Our journey into Doug's family history began in the early 1980's when my daughters were born. Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet, so genealogy research meant following a paper, rather than a digital, trail. I asked my father in law Sam and his sister to write down what they knew of the family history. They knew the Fox ancestors were from a village near Minsk called "Yuslany."
Finding "Yuslany" took years back then. I searched for every map of the USSR I could find (the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union was still in the future). In 1989, Chester G. Cohen published Shtetl Finder (Heritage Books). I was so excited when the volume arrived in the mail. I opened it to the "Y" section and found . . .
No "Yuslany." How disappointing!
Paging through the book a few days later, I realized that "Yuslany" was a phonetic spelling. Sure enough, the shtetl was listed under "Uzlion." Over the years, I have come across many spellings: Uzlian, Uzlyany, Uzliany, and Uzljany. On present day maps of Belarus, it is often spelled "Vusljany."
Had I begun our search today, I would have found Uzlyany in a quick internet session, thanks to JewishGen, the mega-site for Jewish genealogy. Its ShtetlSeeker search engine is an invaluable tool for anyone searching for shetls, villages, towns, and cities in central and eastern Europe. One of the search features is the valuable "sounds like" function, which conducts a search based on the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex, which incorporates Yiddish as well as other European phonetics.
Not only did my ShtetlSeeker search return information regarding the geographical (20 miles SSE of Minsk) and political locations of Uzlyany, it gave me a choice of maps showing the location.
Finding the home town of an ancestor is always an emotional moment. To see a town or shtetl on a map is to fix ancestors in time and place--they walked upon that spot of earth, and maybe someday their descendants will, too. A location on a map is a descendant's first step toward that journey.
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