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President’s Message: New Land Record Database Now Available!

Great News! NEHFES asked title researcher Carol Spenser to create a database of all land transactions – purchases and sales – in Montville, from 1890 – 1920. The intent was to help member descendants discover exactly when their ancestors first purchased land in Chesterfield. We also hoped to estimate how many individual families lived there during those years. (We now think it’s about 475.) With considerable knowledge of historic Connecticut and Rhode Island land records, Spenser spent days culling names from the Town of Montville’s archival land indexes.

The resulting database of more than 1,000 transactions, now on our website, provides a specific volume and page number for every deed and can be searched by family name. Our webmaster and VP, Michael Kirsch, and Board Member John Lieberman have spent hours making the database page intelligible and workable. For the sake of historic accuracy, and amusement, we retained all orthographic variations of both the first and last names of the same person. I am certain that the Montville town scribes did their best converting Russian, Polish or Rumanian names into pronounceable, phonetic English!

Many of the early mortgages were held by the Baron de Hirsch Fund, capitalized in New York City in 1891. Its mission was to encourage Jewish immigrants from Czarist Russia, and then from the tenements of New York City, to buy land and establish themselves as independent, tax-paying American citizens. In the spring of 1892, the Fund wrote a $3,000.00 mortgage to finance the construction of the Creamery and contributed to the construction of the New England Hebrew Farmers of the Emanuel Society’s new synagogue as well. Chesterfield’s inexpensive, rock-strewn farmland could be had for a down payment of $300 to $500, and a mortgage from the Fund at 5%. Thus did our Yiddish-speaking ancestors buy acres of land from Yankee owners. Many continued to sell tracts back and forth among themselves or to newcomers.

The Baron Maurice de Hirsch had a vision:

“What I desire to accomplish, what, after many failures has come to be the object of my life and that for which I am ready to stake my wealth and my intellectual powers, is to give to a portion of my companions in faith the possibility of finding a new existence, primarily as farmers, and also as handicraftsmen, in those lands where the laws and religious tolerance permit them to carry on the struggle for existence as noble and responsible subjects of a humane government.” Moses of the New World: The Work of Baron de Hirsch, Samuel J. Lee, Thomas Yoseloff Publisher, New York 1970, page 214.

When incorporated in 1892 as the New England Hebrew Farmers of the Emanuel Society, the intent was to form a society for public worship and to “perpetuate the cause of Judaism.” But our great-great-grandparents and great-grandparents also went about the business of assimilation with hard work and dedication to an ethical life and to family betterment. They sent their children to the village one-room schoolhouse and onto Bulkeley High School in New London. The next generation married and moved out to establish businesses in Hartford, New London, New York and beyond. Their grandchildren graduated major colleges and universities. Today, the succeeding generations of Chesterfield’s vibrant Russian Jewish Immigrant community have successfully entered the American mainstream in the fields of law, education, academia, finance, business, media, government, science, medicine and more. This trajectory was the perfect embodiment of the “American Dream.” The Baron would be very pleased.

Nancy R. Savin, President, NEHFES Riverdale, New York September 20, 2019

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