A Genealogical Study


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We started with nothing. Absolutely nothing. My dad had agonised for over 50 years about the origins of his paternal grandparents. They had been incredibly secretive about their past, refusing to say where in Russia they came from or what their surname was before it was Marks. They would tell vague stories, such as that they lived in a tiny village that was three days' and three nights' ox cart ride from the nearest town! My grandfather knew very little about it himself. He was told they came from "Petcha Gubernia", but also that this was a Russian swear-word, and must never be mentioned! I later found out that "gubernia" roughly translates as "province" and refers to one of a number of administrative areas in the former Russian Empire. These were the lengths they went to to bury their past. However, Gertrude Brown once said she thought the surname had originally been Tarkovsky or Tarakovsky. To my dad, this issue has been a source of immense frustration to him all his life, as he feels that a huge part of his identity lies in his family heritage. Gertie's death (and the resulting collection of wonderful family photos) and my growing interest in tracing my family tree in my early-mid-teens inspired us to set out together to see if we could trace the family ourselves.


Although we found Gertrude's birth certificate on the St Catherine's Index, and Myer and Jane's graves in Rice Lane cemetery in Liverpool, we failed to achieve anything notable. My quest to find what turned out to be the Tarakhovskii family is what first inspired me to use the Internet, and the first three sites I ever visited were Hotmail, Yahoo and JewishGen. However, I continued to draw blanks for several years. Even the translation of the Russian inscription on the reverse of the photo of Gitl and Nyunya (Photos Page 8) could not provide us with satisfactory results for the surname or place name, and we had some other wonderful old photos from Gertie's estate, depicting a number of people we did not recognise.


All we knew were the few descendants of Myer and Jane, and nothing else. However, in April 2002, during a telephone call to Keith Brown in Vancouver on a different issue, he was kind enough to respond to our questions about the family history with three leads: he said there were cousins of the name Kaitiff in Southport, Harris in Blackpool and Black in Philadelphia. He also told us that the family came from the town of Bakhmach, in the Ukraine. Through friends in the Liverpool Jewish community, we obtained Joel Kaitiff’s telephone number. In a thrilling evening which included a number of phone calls, it transpired that Joel had amassed quite a bit of information about the Tarakhovskii family, mainly through work done by his aunt Raie Kaitiff in Southport in 1982 and by Sally Baratz in Milwaukee in 1983. Myer and Jane were included on Raie's family tree, and the connection was made at last! Following a trail of telephone numbers, I was able to make a contact in each of the five other branches of the Tarakhovskii family tree that we now knew about. I gleaned information and pasted it all together, listening to total strangers tell me who the unknown people were in our photos, and chat about our ancestors as their cousins. It was incredible! Doreen and Sid Silver hosted a wonderful re-union for some of the British Tarakhovskii family in July 2002, where my dad and I could, at last, meet members of the family we had been searching for for so long.


Since then, I have been able to build up a detailed picture of the descendants of Solomon Tarakhovskii, based on family legend, photos, census listings and street directory listings.


In early 2005, I found the Black family's listing on the 1920 US census in Milwaukee, WI. Listed with them was a Nathan Tarachow, nephew of the head of household. This Nathan also appeared on the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), but not on my tree. A coincidental meeting with Joel Kaitiff in shul one Friday night a few weeks later resulted in my visit to his house that Sunday. He offered to let me look through his extensive collection of family letters, documents and photos, amongst which were several letters written by Sally Baratz to either Joel and his wife Susan, or to Raie Kaitiff, in the early 1980s. One of these quite clearly explained that Nathan's father was Sally's father's brother, which meant that there was a seventh child of Solomon Tarakhovskii, hitherto unknown to me!


The SSDI included a listing for a Donald Tarachow, born around right time to be Nathan's son, based on Nathan's SSDI listing. I also used my favourite US search engine to locate Tarachows in  the US. One of these was a Joan Tarachow, living at the same zip code as the one on Donald's SSDI listing, so I phoned her. Sure enough, Joan is Donald's widow, and she explained that Nathan was the eldest of a number of children, and all the others had remained in the former Soviet Union, and not emigrated to the West. She has had contact for several years with Nathan's nephew, Yury Tarahovsky, as he has lectured at universities in the US and Canada. She put me in touch with him and, amazingly, it turns out that his daughter is a postgraduate student at Westminster University in London!!





The most prominent unsolved mystery remains the origin of the Tarakhovskii family. Many family members are in no doubt that the family came from the city of Yekaterinoslav, now called Dnepropetrovsk, in the southern Ukraine. This is the view held by the entire Tarachow family in Milwaukee, and a number of the family in Britain, too. However, the documentary evidence points elsewhere. The two Ellis Island database manifests for the Tarachow branch ancestors both indicate the town of Borzna, some 200 miles north of Dnepropetrovsk. This town is only 16 miles from Bakhmach, where Keith Brown said the family originated. Then there is "Petcha Gubernia", which may have referred to the village of Peski, mentioned on the photo of Gitl and Nyunya. There are several villages called Peski in the vicinity of Bakhmach and Borzna, but none with similar names near Dnepropetrovsk. Finally, I have an associate in San Diego who is in the process of indexing the records saved from pogroms by the Nezhin rabbi. These include those for surrounding towns, such as Bakhmach and, hopefully, Borzna. There are several Tarakhovskii and very similar surnames amongst the records indexed so far, and it seems promising that some of our own records could be amongst those yet to be indexed. One of these similar spellings is "Terekhovskii", which suggests that the first ancestor to be given a permanent surname (as opposed to the patronymics used before the 1830s) may have come from the town of Terekhovka, also in the same region. So, although the majority of family members are in no doubt our ancestors came from Dnepropetrovsk, there remains not a single shred of evidence to support that claim. Although this may have been the Tarachow family's place of residence from 1894-1907, after their return from England, I suspect the wider family came from the Bakhmach area originally. Any certificates from the Ukraine would obviously clarify the diverse family legends.


The descendants of Dinah and Daniel Black have always been mystified as to why their ancestors left Liverpool in 1914 and never returned. Rumours suggest Daniel was involved in some sort of scandal involving his brother-in-law and business partner, Hillel Harris. Daniel, his wife and son travelled on the Mauritania, docking in Canada and making their way to their relatives Milwaukee, taking with them only the standard clothes a young family would take on a holiday. But they never returned, and settled in Milwaukee permanently. Sam Black returned to Southport to visit his cousins in 1966 to try to solve the mystery, but met with firm refusals to divulge any details of the divisive issue.


No birth certificate appears to exist for Kate Tarachow, who was born in Southport in March 1894, according to family legend and the US Social Security Death Index. This would be a valuable find, if it exists.


Finally, it is hoped to find the descendants of Gitl and Nyunya Tarakhovskii and begin to branch out beyond the descendants of Solomon Tarakhovskii, and back into the 19th century. One possibility that has been mentioned is that Myer Tarakhovskii's wife, Chaya, may have been a cousin of his.



Saul Marks

Rev 23 Feb 2005

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