DNA tests and Roman Vishniac’s photographs of Transcarpathia

A few months ago I did a DNA test, something I had thought about but rejected, because a cousin who did an Ancestry test a few years ago only found that she was 85% European Jew, 6% Italy/Greece and 3% Caucasus. What I wanted to know was – what is a European Jew? Then I got to know two people through this blog who had more interesting experiences. One found that her real father was a family friend, the son of an Odessa Jew mentioned in this blog. The second person used the British test Living DNA as his father was British and his mother was the daughter of Odessa Jews. Living DNA only looks at geography and his results were much more widely spread, from Britain and France to the Aegean and North Turkey. It was intriguing if nothing else. I was interested in a test that might actually find the routes that Jews took from Palestine to Eastern Europe and Russia. So I did the Living DNA test and found that I was 14.2% Eastern European, 29.8% Middle Eastern (17.7 % Levant, 4.3 % Iran, 3.5% North Turkey, 3.3% South Turkey and 1.1 % Northwest Caucasus) and 55.1% Iberian. Everything made sense except the 55% Iberian as I know all of my grandparents had been living in Belarus and northern Ukraine since the 17th or 18th century and if they had lived in Spain they would have left in 1492 and been marrying with other European Jews since then. It was not very plausible.

So I turned to the free online website GEDmatch, which is very easy to upload your DNA data to and tried their endless stream of tests. The tests are not that easy to interpret as they all have different geographical categories and there are very few maps of the categories on the website. I did eventually find some good maps for one of the tests and got the idea that the areas were quite large even if the name of the area was a small country like Armenia. Here is the map for East Mediterranean on the test Eurogenes K36.

east-med-eurogenes-k36

GEDmatch Eurogenes K36 East Mediterranean

GEDmatch also provided some interesting population spreadsheets which showed the proportion of genetic markers from different areas for people from different countries. For instance, in one test that has a category for Ashkenazi Jews (puntDNAL K15), they are categorised as being about 40% Mediterranean, 22% Caucasian, 20 % North East European, and 10% Southwest Asian (Caucasian, south-west Asian and Mediterranean all encompass parts of the Middle East)., and that is pretty much exactly what I got. I found I was a typical Ashkenazi Jew, but I had more sense of where we had come from. Probably all Jews have a similar genetic mishmash, as they intermarried with other Jews who had come across the Middle East and Europe on many of the various routes. This is also very close to the Sicilian and South Italian result, which might suggest they followed similar routes. I puzzled over why the Sicilians and Jews had similar amounts of North East European, as I thought the Jews had acquired these genes after they left Sicily and went north. But the Caucasians also have 20% North East European, so the Sicilians and Jews, who may both have originated in the Middle East, may have gained North East European genes living on the trade routes of the Caucasus, or from northern invasions. It seems that there may be very little difference between people from Western Asia, the Middle East and the coasts around the Mediterranean and Black Sea as they traded and intermingled over the past few thousand years.

Thinking about the number of Jews, even several hundred years BC, in the area of North Turkey and the Caucasus, I wondered if any had moved across the Black Sea into Ukraine. I found an online article about the history of Jews in Ukraine, and it said Jews had moved from Turkey and the Caucasus to Crimea which was also on trade routes from east to west, and later moved up to central Ukraine and Kiev. The original port at Odessa was set up by Greeks and Italians, and Jews from Crimea must have also settled there. These Jews would not have had such a mixed genetic background until they married Jews coming from Europe to Russia. Probably the majority of Jews in Odessa around 1900 had only been there one or two generations and had come from other parts of Ukraine, Moldova and further afield.

silk routes sea routes

In the GEDmatch test with the most categories, the Eurogenes K36, my results were East Mediterranean 17.99, Italian 16.8, Iberian 12.4, Armenian 9.65, Near Eastern 6.86, Arabian 5.45, East Balkan 5.16 (Romania/Bulgaria), East Central European 4.97, West Mediterranean 4.12, North African 3.01, West Caucasian 2.87, North Atlantic 1.85, Volga-Ural 1.52, Basque 1.43, North East African .9, East Central Asian .88. My Iberian result may be slightly higher than average for Ashkenazi Jews, but nowhere near 55%. This was much more fun than larger categories as the imagination can roam with so many specific places. Even if they are just educated guesses, and possibly not all that educated. If you combine different areas it adds up to Mediterranean 55.75, Middle East/West Asia 23.74 and Eastern Europe/Russia 13.5, which may be as close to the truth as one can ever get.

K 36 DNA numberless

Even after so many years of DNA tests existing, there seem to be many misconceptions about genetics when you look at the online forums discussing results. So many people think the results are wrong if they do not match the countries they know their grandparents and great grandparents lived in. They do not realise that even if their ancestors lived in the same place for several hundred years, if, like Jews, they have moved over the centuries and married among themselves, they will still have significant amounts of genes from where ever they originated. Nor do they realise the amount of upheaval caused by wars and invasions over the past few thousand years and how many people were displaced or forced to move. In the case of the Jews, it is thought that when they first began their movement out of the Palestine area, they intermarried more with local people, partly because there may not have been many Jews to marry but also because religion may not have been as clearly differentiated as it was later. Later they married more between themselves and there were many marriages of cousins.

When I had gained more confidence using GEDmatch, I began to look at the people I matched (mostly third or fourth cousins). You can put the matches through the various tests to see how you compare and also look at the similar sections of genes. But where these families lived and their names, the most interesting aspect, can only be got from the matches themselves. I wrote brief emails to the top few people on the list plus a couple who shared family names with me. There were connections in a couple of cases but even if people were enthusiastic at first, they soon lost interest, possibly because there was no obvious link to their specific family tree. Others were not interested at all.

But for me, the most disinterested person was the most interesting. I wanted to trace a few branches of my family further back in time. I asked this one person, who was at the top of my list, if he could tell me a few places where his family had lived and a few names. One of the towns was only 50 miles from where my mother’s family lived. I have found a couple of great great great-grandfathers on the 1806 revision lists of one town. He then gave me three names, one of which was extremely common. So I tried the second, Berkman, in the Jewishgen search and found quite a few in the town he had mentioned, Vishnevo, just south of the Lithuanian border. There was one marriage record where a Berkman had married someone with one of my family names, Rabinovich, unfortunately one of the most common names among Russian Jews. I then found some family trees on Jewishgen of Berkman and Rabinovich families and wrote to the person who had posted the trees asking where the family was from. The answer was Vishnevo and he sent me a document of 130 pages of the ins and outs of intermarriages among several Vishnevo families who all came from the same original ancestor, Beniamin, born in the mid-1600s. It was not until about 1800 that people needed to have last names for the tax censuses and each of Beniamin’s descendants chose a different last name, Davidson, Zussman, Rabinovich and Podberesky. I was amazed that none of the families chose the same name.

