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A Family’s Missing Chapters : Heirlooms: A Bible bought at a garage sale lists history of the Lazarus family. The owner wants to return it to their descendants.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The faded title stamped on the outside of the worn leather cover says it’s a Bible.

It’s the three gold-leafed pages inside the 120-year-old book that have convinced Jonathan Grady that he has a mystery story on his hands.

The pages are part of a family record that traces the life of Charles Lazarus. Penned in elegant, cursive handwriting, it charts the Lazarus family’s growth and travels starting in 1844.

But the outline abruptly ends with Lazarus’ death in 1913. That has created a puzzle that has turned Grady into a detective.

Grady figures that the book, discovered in an old box of garage sale junk, is someone’s priceless heirloom. He is determined to give the book to them.

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“I wake up every morning wondering who can I call today,” said Grady, 48, a Cheviot Hills insurance broker. “I’m certain somebody is going to come forth. This book doesn’t belong to me. This is somebody’s life.”

The old-fashioned Bible chronicles Lazarus’ 1874 marriage in Cincinnati to Philadelphia-born Fannie Bergman and the birth of twins Joshua and Blooma a year later. A son named Samuel was born in Denver in 1881 and daughter Reina was born in 1890 in Utah Springs, Colo. In 1906, Joshua married Dora Fleischman of Americus, Ga., and Samuel married Ada Hassett of Posen, Mich.

Grady’s involvement with the old Bible began 10 years ago when he bought several old-fashioned Bunsen burners at a long-forgotten garage sale in Santa Barbara. The burners were in a box of junk; beneath that was the old Bible.

The Bible was kept on a storage shelf until this year, when Grady hauled it out to look up a biblical reference. The reference was needed for a screenplay he is writing in hopes it will lead to a career change.

“I lost most of my insurance business in the L.A. riots,” he said. “A lot of companies have started leaving Los Angeles. It has given me time for reflection. Do I want to stay in a dying profession or do something that I’ve always really wanted to do?”

As he leafed through the old Bible, he discovered dried flowers pressed between its pages. He wondered, what long-ago event did the blossoms commemorate?

Then he came to the family’s pages in the middle of the book.

“I could see that this was someone’s wedding Bible,” Grady said. “I’m getting married myself Aug. 29 and we’re entering our names in our family Bible. So it struck me how much this might mean to someone.”

The search has taken Grady everywhere from toy stores to religious temples.

He was watching television when he noticed the name of Toys R Us executive Charles Lazarus on an American Express commercial. A local Toys R Us retailer directed Grady to Lazarus’ office in Paramus, N.J. It was the wrong Lazarus, however.

Figuring the family might have been Jewish, Grady next sought help from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in West Los Angeles. Records there primarily deal with victims of the World War II Holocaust, however, and officials eventually referred him to the Los Angeles Jewish Genealogy Society.

The society computer contains 25,000 Jewish names, including Lazarus. Society leader Herb Mautner of Van Nuys told Grady that Lazarus was an especially common name in England. He said several American genealogists have researched the name--including one who lives in Sherman Oaks. She’s Geraldine Winerman, who has traced the Lazarus name to the pre-Napoleonic era. Winerman advised that Grady search out New York census documents for 1900 and 1910 as a way of narrowing his search.

Grady, meantime, has turned to the Mormon Church’s Family History Library in West Los Angeles, where he has spent hours going through computerized and microfilm research materials. It is the second-largest genealogical collection in the country. The largest is at the Mormon library in Salt Lake City, which tried without success to help Grady by phone.

The experts praise Grady--but warn he could have a long search head of him.

“This is unusual,” said Paul Hamburg, reference librarian at the Simon Wiesenthal Library/Archives. “He’s not looking for his own family. It’s like playing Sherlock Holmes.”

“It’s quite intriguing. But I think he can solve this,” Mautner said.

Grady plans to keep searching. Biblically speaking, he’s determined to raise Lazarus from the dead.


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