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I never know what sort of communications the Dispatches and the many things written about over the years are going to bring. This week I received three unrelated, purely coincidental communications from the Shoumatoff branch of the family tree. The Shoumatoffs were actually Baltic Germans named Schumacher who were brought  to Russian by Peter the Great as bureacrats for his new city St. Petersburg. Johann D. Schumacher was the first director of the Russian Academy of Science, at the time of Russia’s most hallowed scientist, Lomonosov. Alexander Danilovitch Schumacher supposedly drafted the legislation that freed the serfs. His son Arkady Alendrovitch, my great-grandfather– you can see a foto of him in my book Russian Blood, looks more Jewish than German or Russian, and I’ve always wondered if the Schumachers mightn’t haven’t been at least part Jewish, but have never been able to prove it. Which would be poetic justice, considering the antisemitism of my devoutly Christian grandparents (one Russian Orthodox, the other Episcopalian).

One of the e-mails, from a woman in Vancouver named Wanda Halpert,  adds plausibility to this hypothesis. It concerned a mutual ancestor of ours in mid-nineteenth-century Warsaw, whose name was Julie Parisot.My grandmother did a miniature watercolor of her which is also in my book. Accordingto family legend Julie was a niece of Napoloeon’s wife Josephine (and thus a Beauharnais), who married his postmaster general, Antoine Marie Chamance de la Valette, who was imprisoned during the Bourbon Restoration. Julie switched clothes with him in his cell enabling him to escape, which Dickens fictionalizes in Tale of Two Cities.After she got out of prison she went to Warsaw and married our ancestor Fyodor Phillipeus, who was supposedly the governor general of Warsaw, which was then part of Russia. Phillipeus was Finnish, and a Lutheran, as the latin ending, like linneus suggests. I have voluminous information from a Phillipeus descendant in Helsinki, who found that Julie Parisot was actually a beautiful young woman from Warsaw, and not a Parisot de la Valette at all. She also married a banker named Halpert. One of her children by Phillipeus, Sophie Phillipeus, married a Constantin von Wullfert, whose daughter Olga married Arkady Schumacher, whose son Leo became Leo Shoumatoff during the first world war and was my grandfather, the business manager of Igor Sikorsky’s fledgling emigre aircraft company, who drowned at Jones Beach at the age of 42 in l928.

Wanda Halpert’s information was a little different. Julie Parisot married her great great grandfather Ludwig (Leon) Halpert and Halpert later married Cecilie Phillipeus who was perhaps a daughter of Fyodor. Halpert is a Jewish name (as Schumacher can be), but Wanda’s ancestors were Polish Catholics. Maybe they were “conversos” like the ancestors of my Brazilian friend Clara Castelar (see her Dispatch), and maybe the Schumachers. The Halperts were Polish nobility and had a palace which still stands at Szezekocny. Wanda’s grandfather grew up in the palace and emigrated to Canada after World War II.

So this was interesting. Jews could be in the Polish nobility. They weren’t all in the Pale of Settlement, as I already knew from Vadim Birstein’s family, who were such brilliant mathematicians that they were allowed to live in Moscow (see lives of the naturalists)  There were Jewish in the marriage pool in Warsaw that the Schumachers were also part of.  So maybe we do have a dash of Jewish, as I’ve always suspected. Everybody has a dash of everything. We’re all much more mixed than we realize. Let’s say you’re proud to have an ancestor who signed the declaraton of independence. But the question is who were your 125 other ancestors six generations back ?

