Monday, June 24, 2013

Deciphering History

I'd already determined that the Tolchinsky family which I thought was from Shpikov was not.  But I knew that the Supkoffs were.  My great grandmother was Malka (Mollie) Supkoff who married Isadore Tolchin after they both had immigrated to Pittsburgh.  Mollie's and her sister's Elka's boat record confirmed they were from "Spikow."  So Isadore's involvement in Pittsburgh's Shpikov Society must have been through his wife.
Mollie & Elka Supkoff's boat record (lines 8-9), 1906
Mollie's parents, Yeshaya and Zlata Tzipra (nee Sanshuck) Supkoff also came to America along with their younger children (besides Mollie and Elka, son Leib/Louis had come earlier).  Yeshaya and the children were listed as having been born in "Spikoff" and "Schpikoff," but Zlata Tzipra was from "Krosny."  With the help of JewishGen (which will list other towns with Jewish populations near a given one), I discovered that Krasnoye was only 11 miles from Shpikov.

Nice!  I then started investigating if any documentation existed of these towns' past.  Perhaps I could find documents on microfilm like I had used to learn about the Tolchinsky and Lefand/Marienhoff families in Nezhin.  I looked on familysearch, but unfortunately they had not microfilmed either of these towns' records.  I then looked at Miriam Weiner's excellent Routes to Roots, which catalogs many of the existing Jewish records in eastern European archives.  My heart sunk.  Both towns had listed documents, but they were followed by the following disclaimer:
I contacted Ms. Weiner to see if many of the remaining records were available, but at that time they were being preserved and protected and were not available to the public.  Drat.

I also contacted several other researchers in Ukraine to see if they were aware of Shpikov or Krasnoye records.  I got one of two responses:
  1. The records had been destroyed in the fire, and anything that remained was in accessible.
  2. The researcher was willing to search for records if I would send hundreds (or thousands) of dollars.  Or if there wasn't a huge flag like that, something seemed fishy.
Meanwhile, I noticed that neither town had a JewishGen Town Leader (which is basically someone who coordinates research for a town).  I volunteered and put up some relatively basic websites for Shpikov and Krasnoye. Both towns' pages had a disclaimer stating that most of the records probably were lost in the fire.  I also started up a Google Group to allow people to discuss their families from these towns and potentially find distant relatives.

Then I read an article in Avotaynu that spoke about some of the offerings in Ukranian archives.  It didn't mention either of these towns, but I contacted the author anyways.  And he replied shortly saying that he knew where some Shpikov documents were located.  He quoted a price that was reasonable (given his travel expenses) but was kind of pricey, to search these records for Supkoffs and Sanshucks.  But it seemed a shame to have all of these other people interested in these documents as well--so I asked what the cost would be to photograph the Shpikov documents and potentially translate them so that everyone to benefit.  The cost of photographing was actually a bit less than the cost of identifying my family entries, since he would have had to browse through each book, but just taking photographs would take less time.

I got in touch with the very dedicated Ron Doctor of Jewishgen's Ukraine SIG.  He suggested that I organize an official JewishGen project.  This allowed JewishGen to centralize collection of the money, and the results of any transcription would eventually end up on JewishGen to allow anyone to search and find relatives.  This was perfect.

I had enough commitments from others from Shpikov and Krasnoye to cover the cost of hiring the researcher.  Once he was at the archives, he discovered that not only did they have documents related to Shpikov, but surprisingly there were Krasnoye documents as well.  I got multiple photographs of old documents over the several days he spent in the archives.
One of the pages of Shpikov records
Most of the documents were in Hebrew and Russian.  I began transcribing the Hebrew, and another list member transcribed the Russian.  Some of the handwriting was pretty bad, but between both of us, we were able to decipher most of the records.  Those who already had contributed financially to the project were sent periodic updates--and several found members of their families in the records.

