The information in this section was obtained from a variety of sources, including, but not limited to: the Enclopedia Judaica, the Black Book, the Nazi Crime Against the Jewish People, personal communication with Miriam Weiner and others and 17 years of painstaking research.
These memoirs were recorded on a tape deck in 1986 during an interview. I posed questions and
my father answered them. While transferring everything to paper, the memoirs were transformed into a monologue with some materials re-shuffled such that they better fit a particular heading. It turned out that the conversational style of these recordings is completely unsuitable for reading and, thus, I paraphrased much of this material myself, trying at the same time to preserve the particularities of the verbal original. Several fragments were reconstructed from memory of conversations held in the past. I can not guarantee the absolute accuracy of the dates and facts. Practically everything remains as it was narrated by my father. His memory may have failed him in some details, especially given the fact that he never, himself, listened to the recordings, much less edited them.
Yasha Kazanovitch, Pushino, 2002
The city of Priluki had a standard layout: straight streets crossing each other at right angles. The
main street, which at the time bared the name Alexandrovskaya, was a highway laid out from stone. At the sides, there was an unpaved road and further to the sides came sidewalks laid out from bricks, [and] in some places, wood or unpaved at all. Asphalt, of course, was not used anywhere. The city length was probably in the order of ten city blocks and so it could be crossed, on foot, in forty minutes to an hour. Public transportation was limited to a few carriages with drivers, which were accessible only to very wealthy people.
In the 20s, the city of Priluki housed approximately 28 thousand inhabitants. The language in use was so called "small Russian" - the combination of Ukrainian and Russian. At home, my parents used Yiddish amongst themselves, but conversed in Russian with the kids. The same order was established in the family of uncle Ara and probably everywhere. Ours was a typical family.
The city consisted, primarily, from one story buildings (which as a rule lacked a backyard), but in the center there were some two-story buildings. I can not recall any interesting buildings, whose architecture would somehow attract attention. Nevertheless, there was a beautiful church next to our house. The center [of the city] was rich in stores, bakeries, cafes and repair shops. There was one bath house for the entire city and almost no one visited it. We washed at home in a washtub. The bathtub appeared in our family only in recent years. Washing with hot water was common once a month, but underwear, of course, was changed more frequently.
Although, no trees were planted on the streets, the city had quite a green appearance thanks to gardens. Especially pleasant was the city garden. No one took special care of it, trimming the trees and bushes, but it was clean and tidy. Another garden was host to visiting theatrical bands, which held concerts in the summers. There was a theater there, an open sky cinema and a stage on which professional bands performed daily. The musicians of Priluki had quite a high level of expertise. Two of the city's cinemas (250-300 seats each) showed movies in the evenings and were usually overcrowded.
I remember some of the movies that I watched back in my childhood: "Damn You, the Person Who Ruined my Life", "If You Want Peace, Prepare for War". From among more recent impressions, I can recall films featuring Mojuhin and Lisenko, "The Match" with Boris Freindlih, "Vufka" with Panov, "Seven Plus Two", many films with Douglas Ferbenksom [Fairbanks}(amongst them "Signal Zorro") and Mary Pickford. From amongst foreign actors, Lolita Torres and Pola Negri were very popular.
A river flowed not far from the city. I often went swimming there in the summers. When I got older, I swam [from] a boat and not always with my parent's consent. I got into trouble for that. In the Winters, ice skating was the main source of entertainment. The skates were without boots. They were simply screwed onto regular shoes. Small kiddies skated on frozen puddles or on snow in the center of the city. No one cleared the snow, but it was trampled into a solid walking surface under pedestrian's feet. Adolescents, who were a bit older, went to specially equipped ice skating rinks.
