The Kutche brothers on their own

With many of the Odessa families or orphans who left Odessa shortly after the pogrom that I have traced, it has been impossible or incredibly difficult to find them in further US records. In some cases the handwriting on the ship’s manifest is difficult to decipher or variations on the spelling do not come up in the records. Some people might appear on one record and then manage to leave no other trace. The people who survived the pogrom and may have lost family in it so often seemed like ghosts to me and even more so when I could not find them.

A few months ago I found two young brothers, age 9 and 11, travelling from Odessa in 1906 with an elderly couple, Simach and Nechama Klein, who were joining their son-in-law, Morris Rothstein, at 406 Rockaway Avenue in Brooklyn. The two boys, Schmeirel and Caumann Kutche, also sponsored by Rothstein, was described as a ‘friend’. Schmeirel and Caumann must have been orphans, whose parents may have died in the pogrom. I had so far not traced any orphans who had not been helped by one of the Jewish charities, like the Hebrew Society or the New York Industrial Removal Office.


Rockaway Avenue, Brooklyn

I tried looking up Kutche with various first names such as Samuel, Simon and Solomon and then tried many possible spellings of Kutche with no luck. I even tried just using first names beginning with S or surnames beginning with K.  I found Morris Rothstein, a house painter, on the 1910 census living with his parents, Simach and Nechama Klein at 1753 Prospect Place, Brooklyn. This was in Crown Heights, Brooklyn a short distance north-east of where he had lived on Rockaway Avenue in Brownsville. Crown Heights had originally been built as a more prosperous area than the working class mostly Jewish area of Brownsville which had been planned in the late 1880s as a spillover from the Lower East Side in Manhattan.

prospect Place Brooklyn

Prospect Place, Brooklyn


Belmont Ave market, Brownsville, Brooklyn

I didn’t find any other records for this Rothstein family, although I found another Morris Rothstein of similar age also living in Brownsville. I eventually just put the image of the ship’s manifest on my desktop and planned to return to it.

When I returned to the two Kutche brothers a few weeks ago, I started with the Odessa Jewishgen website ( to see if I could find their birth records in Odessa and how their name might have been spelled originally. I did find a birth record of a Shlima Kudish in 1897 but it is Cauman who might have been born around 1897 and there was not another birth close in age for his brother. There was no name very close to Kutche, so I tried Kudish and Kutz on the familysearch website I had been using ( with no luck. The name that came up most often on the Odessa Jewishgen search was the very common name Katz, so I tried that as well. There were no Simon Katz’of the same age but many Samuels, so I began to narrow down the Samuels and finally homed in on a Sam Katz on the 1920 census living as a boarder in the area just north of Brownsville on Howard Ave near where the Rothsteins had lived. He was 26 and working as a cutter of paper boxes and the head of the family he was living with worked in a clothing factory. I began to think about possible reasons for why he had not appeared on the 1910 census, what he might have been doing at the age of 15, and what he might have been doing since he arrived in the US at the age of 11.

The number of immigrant families who were living in the US in 1910 and appear on the 1910 census is relatively small compared to those that appear in 1920. I began to wonder if their lack of English or the conditions in which they lived meant they did not appear on the census. They may not have known enough English to know there was a census. Some parents did not understand how to find a school for their children or other mysteries of life in the US. Reading about the tenement houses of the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, there was massive overcrowding, with many families living in one flat, sleeping and working in the same room, sometimes without windows or ventilation. Families probably had more boarders than would have been allowed. Children worked from very young ages, mostly delivering clothing to be worked on or returned to the factory. In Russia as well, children were apprenticed from an early age, sometimes by 11. A child of 9 might also have been given work to do. A relation of mine who wrote a memoir described his family losing their business when he was young and being apprenticed at age 11, hundreds of miles from his house to a pharmacist who started him off making deliveries from 7 in the morning until midnight or later.

In his well-known book about the immigration of East European Jews to America, World of our Fathers, Irving Howe writes little about child labour but says:

The streets meant work. Children, like nine-year-old Marie Ganz, went out to pick up bundles of sewing for her mother and was told they could bring in ‘maybe five dollars a week if she is a good sewer’. The full-time employment of children in shops and factories was rare on the East Side, partly because there was not much use for them in the ‘Jewish industries’, partly because the Jewish sense of family prompted fathers to resist with every ounce of there being the idea of children as full-time workers. (260)

But what happened when a parent or both parents became ill or died. If other family or a charity did not step in children probably lived on the streets. If Schmeirel and Caumann were found a place to board and work to do they were probably lucky.

