Thursday 27 January 2022

A small town in the mountains

Rabka Zdroj
A few weeks ago we visited Rabka Zdroj, a small spa town in the lower reaches of the Polish Tatra mountains. We were going for the wedding of two friends, and until they said 'Rabka', I had never even heard of the place. So we tried to find out a bit about the town and its history - this Virtual Shtetl site is a good source.

I wasn't particularly expecting to find any Jewish assoications there, and indeed we read that there were very few Jews in Rabka during the 19C. The town was developing as a spa resort for the middle classes of the regional capital Krakow, some 100km to the north, and a few Jews came there seeking work or to set up small businesses in the tourism trade. By the 1930s, there was a holiday hostel for Jewish children, and a small wooden synagogue. A few Jews owned small hotels or guest houses.

The Synagogue
It's the long, low wooden building second from the right, dating from the 1890s. The photo seems to be from the early 1900s. It was destroyed by the Germans, along with the Jewish population that used it, and until very recently few people in the town knew where it had been located.

The Villa
It turned out that our friends had booked us in to stay in one one of these pre-War guest houses, Willa Katarzyna on Poniartowski Street, the main street that runs alongside the River Raba. It's a large family home which had been converted to a guest house in the 1930s. The tourist trade had taken a long time to recover after the War, but the owners have recently re-established the villa as a guest house, and very fine it is too.

As we were leafing through the brochures on our first evening there, and checking across to the Virtual Shtetl website, we noticed something that made our blood run cold. When the Germans occupied the town in 1939, they commandeered 3 of the grand villas on Poniatowski Street, and from 1941 started using them as barracks for a forced labour camp housing some 100 Jewish prisoners.

We were almost certainly staying in one of these buildings.

The College
That wasn't all. The prisoners were put to work extending the building of a local Catholic college, that was to be turned into a Regional Training Centre for the security police - the SS. The 'students' were young Germans and Ukrainians. They were being taught to torture and to kill.

And there's more. The college - once more a Catholic school - is situated on the outskirts of town. There's a sign on the street that goes past the school, pointing to the Jewish Cemetery. A path leads past the school into the surrounding forest. 100 metres or so into the woods there's a clearing, with a familiar sight on the far side - an iron railing, and an iron gate with a Star of David symbol.

The Cemetery

Inside, there's a memorial rather like the one we have in the Jewish Cemetery in Gombin, fashioned from whatever broken bits of gravestones have been found scattered around the town. They had been uprooted by the Germans, and were often used as paving stones or hard-standing; some had been brought in by people who had come across them in their own gardens.

But this is not an ordinary cemetery. It's an execution site and a mass grave. There were a series of mass executions there through the Spring of 1942, in the course of which over 200 Jews were slaughtered. The bodies were dumped straight into newly-dug ditches across the site. These atrocities were doubtless carried out by the "students" at the police college, under the direction of their "teachers". The ditches would have been dug by the Jewish prisoners, who at the end of the day would probably also have been shot and buried in the ditches they had just dug.

A group of local people has been researching these events, and has set up a memorial to the victims.

May their dear souls rest in peace.

Thursday 10 June 2021

Moshe Chaim, Czar of Pinsk: #24 Charting the Matches

The DNA Match Tree

This is what the family tree of my Zaturensky DNA matches currently looks like. You'll have to click on the chart to see a legible version. It shows our patriarch, Chaim Zaturensky, at the top, then his two sons, Movsha (orange) and Meir (blue). Movsha is shown with the two wives that we think we know of: *Chana to the left in light orange, and Sura to the right in yellow. *Chana has an asterisk because I'm not really sure that's her name. Movsha and Sura are my great-great-grandparents, and I am 4 generations down from them, in yellow with a red border. 

My DNA cousins are shown in the colours of their great-grandparents, and with the strength of their DNA relationship to me. All the matches are on the AncestryDNA platform, apart from one. Ancestry has a number of plus points - a huge clientele, a massive database of historical records, and many thousands of family trees submitted by users. However it is - to say the least - somewhat lacking in tools for analysing your DNA matches. So much so that this project would never have got off the ground - it would never even have occurred to me - without a crucial clue provided by a wonderful tool on a third-party platform: Auto-Clusters by Evert-Jan Blom of Genetic Affairs.