The city of Priluki had several amateur theaters: Russian, Ukrainian and Jewish. An amateur opera was very popular. I remember an actress by the name of Jadkevich, the wife of a famous Priluki doctor. She was not a professional actress, but was often invited to perform when professional theaters came to town. The Ukrainian professional band was excellent, composed from Priluki residents. I even remember individual actors: Shul'ga, Tchaikovskaya, Hvilya. The theater was located in a single building used by the locals and the visiting bands alike. On occasion, very famous bands came to visit Priluki. I remember one such band was under the leadership of Gol'dfaden. I attended their performance in 1921 or 1922. They brought to stage such plays as "Wrilia Costa", "Pierr & Jan", "The One Who is Slapped" by Leonid Andreev. Gol'dfaden had under his supervision one very famous actor, Zarjevskiy, who I later saw in the Little Theater (Translator note: an eminent Moscow theater) as well as on the movie screen. Zarjevskiy's specialty was comedy, but once he was given a tragic role in the play "Til'bi" and he performed so brilliantly that the entire town voiced delight afterwards. In the Jewish amateur theater, I saw a play "Bar Kohba" about a hero of the anti-Roman wars. Particularly memorable, was how he tore away the chains from his body. When I was little, my father took me to a play called "The Sacrifice of Isaac". Naturally, I do not remember the plot, but the scene, in which Abraham raises the knife above Isaac and the angel halts his hand, had a profound effect on me.
All-in-all, although my father was not a theater-goer, as he rarely attended performances, he loved theater dearly. At one time, upon returning from a trip, he said that he saw a play called "The Straw Hat". He enjoyed it so much that he spent several days under its influence. My father usually went to the theater in the company of my mother. She loved the theater as well, although probably she and others were divided by national lines. Everything was mixed. The same schools were attended by everyone and there were practically no ethnic conflicts among the children, if rare incidents are discarded. I remember I beat-up on one kid because he called me a "dirty Jew". One time, I knocked another guy off his feet on the soccer field for the same offense and sat on top of him until he apologized. He was considerably stronger than me, but everyone was on my side and happy that I had my [way] with him.
The situation with the schools has to be clarified. After the revolution, I attended a so called Jewish school. There were two such schools in Priluki. Nevertheless, all subjects were taught in Russian. Later, all Jewish schools were dissolved and we were transferred to a Ukrainian school. There, all nationalities were mixed, but I still had more [affinity] for Jewish kids.
Many Priluki residents led a very poor existence. Our home was close to the outskirts of town. The only district further out from the center of town was Kustovtzi. There was still another outward district, Kvashevtzi on the other side of town, but I had less knowledge of it. The residents of Kustovtzi, peasants and industrial workers, came to our shop for groceries. How modestly they ate could be inferred from the kind of food they bought. They usually bought salted fish. Not a kilogram or a pound, just one fish. [They bought] 50 grams of oats [and] olives. Not sunflower oil, but olives because olive oil was cheaper. Very often, they did not pay cash, but made entries into a special debt book and paid later when they had the cash. Such a system of credit book purchases was very widespread. During Denikinskiy terror raids, we hid in Kustovtzi. (Translator note: Denikin, a Tsarist army general was known to have carried out anti-Semitic raids in territories under his control). We had acquaintances, mothers who came to our grocery shop. They treated us very well and not only hid us, but fed us as well.
Our family lived comparatively better than these people, but even in our household, we never saw such produce [such] as sausage, cheese, doughnuts or candy. Unlike our family, uncle Ara could afford sausage. When we came to visit him, it was on the table for guests and we enjoyed it greatly. The only plentiful products were vegetables and dairy products. Ice cream was sold in Priluki, but it was quite expensive and so it was not easy to get ice cream money from parents. My father liked ice cream and during NAP (Translator note: successful post revolution economic reforms), he treated me to it, but still not very often. Ice cream was considered a rarity.
In spite of the relative wealth of our family, there were no purchased toys in our household. We played with what we could find. Moreover, collective games were quite common. For instance, we played a stick game by the name of tzurki palki. For this purpose, we delineated a small piece of land (a space into which we placed a stick sharpened on both edges). We had to hit it on its edge so that it flew as far as possible. After that, another player had to hit the stick hard enough so that it flew back into the delineated space. During school years, we were very fond of the game, battle for the flag. Two teams participated which moved from one area to another in accordance with special rules. The team that reached the finish faster, won.
