Hershfield Family History


Background Information - History
Memoirs and Family Stories
Memorial: Holocaust
Memorial: 1919 Pogrom
Projects and Support


JewishGen Home Page


KehilaLinks Home Page

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: C:\Users\Susana\Pictures\UKRAINE SIG.gif

Compiled by
Sylvia Walowitz Updated  December 2012
Copyright © 2012  Sylvia Walowitz
Email Sylvia
Webpage Design by Ronald Miller


The Hershfield Family of Novopoltavka

For more than thirty years, I have spent considerable effort developing a family tree for my Hershfield ancestors. I wish I had started sooner and been able to tap into the knowledge and memories of earlier generations (Oy, my parents were right!).

There are two sides to this story. The first side is what we actually know about this lineage, and the second side is how we came to know it. Different readers will be interested in different aspects or both, but I have separated them into a chronological history of the family and a history of the research itself.

Chronological History of the “Winnipeg” Hershfields

My GGG Grandfather was Hirsch. I know nothing of him, other than his fathering of Samuel.
Samuel Hershfield, my GG GF, lived from 1793-1858 and moved from Courland, Latvia to Novopoltavka, Kherson, Ukraine (NP) around 1837 to 1840.
Samuel and Khane (b. 1802) had many children, among them Tsvi Hirsh, my G GF (b. 1833).
Tsvi Hirsh, with his wife Bossah, fathered my GF David Hershfield in 1870. David and Lily Laikin had a number of children, three of whom are known to me. My uncle Louis (Shmuel) was born in Novopoltavka in 1902. They lost some to Tay Sachs disease as well.

David Hershfield left Novopoltavka in 1906. He, along with his wife, two children, and mother in law, arrived on the Steamship Dominion in December 1906. I have a memory, perhaps false, that when the group came to England, they were delayed because their ocean transport tickets were counterfeit, forcing them to lay over and get new tickets, possibly by working in England. Another version is that they had to layover in Liverpool after the birth of my aunt Sarah.

Emigrants from NP came to Winnipeg as a group, and many of the listed Novopoltavka families also appear in the Census of Winnipeg and in family stories. This includes the Arensons, from whom they rented a house and with whom we are lantzmen and friends to this day, as well as the Kogans, Brenners, Nathansons, and Litmans.

My aunt Sarah was born in Liverpool or “at sea” in 1906. Neither written records nor family memories is sure which. She celebrated her birthday on December 25th but it was never certain that was her actual date of birth.

Most if not all families were headed to smaller prairie towns and agricultural colonies in Western Canada, such as Kamsack, Saskatchewan, but the Hershfields, with a young baby, stayed in Winnipeg, where GF David got a job as a laborer building sidewalks.

We also believe that three of his brothers emigrated to Argentina. While this transfer is documented, we have no specific knowledge of past or current relatives in Argentina.
My father Sam (Shimshun) was born in 1912 in Winnipeg.
My brother and I were born in Winnipeg. We had two first cousins also born in Manitoba. The four families (6th, 7th and 8th generations from Hirsch) now live in Minneapolis, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Toronto.

A brief history of other Hershfields

Samuel Hershfield had other children, including Dovid (b. 1826). US cousins suggest he was born in Yelevit, Odessa, Ukraine. A US relative shared a very large family tree of Hershfields, who began in cities like Chicago and Peoria and are now spread coast to coast.

Out of all of these Hershfields, I only mention Harry Hershfield, the raconteur and associate of Groucho Marx
( ). This was the family “signifier”. There were many other Hershfields in Winnipeg, but as they did not claim relationship to Harry, we concluded we were not related.
Through my research, however, I came to know many of our US relatives, whose company I have greatly enjoyed.
So in the end, we know a little of how we came to Novopoltavka and how we left, but precious little about our time there.

Genealogy breakthroughs, small and large

Act 1:In the beginning, there were tendrils

I trace my interest in genealogy to growing up within a large loving maternal family and a small loving paternal family, an extroverted nature, and a love of research, recordkeeping, and history. I also got a huge bump  in enthusiasm from receiving a family tree for my maternal Rosen family which was produced in Israel in 1984.

