The Grove

A family heirloom comes into focus

Pinch out to zoom.

Anyone who’s been to my apartment knows about the ancestors above my dining room table. They live in a portrait I inherited in 2008, the crown jewel of my genealogical nerdery. At the center is my great grandfather Leo Malkin, flanked by his five siblings and their respective families. The year is 1923.

I first posted the photo in 2010 as part of a short profile of my great great grandfather Zalman Malkin, the immigrant patriarch of this clan, whose life I attempted to reconstruct from historical records. At the time, I mistakenly assumed the portrait was taken in Douglas Park, the largest city park near the families’ homes on the west side of Chicago.

But as I circulated Zalman’s profile across a chain of distant cousins, I was put into contact with Bonnie Malkin, a relative in California I hadn't known. Bonnie immediately identified her father David Malkin as a teenager in the back of the photo and said she had an oral history recorded with him in 1989, when he was 90, and was I interested in getting a copy?

In the video, David Malkin sits beneath a mounted version of the exact same photo I have. Thirty-five minutes in, he points up and says it was taken at his father Max’s “picnic grove,” a Prohibition-era saloon and dance hall serving near beer to residents of the city. (Max Malkin was one of the six siblings in the photo and protagonist in the family's immigration story. Among other things, I now understood why he would have been listed as “bartender” on the 1920 US Census.)

The six Malkin siblings.

. Leo Max Nettie Eva Abe Mendel

Leo Max Nettie Eva Abe Mendel

Many months passed. I then received an email from another branch of cousins I had never known about, this time from Cleveland. These cousins were descendants of Mendel Malkin, the youngest sibling, and said they were in possession of a different version of the photo. This lead to a phone call with 90-year-old Irving Malkin, son of Mendel, still living in Cleveland with his wife Zerda. They promised to scan their version and send it to me as soon as they could.

This new version includes 16 additional people I am now challenged to identify (likely some combination of Lissitzes, Hurwiches, Slavins, and Alperts, all in-laws.) At this point, I'm ready to volley the question back to the Internet, into the hands of other imagined co-descendants. But before I do, let's take stock of what I know, starting with the core Malkin siblings, oldest to youngest, appearing across the center of both photos, along with their families:

Leo Malkin & Ginda Davidovitch
Mae, Adele, Morris, Ben, Sam
Max Malkin & Annie Hurwich
David, Bob, Leon
Nettie Malkin & Morris Alpert
Ann, Irving, Ceil
Eva Malkin & Lou Lissitz
Sarah, Sam, Anne
Abe Malkin & Libby Slavin
Anita, Julius
Mendel Malkin
the youngest sibling, not yet married
Leo Malkin & Ginda Davidovitch
Mae, Adele, Morris, Ben, Sam
Max Malkin & Annie Hurwich
David, Bob, Leon
Nettie Malkin & Morris Alpert
Ann, Irving, Ceil
Eva Malkin & Lou Lissitz
Sarah, Sam, Anne
Abe Malkin & Libby Slavin
Anita, Julius
Mendel Malkin
the youngest sibling, not yet married

Two other sets of relatives appeared in both photos that day:

. The five unknown Lissitzes cousins
David Malkin & Kate Rizman
Arthur
.
The five unknown Lissitzes David Malkin & Kate Rizman
Arthur

And here I've circled the ancestors I've yet to identify:

Pinch out to zoom.

* * *

Looking back, how did I miss the fact that by 1917 Max had moved his family to a farm on the southern outskirts of the city? His son Mendel was listed as a “farmer” on his 1917 World War I Draft Registration. And the 1920 US Census placed the family at an intersection without a numbered address, surrounded by other farms. It took the oral history from David Malkin to put it all together: These Malkins were living on a farm. This family of immigrant peddlers and merchants had bought a farm, in part, to avoid the draft. And after the war they entered the saloon business. Just in time for Prohibition.

So that is the story of The Grove. Today it sits beneath a mall in a suburb of Chicago.

— Elliott Malkin, Feb 15 2014

Related: How to Lose Your Religion in 5 Easy Steps

A note about the Hurwiches: I'm almost certain that Ben Hurwich would be among the relatives in the second photo. I just have no way of identifying him. Not only did Ben live at the farm and work with Max Malkin as a bartender, he and his brother Maurice helped their brother-in-law Max buy the property. (Max was married to Annie Hurwich.) On top of that, Maurice Hurwich's father-in-law Lester Levie lived on the farm after separating from his wife. So Max's connections to the Hurwiches run deep. Both families were from the same small town in Lithuania called Pandelys.

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