During my teen years, I participated in organized sports. Lessons were not taught by professional, salaried coaches, but by sports enthusiasts. We concentrated, primarily, on field athletics and gymnastics, but also played soccer. I ran fast (100 meters in 12 seconds), was quite adept on parallel bars and rings and somewhat less successful on a tunicate.
Priluki enjoyed fairly high quality medical services. The city had a large hospital and a free clinic- more exactly an ambulatory with one doctor and a nurse. Priluki doctors were pretty highly qualified. I remember a doctor, Krasnopol'skiy, who went to Kiev to receive treatment and was asked, "why did you come here from Priluki, when you have such a doctor as Krasnopol'skiy in your hometown?" Our family was regularly looked over by a family doctor, who treated both children and adults alike. When I caught scarlet fever, I even had intravenous injections. During the Civil War, most suffered from Typhus (intestinal, recurring and the rash variant). Lisa and mom went through the ordeal and were treated by doctors. Many also suffered from the [acute] epidemic of influenza (Spanish strain). For children, the most dangerous diseases were pertusis, measles and diphtheria. Tuberculosis was very widespread. Several people I knew died from that disease.
There were practically no industrial centers in Priluki, if you disregard the two tobacco factories. The city awakened to the bell sounded at these two tobacco factories and two windmills, Shahima and Dolgina. Two or three engineers, who worked there were viewed as the local upper class. I remember that one of the engineers, Shenderov, loved to drink tea on the terrace of his house. This was as high as one could go and he was the envy of the town.
Everyone worked, mostly in the service or retail sectors. The city had plenty of different repair shops and bakeries. I personally [watched] as dough was mixed in a bakery by the worker's feet. Compared to this, even our butter production shop with ten workers was a sizable enterprise. People worked all week straight, with the exception of Saturday. There were no vacations, not only in practice, but even in theory. Such a concept did not exist. Trading was accomplished at the bazaar (Translator note: market place). It was large and relatively inexpensive. Wholesale trading took place as well. For instance, uncle Ara had warehouses from which he marketed salt and, after the revolution, large quantities of flour. He sent all of his sons, with the exception of Mark (who was then 15-16 years old) on business trips to different cities. On one of such trips, one of his sons caught typhus and died. He was a very good guy. It was then that I first saw my father crying during his funeral.
Wholesale trading went through the exchange house. Business people met there in the evenings to discuss trading arrangements and also to discuss the most recent political events. My father went there, from time-to-time, to sell butter. It is important to note that all arrangements were, as a rule, made through the word of mouth. No official documentation was used. A promise was esteemed very highly, probably, because those who broke (it) were expelled from the business circles. Even though my father participated in trade, I first heard the term bill when I was quite grown up. I do not know whether he sent a bill to someone or someone sent a bill to him, but probably it was an isolated incident. Although in truth, there was one instance where my father was cheated. He accepted a railway car full of matches on false papers. It was done by a man who was considered to be a highly respected, g-d-fearing citizen. He even read the Torah in our synagogue. My father did not want to go to court on this matter [as] this was considered impolite. But people spoke of this incident in the synagogue and this man's reputation was ruined. Money was (loaned) and often in quite large amounts without interest or even a signature and not only to relatives, but just to people one knew could be trusted.
Beginning in 1910, the novelties of the technical civilization [began] appearing in Priluki. During the first years after the World War , a telephone was installed in our house and soon after the civil war, we had electricity. Automobiles appeared shortly before the revolution. The first car owner in Priluki turned out to be a distant relative. He had a bicycle shop and rented some bicycles out. He was a "techie" with "golden hands", able to fix absolutely anything. Once, he bought a "piece of garbage" on four wheels and fixed [the automobile] to the point of being able to take it for a ride.. The reliability of this form of transportation was quite doubtful. Once, he invited us for a ride, took us outside of town and, at that time, the engine died without any hope of resuscitation. We had to return home on foot.