In the late 1970s, my mother recorded a tape of her various memories about her and my father’s family. At that time, we stated we were from Nikolayev, near Odessa, and in Poltava or Podolia Gubernia (though I believe we were from Kherson Gubernia). Mom also noted that my aunt had visited family in Chicago, including a prominent psychiatrist and a “Mrs. Spolansky.” We also knew of a Bloom family who had visited us in Winnipeg on their way to meeting cousins in Northern Manitoba.

That was about it. Small tendrils of information which took years to confirm,clarify, and correct.
Once we began our search, we obtained advice from the Jewish Genealogical Society of Toronto and started looking for documents.

My Mom had a huge success after spending hours looking at microfiche of ship arrivals, finally finding the listings for the Hershfield family on the Steamship Dominion, arriving in Halifax in December 1906. In addition to David and Leah, and their children Louis/Shmuel and Sarah/Schifra, there was a fifth Hershfield, Leah’s mother (58 years of age). (Note: in the twenty years since, the records have been put online by the Canadian government, and are also available through FamilySearch and presumably other search engines).

I sent away to Ottawa and got the naturalization file for David Hershfield in 2001. This fifteen page document provided a lot of information and sense of history. We visited the graves of David and Leah and translated the newspaper obituaries from Yiddish to provide a little more information.

Act 2: The family broadens

Although we had grown up saying we were from Nikolayev, and Novopoltavka was evident on the documents I had gotten from Ottawa, I had never listed myself on JewishGen as a Novopoltavka researcher. Once I did, and searched with this term, I found cousin JF, and we started to correspond. What excitement! We shared all kinds of information. “Bloom” was her mother, “Mrs. Spolansky” her grandmother, and we easily identified the family in Northern Manitoba. JF visited Toronto during TJFF, and my family, including my brother who was visiting from Vancouver, met her to great and ongoing delight.

One day around 1990, my wife received a call from Helene “Levine” of Chicago, inquiring if we were relatives of Harry Hershfield (as I said, the universal signifier). Because this had been a family legend/joke for so many years (including buying Harry’s book and forging an inscription), my wife was not sure. To her credit, she asked Helene to phone back to speak to me, but Helene never did. At this point, my obsessive nature took over, and over the years, I would phone various Chicago Levens, Levins, Levenes, and Levines trying to find her. I also wrote HIAS, but we had too little information to go on. Eventually, at my rabbi’s suggestion, I placed a letter in the Chicago Jewish News in 1999, and to my delight, I got two replies, one from Helene herself and one from another cousin.That led to getting fifteen pages of the Hershfield family tree from PM. Of course, the doctor and his brother Harry were in the tree. But generations had passed, and there was no mention of us, the other Canadians,  the Argentinians, or even JF’s US branch.

So there we were. The Helene Levene Gang and the JF Gang were introduced to each other by me, but the Canucks were still unclear as to how we fit in, though it was incontrovertible that we were related. Many details matched, confirmatory photos had been found, as well as names in address books. If we had found this earlier, we might well have solved our mystery. But by the time this had happened, memories had faded, and earlier generations had passed away. We seemed to be at a dead end.

Act 3: Can DNA solve the mystery?

In 2016, after years of intermittently trying to solve the mystery and working on other family trees, I hoped to get enough DNA samples from the family to establish at what point our families merged. I had a couple of scenarios in mind, but the fact that people had kids over long periods of time, and that we had so many Davids and Hirschs, made it impossible to resolve which of two scenarios was true. So in November 2016, I sent in a DNA sample and dipped my toes into Ancestry, gedmatch, and FTDNA waters.

And then, THE breakthrough. Even though I had visited the NP website numerous times and seen the list of family names, and knew from sources that there was an 1858 census (Revision List), I had never hired a researcher. And then, in early January 2017, I read a post from a Ukrainian VK in the JewishGen Ukraine listserv which listed the NP families (this information itself was not new, as I had seen it on the JewishGen Kehila Links Page for NP). I immediately wrote to see if the person could access the documents, and with very little effort and only a modicum of confusion, I got copies of the documents and a complete translation. After receipt, I offered to pay, which was accepted at a very agreeable amount. Despite queries from Western Union about possible scams, my payment went through.

With that information, I created a plausible Family Tree (some key births happened after the census of course) and wrote all the cousins. The mystery was solved!

But then… while we know that Samuel had been a coachman in Latvia, how did he get there? And where did the German name Hershfield come from? And what about our Latin American family? To be continued….


Family Documents

Link to family documents


Email a link to this page: