People always ask about my TALALAY and DARDASHTI names, their origins and how I became interested in genealogy. Nearly everyone with either of these unusual names is sure to be related - although there have been some infrequent exceptions.
I first met Zelmon Zook - another member of the rare name club - through Israeli researcher Patricia Wilson when he visited Israel last spring. We reconnected on his current visit to his daughter and her family in Jerusalem. Here's his story:
He's still surprised at what he finds, says Zelmon Zook, 71, of Kew Garden Hills, NY.
A genealogist for over 30 years with more than 1,200 people on his tree, a nearly two-decades member of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Long Island, has self-published a family genealogy, volunteered at the U.S. National Archives and helps friends and family discover their roots.
Nothing beats the experience of discovering an online database clue to lost family, which is what Zook found on a spring visit to Jerusalem.
In April 2007, the retired traffic manager visited Yad Vashem and found a Page of Testimony for Zalman Zhuk in the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names.
For someone with Zook's rare name, it was like looking in the mirror. "How could I not be related to this fellow?" he asked.
In 1899, Zook's great-grandfather - Shlomo Zalman ben Yaakov Yoneh Zhuk - left Minsk for New York; His grandfather, Shlomo's son Joseph (Josel Zuk on the passenger manifest) went to Odessa, married and arrived in New York in 1913. His father Max (Mordche) didn't make it until 1921, after WWI.
Zook printed and translated the Russian page - Pages of Testimony are available in a host of languages - learned the submitter was Rachel Tzalolichina in Lod. Israeli researcher Patricia Wilson in Ra'anana helped make contact; and Zook went to Lod.
Tzalolichina made aliyah with her husband Mikhail 11 years ago, and submitted the Page for her uncle Zalman Zhuk in 1998. Unfortunately, her family tree is limited and, although Zook and Tzalolichina could not establish an immediately verifiable connection, the name indicates ancestral connections.
"Seeing the name Zalman Zhuk alongside mine - Zelmon Zook - opens the door to more research," he says.
Tzalolichina is also trying to locate a cousin Richard (last name unknown), born 1945 and living somewhere in the U.S., whose mother was Klara Gimelshteyn (Himelstein), daughter of Rosa Zhuk Gimelshteyn. Zook plans to assist her - and Wilson - in continuing international networking.
Yad Vashem's online Pages of Testimony are used by increasing numbers of people like Zook and Wilson (who has reunited numerous families). Even if an immediate connection can't be made, as in Zook's case, pages may provide further clues. A Page's submitter - often a close relative - may still be alive and contact will prove fruitful.
Yad Vashem was not set up for genealogy - its mandate is to collect names, not to connect families - but researchers use the online searchable database to do just that.