Alex Woodle's great-grandfather, David, came to America from Bohemia in the mid-19th century.
"He died when my father was 12. My aunt gave me this amazing document, which was the marriage
vows of her grandfather and grandmother-David Woodle and Theresa Simons. It's an original
document dated 1869. And I remember looking at the signature and it's a beautiful signature
of my great-grandfather. I started to wonder about the man."
Alex knew that David Woodle died in Chicago so he began by requesting a death certificate
from the Cook County Department of Vital Statistics. When the certificate came in the mail
four or five weeks later, it identified David Woodle as a capmaker and gave the address he
lived at, the native country and his burial place - New York. But where in New York? In which
of the hundreds of Jewish cemeteries could Alex find his great-grandfather's grave?
He hoped to discover some clues at the Municipal Archives in New York. Alex started with
the New York City Directories, searching for Woodles. In the 1890 Directory he found Bernhard,
a peddler; Leopold, a stenographer; and Morris, a capmaker. In 1893, Leopold was still there,
but what happened to Bernhard and Morris? On a hunch, Alex looked for a death certificate for
Morris in 1892 - Morris, who was a capmaker in the same generation as David Woodle. Maybe
he's related to David and maybe the cemetery listed on his death certificate - Bayside Cemetery
in Queens - is a link to David's final resting place.
Alex's hunch proved correct. The cemetery confirmed that David was among a number of Woodles
buried there. That weekend Alex and his brother visited the gravesite, which had been lost
to the family for almost 100 years? "I just feel it's very important to know who our ancestors
were. Looking at a signature wasn't enough for me. I had to make a connection to where this
man lived and where he died." But Alex's search was not over. A vital question remained: where
in Bohemia had David Woodle lived? At the New England Historic Genealogical Society, a set of
books lists 19th century passengers from Germany and surrounding countries and the ships they
came over on. After looking through 24 volumes and finding nothing, in volume 25 Alex came
across a familiar name though with a different spelling - Wudl. Although Alex never found David
in the index, he did find a Moses and a Simon Wudl, both from the village of Ckyne in Bohemia.
"This could be the home village of the family." To prove his intuition that Moses and Simon were
David's brothers, Alex took a trip to Bohemia, which is now part of the Czech Republic. In
Prague, he enlisted the help of researcher Julius Müller. The State Archives in Prague houses
the vast and detailed records kept during the period when Bohemia was a part of the Austro-Hungarian
Empire. In the index of births for Ckyne, Alex found the evidence he sought. A set of records
for David Woodle confirmed that he was from Ckyne and that he had brothers named Simon, Moses
and Ignatz. The records also revealed the names of David's parents, Jeremias Wudl and Maria Wudl,
the daughter of Jacob Fantes.
Of course, there are no Wudls or Fanteses left in Ckyne. The synagogue, built in 1828, stands
abandoned. The Jewish families in Ckyne were all deported to concentration camps under the Nazi
occupation. At the Jewish cemetery stands a memorial to the Jews killed in the Holocaust,
including two members of the Fantes family.
"To go inside is very moving. It's the most emotional part of the trip I've made so far. It's very
personal, not just for my family members, but for those people who lived in this quiet little
village - for the Schwagers, the Fanteses, the Becks, the Kohns. But they're here in spirit."
Alex's grandparents, David and Theresa Woodle.
The microfilmed directories for New York City yielded a valuable clue for Alex's quest.
On an 1837 map of Ckyne, Alex and Julius Müller identify the house where David was born.
Memorial in the Ckyne Jewish cemetery to those who died in the Holocaust.