Marriage Mystery - possible use of my grandfather's identity by his half brother? #lithuania

Cathy Miller

for the main discussion group
My grandfather Iaac Louis WITTEN was born in 1892 in Panevezys Lithuania. JewishGen records him as Itsyk Leyb VITAN son of Tsalel (son of Iosel) and Elka Mera (daughter of Girsh BLOKH). Itsyk was their second child - both were boys. 
Tsalel and Elka appear to have divorced before 1896. I cannot find a divorce record or a second marriage record for Tsalel, but he had his first of 4 children with his second wife Rokhel in October 1896. That child was Yosel VITEN 
Eka Muse BLOCH (I believe to be Itsyk's mother, despite the name variation), is listed as divorced on her second marriage record in 1897. She died in 1898, when my grandfather would have been just 6 years old.
My grandfather and his older brother Girsh Eliyash VITEN (Harry WITTEN) were taken to South Africa by a maternal uncle (Louis BLOCH) in about 1900, aged about 13 and 8 at the time. As far as we are aware my grandfather never returned to Lithuania, and I doubt as a cabinet maker he could have afforded  a return journey. I have a trustworthy document that shows he was in Cape Town on 1 November 1922. He married my grandmother in June 1923 and I am fairly sure he never left the country after that.
My grandfather's half brother Yosel VITEN married Rebecca in Lithuania(date not known and record not found) and had one child Miriam born there 19 October 1923. I assume they were married prior to Miriam's birth, whose birth record I have also been unable to find. They all emigrated to Cape Town, arriving probably by around 1928/1929, probably not all at the same time. I know Miriam was aged 5 when she arrived. 
My grandfather and his young family met Yosel at the docks when the ship arrived and do not talk of his wife or child being present at the time. I cannot find a record of Yosel or his family's trip to the Cape, but an Isaac WITTEN born about 1892 came out alone in 1926. My grandfather was definitely in Cape Town at that time and I am unable to find another Isaac WITTEN of that age in any records relevant to the Cape.
I have been researching this family for years, and was surprised to find the marriage record below for someone with the same name, father and year of birth as my grandfather, at a time when I am fairly certain he was in the Cape and only 7 months before the document I have proving he was there in November.
The mother Rokhel is incorrect. Tsalel was still married to Elka in 1892, so could not have had a child with Rokhel at that time. And it seems strange anyway he would give another son the same name. Tsalel is an unusual given name, and I have been unable to find evidence of another Tsalel VITEN, so the person in this marriage record appears to be my grandfather, who was almost certainly in South Africa at the time, and Rokhel his stepmother.
I have found other JewishGen records for a Rebecca or Rivka or Riva of about the correct age; her father is listed as Itsik/Itsek/Itsyk, her mother as Malka-Inda and the surname Chelemovichaite/Khelemovich.
The above record puzzled me for many years, but this year I found a possible piece to the puzzle when I read the probate records of Yosel VITEN (Joseph WITTEN) in the Cape Town City Archives. Joseph's parents are correctly listed as Bezalel and Rachel WITTEN. His marriage is listed as having occurred in Wilkomir (which is now known as Ukmerge, same place as the record above) and his wife's name and maiden name is listed as Rebecca CHELENOWITZ (in two different places).
I understand that the letters N and M look quite different in the Russian alphabet
Using the search term CheleNovich (sounds like) on JewishGen the most similar sounding names usually use an M though some a small handful use an N. The Rivka/Rebecca/Rivas that match the above record also match the spelling variation of KheleMovich 
1. Is it possible that the Rebecca CHELENOWITZ in the probate record is the Rivka KHELEMOVICH in the marriage record and that Yosel married using my grandfather's identity, and perhaps also used his identity to travel to South Africa in 1926? 
2. If yes, why would that be necessary in the years 1922 - 1926?
In favour of this is her age of 3 months in the 1897 census, 23 in 1921 recorded in an internal passport application (= b abt 1898), 23 in April 1922 at marriage.
Against this is that in the probate record the name is spelled CheleNowitz with an N (not KheleMowitz with an M) and on Rebecca's gravestone her father is recorded as Abraham not as Isaac. 
I am interested to hear other peoples thoughts on this. I cannot think why he might do this. I know that first born sons were exempt from the army and this was sometimes a reason for name changes, but my grandfather was a second born son and arguably Yosel was the first born son of the second marriage. I am wondering if it has something to do with plans for emigration to South Africa. 
Many thanks for any input, thought, ideas or suggestions for further research into this.
Cathy Miller

Cathy Miller, New Zealand

Michele Lock

I have some suggestions that might be helpful.

