I recently received a query >from a new researcher. The question and its
answer illustrate a number of the basic issues that need to be taken into
account when researching Litvak families. These include:
(i) understanding the sorts of records that are available;
(ii) getting to grips with names and their variations and the
transformations names took after emigration;
(iii) how to search the All Lithuania Database and the other available
(iv) where people were born may have nothing to do with where they are
entered into records;
(v) look at nearby shtetls (so do understand the geography);
(vi) records omit people - often sons would be omitted if parents could
get away with it; and
(vii) details of other family members can be very useful.
We seem to have found the right family - and perhaps a tree that will go
back to 1800 and that is so bushy that there must be many cousins to find.
This is the second query in a row where a district family seems to have
roots in the same shtetl, Salakas. This must be a coincidence.
Paul K. Hattori
Zarasai/ NovoAleksandrovsk District Co-ordinator
I am trying to trace my grandfather's birth and I should be grateful if
you could advise me the best way to do this. It is possible that you may be
able to provide me with relevant information and if so I would apprecate it
if you could let me know.
His English name was Max (or Marks) Jaffe and I think his Russian name was
Mottel Yoffe. His parents may have been called Yoseph Yankel and Bessie
Yoffe and I believe he was born in Antaliepte (Zarazai) in January 1870.
I also believe that he served in the Russian Army >from 1891 to 1895 and
that he received a Russian Passport No. 99 issued at Antaliepte, Russia in
1894. He married Sarah Ziar in August 1896 in Greva, Vitebsk and they
emmigrated to England in July 1900 with their two babies - Simon born 10 Jan
1899 in Dvinsk and Marie born 4 Feb 1900 in Dvinsk.
What I am trying to find out is his exact date and place of birth. Also
the correct names and dates and places of birth, marriage, death etc for his
parents and also his grandparents if possible. I also want to know
similar details for any brothers or sisters - I believe he had at least two
brothers - Yakov and Zelig and one sister Leah.
You perhaps don't appreciate what it is that you're asking. It is almost
certainly the case that are no existing records of your grandfather's birth
as such and it may be that there never was.
So called metrical records (or "vital records" ie births. marriages,
deaths, divorces) were supposed to be kept by the state rabbis (also called
"crown" rabbis) >from about 1826. These were however, for various reasons,
never 100% complete. For some towns vital records survived in archives, but
for the Zarasai district very few such records have been found and certainly
for Antaliepte this is the case. If you look at the
www.zarasai.blogspot.com and click on the lnk "vital records by shtetl"
you'll see that for Antaliepte that vital records only exist for the period
from 1918.The main resource available are so-called "revision lists". If you go to
www.litvaksig.org and click on the link "About our records" you will find
information about these and other records. Revision lists generally list
the whole family and give (at least for males) their ages.
In the case of Antaliepte there may be two relevant revision lists in
archives. There may be a list >from 1882 at the Vilnius archive and there is
definitely an 1875 list at Kaunas. Note that the 1875 list probably covers
the period >from 1875 to 1882 and the 1882 list may cover a period >from 1882
to perhaps 1887 or even later.
Translations are in the queue but we need more money committed to ensure
that both will be translated over the next year or two. If you would like
to help this project please consider making a donation
There are a number of other types of list for Antaliepte that are already
available on the All Lithuania Database (or ALD), accessible via
www.litvaksig.org, and shown on the list "All Lists by Shtetl" (a link at
www.zarasai.blogpsot.com) . These lists generally only show the head of the
None of the lists we have though show a IOFE or IOFFE in Antaliepte. This
is quite surprising given the wide spread use of the name: a soundex search
on the JewishGen family finder (www.jewishgen.org/jgff) for IOFE in
Lithuania shows 230 entries >from all over the country.
So there is every likelihood that even if Max was born in Antalept that
his father was registered elsewhere. If you look at www.zarasai.blogspot.com
you will see two recent postings about marriage practices that explain why
this might have happened.
You can do a number of things at this point:
(i) Look in the ALD at all the IOFFE and IOFE entries
(ii) Look at the Lithuania database at Jewishgen - if you donate $100 to
them then you can search using given names as well as surnames.
(iii) Join one or more district research groups (staring with Zarasai and
working out >from there) - qualified donors either are sent or can download
excel spreadsheet files of translated records - including those not yet on
the ALD or the Jewishgen Lithuanian database.
What should you be looking for? Yoseph Yankel Yoffe might be shown, for
example, as Iosel, Yankel, Iosel Yankel or Yankel Iosel. His family name
might be IOFFE or IOFE. "Bessie " is not a Litvak name - originally she was
probably something like Pese or Pesa. Max was probably not Mottel: A
search on the ALD shows only 2 entries for "Mottel" on the whole database
(with over 700,000 entries). He was probably Morkhel, Mordkhel or Markel.
The Given Names Database at www.litvaksig.org might give you other
I have searched the district records on excel spreadsheets and I can only
find one family that might fit. The 1876 Famliy List for Salakas (a nearby
shtetl in the district) gives the following IOFE family:
Father Iosel (dead before 1876)
Mother Pesa, widow aged 42
Sons Yankel, aged 21 and head of the family
Zelik aged 13
Mordkhel Leyba aged 7
Are they the right family? . The possibility for bureaucratic confusion
with the brother Iosel ben Yankel (who could have therefore been known as
"Iosel Yankel") heading the family would explain the difference with your
idea of the father's name. There are no Iosel Yankels in the All Lithuania
database. Note that Yankel = Yakov and Zelik = Zelig. This is all highly
suggestive that this is the right family. If there was a sister Leah (or
perhaps Leia) she may have already been married and is therefore not
included in this list. I'd note that the 1876 list is not yet in the
ALD and is only available at the moment to qualified donors to the Zarasai
Take this group a stage further and look for IOFFE in the ALD in Salakas.
You will find Morkhel Leyba in the IOFFE family headed by Yankel in the
1887 Salakas family List. Look down the list and you find Mordkhel Leyba's
wife Sora Chaya and a daughter Maria born 4 February 1900 (remember this is
in the old Julian calendar). There are no sons listed, but they may have
been deliberately omitted - and if they were born elsewhere this would have
been easier to do. This coincidence of Maria's name and birthdate with the
data for "Marie" is, in my view, overwhelming proof that this is in fact
the correct family: if, that is, you have Marie's details >from an
You will see in this record a very large family group: this suggests you
may have by now dozens if not hundreds of cousins.
Look again for Iosel in the ALD and in the 1845 Salakas Revision List
there is one entry for a Iosel, son of Nokhim, aged 26. Is this Yankel and
Mordkhel Leyba's father? If he is, this probably takes your tree back to