Although I could not find a direct link between my Rabinovich great great-grandfather and those in Vishnevo, not all the family was there and one common name running from the 1700s was Leib, my great grandfather’s name. And there was the genetic link. So possibly sometime before 1806, maybe even in the mid-1700s, my great great great grandfather Michel Nakhman Rabinovich, born in 1770, or his father, Nakhman may have come to the little town of Gorodische, south of Novogrudok, from Vishnevo. Maybe he just wanted to go somewhere else. Or had travelled through and thought it was a nice place. Or had met a nice girl from there.

The next two matches I heard from were from Odessa and the Carpathians on the border between Romania and Ukraine. I thought first of the family on my 1812 family tree, my maternal great-grandfather’s, the Tauzners, who were based for several generations in the very north of Ukraine, Lyubeshov, near Pinsk, but whose name is also found in Slovakia and Hungary. But I also thought about my maternal great-grandmother’s family, the Pikers, who only appear in Belarus around 1850. Where were they before? I scrawled through the Jewishgen records for Ukraine and frequently found the Piker name around Kishinev and Czernowitz. When I found, in Kishinev and further north in Moldova, the exact same first names and patronymics (Meer Ber and Meer Hirsh) as were common in my family, I felt I might be getting close. And then I found Pikers moving north in Ukraine, several in Berdichev, Belaya Tserkov and Kiev… and then one family in a village just a few miles from Lyubeshov. According to the census, in 1816 this Piker family had just arrived from Yampol, about 300 km south, east of Lviv. My branch of this family moved to the small town of Gorodische near Novogrudok, west of Minsk, some years after my branch of the Tauzner family had moved there as rabbis. Possibly they were already related from the time when they lived around Lubeshov or before. But it was there, in Gorodische, that my great-great-grandparents married. So the next step was finding the link with these other families from Transcarpathia, Romania and Ukraine.

Looking up images of one town where I may have had cousins, Teresva, in the Carpathian mountains just on the border of Romania and Ukraine, I discovered that the famous photographer Roman Vishniac had made many of his pre-Holocaust photographs of Jews in the 1930s in Teresva and surrounding area, so I will end with a few of his photos.

teresva Carpathian ruthenia by vishniac

roman-vishniac-heder-in-tracovo,-carpatho,-ruthenia

Carpathian mts vishniac

Village-In-Carpathian-Ruthenia-1936-by-Roman-Vishniac

vishniac Ruthenia

 

 

 

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Mindel Kudler – Odessa to Brooklyn at 5 years old

While looking for the Kuperberg family on the Ellis Island database, I came upon a little five-year-old girl, Mindel Kudler, travelling ostensibly alone from Odessa to New York in 1905. I got up the manifest and saw that her ship had left in August 1905 from Hamburg, and she was travelling with her grandmother Libe Zajac to her mother Chana Kudler at 149/151 Centre Street, Brooklyn. Grandmother and granddaughter were detained for a few days at the hospital before being admitted to the US. Possibly Mindel had not been able to travel with her family because of illness. This was a family who had left Odessa just before the pogrom but I was interested in what had happened to this child, ill and separated from her family, possibly for many months.

nelson st near centre st

Nelson St near Centre St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

It was difficult to read the grandmother’s and the mother’s first names, so I tried Minnie Kudler in the search on Familysearch and came up with the 1920 census, but the mother’s name was Fannie. The father was Barnet, a stable proprietor from Odessa, so I knew I had found the right family. They were living at 37 Moore Street. Although no one else bothered, people from Odessa often insisted on Odessa being written into the census. Minnie was 19 and not working although her older sister Mary and younger sister Rose were both office workers. Possibly Minnie was helping to keep house as there were eight children in her family and there were another six children with the last name Lipshitz, which I assumed to be Fannie’s previous name. The youngest Kudler child to be born in Russia was Mollie, born in 1905.Mary, Minnie, Rose and Mollie were born in Russia and Morris, Joseph, Florence and David, who was only 4, were born in New York. The Lifshitz children were Abe, 19, Archie, Teddy, Hyman, Annabelle and Florence, who was also 4, and they were all born in New York.

moore street pushcarts

Moore Street market

The next census I found was 1930 and Fannie is now Fannie Lipshitz, living with her children Abe, Morris, Archie, Theodore, Annabelle and Florence, ranging in age from 29 to 14, still at 37 Moore Street. Two more children are tagged at the bottom, Daniel, 15, and Lena, 18. It seems that a lot had happened in those 10 years and it took quite a bit of effort to piece together the complicated story of the Kudler and Lipshitz families from the records I could find.

moore street 3

Moore St, Graham St and Manhattan Ave

folly theater graham ave brooklyn

I never found either family on the 1910 census, but I found Fannie and her first husband Frank on the 1900 census when they had a daughter, Tillie, born in 1897 and a baby son, Hyman, born in 1899. Frank was a removal man. They lived on Manhattan Avenue which runs through the centre of the Jewish area in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Another Hyman Lifshitz, a tailor 24, was boarding next door who, I found out later, was Frank’s brother. I then found the 1897 marriage record for Frank and Fannie, and also the ship’s manifest when Frank came to the US in 1889 at 19. By 1905 they had three more children besides Tillie and Hyman, Abram, Morris and Harry, and lived at 37 Moore Street where Fannie remained for as long as I could find her. Frank’s brother was living with them and the brothers were working together as ‘express men’.

manhattan ave williamsburg

Manhattan Ave, Williamsburg

In 1915, the Lipshitz’ son Hyman is no longer there. Most New York City death records give details of the birth and death, address, burial date and names of parents. The only death record from that time is one of a Hyman Lipshitz who died 12 May 1908 with no details of his birth or parents. Hyman would have been 9. There is no other death record like that and I assume, if this is his death record, they were too upset to fill in the form properly. By 1915, the Lipshitz’ have seven children. Harry has become Archie. There is Tillie, Abe, Morris, Archie, Theodore, another Hyman, and Anna (later Annabelle). By 1920 they had added their last child, Florence, but Frank was no longer alive. He had died 30 July 1917 when he was 48.

I had a great deal of trouble finding anything about the Kudlers before 1920. I could find nothing about the mother Mindel was travelling to in 1905. If she died, I could not find a death record. Then, at long last I found Barnett, a carpenter, and Anna Kadler on the 1915 census living at 281 Christopher Ave, further south in Brooklyn. By their address was written Rm 2, and I wondered whether they were living with their 7 children (Mary, Minnie, Rose, Mollie, Morris, Joseph, Fanny/Florence) in one room. Before Anna died, she had another child David who was born in 1915 or 1916. Anna may have died after the birth. Sometime before 1920, Barnet and Fannie married and he moved with his children into 37 Moore St.

