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.
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.