Michael Schackowitz is the reason I started photographing the Satanover Benevolent Society. My elusive great great grandfather Moses Schechowitz or Scheckowitz (or indeed, about 30 other spellings of this name) was registered in the nearby town of Volochisk, so when I saw that there were several Scheckowitzs and Shackowitzs buried in the Satanover Benevolent Society plot at Mount Hebron, I thought I might as well research all of them, and figure out if they had any connection to my family.
Michael Schackowitz emigrated to New York on November 15, 1904 at the age of 34. His most recent foreign residence was listed as Wolocyzsk in the Russian Empire, or what is now Volochysk or Volochisk, Ukraine. He was going to meet his cousin P Schechowitz who was living at 342 East 4th Street, in New York’s lower east side. It looks like “Pal” is written in, so his cousin may have been named Kopel.
Michael was traveling under the name Mechel Schechwitz, and the Hebrew transcription of his headstone gives his name as Yechiel Mechel son of Moshe HaCohen. The Cohen designation on a headstone means a man is a kohanim, or a descendant of Aron, which is passed father to son. My Scheckowitzs are also kohanim, which was another reason Michael’s headstone made me wonder if we were related.
Michael, or Mike, as he went by in later years after experimenting with a few other names, had three children, Clara, born in 1901 in Russia, and Moses and Solomon who were born in 1914 and 1915 in New York. From this, I surmised that Michael had a previous marriage before marrying Ida Gevelba, his current wife. The 1910 census confirmed this; it said that she had no children and they had been married for 6 years, so they must have married in about 1904, just before he left for New York. The romantic in me suggested he probably needed someone to care for his young daughter Clara, who arrived in the US a year later, as did Ida.
Another side note about the 1910 census — there’s a cousin Hyman Nemaizer living with him. I don’t know yet how they are related, but Hyman is from Sataniv, so I wonder if that is the Sataniv connection. Hyman and his brother Benjamin are also part of the Satanover Benevolent Society, so I’ll get to them eventually.
Michael was an egg candler, a profession that was common for men from Volochisk, and involved inspecting eggs to determine if they were fertilized — if you hold an egg up to a candle (or any bright light) you can see through the shell and if there’s a dark spot inside, it’s fertilized. At the time of the 1920 census, he was listed as working in an egg market.
Eggs were big business in Michael’s hometown of Volochisk. A 1902 State Department report listed Volochisk as a top export location for eggs from the Russian Empire. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust says that because Volochisk was on the Russian-Austrian border, “Jews engaged in some smuggling and traded in farm produce, particularly eggs and geese.”
On an early charter of the Satanover Benevolent Society there were three egg candlers listed, two of them Scheckowitzs. Michael’s brother, Zalman, who was not part of the society, was an egg dealer.
By the time of the 1940 census, which was taken just a few months before his death, Michael was working as an egg candler for a chain grocery store in the Bronx, and they probably weren’t using candlelight by this point. He was living with his wife Ida, and his three adult children. Clara, who was 39, was not well, suffering from post-encephalitis parkinsonism syndrome, a disease that is now rare, was much more common in the 20s and 30s. His son Sol had finished his fourth year of college and was working as a stock clerk, soon to leave home for Ohio with the Work Projects Administration. Moe (short for Moshe) was a bookkeeper, although unemployed for nearly two years.
Mike died on July 19, 1940 of carcinoma of the stomach. He was around 68 at the time of his death, and worked until April of that year candling eggs. His death record said he had been an egg candler for 30 years. By my count, it was closer to 40, and could have been 50.
One of six brothers who emigrated to the US and Canada, Michael seemed to have limited contact with them, if any, once he arrived in New York (most of his brothers’ families changed their name to Shack eventually). While researching all of the siblings, I created a spreadsheet where I kept track of their connections to each other — listed as contacts on passenger manifests, witnesses for marriages or naturalizations, but Mike’s section of the spreadsheet was empty. However, there were a couple of Scheckowitzs in the Satanover Benevolent Society, probably cousins, so he wasn’t completely disconnected from his family of birth.
Ida, who lived until January, 1973, remains elusive. Her headstone reads “Udsha daughter of Shlomo Zalman the Levite.” Her maiden name was Gevelba, and her sister Lena lived with the family in 1910 and 1915, and then disappeared into the recordless ether.
And this is where I should leave it, but dear reader, I feel that I owe you a peek behind the curtain and a hint as to why I so rarely finish a blog post. After typing the last paragraph I thought, I should find out how her surname is really spelled, because of course it was probably not Gevelba, and indeed I stumbled across a researcher on Jewishgen who was researching Givelbers from Sataniv. Maybe Michael’s connection to Sataniv was through his wife!
This led me down a rabbit hole to Yad Vashem (more Givelbers from Sataniv) and then to the Kremenets Kehilialinks page (more Givelbers from Sataniv), where, after admiring their database functionality, I found a mention of a Shekhvits (another spelling) from Volochisk. And now I sit here wondering, should I wait until I’ve solved this mystery before I publish this blog post? And that is why you so rarely get these updates; I’m too busy digging.