Posted by Jim Yarin
That’s what Barbara Walters said to Professor Gates in the April 1, 2012 episode of “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,” when she discovered that her original family name was WARMWATER-- or more precisely, WARMWASSER. What she did not know, and what the audience watching this PBS show did not learn, was that JewishGen and hosted database Jewish Records Indexing-Poland were instrumental in that discovery.
I researched Walters’ family, and later was filmed with Professor Gates at a Newark cemetery. I searched through many sources and avenues so Walters could have her Aha! moment. The story told of the Walters’ genealogy research was interesting, but was missing a few details. I found the vital records in JRI-Poland’s database, and the Polish researcher in the show retrieved the records. The breakthrough moment was when I finally threw out the last name ABROMOWITZ/ABRAM-something and searched only on the given name combination of Barbara Walters’ great-grandfather, Tsvi Getzel.
In retrospect, that sounds like something that should have been done much earlier, but researchers before me were convinced that the name in Poland was some variation of the name the family had used in England – ABRAHAMS. Furthermore, seldom does a double-name on a gravestone match up with any other record; usually just one of the names does. I had incorrectly assumed, right up to the deadline I was given for the research, that simply searching for a name combination without a last name would not find me the record I was seeking.
Miracle of miracles, almost at midnight and a few days after my deadline (the crew needed a few days to prepare for their filming with Ms. Walters), I tried in JRI-Poland the given name “Hirsh Getzel,” in the area of Lodz, and found three hits. I immediately eliminated two of them – impossible ages – and was left with a Hirsh Getzel WAREMWASSER. I thought to myself, “hmmm, begins with a ‘W’.” As I continued to look for more WARMWASSERs and the like in the same town, Zgierz, near Lodz, I quickly found other family members, enough to be quite certain that I had found the correct family!
With only five days before the interview, a scramble was on. I immediately began looking for WARMWATERs. We all pulled together to figure out how to get these records, and get them translated. I immediately started looking in the index to London vital records on Ancestry for the long elusive birth record of Barbara’s father, Lou Walters, who everyone was convinced was born in London as Louis ABRAHAMS. I plugged “Warmwater” into the search box, and joy of joys, there it was!!
It turned out that contrary to prior family history, this apparently from a cousin of Barbara, the grandparents were not married in England. They were married in Zgierz, just prior to emigrating. Once I found the first entry in Zgierz for this family, WARMWASSER, I found the wedding record and then several more for him and her (SZWARZ), going back another few generations. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, these direct ancestors were not included in the final cut of the show.
JRI-Poland Indexing and JewishGen together are a great team for Finding Your Roots!