Celia’s Story

Let’s move over to the gardener’s grandmother, the wife of Isidore Scheshko. Her name was Celia Goodstein Scheshko. What is her story?

The first document shows her leaving Hamburg for Liverpool. Her name is listed as Civie Gutstein. Of course, that would be an alternative spelling of Goodstein. Goodstein, if anything, looks to be an Americanized spelling. Where does Civie come from? We know from her headstone that her Hebrew name was Tziviah Sheindel (Tzivia Shaindel), so Civie makes perfect sense as a nickname–either how it was pronounced or how the agent heard her say it.

Notice on the above document where Civie was from. Tiraspol! Can you believe it?! All this time, the gardener had thought she was from Odessa and Isidore was from Tiraspol. But it appears that he was from both places and Celia had to be from Tiraspol. The gardener’s grandparents came from the same place? Nothing had ever been said about that–at least in the gardener’s hearing. (Relatives: if you have heard different about this or anything else, please let us know!)

The Ellis Island manifest gives a little more information about Celia.

The SS Caronia sailed from Liverpool on 13 November 1909 and arrived on 20 November 1909 at Ellis Island.

On page 1, it says: Gutstein, Civie 17 yo, dressmaker?,Hebrew from Tiraspol. The name of the nearest relative in the country whence alien came: Borukh Gutestein, Tiraspol, Russia. Final destination: Brooklyn, NY

On page 2, it says: Joining uncle, Max Gutstein in Brooklyn, NY 617 Sackman street.

Celia was detained until the next day after arrival because she was a woman, and the United States government required assurance that she would be provided for. She was being held to hand over, in effect, to her uncle Max who lived in Brooklyn.

These documents show that Celia’s path was from Tiraspol (in what was the Russian Empire and is now Moldova) to Hamburg and then traveling by ship to Liverpool and then to New York City where she was met by her Uncle Max.

If Celia was 17 years old when she immigrated in 1909, she would have been born in 1892. According to her headstone, she was born around 1893. And according to her social security application, she was born 15 Dec 1892. I would say it looks plausible that she really was born in 1892, and that she was 17 when she immigrated.

Another family story that is kind of scuttled by this info is that Celia was a young teen when she immigrated. She really was 17 years old, which is very young, but not a young teen. Of course, when I think of sending my 17-year old across the ocean to a new life and no way to communicate other than slow letters, it defies imagination.

To be continued . . . .

Malka Becomes Molly

Isidore Scheshko’s sister Malka arrived in the United States before anyone else in her family. Or did she? According to the ship manifest, she was coming to her uncle, Berl Silberberg.

Malka was listed on 9 November 1907 on the ship S.S. Patricia out of Hamburg. See Berl’s name on page 2.

The gardener and his cousin have not heard of Berl Silverberg. Was he the husband of the sister of Malka and Isidore’s father, Shimen? Or was he Khaya’s sister’s husband? The family story has always been that Malka and Isidore were the only family members to immigrate to the United States. I can’t help but wonder if Berl really was an uncle or perhaps a friend or ex-neighbor. What was the likelihood of that happenstance?

There were Berl Silberbergs in the United States in those days, but the correct one has not tapped me on the shoulder yet.

Malka was listed as a seamstress, which is very likely, although nobody has a recollection of a story about that.

On the departure record, Malke listed her surname as Schiskin. I read a fascinating article about name changes, and how, contrary to mythic lore, surnames were not changed at Ellis Island. However, a surname might be changed by the individual on the ship manifest when they left Europe. The only record Ellis Island officials used to check someone’s identity was the ship manifest!!! And once someone was “on the ground” in the U.S., he could change his own name without any legal requirement for recording or permission!

So, the question is: did Malke change her surname purposefully? or was her name misheard by the person writing in the ship manifest?

Here is the Ancestry transcription of Malke’s manifest documents. The birth year here is 1887, rather than the actual 1885.

One oddity about the name Schiskin is that, while it is an easy error from Scheshko, it is also a portmanteau name for Scheshko + Riskin. And look who she married!

On 2 May 1915, Malka married Isaac Riskin. She is listed on this marriage record for the State of New York as 24 years old. That means that when she arrived she was only 16, whereas the manifest lists her as 20. But her birth record in Odessa shows her born in 1885, which would mean she was 22 when she immigrated and 30 when she married. On some of the census records, she shows her birth date as 1888 and 1889. None of those ages is out of the realm of possibility, and since we know the birth record I would say that the other documents are in error, either accidentally or purposefully.

