Was it common for relatives to move far away from their families? #lithuania #ukraine

Chloe Kogan

My question could be a very general one relating to the whole Pale of Settlement at any time pre-WWI, or, if the answer depends upon specific times and places, I would specify Lithuania and Ukraine around 1900.

Here's my question: Which scenario would have been more common?

  1. Relatives all live close to one another, in the same or neighboring communities (a day's walk at most from a central place).
  2. Relatives scattered to distant areas or other countries, needing to journey multiple days by railroad or cart to visit each other.
I've been wondering how far I should search for relatives from a town that I know was a primary home for a family. For example, a group of my Fisher ancestors lived in Utena, Lithuania, and they all remained there until emigrating to the Americas -- all except for one son who married a woman from Anyksciai and apparently moved to that town to start their family. Those two towns are roughly 35km apart, but, as I understand it, they were connected by a railroad line and so maybe they were considered "close" at the time? Should I broaden my search radius to 40km around Utena and expect that most if not all Fisher relatives would be captured within that boundary? Or is it likely that individual family members could move 50 km away, or 75km, or to the other side of the Pale even, for marriage or work or other reasons?

If family members tended to live within, say, 40km of a primary home town like Utena, then I would focus all my energy on Fishers inside that circle, rather than needlessly broadening my search to the entire country of Lithuania for little or no gain. On the other hand, if there were no rules as to where family members might move, then I would accept that I have to search the whole country and beyond to look for the needles in a much bigger haystack.

I hope this question makes sense! Thank you in advance for your thoughts and feedback.

Chloë Kogan
Arizona, USA
Email: 802ben@...

  • KOGAN & BERCOVICI: Romania (Iasi/Jassy), Moldova, Ukraine (Sekuryany, Akkerman)
  • FISHER / FISERIS & MARGOLIS: Lithuania (Anyksciai, Kupiskis, Skapiskis, Utena)
  • Many emigrated to Canada (Montreal) & the U.S. (Massachusetts)

Jill Whitehead

Hi Chloe, it depends on the time and place. All my great grandparents came from the Suwalki Lomza gubernias in NE Poland (now partly in Lithuania) to the UK between 1865 and 1875. They had all lived within 20 miles of each other - which made it easy to look for their shtetls when I went to the ancestral area in 2000.  At the time they were not allowed by the Tsar to travel outside the immediate area in their part of the Pale. Partly this was due to the Tsar's crackdown following the 1863 Polish Uprising, so it depended on the situation at the time, as well as shifting borders. As my ancestors were close to the border with East Prussia/Konigsberg, a lot of people smuggling went on to get out (a lot to escape the Tsar's draft into the army). But the situation may well have been different say 20 years later, and under a different Tsar. At one time the major Polish landowners in the North of the Pale (Poland and Lithuania) were encouraging Jews to move south to their lands in modern Belarus or Galicia (now Ukraine), but you would need to check when this was, to see if it is worth looking further afield.  

Jill Whitehead, Surrey, UK

Dan Nussbaum

My father in law's family was from Zinkov, Ukraine, but his uncle wound up in Riga, Latvia.

When my mother and her nuclear family left Ukraine for New York, they visited relatives in Europe all along the way.

So I would say moving distances was quite common.

Daniel Nussbaum II, M.D., FAAP
Retired Developmental Pediatrician
Rochester, New York
Tone can be misinterpreted in email. Please read my words with warmth, kindness, and good intentions.

Searching for;
Nussbaum, Katzenstein, Mannheimer and Goldschmidt; Rhina, Raboldshausen and Bad Hersfeld, Germany
Teplitzky, Bendersky and Kaszkiet; Uman, Ukraine
Rosenthal and S(c)henk(el)man; Zinkov, Ukraine
Bild and Kashlevsky; anywhere


Chloe asks a good question,   Around 1900 both scenarios would have been common: some stayed put, some moved.

There are many reasons why our very mobile ancestors moved within the Russian Empire.  These include (and this is not an exhaustive list):

1.        Marriage:   Shtetl level data for Salakas marriages  - about 38 km down the road from Utena - for the period 1886 to 1910 shows that while most men married locally in the district or nearby districts, some married far more distantly.  Recall there were customary reasons why often men moved to their wives' home towns. A summary of the data is at http://zarasai.blogspot.com/2009/08/more-on-marriage.html.  

2.       Conscription:  Veterans often retired far away from their home towns.

3.       Business success:  First and second class merchants could live in the major cities:  so one can perhaps find relatives born in St Petersburg and Moscow.

4.       Opportunity:  within the Russian Empire there were projects such as Shchedrin for farming which attracted Jewish settlers from some distance.

5,        Education:  whether secular or religious.   At various times it was possible to get a University education.

Most of my Utianer relatives had emigrated by 1900 :  South Africa, the US and UK were the typical destinations.  There was an Utianer society in Johannesburg.   It may be easier to find related Fishers abroad rather than elsewhere in Russia.   

In any case, Chloe may want to first consider the odds of evidencing any link to Utian Fishers with any random Fisher she finds in Russia or elsewhere.  A unified search for Fishers across the Jewishgen databases has more than 87,000 hits - while Fisher + Utena is only 78.  "Fisher" may be too common to make fishing for them in the wider sea a profitable exercise.   

The problem with searching for "Fisher" + Utena on most other databases is that the town name used in the record may not have been regularised for indexing, may look quite different and may therefore not be easily picked up -  I have found documents that have Ootsyany, Utsiany, Utian, Utyan, and more  - and random transcription makes this even more problematic. 

An approach that combines documents and DNA might be most effective, if there are enough known Fisher cousins to test today to create a good benchmark for the DNA side.     

Paul Hattori
London UK

MINDEL, MINDELL from Utena and Vyzuonos, Lithuania
FELLER from Pabrade, Lithuania

Sally Bruckheimer <sallybruc@...>

War, pestilence, and famine haven't been mentioned. A cousin of mine who came to the US from Augustow, Suwalki gubernia said, on his naturalization papers (both sets) that he was born in Marseilles. Evidently the parents fled the rebellion, cholera, and famine - then went back to Russia.

Sally Bruckheimer
Princeton, NJ

Michele Lock

For my Lithuanian forebears, I have found that about 70-80% lived within the same district for most of their lives, prior to coming to the US. By that, I mean only moving to neighboring towns, not more than about 20 miles away. 

But I have also come across some individuals, either young men or young couples, who had moved quite far away from their home districts, to other places within the Russian Empire. Some I found had moved to a neighboring uyezd, say 30-50 miles away from their home base. In the late 1800s, I found two couples who had moved from northern Lithuania to Riga, Latvia. One of these couples later moved to the US. Another couple moved to the city of Kaunas, prior to moving to the US. I even found one family who moved from northern Lithuania to Revel (now Tallinn) Estonia for several years, prior to coming to the US. So, there were some persons who did move about, and it has been worth it for me to look farther. I have also used results from AncestryDNA to weave together some of these disparate families, based on likely relationships amongst us descendents.
Michele Lock

Lak/Lok/Liak/Lock and Kalon/Kolon in Zagare/Joniskis/Gruzdziai, Lithuania; Lak/Lok/Liak/Lock in Plunge/Telsiai in Lithuania
Trisinsky/Trushinsky/Sturisky and Leybman in Dotnuva, Lithuania
Olitsky in Alytus, Suwalki, Poland/Lithuania
Gutman/Goodman in Czestochowa, Poland; Lavine/Lev/Lew in Trenton, New Jersey and Lida/Vilna gub., Belarus