Cemetery Stones: The Matsevot of former Lechovichers
as a Tool for Documenting Lyakhovichi History
by Deborah G. Glassman, copyright 2008
Cemetery research is a current collaborative project on which we are working.
Many years ago, one of the first resources those studying their families in Lyakhovichi were given was a list of burials in the plots owned by the primary Lechovicher emigrant association in New York City. Bnai Isaac Anshe Lechowitz had begun in the 1890s and by 1893 it owned a plot for its members at Washington Cemetery. Eventually the congregation's growth and the congregation's NYC emigration away from its original settlement area in the Lower East Side, encouraged the membership to acquire additional burial plots in the cemeteries of Mt Judah and Beth David.
We had an alphabetical list of the plots owned in each cemetery according to the information from the respective cemetery offices. Alphabetized, it allowed us to quickly see what family names we had in common with those buried in New York City and perhaps to identify the burial site of a known relative. In November 2007 I reorganized the list chronologically which allowed me to search for each name, one at a time, in the New York City Death Index. I posted the resulting list and I asked for help documenting the people named. And I mentioned that I was looking for people with camera skills in the NYC area to take pictures of the graves in the Lechovicher plots. A member of our group, Tina Levine, actually volunteered for both projects, swearing that her hard-earned summer vacation from teaching school, wasn't being misused by sitting in the municipal archives on weekdays and walking through cemeteries on Sundays!
First we made sure that we had as complete a list of burial locations as possible. Bnai Isaac Anshe Lechowitz was not the only Lechovicher organization. There were two other synagogues with associated landsmannschaften - Bnai Aron Chasidim of Lechowitz and B'nai Mordechai Chasidim de Lechowitz. Bnai Aaron had at least one set of plots at the Staten Island cemetery of Baron De Hirsch and we continue to search for later burials from this group. There is also supposed to be a second set of Lechovicher graves somewhere in the Baron De Hirsch Cemetery which has not so far been found or identified. Bnai Mordechai's graves have recently been found at Washington Cemetery. Despite the fact that Bnai Mordechai was identified by diligent volunteers previously, the accidental omission of the first letter of the town could lead one to think that they were a society connected to a town named Yakhovichi, and so looking for Lyakhovichi, we had missed it. Now it was added to the to-do list to photograph though as for the other Hasidic graves at Staten Island, we didn't even have the list of names in the burial register.
Tina took pictures of every stone in the cemetery plots. When the stone was missing or damaged, she took pictures of the sheared off base or the broken stone, so we would have a one-to-one correspondence with each known burial plot. She worked out a system of standing at the row in front of the row she wanted to photograph to capture the full image and she moved in for closeups of special marks and ornamentation on the monument.
When this indomitable volunteer's energy and diligence seemed likely to bring the project to a quick close, she asked if there were others we would like to include and it seemed a good time to add the Baranovichi burials to the list. We have stated frequently that Baranovichi functioned almost as an offshoot of Lyakhovichi, though its better placement on the railroad line and the government placement of military barracks and government offices there, allowed it to soon outpace the older town. Adding the records of NYC landsmannschaften based in Baranovichi would greatly expand our knowledge of Lyakhovichi natives, some of whom moved just down the road to Baranovichi and stayed put, while their children moved on to the US.
The data that I collected and indexed from Tina's photographed stones had to match her effort. The database would have to offer multiple ways to search, the images visible on this page would have to be both attractive and useful, and more they would have to encourage others to make similar efforts. The images share as much detail as we could capture from each stone, each name is accompanied by an image of the stone.
All can be found in the Complete Lyakhovichi Records Catalog under the Cemeteries Lyakhovichi Plots tab. Search for the name you are interested in and then find the information associated with that individual along with a photo of the gravestone, where available.
There is a wide range of information on tombstones and markers and their value for individual research is indisputable. But why should you care if we develop this resource for family lines you are not currently searching? As we asked for death certificates, Why should you look for them for family members other than your direct ancestors? Why should we invest the time and space resources of this website on your findings? Why should we do large-scale searches to add them to the databases created on this site? And the answer is that of the four thousand Jews who lived in Lyakhovichi as the twentieth century began, over one third had emigrated before World War I began. Of the six thousand Jews who lived in Lyakhovichi in the 1930s, at least one in three had close relatives in the United States, other European nations, Israel, and South America. And we have forgotten how we connect to each other. My grandmother was born in 1902 in the city of Slutsk. Her father's family had come to that big city from Lyakhovichi in the 1890s. She didn't know the name of one cousin that was not a First Cousin. I have heard similar stories from many of you. So when we learn distinctive double first names, when we prove the relationship to a shared namesake, when we can document the transmission of names over generations, we rebuild those lost connections.
