For some, family history can be traced through a bank

Tracey Samuelson Jul 17, 2015

For some, family history can be traced through a bank

Tracey Samuelson Jul 17, 2015

Judith Alter Kallman has a fancy New York City address with fancy art in fancy gold frames on the walls. On a recent visit to see her, Andy Anderson, Wells Fargo chief historian  spread documents and maps of countries that no longer exist across her coffee table.

“This is the ship manifest for the passenger ship S.S. Kroonland,” he says, pointing out the name of Kallman’s father-in-law, Hirsch Kallman, who went by Harry after moving to the U.S. He came through Ellis Island in 1904 in his late teens or early 20s, a baker with brown hair and gray eyes.

“That was the beginning of the family story here in America,” Anderson explains. 

The S.S. Kroonland was in service from 1902-1927, Anderson says. It was built by the Red Star Line. (Image via

Kallman had only $20 with him when he first arrived, according to the manifest. Six months later, he and his brother had made enough to send for other family members. Fast forward a century. The family members now have enough wealth to be considered among Wells Fargo’s top clients, which is how they came to work with Anderson.

Wells Fargo employs a team of historians to research and document the family histories of its top clients, those with the potential of doing at least $25 million dollars’ worth of business with the bank. While it doesn’t charge for the service, Anderson says these histories more than pay for themselves.

“In particular with multigenerational families, it’s not uncommon to see a doubling of assets under management after we do this,” he says.

Anderson says documenting this history for the Kallmans helped deepen the family’s relationship with the bank, but he also works with new and potential clients, even some companies. Genealogy has become an increasingly popular pastime for many Americans. and its affiliated websites brought in $620 million in revenue last year, nearly triple 2009 figures.

The ship manifest page on which Hirsch and his brother Simon are listed as arriving on the S.S. Kroonland, according to Anderson. (Image via

However, for Alter Kallman, this was more than just a hobby. She lost her parents and two siblings during the Holocaust and used Anderson’s research to aid in the writing of a memoir, “A Candle in the Heart.”

“I needed that sense of belonging, knowing where I came from,” she says. “I had to pass this on to my children: ‘Don’t get involved with the wrong crowd, with the wrong people. You come from a wonderful foundation; you come from a heritage that is special.’ ”

Anderson says helping clients teach the next generation where the family’s money came from and the hard work it took to create it is a big motivator for Wells Fargo. After all, it’s in the business of building and preserving wealth — they don’t want that money going anywhere. The more they manage, the more they make.

He tells customers to consider your past to plan your future.

“History is always about the future,” he says. “If you just take a look at the reasons why you were successful previously, they’re the best signpost you’ll ever have about how to be successful going forward.”  

For tips on how to start researching your own history, check out the document below: 

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