Dozens of descendants from a single Russian village held a belated town hall meeting more than a century in the making Saturday at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
More than 80 members of the group that organizer Howard Schwartz calls “the Mlynov descendants” traveled to Baltimore’s Jonestown neighborhood this week from across the country to swap family stories, trace their fingers along tangled webs of bloodlines and exhibit their treasured heirlooms.
Schwartz, a 63-year-old Baltimore native who lives in California, has spent the past six years developing an extraordinary chronicle of a clan that first arrived in Baltimore roughly a century ago.
“As I realized that we were all distant cousins I came to understand that the village of Mlynov was, in reality, an extended family," Schwartz said.
Several dozen villagers emigrated to Baltimore from Mlynov, in what is now Ukraine, in three waves from 1890 to 1929 — a period of time when many millions of Russian Jews were fleeing persecution.
In a quest to better understand his own family history, Schwartz carefully pieced together the history of the tiny Baltimore community, which gave rise to many prominent citizens, including doctors, lawyers, rabbis and politicians.
As Mlynov descendants and their spouses filtered into the museum Saturday, some greeted Schwartz with a warm “Hey, cuz” and an embrace.
“I imagine our ancestors looking down and being amazed and moved at how many descendants have assembled today to honor them and their memories," Schwartz said to the group during a presentation of his research.
Many in attendance brought along family artifacts to share. Some fetched from their purses plastic sandwich bags full of yellowing photos. Others pulled out large framed portraits from canvas totes.
Jane Rushefsky, 73, brought with her from Washington, D.C., a shiny, copper pot that she said her great-great-great-grandfather carried over from Mlynov. The slightly oxidized vessel was used in preparation of many a gefilte fish over the years, she said.
Rushefsky also unfurled a lace blanket — a wedding present to her mother that has been used in her family for years as a chuppah or special-occasion tablecloth.
She soon discovered that the great-granddaughter of the woman who tatted the textile was seated behind her during Schwartz’s presentation.
“It’s like we’re touching the past,” Rushefsky said.
Steven Stultz, 68, of Dallas had only little bits and pieces of his family history before he was contacted by Schwartz. Learning he had a room full of distant relatives he had never met was magnificent, he said.
The generation before his did not often talk about the past, Stultz said.
“I guess history was sad and they didn’t want to recount it,” he said.
Schwartz learned the "Mlynov pioneers,” Getzel and Ida Fax, arrived in Baltimore from western Russia in 1890 and 1891.
According to a memoir written by a Schwartz relative in 1982, the Faxes had owned land near Mlynov. But when they lost their right of possession, Getzel grabbed “the first ticket available” to the U.S.
The Mlynov immigrants eventually settled into rowhouses along Pratt and Albemarle streets. Many of the immigrants also belonged to an Orthodox congregation that moved into the Lloyd Street Synagogue in 1905.
Rushefsky looked around the room at all the new faces and marveled at the size of the crowd.
"It’s amazing that those two people lead to all of this, all of these universes, she said.