The Cluster
The idea behind clusters is simple, and it doesn't even need to analyse your DNA. You just try to put your matches together in groups where each person also matches each of the others in that group. In other words, every member of the group is related to all the others. All you're looking at is whether someone appears on someone else's list of matches, without reference to the closeness of that relationship, so some of the relationships might be quite distant. But they are real. Evert-Jan Blom's Auto-Clusters did this automatically for you. I say 'did', because shortly after I used it on my AncestryDNA matches a year or so ago, Ancestry issued him with a 'Cease and Desist' notice, and he had to stop offering it.

You could think of these clusters as extended-family groups. Once you start tracing back from the members of the cluster, they might point you towards a common ancestor. If you're lucky. And if you're really lucky, that common ancestor may not be too far back, and you may be able to identify them using the usual genealogical methods.

Which is more or less what happened here. A well-formed but mysterious cluster of seven matches led me to the Trees that the members of the cluster had put up. Some of them were quite sparse and tentative, but nevertheless they were full of clues which guided much of the subsequent research.

The Network
And here we are. The original Green Cluster of 7 matches has now become a network of some 20 cousins, all descended from Chaim Zaturensky. Note that not all of them are shown in this chart - there are a few who I have not been able to locate on the Tree with certainty, and there's also a pair of siblings, of whom I'm only showing one. Nobody - least of all me - was aware of the structure of the family; in fact I knew nothing except for the family name, which needless to say, nobody else knew.

Very few people were aware of the existence of cousins outside their own branch, and those that did, the knowledge was exceedingly vague. The branches of the family had drifted apart over succeeding generations, notwithstanding the concerted move from Pinsk to Peoria to Los Angeles which we have charted during the course of these posts.

The Branches

The Oranges
Here's my relationship to the descendants of Movsha and *Chana, the orange cousins. They had 3 children that I know of, *Beila (see The Beila Hypothesis), Dora and Joseph. I have located 2 DNA Cousins for each of *Beila and Dora, and none as yet for Joseph. They will all be 3rd Cousins of some sort to me, as they share descendancy from my great-great-grandfather Movsha; however, since these cousins do not share my great-great-grandmother Sura, they are half-cousins to me:

DP and PB are ½3C, as they are the same generation as me
KS and JM are ½3C1R (once-removed), as they are a generation below me

We also have to take into consideration that Ashkenazi Jews are a historically endogamous population, marrying within the community across many centuries. This has led to them sharing much more 'background' DNA with each other than is the case in other, non-endogamous, populations. This could become significant in cases where one person in a match has two AJ parents, and so has 100% AJ DNA, and the other has one AJ and one non-AJ, and will thus have 50% AJ DNA. As a consequence, this second person will have inherited less of the 'background' DNA, and the match will (usually) show a lower overall centiMorgan (cM) count.

All the matches in the Movsha-*Chana group have 100% Ashkenazi Jewish DNA, apart from DP; his father was a Zaturensky descendant, his mother was not Jewish, and so he has around 50% AJ DNA. I have denoted this with a dotted border, so that it is easier to take into account visually on the chart when comparing the strength of the matches. At first sight the cM figures for this group seem to fit in with what my research is telling me - DP matches me at 65 cM, roughly half the level of PB (138 cM), who is 100% AJ. And the matches in the following generation, KS  (58 cM) and JM (31 cM), would be expected to share about half the overall amount of DNA with me that someone in PB's generation does, as they only inherit half their DNA from their Zaturensky parents. JM's figure is a bit lower, but it doesn't alter the general picture, as the amount of DNA people share in the 3C-4C range can be quite erratic.

The Greens

This group are my closest cousins, descendants of my 2g-g'parents Movsha and Sura. They had 2 children that we know of, my g-g'm Shprintsa, and a son Shmuel. So these cousins are full 3Cs to me through Shmuel, but they are also related to me via Shmuel's wife, his first cousin Rochel Leah, daughter of Movsha's brother Meir. Which means our common ancestor is Chaim, the family patriarch. Chaim is my 3g-g'f, so these cousins are 4C to me via this route. To denote this dual relationship, via both the yellow and the blue branches, I have painted them green. Of course.

RM and PL are in my generation, and are 3C + 4C to me. RM has a non-AJ mother, yet the strength of her match to me (126 cM) is virtually the same as PL's. RM's sister's match to me, not shown in this chart, is about 20 cM lower.