Sam Berkowitz matseva
"Shalom son of Moshe Baruch
died 11 Tishri 5609
In Memory of a loving husband and father Samuel Berkowitz, died Sept 26, 1908, aged 47 years,
(artwork obscured possibly star in medallion)
Bnai Aron Hasidim of Lechovich, Baron DeHirsch Cemetery, Staten Island
contributed by Michael Paley, 2005
Until Michael Paley contributed the knowledge about his family graves in this cemetery, the gravesites of Bnai Aron Chasidim went undocumented. We have since been able to photograph all of the graves at this cemetery and the Bnai Aron Chasidim graves at Washington Cemetery. Frank Proschan contributed similar knowledge about the graves of the Baranovicher-Lechovicher-Mirer Workman's Circle Lodge. What do you know that we need to know?!!
Things Learned from the Photographs of American Lechovicher Gravestones
Why did a man whose Hebrew name was Eliezer pick the English name Louis for himself? Because Eliezer is a formal name, a synagogue name, a name in the Holy Language, Hebrew. And he did not call himself that, he called himself Leizer. Leizer to Louis is an easy jump, but then why does it say Eliezer on his tombstone? Because there are some places you are properly introduced by your full and proper name. Many a man who was Leizer son of Motel, was commemorated on his tombstone as Eliezer son of Mordechai. So be cautious when you proceed to the next record. Because you found his father called Mordechai here, does not mean that you will not find him as a Markus, a Markwart, a Max, or a Motel, in the records he created in his own lifetime.
What is that candelabra that is not a menorah on so many graves? It is a sabbath lamp and it only appears on the graves of married women in the Washington Cemetery sample of 200+ graves.
Why would a sabbath lamp appear on the gravestone of a woman simply called "sister" on her stone? In this group it happens at least once because she was a very young wife who died a short while after giving birth. When it came time to put up the stone, the birth family stepped in, because the husband/widower had already remarried.
Why is my grandmother not near my grandfather? Are the people he is buried next to, his family? The older Jewish cemeteries continued the practice of European cemeteries. Married men in one row, married women in another. A "bachelor's" row, a "maiden's" row, a row for children. Burials in any of the rows were in the order of which ever space was open when a death occurred. The families of Kohanim were often given special consideration to be buried on an end that faced a street, because a kohen was not supposed to enter the cemetery except when he was a direct mourner, and such a courtesy would allow a kohen to visit a grave without entering the cemetery. But the double stone and the side-by-side stone was not totally an invention of the more liberal husband-wife burials of the New World. You see among a row of "married women" sisters who share stones or who were buried next to each other. Often the wealthier of the sisters would make a payment to keep a space available for a sister she wanted at her side. There is among the numerous examples of this kind of burial, a set of three graves in Washington Cemetery which include a double stone and an adjacent stone, but across the larger stone is the heading "Three Sisters."
His row says "married man." Was he? The oldest graves of the Bnai Isaac Anshe Lechowitz society were at Washington Cemetery from 1893. We have not yet found older clearly Lechovich associated graves outside of Lyakhovichi. In the Washington Cemetery plot, the rows were initially divided as mentioned above - married men, married women, young men, young maidens, and children. Until 1918, there was only one male in this row whose marital status was questionable. The first adult male buried in the cemetery in 1893 was Raphael Abolansky who is noted on his death certificate as a 24 year old single man. The matseva is sheared away and so can not be examined. The doctor who reported the death may not have known if there had been a previous marriage and divorce, a valid engagement, or other marital status change that would have mattered in burial customs. Aside from Mr. Abolansky, all others buried in that row for the next 25 years are described on their matzevot as husbands and/or fathers. Around World War I's later period, that changed. Young men are buried there who were killed in action. Young men are buried there who perished in the Flu epidemic of the Fall of 1918. It is in fact, not clear without further investigation as to which came first - burials of soldiers may have actually been reburials or cenotaphs (stones where there are no remains interred), some time later than the reported date of death. In the 1920s, rows which had previously been very carefully segregated between men and women, started bringing together families. So it is important to check more than one source before drawing a conclusion. But when a matseva is severely eroded, the character of the burial row can be a useful datum.
Why are some who appear in the accompanying Cemetery Register, not photographed? We photographed every visible stone on the grounds of the burial plots. Some stones may have been damaged in the years since they were erected, but if any part of them is present, it is noted. Some may never have had stones put in place. Of over sixty children buried in Washington Cemetery, only six have stones still standing. The less expensive very small markers may have been damaged over time, and some may have been subsumed (sunken under the soil) and will perhaps be recoverable at a future date.
Two separate questions about Cemetery Registers
Why can't I find a Cemetery Register for a particular group of graves? Cemetery Registers recording all of the graves in an associated set of plots, might derive from several sources. From the records of the landsmannschaften. From the records of the cemetery company. From surveys and plat maps in the deeds office of a county. From a private survey. At this time, we have a limited number for those from the first two sources and none from any others. Check back to see if these records have been added for any of the cemeteries we include on these pages.
What value is a cemetery register if the stone no longer exists? Many graves are no longer marked - their matzevot fell victim to time, erosion, or vandalism. But if the cemetery register records who was buried here on what date, then we can track down a death certificate. We can see who was buried in which rows. We can note who was buried near who and in what order. We can seek out additional records from obituaries to coroners to undertakers. We can remember our family members on their yahrzeits and seek occasions to give charity in their memory. We can make a man or woman who died a hundred years ago, a valuable part of our genealogical heritage today.
