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Discovering and Sharing History

$468 of $25k goal

Raised by 9 people in 3 months
Jen Bokoff  BROOKLYN, NY
My great grandma Fanny Katz was a Russian immigrant who lived until she was 102. Her old and crumbling photos, letters, documents, and other items have lived in a trunk collecting dust in my grandma's basement. They're beautiful, and a true slice of history not only for our family, but for Russians and for Jewish immigrants to the United States. Last year, I began work with an archivist to preserve these relics, and there was even more there than we realized. There's a story to tell.


Fanny wrote love letters for years to my great grandpa Sam after he came to America without her in the early 1900s. These are real love letters, the kind that talk about how she would "swim across the ocean if she could swim into his arms."  She had a lot to say, writing hundreds upon hundred of pages in both Russian and Yiddish. Coupled with documents from her own eventual immigration, correspondence from friends and family, back-of-envelope scratch notes, newspaper clippings, legal documents, and photographs featuring both known and unknown faces, there's a story here that needs to be discovered and told. It's a slice of rarely-preserved history. And, especially in today's times, we understand the value of pausing to remember history for both its lessons and warnings, and for the lens it can give us on our own lives. I want to finish preserving and archiving these historic remnants, and get everything translated and packaged in a story that museums, historic societies, and even other families can weave into their own stories.


My career has been in supporting nonprofits and the people who power them. I'm skilled in both project strategy and implementation, and I am constantly in "connector" mode, which I believe will serve this work well by helping whatever story we unpack to be seen in useful contexts. My grandma Esther is contributing any memories she can in identifying people and places, but there is a lot we will need to learn from research. Personally, I'm captivated by my great grandma -- a literate, independant woman who came to America by herself in 1923 to marry the man she loved and work as a tailor to support a family, and who lived more than a century. I remember visiting her in the nursing home until she died when I was ten years old; she was sharp and evoked vicarious memories of "the old country" that I am eager to explore.

Initial funding for this project put up by my family covered creating an initial database of everything in the trunk and preserving everything in acid free sleeves and boxes (which takes a lot more meticulous work than you would think!). Katie -- an archivist from Studio Archives LLC -- has been fantastic to work with on this special project. Now, I've worked with Katie to start digitizing everything, which allows for closer examination of all items and will enable us to pass the written text along to a translator and continue research work to unpack the story. To do this right, I need to crowdfund-- it's simply too expensive to pursue on my own, but too important to not pursue at all. And, I believe strongly that what we can learn is bigger than just our family.

The end vision: a complete archive of the trunk's contents. It's premature to say "a movie" or "a museum exhibit" or "a book", but I believe any and all of these are possible down the road. I am committed to making results of this project public knowledge in whatever format will be most meaningful. However, the digitization, translation, and ongoing research are critical to do before deciding how best to use what we discover. Those steps are what this campaign will support. Any additional funds raised beyond the goal will go towards deepened research and digital restoration/document enhancement of any items we deem of particular value to the collection.

I'm truly grateful for any support you can give to this project, and anyone you can share it with who might also find it compelling. As a supporter of this project in any amount, I will send you a special "digital postcard" featuring a never-before-seen photo or letter from the collection, and keep you posted on what we learn.

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$468 of $25k goal

Raised by 9 people in 3 months
Created November 27, 2016
$100
Anonymous
2 months ago (Offline Donation)
GS
$40
Gia Storms
2 months ago
DM
$30
Daniel X Matz
2 months ago

Jen Bokoff! What a great way to honor your great grandmother and your family story!! And what luck that those who came before thought to keep all this for you to find!!! ... and Happy Birthday!!!!

LM
$100
Laura McNulty
2 months ago

What a beautiful description of a project I already know to be incredible. So excited to support your work! (and, happy birthday!!)

LA
$30
Lacey Althouse
3 months ago

Best of luck, Jen, with this amazing project! I can't wait to read, see, or interact with this story. You'll do it justice, I'm sure. xoxo

JT
$18
Jessica Tripicco
3 months ago
AS
$100
Adam Simone
3 months ago
DS
$25
Dan Sai
3 months ago
JR
$25
Janelle Rae
3 months ago

My great aunt passed last month and I finally started going through her things yesterday. Nothing quite like what you've uncovered but important for me to explore and preserve nonetheless. She is very special to me. I love family history and love that yours has a great story to tell.

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