After I left Priluki, I continued to socialize and maintain friendly relations with its residents. However, it so happened that they were not the same people with whom I was close to while living in Priluki. I maintained relations with my Priluki friends from Leningrad until the last days. Every time, I came to Leningrad, I made every effort to meet with them. One of such friends, Polya Pen'kovsky, not long before his death, traveled on the Volga and visited us in Kuibishev. I do not write regularly to the widows of my friends, but we congratulate each other on special occasions.
WARS and REVOLUTIONS
Even though I was not even five years old when the first World War began, I remember peasants who came to our house saying that, in all probability, war will start soon. However, they had quite a naive understanding of the nature of war. For instance, someone asserted, "they will engage each other [with] pitchforks beyond Kozenko (village next to Priluki), fight a little and it will end there". Reality proved much more frightening. Genya's brother, Yanya Gleih, wrote home from the front that it is better to be left without a head than go fight. Another one of Genya's brothers, Isaac, a very tough, healthy man, drank poison to avoid being drafted during mobilization. Genya put vision deteriorating eye drops in his eyes. As a result, his vision was quite weak in one eye. There were also those who put red hot coins on their bodies to induce lesions. I heard of those who shot themselves on the frontlines. Even severe penalties could not stop them.
Due to his affiliation with the military supply chain, my father dealt with the office of military control chief - something that is now called the "military commissariat". (Translator note: In the Soviet armed forces, commissariat implied an office headed by a commissar, a commander overseeing command and control as well as compliance with party ideology). My father was under the command of colonel Nirkevich. Their relationship was strictly professional, without bribes of any kind and yet mutually beneficial. When the war began, my father used Nirkevich's sympathy for him to get preferential treatment and even used it to help a few of his friends to evade the draft. Once, my father helped a wealthy man with the same problem, who then offered a fairly large sum of money as compensation for the colonel. Nirkevich categorically refused the money. [He said] "do not wish a sin on my soul as I enter old age".
I clearly remember the very beginning of the revolution. [There were] demonstrations on city squares, orators who spoke, literally, around the clock and a high degree of agitation among the people. Our family and other families that I knew unconditionally endorsed the February revolution. Why another revolution was necessary was beyond them. For instance, this is what uncle Ara remarked about the October revolution - "This could not be".
A new state seemed to him to be the embodiment of absurdity. My father thought that it was the revolution of eighteen year olds. That everything is to blame on inexperienced, senseless adolescents, who are doing hell knows what. As far as the younger generation is concerned, I do not know anyone, even from wealthy [ bourgeois] families, who did not ecstatically endorse the revolution. This was the cause of quite serious conflicts within families. During that time, one of our distant relatives, Aron Gurevich, worked as an accountant in my father's butter shop. My father was not against saving on taxes, but Aron was categorically against it. Naturally, it irritated my father and went far enough to lead to scandals. Nevertheless, [we] children preserved the warmest relations with Aron. He later lived in Har'kov [Kharkov] for many years and was friends with Lisa and her family. Aron was a political officer, a war veteran [and] had many awards, including the Medal of Bogdan Hmel'nitzkiy. He retired as a colonel. I visit him to this day when I am in Har'kov [Kharkov].
In the 1920s, Priluki had pioneer and komsomol youth organizations. Many kids were a part of them because working for them was a lot of fun. I also participated in the work done by a pioneer organization, but I was not allowed to become a member, probably because I did not come from a proletariat family. Actually, this rule was not always enforced. For instance, Rimma's brother, Isaac, was a pioneer and a very active one besides. His parents did not approve.