Jacob Riis, a journalist and photographer, wrote How the other half lives, about the East Side tenements, which was illustrated with his photographs, often of children at work or living on the streets.

riis huddled-kids

Jacob Riis Huddled kids


Jacob Riis Lodgers in a tenement

Lewis Hine was a sociologist who began photographing child labour in 1908 and produced the first two of the photographs below.

children-delivering bundles 1912

Lewis Hine Children delivering bundles 1912


Lewis Hine Child labour

protest 1909 child labour

Child labour protest 1909

newsboys sleeping in the press room 1892

Newsboys sleeping in the press room 1892

I eventually found Sam Katz again in 1930, married to Sophie with a child of 1, Robert, working as a cloak salesman and living at 731 Pennsylvania Avenue near where it crossed Hegeman Avenue, which was in the south of Brownsville. This was a few streets further south from the home of the other Morris Rothstein. As Morris was a tailor I wondered if he was related to the other Rothsteins and had helped Sam. This Morris Rothstein died in 1915 at the age of 42, so could not have been a help for long. His wife Augusta had five children to look after, two of whom were working by 1920.

penn ave

Pennsylvania Ave, Brooklyn

731 penn ave

731 Pennsylvania Ave


With a further glance at Sam Katz on the 1930 census, I noticed that in the same 4-family house was a Chas Katz, several years younger, married with two young children, Adel and Sheldon, 3 and 2, and working as a radio salesman. I had finally found the other brother –Cauman Kutche. They may have been together in their first years in America when neither appears on the 1910 census, but for some time they were obviously not living together. They must have remained in contact and finally managed to get together and spend their lives in flats next to each other with their families. Both married quite late for the time, particularly Sam who was the eldest and possibly felt the most responsible. It must have taken Sam some time to feel settled and able to start a family. In 1940 they were still living in the same house. It is impossible to know whether the two brothers had been placed with a helpful family when they came to Brooklyn in 1906 or whether they had had a hard time working from a very young age. If they had had no more education and had worked very long hours it would even have been difficult to learn English and understand the world around them. What would the census have meant to them?

Whatever the case, they remained loyal to each other and eventually got together to live their lives, always there for each other, as many of the children who came to New York at that time seemed to do. Did the two brothers know much about their family in Odessa? They would have clearly remembered their parents if they had only died in 1905 in the pogrom, but without records from their descendants who knows whether they passed on anything about their family to their children?

I also found the original Morris Rothstein family who had moved to Ramsay, Minnesota by 1920. Morris died in 1926 at the age of 50. That the two Morris Rothsteins died so young suggests they might have been related with a family history of heart disease or whatever they succumbed to. Sophie Rothstein began to run a grocery store helped by her two older sons. In 1940 their house was divided into three apartments. Sophie was living with her youngest son, and each of the two older sons was living with his wife, and one of them had a young child. They were all running the grocery store – another family who helped each other out in hard times. There were two other Rothsteins, John and Louis, who arrived in the US from Odessa in 1909 and were also living with their families in Ramsay, Minnesota. Morris Rothstein, who had arrived in New York in 1904, may have decided to join the other members of his family sometime after 1910. Did they ever wonder about the two young brothers Sophie’s parents had brought from Odessa on the ship so many years before?



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.


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


Carpathian mts vishniac


vishniac Ruthenia




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.



From Kiev 1902 to Odessa 1905

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.

2 Konstantinskaya


Konstantinskaya 1980

Kiev 1903

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.

Andrevsky Descent

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.





