Sunday, September 8, 2013


Why are we even talking about Hungary?

Twelve years ago, I was looking at the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and came across a group of people named Pikolcz. I followed this up (I don't remember how, exactly) and came upon a fellow named Ron in the Chicago area who told me that this was his mother-in-law's family. Hungarians. Not Jews.

His first response was as follows:
Thank you for your note.
While I do not know if the families connect I can tell you that the minister in Visk of the Reformed Evangelical Church there (Lajos Jozan) told us that the Pikolcz name in Visk is of the earliest families in the town dating back to the beginnings of the church there in 1200.

It is told that they descend directly from one of the seven tribes in the origins of the Hungarian Nation.

The spelling Pikolcz is quite rare in Hungary and is centered pretty much around Visk now Vyskovo.

I am sorry I don't have more but information from the Ukraine is not very plentiful.
The Hungarian name is pronounced..   Peeekholts  Although in the US it kind of became Pickles.

My paternal family came from Scotland thru Ireland to the US just after the civil war.
There were seven original Hungarian tribes? Who knew!

In follow up correspondence, Ron wrote:

My wife's mother is a Pikolcz and here is a little twist on things.They lived in the Carroll Avenue Hungarian neighborhood of Chicago and next door to them was another family also spelled Pikolcz. My wife's grandfather claimed that there was no connection between the two families however they were the only two with the spelling of Pikolcz in the whole US in the 1950's.

While My wife's grandfather came from Visk the other family came from Romania. An interesting part of geography is that now Visk is only 5 miles from the Romanian border.

I do feel that they were related in some form from way back.

My wife's great grandfather was the only Pikolcz to survive from a plague that struck the town. This is one reason there are not many descendants from the Hungarian Pikolcz family.

One thing that intrigues me is the fact that your family came from Galicia. Was that is a region close to the former Hungarian border with Poland? If so that would have been fairly close to Visk. My wife's grandfather would ride on his horse into the surrounding hills during winter and would cut trees just over the border in Poland and haul them down the mountain to Visk. If they were in the same proximity then it is very interesting on the spelling between the names. As far as I know there is no Hungarian translation for the meaning of the name Pikolcz. Which in some records was spelled Pikolc. Not being familiar with Jewish naming patterns I wonder if your family did not
originate in the Visk area from early times and pick up the name there.
[emphasis mine - IP]

I should also tell you that there was a very large Jewish population in Visk before the war. Their families can be traced back many generations most likely well before the 1700's and much earlier there. As a population they were second in numbers to the Evangelical (Calvinist) population there.

The church is Visk is the original building built by King Istvan in the 1200's and was Catholic till the 1500's. It is said that Martin Luther himself preached from the pulpit there and shortly after the church became Lutheran for a short period of about 5 years. It is after this that they became what it is now Hungarian Evangelical and Reformed referred to as the Reformatus Church.

The original building still stands and is used today. Only the roof was burned off when the Tatars invaded Visk.  They did not have hold of the area like Western Hungary and only occupied there a short while using the church as a horse barn.

The only other period of non use is when it was when religion was not allowed.. after W.W.II But now the church is very active again.

Across the river Tisza from Visk is Bustyhasza and it is my understanding that a very large Jewish Cemetery exists there. My wife's grandmother worked for a jeweler when she lived in Visk. They were Jewish and very close. When the family passed away they willed acreage to her, but since the Pikolcz family left in 1914 and never returned the land was never claimed.
So Visk, or Vyshkove as the Ukrainians call it, is tucked into that corner of Ukraine near the present-day borders with Hungary and Rumania, not far from Khust. Its records, such as they are, would be in the Ukrainian archives in Uzhgorod - hardly the jewel of the State Archival Service of Ukraine. Visk is at 48 03 N, 23 25 W.

The idea that we came to Galicia from Hungary appealed to me. After all, the fact that we were Galicianers during the 1800s doesn't mean that we weren't someplace else in the 1700s. These Hungarian Pikolcz were apparently some kind of minor nobility who had fallen upon hard times and Jews lived on their land. Then when the Jews had to take surnames, they - like many freed slaves in the United States - took the name of the landowner. This was pure speculation on my part and we had no way to prove it one way or the other.

Apparently we would not find vital records in Visk, but perhaps land or tax or census records or books of residents? Something showing our ancestors there, even if only recognizeable by the group of given names that we find in early-1800s Galicia.

Over the years it was on the back burner. I would come back to the question from time to time, but there was no real way to do anything. Ron is on my mailing list, but it's rare when Visk gets a mention.

A whirlwind named Marshall

A couple of months before the DC Conference two years ago, Marshall Katz - a name I had not heard before - announced the formation of the "Sub-Carpathia Portal and Research Group mail list." I confirmed that Vyshkove is within the boundaries of this group, I joined and participated in the SIG meeting in DC.

Marshall's Conference biography reads:
Marshall Katz, since retirement from the U.S. Government, has applied his talents to creating numerous KehilaLink web sites for the villages and towns of Sub-Carpathia, Ukraine. His paternal grandfather is from Klyucharki (Várkulcsa), not far from Mukacheve (Munkács).

Of particular importance was, in 2011, Marshall was instrumental in the establishment of JewishGen's newest Special Interest Group (SIG)---the Sub-Carpathia SIG. He further created a web site "portal" for the Sub-Carpathia SIG which routinely receives visitors from around the world.

Marshall is also a retired USAF Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) and is married to Helen E. Fields, formerly of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 
Well, he certainly looks like a sergeant and he is a yinzer to boot, now living in Harrisburg. And he does tend to take charge.

He has personally visited the area in each of the last three years. These were working visits, with 325 towns and villages and 198 cemeteries covered thusfar, including photographs of all the tombstones in those cemeteries.

He is the force behind the SIG's website which includes lists and documents  and maps and photographs. He is looking to add family histories, testimonies and interviews, more photographs and translations, a gazetteer and is putting together a team to translate tombstones. (Yes, I have agreed to participate in that.)

He hopes to have a list of towns for his next visit soon and is working on records issues, to help make those available to researchers.

Marshall is aware of our interest in Vyshkove and we hope that he will turn up information of use to the Pikholz Project.

Then there is DNA

As readers know, for years it was my belief that the Pikholz families from Skalat and Rozdol are unrelated. The given names in the early 1800s did not overlap. The families just seemed different. But it was also significant that the two towns are three hours drive apart and I just couldn't see how Sara Rivka Pikholz came to leave Skalat to marry Pinkas in Rozdol.

So I'm thinking there are two separate families.

But the DNA says otherwise, as I have written a few times. I have no doubt that we are talking about one family and some of the Rozdol d escendants seem to be more closely related to Skalaters than two hundred years ago, and vice versa.

But if we consider that perhaps we were in Visk in the late 1700s and the family moved north - some to Rozdol (102 miles away) and others to Skalat (151 miles away), it makes alot more sense.

Add to that, the fact that Moshe, the eldest grandson of Pinkas and Sara Rivka in Rozdol and the father of more than 750 descendants, married Sara, the daughter of the long-time rav of Skole R' Juda Zvi Steg. The Stegs have a Hungarian branch. Perhaps Sara Rivka's match with Pinkas had its origins in connection with the Hungarian Stegs. (Note to self - Find out where the Hungarian Stegs lived circa 1800.)

I really like that as a scenario, even though I cannot prove a word of it.

The ball moves to Olga's court

One of the Conference speakers was Olga Muzychuk, the Deputy Head of the State Archival Service of Ukraine. She seemed very open to inquiries and I have asked her how we might get some relevant information from Uzhgorod.

More as it happens.

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