Saturday, September 26, 2015

My Eastern European Ancestors Stayed Put for Generations--Or Not (The Stories of Yitzchak/Isaac and Binyamin/Benoit Marienhoff)

Many people believe that their families lived in the same general area for hundreds of years.  And while that was the case for some families, I've seen significant amounts of internal-to-Europe migration.  I've already traced my Supkoff/Zubkis family from Shpikov to Kuna and potentially to Uman and Buki before that.  But those were in the same general area.

Within two generations, Yitzchok Marienhoff (my step great-great-great grandfather) and his son Binyamin moved across broad swaths of Europe--both within the enormous Russian Empire and beyond.

The first mention I have of Binyamin Marienhoff was as a 15-year-old in the 1888 poll tax census, when he was living in Nezhin with his father, step-mother (my great-great-great grandmother Mira), and some of his siblings (including some half and step).
1888 Nezhin Poll Tax Census; Binyamin is the 15-year-old; my great-great grandmother is the 17-year-old

The next document I have on him was in five years later in 1893--halfway across Europe.  Benoit Marienhoff was living in Antwerp, Belgium.
Benoit Marienhoff, Police Registration, Antwerp, Belgium (1893), Page 1

Benoit Marienhoff, Police Registration, Antwerp, Belgium (1893), Page2
Benoit Marienhoff was born in Kaliherca (probably today's Mokra Kalyhirka) near Svenigorodka, Kiev Governorate, Russia, on Dec 15, 1872; he was single.

His parents were Isaac Marienhoff, born in Goldingen, Governorate of Courland (Russia) [modern-day Kuldīga, Latvia], 58 years old, and his mother was Broha Korostichewskj, who was deceased (which makes sense since Yitzchak/Isaac was a widower when he married Mira).  He was a commercial employee who earned two francs a day.  Before arriving in Belgium, he had lived in Piritin (Piryatin), Poltava Governorate, Alexander St #17.

He had arrived in the country on January 28, 1893.  He showed proof of his birth with record #703, issued in Svenigorodka on October 9, 1892, left in his possession.
Benoit Marienhoff Police Document, 1895
In February, 1895, Benoit Marienhoff had returned back to Antwerp from a visit to "Niesin, Russie" (further proving that this is the right guy).

Where did Binyamin/Benoit end up?  I found a Benjamin Marienhoff around the right age who emigrated to Minneapolis.  Could he have traveled even farther?  I ordered his death certificate:
Benjamin Marienhoff Death Certificate; Minneapolis, MN; 1941
This Benjamin had the wrong father, mother, and place of birth.  So I still have no clue where my great-great grandmother's stepbrother ended up!  (Although since lately people have been finding me through blog posts about their relatives, maybe someone reading this via a Google search will tell me some day!)
But even with Binyamin/Benoit disappearing from documentation in the late 1800s, in two generations, we find quite a bit of geographic movement.  Yitzchak/Isaac Marienhoff was born in Kuldīga, Latvia, was in Mokra Kalyhirka when his son Binyamin was born, and later lived in Nezhin where he married my great-great-great grandmother.
Yitzchak/Isaac Marienhoff's Journey
Yitzchak's initial move (that we know of) was over 700 miles from Kuldīga to Mokra Kalyhirka.  Nezhin was another 140 miles from Mokra Kalyhirka.

However, his son's journey far surpassed his own.  We know that Benjamin/Benoit was born in Mokra Kalyhirka, then his family moved to Nezhin, and he had lived in Piryatin just before leaving to Belgium.

Binyamin/Benoit Marienhoff's Initial Journey
As mentioned earlier, the family's move from Mokra Kalyhirka to Nezhin was about 170 miles.  A move to Piryatin added on another 45 miles.  And then there was the move from Piryatin to Antwerp:
Binyamin/Benoit Marienhoff's Travels from the Russian Empire to Belgium
The trip from Piryatin to Antwerp was over 1200 miles--and we know that he made at least one round trip back to Nezhin once he was living in Antwerp.

While many families did stay in the same general vicinity for many generations, greater movements did happen--sometimes taking an individual thousands of miles from their places of birth.

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  1. I have an ancestor who immigrated to the USA from Poland under her sister's name with her sister's passport. And I have another ancestor who listed her aunt and uncle as her parents. There are so many confusions that my family tree may never be completely sorted out.

  2. Hi, the Minneapolis Benjamin is related to me through his wife Jennie (Blumenfeld). The Blumenfelds were from Tukums, Courland (as opposed to the Rumanian BlumAnfelds on this Benjamin's mother's side.