It all started a number of years ago when I learned that my family came from the Slutsk area. Remember that these were the days prior to the computer being an every day tool.
I started to search the current genealogy magazines for information about Slutsk, but found very little. I then went to a letter writing campaign to the forward genealogical thinkers of the day, Malcom Stern, Arthur Kurzweil, and Gary Mokotoff. They all pointed me in the direction of a gentleman in Philadelphia named Harry Boonin. Up to that time he had written some papers on Slutsk and had quite a bit of information. This started my long friendship with Harry and my association with the Historical Society of Slutsk (HSS).
I made contact with Harry Boonin, and explained what I was looking for. He gave me some very basic information at the time, but said there was very little available because of the Communist regime. We wrote letters for a few months before he started to explain this grand project that he had in mind.
Harry explained to me that a few years earlier he "discovered" a copy of the Pinkas of the Cheverah Kadish of Slutsk," in an Israeli Library, another words he found the listing of the burials in the Slutsk cemetery. I initially thought that this sounded great, we had a list of a few hundred burials that we could document and then publish to the genealogical community. But, alas Harry said that this was not quite the case but the information needed to be studied.
Harry dug in his heels and went to work looking for donations to help give an initial assessment of the material. He acquired some funding thanks to some gracious donors. Harry then went to work. He was able to "hire" a translator to review the material as well as bring in another individual who has also been a tremendous help in assessing the material Paul Pascal.
After careful review of the material the initial assessment came back. The Pinkas, which ends in 1924, contained in their estimation over 25,000 burials, and started approximately in the year 1650. Wow! Not what I, or any of the members of the HSS expected. Now what to do.
Harry wrote to all of us asking what we should do, it cam back unanimously to have the material translated. Harry put out feelers to see who would be willing to take on the project and at what cost. After a few months initial monetary figures were put together. The HSS then decided to go ahead and start the translation. Harry started to raise the necessary funds, by finding some unnamed benefactors who helped us through this tremendous project.
The HSS came to the conclusion that we should start the translation at the end of the book and work our way forward. We felt that more useful information would be available near the end then in the beginning. So we started in April of 1924, and started the long journey backward in time.
The first step in the project was to have the microfilm of the Pinkas be made into a hard copy. Once done the translated material started to come in from Israel where the translator was located. The material was sent to Harry, who then distributed the copies to the HSS members. This was very cumbersome. I then volunteered to "computerize" the records.
My first major obstacle was to take the typed translated copy and get it into my computer. This was in the late 80's and early 90's before scanners were readily available. I found someone at the local university who was willing to scan that material with a new program that he had from XEROX that did OCR (optical character recognition), one of the first to be able to take a printed page and turn it into computer text. He graciously took the pages as they were sent to me and scanned them, thus giving me a text file that I could edit.
My first course of action was to take the material which I checked for common misspelled word and then corrected them. I have never over the course of the translation corrected the translators spelling of proper names of people or towns. I believe that he wrote them as they were spelled in Hebrew, though if you look from entries of people that are related there may be some slight variations in the spelling. These were not touched. Another example is of town or village names. There may be over 20 different variations of the same town or village, I again did not change these.
I then started to take the dates given, which were based on the Hebrew calendar, and translate them to our more common day calendering system. As a side note I would like to thank Joe Cohn, developer of a computer program called Hebrew Calender by Calender Maven® who modified his program to assist me in determining the correct dates. By converting the dates, I was able to create a better time line in actual events.
Dating entries was a major problem, many often stated the wrong dates, based on other entries, these were corrected. For example, if the date in one entry said that the person died on Wednesday the First, and the other entry said Tuesday the First, I determined which was correct and altered the incorrect entry.
Also I made changes to missing information. If one entry stated that "Chaim [...] died on", and I was able to determine from another entry that Chaim's last name was Levy I then corrected the entry.
I have taken the information and collated it by Hebrew year. So each year is its own computer file. I then combined all the years and created an ADOBE ACROBAT (.pdf) searchable file.
All the information that we have gathered over the years, including pictures, maps, personal history, a beautiful rendition of the song Slutsk my Slutsk, by Paul Pascal and his wife are included on a cd-rom that I distribute for a nominal fee. The cd is updated as I progress along in the records.
After starting over 14 years ago, I am now at entry 18,000+ in the early 1700's. It has taken a great deal of time to get to this point, and I am starting to get bogged down by entries that take a long time to go through because of the lack of information written by the original scribes. But the work does go on.
This past year I was pleased to see that the material is being massaged to be put on the WEB as a searchable database. Hopefully soon many people will be able to enjoy the time and efforts of the Historical Society of Slutsk.
Carlton W. Brooks