 

In the right hand column above, second entry from the bottom, you will find Malka and Isaac’s marriage record. Isaac was 29, a merchant living in Portchester, New York. Malka was now going by the name Molly which she would use for the rest of her life. She has no occupation listed, which I find odd since she would have had to support herself. She was also living in Portchester. What brought her to Portchester?

Parents are listed for both parties. Israel Riskin and Carmina (no surname listed) for Isaac. Samuel Scheshko and Ida (no surname listed) for Molly/Malka. Samuel and Ida for Shimen/Shimel and Khaya. The witnesses were Harry Kasper and Meyer Johnick.

I so wish we had a photograph of the couple. Alas, we don’t have any of Molly/Malka and Isaac. But we do have photographs of their one child, Charlotte, who eventually married the love of her life, Danny Vendola. They lived in Stamford, Connecticut, until they passed away in 1995 (Danny) and 2007 (Charlotte). There were no children from their marriage.

Here is a photo from when Charlotte was on her own after Danny passed, and we visited her with our children, perhaps in 1995 or 96.

 

An Heirloom from The Pale of Settlement

I’ve written a couple of posts about the tragic history of the Jewish population in the towns the Scheshkos were from.

Today I thought I’d share a light post.

These kiddush cups came with Isidore when he immigrated to the United States.

I don’t think they are silver because they seem to be permanently tarnishing in parts. However, it’s possible that they are silverplate. I wonder if the base could be something called German plate, which is 60% copper, 20% nickel and 20% zinc, but I have no way of knowing. Best guess is some sort of silverplate as I have some silverplated objects from among my wedding gifts. The plating is probably wearing off

These two cups do not match, and they are not very ornate, although they each have a design engraved near the rim. I suspect that the larger cup has the tree of life replicated over and over, encircling it. The smaller cup has a design that looks like berries. Could they be grapes?

That they are the only objects we have that Isidore brought with him makes them very special.

A kiddush cup is used for the blessing over the wine for both Shabbat and for holidays. They’ve been used for many, many Passovers.

Do you have an heirloom that belonged to a branch of your family that you know very little about (the branch, not the heirloom)?

Not a Family Heirloom, but a Family Holiday

Just wishing you a Happy Hanukkah. I have a party to plan, so I will be back next week!

This menorah is not a family heirloom, but one purchased in an antique store by the gardener. I’ve found several like this online. They appear to be circa 1920 or perhaps a bit before.

If you would like to see a museum quality menorah, here is a link to a menorah from 18th century – mid-19th century from Eastern Galicia or Western Ukraine HERE.

Blessings be with you this festival of lights!

See you next week.

The Mysteries of Genealogy

Whenever you research genealogy and family history, there are mysteries. Sometimes solving mysteries means discovering new mysteries. But I think researching Jewish history means encountering more difficulties and, hence, mysteries than most other Western culture genealogy. The documents are difficult to locate–if they exist today at all. And there are obstacles all over the path toward success.

A mystery we have right now is where Celia Goodstein Scheshko was born and grew up before immigrating to the United States as a teen. The gardener was told by both his father and his father’s cousin Charlotte that she was from Odessa. There was no mention that she and Isidore might have come from the same city/town.

At first, Inna thought that Isidore probably was from Odessa and then his family moved to Tiraspol, moving back eventually to Odessa. This is based on addresses given on various documents. But finding Shimel Sheshko in Tiraspol during the famine in 1922 makes me think the family had stayed in or gone back to Tiraspol. The timeline is a mystery.

Still, if Celia was from Odessa, it would be clear that she and Isidore came from the same place. And if she were from Tiraspol, it would be the same situation.

There is a death record for Khaim, son of Borokh Gutstein, among Tiraspol cemetery records. Khaim was born in 1897, so if he were Celia’s brother it would make sense because she was born in or around 1892. According to Celia’s headstone, her father’s name was Baruch Goodstein.

The gardener took a DNA test with Ancestry, and I added it to FTDNA also. He has five matches for Goodsteins on Ancestry and four on FTDNA, but that doesn’t mean much of anything. The closest match is a match through his mother, not his father, so Goodstein is likely a coincidence. He has no Sheshko matches on either site.

Now here’s a DNA puzzle. I found a woman who has Sheshko lineage from Vasilishki. Later, Inna found the same woman. But there are no DNA matches between the gardener and this woman, a situation that is virtually impossible, given that Vasilishki was not more than a shtetl. Any Sheshkos would be related to each other.

