Why did my grandfather only save a Guild Certificate from Odessa, a place never mentioned by my family, and no documents from anywhere else? As my mother had once said on a tape she made about her family before she died, that she thought her father might have had a shoe factory in Kiev, I decided to turn my search to Kiev in 1902. Could my grandfather have begun working towards his Guild Certificate in Kiev and then continued in Odessa? My grandparents had originally come from Baranovichi, west of Minsk, where their first two children, Aron and Sara, were born. That the family stayed there until they went to Odessa would have been another possibility, but I have never found any online records for Baranovichi. One possibility is that the next two children, the ones who may have mysteriously died in the Odessa pogrom, were born very close together before the family arrived in Odessa in late 1902. If my grandfather had wanted to end up in Odessa, why might he have started out in Kiev? Was it easier for some reason to start a machine shoe factory in Kiev than in Odessa? Did he have relations in Kiev who could help him? I needed some evidence of where my grandparents were living in order to find the birth records and names of the two missing children which might then lead me to their death certificates if they died naturally.
I wondered again about the photograph I have of the two eldest children possibly taken in 1902 when the daughter was about 18 months and the son nearly 4. I assume this was taken around the time the next child was born. Could it have been taken in Baranovichi or Kiev? The stone wall prop in the photograph looks like many photographs of children taken in Odessa at that time, but I have never found one with exactly the same background. Possibly it was from Kiev although there are far fewer studio portraits from turn-of-the-century Kiev online to compare.
Aron and Sara 1902?
Kiev portrait 1898
Then I looked back at the Odessa Craft Guild Certificate at the few words of handwriting written in the blanks on the half of the document which still exists. On the line above where it says ‘the year 1902’ and ‘No.205’, it says in print ‘the document issued to him from’ and then there followed a word I couldn’t decipher until now, when I realised, by checking some of the letters with a couple of words above, that it said ‘Gorodische’, the town where my grandfather and two more generations of my grandparents’ families were from. The next word is illegible as it is on the torn edge. Could it be that my grandfather originally received a craft certificate in 1902 in Gorodische (near Baranovichi) as it was his birthplace, the place he originally became a shoemaker or their home in 1902? Was the certificate then transferred to Kiev or Odessa?
1905 Odessa Craft Guild Certificate of Yankel-Khaim Leib Rabinovich (Jacob Leon Rabinovich)
I had looked for information about Kiev before I realised that the Guild Certificate was from Odessa and I had downloaded a few Kiev directories from 1905, 1906 and 1912. I had not seen my grandfather in them and had not given them any thought since then. I had found a jeweller on the main street, Kreschatik 25, named Yakhnovich, my grandmother’s maiden name, which was very uncommon, and wondered if this was a relative and my grandparents’ link with Kiev. My grandmother also had had two older sisters who had lived and studied in Kiev as teenagers in the 1880s before emigrating to America. Now I realised I needed some earlier years of the directory, particularly 1902-1904. I returned to the website where I had found the directories. They had the years I wanted but the download did not seem to be working. Nothing could have been more frustrating, and after struggling with it for a couple of days, I found another website where the directories from 1899-1914, minus 1904, could be seen online but not downloaded. (search Цифрова бібліотека – НБУВ)
I scrolled through the years I wanted and found that there was a Shmuel Meer Rabinovich and Shaya Shevelevich Rabinovich who had leather shops or businesses in Kiev. One was on the same street as Sholem Aleichem’s house, Bolshaya Vasilkovskaya, number 2, at the top of the main street Kreschatik. The other was on Aleksandrovskaya Square, at the beginning of Konstantinskaya Street, a main business and shopping street which lay between the lower town and the steep hills rising above it. Also, only in the years 1902 and 1903, there was a Rabinovich, the only Rabinovich with no initials, who had a shoe shop. He was also in another list called ‘bootmakers’ which in later years became a list of master shoemakers. I looked at the two addresses for these businesses, Konstantinskaya 2 and Dmitrievskaya 14, and with much searching on several very comprehensive websites of old photographs of Kiev, before the city was redeveloped in the 1990s, discovered that the address of the bootmaker, probably a workshop address, was a building with several leather businesses. This address was probably very close to the leather business of Shaya Rabinovich.
Kiev directory 1902 shoe shop ad
The address with the shoe shop, Dmitriskaya 14, was a long street higher up in the city which began with rows of mostly two-storey buildings with shops but further on became more residential. Some of the buildings in the first stretch of the street had several shops but 14 had only one.
