The Genealogist Researching Kirk Douglas at 99: The Time is Right

When detailing a life, the genealogist often comes across different types of dates. As in the case of Kirk Douglas,
the Hebrew calendar adds information to the dates of his life.

This RecordClick genealogist thought it might be a good time to remind family historians that time is a concept. This note comes as the last day of 2015 is being crossed off my Gregorian calendar. Ancestry researchers know that there are many ways of keeping track of time–from a sun dial to sand in an hour glass to an atomic clock. Yet, what family history researcher doesn’t know that the method of keeping track of time can make a difference to every project.

Today,  I’m borrowing the parents of 99-year-old actor Kirk Douglas to explain.

Douglas was born on December 9, 1916 (Gregorian calendar) to Herschel/Harry Danielovich Demsky and Bryna/Bertha Sanglel Danielovich Demsky. Harry’s original name was Danielovich, but it was changed to Demsky. Name changing was not uncommon in immigrant households in the U.S. in the early 1900s. In the 1930 U.S. Census, the family lived in Amsterdam, Montgomery County, New York and consisted of:

Demsky, Harry  44           M. at age 22       B. Russia              Spoke Jewish     Imm. 1905

Bertha                  45          M. at age 23       B. Russia              Spoke Jewish     Imm. 1910

Bessie                   19          Dau., sing.           B. NY

Katherine            17          Dau., sing.           B. NY

Mary                     15          Dau., sing.           B. NY

Isadore                 13          Son,  sing.            B. NY                     (Became Kirk Douglas)

Ida                          11          Dau., sing.           B. NY

Freda                    11          Dau., sing.           B. NY

Ruth                      7             Dau., sing.           B. NY

According to the census, Harry owned his home on Eagle Street and it was valued at $2,000. Although a couple of other homes in the neighborhood were owned, more were listed in the census as being rented. Harry was a rag picker in a junk shop and the oldest daughter, Bessie, worked as a clerk in a dry goods store. Although Harry and Bertha spoke Jewish (Yiddish), all of the family members are recorded as speaking English. There was another family living in the same dwelling that was paying $18 a month in rent. That extra income most likely helped this large family with expenses.

Kirk Douglas, known in his younger years as Issur, Isadore or “Izzy”, went on to become the well-known and respected actor who received a Golden Globe Award, three Academy Award nominations, an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement and the Medal of Freedom. He has written a good deal about his life, including his childhood. His parents, Harry and Bertha, lived modestly and remained in upstate New York. Harry died in 1954 and is buried at the Congregation Sons of Israel Cemetery in Amsterdam. The inscription (From FindAGrave) on his tombstone:

My dear husband and our dear father

Tevi bar Issur

9 Nissan 5714”

With this inscription, one can see Harry’s Hebrew name (Tevi) and Harry’s father’s Hebrew name (Issur).  As the tradition has it, Ashkenazi Jews will often name their children for dear relatives who have died. And it seems here that Harry’s son may was likely named for Harry’s father as Issur is Isadore/Kirk’s Hebrew name.

Bertha died in 1958 in Albany County. She is buried in Beth Abraham-Jacob Cemetery. Her inscription reads:

Bryne bas Shalom Yitschok

1 Tevet 5719”

What else does the information on the graves mean to the research genealogist? It means the genealogist will find that all calendars are not the same.

Harry died in 5714 and Bertha is 5719. The Hebrew calendar is far different than the Gregorian one used by many nations of today’s world. Both calendars follow the cycles of the moon to determine the months. The Gregorian calendar begins with the calculated date of the nativity. The Hebrew calendar begins with the calculated “year of the world” – the time life began. The current year in the Hebrew calendar is 5776 which began on the related Gregorian date of September 13, 2015. It will end at sunset on October 2,2016.

The Hebrew year is more complicated than the simpler twelve month Gregorian calendar  that most family historians use. Those following the Hebrew calendar add a month every few years instead of adding one day every four years as the Gregorian calendar does. The Hebrew months are: Nisan, Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz, Av, Elul, Tishrei, Marcheshvan/Cheshvan, Kislev, Tevet, Shevat and Adar. The days of the week are: Yom Rishon (Sunday), Yom Sheni (Monday), Yom Shlishi (Tuesday), Yom Revi’I (Wednesday), Yom Chamishi (Thursday), Yom Shishi (Friday), and Yom Shabbat (Saturday), the Sabbath and rest day.

For the genealogist, according to newspaper accounts, Harry Demsky died in April 1954. That year Nissan/Nisan coincided with the Gregorian month of April. Bertha died during December 1958. In 1958, the month of Tevet was approximately the same time as December.

When researching, every genealogist needs to remember that there are a variety of methods for calculating time around the globe. Part of being a good genealogist is being able to place our ancestors in the correct time and place– no matter which calendar is used.

The experienced genealogists at RecordClick understand the many factors that influence family history research.