By 2003, I had several years of genealogy research under my belt but all of that research had been in US records. With the exception of the Eastern European towns mentioned on ship manifests, and a few family stories, I had no evidence confirming where my ancestors came from.
This all changed in 2003 when a fellow researcher pointed out that the 1895 marriage record of my great-grandparents, Jeruchim Bergzon and Dobrusza Jablon (Ruben and Dora Berger in the US) was listed in the Jewish Records Indexing (JRI)-Poland database. At first I told her that she was wrong, that they were from Lozdzieje, Lithuania, not Poland. She then explained to me that the pre-WWI birth, marriage, and death (BMD) records for Lozdzieje, which is located close to the Polish border, are located in the Suwalki branch of the Polish State Archives (PSA) because the two countries shared a long history and the Suwalki administrative district crossed the current border between the two countries. She was right; this is the record for my great-grandparents marriage.
This, of course, opened my eyes to many more family records. I began ordering most of the Bergzon and Jablon (and all spelling variations) records listed in the JRI-Poland database for the town of Lozdzieje. Some were with the PSA, others were on LDS microfilm. Upon receipt, I had them translated into English. I also subscribed to Landsmen, the publication of the Suwalk-Lomza Interest Group and ordered all of the back issues. Before long, the Jablon branch of my family tree became the first branch to be well populated with "old country" people and relevant details. I was even able to trace a side branch to the US.
The Bergzon branch was another story. In the 1895 marriage record, Jeruchim's father was listed as Szolom Bergzon, deceased. I searched the JRI-Poland database for a record of the birth and marriage of Szolom. I also searched for any reference to Szolom as the father of other children whose births were listed in the database. Nothing. I was stuck. Without his parents names, I couldn't be sure I was looking at the right Szolom.
A couple of years later, I was in contact with several other researchers trying to find a connection between the Bergzons of Lozdzieje and the Berksons of nearby Mariampole. We couldn't find the connection in the records so we tried DNA testing. My mother's first cousin, Jason Berger, was kind enough to swab his cheek for a Y-DNA test. No luck. The DNA tests didn't show a match. It's just a coincidence that the names are similar.
Since then, I've always viewed the Bergzon branch of my family tree as a brick wall. That is until a few days ago when I typed "Jeruchim Bergzon" into the search field on Ancestry.com. The Ancestry database now includes many of the records from the JRI-Poland and JewishGen databases but I was more interested in seeing whether any other Ancestry family trees included my great-grandfather. I found one. I immediately recognized the name of the tree creator as one of the Berkson researchers. I contacted him and he told me that he had created this little family tree showing my ancestors several years ago when he was still trying to find the connection between our families.
As I examined his family tree, I immediately noticed that he had made an assumption about Szolom Bergzon that I wasn't experienced enough to make back in 2003: it's likely that the Szmul Bergsohn that I see born in Lozdzieje in 1852 is my Szolom. My research was blown wide open. Of the 25 Lozdzieje BMD records in the JRI-Poland database that include the surname Bergzon (or similar spelling), 23 fit into my family tree. It's likely that the other 2 records also fit into my family tree but there's a gap in the data and I don't see the connection.
Now it's time to enter all of this new information into the family tree. I also have the family names of the women in my direct family line who married into the Bergzon family so I can research those as well. At least one of the other Bergzon cousins came to America according to this other researcher. Ironically, while he and I have no connection on the Bergzon/Berkson lines, he told me that one of my Bergzon's married one of his cousins in Kansas. Further proof that we are all related.
Unfortuantely, Jason Berger passed away in 2008. I think he would have enjoyed learning this new information.