Once again, ancestry.com has been my salvation.
Using two alternate spellings of the Moldovan family name, I had located a fairly wide variety of genealogical documents—immigration and naturalization records—that suggested a relationship between Gabriel Spat (a.k.a. Salomon Patlajean) and Naum or Numa Patlagean, a sculptor two years older and likewise from Chişinau, Moldova. It was tempting to link the two, since both had lived and worked in Paris. Serendipity led me to additional information.
The vast majority of genealogical sites like ancestry.com and familysearch.com (both accessible for a fee) come from the efforts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. Mormons), who have sent their representatives around the earth to gather fragile and fading records of our presence on the planet. They do this for one of their most important temple ordinances that allow them to baptize the dead, an activity not without controversy in the gentile world. As a member in good standing of the church, for example, I would be able to act as proxy for each of my ancestors and grant the benefit of Mormon baptism to those who passed on prior to the New Dispensation given by Heavenly Father to Joseph Smith in the mid-19th century—regardless, one might add, of the wishes of those who are presumably already safely ensconced in the afterlife. It may be one thing to offer this service to my own relatives, but the LDS church has baptized many historical figures like George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr., who could feel otherwise inclined. In my own research into the Episcopal church presence in Dakota Territory, at least two Episcopal clergy have shown up with after-death LDS baptism that I suspect they might have rejected. It turns out, however, that there are other groups interested in recovering and preserving genealogical records.
There has also been a significant worldwide effort to collect the records of Jews scattered across the planet in the Disapora and lost during the Nazi Holocaust. And such has been the case with the region of eastern Europe called Bessarabia, which happily (for me) includes present day Moldova. A slight complication comes from the shifting boundaries in that area, for it has been culturally and linguistically Romanian but also Russian territory during the Soviet era and is now an independent state. So documents there, in addition to suffering from the fragility of age and the menace of war, are also recorded in two alphabets: the Roman and the Cyrillic. So it shouldn’t have surprised me to accidentally find the name Патлажан transliterated “Patlazhan” and the confirmation I had hoped. Birth, marriage, voting and death records from Moldova corroborate what I had suspected (or at least gave me a plausible leg to stand on) linking Numa (born 1888) and Salomon (born 1890). The quest isn’t over (there are still school records to pursue), but I’m better than half way there.