It’s important to remember that with Jewish Ashkenazy DNA, there are many many matches, but they are very distant relations. Jews in the Pale of Settlement tended to marry within their own villages, even their own families, out of necessity. Inna explained that most of the gardener’s matches could only be found by tracing ancestry for both people back to the 1600s or earlier. This would be impossible. I know this sounds strange, but doesn’t that mean that it’s even more odd that he doesn’t have a DNA match with this woman? I am NOT good with the DNA science. It makes my head fuzz up inside.

I thought I’d leave you with images from Wikipedia of the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theatre building that was built in 1887, which is the same year that Isidore was born (also in Odessa). The gorgeous architecture shows you what a cosmopolitan city Odessa was.

 

The Places Behind the Faces, Part II: Tiraspol

Last week I wrote about Vasilishki where Isidore’s father Shimel was born. Today it is Tiraspol, which is in modern Moldova, because that is where Isidore claimed to be from. Yes, his birth record shows his birth and those of his siblings in Odessa, but the family apparently lived in both Tiraspol and Odessa. We don’t yet have the timeline or why all the children would be born in Odessa, but the family had strong ties to Tiraspol.

At first I was very confused because Odessa is in Ukraine and Tiraspol is in Moldova–two completely different countries. They are only 65 miles apart and when Isidore and his family lived in that region, it was all part of the Russian Empire.

When we discovered the Odessa birth index with the Scheshkos listed, I wondered if Tiraspol had been a mistake, but the cemetery where Isidore and Celia are buried recorded that they were buried by the TIRASPOL YOUNG MEN BENEVOLENT society.

Tiraspol can be spelled Tyraspol or Tirashpol, but should not be confused with Terespol, a town in Poland, near Belarus.

This painting was completed around 1900 by painter Mikhail Larionov. It’s called “A Small Jewish Shop in Tiraspol.”

You can find an old and a new photo of the city here.

Tiraspol is part of the International Jewish Cemetery Project. There are graves there that need protecting or, at least, recording. In 2004, over 70 headstones were vandalized, and the city would not clean up the anti-Semitic graffiti. Here are a couple of photos of the cemetery.

The city is the second largest in Moldova (population about 134,000-200,000, depending on the source). The two state languages in the territory of the Transnistria Republic are Russian and Moldavian, but in Tiraspol, the Moldavian language isn’t used much. You can often hear Ukrainian since a large portion of the population has Ukrainian ancestry, but Russian is the main language.

In the middle ages, Tiraspol was a “buffer zone” (Wikipedia) between the Tatars and the Moldavians, and both ethnic groups lived in the city. The modern city really began, though, with the Russians who conquered the area at the end of the 18th century.

I thought this tidbit from Wikipedia is interesting:

In 1828 the Russian government established a customs house in Tiraspol to try to suppress smuggling. The customs house was subordinated to the chief of the Odessa customs region.

From this and other information I’ve picked up over the past few weeks, I think Tiraspol was part of the greater Odessa area during the Russian Empire years. I do think it’s important to remember that Tiraspol is a city, not a village like Vasilishki.

According to JewishGen, the Jewish population in 1897 was 8,659 and in 1926 it was 6,398. The decline could be from emigration, but there is another story about Tiraspol that needs to be told.

Here is an excellent history from the International Jewish Cemetery Project:

Tiraspol [was] founded in 1795 .  .  . . On the eastern bank of the Dniester River, Tiraspol is one of the few cities largely unchanged from Soviet Union rule. (Two statues of Lenin still stand.) As result of the political and economic situation that followed the proclamation of the independent (not recognized) Republic of Transnistria, the population of the city in 2004 was 158,069. Tiraspol had a Jewish population since the 17th century. Tiraspol was founded by the Russian general Alexander Suvorov in 1792. In the mid-19th century, Jews from Russia, Dubossari, and Grigoriopol settled in Tiraspol. By 1897, the Jewish community was 27% of  8,668 residents. Nearly the entire Jewish community perished in Nazi concentration camps.

So there it is. What I hadn’t wanted to read. Most of the Jewish community died in the camps. Were the Scheshkos there at the time of WWII? I think it’s possible to come closer to knowing with the following information.

Our researcher Inna’s own family comes from Tiraspol, so she has collected some documents pertaining to the situation right after the Russian Revolution in 1917.

These documents relate to a terrible famine that plagued the area during the 1920s. The majority of people were hungry, but the Jewish population was worse off than the others.