A case in point : my cousin Victoria married an Ashkenazic Jew called Singer so they had to have the Tay Sachs test. The Tay Sachs gene is a recessive gene prevalent in Ashkenazic Jews and Sicilians and if you get a copy of it from both your parents, you develop ghastly symptoms that usually kill you in the first few years of life. It turned out Andy (Singer) was clean, but Victoria had the mutation. This was great news for Victoria and me and we couldn’t wait to rub our grandmother’s nose in it. Victoria’s, Ted Ward, was old blueblood wasp. He was the master of the beagles at the Locust Valley fox hunt.The first Ward came over on the Mayflower. So it couldn’t be him, we thought. Uncle Ted was dead by then, so we couldn’t ask him to take the test, but Victoria’s mom, my aunt Zoric (sophie) was still alive,so we asked her if she wouldn’t mind taking the test to confirm that the mutation came from our side of the family, meaning that we did have a dash of Jewish, probably from the Schumachers, or the Ukrainian branch, the Lukianovitches, who married the Avinoffs. The Lukianonovitches trace back to Cossack hetmans, and I called the Institute for Advanced Hebrew Studies in Manhattan and was told by its genealogical expert that it was not uncommon for Cossacks to marry Jewish girls, so the mutation could have entered our family tree as far back as the 1500s. But Zoric didn’t have it ! Which meant that the mutation had been in Ted’s line. So the Wards weren’t the pure WASPs we all assumed.

The next day after this very interesting exchange with Wanda Halpert, I get an e-mail from my 22nd cousin Alex Grigorov, the doctor in Moscow I have a Dispatch about. Our lines separate in Novgorod in 1776. We are both descended from a boyar named Ivan Zaharievitch Avinoff, the only one of Novgorod’s posadniki, or doges,  who wasn’t thrown over the bridge into the freezing Volkhov river  by an angry mob as Ivan III, the grandfather of Ivan the Terrible, was advancing on the city from Moscow. Since our pilgrimage to Novgorod, St. Petersburg, Kostroma, and other ancestral sites, Girgorov has published a monumental 1000 page history of the Avinoffs, which connects more than 3000 people,  and is completing one on the Grigorovs.

Attached to the e-mail was a foto of Ivan Alexandrovitch Schumacher, 1886-1968. A new Schumacher for the tree. He lived in Ryazan and was a military man. The foto shows him with a moustache in uniform around the time of World War I. He looks very Russian, unlike Arkady Alexandrovitch, who looks very Jewish, so their fathers were probably not the same Alexander Schumacher.

Then the next day I get a letter from Bogota, a woman named Telse Schumacher. She is married to Waldemar Schumacher, who read a reprint of one of my stories in the Aero Colombiano airline magazine and got in touch with me fifteen years ago and we established that we are third cousins. Telse included pictures of the family, the first time I have seen them, and they all look very German, except for their children Christian and Renata, who both look like Latino Germans. The family summered in Mainz, but now that Waldemar has had a heart attack, they don’t do it any more. Renata is a doctor in La Paz, Bolivia, where I may be going soon.

So Who are we really, and who were we, the thirty billion plus of us who have walked this earth ? The chances of anyone alive today not being descended from Mohamed is about zero. The odds of you and me even being able to have this conversation, my friend Rawn Fulton, of which you will be one day hearing, told me one time, of all the lines that converge in us surviving the vicissitudes of time so that we can be here, are so mathetically, exponentially infinitessimal that it is nothing short of miraculous.

0 thoughts on “a flurry of activity on the genealogical front”

  1. Hi !!!! 🙂
    I am Piter Kokoniz. Just want to tell, that your blog is really cool
    And want to ask you: will you continue to post in this blog in future?
    Sorry for my bad english:)
    Thank you!

  2. Hi,
    I am Elisabeth, little daughter of Alexis Alexandrovitsch Shumacher, brother of Dimitri and both son of Waldemar Alexandrovitsch Shumacher. My mother Nina who is 83 years old live in south France, Belesta and is the cousin of Waldemar who live in Bogota. His father Dimitri visit my grand-mother Lydia at Belesta far ago. I am very happy to find a part of my family in you. It makes me warm heart to know that you exist. I will be very happy to be in touch with you. I have copy in French and in German of the Nobless act. I have also many photos of grand-father, grand-mother with imperial insitute uniform, grand-grand-fathers and more, very arisocratic photos.
    Hope to be in touch soon to perhaps give you more imformations on the family.

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