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Gravestone attraction creates name distraction

DCN Correspondent

To prevent myself from freezing my butt off, I set out for Forest Hill Cemetery on Friday afternoon right after class. The weather report indicated that this was my only chance to comfortably scout out a good grave.

Knowing there would be significant amounts of snow, I put on my Sorels, grabbed a hat and a pair of gloves, and got busy. I found quite a few graves that looked interesting but had no dates. Grave after grave showed potential but listed nothing more than a last name. I was frustrated. Eventually I found some graves and started writing down the information. I was in the middle of writing down number four, when I noticed a headstone that looked newer than the others.

Steffen Georgeff Filkoff, according to the transcription on his headstone, was born June 21, 1891, and lived until May 9, 1981. Knowing this was fairly reliable information, but questioning it the same, I went on the Internet to the Social Security Death Index and typed in his name. Up came not only his name (which was spelled as Stefen), birth, and death dates, but also his last residence, and his social security number. Upon my discoveries, I felt fairly confident that I chose the right person.

I searched the obituaries and found Filkoff’s on May 12, 1981. Strangely, there was little information about him aside from a couple simple facts such as birth and death date and that he had died in Duluth. I already knew all of this. Disappointed, I decided his obituary was lacking significant information.

The next step was to Google him. This led me to the Ancestry.com Web site which had various documents on people with the last name Filkoff. The only information that the Web site provided was the information I had already found.

To try and narrow down the results I typed in his birth date. Name after name of Filkoffs were listed on the screen but they were all from places like Connecticut and California. The listing that caught my eye was a document from the 1930 U.S. Census, specifically Duluth, and a man by the name of Steven G. Filkoff. I checked the birth dates and verified that this was the guy.

The census itself had loads of information. I discovered that at the age of 39, Filkoff had been living in a hotel on West First Street. He immigrated from Bulgaria to the United States in 1914. He was literate in English, single, and worked as a laborer at the docks. After finding this information I was pumped.

A few articles down from the census on the Ancestry.com website I noticed someone by the name of Gargoff Filkoff. Gargoff’s birth date was June 21,1891, the same as Stefen Filkoff’s. The document was a list from 1914 of alien passengers on their way to the United States.

I knew that Stefen Filkoff had come to the United States in 1914. After opening it up and looking closely at the document, I realized that not only had Stefen Filkoff come over from Bulgaria under the name Gargoff Filkoff, but that Gargoff Filkoff was not what the document said at all, but instead it said Georgeff Filkoff. Ancestry.com made a typing error that almost made me overlook some existing information about Filkoff’s past.

The ship was named the Mauretania and came from Liverpool, England, on March 28, 1914. At age 23, Filkoff was one of many immigrants traveling over from Bulgaria, but no one else on the ship had the last name Filkoff. Curious about how many people by the name Filkoff reside in Duluth; I looked in the phone book and found none. This led me to believe that Filkoff came over to work, possibly with friends, but most likely knowing no one.

I searched Duluth for more Filkoffs but have yet to find any. His obituary listed no family members, nor did his record at Forest Hill Cemetery. Overall, I honestly didn’t find much information about Filkoff. Perhaps this has to do with everybody misspelling his name, or with his association with two different names. I had a hard time sorting through the information with him being called Stefen, Steffen, Georgeff, and Steven.

After all that I went through, I’m still not sure as to the life that Mr. Stefen Georgeff Filkoff led, but feel that he would be an interesting person to meet. I wish I could write up a good obituary for him to make up for what his lacked, but sadly don’t know much more than whoever wrote it did. I suppose his respectable, visual representation is one simple headstone, engraved Steffen Georgeff Filkoff, June 21, 1891 - May 9, 1981.

This biographical sketch was written for the Research for Reporters class at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Each student in the class went to a cemetery in Duluth, got a name from a grave marker, and then used a variety of primary and secondary sources to find out as much as possible about the person.