In 1887, my maternal grandfather Stefan Balkun* (phonetic) was born in the coal-mining town of Dombrowa, Poland in the Russian Empire. According to my mother, he was Jewish.
By 1906, GF had moved to Grodno, Poland. This town was approx. 40 miles from Bialystok---the site of a pogrom between June 14-16, 1906.
On June 16 or 17, 1906, GF set sail from Hamburg, Germany to Ellis Island on the S.S. Bulgaria. From there, he joined his older brother Aleksander Balkun (arrived in 1902) in Scranton, Pennsylvania---also a coal-mining town.
Stefan and Aleksander each married a woman named "Mary" and worked in the Scranton area coal mines. By the time my GF was naturalized around 1929, he was a clerk in what appears to have been a Jewish-owned company. The brothers were members of the local Russian Orthodox Church in Scranton (perhaps due to "russification" policies in the Russian Empire before their departure). The surnames of several of my GF's pall bearers seem to be Jewish.
Stefan and Mary's children were baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church and eventually converted to Roman Catholicism. That our GF was probably Jewish is vigorously denied by the strict Catholics in our extended family. They are more interested in family lore that my GF's family owned a string of hotels in the Ukraine (Kiev?) before GF was forced to flee. (My GF came to the U.S. with $5.00 in his pocket, and was detained by immigration authorities.)
Can anyone tell me how to follow up from here? Balkun was the spelling on the ship manifest. But the original Jewish (?) name may have been spelled somewhat differently. I'd like to trace my Jewish ancestry and locate any cousins or other relatives in Poland, the Ukraine or the region that once encompassed the Russian Empire from 1880-1910.
Many thanks, Susan
*I've also seen the name spelled Balwkam, Bawken, Bawkin, Bowkun, and Baukam, among others. My grandmother would say the name and tell people "it's spelled exactly as it's pronounced"---but then slightly change her pronunciation each time.