Posted by Ancestry Team on March 19, 2017 in Who Do You Think You Are?

Victorian author George Eliot (a.k.a., Mary Anne Evans) once wrote, “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” Unfortunately for Jennifer Grey’s family, the identity of her mother’s grandmother was lost over the span of just one generation. Her episode on Who Do You Think You Are?  sought to restore her place in the family history.


Many people erroneously believe that records of Jews prior to their emigration from Eastern Europe cannot be found. While it is true that many Jewish records were lost to wars, natural disasters, and the specifically targeted destruction of Jewish communities, millions of records still exist.

One of the biggest hurdles is to identify the place of origin in Eastern Europe, and the names family members went by prior to emigration. Records in Europe would reflect those names.

From passenger lists, Jennifer learned that her grandfather, Israel (known in the U.S. as Izzy) Brower immigrated from Yampol, Russia (now Yampol, Ukraine), in 1907. Izzy was sixteen, traveling with his siblings, 18-year old Rose, Cheskel, age 14 and Taube, age 9. They were going to meet their father, Shulim Brower in Brooklyn, New York.


What happened to Izzy’s mother? Why were they traveling without an adult? Was their mother already in the United States? Did she die in Europe?  What was her name? Jennifer’s mother —Izzy’s daughter—did not have the answers.

Discovering the fate of Izzy’s mother took time and patience. As was typical among Jewish immigrants, their names were changed after immigration to Americanized versions.  Cheskel became Charlie and Taube became Tillie. Shulim became Solomon. The 1910 census was the first accounting after the children arrived which listed all the family members.  It indicated that Solomon was widowed. We needed to learn when and where his wife died. According to the census, Solomon and an older child, William, arrived in the United States in 1906, a year before the other children.


In order to locate information about the family, many types of documents in the United States were reviewed. The family name “Brower” is not a common name, and it was necessary to gather as much documentation as possible regarding the family, to attempt to identify Izzy’s mother.

The family lived in Brooklyn, New York. These records reviewed included:

  • Passenger arrival lists from Ellis Island
  • Census records
  • Records from the Brooklyn School of Pharmacy
  • World War I Draft Registrations
  • Lists of enrolled voters

The records seemed to indicate that she had died in Europe. Identifying documents overseas was more problematic. The records of the Jewish communities in Europe are often difficult to find. Not all the documents and repositories survived the many wars in Eastern Europe and other disasters, such as fire and flooding. In the Vinnitsa State Archives, in Ukraine, records pertaining to Yampol, in the Podolia region of Russia before World War I, we found Izzy’s mother’s death record. That record revealed her name, Sheyndl, and the place where she resided, Dzygovka, also in Podolia.

Vital records from the Jewish community are often, as with this record, across a two-page spread. The page on the left is in Russian and the right side of the page in Hebrew.  Russian is written in the Cyrillic alphabet and both Yiddish and Hebrew are written in the Hebrew alphabet. Item number eight, on the death register recorded the tragic young death of Izzy’s mother.  The record said that Sheyndl, wife of Shulim Browerman, from Dzygovka, died 27 August 1897 in Yampol at the age of thirty-five from childbirth. This probably meant that her death was associated with the birth of Taube, who, in 1907, was nine years old and traveling to the United States with her siblings.

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Izzy and his father and siblings used the surname Brower in the United States. Prior to immigration, their surname was Browerman. Perhaps since Shulim arrived first, he took the surname Brower and when the children joined him, they used the name he had already adopted. This frequently occurs when other family members join an earlier immigrant.

Jewish record research is, as was demonstrated in the search for Jennifer Grey’s great-grandmother, not impossible. It is filled with emotions and very rewarding.  In Jennifer’s case, her great-grandmother, whose name had been lost to time, is back in the family memory where she’ll live on for generations.

Learn more about Jennifer’s journey or see videos about other celebrities’ ancestries on Watch full episodes of the show on Discover more celebrities uncovering their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 10|9c on TLC.



  1. Judith

    Many marriage records give the names of the parents of those being married. Did they look for the marriage records of Izzy or his sisters or brothers? That might have yielded a first name for Izzy’s mother.

  2. Wilma Williams

    I run into a brick wall looking for my 3rd g grandfather’s family.
    He was born 1763 in Nether Providence, Deleware Co. PA. I think that they came with the Quakers as an indentured servant . I am guessing. Zebulon Webb was in the area and had a son Bowman but he was not the right Bowman.

  3. BEE

    Oh, to have a manifest with an ethnic name show up so easily! Although it’s possible the 1910 census record was found first, which would have given them the year of immigration. I wonder why they didn’t look for Solomon’s manifest? The census says he arrived in 1906, as did his son William. A search for Shulim Brower brings up a manifest for a Schulen Bralver traveling with his son, and obviously, Solomon. Their sponsor was a brother-in-law in Brooklyn. Could this be the maiden name of Solomon’s wife?? The 1910 census also states Solomon and his oldest son had their first papers for naturalization, although not much information was required or given in those early years. Again, for brevity, all this might have been looked at and just not mentioned.

  4. Jeff ley

    My father passed away 7 years ago but I have some of his ashes. Could those be used as a sample to get his DNA?

    • Member Services Social Support Team

      Hi Jeff, unfortunately the AncestryDNA test is a saliva based test. Any other form of sample such as hair, skin etc would not be usable for our DNA test. Apologies for frustration that may cause.

  5. Penny Lockbeam

    I was wondering the same about my Mom’s ashes. Luckily I got my aunt to give a sample. Still waiting for results.

  6. TreavorLamont Thompson

    I need help looking up my father’s side of the family and know who and what I’m mixed with and my ancestors look like and where are they from and how many kid’s did they have and where did the last name come from and who do I resemble

  7. Dale Foley

    Not a comment a thank you. As an adopted person through Ancestry. com I found both of my birth parents. My birth father passed in 2008 but I have enjoyed getting to know my birth mother over the last year. It truly is an amazing story with many ” 6 degrees of separation”. I started to write it all down as I did not want to forget the details. It ends with my birth mother getting engaged to the man she was engaged to but had to break it off 62 years ago. Thanks !!

  8. Adonna Gosson

    I will soon be taking the DNA test. But either my great grandfather or great great grandfather (paternal side) walked away from his wife and family. Wife then remarried a man named Michael Selbert. So my maiden name is Selbert. The missing grandparent was from Germany and his last name was Stahle. The Stahle family owned a glove factory somewhere in Germany and my dad and his 2 sisters received a new pair of gloves every Christmas. Can you tell me if this is going to be hard to trace the Stahle family lineage? My dads mother’s last name had been Kinsella from Ireland. Supposedly the first Irish last name that didn’t start with an “O” or a “Mac”. I have some information about the Kinsella family. Thank you, Adonna Gosson

  9. Carolyn white avans

    I got a big surprise when I did my DNA! I found out my dad was not my biological dad. The man that is supposed to be my half brother keeps ignoring my messages. I know some of his family history thru research. My mother was 17 and a month when I was conceived and he was a much older man and married so I wonder if it was a mutual thing or and forced thing. No way of know because my mother has been dead for30 years. I know that my half brother has a brother in Kansas and I think I’m going to try him since the other is not interested. It would help if I could get 1960s census. I know he was in Nashville around that time but moved a lot between Utah Nebraska Illinois and Tennessee. I just want answers.

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