It had to start somewhere, though, didn’t it? Someone had to be the first Holdengraber, the first to adopt that striking surname whether by choice or by whim of the likely German-speaking Galician official who assigned it.
We know that the Habsburgs passed a law in 1787 requiring Jews to adopt family names, so it seems likely our first Holdengraber – who seems to have come into the Bukovina around that same time – adopted it within a few years of then, likely in the early to middle 1790s.
We also know from the evidence of so many Holdengraber children that he and his wife must have been relatively young, otherwise they would not have been able to have enough children to carry the name forward.
Given that, it seems likely the first Holdengraber was born sometime in the 1770s, and that he and his wife adopted the name around the time they migrated to Câmpulung.
I’ll repeat that since it’s central to unraveling the beginning of the family: if the first Holdengraber were born as far back as the 1750s or 1760s, then he (and his wife, of course) would have started to have Holdengraber children early enough for multiple siblings to assume the name at once.
Instead, given that the first Holdengraber birth dates we know – and we know them from death records rather than birth – come from the first years of the 1800s.
And, given that evidence suggests they were all siblings, it makes sense to assume their parents were born in the 1770s.
When we look at the birth dates that the death records reveal, there is one key outlier. ¶ Berl Holdengraber died in Câmpulung on August 4th 1865 at age 86 of “atrophy of the aged,” or senility. Link to record
Simple math tells us that Berl was born in 1779, putting him in range for the estimate of when – from what we know of the laws requiring Habsburg subjects to adopt surnames – the first Holdengraber was likely born.
Even more telling, the next oldest Holdengrabers we know of from the records were born in 1802 (Simche) and 1805 (Solomon ha-Levi or Schloime).
In other words, Berl would have been old enough to be the father to every other Holdengraber for whom we have a record. If Simche and Solomon are the oldest – or close to the oldest – of the second-generation Holdengrabers, then Berl seems the likeliest candidate to be the first Holdengraber.
There’s more. Just as Berl is the only man old enough to be the father of those early second-generation Holdengrabers, there is a single woman old enough to be his wife and their mother.
On April 2, 1861, Channe Holdengraber died in Câmpulung at age 84, with no cause of death given. Link to record That meant she was born in 1777, two years earlier than Berl.
While there is no record that they were married – the death notices, especially the early ones, are spare – I assume that they were. They are the only two people we know of with that surname for another 20 years. They died at roughly the same time.
And, as what seems to clinch it, they both died at house number 109 in Câmpulung, making it almost certain that they lived together.
No other explanation fits those facts as clearly as the obvious one:
Berl and Channa Holdengraber were the first couple to adopt the name. As such, they are the shared ancestors of everyone of who us who can trace ourselves back to someone with the Holdengraber name.