Friday, 5 May 2017

Let’s say I’m over the moon!

Six weeks ago I received an email from the Lida District Research group, associated with JewishGen, the website which collects together all manner of material to do with Jewish Genealogy. They had just released to subscribers a spreadsheet containing all the entries relating to Jews in the town of Lida, from the 1903 Russian Empire 'Revision List'. This was a sort of household register compiled periodically by the Russian authorities to try to keep tabs on all their subjects, mostly for tax and conscription purposes.

Judy Baston, who sent the email, couldn't contain herself: "Whenever I announce a new Lida District translation, I often begin with “I am delighted…” and even, “I am really excited…”.  But this new translation of the Lida 1903-1905 Family List is so important, those emotions pale in comparison to how I feel sharing this with you. Let’s say I’m over the moon!".

My grandmother Zlata (Sarah) Ilyutovich was probably born in Lida, which is in the north-west of Belarus, in the 1880s, and probably lived there for a number of years. Her father, Shlomo Dovid, died during the 1890s, and her mother Mikhlya took her children back to her home town of Gomel, 400km away in the far south-east of Belarus. This much we knew, more or less. However we have found precious few documents of their time in either town. There are a couple of birth records, and a re-marriage for Mikhlya, and that's about it. Zlata didn't appear once.

Then, in the mid-1900s, Zlata, her brothers Meer and Hirsch, and their mother all came to London. 

Zlata Ilyutovich - before she left Russia?

The only one who didn't leave was the oldest son, Shmuel, who had recently married and whose first child Raya was born in Gomel in 1906. So a 1903 List looked like a last chance to find something on them.

Previous research
We had had some research done a few years ago by the Jewish Heritage Research Group of Belarus. This suggested that Mikhlya's husband Shlomo Dovid Ilyutovich had been born in the town of Novogrudok, some 80km from Lida, and that his father Leizer had obtained permission to move the family to Lida in the 1860s, when Shlomo Dovid was a few years old. There were names and ages for the whole family, parents and half-a-dozen children, but I have never been able to identify any of them in any of the records I have looked through. There are Revision Lists for Lida from 1816, 1834, 1850, 1858, and a partial list from the period between then and the 1880s. There are similar records for other towns in the District. Not a whisper of any of this family.

As I opened the document, I wondered, as you always do, what I would find there. Would it be business as usual, or would I have reason to find myself alongside Judy, "over the moon"?

The 1903 Revision List
The List contains 10000+ names, and 1000+ families. Amongst these are 450 Ilyutoviches, in 37 family households. Scanning through the families, my eye was caught by one of them, Household 186.

As you can see in the clip above, the male members of the household are listed first, in their family groupings, and the female members follow on in the same order. Everyone is shown in relation to the designated 'Head of Household', which in this case is Shmuilo, at the top of the list. The names in red, 8 of them, correspond exactly to the family that we know, give or take one name. The dates of birth (not shown here) also correspond with what we know. This is our family, at last. No doubt about it.

The first of the women is Mikhlia, daughter of Berko (shown here as 'mother of Shmuilo'). She is my great-grandmother. Next is Sheina Zlata, her daughter. My Granny! The Head of Household is Shmuilo, Zlata's older brother, and they are both shown as children of Shlioma. Two other brothers follow, with names that puzzled us at first, Iosel Meer and Aron. I'll go into the evidence elsewhere, but they too definitely correspond to the people we know.

Then there is Shmuilo's wife, Goda, and their two tinies, Rasia (b 1906) and Shlioma (b 1908), who were both added to the document later.

Shmuilo Ilyutovich with wife Goda and baby Rasia, 1906, Gomel

This much is welcome confirmation of what we already knew. But who are the others? There's another 16 people here that we had never heard of. Who are they?

A closer look at the relationships shows that 4 of the men are shown as 'uncles' to Shmuilo. They are Shimel, Iudel Elia, Evel and Iser. The first 3 of these are shown as sons of Shmuilo - but beware, this is not the Shmuilo at the top of the list - they're his uncles! To be his uncles, they must be brothers to either his mother or his father. But his mother - Mikhlia - is shown as daughter of Berko, and they're sons of Shmuilo. So they're not her brothers. They must be brothers to Shmuilo's father, Shlioma. Shlioma himself, we presume, does not appear in this 1903 list because he had died by then, probably during the 1890s.

It had been suggested by the JHRG research that Shlioma's father was called Leizer, but the siblings listed here (the 4 uncles) had completely different names to the siblings in that family, and dates that cut across theirs. So they are two different families. This meant that we had to start looking for Shlioma's father again - if he wasn't Leizer, who was he?

Who was Shlioma's father?
This is a family group I had found a few years back, in a listing from 1874, in one of the updates to the 1858 Revision List:

I knew my great-grandparents were called Shlioma and Mikhlia. Could this be them? Trawling through all the available records, there is no other Shlioma married to a Mikhlia, let alone a Mikhlia daughter of Berko, in this period or any other. This ought to be them.

However I had been reluctant to claim this family, partly because their dates of birth, hers in particular, seem to be a few years earlier than we thought, but mainly because it seemed to have the 'wrong' father for Shlioma. His father was supposed to be Leizer, and this one was Shmuilo. But now we've seen the 1903 List, we know better. This is his father. And the 4 uncles in the 1903 List, shown as sons of Shmuilo, are indeed all brothers to Shlioma.

Who are our new cousins?
The remaining people in the list are the wives and children of the 4 uncles. This gives us some family units to follow up. Who are our new cousins? What happened to them? Did they emigrate? If they came to the UK or the USA we may be able to track them down.

So we now know that the family we were pointed towards in the earlier research is not ours. These, in Household 186, are our true ancestors. And now that we have their names and dates, can we trace them further back, through the records we already have to hand?

Let's just say that yes, I am up there with Judy - Over the Moon!