One of the genealogical mysteries I’ve had is how to figure out from where people come. On my father’s side, he was always told his grandmother’s family was from Vilna. But that same grandmother had a half-sister who told her grandchildren that they came from Hrodna. Still sorting that one out.

My great-grandmother Yetta, though, I know was born in Varaklani, Latvia. Her birth place has been written in more than one place. However, she clearly wasn’t living in Varaklani all of her life, as I have letters written to her from my great-grandfather Abe, who was in Varaklani at the time. The letters are a treasure trove and I still have one left to be translated from the Yiddish, but one thing they helped was determining where Yetta was living.

I found her ship’s manifest that said she was born in Varaklani, in Vilna at the time of departure, and that her father was in Vilna. But was she living in Vilna? Maybe she just went to Vilna to say good-bye to her family. Her father’s address was given in Vilna, but for the life of me, I can’t read exactly what it says, except to make out “Father: Enuch Doragoi [close enough: his name was Henoch] 12 [something] Wilna Russia.”

Henoch Darogoi's address

But then I had a letter from Yetta to Abe translated, which was written in 1906, a year before she immigrated. Yetta wrote (note, her Yiddish is extremely difficult to read, hence all the question marks and empty spaces):

I figure that you must have read this in the newspaper, but in my opinion I should write you about this also. On the edge of Zavalne and the edge of Troke Street, across from Povelanke, if you are familiar with it, they threw a bomb. It is not known whether with a bullet or if he/it [?] went and fell and the bomb exploded and things fell. On both sides of the street buildings trembled and windows flew out. On the 4th floor rooms are missing from the walls and people who walked by were wounded. One person’s arm was torn off, another’s an eye, one young woman died the next day. Furthermore this week a young man was shot in jail ___ [?], that he had shot the police chief. And they shoot or they hang in many of the jails, and one finds them the next day thrown on the cemetery grounds in just/without [?] their clothing. What should I tell you, they take enough revenge on the people from the jails.

At first I just focused on the content. Horrible times to have lived through. And then one morning, I had an “a ha!” moment. Yetta mentioned street names. Now, if I could just determine that those streets were in Vilna, I’d have my evidence that she was actually living there. But how to determine that?

First thing I had to do was transliterate the street names into Cyrillic. There are plenty of Web sites that help with that, but I used LexiLogos.

With those Cyrillic words handy, I went to the Map Archive of Wojskowy Instytut Geograficzny. This is an amazing resource with old maps of Central and Eastern Europe. The letter was written around 1906. So I looked for a map of Vilna around then. Lo and behold, they have a map of Vilna in 1904. I blew that sucker up, and started scanning it looking for words that matched the Cyrillic words I had found. I thought that maybe I had found two of the words, but given that I was transliterating a transliteration (remember, this was going from Yiddish to English to Cyrillic), I knew my words would not be exact. So I asked for help. I have two friends, Yury and Nina, who are native Russian speakers and they have been the most amazing resource for all my Russian questions (and, yes, I have had [and will most likely continue to have] many, many Russian questions–Nina and Yury are responsible for a good number of my genealogical breakthroughs). I can’t say enough how much I appreciate their assistance. Anyway, I sent them a screen shot of the area I thought contained the street names, and asked if I had it right.

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 8.31.19 PM

I did! I had thought all three names were streets, but they it’s most likely the last one was the neighborhood name, and I just missed that. They wrote that Завальная (Zavalne) goes vertically, Трокская (Troke) goes to the right and Погулянская (Povelanke) goes to the left and that Povelanke (Погулянка) is also marked on the map as a neighborhood (in bigger font, just to the left of the intersection on the bigger map).

I don’t know when Yetta left Latvia for Vilna or why (or rather, why her father went–she most likely just followed him), but I can say definitively that she was living in Vilna for a time. I still want to figure out Henoch’s address, as it would be fun to be able to pinpoint it on the map, but this is a solid start.

Now, to solve that Vilna/Hrodna situation….