The civil war was a trying ordeal for Priluki residents. With the establishment of a revolutionary government, confiscation of private property commenced. Beds, writing desks and other furniture was confiscated not only from the well to do, but from anyone who made, more or less, a decent living. That is why when Denikin's forces rolled into town, they were greeted with flowers after what the reds had done. Genya Gleih once remarked on this matter - "Do not be alarmed, they will beat us up no matter what". And actually, on the very first night, they carried out a horrible terror raid (Translator note: In this context, terror raid refers specifically to one carried out against Jews), in which tens of people have died. After we hid from Deniken's men where we could, Grisha and I were sent to hide with a distant relative, who lived in the most far off, rarely visited part of town. To pass off our house as the poorest and least attractive, we left cabbage remains on the floor. As a result, the house had such an odor that, of those soldiers who walked in, very few had the desire to stay. Nevertheless, some agreed to an offering of a shot, but were very modest and did not even want to take sugar.
My father, who hid in a different house was treated less delicately. One of Deniken's men demanded that my father take off his shoes. My father begged that they do not take away his boots and offered money instead. However, the soldier said that he needed only boots and forced my father to give them up. After some time, another soldier walked in and asked - "who here offered money for boots?". My father had to give up the money as well.
In those years, people were robbed by anyone who was not lazy. [These included] the Reds, the Whites, the Greens and just criminals who did not disguise themselves under a political ideology. One evening, we received a knock on the door. A security guard replied to the question of "who is there?". When we opened the door, armed men burst into the house. As it turned out, they forced a security guard to knock on the door. [The armed men] demanded money and everything that had value. It is not possible to say that they were successful in enriching themselves by robbing us as, by this time, there were very few valuables left in the house. However, they severely frightened us. The consequences of such an intrusion could have been a tragic murder, which was a routine occurrence.
Compared to crimes committed by individuals, government sanctioned theft proved more effective. In the mid 1920s, a so called "gold rush" began the confiscation of gold from the populace. From among our relatives, it was uncle Ara who suffered from this. Someone probably snitched on him and he was [taken] to the central police station. He really did have some quantity of gold saved for artificial tooth purposes later in life. He gave up everything immediately after his arrest. and then they brought Ara home in hopes that he would give up something else. They then took him back to prison. One of his sons was arrested to be sure he behaves. Uncle Ara was set free in two weeks. I went by the prison with Mark just to meet him. When they escorted him out, he looked very sick and completely deranged. In a couple of weeks, he became more like his old self, [at which time] he could tell us how the police earned its gold.. (It is interesting that the police gave him papers allowing him to skip work until he recovered.} "Convicts were kept in a cell completely packed with people so that they could not sit or lie there. We were kept on a diet of salted fish and given no water. We were interrogated at night. While you made your way to be interrogated, you got so tired that you were carried out on somebody else's hands. Also, the morning was a time for roll call and the following speech by the prison head - You bastards hid away gold for a rainy day, so know this, there will be no day rainier than this one in your life. Give up the gold!".
A VISIT TO CHERNIGOV ARCHIVES
The description below was generated by Yechezkel Schatz, an Israeli researcher. It is an Excellent description of his preparation for and visit to the
Chernigov archives for the purpose of researching documents in Priluki in 2013.
My Recent Visit
I have recently returned from a very successful visit to the Chernigov archives, and I feel that I
want to share that experience with others. I am hoping that my account will educate others on what's involved and will help them prepare. Furthermore, I
hope that I can inspire others to dare and plan
such a trip, just as I was inspired by the accounts of other researchers.
My genealogical mission
My brother Yaakov started putting together our family tree several years ago, and I promptly joined him in the family research. It has been an exciting journey, and over time we learned a tremendous amount about our family history and the history of the Jewish people in general. But even as we made progress in our research, learning more and more about our grandparents (and their ancestors) and connecting with distant (and not-so-distant) relatives, there was one branch of the family where we were stuck at an impasse.
My paternal grandfather, Yaakov Moshe (Morris) Schatz, was born in Pryluky (now in Ukraine, about 2 hours east of Kiev) in 1890. His mother Risja (later known as Rose) grew up, and was probably also born, in Pryluky, but his father, Eliyahu Schatz, "came from some other place" that was the family
tradition that got passed down to us. Eliyahu did not want the family to immigrate to America, but after he died of cancer, that is exactly what they did. First went Yaakov and his brother Yehoshua (later known as Sam) in 1912, and then in 1913 their mother and sister Sophie joined them.
