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  • Seeing Your Family Tree through the Forest

    Marie E. Daly

    The following article is based upon a Research Services case regarding the descendants of Mendel Levin and Gola Kahn of Židikai, Lithuania.

    When researching twentieth century immigrants, genealogists should keep a wide focus that includes the possibility of group or chain migration. Very often the passages of our ancestors were paid by friends or relatives from the Old Country. The records of these associated individuals may help us identify the origins of our own ancestors. Twentieth century passenger arrival lists are not only useful for identifying our own ancestors, but also their associates in the Old Country and in the New World. Thus, we can often identify our own family tree by researching the other trees (the forest) around them.

    The case of the Levin family
    The case of the various Levin families points out how researching a cluster of families sheds light on each individual, and highlights the relationships among these families. In 1905, George Oscar Levin and his sister Ida Levin sailed from Cuxhaven, Germany on the SS Pennsylvania and arrived in New York City on 1 July 1905. They appeared on the passenger list under their Hebrew names of Gershon and Chaia, and they gave their birthplace as Ziedik, Lithuania (Židikai in Lithuanian). George and Ida stated that their final destination was Boston, and that they were going to join a brother named Nissan [Nathan] Levin at 12 [North] Washington Street, Boston.  [The village of Židikai is located near the Latvian border, 12 miles east of the town of Mažeikiai, in the district of Telsai or Telshi, gubernia of Kovno (now Kaunas), Lithuania.] Furthermore, when George Levin petitioned to become a U.S. citizen in 1913, two men witnessed his signature on the petition: Israel G. Levin and Benjamin S. Kahn. 

    Such U.S. contact information is an important clue often overlooked by researchers. In this case, the Nathan Levin of 12 North Washington Street was not actually George Levin’s brother, since Nathan’s marriage record showed that he was the son of Abraham and Rose Levin,  and George’s marriage record showed he was the son of Mendel Levin and Gola Kahn.  Perhaps George Levin used the term “brother” loosely and Nathan Levin was actually a cousin.

    George’s sister, Ida Levin, married Israel George Levin in Boston a few months after her arrival in 1905 - a clue that the couple probably had known each other in Lithuania.  Israel Levin sailed on the SS Rotterdam and arrived in New York on 14 July 1902. The passenger list showed that he had been born in “Zidicky,” Lithuania, his final destination was Boston, his passage had been paid by his brother, and his U.S. contact was his brother S. Levin at 12 Washington Street North [sic], Boston. Israel Levin was among 190 passengers on the SS Rotterdam who were detained for unknown reasons at Ellis Island. The detention list showed that Israel was discharged to his brother, Solomon Levin of 12 [North] Washington St., Boston.  So here was a second immigrant from Židikai giving the address of 12 North Washington Street as a U.S. contact.


    When Israel George Levin petitioned the U.S. Circuit Court to become a U.S. citizen, a Nathan Levin also was naturalized at the same court and on the same date. The documents of both Israel and Nathan were witnessed by the same men: Benjamin Frutkoff and Solomon Ephraim Levin [Israel’s brother]. Nathan lived at 9 Minot Street, Boston, but later moved to Cambridge. In his naturalization petition, he stated that he had arrived in New York on the SS Pretoria on 15 May 1902.  A search of the passenger lists for May 1902 showed that a Nissen Levin, age 28, had arrived in New York on the SS Pretoria on 31 May 1902, and was detained at Ellis Island. The reason for detention was “too late for boat.” He gave his U.S. contact as Nathan Levin at 45 Salem Street Boston.  This was the same Nathan Levin who was a dry-goods merchant who later moved to 12 North Washington Street, according to Boston city directories. Nissen Levin (the 1902 immigrant) had been born in Židikai, according to the NY passenger arrival list, as well as the Hamburg embarkation list for 18 May 1902.  Nathan was a haberdasher who lived at 
    48 Maple Avenue, Cambridge. His death record indicated that he died on 6 February 1934 at Beth Israel Hospital, and was the son of Louis Levin and Yetta Sacks.  Nathan was married in Russia to Sarah Paris,  who died in Cambridge on 18 March 1931. Her parents were David Paris and Soula Prussian.  So Nathan Levin of Cambridge, who was naturalized with Israel George Levin, and who gave the same contact address of 12 North Washington Street, was not the brother of Israel, Nathan, Maurice G., or George O. Levin. He did come from Židikai, and was probably related to Israel. The wife of Israel George Levin’s brother, Solomon Ephraim Levin, was Rose B. Levin. She was the daughter of Lazur Levin and Yenta Tuck, according to her marriage record.  Her parents may have been the same as Louis Levin and Yetta Sacks, the parents of Nathan Levin of Cambridge. If so, this would establish a relationship between Israel George Levin and Nathan Levin, since Nathan would have been Israel’s brother Solomon’s brother-in-law.