Dmitriskaya at its beginnings, where number 14 would have been, at the corner of Bulvarno-Kudryadskoi
Could this Rabinovich be my grandfather? Normally I would not give any thought to a Rabinovich with no first initials as there were so many Rabinoviches. But this was a Rabinovich shoemaker. There were no other Rabinovich shoemakers in Kiev at that time and I had not come across any in Odessa. I had come across two wealthy Jacob Leon Rabinoviches, the exact name of my grandfather, in Odessa, so I could conclude possibly that names were less important than trade or business. It was a very long shot but somehow to find a Rabinovich who had both a shoe shop and workshop in the exact years I was looking for seemed like something that should not just be instantly ignored. If both these Rabinoviches without initials are the same shoemaker, and it seems highly unlikely there were suddenly two for the same few years, it seems very ambitious of my grandfather to start out in a new city with two businesses at some distance from each other. If he had got this far, there must have been some calamity that forced him to give up his life in Russia in 1906.
15 and 17 Dmitriskaya (across from the shoe shop)
Checking the directories in the years after my possible grandfather left Kiev, I found that Shmuel and Shaya Rabinovich had their leather businesses in 1905 but only Shmuel is there in 1906. He also began to have a shoe business in a large permanent market at the lower end of the town, the Jewish area of Podol which he kept from 1906-1908. Shmuel no longer had either business after 1908 but in 1910 his son, Meer Shmuelevich Rabinovich has his previous tile stove business and is running his father’s leather business.
Did my grandfather have a relation or relations in Kiev, one or both of the Rabinoviches with leather businesses, who advised him, possibly helped him, possibly sold his shoes afterwards in the market? Was the jeweller Yakhnovich also a relation? Was that why my grandfather began creating his business in Kiev rather than Odessa? There was another particularly strange coincidence in the Kiev directories, although this time the years did not match my grandparents last few years in Russia. Beginning in the 1906 directory, there was a woman feldsher, a medical assistant or midwife, Rebekka Moishe Rabinovich, the exact name of my grandmother, who worked with another feldsher at the house of a feldsher who later became a doctor, Andrevsky Descent 38, one of the steep slopes rising from the lower part of Kiev. Andrevsky Descent 38 is the last house at the top of the hill in the shadow of the Andrevsky Church which dominates the skyline.
Rebekka is in the directory one more year, 1907, so if it was my grandmother there would have had to have been a mistake. Unfortunately there is no directory for 1904 and the pages for medical professionals are missing from the 1905 directory, so it is difficult to tell when this Rebekka Rabinovich began working. Previous to 1904 there do not appear to be any women feldshers listed, so it might be that women were not listed until after 1903. Later the category of feldsher included the masculine and feminine forms of the word. There has never been any mention that my grandmother had any medical training, but one of her older sisters, Anna, had studied nursing in Vienna, and a couple of her cousins were very successful pharmacists. She also very much wanted her youngest son to be a pharmacist and supposedly encouraged my mother to study medicine. The younger son had been interested in languages but studied pharmacy for a couple of years, probably dropping out at the end, and worked for a few years in a shoe shop before drowning at the age of 23. My mother studied English and German, possibly fulfilling her brother’s wish.
In Natan M Meir’s Kiev, Jewish Metropolis: A History, 1859-1914 (2010), he describes an example from the records of a family moving from Odessa to Kiev in 1901 and their problems with residence permits and craft certificates, which puts my grandparents’ situation in context.
Rukhlia (Rokhel) Aronovna Roitman moved to Kiev with her husband Aron and child in 1901 from Odessa; the couple was originally from Zhitomir. According to a petition that Roitman submitted to the Kiev provincial governor in 1904, Aron, a typesetter by trade, found work at a printing shop and applied for a residence permit, but soon fell ill and travelled to stay with relatives so that he could convalesce. Since the relatives could not be expected to support their entire family – they now had three children – Roitman decided to stay in Kiev to work as a seamstress; she had received a certificate attesting to her mastery of the craft from the Zhitomir Artisan Board in 1894. Since her details are sketchy, we do not know if Roitman practised her craft while her husband was working or why the couple decided to move to Kiev. However, it seems likely that they had left Odessa for Kiev in the hopes that Aron would find employment there; perhaps the downturn in the Odessa economy had put him out of work. As for Roitman, it may be that she had obtained her artisan certificate while an unmarried adolescent or young woman and had worked as a seamstress until she married Aron or perhaps until they had their first child; the wording of her petition suggests that she had not been working while Aron was employed. (113-114)
As neither of my grandparents’ younger children were born in Odessa, it may be that they did not move there until 1905 and were able to get the Guild Certificate quite quickly on the basis of the workshop and shop in Kiev. I want to fantasise so far as to think that my grandmother was a feldsher, possibly working part-time while a nanny watched the children, like Sholem Aleichem’s wife who worked as a dentist, but it makes more sense that she might have been minding the shop while my grandfather ran the workshop. And then, I will imagine them, with their four children, moving everything to Odessa to set up another shop and workshop by the sea, where they could grow fruit trees and grapes. And the hunt for how and where the four children became two children continues.