Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How Important is a Good Translation?

How important our translations in the work of genealogist? If your family came from countries which are not English speaking, you surely understand the important of trying to translate original documents.

Recently, I become involved in translating the Kamenets-Litwosk memorial book. The translation of this book is part of a large push by to translate hundreds of Yizkor (memorial) books written after the holocaust by surviving members of many towns and cities from Eastern Europe. For years these books have been largely unavailable to the general public because of the few copies in circulations and the lack of translations into English from Hebrew and Yiddish. When I submitted a few translations, relevant to a branch of my family to the Kamenets project, I learned they were in the process of trying to get the book ready for publications in English. I've offered to translate as much of the pending Hebrew sections as I can. Being a native Hebrew speaker, but not a professional translator has added to the difficulty of this task. I left Israel at the age of thirteen, yet I've made a concerted effort over the years to maintain a high level of Hebrew. The Yizkor books are written in an old style Hebrew, repleted with elevated vocabulary and many religious references and texts as well as scores of abbreviations all of which are a challenge for me. As I plow through these sorrowful chapters, stories full of longing to a culture long destroyed and unfathomable tragedy, I struggle with how to translate the words into an English which makes sense to the modern reader, yet remain true to the original intention of the writer.

Working on the Kamenets book, motivated me to try and have another of the Yizkor books dear to my heart translated, the Belitsa book. Those of you who read my memoir, Stored Treasures, will recall that Minnie Crane, my great grandmother is from a small shtetl in what is now Belarus, called Belitsa.
(53°39' N, 25°19' E) located 16 miles south of Lida  and also known as Белица in Russian. Yiddish: בעליצע in Yiddish, Беліца in Belarusian, בייליצע in Hebrew and Bielica in Polish.

Simeon Baker (Botschkowsky), Minnie's nephew,  was a part of the original Belitsa landmanshaft (community) organization and an integral part of the publication of the Belitsa Yizkor book. He wrote the introduction (the only section of the book published in English), as well as a few other chapters in Yiddish. Minnie wrote one of the last chapters of the book, in Yiddish. A few years ago, Simeon's son, gave me a copy of the Belitsa book. A large part of the book is in Hebrew, but the Yiddish section remains out of my reach. The Belista book is not listed on the book project, which means no one had voluteered to take on the project of translating this book. Heading the project requires creating a proposal, prioritizing which sections to translate and raising funds for the translations and eventual publication. Since Belitsa, was a tiny shtetl, with a Jewish Population of 679 in 1897 which went down to 483 in 1921, it was not surprising no one had been found to translate the book. I was in the process of preparing a proposal for the project, when I made a last minute search for an available translation.  Last summer, I heard there was a translation somewhere, but I never found it assume the information I had was wrong. I contact my source again, a researcher in holocaust studies who directed me to a translation which was available at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. To my amazement, this 2010 publication of the English version of the Belitsa book, was available not only at the holocaust museum, but at various university libraries. Within a few hours, I held in my hands Brandeis's only copy of my ancestral shtetl's Yizkor book translated by Jacob Solomon Berger.

Original Yizkor book (right), Jacob Solomon Berger's translation (left)
Genealogy is a jigsaw puzzle. I was hoping the new translations would solve parts of this puzzle, yet as often is the case, rather than answers, I find myself asking more questions.

Previously, I had in in my possession two translations from Yiddish to English. Two, I believed were done by Minnie. The first was for a chapter Simeon wrote about his father. He left a translation for the same chapter and they are quite similar, though not identical. The second was a translation of Minnie's chapter, a chapter about her brother Bernard Crane. I included much of this translation in her Memoir. I was curious as to the quality of the Yiddish translation in the book I had just taken out of the library, and shockingly, I found that Berger's translation differed in three key places:

The first paragraph in Minnie's translation talks about her father's only sister, but never mentions a name. Berger's translation mentions her name twice, Tsin'keh. I looked at the Yiddish and there it was easy enough to detect: צינקע.

Further more, Minnie's original translation of the second paragraph reads:
First section of a translation to the Minnie Crane's Belitsa
chapter about Bernard Crane.  (Click to enlarge).
"... he (her father Moshe Aaron Kranowitz) became a teacher in one of the surrounding villages." at the end of the paragraph she reveals an important genealogical clue: "... a romance developed, and the teacher married the oldest granddaughter of the house of Jacob Yarmovsky. The sons were later a well known Hebrew teacher in Pinsk, the other a building contractor in Atlantic City."

Years ago, when I found her translations, I learned a lot from this short paragraph. I learned how Minnie's mother, Feige Yarmovsky, met her husband, Moshe Aaron. I learned she was from a near by village to Belitsa but there was no name of the village. I learned that her grandfather's name was Jacob Yarmovsky and she was the oldest granddaughter. According to this paragraph one of her uncles was a teacher in Pinsk and the other a contractor in Atlantic cities. Other parts of the memoir contradicted this fact and the two aforementioned uncles turned out to be her brothers, not her uncles.

Berger's translations reveals different information:
Same chapter by Minnie Crane, translated by Jacob S. Berger
(click to enlarge).
"...he became a teacher with a rich settler in the village of Peskovty." Note: he actually names the village! Then, further down it reads: "There my father studied Torah with the small boys, the grandchildren of the settler. But the girls of the family would also listen to the lessons. And from this, it happened that a marriage was arranged for him, with a girl named Faygl, who was a daughter of Yankl Yarmovsky, a well-known Hasid from Slonim."

The section about the son's or rather uncles was completely missing.