GM, meanwhile, is one generation above me in the Tree, though there are only 3 years between us. He has a correspondingly stronger match with me (184 cM), and is my 2C1R + 3C1R. And yes, he's the original 'Private Morris', the mystery match whose appearance near the top of my AncestryDNA list set me off on this trail a year and a bit ago.

The Blues

The final group, the blue group, is composed of the descendants of Movsha's brother Meir. We've already seen the family of Rochel Leah; her siblings are Benjamin (Berl), Joseph and Sarah. I have not yet seen any descendants of Joseph coming up as DNA matches, but there are 4 from Benjamin, from 3 of his children, and 3 from Sarah, from 2 of hers. These are all one step further away from me than the descendants of Movsha; our common ancestor is my 3g-g'f Chaim.

DR, DB and MG are all in my own generation, so they are straight 4Cs to me. DR and MG share similar amounts of DNA with me, although MG is 100% AJ and DR is not. DB comes in as a lower match to me, although she has a higher proportion of AJ DNA than DR. 

Something similar seems to be happening in the following generation, where both JR and CK, my 4C1Rs, have quite low proportions of AJ DNA, and yet CK shares considerably more with me than JR. And also in the generation above, my 3C1Rs DM and HH: DM is 50% AJ, HH is 100%, and yet my match with DM is considerably stronger.

These sound like anomalies, where the numbers don't come out as we might expect them to. However, I think all these apparent discrepancies can be put down to the vagaries of random inheritance. That's what makes us all different.

The Next Steps
Unfortunately, at the moment we can't take the DNA analysis any further on AncestryDNA. U
nlike the other companies I have my results on, they do not provide us with a Chromosome Browser, which makes it impossible to check the locations of our matching segments, and maybe find others who match us in the same places. Nor can we check how our matches match each other. This is a great pity, as all bar one of my Zaturensky matches appear to have their results uniquely on Ancestry.

There may, of course, be other members of the family who have tested with other companies. At the moment I have my DNA data on FTDNA, MyHeritage, GedMatch, LivingDNA, and Geneanet, and I look forward to finding more of them there.

I am in contact with many of my new-found Zaturensky cousins, and will be sharing the full version of the Tree with them. Doubtless there will be many corrections and additions to make. There may even be further branches out there somewhere - our 'patriarch' Chaim may well have had siblings, and he may have had more children than the two we know of, Movsha and Meir.

And if you think you are connected with us, whether through DNA or not, please have a look at what I have on my Ancestry Tree, and let me know!

Wednesday 19 May 2021

Moshe Chaim, Czar of Pinsk: #23 The Slow Road

To the South

75km to the south-west of Pinsk lies Lyubishev, a small town just across the Ukranian border. There were strong connections between the Jewish communities of these two towns; I know for instance that there were Schreibman families, who may or may not be related to mine, that moved back and forth from one to the other. So it is not surprising to see a Zaturensky link too. Ester Portnoi, the wife of Meer's son Joseph, was born there, as she states on the birth record of their son Maier in 1909:

As we have seen, on her passenger manifest in 1907 it also appears as her last residence before emigrating to the USA, which suggests that she might have been staying there with her parents after Joseph emigrated in 1904.

Moving North

However, soon after Joseph left, Ester appears to have been living in Nesvizh, which is 160km to the north of Pinsk, and is at bottom right of this map. On her passenger manifest, Ester names the town as the birthplace of their daughter Leia in 1905:

As we have discussed, Nesvizh is the Zaturensky town, the closest urban centre to the original family village Zatur'ya. There may have been family members who had not moved to Pinsk, and were still living in Nesvizh. Maybe Joseph and Ester moved there after they married. Unfortunately, Joseph's own manifest doesn't offer us any of this information. It just says his last residence was London - but then that's what it says for all 30 people on the page. I presume that just means they all arrived in London from wherever, and waited a few days there until they managed to get on this boat from Southampton. Oh, and he had $20 in his pocket.

The other three places on the map refer to the family of Joseph's brother, Berl/Benjamin. The earliest is for his son 'Charles Henry', who arrived in the US with his mother Friede in 1906. As we have noticed, their names are almost obliterated on the copy of the form that we have, but it looks as though his original name could have been 'Izak'. In some later documents he appears as 'Isadore'. According to the manifest he was 3 years old at the time, so he would have been born around 1903.

