One of the cardinal rules of genealogy should be, “Go back and look at everything again. Do it again. And again.” People mention it but we don’t always want to do it- we would rather do the exciting searching and find the big, new, ta-da!
I really should know better, and I really should revisit families every few years. I also really should have learned my lesson after searching for a maiden name for years, and then finding it later in handwritten notes taken while talking with older family members long ago. Oh well, the thrill of discovery was so sweet- at least until I realized I already had that information and could have been researching something else instead.
The above photo is a prime example of why one should revisit data after they have learned more, or just when time has passed and one can see things with a fresh eye. I have had a copy of this image for 30+ years, and occasionally thought about trying to have someone translate the reverse of the photo but didn’t know where I could get that done. Today I was looking at a scan of a family history album that a dear aunt put together, and it hit me- look up the word on the right– “Witebsk”- it is probably a place. Sure enough, it is. And it may have just told us where that branch of the family lived before immigration to the United States.
(Note: Family oral history and the death certificate of Rose Brave state she was born in Kaunas, Lithuania, which is 285 miles from Witebsk; Abraham was also born in Kaunas per oral history/their daughter.)
The woman in the photo is probably the mother of either Abraham Green, or his wife, Rose (Brave) Green’s, mother. See my previous post for more information about Abraham Green and Rose Braef: http://heritageramblings.net/2014/01/07/wedding-wednesday-abraham-green-and-rose-braef-or-rose-brave If she is Rose’s mother, her first name may have been Sarah.
The portrait of the woman we suspect was Abraham or Rose’s mother was taken in Witebsk.
Witebsk is the Polish spelling for Vitebsk, one of the oldest Slavonic cities found in the northeastern section of what is today Belarus. It is strategically located at the Zapadnaya Dvina and the Vitba Rivers, and is a crossroad to many trade routes. It had been a part of Lithuania but became a part of Belarus and the Russian Empire in 1772. In 1812, Napoleon battled Russian armies near the walls of Vitebsk- Abraham and Rose’s parents or grandparents may have witnessed those battles.
Witebsk and Belarus were centers of European Jewry for much of the 1800s, although the Russian Czars repressed the local Polish culture, and that of the Jews, during that time in a campaign of Russification. By the 1897 Russian Census, about 52% of the Vitebsk population of 65,900 were Jewish ( 34,400 persons). This large percentage of Jews persisted in the region until World War II. Sadly, in 1944 when the city was liberated from the German occupation, only about 118 of the city’s 138,000 inhabitants remained in the city; most of the Jews (possibly 16,000) had been moved to the Vitebsk Ghetto and then massacred in October 1941, possibly including some Green and Braef cousins. Other citizens had been put into concentration or work camps, died during the occupation, etc.
Abraham and Rose chose to emigrate in the mid-1880s, thankfully before the World Wars- was it the draw of freedom of religion, language, speech, assembly, etc. in America that made them undertake such an arduous plan? Was it a poor economy in Witebsk? Was it the parental hope of making life better for their children? Maybe all these played into the tough decision to leave family and friends and move to America.
The town hall, above, would have been regularly seen by Rose and Abraham as they traveled throughout the city, as would be the Catholic churches below.
Marc Chagall (1887-1985), the Jewish artist, is one of the Vitebsk region’s most famous sons.
Today, Vitebsk is a cultural, industrial, and economic center in the region. With over 350,000 residents, over one-fifth of the region’s industrial output is contributed by Vitebsk, concentrating in mechanical engineering, metal- and wood-working, light and food industries. Science and education are well represented. It is still a crossroads with connections via rail, air, and automobile transport.
Notes, Sources, and References:
1) Wikipedia entries and Wikimedia images for Belarus, Vitebsk, Vitebsk Ghetto, Marc Chagall: wikipedia.org.
2) Vitebsk City Executive Committee Offical Site: http://www.vitebsk.gov.by/en/region/history
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