Happy families – the Levitts

I had looked up the Levitt family before the Levitons, as they had settled in New York where the records are particularly good. I had been interested that there were two brothers, Hirsch (Harry), 23, and Aaron, 22, who had left Odessa in 1906 and 1907. Harry had given the address of a friend and Aaron had listed his brother Hirsch. I then easily found all the records for Harry, a jeweller, who had married in 1912, and had settled in the Jewish area north of Central Park, later Harlem, on East 113th Street, where he stayed through all the records.

I was only able to find Aaron on his WW 1 and WW 2 registrations. On his World War I registration he was working for a jeweller and living with his mother, Celic Levitt, at 3 East 115th Street, near his brother. On his 1907 ship’s manifest, his relation in Odessa had been his mother, Lipa (probably Tsipa) Levitt. I looked again at the manifests and found that in 1914 Cipa Levitt, 56, was travelling with her daughter, Tauba, 22, a seamstress, to her son, H Levitt, in New York.

3 and 5 E 115th St

It was difficult to look for a family with names which would obviously have changed but eventually I found a 1920 census where the mother, Cherpa, is living with her children, Marry, 23, Tillie, 21 and a younger Harry, 20, at 2 E. 114th Street. I had found the family by looking for variations on Tauba, and found that Tillie was a popular name at the time, although it was difficult that her age had not advanced.

The girls are working at a dress factory and Harry is a jewel polisher. It took some time to accept this was the same family with two sons called Harry but possibly, as there are no military registrations for Harry, his official first name was different. The older Harry was by now 36 and had two children.

I then began a look for the elder sister, Mary, and found a Mairie Lewitt, 22, travelling from Odessa in 1912 to her brother Harry Levitt. Her relation in Odessa was her mother, Cipa Levitt.

Mairie Lewitt 1912

Next was the 1915 census where almost the whole family was together – the mother Celia, older brother Harry with his wife Esther and baby Herman, then Arnold (Aaron), Minnie and Tillie. Harry and Aaron are both in the jewellery business, although Harry’s entry says jeweller and Aaron’s says jewellery. Harry possibly makes jewellery and/or has a shop, whereas Aaron and the younger Harry were jewel polishers. Only the younger Harry, who appears in the 1920 census, is missing from the 1915 census, although he puts his immigration date as 1910. They are all living on East 113th Street, where Harry and Esther continued to live. The ages in this census are all over the place which may be why I did not find it for a while. Everyone seems to be getting younger.

The only one in the family whose name remained constant, although her age varied tremendously, was Tillie, and by concentrating on her I found the rest of the family up to 1940. In 1930, Celia became Sarah and she and the remaining children, Minnie, Tillie and Aaron, had moved to the Bronx, on Freeman Street. Possibly they were able to get a more modern apartment in the Bronx for the same money or less. This is a very close family where the mother and four children stayed together and only the oldest son has a family and has remained in Manhattan. The sisters are working for themselves as dressmakers, and Aaron is possibly a brass polisher if I have read it correctly. Cipa died in 1935. In 1940, Harry, Minnie and Tillie are living together a couple of streets away from Freeman Street at 1014 Home Street. Harry is a polisher at a jewellery factory, Minnie does the housework, and Tillie is working at a dress factory. Since the 1929 Depression possibly it is difficult for the sisters to get enough business to work from home and Tillie has had to work in a factory again. Although Aaron is not on the census, on his 1942 World War II registration, he is living at the same address on Home Street, and puts his nearest relative as Mina, his sister Minnie. He is unemployed. It does not seem to have been such an easy life for the younger four children in this family, none of whom married. It seemed hopeful that Minnie and Tillie were able to work from home as dressmakers, but that did not last. In 1940, the older Harry is still living on East 113th Street working as a jeweller and his children are working as a salesman and bookkeeper.

1014 Home Street

It was Berko Manikovich Levit, 39, from Akkerman (near Odessa), who died in the pogrom. Cipa was a widow when she left Odessa in 1914 but may have only been recently widowed. According to Harry’s marriage record his father was  Chaim Levit, who may or may not have been related to  Berko. The pogrom death records are far from complete, so someone in this Levit family may also have been killed or injured. Levit is not a common name like Levin or Lewin. Or the Levits may have been affected by the pogrom in other ways. When only one child of 5 in a family marries and has their own family, and the others remain living with their mother, one might think they are particularly protective towards her and each other. This protectiveness may be something they felt they needed to do since childhood. Although I quickly had found the records of the older Harry, finding the rest of the family had not been so straightforward, and there are many questions and not many answers about their lives. The three brothers had left for America before the mother and sisters, so possibly things had not been easy for them in Odessa after the pogrom. Possibly the daughters could not make ends meet when their father died. At least they were together in America but managing does not seem to have been easy and it may not have been a better life. One tries to imagine them as they grew older, thinking back over their life and their childhood in Odessa.



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