When Charles applied for US Naturalisation in 1927, he stated that he had been born in Baranovichi:

Baranovichi is at the bottom centre of the map, and is the nearest substantial town to Nesvizh, some 50km to the west. 
In fact, we learn from the birth record of their son Morris, b 1910, that Friede - Fanny in the US - had herself been born in Baranovichi:

So in the period 1904-05, both Joseph and Berl - or at least, their wives - were living in or fairly near to Nesvizh, in the centre of Belarus.

Charles, then, was born in Baranovichi in February 1904. A few months later his father Berl is on the boat from Antwerp to New York, saying his last place of residence was "Selip":

The only town I can find that seems to fit is Vseliub, which is about 100km to the north of Nesvizh. It lies between the larger towns of Novogrudok and Lida, and is well out of Nesvizh's sphere of influence. I was dubious about this at first, although Vseliub is the sort of small town that people from elsewhere wouldn't even have heard of - so if someone gives it as their last place of residence they must have a reason for doing so.

Then I saw his wife's manifest. Friede left a couple of years later, in October 1906, with the 3 year-old 'Charles', travelling from Antwerp to Quebec in Canada. This, by the way, could explain how come, when Charles's wife was the informant on his death certiciate in 1979, she said he had been born in Montreal. On the manifest Friede says their last place of residence was Radun:

Now I've nothing against Radun, and I must admit I know very little about it, but it is probably fair to say it is the least significant place we've yet come across, barring maybe Zatur'ya, our ancestral village. It's a small town right in the north of Belarus, close to the border with Lithuania. It's another 80km north of Vseliub, the place that Berl had given as his last residence 2 years earlier. And it probably trumps Vseliub in insignificance.

The process of emigration
We often wonder how our ancestors got from their shtetls across the length and breadth of the Pale of Settlement - from places like Pinsk, say, or Nesvizh - to emigration ports like Libau, Hamburg, Antwerp or London, before boarding the steamers that carried them across the Atlantic to America.

The big surge in emigration from the Russian Empire began in the early 1880s, and continued up to the start of the First World War in 1914. Our Zaturenskys are slap-bang in the middle of it, small players in a massive movement of people. Something like 3 million made roughly the same journey. Some ended up in Britain or elsewhere in Western Europe, most found their way to America. For the most part their journeys are undocumented, apart from the passenger manifests kept by the transatlantic steamship companies, which as we have seen, can sometimes provide a wealth of otherwise unbtainable information about people's lives.

However, we know very little about these journeys. How did they travel? By train? By horse and cart? Where did they stay on the way? With friends or family? At wayside inns? How long did it take? Where did they eat? How did they carry their luggage? How did they keep in contact with the people they had left behind, and those they were going to? And how did they pay?

The Slow Road
We can get a glimpse of how this all worked for a couple like Berl Zaturensky and his wife Friede Daletisky, from hints dropped in a disparate range of documents over not only the period of their journeys, but across several futher decades.

We see that starting out from Friede's home town of Baranovichi, shortly after the birth there of their son 'Charles' in February 1904, they moved north to Vseliub. We don't know why they went there, but Berl at least did not stay long. He travelled across Europe to Antwerp, where he caught the boat to New York in October, with his $20 in his pocket. His brother Joseph had made the same journey that summer, and Berl was aiming to join up with him in Chicago. Maybe eventually they would join their sister Rochel Leah in Peoria. Their younger sister Sarah must have followed their path soon after, although we have not yet found her travel details.

After Berl's departure from Vseliub, Friede moved on with baby Charles to Radun. Again, we don't know why she went there, or how long she stayed, but she left in October 1906, and followed Berl's path to Antwerp, and on to Chicago via Quebec and Detroit.

For Berl and Friede emigration was slow process, undertaken in stages. It took 2 and a half years for them both to get from Baranovichi to Chicago, with stays in Vseliub, Radun and Antwerp on the way, and who knows where else. We have a few dates and places that enable us to fix some of the key points in their journeys. But we do not really have answers to any of the questions we posed above.

Monday 17 May 2021

Moshe Chaim, Czar of Pinsk: #22 The Pinsk Connection


Nesvizh might be the Zaturensky town, and Zatur'ya (orange pin) might be the village they originate from - but most of my Zaturenskys seem to come from Pinsk. However, we have been unable to recognise any members of this family in the available records for Nesvizh, or anywhere else in Belarus, including Pinsk. The information we have comes almost exclusively from what they tell us themselves, after emigration.

This first map indicates the place of birth and/or the last residence before emigration of family members, as shown in their responses to questions in a variety of US documents, such as passenger manifests, birth, marriage and death records and certificates, and military draft documents.

The families of the two brothers, Movsha and Meer, are represented by blue and green pins respectively. As you can see, the blue pins - Movsha's family - congreagate in Pinsk, in the south of Belarus. Some of Meer's greens are in Pinsk, but they are also spread out in a number of other places, and we'll try to track the significance of these places later.

From Zatur'ya to Nesvizh
I suggested in the last post that the family probably moved from the original village Zatur'ya to the nearby town Nesvizh, some time before the imposition of the surname decree in the Pale of Settlement around 1804. The thinking behind this suggestion is that they would not be likely to be called 'Zaturensky' whilst still living in Zatur'ya - it would make no sense, since everyone living there was "from Zatur'ya". If they moved after 1804, they would have already had a distinctive surname - or been given one - as a consequence of the decree. 

Zatur'ya is a small village. People in towns above a certain distance away would not have heard of it. So the designation Zaturensky - 'from Zatur'ya' - would be meaningless to them. The name would only make sense to folk who knew where Zatur'ya was. This is why, in the 19C records, you find very few Zaturenskys in places other than Nesvizh.

And so to Pinsk

Pinsk was a much larger town, and a major centre of Jewish life and culture throughout the 19C, so it is not surprising to see people moving there from smaller towns such as Nesvizh during this period. Our Zaturenskys seem to have been there from at least 1840. The evidence we have for this is indirect, but it is all we have.


Movsha's daughter Dora died in 1945, and this is from her death certificate. It says that her father was 'Morris Toransky', and that his birthplace was Pinsk. We can estimate that Morris/Movsha would have been born by 1840 at the latest, as his first child (that we know of), my great-grandmother Shprintsa, was born c1858. As with all these records, we have to bear in mind who the informant was, and make a judgement as to how far we can rely on their information. 

In this case the informant was Dora's son Sam, who himself was born in Peoria in 1889, shortly after Dora emigrated. Movsha did not emigrate, so Sam would never have known him. This could just be a case of Sam responding to a question he doesn't know the answer to, and making a best guess - his mother had told him she was born in Pinsk, so let's just say her Dad was too. On the other hand, Sam could just have replied with "Don't know", as people often did on these forms. But he didn't; he said his mother's father had been born in Pinsk. 


This is from the death record of Dora's brother Simon (Schmul), who died in Peoria in 1926. His wife - and cousin - Elizabeth (Rochel Leah) had died 3 years earlier, so the informant would be one of their children, who were all born in the USA, and would not have known their grandfather Movsha. By this stage of course Schmul had changed his own surname from Zaturensky to Moses to Morris, and it is this surname that the informant retrospectively allocates to their grandfather. They also call him 'Herman', not Movsha/Morris, although Schmul's headstone clearly calls him 'Schmul son of Moshe Chaim' - so the family knew his Hebrew names. So 'Herman Morris' in this record is the same person as 'Morris Toransky' in Dora's record: Movsha Zaturensky, my great-great-grandfather.

Anyway, the point of interest here is that the document purports to tell us the birth place not only of Schmul's father (Movsha), but also of his mother: both were born in Pinsk. And Schmul's mother is almost certainly Sura, the great-great-grandmother that I have just discovered.

We know of 4 children for Movsha: Shprintsa, Schmul, Dora and Joseph. So far we have seen that not only 
were Movsha and his first wife Sura (both b c1840) probably born in Pinsk, but also 3 of his children, Shprintsa (c1858), Schmul (c1861) and Dora (c1870). The fourth one, Joseph, does not seem to have left us any evidence of his birthplace. He was born around 1872, immigrated in 1891, naturalised in 1895, appeared in 5 Censuses, and eventually died in 1965, well into his 90s. But in all this documentation, he never once tells us where he was born. Nor do any of his children. So while there's no evidence to suggest he was born in Pinsk, there's no reason to believe he was not.

