The summer I turned 18, I sat on my paternal grandmother’s porch while she presented me with an unusual gift: a binder containing her family tree.
The tree, along with the autobiography and biographies she wrote to accompany it, stretched back to her four sets of great-grandparents, who had all immigrated to New York and New Jersey from Eastern Europe in the 19th century. The documents were extraordinarily detailed, containing stories of relationships, occupations and military service, as well as birth and death dates, and they sparked my lasting interest in genealogy.
In a recent issue of the Jewish Exponent, I covered a virtual presentation called “Who’s Your Daddy? or How to Research Your Family Background.” Joel Spector, director of the Jewish Genealogical and Archival Society of Greater Philadelphia, delivered the presentation about research methods and resources for people looking to learn more about their family history.
After the presentation, I decided to see if I could apply what I learned to trace my own Jewish immigrant relatives back to the old country.
I created an account on JewishGen, one of the largest databases of Jewish records and family trees, which Spector recommended. It’s free to use and has access to tens of millions of records from around the world, as well as a section where users can upload their family trees and connect with others seeking similar information.
Since I already had detailed personal information about my father’s side, I started with my mother’s relatives, the Trupps. Initial searches in JewishGen’s databases turned up results for Jews in Phoenix and Houston, which didn’t make any sense for that Baltimore-based branch of my family.
After a few hours of frustrated searching, I decided to change my approach. Spivak had recommended checking local historical societies for more specific information, so I looked up the Jewish Museum of Maryland and typed “Trupp” into the search bar.
The first result was an artifact, a small ribbon meant to be pinned to a suit lapel.
“Gray ribbon belonging to Nathan Trupp, president of the Maryland Grocer’s Association. Ribbon is imprinted in black, Delegate. Likely from Independent Retail Grocers of Baltimore,” the caption read.
The museum noted that Nathan Trupp had seven sons. My grandfather, Michael Trupp, had six uncles. After checking their names with my mother, I realized I had found my great-great-grandfather.
The museum revealed that Nathan Trupp and his sons were deeply involved in their community. The elder Trupp’s biography mentioned that he was president of Ohel Yakov Congregation. A 1949 letter from the Jewish Welfare Fund of Baltimore showed that Irvin Trupp, his son and my great-grandfather, was a chairman for the organization. A collection of old photographs showed Maryland Gov. Albert Ritchie attending the wedding of my grandfather’s favorite uncle, Bernard Trupp.
Armed with well-documented names, I returned to JewishGen to see if my findings could take me back across the Atlantic Ocean. This time, I requested exact matches for the full name Nathan Trupp in Maryland only.
His name popped up in their database “Family Tree of the Jewish People” alongside his wife, Rebecca Ida Saron. Birth records showed he was born in Karsava, Latvia, in 1876.
The tree stretched back even farther. Someone had uploaded information about Nathan Trupp’s father, Phillip Trupp, who was born in 1837 in Rezekne, Latvia, and died in Baltimore in 1922.
At the root of the tree was Nochem Halevi Trup, born in 1800.
The rest of the tree sprawled in various directions, but all the Latvian-born Trups, Trupps and Troops seemed headed for the mid-Atlantic United States, where they married and died as far south as Washington, D.C., and as far north as Altoona. Trupp daughters who took their husbands’ names indicated I could be related to Rosenbergs, Skolskys and Foxes in the region.
I learned all this in a single afternoon, and there’s still plenty of research to be done. I could contact the anonymous JewishGen researcher who uploaded my family tree to see if we’re related, or check Holocaust records for names of relatives who perished.
For now, I’m content to call my grandfather, who I haven’t seen in months due to the pandemic, and tell him that I found his great-great-grandfather Nochim, who lived and started a family more than 200 years ago.