Facts to Keep in Mind for all of the Lechovicher burials
- If your ancestor is buried in a Lechovicher plot, does that mean they were definitely from Lyakhovichi?
No, it could mean that they were married to a Lechovicher or that a child-in-law was a Lechovicher. Some of the graves used in more recent years could have been donated to someone who had a pressing need, or sold when the original lot holder was buried elsewhere.
- If your ancestor is not buried in a Lechovicher plot, does that mean they were not from Lyakhovichi?
No, there are many reasons someone would not be buried in a plot owned by one of the known landsmannschaften. They could have had plots from a spouse's society. They could have enjoyed the company of one group more than another. They could have associated with a non-origin specific group that offered burial plots, they could have lived and died in a city where no such organization existed, they could have died while resident elsewhere. Even when buried amidst a group of landsmen such affiliation might not be immediately obvious if the group to which they belonged identified itself as Minsker, Russian, or some larger group to which Lechovichers also belonged. Tina Levine, our indefatigable volunteer, has found the burials for the NYC siblings of her Lechovicher great-grandfather, buried in the plots of a Nesvizher society, a Stavisker society, a labor union, as well as in the Lechovicher plot at Mt Judah cemetery. The Workman's Circle offered plots to the Lechovicher branch in Paramus NJ, and two Lyakhovichi Hasidic congregations had plots that might have attracted a branch of your family.
Participating in Ongoing Research
What can you do and what do we need? There are many non-Lechovichers buried in Lyakhovichi burial plots. They are married to Lechovichers, they are the parents of someone who was married to a Lechovicher. Conversely there are many Lechovichers buried in the landsmannschaften plots of other groups for the same reasons. We need you to identify your family members who are buried elsewhere and also your help in determining the origins of those buried here. If you can take a picture of your Lechovicher kinsman's grave in a Nesvizh burial society grouping (for example), or get information from the cemetery that we can publish, or share a survey that was done, or you have ephemera relating to the cemetery plot or burial, all of that will be valuable to us. If you can point us to still existing records of funeral directors, monument-makers, transport records relating to funerals, et al, that will also increase our value to serious researchers.
The page Cemetery Stones Project documents all of the burials in the group cemetery plots that we have so far identified and then moves to individual graves in cemeteries around the world. The entire record including an alphabetical name listing, cemetery and plots if available are located in the Complete Lyakhovichi Records Catalog link) For burials from 1893 through 1943 of Lechovichers buried in NYC, see the tab in Complete Lyakhovichi Records Catalog called Vital Records Deaths NYC 1893 to 1943 where the death certificate information has been extracted. If you have the death certificate information for someone we do not currently include, please share it!
What Benefits can we gain from creating these data records?
We can create a new resource of names of Lyakhovichi emigrants, their residences at death, their personal vital information, the names of their fathers, and a community in which they were sufficiently attached to be buried.
We can create a database of names of those deceased who died outside of Lyakhovichi.
We can create a database of names of parents of those who died abroad.
We can learn about relationships among Lyakhovichi families using the data provided by father's name, by inscriptions like husband, father, mother, grandmother, brother.
We have clues to records created in other jurisdictions including death certificates, military records, gravestone makers, funeral directors, fraternal associations, and more.
We can learn about the relative wealth or modesty of the family at the time the gravestone was created.
By not limiting the matzevot to those identified in the United States, but including those still standing in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Cuba, Canada, et al, we can tie together those families who might be entering their twelfth decade of separation.
By including those photographed for Lechovichers in the cemeteries of Lyakhovichi, Baranovichi, Slutsk, Minsk, Bialystok, before 1941, we have an opportunity to preserve and pass on images of destroyed past in a way that will not perish.
We can learn unexpected new things from creating a collection large enough to provide new insights from the data sampled.
Each person who is researching ancestors who lived in Lyakhovichi, goes back through their notes and identifies those who were born in Lyakhovichi, and where and when they died and were buried. If they have a photo of the gravestone, they send it to the webmaster. If they don't, they endeavor to get a photo taken and sent to the webmaster. If they can't get the photo, they let the webmaster know all of the details so we can try to find a volunteer to take a photograph to send us. We want the information for the entire emigrating generation, those born in Lyakhovichi who died somewhere else.
The webmaster will examine the photo, extract the information, add the extracted information to our records, index it, and post the picture with the information. When you get the photo, try to get information on the cemetery plot as well. What cemetery, what plot number, is there a burial association that owned those plots, and if the person was in a family group, a woman's row, a man's row, a child's row, et al.
Washington Cemetery's Bnai Isaac Anshe Lechowitz plot (high-resolution version)
Your research provides new insights! Tina Levine was searching for details on the grave of Nettie Cohen in Washington Cemetery's Bnai Isaac Anshe Lechowitz plot, this document aided her understanding and ours.