First, you can order copies of the original documents for the records you found on Jewishgen, from either the LCVA (Lithuanian Central State Archives) or the LVIA (Lithuanian State Historical Archives). Sometimes there is more information in the original documents that is not in the Jewishgen records, that may be helpful to you. The Jewishgen records will state which archives holds the documents.

Looking around Jewishgen, I have found the following for an Itsik Leib Viten/Vytenas in 1922, applying for a Lithuanian Internal Passport (a type of government ID). It says he was born in Panevezys in 1892, though it has his father as Leib (?). A copy of this application should have a photo of Itsik, and surely you will be able to tell if it is your grandfather Isaac or not.

Which brings up another point – have you located any descendants of Joseph and Rebecca Witten? They may have information about Joseph’s early life, and perhaps know something about the confusing issue of given names. And – if there is a photo of Itsik Leib Viten in the 1922 passport application, they may be able to tell if that is their grandfather Joseph. One place that has helped me to find distant living relatives in South Africa is the Facebook group called ‘Southern Africa Jewish Genealogy’.

Your question about why a younger half brother might have used an older brother’s given name – This is just conjecture on my part, but I believe the difficult situation of this family around 1900 is important. The first Isaac Leib (your grandfather) left his paternal family at only age 8, and it was most probable that his father Tsalel would not see him again. If the name Isaac Leib had great meaning to Tsalel - perhaps because it was the name of a beloved male relative - Tsalel may have begun to call the 4 year old Joseph by this name. Over time, the name Isaac Leib may have stuck, and even the birth year of 1892 came to be used for this younger son [I’m sure others will have thoughts on this conjecture].

This could explain how there could be an Isaac Louis Witten/Viten, born in 1892 in Panevezys, was living in South Africa in the 1920s, and at the same time an Itzik Leib Witten/Viten, born in 1892 in Panevezys, was living in Lithuania. The Isaac Witten who sailed to South Africa in 1926 – This may actually be Joseph Witten/Viten, who then switched back to using Joseph as his given name, since his older half-brother was already using Isaac in SA.


Your question about the surnames Chelenovich/Chenenowitz/Khelemovich – these are just different spellings of the same surname. The Rebecca/Reba/Rivka that you found with these spellings are all the same person.

Michele Lock

Lak/Lok/Liak/Lock and Kalon/Kolon in Zagare/Joniskis/Gruzdziai, Lithuania
Lak/Lok/Liak/Lock in Plunge/Telsiai in Lithuania
Rabinowitz in Papile, Lithuania and Riga, Latvia
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

Cathy Miller

Firstly a big thank you Michele for your helpful response, I really appreciate your input. 

I was aware of the passport application for Itsyk Leib son of Leib with the identical year and place of birth as my grandfather but not aware that obtaining the complete record might yield a photo. You are correct in supposing I could identify his photo and I do indeed have images of him as a young man. That might at least help rule in or out whether my grandfather made that application in 1922. I will get onto it.

I have found descendants of Joseph's full brother (another half brother to my grandfather) and received images of a person they believed to be Joseph as a young man - plus we have a single image passed down through our family believed be him - so possibly if there is a passport photo in the file I might be able to identify it as one or the other - or find out who it is by posting that image here or on Facebook.

I located descendants of Joseph and Rebecca Witten a few months ago, interestingly it was through the Southern African Jewish Genealogy Facebook page. Although I am now in (mostly Facebook) contact with Joseph's descendants and they have confirmed that the documents I have are indeed their grandparents, they have not advised as to whether or not the photos are their ancestors. 

Thank you for your thoughts on why my grandfather's name might have been used by his half brother. This is a possibility I had not thought of. 

Finally thank you for confirming what I was thinking might be the case - that CheleNovitz and KheleMovich are the same name - I just can't figure out why one would use and N and the other an M, but perhaps this is not so unusual.

I am replying to the group in case there is anyone else out there who is able to shed any more light on this.

Thank you again Michele
Cathy Miller, New Zealand
Cathy Miller, New Zealand