There was one more major change in 1920. There is a marriage certificate for 11 May 1920 in Florida for Minnie Kudler and Nathan Treifler, who also came from Brooklyn. Minnie’s age is listed as 21, the age when consent was no longer needed although she was probably 19. And it also says ‘her mother is dead’. Often the names of the bride’s parents were mentioned in these Florida marriage certificates. No names are mentioned on this one. Possibly Minnie and Nathan went to Florida to spare their families the cost of a wedding. This is the only personal statement in the records for Minnie, who was separated from her mother in 1905, then reunited only to lose her again sometime after 1915.

kudler minnie marriage florida

Marriage certificate 1920 Minnie Kudler

More changes occurred by the 1925 census. Barnett and Fannie were still living at 37 Moore Street, but Fannie now called herself Fannie Lipshitz and is listed as Head with all of her 7 children. Morris, 22, is called Moe and Hyman, 13, has become Herman. Barnett is listed as Head with his three youngest children, Joseph, Florence and David. Possibly this had never been a real marriage but just an arrangement for convenience, with Barnet providing the money and Fannie looking after the house and both sets of children. Maybe they now had two flats in the same house. Two of the other Kudler daughters, Rose and Molly, were living with Minnie and her husband on Lorimer Street, not far from Moore Street. The oldest daughter, Mary, was in her mid-20s, and may have been living on her own. Morris Kudler is not on the census.

The 1930 census took place on 5 April and Barnet had died on 25 March. The family was still living at 37 Moore Street – there were six Lipshitz children, as for some reason Herman, who would have been 18, is not there, plus two added children with no last names who had me puzzled for a long time. They were Daniel, 15, and Lena, 18. Eventually I worked out that Daniel was actually David Kudler and Lena was Florence Kudler, possibly nicknamed Lena because there was already a Florence in the family. Fannie was working as a sales lady in a dry goods store and three of the four older sons were working. Fannie’s eldest daughter, Tillie, was now married with three children, and also had Hyman Lipshitz, her uncle, boarding with her. Rose and Molly Kudler were living with Minnie Treifler who now had two sons. Joseph Kudler had changed his name to Cutler and was married with a son. They were all living in Brooklyn. Mary Kudler still does not appear. Morris who was about 23 was also missing. There is one census page with a person Morris’ age called Kutler, a boarder, but nothing much was known about him including his first name, so he was obviously not present. He may have only recently moved. Herman never appears again. He has disappeared like the older brother whose name he had.

I could not find Fannie Lipshitz in 1940. The family had split up and the younger children, now in their early and mid 20s, were living with married brothers and sisters. Morris Lifshitz had become Murray and was living with his wife and two children in Newark New Jersey with his two sisters Annabelle and Florence. Tillie now had four children. Archie was married. Teddy had died in 1935.

Joseph Cutler and his family had moved to Florida. The others were in Brooklyn. Morris Kudler was living with his wife and baby at the home of his in-laws. Minnie Treifler now had three children. Mary finally appears in the census as Mary Cutler living on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Living with her are Rose and Daniel Kudler, and their sister Florence Myers. The sisters were doing office work, bookkeeping or stenography, and the brothers were in sales.

Although the Kudler family was not involved in the Odessa pogrom, they had left Odessa in 1905, a time of great turbulence. It was the year of the first revolution beginning with the Potemkin mutiny in Odessa Harbour in the summer of 1905. They may have felt pressured to leave as events were unfolding. I continued researching the family when I saw the two families managing with 14 children between them and how, as one after the other, the parents died early, the children continued to live with and look after each other. The children who did not have their own families came together and made a family together, something that has happened in several of the Odessa families.

 

 

The ghost of David Komelfeld

Duvid Shaevich Komelfeld, a native of Odessa, was 29 when he died in the 1905 Odessa pogrom. Nothing else appears in the records about him or his family. But checking on an Ellis Island database (https://stevemorse.org/ellis2/ellisgold.html), there was a family of Komelfelds, 28-year-old Sura and her four children, Tauba, Schindel, Schaje and Rafael, between ages 7 and 3, leaving Hamburg for New York in August 1907.

komelfeld sura ship 1907 - Copy

Sura Komelfeld and her four children on the SS Blucher, 2 August 1907

Her closest relation in Odessa was her brother Schiel Burdman (Бурдман) who lived at 7 Srednaya St in Moldavanka, and she was going to her husband David Komelfeld at 197 Moore St in Brooklyn.

11 serednaya burdman

11 Srednaya St (7 is a modern apartment block)

odessa map 1888 mold

Moldavanka 1888

Srednaya St means Middle Street and it runs through the centre of Moldavanka from top to bottom of the map.

The name Komelfeld (Комельфельд) is extremely rare. Slightly more common is the name Kimelfeld, and both names appear in the Odessa records. It is also a name that is rarely spelt properly in the US records, probably because many of the records were done orally and the Russian or Yiddish pronunciation was difficult to interpret. The first record I found was the 1910 census with the name spelt something like Kobnmelfeld. Sarah was living with her brother, Joe Boardman, sister, Beckie, mother, Ida, and her three children on 79 Leonard St in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, an area with many newly arriving Jewish immigrants where the family stayed through the 1920s.

Graham Avenue Brooklyn

Graham Street Brooklyn 1935

Graham Avenue in Williamsburg 1930s

Sarah is a widow and one of her children, the eldest son, has died. She has two daughters, Tesie and Sadie, 10 and 8, and a younger son, Rafael, 5. It says on the census that Sarah originally had five children and three are alive. Her brother had arrived in the same year as she arrived, 1907, but her mother and sister came in 1908, possibly to help her after her husband died. She is working as an examiner of children’s suits and her brother and sister are also working in clothing factories.

Williamsburg Brooklyn 1918

Williamsburg 1918

What I did not notice when I first saw the 1910 census was another Boardman family consisting of Morris 24, Bessie 20, and their little boy Abe who was 2. Morris had arrived in the US in 1905 and had a candy store. Living with him was Ben Komarow, who had come alone from Odessa at age 14 in 1906. Ben married Sarah’s sister, Beckie, in 1911 and will come back into the Komelfeld story further on.

