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Rēzekne Families Stories and Pictures


This material was submitted by
Bruce M. Fonoroff

Country of Origin

The Fonoroff family, of which I am a descendant, lived at the turn of the 19th century in a small village, or shtetl, located in the southeast portion of what is now Latvia.  The city, now called Rezekne, is in a region of Latvia called Latgale (German: Lattgallen, Russian: Latgalia) and was part of Poland until 1772, at which time it became part of Russia and called Vitebsk province (gubernia), within the Pale of Settlement.

I come to this conclusion as a result of an accumulation of evidence, including the recollection of relatives, museum findings, dictionary entries, census records and other databases.

First, my aunt Doralee Blum (nee Fonoroff) recalls that her father, Joseph Fonoroff, and most of her aunts and uncles described themselves vaguely as being from Russia.  Further, she recalls that her father specifically said he was from Vitebsk gubernia.

Second, while doing research at Yad Vashim, Sherry Kinland, discovered the name Fonoroff (or one of its derivative spellings) located in a shtetl that she spelled phonetically as Rechitsa.  Rechitsa is south of Mohilev, west of Homel in Belorussia.  However, if the town is spelled Rezhitza (which sounds the same) it can be found southeast of Riga in the region of Latvia called Vitebsk gubernia.

Third, the genealogist Alexander Beider, in a letter to me dated January 2, 1995, quotes from the reference work A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire (Avotaynu Inc. 1993) that the surname Fonoroff (more likely spelled Fonarev) is found in Lyutsin, Dvinsk, Rezhitsa (all from Vitebsk guberniya, now in Latvia, called Ludze, Daugavpils and Resekne, respectively).

Fourth, the all Russian database compiled by the Latvia SIG of the Jewish Genealogical Society shows 20 Fonoroffs in the Rezekne census of 1897, four Fonoroffs from the Riga Passports 1900 databasethree of whom show their origin as Rezekne, and two Fonoroffs from the Jewish Families of Dvinsk database (Dvinsk, now called Daugavpils, is approximately 80 km (50 miles) southwest from Rezekne).

Finally, According to a report prepared for me by the Latvian genealogist Aleksandrs Feigmanis, dated March 23, 1999, there are dozens of Fonoroffs, Fonareffs, Fonarovs, etc. found in Rezekne as far back as 1811 and that a census of Rezekne in 1874 shows:

Citizen of Rezekne Chiam Leiba Fonareff37 years old.  His sons:  Daniel-8 years old, Abram-Itsik-5 years old, Jossel-2 years old.

This corresponds exactly to other findings in our genealogy that include my great-great-grandfather, Chaim Laib, and his son (my great-grandfather) Abraham (known as Avromitza) as well as two of his known brothers, Daniel and Yocel.  (There are also four other sisters and one other brother.)

Taken together the evidence seems conclusive that the Fonoroff family originated from Vitebsk gubernia, most likely from Rezekne, but also possibly from Ludze or Daugavpils.

A history of Latvia and Courland, including the region of Latgale, can be found at  The web page of modern Rezekne is at

Origin of the Name

In the 1960s and 1970s my parents belonged to the Fanaroff Cousins Club.  One of the cousins favorite activities was to debate the spelling of our last nameFonoroff, with os or Fanaroff, with as.  One story (told by Lou Fanaroff via my Aunt Doralee) was that Nathan Fanaroff was so upset that his mothers name on her tombstone was spelled Fonoroff that he threatened to have the tombstone remade to correct the error.  He is reportedly to have said that when the tombstone was being made, his older brother, Abraham Fonoroff (my great-grandfather) beat him to it.

The conventional wisdom is that as family patriarchs came to this country, clerks at Ellis Island tried as best they could to spell in English what the heavy-accented immigrants were saying, probably in Russian or maybe Yiddish.   After some research Ive concluded that both spellings are probably incorrect.

The actual origin of the name is very interesting.  I have two sources.  In 1994 I sent a check to a noted genealogist in Massy, France asking him to research the origin of the family name.  He responded on January 2, 1995 with the following:


Dear Mr. Fonoroff,

Without any doubt your surname was spelled Fonarev (or, less probably, Fonarov) in Russia.

In my A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire (Avotaynu Inc., 1993) the entry in question is:

Fonarev (Lyutsin, Dvinsk, Rezhitsa, Cherkassy) occupational name, derived from fonar (Russian) lantern, street lamp.

In Russian this name is spelled  Фонарев.

The form Fonarov ( Фонаров in Russian) was found in Elissavetgrad.

As you can see, Ive seen this name only in five voter lists, those for Lyutsin, Dvinsk, Rezhitsa (all from Vitebsk guberniya, now in Latvia, called Ludze, Daugavpils, and Resekne, respectively) and in Cherkassy and (not readable) south of Kiev).  Your family could be related to those from Vitebsk guberniya.  The families from southern Ukraine could be of other origin; in the same region the surname in question is more often spelled Finarev.  Ive not seen any Fonarev in Riga.  Probably actually your family was not from Riga [as I had believed at the time], but from some of neighboring towns, i.e. Lyutsin, or Dvinsk, or Rezhitsa.  Unfortunately, I have no access to the voter lists from Vitebsk gub., since they are not available in Moscow.  They are available only in St. Petersburg, the city where Ive no contact person now.

I return your check.


Alexander BEIDER