​​The Jewish Families of Ostropol
 Researching  Jewish Families in the territories of the Russian Empire and in the small Ukrainian town of Ostropol

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​​ Quarterly Column - Genealogical Sketches of Ostropol ​​ and Namesake Chains
Column 1 Nov 2018
How I lost the Baal Shem Tov
in the Ostropol 1834 Revision List
By Deborah Glassman copyright 2018
In the 1970s, my great-great-aunt (who was the age of my grandfather’s sisters), wrote a family history. Ida Friedman Kaiser, an early woman graduate of the University of Pennsylvania,  had been a high school teacher for decades and her work was very careful. She wrote about all of the descendants of her great-grandparents and got her information on those people by writing to every one of her cousins and asking for their help. Her father’s family was from Ostropol in Volhynia guberniya of the Russian Empire. Her mother’s family was from Khmelnik in Podolia guberniya. The birth years of her Ostropol great-grandparents were estimated at around 1805 and those of her Khmelnik grandparents were known to be around 1817 and  1830.  This detailed and precise author never made claims related to the ancestry of her great-grandparents, she dealt only in the  details vouched for  by the eye-witness reports of her relatives. I have only found small conflicts with the records that were mostly not available to her then, it really was a landmark work.
Ida Friedman Kaiser was the youngest daughter amongst eleven children  who survived to adulthood and eighteen children born. My great-grandmother, Ratzi Friedman Solomon,  was twenty-five years older than her, and was the oldest child. They had heard different stories and emphasized different aspects. Ida was close to her mother and thought the Neifeld stories were the most interesting. Ratzi was close to her father and passed on traditions from that side of the family. My first forays into  using family lore myself amongst the family Ida  had already researched, were two stories connected to the Baal Shem Tov, from two different sources. 
My great-grandmother passed down a story about the making of her marriage match with her eventual husband Yosel Solomon. Yosel had broken the rules and instigated the match himself. Ratzi Friedman  was of a formerly wealthy family.  Her grandfather, Boruch Neifeld  was a Nikolai Cantonist soldier, that is he had been kidnapped as a child to serve twenty-five years in the Tsar’s army.  When that type of conscription was ended in the 1850s, he was given the privilege as an ex-soldier to live outside of the Pale, to own real estate, and to travel freely. He used that freedom to become an estate manager for a nobleman, to build a highly productive farm that thrived on demands for timber and sugar  which he supplied. Eventually he used that wealth to  make a desirable match for his eldest daughter with a rabbi who was also the eldest son of a Guild Merchant of Ostropol.  His son-in-law Abram David Friedman of Ostropol was from a prominent family, but his real value to his father-in-law was his scholarship. Wealthy Jewish men sought sons-in-law who were scholars as symbols of the father-in-law’s social standing. Trophy sons in law, if you will. Rabbi fathers-in-law were much less desirable but Ratzi, granddaughter of two prominent men, should not have had any difficulties being married off. 
Yosel Solomon, my great-grandfather, who had served a three year term in the army, got  an introduction to the  formerly wealthy  Boruch Neifeld, Ratzi Friedman’s grandfather.  They shared a background in the military which had not been entirely negative for either man. They had some degree of kinship, Yosel’s mother was from Ostropol and Yosel’s father had some Khmelnik kin. The point of the introduction was to gain a position for Yosel, perhaps moving into a role of estate manager and to develop horses for the army market.  Ratzi’s grandfather had been very wealthy until the May Laws of 1881, when Boruch lost much of his property under the new laws forbidding Jews to own property in villages, or to have farms with a labor force. Now there was just a higher than average  amount of capital squirreled away  in movable assets. But employment opportunities such as Yosel was seeking had fled with the May Laws too. Still, Yosel went back to his parents and asked that a marriage be arranged with the oldest granddaughter. This was a match that did not need elaboration of Ratzi’s virtues. She was sixteen, blonde, and buxom.  She was bright and loved to read. None of that was said officially, though as relates to her looks, a story did come down from Yosel and Ratzi’s  daughters about how he saw her washing clothes in the river and was smitten. But the much repeated line of description to Yosel’s parents was the bride was “the daughter of scholarship, a granddaughter of wealth, and a descendant of the Baal Shem Tov.” This description was repeated by my great-grandmother to her daughters and to her grandsons. I never knew from which direction her descent from the great Rabbi was supposed to derive.  But I learned that the story had been passed down among her cousins, also, when I saw an article in a Hebrew language periodical of the 1930s, “HaEvar”, at Brandeis University’s collection. The article was about life in Ostropol before the huge emigrations of the early 1900s-1910s. The author talked about one of his subjects, Abram David Zabarka being the grandson of another Abram David Zabarka who was a descendant of the Baal Shem Tov! Presumably, it was an assertion  based on that same family lore, but immortalized in a research publication. My eureka moment.
The Besht family tree is large, diverse, and full of claims from people whose evidence, like mine, is from family story. The Baal Shem Tov himself was a very real, well respected member of the communities in which he lived. His children and grandchildren are almost equally well documented in the historical record. But the multitude of  descendant claims are mostly rationalizations vs. proven facts. One of those claims, took me to a purported ancestry for the Zabarkas of Ostropol. It was wrong. More it was easily proven wrong by accessing the actual records newly available for all of the residents of Ostropol including the  Zabarkas of Ostropol. It doesn’t mean that my great-grandmother’s great-grandfather, was not in fact a descendant of the great Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer the Master of the Good Name, aka the Besht, aka the Baal Shem Tov. It does mean conclusively, however, that the path between my great-grandmother  and the 18th Century Rabbi, was not as previously thought.
One of the first assertions  of my childhood that went away in the process of comparing family story to physical record, was that the name Zabarka was an insult name adhering to the original Abram David Zabarka. That the family got the surname in 1840 as part of a conflict with a powerful man in the Governor’s office.  This story was well-known in my family before Ida ensconced it in her book.  So the  1834 Revision List took my breath away when I found that the Zabarka name was carried by Abram David’s father, grandfather, siblings, and cousins.
The individual members of that family with the Zabarka surname are reported in 1834 as having been recorded in Ostropol in 1816 with that same surname.  So, as for  most Ostropolers of the 1816 Revision List, the name was probably registered in Ostropol in 1804-1805 following the Tsar’s Naming Edict. It was, as stated by the family, a  name easy enough to distort to the Ukrainian pronunciation for dog, so it was changed whenever possible in Russia and abroad. Barski had replaced Zabarka in one branch  in Ostropol in 1875,  and that became the most widespread changed-version of the name in the United States. American descendants of Abram David Zabarka used both Barsky and Zabar.  Descendants of his brothers Leizer and Mendel used Sabaroff in the US, but I have not yet seen that form in Russia. Every one of the male descendants of Abram David and his brothers Mendel and Leizer,  without exception,  arrived in the US using the name Zabarka on their official records and then became Barsky, Zabar, or Sabaroff, as decided by that family.
The  1834 Revision List of Ostropol had the family unit, I had heard about since childhood. Avrum Zabarka (not called Avrum David there, but already carrying the name Zabarka) and his wife Aidya – the same Bubba Aidya who filled my childhood stories, and the two children he was known to have at that time, Leyb (who appears as Leyb in other Russian records but whose Hebrew name was “Mordechai Leib”) and Bayla (who was remembered in family stories with her two part Hebrew name Tauba-Baila but memorialized among all of her granddaughters just with some version of the English name Bella). Revision Lists are wonderful documents. Sixteen years before American Censuses  started listing the names of anyone other than the head of family and did not list relationships to that head until 1880, the Ostropol Revision List of 1834, listed everyone in the family and told how they were related. More, every male  who had been listed in a previous Revision List, was accounted for. Sequence in those early Revision Lists was significant also. The families were listed in the same order from the Revision Lists 1816 through the Tax Lists of the 1870s through the Voters Lists of 1906. When an insertion was made in the list, next to a previous resident with the same surname, it was because of a relationship between that newcomer and the original family. When a surname was shared by the newcomer with the family listed adjacent, they were close relatives. The Name Laws of 1804 forbade the establishment of more than one family with a shared surname in the single town of registry, though the original registration might have included unlimited sons and grandsons of the registrant, and one son-in-law.