Benjamin Gitelman
There is another person we need to take into consideration. In 1923, Benjamin Gitelman arrived in Los Angeles with his wife and 4 young children. Their last residence was Pinsk, and they are all shown to have been born there, Benjamin in 1885. They were coming to Benjamin's "half-brother" Sam Kawin, who at that point was living with his mother, our Dora. Benjamin and his family moved into a house built in the back-yard of Dora's home, and stayed there for the following 20 years at least. Some time in the 1920s he took on Dora's married surname, Kawin. To all intents and purposes Benjamin appears to be a son of Dora; on his death certificate his mother's maiden name is given as "Terensky".

I wrestled for a long time with this relationship, and finally came to the conclusion that Dora would not have been old enough in 1885 to be the mother of Benjamin and another son Hirsz. Plus, she would have had to leave them both behind in Pinsk when she went off to America to marry Joseph Kawin.

Benjamin's mother
So I would have to "invent" a mother for Benjamin. For the dates and biographies to fit, this mother would have to be a sister to Dora, but slightly older; it would also be quite convenient if she were to be called Beila. In any event, all Benjamin's own evidence points to him having been born in Pinsk in 1885, so whoever his mother was, she was almost certainly a Zaturensky, and must have married a Gitelman, and she must also have been in Pinsk in 1885.

Meer's family
Meer's children are Rochel Leah, the wife of Movsha's son Schmul, and the later arrivals Berl (another who was known as Benjamin in the USA), Joseph and Sarah; all of them took on the name Terensky in America. The closest we get to a place of birth with Rochel Leah (b 1872) is 'Russia' on her death record. Sarah (b 1893) offers us 'Poland' on a Social Security form. Neither mentions a town.

Berl and Joseph are a bit more helpful. When Berl's sons Morris (1910) and Abraham (1914) are born in Chicago, their father's place of birth is given as Pinsk, give or take a vowel:

Similarly, at the birth of his son Maier in in Chicago 1909, Joseph tells us that he himself was born in Pinsk:
It's a fair bet that Meer's two daughters Rochel Leah and Sarah were also born there, though they were both reluctant to tell us so.

It's not all Pinsk
So far, everyone who has indicated a place of birth, has told us: "Pinsk". However, some of their documents indicate that other places also play a part in the family story, and we will look at a few of these in the next post.

Thursday 13 May 2021

The Fourth Ring

The Certificate
The discovery last week of the death certificate of my great-grandmother, Shprintsa Schreibman née Zaturensky, marked a bit if a landmark for me. In the last column of the certificate, she - Szprynca Szrajbman in the Polish spelling - is identified as the "daughter of Movsha Chaim and Sura". So these are my Zaturensky great-great-grandparents. They were probably born around 1835-40.

I knew Movsha Chaim's name - actually I think he's really "Movsha son of Chaim" - from my visit to Pinsk 10 years ago (10 years next week, in fact). The Jewish Community there gave me a few sheets of paper containing handful of references - all they had - to my Schreibman family, including a typed-out list of Szrajbman burials. This list included Szprynca, who died in 1932, and was buried in the Jewish Cemetery in the centre of town - sadly, it was dug up many decades ago by the Soviet authorities, and the land was re-purposed for a primary school.

As is usual in both Russian and Jewish traditions, the entry for Szprynca on this list showed her patronymic name: she was the daughter of Movsha Chaim. Another listing, this time of the birth record for her son Meer in 1897, had given us both her given name: Shprintsa, and her family name: Zaturensky. This was a great stride forward at the time, as we had not been aware of any of these names.

So, putting the two documents together, we knew that her father was Movsha Chaim Zaturensky. But there was no clue anywhere as to the name of her mother. Until last week - 10 years later - when I was trawling through the very few Pinsk records that are available online in the FamilySearch collection.

And there she is: Sura.

The Wheel
I began to enter the name into the family trees I keep in various places. I started with the master Tree I keep on my computer, using the MacFamilyTree software, and thought to myself, how does this look in the fan-chart? Sura will appear in the circle of my great-great-grandparents, four rings out from me - my Wheel of 16. How far have I got with that?

