Another Day at the Genealogy Office

Today, I corresponded with 3 women I’ve never met:

1) One was a 23andMe match to my mother who is searching for her birth parents.

2) One was a 23andMe match to my mother whose father emigrated from Pultusk, Poland, after WWII. Pultusk, of course, is where my mother’s father was born.

3) One was someone I’d corresponded with before, whom I first encountered on She is not related to me, but she is a 3rd cousin of 1st cousins of mine.

Villages of Pułtusk

My mother’s father’s family was from Pultusk, Poland, a little bit north of Warsaw. In Polish, it’s spelled Pułtusk, with that special “L” in the middle. I have been examining original birth, marriage, and death records from that area, and I kept encountering references to village names, which I didn’t understand, since they were also referencing Pułtusk. I have finally made some sense out of it.

It turns out that Pułtusk is also the name of a county. Pułtusk County has its county seat in the city of Pułtusk. In Poland, counties (districts) are divided into administrative divisions (subdistricts) called gminas. There are 7 gminas in Pułtusk. The gmina of interest to me is Gmina Gzy.

Gmina Gzy is a rural district to the west of Pultusk city. Its population is only around 4000, but it contains about 50 villages, average population 80 per village. At least 3 of those villages are featured in the records related to my family. Zalesie-Grzymały was the home village of Isaac Joskowicz (my great grandfather) when he got married in 1884. I have seen a couple other names from that gmina in other records, and I expect to see more as I examine additional records more closely.

So what does this mean, apart from getting the right town names? For one, it means that my family was not from the “big city” of Pultusk, as I previously had believed, but from tiny rural shtetls to the west. I don’t have historical population information about those villages at the times they lived there, but for now I am assuming that they were similar, that my ancestors worked on farms or other rural tasks. It’s a little more insight into my family history.

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date marks the anniversary on the Jewish calendar of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, but of course it represents so much more. The Holocaust directly impacted my family in ways that I know and do not know.

My mother’s mother’s brother, Chaim Weisskopf, lived in Germany with his wife and 3 children in the early 1940s. They knew they were in danger and wanted to at least get the children out of the country. They were in touch with the French Hidden Jewish Children program, but that program only accepted children in a narrow age range. The oldest son was too old, the daughter was too young. They accepted the middle child, Werner Weisskopf, and they managed to get him to America in 1942, where he was raised by my mother’s parents as a son. As far as we know, the rest of the family was killed.

My father’s father’s family, Sepersky, was from Kletsk in modern Belarus. They left around 1900. The Jewish population of Kletsk was killed in the early 1940s by the Nazis. This page lists several people named Sepersky who were killed at that time. Perhaps they were cousins?

Year of Birth
Place of Residence 
Fate based on this source
Ceperski,Aron Kleck, Poland‎ Page of Testimony Murdered
Tzeperski,Aron Kleck Area, Poland‎ List of persecuted pe … Murdered
Tzeperski,Leyba Kleck Area, Poland‎ List of persecuted pe … Murdered
Tzeperski,Avsey 1910 Kleck Area, Poland‎ List of persecuted pe … Murdered
Tzeperski,Yesel 1902 Kleck Area, Poland‎ List of persecuted pe … Murdered
Ceperski,Yehoshua Kleck, Poland‎ Page of Testimony Murdered
Ceperski,Ester Kleck, Poland‎ Page of Testimony Murdered

I know that the Holocaust affected my other ancestral towns of Pultusk, Poland, and Brody, Ukraine, possibly killing other unknown cousins. It’s difficult to research any town in Eastern Europe without encountering a phrase like, “most of the Jewish community was wiped out by the Nazis in the 1940s”. So, while today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am forced to remember it most days I research my family. This is the least appealing aspect of my genealogical journey.

What was my grandmother’s maiden name?

My father’s mother was born Rebecca Joseph, according to my mother and brother. I have not been able to find any information about her under that name, though, and as such, I have found no information about her parents and little verifiable information about her siblings.

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered an alternative last name. The birth certificate of my uncle Ben from 1907 lists his father as Samuel Saporky and mother and Beckie Fakir. That must be them, but Fakir is not Joseph. “Fakir” is Turkish for “Poor”, so maybe she was just saying in Turkish (which she may have been) that they were very poor, and that was put down on the birth certificate.

Now, I have found information about what appears to be the marriage license of my grandparents. In 1904, Philadelphia recorded the marriage of Samuel Separisky and Rebecca Hirsh. Again, that seems to be them, but now there’s the name Hirsh, not Joseph or Fakir. Here’s another lead for me to search immigration and marriage records for her siblings.

Belorussian Genealogy

Last night, I attended a talk by Yuri Dorn of the Jewish Heritage Research Group in Belarus. He spoke primarily about 19th century Jewish history in Belarus and methods of doing genealogical research, exactly what I was hoping to learn about, as my father’s father’s family was from Kletsk, a shtetl near Minsk, Belarus.

A couple of the nuggets of information that I got from the history related to the names and the military service. Jews did not have last names, traditionally, referring to people by their first names and then “son of” or “daughter of” their father. In 1798, the Russian government (the area was part of the Russian Empire at the time) decreed that all people should have last names, so they could track them better for census and tax purposes. I expect that the Sepersky (Tseperskij) name was created at that time, probably based on the Tsepra region, near Kletsk, though I have no documentation to support that.

Throughout the 1800s, Jewish boys were required to serve in the military, at time as young as age 12 and as long as 25 years. Over time, the laws changed, to be age 19 and only 3 years, but this was still highly disruptive to Jewish life. One of my grandfather’s brothers claimed that the family moved to America to keep him from having to serve in the military. That was one of the big incentives for Jewish emigration from Russia in the 19th century.

The two main difficulties in researching my ancestors from that area are that the records are not complete, many having been damaged or destroyed over the years, and that they are not easily accessible. Very few of them are online. The best ways to do this research are to make requests to the Belorussian officials, hire private genealogists from the area, or to travel to Belarus and hire a translator and do it yourself. None of these options are easy or inexpensive.

I don’t have any current plans to travel to Minsk. For now, I’ll probably just hold out hope that Belarus becomes more open with their history and allows more of their information to be digitized.