Abram Zabarka  was an oldest son and was registered  immediately following the household  listing of his father. This was the most typical way that new heads of household  were entered into the Ostropol Revision Lists, with an  eldest son following the still extant household of the father. If, as in Abram Zabarka’s case, the father had died since the last Revision List, the two families remained divided. Eventually one of the younger sons in the father’s household would move up to become head in that separate household. But in 1834, most of the households in that situation, including that of Abram Zabarka’s father, were still “headed” by the recently deceased.
Abram David Zabarka was my great-grandmother’s great-grandfather. The 1834 Revision List,  in a blink, took us back to Abram Zabarka’s own great-grandfather. The family story of the insult name being registered in 1840, did not play out. Instead the name was clearly registered by Abram David’s paternal grandfather Leyb Moshkovich Zabarka (1734-1818). And people I thought had been shown to be the children of previously unknown children of “my Abram Zabarka” turned out to be perfectly accounted for as his nephews.  The names listed in the records of American descendants in their death certificates and tombstones and possessive names, match those of Abram David’s siblings exactly. DNA matches found on FTDNA showing my probable 5th cousin matches to descendants of those families were perfectly correct.
This line has offered no evidence of being descended from the Baal Shem Tov. Nevertheless, I can use Ostropol records to trace a family for eight generations in Ostropol before they started heading to the United States in the late 1890s and the first decades of the 1900s. The emigrating generation lived in Ostropol, Lyubar, Miropol, and Mezhibozh, but their earliest known ancestor may have been living in Ostropol from his birth in the early 1700s. The first person on this page was born more than 250 years before my siblings and I were born. And there is a potential to move back further, though it is dependent on more records becoming available.
We can trace to the father of name-registrant Leyb Moshkovich Zabarka (1734-1818), because Moshko his father, is named in every record in which Leyb appears. Older Russian records like the still extant  1816 Revision List, won’t show  Moshko’s own father, because Moshko himself appears to have been dead   when Leyb named his oldest son Moshko Shlioma in 1764. If  the elder Moshko was name-honored in 1764, then the records that might include him would be the 1763 Register of the Chevra Kadisha Society of Ostropol, (a copy is in the Vernadsky library), possibly the 1764 Poll Tax Grand Duchy of Lithuania for Ostropol (which was taken but has not been found in an archives so far) and records related to the leases, holdings, and Kahal officials approved by the Noble landlords surnamed Sanguszko and Lubomirsky.  Some of those magnate records are known to exist in archives, but none have been searched for Ostropol content. The Russian Revision Lists and other documents might show Leyb Moshkovich Zabarka’s in-laws – which might still provide a path to the BESHT. We’ll see!



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© Deborah Glassman 2018

This image shows the the family tree of the Zabarka family of Ostropol. The surname descended through the sons and one son-in-law of the registrant. For editorial purposes this chart shows the children of both daughters and sons through Generation 5. In Generation 6, the children of daughters are dropped.  Currently all of the branches I can take out to today are descendants of Abram David Zabarka and his brothers Leyzer and Mendel. New discoveries of the other lines have put research on their descendants, way behind. Would love to make connections with the descendants of those other lines! Come to a larger screen for this image, it is hard to shrink for phone viewing. AND RETURN TO THE PAGE SOON FOR AN INDEX TO THIS CHART

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