This made my mind spin. I had resolved the uncle dilemma years ago. I've learned a lot about the Atlantic City contractor Harry Yarmovsky and felt this was a typo in her translation. But I never tried to check the Yiddish. Now that I had a very different Yiddish translation, I decided to look at the Yiddish more carefully. Clearly, Berger would not have made up names of villages. Were those in the original Yiddish? Was she the daughter or the granddaughter of Jacob (Yakov in Herbrew and Yankl in Yiddish)?

Original chapter by Minnie Crane in Yiddish from the
Belitsa Yizkor book (click to enlarge).
Even without understanding Yiddish, it was not difficult for me to spot the name of the villages: פיעסקאווצי and סלאנימער חסיד (which means Hassid from Slonim). The Yiddish paragraph ends there, omitting the section about the uncles. Why had Minnie left out the names of these villages and her father's sister Tsin'keh in her translation? I've been trying to figure out for years, where the Yarmovsky family was from, and here it was in plain Yiddish, right under my nose for all these years.

Google translator has it's limitations but when I entered the last sentence in the paragraph:

קומען א שידוך צווישן אים און א מיידל מיטן נאמען פייגל, וואס אין געווען א טאכטער פון יאנקל ירמאווסקי,  א באוווסטער סלאנימער חסיד.  
This is what google came up with: ... "enter a shidukh between him and a girl named bird in which being a daughter of yankl irmavski, a known Slayer Hassid." 
Google doesn't know the word Shidich, which means match. It also didn't realize that Feigel is a name and gave the literal translation, bird. In addition, it failed to recognize Yarmovsky as a name, and Slonim the village, but it clearly says that the match was made between Feige who was a daughter of the house of Yankl.

Now, I'm left with many new research questions rather than answers:

1. Who typed the copy of the article Minnie wrote in English? Did she type it herself? Did someone else? Was it a draft for the Yizkor article? Or was it a translation she prepared for her daughter and grandchildren? If this was a draft, could she have submitted this draft and someone edited it? Possibly her nephew Simeon. Did he add the names of the villages? On the other hand, if this was a translation prepared for the family, did she choose to omit certain details which didn't seem important, such as names of villages they never heard of? Did she choose to add facts instead, such as the details about the uncles/brothers?

2. The big question: was Yankel Yarmovsky her father or grandfather?

At this point I can only theorize on the answers to these new questions.

1. If this was an early draft, or a late translation, I'm not sure, but the names of the villages were documented in the Yizkor book and it is significant. I have yet to locate this so called Peskovty village, nor the a Yankel Yarmovsky in Slonim but this is a very important clue in tracing the Yarmovsky family. From the paragraph, it seems Yankel was originally from Slonim but later on in life he lived in Peskovty.

2. The second dilemma is even more complex. According to our family tree, Feige's parents were Vevel and Chaya Minucha Yarmovsky. This information was on the original printed copy of our family tree which I inherited from my grandmother and which has proven to be very accurate. Vevel parents are not on the tree. When I first read Minnie's typed translation, I was excited to add a new forefather, Jacob (Yankel) Yarmovsky to our tree as Vevel's father. Now, I'm not so sure. Could Vevel have been Vevel Jacob (Yankel) or Jacob (Yankel) Vevel? Or was the name Vevel on the tree a mistake. This tree, compiled since the 1970s is not sourced, therefore I have no way of knowing who provided his name. It could have been Minnie or someone from her generation, but I can not be sure?

It is clear that in her typed translation, she did make a mistake with the generations. She lists Feige as the granddaughter of Jacob while her brothers she lists as Jacobs sons. One of the statements is wrong, the question is which ones? Why does the Yiddish translations state she was the daughter of the house of Yankl? In Jewish tradition, one often describe someone as being "son of the house of ...". Could she have not meant literally: "daughter of the house of Jankel Yarmovsky",  but rather mean granddaughter of the household? Who was the famous Hassid? Was it her father or grandfather? It could be that her grandfather was the rich settler from the town of Peskovty and her father the Hassid from Slonim? Or visa versa? Or were they both same man as the paragraph seems to imply?

Bottom line, I don't know! I'm confused! I've proven to myself that it is very important to look at the original sources and not rely solely on translations. In this case, I still can't make heads or tales of this part of the story! Your input would be greatly appreciated!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday's Faces from the Past: Charles Coff

Today's face from the past is Charles Coff. There are three photos of Charles  my great-grandmother's Minnie Crane's album from 1917.  Two are duplicates of a formal portrait of Charles and the third is a family photo of what looks like him and his siblings. Both images have an inscription in the back, yet I have no idea who he is. I don't know the nature of his relationship to Minnie was, besides a "deep friendship" as he describes. My guess is that he was another of her suitors. He looks quite young in these photos.

Here is what Ancestry has to say about Mr. Charles Coff:

Charles Coff lived in Hartford as early as 1914, at first with his sister Sophia and then with the rest of his family, his mother Rose (widow of Moses, brother Samuel and sister Anna. Charles worked both as a barber and a clerk. His two sisters were dressmakers and his younger brother was a student.

Hartford City Directory 1914
Hartford City Directory 1916
Hartford City Directory 1917

Charles, or rather Charels Moses Coff, registered for the draft on June 5, 1917. He was born in Cherson, Russia, on March 18, 1894, making him 23 years old when the above photos were taken. Minnie would have been 21 then. He has not yet become a US citizen. Here he listed himself as a salesman and single.

Charels Moses Coff, 1917 Draft Registration Card

In 1919 he is listed as a student. This means he most likely was not drafted nor did he enlist. He also did not die during the influenza epidemic of 1918 which took the lives of so many young men.

Hartford City Directory 1919
After this I loose Charles and the rest of the Coff clan. I can't find them in the 1920. It's very likely the family moved.

These are such nice quality photos, I bet his descendants if he had any, would love to see them.

Have a wonderful weekend!