There she is, at the top, just to the left of centre, in a sort of lime-green colour. Hers is the last name to be added to the 4th ring of the circle, meaning that I now know the names of all my great-great-grandparents. Sura completes my Wheel of 16

I know there are people who have traced their ancestors - all their ancestors - back a generation or two further than this. 

But for me, this is a major landmark.

The Landmark
When I started researching, 12 years or so ago, I knew the names of 7 of my 8 great-grandparents - that is to say, my parents had known the names of their own grandparents, even though they had never seen most of them. The only ones I had 'met' in person were Barnet and Kate Waxman, as they were called in England, but they had both died by the time I was two years old. The only other one of the eight to emigrate was Mikhlya Levin, who had died in London well before I was born. The others all stayed, and died, in Poland or Belarus. In fact, checking over their dates now, the Waxmans were the only ones who were still alive when I was born.

Of the women - my 4 great-grandmothers - Mikhlya Levin was the only one we had a surname for. For two of them - including Kate - we had their given names but not their maiden names, so we had no idea what their family was, or where they had come from. The fourth one, the one we knew nothing about at all, was Shrpintsa.

And the next generation back - my 16 great-great-grandparents - were a total mystery, not only to me but to my parents and all their brothers and sisters. We couldn't even guess at their names, and even if we thought we knew where they came from, our assumptions have turned out to be mostly wrong.

We now have full names for 13 of the 16, with places of origin for most of them; family names are missing for just 3 of the women (including Sura). This in turn has enabled us to trace some of them back a further generation, to the Fifth Ring, and find out where they lived and something about their lives. And of course every step back creates a starting point for tracing sideways and forwards, towards cousins around now that you never even knew existed.

So to find Sura, and complete my Wheel of 16, really is a landmark.

Monday 10 May 2021

Moshe Chaim, Czar of Pinsk: #21 Sura cited

Up until last week, I had no documentary evidence for either of what I take to be the two wives of my great-great-grandfather Movsha Zaturensky. My working assumption was that the first wife was called *Beila, and that she was the mother of Shprintsa and Schmul. This is the name that was suggested in the Tree of one of my DNA Cousins; it seemed to fit the naming patterns, and it was all I had to go on.

Shprintsa's mother
However, a few days ago I found this:

It's the death certificate of my great-grandmother Shprintsa (Szprynca in Polish), who died in Pinsk in 1932. In the final column she is identified as:

"Szprynca Szrajbman, daughter of Movsza-Chaim and Sura, registered in Pinsk"

I came across this document whilst trawling through the Pinsk records available on the FamilySearch website. I already had the date of her burial, and her father's name, from a typed-up list of Szrajbman burials given to me when I visited Pinsk in 2011. However, this is the death record, and it carries one extra piece of vital information: the name of Shprintsa's mother, and Movsha's first wife: Sura.

My great-great-grandmother.

Movsha's two wives
Sura is probably also the mother of Schmul, Movsha's second child. There then follows a gap of 5 years or so before the next child, who I believe to be a *Beila, and who I am positing as the mother of Benjamin Gitelman. The evidence at the moment suggests that Sura died at some point between 1861 and 1865, and Movsha re-married. Some of the family trees suggest that this second wife was called *Chana, and she would be the mother of Movsha's other children:  *Beila, Dora and Joseph.

The Sura Lines
Shprintsa's husband was Nevakh Schreibman. She was his second wife, and she had 4 children with him that we know of. The first was a son, Movsha - my grandfather, born in 1883. The second was a daughter: Sora, born in 1885. We have looked several times at the Ashkenazi custom of naming a child after a recently deceased close relative. For a son, it's often the father who gets to choose the name - Nevakh's father was Movsha Dovid, so we presume that he had died some time before the 
birth of my grandfather Movsha in 1883, so the name was available for the new baby. For a daughter, it would be the mother's choice, so Shprintsa names the first baby girl after her own mother, who we think had died some 20 years earlier: Sora.

Now let's check how Shprintsa's brother, Schmul, and his wife Rochel Leah, name their children. They are all born in the USA, so all are known by English-language names. In accordance with the tradition, the first daughter's name is chosen by the mother: she is named 'Bessie', after the anglicised name used by the family to refer to Rochel Leah's mother. The second daughter, born in 1898, is called Sarah - and with our latest discovery, we can now surmise that this child too could be after Schmul's mother: Sora.