My grandfather was the only one in his immediate family with descendants, so we knew that there is no point in searching for second cousins in this branch of the family. However, we wanted to try and connect with third cousins, especially cousins who share the same surname. But to make any progress, we would have to find out where Eliyahu Schatz was originally from. Much of our family research had been done until now through Internet searches and collaboration with other researchers that we found online. So
after finding all the relevant American documents about my grandfather's family through online searches (Ellis Island records, marriage records, Rose's death record), we realized that it was time to take our research to the next level and finally experience some real legwork away from our computer desks; it was time for a visit to an Eastern European archive.
So many things just turned out right and fell into place. Firstly, I got involved at my company with a team in Ukraine, and the need arose for me to travel to Ukraine and visit the team. That took care of the psychological block of travelling to a "strange and foreign" country. In fact, my visit to Chernigov occurred during my second visit to Ukraine.
So I really threw myself into the whole experience... Here are a few things that I did in preparation for my trip:
accompany me to the archives. Lia's role was twofold:
o To help me communicate with the people at the archives (who spoke either Russian or
Ukrainian). This also included a few phone calls that we had to make.
o To help me quickly peruse the documents at the archive. Although I can read printed
Russian (phonetically), I am very slow and do not understand almost anything that I'm
reading. Furthermore, reading handwritten Russian cursive is especially difficult.
So the skills I was looking for were:
o Satisfactory level of spoken English
o Fluent Russian and Ukrainian
o Ability to read Russian cursive quickly
As you'll see further on in my description, Lia's help was invaluable, and she played a key role in the success of my mission. She was highly educated and extremely pleasant, and we made a perfect team.
Booked the time at the archives. This involved the following steps:
1. My brother and I first consulted Miriam Weiner's Routes to Roots Foundation website ( http://www.rtrfoundation.org), and found that the relevant documents are in the archives in
2. Lia called the Poltava archives ( http://www.archives.gov.ua/Eng/Archives/ra16.php), to ensure that they do not still house any of the Pryluky documents, as Pryluky used to be part of the Poltava
gubernia. They assured us that all documents are now in Chernigov.
3. I wrote an email (in Russian) to the Chernigov archives
(http://www.archives.gov.ua/Eng/Archives/ra26.php), telling them about my intent to come visit
and providing a rough list of the documents (type and year range) that I am looking for.
4. We called the Chernigov archives, negotiated the dates for my visit, and reserved seats in the
reading room on those dates (more about this room later on). This phone call was much more
important than the email, and, presumably, it must be done at least a month before the date
of your visit.
5. Prepared prints of a few documents that tie me to the objects of my research (grandfather's Ellis
Island arrival record > US census record that lists my grandfather and my father > my birth
record with my father's name).
Note that I was never asked to present these documents...
Defined my objectives. What specific information was I looking for?
o Place of origin of my great grandfather (as discussed above)
o More about my great grandmother's family; information to help us connect with cousins from her side of the family
o My grandfather had two more sisters who died young. I wanted to find some
record of these sisters, and at least discover their names.
My first day in Chernigov
I spent a very pleasant Shabbat in Kiev. The apartment that I rented was just a couple of blocks away from the Brodsky synagogue, and I was invited by a local Jewish family for the Shabbat meals. I even went to a ballet (Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet") on Saturday night. On Sunday around noon,
took the metro red line to Lisova station (Chernihivska station would have been good too). There I got on a marshrutka (share taxi) for the two-hour ride to Chernihiv (the Ukrainian name for Chernigov).
After meeting the landlady of the apartment that I was renting and setting myself up, I went for a walk to do some grocery shopping and to get a feel of what the city is like. I also wanted to see if I could find the archive buildings according to the addresses that appear at their website (2 Mstyslavska and 52 Pitnytska), so that I wouldn't waste any time the next morning. Well, those streets had no buildings with those numbers. The address turned out to be totally bogus.
