Sepia Saturday: Finding Lost Treasure Pt. 4

Continuing with excerpts from my great-grandfather David Blumenfeld's diary, which I discovered two years ago.

We join David's family as they continue their cross-country wandering as the patriarch Ben-Zion tries to find success in supporting his family of six...

The pogrom

Economic conditions after the pogroms of 1881 went from bad to worse for Ben-Zion Blumenfeld. The new police restriction on the people from different provinces...became effective through the Ignatiev May Laws of 1882 imposed by Czar Alexander III.... Under such restrictions Ben-Zion had to move back to [the province of] Courland, in Latvia, with his family....

He began making every possible effort to raise enough money for transportation to Riga. His eldest son, David, who was working at tailoring, got a job in Libau.

In the meantime Ben-Zion corresponded with some friends in America. They had left [David's birthplace] Tukums, Latvia, for America two years before and were in Michigan. They advised Ben-Zion to come there, saying “America is the land which the gods have built, a continent of glory, filled with untold treasure and here is ample opportunity for you as well.” ...It came about that in April 1883, Ben-Zion packed his satchel with his little earthly treasures, including a new blue velvet talis sack, wherein he kept his prayer shawl, tefillin, skullcap and prayerbook, and he departed for America with high hopes...

Talis bag

Tefillin (on the man's forehead)

Before one could emigrate from Russia many painful and costly formalities had to be observed. A passport obtained through the governor was speeded on its way by sundry tips. It was an expensive document without which no Russian could leave the town.

David's diary does not describe how Ben-Zion gets to America, including the transoceanic trip, but one can imagine the sordid conditions.

On arriving in Ludington, Michigan, his friend Jacob Bloomstock backed Ben-Zion financially for a stock of Yankee notions and tinware, and he blossomed out as a merchant, peddling among the sparsely settled villages, as was the custom of most of the newcomers in those days.

Back in Latvia, the rest of the family waited news of his success...

Jewish peddler in Michigan

To be continued...

And find more fascinating posts at Sepia Saturday blog

Some of these photos were borrowed from the following sites:







  1. This fascinating story continues, Sean, with wonderful illustrations along the way. Thoroughly enjoyable.

  2. I agree with Martin, this story is turning out to be absolutely fascinating. I hope you are intending to gather it all together at the end so that a permanent record exists.

  3. Thanks for your support, Martin and Alan. Consider your appetites whetted! A book version will be appearing in late 2011, with further excerpts, plus essays and commentary from several of David's descendents.

  4. What an amazing story. I must go back to earlier posts ..

  5. You've done a fine job of telling the story and finding appropriate images to help us "see" the times and places. Awaiting the next in the series....

  6. What a wonderful record of history, how lucky you are and the photos are fantastic.

  7. This is fascinating, Sean. And we're neighbors, in a manner of speaking. I live in Gig Harbor.

  8. another great installment in the tale....I very much am enjoying these! I think the sketch of those on the boat looks better than conditions actually were for many of our ancestors!

  9. I may have to start working backwards on this story, too! :)