American Jews with ties to Tiraspol tried to help those left behind. The Tiraspoler Landsmanschaft collected donations and sent money for food, such as cocoa, sugar, milk, flour, barley, and fish. But much of it was diverted elsewhere along the way. I read a ONE INCH THICK collection of documents about the dire situation.

Dr. Bacilieri wrote a report in German of his trip to check on the conditions in Tiraspol. He said the chldren were “the worst sufferers and in terrible condition.”

I saw a child about 8-10 years old searching in a dust heap looking for something to eat. I saw another child about 10-12 years old frying the skin of a dog for food. Many children do not return at night but sleep under a fence or on the streets so that they may be in a position to get something to eat.

The doctor says the entire population was filthy and covered with lice. People were sick (often from typhus) and dying, yet their relatives could not afford burials for them.

The Jewish residents of Tiraspol organized a system of men to receive the goods and distribute them. This is how I know that the Scheshkos lived in Tiraspol at this time.

On a Tiraspoler Landsmanschaft memo, Shimen (Shimel) Scheshko is listed as an alternate to the list of men receiving the goods. He and his family were in need.

So the Russian Revolution had not brought about a relief to old sufferings for the inhabitants of Tiraspol. Instead, they had new suffering and many died during this period.

So that decline in population by 1926 could be from emigration, but it could be from starvation and disease.

I was very upset after reading this thick stack of papers documenting the plight of the residents of Tiraspol during this period. And now to discover through the IJCP history that none of the Tiraspol Jews survived the Holocaust, it’s mind-boggling to me. One trauma after another after another.

Here is a little more info from the IJCP about what happened a generation and beyond after the war:

By the 1960s, nearly 1,500 Jews lived in Tiraspol. Police arrested several skinheads suspected of pipe bombing a Tiraspol synagogue in April and June 2002 on 14-15 April 2001. The building was damaged, but the guard was not hurt. 4 May 2004, vandals threw a Molotov cocktail in an attempt to set fire to a Synagogue in Tiraspol. The attack failed when passers-by extinguished the fire. Since 2001, the Welfare Cultural Center combines welfare and cultural programs for the Jewish community. Current Jewish population: 2,300 people in Tiraspol and 130 people in nine surrounding localities. [March 2009] REFERENCE: Jewish Tombstones in Ukraine and Moldova, 551, bibl. 1153, 7/14/1993, GOBERMAN D., title: Image Publishing House, 1993, English/Russian.Source: Daniel Dratwa;. d.dratwa@mjb-jmb.org Jewish Museum of Belgium

 

I hope that through the IJCP we will eventually find that there are Scheshko headstones in the Tiraspol cemetery. Very few Jewish records exist for Tiraspol, so we were lucky that the Scheshko children and the marriage was recorded in Odessa instead.

There is a site online that I have to mention:

This is a place where all current and former Tiraspol residents interested in their Jewish roots can meet and exchange information about their families.

Click here to go to the site for photos, notable residents, and other information.

The Places Behind the Faces, Part I: Vasilishki

If you look carefully at the translation of the birth records on Finding Names for the Photograph, we have another hint for further research from the birth records. The gardener’s great-grandfather Shimel (sometimes Shimen) is not originally from Odessa or Tiraspol after all, although the family lived in both places. He is originally from Vasilishki, which is in Belarus.

As a reminder, this photo is Isidore and his family (except sister Malka who was in the U.S.). Take a look at the father, Shimel, seated in the center. He was born into a family of Vasilishki Scheshkos who had probably been in that town for generations.

Inna tried to find Shimel’s birth record, but the Lithuanian archive that houses these records does not have Jewish birth records for the year Shimel was born. They have very few Jewish records for Vasilishki at all. But there was one large Scheshko family in town, that is clear. It’s possible that Mendel, son of Girsch (born 1833), could be Shimel’s father.

Shimel’s birth in Vasilishki means that the name Scheshko (Sheshko) might not be Ukrainian, but come from elsewhere. Inna used Alexander Beider’s A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames and discovered that “Jews with this surname lived in Ukmerge (old name Vilkomir) town that is located in Lithuania, Lida, Belarus, Village Sheshki in Panevėžys district of Lithuania and village Sheshki in Ashmyani district of Belarus. So if the family lived in one of the Sheshki villages, then the surname is toponymic.” That would mean that the name came from where they lived at the time they took the name. This differs from family folklore, which is that the name came from the trade of ironworker or sword maker. No definitive decision on the origins of the surname yet.

