Saturday, October 5, 2013

International Man of Mystery

I'm still working my way through the contents of The Box, and I've already found some really fun stuff. There are pictures of my uncle Willie taken before WWII; pictures of my dad looking very tidy in uniform, and pictures of him looking very scruffy on the troopship coming home; pictures of my dad's college graduation; pictures of my mother, apparently about 15 minutes before she went into labor; pictures of our first dog; family pictures with my paternal grandmother; pictures of my brother and me as little kids. And I'm not even halfway through.

This is my favorite so far. It's my paternal grandfather, Harry Spevak.

It's appropriate that I start off with Harry. He was my introduction to family history research, and my first total dead end.

Although I've probably spent more time trying to track this guy down than I've spent on anybody else in my family, I don't really know much about him. He died before I was born. This is one of only three pictures of him I've ever seen. Here's what I've patched together from naturalization documents my dad obtained years ago from the archives at Bowling Green State University, from online census and marriage records, from city directories, and from stories about him my dad told me over the years.

The first thing I don't know about him is where he was born. I knew he came from Russia, but that's a pretty big place. He said he was from a small town that sounded (to my dad, who spoke only English and had no ear for languages at all) like 'Petich', in the Russian state (or equivalent governmental entity) of 'Minskepegonia'. The nearest big city was 'Cabrusk'.

According to the passenger manifest when he arrived in New York in 1906, he was born in Karpilovka. On his naturalization papers, his place of birth looks kind of like 'Parecp':

Some quality time with old maps and the JewishGen Gazetteer turned up the following possibilities:

Parichi, Bobruisk, Minsk, Russia
Alternate names: Parichi [Rus], Poritch [Yid], Parycze [Pol], Paryčy [Bel]
25 miles SSE of Bobruysk.
Jewish population in 1900: 3,132

Karpilovka, Rogachev, Mogilev, Russia
Alternate names: Zhlobin [Rus, Bel, Yid], Zlobin [Pol], Schlobin [Ger], Žlobinas [Lith], Zlobin, Korpilovka Belarusian: Жлобін. Russian: Жлобин.
38 miles ESE of Babruysk (Bobruisk), 27 miles ENE of Parichi
Jewish Population in 1900: 1,760

I'm guessing he was born in one of those places, and unless/until more information turns up, guessing is the best I can do. I know he was born on 10 July 1884, but I don't know who his parents were, or whether he had any siblings.

He was a cabinetmaker – he bristled at being called a carpenter. He spoke several languages, including Polish, Russian, and Yiddish. He was a socialist; an admirer of Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish political activist and writer. Because of his involvement in an attempt to organize a general strike, he was forced to go into hiding, changing his name several times to avoid detention. He left Russia in 1906, leaving behind a wife and child/children. He'd been a pretty busy guy, and he was only 22.

The first real written documentation I have for my grandfather is the passenger manifest for the S.S. Petersburg, which left Libau on 18 December 1906, arriving in New York on 27 December. This document says he's 23 (close enough), married, a joiner, able to read and write. His 'Race or People' is 'Hebrew', and his last permanent residence was in Karpilovka, Russia. He paid for his own ticket to New York, and was in possession of about $50. He was not a polygamist or an anarchist, had never been in prison or an almshouse, and was in good physical and mental health. He was 5'2",  dark complexion, with blue eyes and blue hair (hey, that's what it says). All that (except the blue hair) fit with what my dad knew of him.

What didn't fit was his name. And his wife, with whom he was traveling, was a woman we've never heard of. They were going to join her brother, who lived at 177-179 Monroe St., New York City. We'd never heard of him, either.



  1. Congrats on the limb climbing endeavor. GeneaBloggers -- oh my there's a significant amount of time that rabbit hole will take! :0

    The photo of Henry is awesome -- he looks so confident. Definitely worth it to keep shaking the tree. Not sure I follow. Was the passenger manifest part of the naturalization papers obtained from the Bowling Green archive? Or was it a separate, and maybe questionable, find? What name was on the manifest? Inquiring minds here...

    Also, fyi... on the comment name choices, there isn't one to just put in a name. Lost my first comments trying to do so!

  2. Donna, the passenger manifest/naturalization paper thing is a real tangle. Seemed like this post was confusing enough, so I decided to take a run at it next time. More questions than answers, with this guy.

    Sorry about the comments – I don't like it, either. I'm still trying to figure out the pros and cons of integrating with Google+, and this is one of the cons. Google+ hooks up with lots of other genealogy-related blogs, which is kind of cool, but it limits who can leave comments, which is not cool. The Google rationale is that anybody can leave a comment, they just have to sign up for a Google account, which is free. But if what if they don't like the taste of Kool-Aid? I haven't decided what I'm going to do about it, yet. Anyway, thanks for being persistent!

  3. I love reading about your hunt for the dead LOL. and the package had great some great stuff yeah. I shall now go and see if my comment goes through.

  4. Sounds like you're having fun. Glad you have been able to explore the past. I was overwhelmed by the volume of pictures and information to be organized, but I'm very close to being done. Yayy!