Sara Nachmanovich, Kishinev and the orphan train

Before becoming involved in the story of Sara Rabinowitz and her baby son who was not registered in the 1905 Odessa birth records, I had been trying to find Odessa orphans travelling from Hamburg to New York in 1905 or 1906 as I saw a reference to a file of 1906 pogrom orphans in the Hamburg ship’s manifests. I was not particularly concerned about whether their family names were in the pogrom death records, as I think there were many more unrecorded names of people who were killed during the pogrom or died shortly afterwards from their injuries. I found several orphans travelling with another family, travelling with an older child to relations in America, and one sponsored by the New York Industrial Removal Office, but I could not find records for any of them after their arrival, often because the spelling was difficult to decipher. Then I came upon nearly a whole page of orphans on a ship’s manifest, the SS Amerika travelling from Hamburg, arriving in New York 25 August 1906, all sponsored by the New York Industrial Removal Office. One family of five children, from ages 15 to 6 were from Odessa. Unfortunately the name was long and fairly indecipherable, and it is transcribed as Nachwan… on the manifest. The children were listed on the manifest as: Simon 15 Kishinev, Isaac 13 Odessa, Esther 11 Odessa, Hinde 9 Odessa, Selde 6 Odessa.

I tried many combinations in my search for the family and eventually struck lucky with Nachman and thought the original name might have been Nachmanovich (Нахманович). In the 1910 census, I found a 12-year-old Sarah Nachman in Kansas City, Missouri, the adopted daughter of a well-off merchant, living with his wife, Rose, 14-year-old son, mother, sister and two servants. Sarah had emigrated from Russia in 1906. The family lived on a main street in Kansas City, now rebuilt with modern buildings on the block where they lived, but there are older houses a few blocks away.

The Paseo, Kansas City (Google streetview at sunset)

Was this Selde who was probably fostered when she arrived at the age of 6 going on 7.  A young orphan girl being sent from New York to Missouri brought to mind the orphan trains of the late 1800s and early 1900s run by Christian charities. A recent novel Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is based on the lives of Irish Catholic children orphaned in New York and sent to the midwest where they were often used as unpaid servants or farm labourers from an early age. The highest numbers of orphans were sent to Missouri.

Orphan train children

But Jewish orphans sent to the midwest? As a six-year-old I assume Sarah was treated as the daughter of the family, not as a servant. But how much of a daughter? How much would she have been made to feel she was one of the family? I checked the New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum records to see if Sarah or any of her brothers and sisters had spent any time at the asylum but there was only a different Sarah Nachman of the same age but with other siblings during the years 1909-13. Most of those years Sarah was definitely in Missouri.

I looked up the New York Industrial Removal Office and found nothing about orphans. They did look for job openings across the country for new immigrants, and placed young boys in apprenticeships at quite early ages, like the Scheindless boy who was sent to a mining town in Pennsylvania, a placement that did not last long. He ended up at the New York Hebrew Orphan Asylum, possibly because he wanted to be with his brother. Brothers and sisters on the orphan trains were apparently most likely sent to different homes as the important thing was simply to find homes. In the New York Industrial Removal Office online record guide ( ) Kansas City, Missouri is mentioned for the years 1905-1907 as a destination for their travelling agents looking for employment opportunities through Jewish organisations. There is no mention of looking for homes for orphans but this may have been a secondary part of their job, especially in 1906 when pogrom orphans were being sent from Russia.

I tried to find out more about the couple, Julius and Rose, who had only had one child and had decided to take on a Russian orphan girl from the pogrom in Odessa. In 1900 Julius and Rose, both from New York, were already living in Missouri with their little boy. The 1890 census is mostly destroyed and Julius only turns up in 1880 as a nine-year-old living in New York with his parents, Sigismund,56, and Esther, 36, and three siblings, Naomi, Abraham and Hannah, obviously a Jewish family. His father is listed as English, a doctor and disabled, and he died the next year. Sigismund is on one census in England, the 1860 census, a widow and merchant living with two unmarried sisters and a servant. He remarried in America in 1863 to Esther Hanff. On the 1870 census he is listed as a clerk in a clothing store, married with two children. On his 1875 naturalisation form he states his profession as physician. Had he trained in medicine in the 1870s or was he practising as an alternative doctor of some kind? A chiropractor or homeopath? It is impossible to find out how Esther managed after her husband died without the 1890 census. She does not turn up again in the records except as the mother of Naomi who married in 1893 and Hannah who married in 1899. Julius did very well for himself in Missouri, later moved to Chicago and then went into business with his journalist son in Florida, buying a newspaper. His son, Herbert, had started out as a reporter in Missouri, then moved to a job as a journalist in New York where he was living with his wife and son in 1920, and then in 1930 he was living in Florida.