139 starr St 1920 Boardman

Starr St Brooklyn

It was difficult to find the old houses in Williamsburg on Google streetview in the area where the Komelfelds lived. The street above is just south of Williamsburg, where Joseph Boardman lived in 1920, a slightly more prosperous area. When I saw the two trees framing the picture I thought of the famous story written in the 1940s, A tree grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, which I read and cried over as a child. It is the story of an 11-year-old Irish-American girl brought up with an alcoholic father in a poor Irish Catholic part of Williamsburg just north of the Jewish area. She describes in exquisite detail the daily life, the squalid tenements, the diet of day-old bread and the Saturday treat of fresh rye bread from the Jewish delicatessen, and at school, the vicious treatment of the poor children by the teachers, and of various hierarchies of children towards each other. It was quite clear to her from a very early age that her aim in life was to find a way to rise up and out of Williamsburg.

first edition tree

The older daughter’s name was Tessie, which was rare and eventually I tried searching for her in a database with no last name, looking for someone living in Brooklyn, newly married, age 20, with an immigration date of around 1907. A possibility came up with a Tessie Bernstein, 21, married to Edward, a salesman, living in Brooklyn, with a son, Irving, 2. In 1930, Tessie has Odessa written by her birth country and I knew I had found the right person. There was no marriage record for her or her husband. By 1930 she had 2 sons. Sadie was a much more common name and more difficult to find. I also could not find any more records for Sarah or Raphael. Before I found Tessie, I thought the entire family had disappeared, ghosts from the Odessa pogrom. Eventually I made a little headway.

I returned to looking for David Komelfeld‘s death record and after a long search went back to the original Odessa death record to see the full name of the Duvid Komelfeld who had died in the pogrom, which was Duvid Shaevich. The name of Sarah’s oldest son, the one who died, was Schaje which was probably Shaya. So was Shaya named after his grandfather, his father David’s father? Then who was the David who died in the pogrom who also had a father called Shaya? How could there be 2 people in the same family with the same name and the same father? For a short moment I thought that possibly the David Komelfeld who was waiting for Sarah and the children in Brooklyn was only a figure in her imagination, a real ghost from the pogrom. Maybe she was already a widow and joining a brother in New York. Then I realised Shaya may have been named after an uncle or another relation. Maybe the Davids were cousins.

After my third or fourth attempt, I found a potential Sadie – a Sadie Held, 19 in 1920, married to Jacob, a plumber. Her immigration date was correct, 1907, and there was no marriage record for her as there hadn’t been for her sister. By 1930 she had four children, one boy and three girls.

I now tried to find the death record of the 4-year-old son. Without knowing what first name they would have used for Shaya, and with a last name that was difficult to spell, I did not have much hope, until I thought to put in Sarah’s maiden name, Bordman, which would be on her child’s death record. It bothered me the most that I could not find any record for this little boy who had come all the way from Odessa to New York, would never grow up, and would surely be totally forgotten, lost from the records. But here he was:

Charles Cemberfeld
death: 19 November 1907, age 5, 117 Seigel Street, Brooklyn
estimated birth year: 1902, Russia
burial date: 19 November 1907
cemetery: Washington
father: David Cemberfeld, Russia
mother: Sarah Bordman, Russia

The Komelfelds had only arrived in August 1907 and three months later Shaya had died. And what about David, his father? Could he have been buried through a synagogue without a death certificate? Or are some records simply lost?

I found some old maps from the 1880s of Seigel St and the area around there where the Boardmans and Komelfelds had lived for so many years. This was the centre of Jewish Williamsburg.Although these are much older maps, it is interesting to see the narrow houses, the furniture factory, tailor, bakery, macaroni factory and other workshops scattered between the houses.

Seigel Brooklyn 1884

Seigel Street on the left 1880

throop Seigel St Brooklyn 1880

Throop Ave, Seigel St, Leonard St, and Moore St 1884

I returned to Sarah and Raphael and found that there was no sign of them after 1920. I tried with every possible spelling of Komelfeld, any name beginning with K, and even with no last name. There are very few Raphaels so I tried Ralph as well, but nothing came up that fit his approximate age and immigration date. As Sarah’s mother, Ida Boardman, had been living with them in 1920, I then looked to see where she was in 1930. She appeared living with Ben Komarow who had married Sarah’s sister, Becky Boardman. I went back to his ship’s record which had said he was 14 when he left Odessa alone in 1906. It said he was going to an uncle called Abraham Bradkovsky who ran a restaurant in Manhattan on Monroe St. Unfortunately, Bradkovsky died in 1909 when he was only 40 and Ben must have moved to the Boardmans in Brooklyn. Possibly they were relations or friends from Odessa. On the ship’s manifest it said Ben was a shoemaker at age 14, but on the 1910 census he was working, like the majority of Jewish immigrants, in a clothing factory as a ladies cloak cutter. After he married Beckie, Ben moved to Sumter, South Carolina, where he appears on the World War I registration as a merchant. He probably had a brother there as there is another young man from Odessa, Isidore Komarow, nearby. It is hard to imagine why two young Jewish men would find themselves in a small town in South Carolina, but immigrants travelled anywhere to get away from the intense competition for jobs in New York.

I still did not know whether Sarah and Raphael had changed their names, moved away or died. But as Sarah had been looking after her mother, and that job was taken over by her sister Rebecca, who had returned to New York from South Carolina at some point before 1930, possibly the Komarovs returned because Sarah moved away or died. If she died, that does not explain what happened to Raphael. She might have remarried and he might have taken his stepfather’s name, but that seems unlikely when he was nearing the age to set out on his own, and so far I have not found anyone that fits his description. Possibly she remarried and later he changed his name. Or he left the country. The possibilities are endless. Having settled for 13 years in Brooklyn, these two figures, the 42-year-old mother and 15-year-old son, fade away like their husband and father, David Komelfeld, ghosts of the Odessa pogrom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leonid Pasternak and his Odessa childhood

I have written about the impressionist painter Leonid Pasternak (Леонид Пастернак), the father of Boris Pasternak, in a previous post about the wealthy Moscow tea merchant, David Wissotzky, who had portraits of himself and his wife painted by Pasternak (https://wordpress.com/post/odessasecrets.wordpress.com/834). His children was also tutored by Boris Pasternak one summer. Boris fell in love with his daughter, Ida, and was inspired to begin writing poetry. There was a teacher called Leon Wissotzky who died in the Odessa pogrom and the Wissotzky’s had offices and warehouses in Odessa, using the port for their tea business. But what I never realised was that the Pasternaks were also from Odessa. It was only when I was looking up where Isaac Babel had lived in Odessa that the name Pasternak came up as well, as having stayed at Bazarnaya 78 over the years from 1885-1911 (like Jabotinsky and Kataev who had also lived on Bazarnaya), although he was living in Moscow at the time.78 bazarnaya Pasternak

Bazarnaya 78

So where was the artist born and what was his life like growing up in Odessa? From the Russian Wikipedia entry, I found that Leonid (Yitzhok-Leib or Isaac-Leon) had been born in 1862 on Kherson Street 20, now Paster Street 20 (по Херсонской — Пастера улице). This is an area outside the centre near the harbour, between the centre and Moldavanka. Just beyond, along the harbour, is Peresyp, and further inland is Slobodka. According to Wikipedia and many accounts of Pasternak’s childhood, when he was quite small his father rented a courtyard and inn, eight rooms for small landowners coming to market, in central Slobodka near the cathedral and market square. A footnote leads to a very long article on a Russian history website about Peresyp and Slobodka-Romanovka mentioning many Odessan writers and historians and descendants of local people vouching for the Pasternak’s having lived at what was called the inn of Baransky, at 9 (possibly changed to 11) Rozhdestvenskaya near the church and Market Square, and yet to many writers on Odessa it was also called Gruzdyev House (https://www.istmira.com/istnovvr/aura-odesskoj-peresypi-i-slobodki-romanovki-kraeve/page/40/). On the 1888 map of Odessa, you can see Slobodka on the bottom with the market square in the centre. The beginning of Kherson Street can be seen across the ravine and railway track at the top of the map.

Odessa 1888 slobodka Pasternak

Slobodka-Romanovka

9 vinnicnenko Pasternak

9 Rozhdestvenskaya just north of the central square

So I tried to find out more about Leonid’s early life in Odessa through his memoir, translated into English in 1982. He describes the bustling courtyard filled with the landowner’s horses and carts, which, as a small child, inspired him to begin drawing. He also describes his first trip outside at night, as a four-year-old, walking with his father to a special bakery on New Year’s Eve to collect a cake for their landlord. It is this detailed description of his walk to the bakery on Preobrazhenskaya near the City Gardens that makes one begin to doubt that the family lived in Slobodka. Then I came upon another story of his childhood on a website of biographies of famous Odessans. In this short biography, it says that Leonid’s grandfather Isaac came to Odessa from Galicia in the early 1800s and Leonid’s father, Joseph, was born in 1813. According to this story, Joseph’s inn was near the New Market (Новобазарная) on Koblevskaya between Olgievskaya and Konnaya, just across the ravine north of Slobodka (http://odessa-memory.info/index.php?id=243). New Market is the square towards the bottom left of the map.

Odessa 1888 old market

New Market (Новобазарная) and Koblevskaya (Коблевская)

I went back to the memoir and read more carefully how Leonid described his childhood home. ‘I can only properly remember my early childhood from the time when father’s affairs took a turn for the better and he rented the vacant area described above – the courtyard and wing. “Gryuzdov’s House” was known throughout the regions and visitors used to travel from afar since the rooms were very cheap. Where we lived, on the outskirts of the city, was very provincial, almost like a village. You could see the sea, as well as the little settlement Romanovka nearby.’

Pasternak Odessa 1870s

How could he live in the middle of Romanovka near the marketplace and see it from where he lived? He then describes the courtyard more fully:

One would have thought that my childhood imagination would have been confined to things urban, but in fact it was nourished on country impressions. Although we lived in the town, our courtyard was more like a village and we were surrounded by things rural. This courtyard with its carts and wagons, it horses and oxen, it’s chumaks and coachman and Tartars – helped enrich my artistic imagination enormously, as well as develop my sense of observation. Every evening peasants would arrive to stay overnight, bringing with them their bread to sell. Their lodging would cost them only a few kopecks. By nightfall the yard would be filled to overflowing with wagons, people and animals. There was a strong smell of manure and the sound of neighing and chewing was everywhere. Even now I can still smell that peculiar odour of horses’ harness and tar, I can still hear the muffled lowing of oxen, the snorting of horses quarrelling and somebody’s certain and penetrating cry: ‘You swine!’

Then I found a history online of the famous bakery, Duryan’s, where Leonid had gone with his father to buy the special New Year’s cake, for their landlord, Untilov. He quotes from Pasternak about the bakery and describes Pasternak’s early home as being at Koblevskaya 13 on the corner of Olgievskaya, a house which his father rented from Mikhail Untilov until 1873 when he was able to buy the property. This house is near the New Market and a reasonable walk to the bakery on Preobrazhenskaya. It is also at the edge of the city and near the ravine that separates the city from Slobodka-Romanovka. Koblevskaya 13 was destroyed in the war but here is another nearby house with courtyard.

Koblevskaya dvora Pasternak

Koblevskaya courtyard

I went back to the internet to search again for more about Pasternak’s childhood and found his memoir in Russian which had an extra sentence in the beginning which was not in my English edition. ‘Знаю лишь, что я родился на Старом Базаре, в 1862 году, 22 марта по старому стилю, и когда мальчиком бывал там, т. е. в центре города, то ничего такого старого не находил в нем, что отличало бы его от Нового Базара, куда мы перебрались, когда мне было 2–3 года.’ (I only know that I was born in the Old Bazaar, in 1862, on March 22, in the old style, and when I was a boy there, that is, in the center of the city, I would not find anything so old in it that would distinguish it from the New Bazaar, where we moved when I was 2-3 years old.) (http://az.lib.ru/p/pasternak_l_o/text_1943_zapisi_raznyh_let.shtml) Old Market is on the previous map towards the top right in the centre of town.

So Leonid had lived as a child near the New Market, but also says that he was born near the Old Market in the centre of the city. The only reference I had about where he was born was that it was Kherson St 20, a couple of streets over from Koblevskaya. The original detailed history of Slobodka mentions that the landlord Untilov, a member of the Duma, was listed in the directory as owner of Kherson St 20. Possibly this is where the idea of it being Pasternak’s birthplace came. But the article about the bakery says that Untilov was also the owner of the inn on Koblevskaya, which makes sense as they were buying the cake for their landlord. It seems that no one has actually looked into where Pasternak was born. I’m not sure why or how the story of Pasternak coming from Slobodka came about. It is and was a much poorer working class area and his family seem to have been an up-and-coming family who wanted their children well educated and eventually moved into the city centre. The inn on the edge of town was surely just as good a story as the childhood home of the famous painter.

Pasternak’s memoir continues with experiences at his local primary school and then moving on at age 10 to Richelieu High School, the most prestigious high school in Odessa and difficult to get a place in. He then moved to the Odessa State High School in the fifth year where he met a French teacher who was interested in art and introduced him to museums, galleries and exhibitions. Another stroke of luck was that the editor of various illustrated magazines, Mikhail Freudenberg, rented a room in his courtyard, and asked him to do some illustrations for him. In his last year of school, Leonid also began taking classes at the Odessa School of Drawing.

PasternakL01

Leonid Pasternak as a young man

When he finished school in 1881, Leonid entered the medical faculty of Moscow University which was the desire of his parents, hoping also to join the School of Painting but found there were no more places. He did not enjoy medicine so transferred to the Law Faculty, but really wanted to study art abroad and discovered that this was easier to do from the Odessa University so he transferred to the Law Faculty in Odessa, where he would be able to spend much of his time at universities and studying art abroad.

