At my home, we refer to Hillary Rodham Clinton as Cousin Hillary. More precisely, the correct term would be step-cousin. Detailed research demonstrates that Hillary’s grandmother married my father’s fifth cousin. But let’s start at the beginning.
In August 1999, the Forward newspaper included an article titled: “Meet Hillary Clinton’s Grandmother, Della Rosenberg – the Feisty Wife of a Yiddish-Speaking Jewish Immigrant”. Born as Della Murray in 1902 in Aurora, IL, Hillary’s grandmother married Edwin Howell in 1918 in Chicago; Dorothy Emma Howell, Hillary’s mother, arrived in 1919. In her autobiography, Living History, Hillary wrote: “Della essentially abandoned my mother when she was only three or four, leaving her alone all day for days on end with meal tickets to use at a restaurant near their five-story walk-up apartment on Chicago’s South Side.”
Della and Edwin Howell divorced in 1926. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Howell sent Hillary’s mother Dorothy, along with her younger sister Isabelle, on a train to Los Angeles to live with his parents. In 1933, Della remarried to Max Rosenberg, a Jewish immigrant from Poland.
When the Forward article appeared, this Max Rosenberg was already present on my family tree. Max was on my Tzvi Hirsh Chrabołowski branch, initially “discovered” by the author in 1978 and expanded through efforts of several cousins. So, in 1999, I became aware right away that my family connected directly to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s family – a major discovery. To begin the story, let’s focus next on Max’s background.
Who was Max Rosenberg?
Max had changed both of his names, so let’s start with his birth. He was born as Moshek Chrabołowski in Ostrów Mazowiecka, Poland on October 14, 1901. Ostrów was then part of Congress Poland in the 19th Century and continues today as part of Poland. Max’s birth record, which is being indexed, was provided by Stanley Diamond, Executive Director of Jewish Records Indexing – Poland (JRI-Poland) and coincidentally also their town coordinator for this community.
The birth record below shows that Moshek was the son of Yankel Chrobolowski (Chrabołowski) and Michla Rozenberg (Rosenberg). The couple was married in 1897. Yankel was registered in Orla, Bielsk County, located south of Białystok. In the 19th Century, Orla was part of Grodno Gubernia in the Russian Empire; it became part of Poland by 1920.
When Max came to the USA aboard the S.S. Finland in September 1911, the passenger arrival manifest stated his name was Menaze (Menashe) Rosenberg, using his mother’s maiden name. His age was understated, which was common at the time to assist families in paying a lower steamship fare.
In Chicago, Max worked in real estate property management.
Now, let’s turn our attention to Max’s father, Yankel Chrabołowski, who also changed both his names. Yankel was born in Zambrow, Poland in 1877 as shown in the following birth record originally located in the Mormon Church microfilms.
When his wife and children arrived in 1911, the passenger manifest stated they were going to live with their husband and father then called Yankel Rosenberg and who became known as Joseph later in that decade.
Note that Joseph Rosenberg’s gravestone in an Ostrow plot at Chicago’s Waldheim Cemetery also reflects his original name Yankel (Yaakov in Hebrew), the son of Yosef Yitzhak.
Max’s Nuclear Family
Here is a photo of Max’s nuclear family in Chicago.
The Move to Los Angeles
Della and Max Rosenberg had one daughter, Adeline who was born in 1934. Adeline later married Clarence Friedman and converted to Judaism.
Max separated from Della and moved to Los Angeles. At the time of his death in 1984, Max lived with Adeline in an apartment complex adjacent to Universal City in the San Fernando Valley. He was cremated at Grandview Memorial Park in Glendale. Adeline was buried at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles. Her marker is shown here. According to Adeline’s stepson, she stayed in contact with both Hillary and her mother Dorothy.
Max’s mother, Michla/Mollie Rosenberg, was born in Ostrów Mazowiecka in 1873 subsequent to her parents’ marriage in 1862. Max’s paternal ancestral line ties to the author’s family:
Moshek Chrabołowski AKA Max Rosenberg (1901-1984)
Yankel Chrabołowski AKA Joseph Rosenberg (1877-1947)
Yosef Yitzhak Chrabołowski (1851-1923)
Tzvi Hirsh Chrabołowski (1823-1913)
Elkon Chrabołowski (1787- )
YoselChrabołowski (1767- )
Shown below are two supporting documents from the Belarus Archives in Grodno, the location of many surviving documents from Polish areas formerly within Grodno Gubernia of the Russian Empire.
This excerpt from the 1868 Additional Revision List for Bielsk Podlaski, Poland shows that Girsh (Tzvi Hirsh), son of Elkon Chrabołowski, lived here along with his son Itzko (Yosef Yitzhak). Bielsk is 8 miles from Orla where Yankel was registered in 1901. Please note that virtually all vital records (births, marriages, deaths) for Bielsk and Orla disappeared either in World War I or World War II, so they are not available for corroborating information.
This is an unusual document from the 1817 Revision List for Ryboły, which had no Jewish community and only one Jewish family. Elkon is shown as son of Yosel Chrabolski, likely an early version of the name Chrabołowski. This is possibly the first time the new surname was written down. Chraboły is a tiny municipality, south of the Narew River from Ryboły, with only about 35 houses in 2016. The 1817 Revision List gives examples of numerous small hamlets with only a few Jews. In most of these, the authorities apparently named the Jewish residents after their town.
Oral history written down by one of Elkon’s descendants in the Częstochowa memorial book notes that his son Tzvi Hirsh was an inn-keeper and fisherman. Inn-keeper was a likely occupation in a hamlet with one Jewish family along a main road.
The Author’s Ancestry
The author’s great-grandfather, Phineas Chrabołowski, changed his name to Gordon after arriving in the USA in 1889. As a peddler, his customers had difficulty pronouncing and remembering his name. Phineas recalled to his daughter Rose that in Białystok, where he lived beginning in the early 1880s, one of the richest Jews, a banker, had the surname Gordon. He stated, “If the name was good enough for him, it is good enough for me.” Also, note that Gordon is linguistically equivalent to Grodno, the Russian Empire gubernia that included Białystok and his birthplace Bielsk.
My paternal ancestral line is as follows:
Jack E. Gordon (1918-1996)
Herbert Gordon (1889-1975)
Phineas Chrabołowski Gordon (1856-1954)
Eli Yankel Chrabołowski (1830-1909)
Yosel Chrabołowski (1784- )
The ancestral tree which connects my ancestry to Cousin Hillary appears as follows:
The author’s grandfather Herbert and Hillary’s step-grandfather Max were both born with the same surname – Chrabołowski. Herbert’s father and Max’s grandfather both lived in Bielsk Podlaski, Poland, and their ancestors came from either Chraboły or Ryboły on opposite sides of the Narew River.
Based on a thorough analysis of the 1817 Revision Lists for Bielsk County (poviat, district) along with the 1855 list of Jewish heads of household for the city of Bielsk, the most likely relationship between these families – displayed in the tree above – is that Tzvi Hirsh Chrabołowski in Max Rosenberg’s family was a second cousin to Eli Yankel Chrabołowski in my family. That would make Max Rosenberg and my father Jack Gordon fifth cousins. Della and Max’s daughter Adeline would then be a blood relative of both Hillary and the author.
In conclusion, Hillary Rodham Clinton and I are indeed step-cousins, and I am proud to document and share this relationship.