Before looking up the Davidson family, I searched for the other Nachman siblings and soon found her two brothers in Missouri, Simon who had become Samuel, and Isaac who had become Henry. Henry, at 13, was fostered by the Kessel family. Paul Kessel was German and worked in wholesale millinery and lived in the same general area as the Davidson family. By 1910, Henry was a lodger in a house even nearer to his sister and working as a clerk in a millinery shop so must have learned the trade from his foster father. In 1920, at 27, he was again living with the Kessels and their two teenage children, and managing a millinery shop.

Victor Street, Kansas City, Kessel home 1920

In 1917, on his WW 1 registration, he was also living with the Kessels, was in the National Guard, and said he was born in Kishinev, like his older brother. At some point in the 1920s Henry went to New York, and by 1940 he was living on West 86th Street, with a wife and 11-year-old son, working as a millinery buyer. He puts his place of birth as Germany, the country of his foster father, so he may have felt accepted by this family or at least identified with them as he had continued with his foster father’ s business. Sarah had preceded him to New York, probably as soon as she left school, as she married in 1918 at the age of 19 in New York to Louis Schwartz, a fur operator, also 19. Sarah probably did not feel quite like a daughter to the Davidsons as she left their home at a young age for the Russian Jewish community of the Lower East Side. I never found her older sisters, Esther and Hinde, but possibly they had remained in New York and Sarah had kept in contact with them, planning to reunite. Splitting up families may have been necessary to find homes for as many of the younger children as possible, but it was always very difficult and siblings often searched for family later on if they had not been able to keep in touch. According to Louis’ WW 1 registration, in 1918, shortly after he married he was living on 4th Street near his family. He next appears on the 1940 census living in Brooklyn with Sarah and their three children.

Sarah’s marriage record, with the names of her parents, Bennie Nachmanowitz and his wife Lena Schneider, made it possible to trace her family in Russia. I found the births of all of the Nachmanovich children, except Sarah, in Kishinev.

Kishinev street

There is a Russian website about the history of Kishinev with a page of old maps and another on old street names and street signs.

Kishinev 1943

In the Kishinev records, the parents are Beynish Shloime or Shimon and Edel Liba Abram Yehoshua, and the children are Shimon 1891, Ayzik 1893, Ester 1894, and Gnendlya 1897. The death of their mother is recorded as 12 December 1901. The father’s death is recorded as 16 November 1905, about three weeks after the Odessa pogrom. The last residence of the children on the ship’s manifest is Odessa so it could be that the family moved to Odessa at some point after the mother died, possibly after the 1903 Kishinev pogrom. The Kishinev 1903 pogrom was the first pogrom of the 20th century, and modern communication methods meant that news of it travelled around the world in minutes and journalists were able to see the situation for themselves. It became an icon of horror like 9/11 or possibly the recent burnt out tower block in London. Symbols of failure in society. Kishinev made Russian Jews wary of their lives in Russia, but also may have set the tone for future pogroms. The death toll was 47 and there is a list of the victims online.

Kishinev street after the pogrom 1903

As the Nachman family was probably living in Odessa in 1905, Sara’s father’s death record in Kishinev may indicate that he had been wounded in the Odessa pogrom and returned to Kishinev to recover and died there, or possibly the record is in the Kishinev records because he was originally from there. It seems likely that the father’s death is linked to the Odessa pogrom, as the children are part of a group of orphans leaving from Hamburg sponsored by the New York Industrial Removal Office. Somehow the stories, like that of the Feld and Stitelman families, who possibly fled from a pogrom in their hometown to the Odessa pogrom, seem sadder, seem double the horror, and remind me of the famous tale of death in Samarkand.

In the Samarkand legend, “A servant encounters a woman in the market place and recognizes her as Death. The ominous figure looks into the face of the servant and makes what seems to him a threatening gesture. Trembling with fear, the servant runs home, borrows his master’s horse, and rides like the wind all the way to Samarkand so that Death will not be able to find him. Later, the master sees Death and asks her why she had threatened his servant. And Death says, “There was no threat. I was merely startled to see your servant here, for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarkand.”

