I met my friend Debbie DWORSKI at my first JewishGen conference in Salt Lake City (the 27th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in 2007). Before the conference we had emailed a little bit back and forth as we shared a common surname (LOPTAKA) that seemed unusual.
It sort of seemed like I was stalking poor Debbie — I remember that I was so excited to finally track her down at one of the presentations I think she was a little freaked out at my enthusiasm to meet her. To me she seemed like instant mishpucha. Plus if you have been to these conferences, sometimes there aren’t that many people our age or younger — or at least it seemed like it back then.
At the Salt Lake conference, I think Debbie showed me documents relating to our common ancestor (Ester Sura LOPATKA). But the conference is crazy and although we kept in touch and saw each other at conferences, talked on the phone, corresponded via email, for some reason we never really focused on these documents.
Fast forward 4-5 years, during which time Frank and I have been working on trying to get his information organized. Over this time, despite my side-trip to graduate school which delayed / pushed the momentum down to zero, Frank consistently showed that he has this amazing ability to read and understand the nuances of Polish documents of Jewish relations.
See, Frank is special. He is one of the few people from our region who is able to understand the Polish, read the Hebrew, realize the nuances of our shared region, and get the underlying gist of the documents — especially the birth, marriage, and death vital records. Plus as a Holocaust survivor from a town not far from where my family came from, Frank was there. He knows the region better than most, and he knows the Jewish Poland of that region because he has had a passion for learning more about this region during all of these years after the war.
Frank is a pathway to the past. He is a teacher. He explains the inherent anti-semitism that may underpin the documents — as the documents were required by Polish law, but were not typically of concern to Jews, so details maybe were a bit slippery / imprecise.
In addition to a possibly unfriendly town clark, there were often significant language barriers, cultural barriers, etc. There could be a delay of years in reporting births, marriages, deaths. A regional rabbi may have not come to the local village recently, so the records may not have been made on the date they were recorded — probably they were often not.
I am taking the time to ruminate on all of this because Debbie asked me to see if Frank might be able to take a look at some of her LOPTAKA records because some of the town names seemed odd to her.
Now I guard Frank as a resource very carefully because I don’t want to overburden him. Plus I want to make sure he is focusing on his document translations, not on mine or anyone elses. So I hesitantly asked Frank to take a look at the documents for Debbie.
I was curious to see what Frank might find. It turns out that Debbie is a LOPATA, not a LOPATKA. From what Frank told me on prior occasions when we were going over documents with the LOPATA surname, these are two separate names, with different meanings in Polish. Not the same family.
I am going to get Frank’s clarification on this, but long story short, Debbie and I may or may not be mishpucha. It sort of doesn’t matter at this point — she feels like extended family and we have a lot in common beyond the genealogy and similar coloring. But it will be interesting to see what this treasure trove of Frank’s translations brings. A small thing maybe for him, but for us, it is huge. I am grateful, stunned, amazed at his gift and generosity.