    Another witness on George Oscar Levin’s naturalization petition was Benjamin S. Kahn. Since we know that George Levin’s mother was Gola (Kahn) Levin, the relationship between Benjamin S. Kahn and George Levin was investigated. Benjamin Solomon Kahn was born on 19 September 1886 or 1887 in Courland, Latvia.  Since the draft registrations of his brothers Milton and James showed that they had been born in Libau, in the district of Kurland [Courland], Latvia,  Benjamin probably was born there also. Libau (Liepaja) is a city in the district of Courland in western Latvia on the Baltic Sea, and was a major port of embarkation for immigrants to the United States.  Benjamin emigrated with his parents Harry and Ida Kahn on the SS Saxonia, which arrived in Boston on 14 July 1904. The passenger list recorded them with their Hebrew given names. Accompanying Harry and Ida Kahn were their children: Behr (Benjamin), Roche (Rosa), Michel (Milton), Jasel (James), Chaje (Ida), Rebecca, Minna (Minnie), and Gershon (George). When the Kahns were processed through Ellis Island in 1904, they listed their U.S. contact initially as Miss Gehuda [?] Levin at 11/12 Washington Boston. But this name was crossed out and, in another person’s handwriting, the names, Nathan & Maurice, uncles, at 12 No. Washington Street, were entered.  The death record of Edith (formerly Ida) Kahn showed that her maiden name was Levin, and that she was the daughter of Abraham Levin and Rose Hayman.  So, as we see below, she was the sister of Nathan and Maurice G. Levin, whose business was located at 11-12 North Washington Street.

    The Levin Brothers of 12 North Washington Street
    So who were Nathan and Maurice G. Levin of 12 North Washington Street, and what relationship did they bear to each other and these other immigrants? Boston city directories were consulted for the years 1890 through 1920. The directories showed a business, under the names of Nathan and Maurice G. Levin, dry-goods merchants, located at 11-12 North Washington Street. Before 1902, the same merchants were located at 45 Salem Street in the North End of Boston. In 1905, their partnership was joined briefly by Solomon Ephraim Levin, who was the son of Max Levin and Etta Rostofsky, and the brother of Israel G. Levin. So Solomon was not a brother of Nathan and Maurice, but may have been their cousin. 11-12 North Washington Street was a 4 ½ storey building located in Haymarket Square, near the intersection of Cross Street and North Washington Street, just a few blocks from Nathan and Maurice Levin’s former address on Salem Street. 

    The immigrants who gave the addresses of 45 Salem Street or 11-12 [North] Washington Street were:
    Immigrant Name  Year   Contact Name   Relationship
    Israel George Levin  1902  Solomon Levin  brother
    Nissen Levin (Cambridge) 1902  Nathan Levin   cousin
    Harry & Ida (Levin) Kahn 1904  Nathan & Maurice Levin uncles
    George Oscar Levin  1905  Nissen Levin   brother
    Charles Hyman  1905  Nathan Levin   cousin

    The earliest immigrant, Nathan Levin, was born in Russia in 1872 and arrived in Boston in September 1888, according to his naturalization petition filed at the U.S. Circuit Court in Boston in 1896.  A search of passenger lists did not show anyone in that year and port, but there was a Nathan Levin of Kovno who came into New York on 31 July 1891.  Nathan was a dry-goods merchant; was the son of Abraham and Rose Levin; and married Fannie Bernstein in 1894.  Nathan lived initially at 24 Bremen Street in East Boston, and his business was located at 45 Salem Street in the North End of Boston.  In 1902, Nathan was living at 152 Salem Street, and his business was located at 12 North Washington Street.  In 1910, he lived in at 52 Monument Square, Charlestown.  By 1918, he had moved to 16 Seaver Street in Roxbury, but his business was still at 12 North Washington Street. He was also the president of Monarch Clothing Co. at 119 Hanover Street.  Since we have evidence that Nathan’s brother Maurice G. Levin and his business partner (and Israel Levin’s brother), Solomon Ephraim Levin, were from Kovno and Židikai respectively, Nathan was probably from the same area in Lithuania, and possibly from Židikai.

    Maurice G. Levin was the son of Abraham Levin and Rose Chaima (Hayman),  and was born on 10 October 1876 in Kovno, Russia, according to his naturalization petition in the U.S. District Court in Boston. One of the witnesses to his petition was his brother, Nathan Levin of 34 Monument Square, Charlestown.  He arrived in Boston from Liverpool on the SS Catalonia on 9 September 1895.  In his 1918 draft registration, he listed his occupation as real estate and in business for himself at 12-14 Washington Street, Boston. He was of medium height and medium build, with grey eyes and black hair.  By 1930, he was living with his wife Pauline and their children at 57 Babcock Street, Brookline.  He died on 24 December 1938 at 57 Babcock Street, Brookline, Massachusetts.