In 1932, Sam’s daughter, Mabel, married a radio technician in a Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Sam’s birthplace is listed as Petrograd and Mabel’s mother is Stella Perryman. In 1938, Evelyn died, age 39, in California. On the 1940 census, Sam is a widower and lodger with a young couple in Los Angeles, working as a salesman. His older son, Lawrence, a mechanic of 26, is living with his mother and stepfather, Stella and Floyd Perryman, in Los Angeles in 1940. It says on the census that in 1935 Lawrence was living in Kansas City. When he enlisted in the army in 1942 he was divorced with no children. It seems that his sister may have gone to California earlier than her brother, although they may have visited their mother on and off. A younger son, Sam, does not appear in the records after 1930 when he was 9. In 1942 on his WW 2 registration Sam, the father, is still living with the young couple and not employed. I could not work out who Stella and Estelle were in relation to Sam and the children. Sam’s life seems to have been the most disjointed of the Nachman children, probably because he was not fostered, did not go to school in America, possibly never learned to write in English, and probably had a  difficult time when he first found himself alone in Missouri. His one aim must have been to become American, like everyone around him. In 1947, living in Ocean Park, Santa Monica, he married a divorced woman from New York of Russian Jewish parents.

Ocean Park, Santa Monica by Ansel Adams 1939

Looking to see where Ocean Park, the address on the marriage certificate, was, I discovered a 1939 series of photographs of Santa Monica by Ansel Adams, most of the large trailer park set up to accommodate the many homeless families moving west during the depression. The sign for Broadway and Fifth Avenue is a nice touch.

Olympic Trailer Court, Santa Monica, Ansel Adams 1939

Olympic Trailer Court

On the certificate, Sam is the owner of a gas station and this is his second marriage. The first names of his parents are listed as ‘unknown’ even though he was 10 when his mother died and 14 when his father died.

Sam Nachman marriage license 1947

He has travelled a long way, literally and figuratively, from Odessa to Missouri to Santa Monica, and left his parents behind in Kishinev, even though he has chosen to marry someone from the same Russian Jewish background. People do what they have to do to carry on with their lives, even if it means forgetting their parents’ names.

For Sarah, who probably had no memories of her mother, and few of her father, they may have remained alive in her imagination. All of the Nachman children for whom I found records found some success – they had jobs, had married and had children. Henry and Sam both named sons after themselves as if rejecting the Jewish tradition of not naming children after living relations, and following the American tradition of passing down the father’s name. Unlike the Scheindless brothers, none of the children named a child after their father. Possibly having been split up as children, even if some of them came together later, it might have been difficult to talk about the past and pass on any memories of traditions that one or the other may have remembered. Although it does not seem likely that some of the children kept in touch, like Henry in New York and Sam in California, there were similarities in the way they adapted to their new lives, possibly because they had grown up together in Kishinev and Odessa and shared certain ideas of who they were and what they hoped for in life.






Art and the Russian Revolution

The Royal Academy of Art in London has had an exhibition called Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 which was inspired by a Leningrad exhibition in 1932 Fifteen years of artists of the Russian Soviet Republic, an exhibition which showed the incredible diversity of Russian art at a time when the avant-garde and social realism still existed side-by-side. However, from the late 1920s pressure mounted against abstraction in art and after 1932 it was deemed to be unacceptable. The exhibition includes paintings, prints, posters, photographs, ceramics and film clips, some from the 1929 film The man with a movie camera. A few of the art works from the exhibition are copied below, along with others by the exhibition artists that were not in the exhibition. Some celebrate the excitement of the time, while others express something more ominous. Many of the photographs, like futurism, play on the repetition of industrialisation and mechanised work, but others delve into blurred identities, overlapping images, and images taken at disconcertingly strange angles, possibly hinting at the confusion and uncertainties of the times.

Boris Kustodiev The Bolshevik 1920

Kazimir Malevich 1915

Dmitry Moor Help!

Pavel Filonov Formula of the Petrograd Proletariat 1920

Andrei Golubev fabric

Boris Ignatovich

Vavara Stepanova

Kandinsky Blue Crest 1917

Heroes and Victims 1918 Vladimir Kozlinsky and others

Ilya Chashnik

El Lissitsky 1924

Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin 1919 sketch for 1925 Anxiety


Daria Preobrazhenskaya fabric

Ivan Puni 1919

Alexander Rodchenko

Vladimir Kozlinsky Then and Now

Arkady Shaikhet 1928

Sofia Dymshits-Tolstaya