What interested me so much about Leonid Pasternak’s childhood in Odessa was his ability, from a relatively poor, uneducated Jewish family, to navigate the education system with the help of his incredible talent, study art in Odessa while at school and get a place at Moscow University in medicine, which was the career his parents wanted him to pursue. It presents another picture to the often described difficulties Jews had with education quotas and difficulties living outside the Pale. It is also interesting to look more closely at the description of his family as poor and uneducated, because when his father was a child he was probably brought up speaking Yiddish and going to a traditional Hebrew school so he may not have learnt an educated Russian. Because Odessa was known for its Russian education, even for Jewish children, families that spoke Yiddish or people who had just learnt Russian orally were looked down upon and families rarely admitted to knowing Yiddish. Leonid’s father may have been educated in the old tradition and Yiddish-speaking, but seems to have done quite well in his hotel business, so the family may have entered the middle-class when Leonid was still quite young.

Certainly all of Leonid’s paintings of his family life were in very middle-class settings, but he also documented the older Jewish generation and made one trip to Palestine where he drew the people and landscape. Another major part of his work were portraits and he was obviously proud, coming from his background, of getting to know some very famous people like Tolstoy, Rilke and Einstein, but his relationship with Tolstoy was probably the most important to him (he illustrated Resurrection and several scenes from War and Peace) and he was called by Tolstoy’s wife to draw Tolstoy just before he died. In the early 1920s he moved to Berlin with his wife and daughters for health reasons and then stayed, only leaving in 1938 to settle in Oxford where one of his daughters lived.

I will end this post with a series of drawings, paintings and a few photographs predominantly relating to his own family, time spent in Odessa, and Jewish life from the late 1880s through the 1920s.

Pasternak 1889 Odessa

Odessa 1889

Leonid_Pasternak_-_News_from_Motherland_(1889,_GTG)

Letter from home 1889 (first large-scale painting)

Pasternak old Jewish woman 1889

Old Jewish woman 1889

Odessa 1890 Pasternaks

Leonid and his wife, recently married, 1890

Boris 1892

Boris 1892

Tolstoy 1893 Pasternak

Tolstoy 1893

Odessa Pasternak 1896

Odessa 1896

Odessa 1896 Pasternak family with Boris

The Pasternaks and Boris 1896

On the Sofa circa 1916 by Leonid Pasternak 1862-1945

On the sofa 1916

Pasternak 1924 Palestine

Palestine 1924

Pasternak Palestine drawing

Palestine 1924

 

 

 

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.

 

 

From Odessa and back again – Jacob Leviton

I did not discover Jacob Leviton, son of Aaron and Goldie, until I had nearly finished researching the vast Leviton family in Chicago. He was on the 1930 census staying with his sister Sophie Welcher. Eventually I found him first travelling to Chicago from Odessa via Liverpool with his father in March 1908. Unfortunately the name on the manifest was spelt Lewiten, a combination of letters I had not tried. And unfortunately I cannot read the profession of Jacob and Aaron. Jacob was recorded as married and 35 years old. Their relation in Odessa was Jacob’s sister, L Mesirow, who lived at Malaya Arnautskaya 50, the first time we get a picture of where this family might have been living in Odessa. The house is in the middle of the long street near Pushkinskaya. There is no mention of Jacob’s wife as being their closest relation. Most of the rest of their family was in Chicago.

Malaya Arnautskaya 50

Their destination was Chicago and the home of Harry Welcher on Stoneman Street, who is down as Jacob’s uncle, whereas it should have said his brother-in-law, the husband of his sister Sophie.

In 1911, Jacob is again travelling from Odessa, this time via Antwerp, to Chicago with both his parents, Aaron and Goldie, and Jacob Mesirow with his wife and widowed mother. All the men are described as merchants. Both families are travelling to the Welcher family now live on Le Moyne Street. Both list cousins as their nearest relations in Odessa. The Leviton cousin lives at Ekaterininskaya 85 on the corner with Malaya Arnautskaya, very close to their Mesirow daughter at Malaya Arnautskaya 50.

Ekaterininskaya 85

Odessa 1888 centre

Malaya Arnautskaya was highly populated with Jews, possibly many of whom were small businessman, who had left the Moldavanka area, becoming more successful and helping their children take up professions as the Levitons were doing. The Mesirow cousin, Lazar Mesirow, lived at Vorontsovskaya 46, a street that runs from the edge of Moldavanka south of the Jewish cemetery to the railway lines and was filled with small factories and warehouses where it ran by the railway. The road has now changed names but if the numbers were similar the house would have been near the tracks, but it is very difficult to find numbers now and there were probably more houses in the past. The sections of the street shown below are closer to Moldavanka where more houses remain. It does not have the style of the centre, but it may have been a place where a factory owner could live by his work.

Vorontsovskaya

Odessa 1901 Vorontsovskaya bottom left

Jacob next appears in New York on his World War I registration. His name appears as Jacob Aaron Leviton, boarding at the Lipschitz home at 120 W. 114 Street. His occupation is manager of the Velcher Bros cigar packing company on East 18th Street, and his nearest relation is his father in Chicago at 1929 Fowler Street. His birthdate is 20 February 1875, age 43.

West 114th Street

There are two Welcher brothers living on the Upper West Side, one quite near Jacob at West 111 St and the other at West 189th St. Jacob is the only member of the Leviton family living in New York, though he is working for his brother-in-law’s family business which has offices in Chicago and New York. He is also the only one who has not settled down with a wife and children. He may also be the only brother of Moishe Leviton, born in 1879, who died in the pogrom.

Jacob does not seem to be someone who fills in records unless they are absolutely necessary or filled out by someone else.. He next appears on his sister’s 1930 census, living with her and her daughter, Alice, 20, on Morse Ave, shortly after the death of her husband, Harry, who died in December 1928. Jacob is listed as single, 52, and a salesman for a cigar company. It was around this time, in 1927, in Chicago that Jacob applied for naturalisation. He must have been working for the Chicago branch of the Welcher cigar company. He was living at 2033 Pierce St, very near Wicker Park, where much of the Leviton family was living in the 1920s. On the application he gives his birthdate and place of birth, Pereyaslav, and says that he is divorced, giving no details of his wife.

Possibly Jacob went to live with his sister to help her after her husband died. There are no more records for Jacob that I can find. On the final naturalisation form, written in 1929, he gives his wife’s name as Anna and says that they were married in August 1905 in Odessa and that his wife was born in Odessa in 1884. He states that he came to the US in August 1911 and his wife came in 1919 and still resides in the US. He says he has no children. At this point he was living at 1635 Morse Avenue with his sister. He received citizenship in September 1930 and had moved to 1222 Farwell Ave, the street next to Morse Ave.