The end of the *Beila Hypothesis?
So *Beila is now Sura. This of course has major implications for my *Beila Hypothesis, which I will now have to go back over, and re-fashion. A genealogist's work is never done.

Thursday 6 May 2021

Moshe Chaim, Czar of Pinsk: #20 Zatur'ya

The Zaturensky town

Zaturensky in the Belarus records

If you go to the Belarus database on JewishGen and do a search of Revision Lists for the name "Zaturensky", the results are quite striking.

Zaturenskys in Belarus: 102
. . . of which in Nesvizh: 98
. . . . . . . . and elsewhere: 4

The name is almost unique to the small town of Nesvizh, more or less in the centre of the country.

These Revision Lists were compiled periodically across the Russian Empire, in an attempt to keep track of the population for the purposes of taxation and conscription. The Lists we have for Nesvizh cover most of the 19C, up until the 1870s. Here, as in many places, they are more or less the only records we have, as vital records - birth, marriage & death - are scarce across the whole of Belarus. There are just a handful of late 19C Zaturensky birth records from Pinsk, and I have not been able to identify any members of our family from them. Most of these Pinsk records indicate that the father is registered in Nesvizh, signifying that he was originally from there. This reinforces the impression we get from the Revision Lists  - that Nesvizh is the Zaturensky town.

There is a good reason for that.

The Zaturensky village

Just 15km from Nesvizh (present population 14,000) is a little village called Zatur'ya (pop 450). The name "Zaturensky" signifies "a person from Zatur'ya". Remember that until the end of the 18C, most Jews in the Russian Empire did not have fixed surnames. They generally used patronymic names, identifying themselves as the son or daughter of so-and-so, such as Movsha Khaimovich - Movsha son of Khaim.

However, if someone moved from their native place to a different town or region, their new neighbours would sometimes refer to them by their place of origin. So for example, in a town like Nesvizh, Movsha Khaimovich from down the road in Zatur'ya could be distinguished from Movsha Khaimovich the shoemaker who has always lived round the corner, by calling him Movsha Khaimovich Zaturensky. My great-great-grandfather.

The village is named for a nearby river called Tur'ya - "Za Tur'ya" means "on the Tur'ya". In 1587 it is mentioned in a tax record as an estate belonging to the Radziwills, a powerful Polish noble family. Jews first came into the area from Poland during this period, often brought in by the Polish nobles to act as estate managers and tax collectors. This did not necessarily endear them to the local peasantry.

Our village?
There is a fascinating website called 'Our Village' maintained by a local teacher from a nearby village (Yushevichi/Rakovichi on the map), dealing with local history. It highlights the way the lives of Jews and Belarussians were intertwined in these villages throughout the centuries. They each kept their respective religious and social customs, and never intermarried, but they lived side-by-side, and they were economically interdependent. Their languages, Yiddish and Belarussian, borrowed words and turns of phrase from each other, and even jokes and insults. The website is in Belarussian, but Google Translate does a wonderful job!

From the satellite view, you can see that the village of Zatur'ya consists of a single main street - "Central Street" - with one other street parallel to it for part of its length. I would hazard a guess that the original settlement, in the days of the Radziwill estate, is located just above the crossroads to the left of the photo, with the River Tur'ya just to the left of that. The Jews who worked for the Radziwill estate in the 18C may well have lived just there.

My guess is that some time before the surname decree, ie by the turn of the 19C at the latest, my ancestral family moved from this village to Nesvizh, where they became known as "Zaturensky" - "from Zatur'ya" - and the name stuck.

Leib and his horse
Here's the story of Leib and his horse, from the 'Our Village' website mentioned above.

Sketches of the past: Leib's horse
To this day, when a good horse doesn't want to work, the villagers shout at him that he's like "Leib's horse", and they do not spare the whip. 

In fact, the Jew Leib once had a heavy Belgian horse, to the envy of all the neighbours, very strong, but quite stubborn and slow. Often older people, looking at the coat of their own horse, recalled: "Wow, that was some horse that Leib had!".

Leib loved and respected his horse. Even when it got old.

"Leib, how old is your horse?"
The following year, Leib was asked again:
"Leib, how old is your horse?"
And so again for years to come. 

Since then, when an elderly person is confused, they say: "You're as old as Leib's horse!"