    So the contacts in these passenger lists show a number of people named Levin or Hayman who are somehow related to each other and probably all from the village of Židikai. These are the relationships:

    Immigrant   Parents    Arrival Date  Birthplace
    George O. Levin  Mendel & Rose (Kahn) 1905   Židikai
    Israel G. Levin  Ben/Max & Etta (Rostofsky) 1902   Židikai
    Solomon E. Levin  Max & Etta (Rostofsky) ~1901   Židikai
    Rose Levin   Lazur & Yenta (Tuck)  1904
    Nathan Levin (Boston) Abraham & Rose  1891   Kovno
    Maurice G. Levin  Abraham & Rose (Chaima) 1895   Kovno
    Edith (Levin) Kahn  Abraham & Rose (Hayman) 1904   ? Kovno
    Nathan Levin (Cambridge) Louis & Yetta (Sacks)  1902   Židikai
    Charles Hyman  unknown   1905  ? Mažeikiai, Kovno

    So here we have a cluster of families who were probably related to each other. In some cases, the records only provided the general area (Kovno) of origin. With such a common name as Levin, determining exact origin would be difficult if the researcher focused merely on the individual. By spreading out the research to include contacts on passenger lists and witnesses on naturalizations, one can identify associates whose origins have been more specifically detailed. One can then research the records of the specific area to confirm these relationships. Keeping a wide focus by researching the forest will increase one’s knowledge of the individual family trees.

    1New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Roll #T715-599.
    2Naturalization petition of George Oscar Levin, US District Court Boston, petition # 9447, 26 August 1913.
    3Massachusetts Vital Records, Boston, Marriages, 1894, vol. 44, p. 115, #2061.
    4Massachusetts Vital Records, Boston, Marriages, 1916, vol. 639, page 305.
    5Massachusetts Vital Records, Boston, Marriages, 1905, vol. 557, p. 272.
    6New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Roll #T715-289.
    7Naturalization petition, U.S. Circuit Court, Boston, Petition #476.
    8New York Passenger Lists, 1820 – 1957, Roll #T715-28, p. 127.
    9Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850 – 1934, Volume 373-7, VII A 1 Band 131, p. 1275.
    10Massachusetts Vital Records, Boston, Deaths, 1934, vol. 8, p. 209, #1289.
    11Birth Record of son, Morris Levin, Massachusetts Vital Records, Births, Cambridge, 1909, vol. 583, p. 363, #1212. Mother’s name is Sarah Paris.
    12Massachusetts Vital Records, Cambridge, Deaths, 1931, vol. 28, p. 387, #388.
    13Massachusetts Vital Records, Boston, Marriages, 1904, vol. 549, p. 66, #1515.
    14WWI Draft Registration, Benjamin Kahn, Draft Board #5, Boston, MA, Roll 1684878.
    15WWI Draft Registration #3482, Milton Kahn, 5 Jan 1917; WWI Draft Registration, James Jason Kahn, Draft Board #5, Boston, MA, Roll 1684878.
    16Editor & Publisher Unknown, A Town Named Libau, ca 1985. Translated and reproduced on http://www.jewishgen.org/.
    17Boston Passenger Lists 1891-1943, Roll #75.
    18Massachusetts Vital Records, Boston, Deaths, 1934, vol. 14, p. 434, #4836.
    19George Washington Bromley, 1902 Atlas of Boston. Philadelphia: G.W. Bromley, 1902.
    20Naturalization petition of Nathan Levin, US Circuit Court, Boston, vol. 282, p. 148.
    21New York Passenger Lists, 1820 – 1957, Passenger List of SS Polaria, Stettin, Germany to New York, 31 July 1891, Film #M237-572, List, 1140.
    22Massachusetts Vital Records, Boston, Marriages, 1894, vol. 44, p. 115, #2061.
    23Naturalization petition of Nathan Levin, US Circuit Court, Boston, 1896, vol. 282, p. 148. 1900 Boston City Directory, p. 977.
    241902 Boston City Directory, p. 1004.
    251910 U.S. Census, Ward 5, Boston, Roll T624-615, p. 10A, ED 1313.
    261918 Boston City Directory, p. 938.
    27Massachusetts Vital Records, Brookline, Deaths, vol. 28, p. 202, #581.
    28Naturalization petition of Maurice G. Levin, US District Court, Boston, vol. 259, p. 220.
    29Boston Passenger Lists, 1820 – 1943, Film #17, 9 Sept 1895.
    30WWI Draft Registration, Roll 168, Draft Board 16.
    311930 U.S. Census, Brookline, MA, Roll 933, p. 13A, ED 19.
    32Massachusetts Vital Records, Brookline, Deaths, vol. 28, p. 202, #581.

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