 Farwell Avenue

Sometime later I found a final document that might belong to Jacob. On the 1910 census, there is a Jacob Levitton living at 70 W. 113th St, one street over from where Jacob was living in 1918. Jacob, 35, is living with a wife Hannah, 28, and a daughter Minnie, 6. Jacob is listed as being born in Illinois and Minnie in New York, but much of the rest of the information is listed as unknown – where Hannah was born and Jacob’s job. It seems as if the information was volunteered by someone outside the family, maybe a neighbour. There are blanks in the columns for number of years in present marriage and number of children born and alive.

Jacob Levitton New York 1910 census

Also living in the building are a widow of independent income and a lodger, a 35-year-old music teacher. Jacob’s birthdate and age vary with the years and the ages of this Jacob and Hannah are quite close. He would have come to New York from Illinois. Could Minnie have been Hannah’s daughter? She might have been born in 1904 before Jacob and Anna married. If any of these facts are true. Possibly Jacob did have a daughter. Possibly Anna and Minnie came to America shortly after Jacob arrived in 1908. Did they then return to Odessa after the 1910 census, with Anna and Minnie remaining in Odessa until 1919, while Jacob returned with his parents in 1911? Or did they split up in New York and Jacob returned to Odessa late in 1910, only to return again to New York in 1911? There are no more records that I can find for Anna or Minnie in New York or Chicago. There are several Anna and Minnie Levitons in both cities but none are right. They may have married and slipped through the net. They may have returned to Odessa. There is one death record in 1932 for a Jacob Leviton of the correct age in Los Angeles, and two records, one in 1969 and the other completely un-dated, in Chicago with no age. Although I have found out quite a bit about Jacob, I still feel this family is unknown and has slipped from my fingers, so I will probably keep on searching.

 

Happy families – Levitin and Levit

Why happy families? Feeling I was having extreme good luck in finding the two family names, Levit and Leviton, both names in the pogrom death records, on ships to America in 1906, and in the US records, I delved deeper and found two families who seem to have had successful professions or businesses, married, had children and generally thrived in the US, one family in Chicago, the other in New York.

There was no sign of insane asylums or orphanages. And so, to some extent, they may have been happy families, as happy as any family can be who may have had relations killed in the pogrom and felt forced to flee their home. And possibly, with so little to go on, Tolstoy is correct that ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ But I was interested in why these families might have been as happy or successful as they appeared to be.

I will begin with the Levitin (Leviton) family who emigrated from Odessa to Chicago. They may have had a young son killed in the pogrom, as Moishe Levitin, in the pogrom records, was 26, and the young Levitons on the ship from Antwerp on 30 June 1906, were all in their 20s. There was an older woman, Golda, 56, and her daughter, Rochiel, 28, a nurse, travelling to Sophia Leviton, Golda’s daughter and  Rochiel’s sister at 363 W. North Street, Chicago. With them was Motel, 19, a student, and Gerschon, 24, a dentist, nephews of Golda who were travelling to their brother, Jacob Leviton who lived at the same address.

Golda Levitin and family June 1906

Later I found Sara Leviton, 20, travelling to America in 1904, to her uncle, David Leviton, who also lived at 363 W. North Street in central Chicago and had emigrated to America in 1893. I also found that the two brothers, Motel and Gershon, were the sons of Isaac Leviton, who was travelling with his wife on the same ship with them and Golda although listed on a separate page. Golda’s husband, Aaron, came later.

I first looked up Jacob Leviton, as he was already settled in Chicago. When I started this search I thought that all the young people on the list were the children of Golda and Aaron which led to endless confusions, especially as each of these Leviton families had a Harry or Jacob or David or Morris. And most of the girls had married a Harry or Jacob. I found that this particular Jacob, who was Jacob Isaac, had only arrived that same year, 1906, and by 1910 was married with two small children, living in an area of West Chicago called Wicker Park, an immigrant area of narrow three-storey houses and tree-lined streets reminiscent of many streets in Odessa. During the 1910s and 1920s, most of the enormous extended Leviton family, the brothers David, Isaac and Aaron and their many children, were living around the area of Wicker Park.

Wicker Park Chicago 1912

The older generation of Levitons were businessman, Odessa merchants, but many of their children took up professions – doctors, pharmacists, dentists and an architect. There were two other extended Odessa families in Chicago, related to the Leviton family by marriage, the Schoenbrods and the Mesirovs, Golda’s family. There were also Schoenbrods married to Mesirovs, and often the families lived within one or two houses of each other, on various streets around Wicker Park – Fowler St, Evergreen Ave, Potomac Ave, Le Moyne Ave, Milwaukee Ave, Hoyne Ave and Wicker Park Ave, where Golda was living when she died in 1915.

1351 Wicker Park Ave Golda’s house 1915

Potomac Ave, Wicker Park, the Schoenbrod house in 1900; Jacob Leviton lived on this street in 1910; his father Isaac and the rest of his family lived around the corner on Evergreen Ave.

Evergreen Ave

Fowler St across from Wicker Park where Aron Leviton and his daughter Rose Mesirow lived as did Morris Leviton and Solomon Schoenbrod; Aron died there in 1924

It was this closeness which made me feel that this was a happy family. The families of Aaron and Isaac, one of whom probably lost a son in the Odessa pogrom, were the only two families arriving as late as 1906. David and his family settled in Chicago in 1893 and there was a Morris Leviton who came in 1892.

Wicker Park 1910

Division Street from Wicker Park, now full of cafes and bistros

The records for Chicago, particularly the birth records that list the mother’s maiden name, made it possible to discover the married names of the Leviton daughters. Rochiel became Rose Mesirov, marrying a relation, an insurance salesman. She had two sons and lived in the same area as the rest of the family, gradually moving further out from the centre. She died at age 59 in 1939. Her husband died a year earlier. Neither of the two sons, Abner and Raymond, are listed in the 1940 census. They would have been 27 and 28 years old when their mother died. They both married, had children and lived long lives.

Sarah married Abraham Kaminsky, a teamster, and lived some distance away in South Chicago. She had 5 children, plus one stillbirth. She died in 1928, age 45. Abraham brought up the children alone until he died, aged 55, about 10 years later. Abraham appears on the 1930 census with his children but none of them appear in the 1940 census, which may have been shortly after he died. The eldest, Fanny, never married, possibly because she became the mother of the other children. There are no definite records for two of the others, Vivian and Robert. Goldie married and had one son.

Sophia Leviton, the daughter Golda listed on the ship’s manifest, came to Chicago in 1905 and married Harry Welcher, a cigar manufacturer and they settled near Wicker Park on Le Moyne St. Harry had a prosperous enough business that in 1918 he applied for a passport to travel to Japan, China and the Philippines. On his application he said he was born in Pereyaslav (now Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky), an old city south of Kiev, perched high above a tributary of the Dnieper River, where many of the Levitons, Schoenbrods and Mesirows were from. Another Welcher living near Wicker Park, Joseph, listed his district of birth on one of the censuses as Poltava, the district of Pereyaslav , and he was also married to a Sophie from Odessa. Sophie and Harry had two children, one of whom died at birth. On the 1930 census, Sophie was already a widow, her husband having died the year before, 1929, at age 54. She was living with her 20-year-old daughter, Alice, and her single brother, Jacob, 52, who emigrated in 1912.