Luckily, Lia had been to the archives before, so she explained to me how to get there and we didn't waste any time on Monday morning searching for the place. Simply continue south on Myru Avenue until past the theater/opera house, and enter Dytnets Park; the archive building is right next to the Saviour Cathedral.
Upon our arrival, Lia and I said hello to the guard on the ground floor, explained what we came for, and filled out papers with details about ourselves and our mission. We were then called in to the office of the
vice director, a serious, unsmiling woman. She told us that Lia could not be granted access to the documents without a notarized letter of authorization from me, since she has no family connection with any of the people in these documents. In my frustration, I opened my mouth and said in Russian "I
want Lia with me, she works for me, and I have only a little time." The vice director answered that she understands that I don't have much time, but under no circumstances will she violate the rules. However, my small act of voicing myself did make a difference, as she continued to say that we could go to the reading room and submit our first request for documents to be brought out to us. Then, while waiting for the document folders to be brought we could start a typically 60 to 90 minute wait at a notary's office and tend to the letter of authorization.
The reading room is not very large, but can probably seat about 20 researchers, if necessary. The two main librarians working in this room were like a
pleasant, caring, knowledgeable, and helpful breath of fresh air-pleasant caring, knowledgeable and helpful. Pryluky documents are listed in catalogs,
with a very good, simple-to-follow catalog of vital records, and another, more complex and diverse catalog of
census records and directory listings. I had plenty to check out in the vital records, so Lia and I quickly decided to focus our time on vital records and leave the studying of census records and directories for
later. (In the end, that later will be the next time that I visit Chernigov)
It didn't take very long to get accustomed to the routine...
1. You must first submit a request to have the catalog brought out to you. You fill in the details of the catalog on a slip of paper and hand it to the librarians. If no-one else is currently using the catalog, you can expect to have it handed to you within 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Browse through the catalog and choose the folders that you want to peruse. Folders are identified by year and type of vital record. Again, you use the same slips of paper to
submit your orders, one slip of paper for each folder. One important detail to keep track of
and to include on each slip of paper is the number of pages in the folder. Presumably, you are entitled to browse through a maximum of 1000 pages (per day?
Per order? Not quite clear…) After submitting your order, you can expect to receive the folders within 60 to 90 minutes.
3. When the folders are received by the librarians, they stack them somewhere safe near them at the head of the room, and you tell them which one you want to browse through (assuming that you want to browse through the folders in a specific order). When a folder is handed to you, you sign that you received the folder and browse through the pages, looking for the surnames of your ancestors. When you finish browsing, you return the
folder and sign again. As you move on to the next folder (receive > sign > start browsing), the librarian takes the folder that you just returned and sits with it for a couple of minutes, leafing through it to make sure that you did not damage the pages or remove any pages.
But, of course, on that first day, we had an important task to perform during those 90 minutes between step 2 and step 3. Lia and I set off by foot towards the center of town in search of a notary's office. This proved to be a very easy task, as you can usually find several notary offices on every block in any Ukrainian city. (I can only surmise that notary services are needed quite often in Ukraine)
The head notary at this office was a very pleasant woman. She explained that before we sit down to author our letter of authorization, she would need proof of our identities. For Lia, a simple photocopy of the relevant page in her Ukrainian passport is fine. For me, on the other hand, matters get a bit more complicated… I will need to get that page in my passport translated and notarized by a certified translator. With that document from the
translator I would come back to the office and we could then author the letter of
authorization. This letter of authorization would allow Lia to sit together with me in the archive. If I want to authorize her to come to the archive in my absence and search for documents on my behalf, I would, in addition, need to apply for a special Ukrainian identity number, a process that typically takes 2 to 3 days. Naturally, we chose to continue with the type of document that covers the lower level of authorization...
