TORONTO — “Labour of love” is an understatement.
Writer Bill Gladstone, a longtime CJN arts columnist and well-known genealogist, toiled for more than 20 years on his latest book, fuelled not only by an obvious love for the subject but also by a whiff of regret at not having pressed his grandparents for more information about his family’s roots.
The results are a unique contribution to Canadian Jewish history: One Hundred Years in Canada: the Rubinoff-Naftolin Family Tree (Now & Then Books) is a 381-page treasure trove on a single, though greatly extended, family.
The illustrated history was launched earlier this month before about 125 delighted members of the sprawling Rubinoff-Naftolin family, which split into five distinct branches. Sub-clans include Cohens, Patliks, Slovins, Edsons and variations on Rubinoff (Rubinov, Rubin, Rubinowitz).
Gladstone, 54, whose late mother Shirley’s maiden name was Naftolin, proves a dogged researcher whose results are nothing if not thorough.
The book contains 600 photographs culled from family collections, and brims with dozens of highly detailed genealogical charts, birth, death and marriage records, maps, clippings, ship manifests and other archival documents.
Part detective and part journalist, Gladstone pored over mountains of archives beginning in the mid-1980s. But it was the advent of the Internet in the early 1990s that helped the most.
Author Bill Gladstone signs one of his books. [Ron Csillag photo]
“Researchers gain tremendously in the age of the Internet,” Gladstone told The CJN. “I did it before and did it after.
And before, it was really hit or miss. You paid a lot more and you got less.
“Today, you’re still searching for needles in haystacks, but you’re able to lift a whole haystack.”
He went on to tap such rich online sources as JewishGen, the Ellis Island database, Canadian naturalization and citizenship records, and the Toronto Star’s Pages of the Past index.
He also interviewed more than 200 relatives.
There’s a chapter devoted to the family organization, the Agudas Hamishpocha (United Families Organization), which marks its 80th anniversary this year. It operated much like any landsmanschaft, with its own loan society, ladies’ auxiliary and charity committees. (It’s planning an anniversary luncheon for later this year.)
The story of the clan starts in the mid-1800s in the Minsk and Moghilev provinces in the so-called Russian Pale of Settlement, translating to modern-day southeast Belarus. Five Rubinowitz siblings and their spouses are the family’s earliest known ancestors.
Facing poverty, pogroms and the threat of military conscription, about 100 relatives fled between 1905 and 1914 to Toronto on a sea journey that began in the Latvian port of Libau. Like thousands of other Jews, they arrived hungry, frightened and usually penniless.
The book “stands as testament to the sacrifices they made,” Gladstone told his relatives at the launch, which was co-sponsored by the Ontario Jewish Archives and Jewish Genealogical Society of Canada (Toronto).
Despite the family’s branches, clans and surnames, “it should be pointed out that we are all, genetically speaking, equally Rubinowitzes or Rubinoffs,” Gladstone writes. The intertwinings happened as a result of various cousin marriages, so the Naftolins are woven into 21/2 of the mishpochah’s five branches – “far more extensively than any other ‘clan.’”
For the author, the book began “as a curiosity. I remember when I first saw my grandfather’s naturalization papers, I really didn’t know where those places were. You just start asking questions, and one leads to another.
“When I started, I really had no idea where it was going to end up. For many years, I never really thought there could be a definitive product, because there were too many dead ends.”
The book, completed with the assistance of David and Rachel Rubinoff and their children Penny and Robert, is available by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.