Thursday, July 30, 2009

Archives Take II

It is very difficult for me to admit defeat so I didn’t like the idea of abandoning my archive research. I did decide however, that it was time to draw on reinforcements. I contacted a guide who had been highly recommended to me. I had established contact with her briefly from the States, but then had difficulty connecting with her by e-mail. I noted in the schedule for the Yiddish Institute that she was our guide on a day trip so decided to take another run at establishing contact. This time I met with success and received an e-mail reply with her phone number. I called her and learned that she would be able to go to the archives today!

I then had to call over to the archives to see if they would pull some files for me in advance so we would have something to work with. I am always a little hesitant to use the telephone here as I am never sure if the person at the other end speaks English. After a long pause, the archivist seemed to be grasping my English. I mentioned that Regina would be accompanying me and could hear a change in tone at the mention of her name, probably relief at not having to deal with an American who doesn’t know their system.

Regina Kopilevich and I agreed to meet at a location near the University where we would take the trolley together to the archives. Not only would I learn another route by trolley, but we’d have an opportunity to talk in route. As I sat by the bell tower, I heard my name called by a woman wearing a floppy hat and a welcoming smile.

Regina guided me to the nearest trolley car where we got on a #12 which took us past a striking green domed Orthodox church. It dropped us at the Gerosios Vilties stop, the street on which the archives are located. Aboard the trolley we chatted with one of my classmates, a Belarusian who was doing research at the archives as well.

We entered the archives where I was now familiar with the drill. I traded my researcher card for a locker key and brought my computer and papers into the reading room.
We began with the 1875 census that I had reviewed for Glebokie. I had two of my own family names, but four additional names that I had received from others who were researching the region. I told Regina that while my two were the priority, if we saw the other names, I would like to take a photo of the page and get it to the researchers. Regina went through each page reading the names quietly as we rapidly flipped pages. I asked her why there were cutouts from the census and she told me that they were receipts that were provided to the families.

We first found a name from one of the other researchers. I took a photo and recorded the information in my notes. The second name looked like it might be Sher, the maiden name of my great-grandmother. The first letter was a “C” which has an “es” sound, instead of what we expected, the letter which resembles the Hebrew shin and has a “Sh” sound. Regina studied it and then went to get a friend’s opinion. She then proceeded to ask three other people in the room who were proficient in Russian and returned to report that they all believed it was Sher, but people from that region sometimes wrote it differently.

It listed the names of two brothers, Leyzor and Fishel, sons of Yankel as well as their ages. The youngest son was reported to be 16, but in another column it noted that he looked like 12. I wondered if that addition was for the purpose of determining if a son was of draft age, but masquerading as younger than his age to avoid conscription. The census also reported that the older brother had a house in Glebokie. I asked if it provided an address and we flipped back to the beginning of the section to locate the name of the street. As I will be in Glebokie, it will be interesting to see if the street still exists.

We continued through the book and although I found no more of my family names, there were several for other researchers as well as many Shapiros who seemed to dominate the town. I also found a family name for one of my fellow students who had told me that her great-grandmother came from Glebokie. And for those who may contemplate such research, it took us about an hour to get through the book with a fluent researcher reading every name as we sought six surnames.

We reviewed one other book which stood at least two feet tall on fraying parchment. Within it was the 1834 census for Dunilovichi. I took photographs of each page of that section with the hope that I may find someone to translate it more thoroughly.

We then moved to the microfilm room where we again tackled the “reel-less” rolls of film. I asked Regina why they weren’t on reels and she noted that they were quite old. “Couldn’t they put them on reels?” I queried. “We are not looking for the easy ways,” she replied with a chuckle.

On film we reviewed the index for the 1858 Dunilovichi census. Only the index is available as well as many of the files of supplemental census data. While we found several names for my fellow researchers, I did not have additional success with my family names. Nonetheless, I was grateful to have expanded my scope so as to have a greater sense of success. I think it is likely that as I try to map relationships across the shtetl, I may find relationships with other families that may make some of these discoveries personally meaningful.

On the way back to town, I queried Regina about her background and family. I learned that she trained as an engineer, but had worked as a volunteer for a Jewish cultural organization. Prior to Independence, families weren’t permitted to go to the shtetls to visit family graves. Part of her work was in facilitating this. She then got interested in learning Hebrew and gradually made a career shift. I recalled at the panel discussion the day prior, the panel had noted that Independence had brought much more freedom to practice the Jewish religion.

Despite the discovery of only one of my family names, today felt much more successful than my first attempt at archive research. Regina was able to move past irrelevant information for other towns and focus on a broader list of names than I could do alone. And she could do it in a fraction of the time it would take a non-native speaker to do so. She was aware of resources that would likely not have been available to me and was able to use our three hours in the most effective way possible. As we bid farewell, she mentioned that she would be at the International Jewish Genealogy Conference next week in Philadelphia. With a smile she said, let me know if you need anything from the States.

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