"Oh, and one more detail… When we finish authoring your letter of authorization in Ukrainian, you'll need to bring a translator here, so that he/she can certify that you understood what you are signing." Well, this was a bit too much for me, and I immediately responded with "? ???? ?????????!"(I can read!) And from that point on in our conversation with the head notary, Lia was careful not to translate too much of what was being said.
So Lia and I set off to find a translator's office. That too was not very hard, and the second office we walked into was not too busy and was able to offer us their services for a certified and notarized, expedited translation within the hour (to be picked up after we come back from lunch). Here's a very important note: Take the time to explain to the
translator how your name is pronounced! I forgot to do this, and ended up having to add the silly erroneous transliteration of my surname in parentheses to the document that we had earlier submitted at the archives (it could have been much worse, phew...)
With the translated document of my identity we headed back to the notary's office, where we authored a letter of authorization together with the girls there. I then took the document and read it out loud, with Lia whispering a few words of explanation now and then. That must have been quite a sight to see, but it was good enough and I was not asked again to hire a translator to come to the notary's office. We certainly earned that letter of
authorization! Back at the archives, we handed our notarized letter of authorization to the vice director. She made a photocopy of the document, and we were free to take our place once again in the reading room.
The first time that we held one of the folders in our hands was a very exciting moment. I could sense the historical value of these records, which capture some of the most important moments in the lives of a whole community. I was relieved to see that all vital records were written in both Russian and Hebrew, so Lia took charge of examining the names in Russian and I was responsible for the Hebrew. The handwriting wasn't always easy to
follow, but between the two of us we managed beautifully. It is interesting to note that often when the handwriting in Russian was hard to read, the Hebrew was much more legible, and when the Hebrew writing was a mere scribble, the Russian script was clearer. This made us wonder whether this was because the person who did the writing was more fluent in one language and less fluent in the other (and, if so, which language was he more
fluent the clearer handwriting in or the less clear handwriting?) We found the death records to be easiest to read, the marriage records next in legibility, and the birth records in last place.
Within a couple of hours we had already found the marriage record of my great gandparents and then the birth record of my great grandmother’s sister. The next day we found the birth records of my grandfather’s sister and brother, the birth records of two more sisters of my great grandmother, the marriage records of two sisters of my great grandmother, and the death record of my great grandfather and second great grandfather.
To obtain a copy of a document, you can choose between a printed copy or a scanned image file. Both cost the same, a bit more than 40 Hryvnia (about $5 US). You have to fill out a form and take it with you to the bank and pay there. After you come back from the bank you submit the form, and the scanned images or printed documents are given to you some time later (up to a day later, although I think you can ask them to speed it up just a bit).
Note: Taking pictures using mobile devices is strictly prohibited, and I would strongly advise against trying to violate their rules and risking getting kicked out. The guard on the ground floor has a closed-circuit TV that shows him what’s going on in the reading room at all times.
I spent a total of two and a half days in the archives, and (as mentioned
above) found 10 vital records of my ancestors. When I analyze my findings
against the objectives that I set for myself, I have the following results:
o These documents gave us the name of the place of origin of Eliyahu Schatz,
my grandfather's father. It was Mogilev. Now we have to figure out whether this was the Mogilev that is nowadays in Belarus or Mogilev Podolsky in the south of
Ukraine, along the Moldavian border.
o We also have a lot more information about my grandfather's mother's family, and are currently trying to connect ourselves with cousins from her side. Her
maiden name was Shepsenvol, but we do not know whether she had any brothers, so perhaps we will succeed in connecting with fourth cousins.
We'll also try connecting to the descendants of her sisters (third cousins), for which we have the
following married names: Khotimsky, Tserberov, and Sheptowitzky.
o I did not find my grandfather's two sisters, but I have a few more years
of death records that I did not get to, and I'll have to check them during
my next visit.
One of the most important accomplishments is having familiarized myself with the process. I can now say with confidence that I will be back in Chernigov in the near future to check out a few more vital records and to check out the census records, as well. In addition, I think our research might perhaps take me to Minsk, and I am sure that my experience in Chernigov will serve me well there too.
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