Vasilishki is still in existence. You can get a feel for what it looks like today HERE. Google will translate it into English, if you wish. It did not look this way before WWII. It was a drab, gray town set in a beautiful landscape with forest, streams, and meadows. The railway station was sixteen kilometers (ten miles) away.

JewishGen profiles Jewish communities, including Vasilishki. From that site, I found the following information. Before WWI, the town was in the Lida district, Vilna province, and part of the Russian Empire. Between WWI and WWII it was still the Lida district, but now it was Poland. After WWII Vasilishki was part of the Soviet Union and today it is in Belarus. Think of it as in the Vilna region. It is 20 miles WSW of Lida and 42 miles east of Grodno. There were sixteen nearby Jewish communities. Not documented to my satisfaction, but of interest, is an online report that suggests that the town was first mentioned (that we know today) in 1486. Jews may have lived there since the 16th or 17th century.

The Jewish population in 1897 was 2,081 (out of a total of 2,780), but in 1921, it was 1,223. Jews made up about 80% of the town, and it could be considered a shtetl. In 1909 a men’s private Jewish school was opened. JewishGen has a list of Jewish surnames that were found in Vasilishki in 1834. They include Sheshko.

In the 1920s the entire region was constantly changing as it was just after the Russian Revolution of 1917. One Jewish response to the changing world was the creation of the Betar movement, which was a Revisionist Zionist youth movement founded in 1923. Very soon there were chapters across Europe. It was an influential group. For instance, Menachem Begin, Israeli prime minister (on and off between 1980 and 1983), was a member of this youth group. Vasilishki had its own Betar group before and perhaps during WWII.The organization still exists today, particularly on college campuses.

Betar of Vasilishki

Click the photo to enter the source at JewishGen

Of course, this history leads up to WWII and the Holocaust. If you wonder as I did what happened to the town’s inhabitants, I will tell you that Jews no longer live in Vasilishki.

If you recall on my post Who Are These Other Scheshkos? I posted a small portion of a list from a database of Jews that were murdered in the Holocaust. These were Sheshkos from Vasilishki. At the time it seemed far away from our Scheshko/Sheshkos, but now we know that the gardener’s great-grandfather left Vasilishki at some point. Presumably, he left his family behind in Vasilishki. Realistically, it appears at this point as if the Sheshkos listed as murdered were actually the gardener’s relatives. This was quite a blow to absorb as up ’til now the gardener did not really connect his father’s relatives with the Holocaust.

There was another list I put up–of Jews who survived the Holocaust–and there were Scheshkos in Belice. On this map from JewishGen you can see how close Vasilishki is to “Bielica,” which is possibly the Belice on the list. If Vasilishki is 20 miles from Lida, then clearly it’s not much farther to Bielica. Of course, we don’t know what happened to these people after the war, but notice the names. Ida Scheshko, like Isidore’s mother. It does seem unlikely though as the last place we see her (so far) was Odessa and she would have been quite old. It’s possible that the Belice survivors are related to the Shesko/Scheshko/Scheschkos in Canada, but this is just an intuitive leap, and I could be wrong.

What actually happened in Vasilishki during the war? Before the Germans arrived there, the military sent all the Jews into the forest in case of bombing. They had to pray silently during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. When the Russians retreated and the Germans arrived, they ordered everyone back to their homes. At first, the Jewish population thought that this was a good thing and they communicated easily with the Germans through Yiddish. But quickly they started to see the cracks.

A forest in Belarus

Wikipedia

At the very end of 1941 a ghetto (read: prison) was established in Vasilishki by the Nazis for the Vasilishki Jews, as well as those from neighboring villages. They were worked very hard. The Lithuanian police, on May 10, 1942, helped the Nazis select Jews to be killed. Pits had been dug in the Jewish cemetery, and between 1,800 and 2,200 Jews were shot and killed and buried in the pits. About 200 people were transferred to other ghettos, and a few escaped into the forest.

On JewishGen, I found the Vasilishki portion of Shchuchin Yizkor Book which includes testimony from survivors of Vasilishki and provides a narration of what occurred before, during, and after the war. You can go here to read more. And Vasilishki is mentioned elsewhere on the site, as well. I don’t think it requires joining JewishGen, but you can join for free if you like, although a donation would be appreciated.

The Vasilishki Jews who were murdered by the Nazis are honored in the Forest of the Martyrs in Israel.