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Family Histories
The Peopling of America
Photo of Alex Woodle Alex Woodle
Searching for the lost Jews of Bohemia
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.

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