So this was Jacob Aaron, the son of Golda. Jacob was a salesman for a cigar company and I thought of Sophie’s husband. The only other record I found for Jacob was a 1930 naturalisation form where he lists his sister, Sophie’s, address in North Chicago. Later I searched again on the Ellis Island website, using the full name Jacob Levitin (as it was usually spelt on the manifests) and therefore not bothering to narrow the search with the town, Odessa. This time I found another manifest, which only listed Russia for last residence, for Jacob and his parents, Golda and Aaron, travelling with Mesirov relations in 1911. Becoming more creative with spelling, I also found Aaron travelling to New York with his son Jankel (Jacob), 35, in 1908, shortly after Golda . Jacob is described as married, although he is listed as single on the 1930 census. At some point Golda and her husband had returned to Odessa and were now going back to Chicago with their son Jacob and more of Golda’s family, the Mesirows. I will continue the story of Jacob and the Levitons  returning to Odessa as it finally shows a picture of these interrelated families before they came to America.

Sophie died in 1941, age 66, and her daughter, who married and moved to California, died two years later, in 1943. There is a Jacob Leviton who died in California, in 1932, age 55, about the correct age, but it is not an uncommon name. Alice married Robert Simonoff in 1939 in Los Angeles and had a daughter Harriet in 1940. Alice died in 1943. Robert remarried and died in 1995.

When I realised that the two brothers on the 1906 ship from Odessa were the sons of Isaac, it became clear that Gershon, the 24-year-old dentist, became George, who in 1910 was married, working as a dental technician and living near Wicker Park on a main street, Milwaukee Avenue.

Milwaukee Ave near Wicker Park

He was the one brother who left Chicago and became a businessman in Indiana and later California. He and his wife lost two children while they were in Chicago, one Bella at just over one year old. They had two more daughters in Indiana.

Motel was a student at 19, so might have been studying for a profession. There is a Morton Isaac Levitan, an architect born in 1889, who emigrated in 1906. I finally found the Isaac Leviton family on a 1910 census (the last name had not been understood properly) with all the family and their emigration dates. The parents had arrived in 1906 with the youngest son Morton, although he was listed (Motel) with his aunt, Golda. Max, with no profession listed, and Henry, a doctor, had arrived in 1904 and the eldest brother, Harry, a cigar maker, had arrived in 1905. The father was working in real estate. Morton became an architect but does not appear in the records except for his naturalisation form and his World War I registration, where he states that he is an architect and is living at the family home.

Max became a doctor, like his brother Henry. He married Anna Livshis in 1912 and in 1920 he and Anna were living with her parents and their two children, Lawrence and Alice. Anna died in 1930 when their children were 15 and 12. None of the family is on the 1930 census. In 1940, their son Lawrence, 25, is working as a resident physician at a maternity hospital. I found a 2003 obituary for him. He was an Army medic during the war and then became a paediatrician, moving to Florida in the 1950s. He was particularly interested in child mental health. His sister, Alice, became a librarian and never married, but I found her, in 1946, aged 28, on a ship back from France. I wondered why she might have been by herself in France right after the war, and somehow the word Nuremberg came into my mind. I seem to have decided this family did not always take the easy route. I studied the manifest more closely. At the top of the document it said ‘War Department Civilians – American Red Cross, so my instinct was correct and she was doing war work.

The Levitons were the first family I have investigated where many of the younger generation went into professions, either in Odessa or later in America. Most seemed to have no problem picking up with their education, training or finding jobs. In Isaac’s family, who had only arrived in America between 1904 and 1906, there were two doctors, a dentist, an architect and a lawyer among the many sons. An older son Philip first became a bookkeeper and then studied law. Another son, Harry, became a millinery manufacturer, and Jacob was an insurance salesman. David Leviton, also from Odessa, who had arrived first in Chicago in 1893, had three sons, a doctor and two pharmacists. Two of David’s sons, the pharmacists, Samuel and John, worked together and lived in the same building. Although the Leviton family were all living in Odessa, many put their town of birth as Kiev or Pereyaslav, as had Harry Welcher.

Kiev and Pereyaslav 1893

Possibly this large extended family had such resilience because they stayed together, worked together and helped each other, both through their professions and other ways. All of their naturalisation forms were signed by a brother and a lawyer in the family, Nathan Schoenbrod.

Dr Henry Isaac Leviton naturalisation form

There were quite a few early deaths in the family of husbands, wives and infants. When there was only one spouse, he or she seems to have been able to keep the family together and look after the children. Sarah Kaminsky died at 45, Abraham Kaminsky at 55, Martin Leviton at 46, Harry Leviton at 56, Jacob Leviton possibly at 55, Alice Welcher at 32, Harry Welcher at 54, Rose Mesirow at 59, and Henry Leviton, at 55. Interestingly, it was the two families who arrived after the pogrom, the children of Isaac and Aaron, whose children most often died in their 40s or 50s. David, who possibly came out of choice rather than from necessity or fear, and whose children were younger when they came, mostly lived into their 70s and 80s and one of the daughters lived to over 90.

Moishe, who died in the pogrom, age 26, born in 1879, was probably the son of Isaac or Aaron, who emigrated after the pogrom, and as Isaac was the younger and had seven sons born in the 1880s, Moishe was most likely the son of Aaron, who only seems to have had one son, Jacob, born in 1875 or 1877, a few years before Moishe. Just as I was finishing this post, I made one more search for Jacob on Google and discovered a family tree of the Aaron Leviton family and a new branch of the family. This family tree included Aaron and Goldie, Rose Mesirow, Sophie Welcher and another sister, Shifra Pines (age 39, born 1868), who came to Chicago in 1907 with her four teenage children to meet her husband Jacob who was staying with the Harry Welcher. In 1910 the Pines family was living on Evergreen Avenue next to Isaac Leviton and the sons were working in cigar making like the Welchers. Another example of this tightknit family. The Pines were from Ekaterinoslav, which is south of Pereyaslav and near to where Aaron was born at Bassan.  Shifra, the eldest in the family, was born at Ekaterinoslav, possibly where the Levitons originally lived, before they moved to Pereyaslav, Kiev and then Odessa, and she either remained there or returned when she married. Jacob Aaron does not appear on this Leviton family tree; nor does Moishe.

In the next post, I will look a little closer at Jacob’s life, as for some reason he returned to Odessa and, unlike the rest of the family, lived in New York for some years, although he never seemed to have settled down.