One day, the guy transcribing from Russian sent me his transcriptions for 1849's Krasnoye records.  Glancing through the marriages (any Supkoffs or Sanshucks??), I saw familiar names.
Leib & Rochel Sanshuck's marriage record in Hebrew, 1849

Leib & Rochel Sanshuck's marriage record in Russian, 1849
On November 9, 1849, there was a marriage between Leib Sanshuck and Rochel Brandman.  I'd known that Zlata Tzipra's parents were (Aryeh) Leib and Rochel Sanshuck.  I hadn't known Rochel's maiden name, and I didn't know their parents' names.  From my great-great-great grandparents' marriage record, I learned Rochel's maiden name (Brandman) and both their fathers' names (Naftali Sanshuck and Yaakov Brandman).

I soon found a birth record for one of Leib's siblings, which revealed that his parents were Naftali and Shprintza--and that Naftali's father (my 5th great grandfather) was Yisrael.
Birth record of Chaya Pesia Sanshuck, sister of Leib Sanshuck, 1838
Transcription of the records also revealed that there were several Sanshuck brothers in town (besides Naftali there were also Lipa, Yitzchak, Shaul, and Zalman), all of whom were children of Yisrael.  I was able to fill out much of the Sanshuck family tree for the late 1700s and early 1800s:
Sanshuck Family, as discovered in Krasnoye records
Moving onto the Brandman side, I discovered that Rochel had a brother Pinchas Leib who had several children whose births were recorded in the records, as well as two siblings who died: Dov Ber in 1844 at the age of 16 and Golda who died in 1852 at the age of 22.  Golda's death record listed her as a daughter of Yaakov, son of Leib Brandman (which would make Leib Brandman another 5th great grandfather).
Golda Brandman's death record in Hebrew, 1852
Golda Brandman's death record in Russian, 1852
Then I was transcribing the 1848 death records.  There were a LOT of deaths in 1848--about 20 times that of other years.  It turns out that there was a cholera epidemic that year, and it struck Shpikov and Krasnoye very hard.  One of its victims was my 4th great grandmother, Tzipra Brandman who died at the age of 48.  This name was quite familiar to me.  Her granddaughter Zlata Tzipra was obviously named for her, and my mother's Hebrew name is Zlata Tzipra after my grandfather's grandmother.
Tzipra Brandman's death record in Hebrew, 1848

Tzipra Brandman's death record in Russian, 1848
The Brandman tree became fleshed out from zero.
Brandman Family, as discovered in Krasnoye records
And how about the Supkoffs who started everything?  Nothing.  Not one record.  This could be for a couple of reasons:
  1. They came to Shpikov after 1852.  Yeshaya was born there, according to his boat record, in 1859.
  2. They lived in another village near Shpikov, and their life events were recorded in another nearby town.
  3. They were in Shpikov but simply had no births, marriages, deaths, or divorces in the years covered by the records.
The records we got were from:
  • Shpikov Births: 1839, 1840, 1841, 1848, 1850, 1851
  • Shpikov Marriage: 1839, 1840, 1841, 1848, 1850, 1851
  • Shpikov Deaths: 1839, 1840, 1841, 1848, 1850, 1851
  • Krasnoye Births: 1838, 1839, 1842, 1844, 1846, 1848, 1849, 1851
  • Krasnoye Marriages: 1839, 1842, 1846, 1848, 1849, 1851
  • Krasnoye Deaths: 1839, 1842, 1846, 1848, 1849, 1851, 1852 
The same researcher has heard that additional records may exist in another archives.  But they do not take phone inquiries (seems common in Ukraine), so he'll have to travel there to check and hopefully obtain copies.  Once the JewishGen projects collects enough to cover that, he'll take a road trip.  Shameless plug:  We are still taking tax-deductible contributions!

Now that these documents have all been transcribed, all those who contributed have been sent copies of the transcriptions.  This allows them to easily search through for odd spellings or ask me to look again if I misread someone's poor handwriting.  JewishGen also has a copy of the spreadsheet which should be online and searchable through their Ukraine Database late this year.

Yeshaya & Zlata Tzipra (nee Sanshuck) Supkoff, my great-great grandparents

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