shlomo Adelman, a Romanian Jew who had come to Israel in 1940. Always at the ready, Blum decided to lend his skills to the effort.
So he waded through Census records, Social Security death indexes, city directories, passenger-arrival indexes and naturalization records. Within two weeks, he had found Adelman's long-lost cousin: Bessie Zauber from Ventnor, N.J.
Helping reunite Adelman and Zauber provided Blum with a profound sense of satisfaction, akin to what he felt when his own extended family was reconnected.
"I thought that it was very rewarding," he said.
With one case solved, he was ready to take on another.
Today, Blum has been helping with Red Cross cases for more than two years. He's even taught workshops in research tactics, and has trained other Red Cross volunteers. He said that he gets calls from the group seeking his know-how every six weeks or so.
In addition, Blum continues to pursue the history of his own family. He has traced his father's side of the family back to the mid-1800s, and his mother's back to 1810. He continues to forge ahead, learning more about his own history: He recently discovered a new branch of the family tree. He also serves as co-president of the Philadelphia Jewish Genealogy Society.
"It's remarkable to think about your lives and how we're all connected," attested Blum.
There are always more connections to find, he said -- more records to trace and leads to pursue. He even traveled to his family's hometown in Ukraine, and met the family that sheltered one of his relatives during the Holocaust.
"With genealogy," he stated, "you're never finished."