Many Jews emigrated from the Russian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to escape persecution from the Russian government. The parents of both of my grandfathers (all Jews) came from the same town: Vitebsk in Belarus. My four great-grandparents left about the same time as one of the most famous artists in the world, Marc Chagall.
Chagall painted many scenes inspired by his home town. He wrote an autobiography titled My Life filled with his fond memories of Vitabsk. I could get a feel for what life was like for my great-grandparents looking through Chagall’s eyes.
I wanted to get a historical perspective of the region, so I consulted one of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s social science databases: World History in Context. There were quite a lot of results to read. The town was decimated in WWII. The Jewish population was wiped out in 1941 by the occupying Nazis in a way typical of that time. Modern day Vitebsk calls itself “The City of Chagall” and is a tourist destination with art and music festivals.
I was then drawn into CLP’s genealogy databases, where I spent hours and hours looking up my ancestors. One of the more interesting and surprising things I learned is that I have an ancestral connection to Pittsburgh that predates my move here from New York to attend college. My great-grandfather was an iron worker who lived in Homestead in 1916, where his youngest child was born. His family, which included my grandfather, moved back to New York City by the 1920 census.
I can trace my roots from Vitabsk to New York City to Pittsburgh, then back to New York City, then back to Pittsburgh!
Find out details of your personal history with the aid of the databases from the Carnegie Library. Most of the databases have remote access, so you can view them at home with a valid library card.