Finding Fera Citron, Part I

Esther (Fera) Citron Aptekar as a young woman.

Esther (Fera) Citron Aptekar as a young woman.

My paternal great grandmother Fera came to the United States under someone else’s name. Family lore has it that a cousin by the name of Ester had arranged passage and broke her leg the day before the trip, so Fera’s family coerced her into taking Ester’s place, telling her that she could return to Kishinev if she didn’t like the United States. Fera had siblings here and lived with them once she arrived. Although she was unhappy here at first, she did stay, and eventually she married my great grandfather David Aptekar, whom she met at the Kishinev Society. Fera took David’s last name (sometimes spelled Optaker or Aptaker), but she always kept the name Esther as her official first name. She never sought naturalization and feared ever leaving the country because she was afraid her borrowed identity would be found out.

Fera’s branch is one that I have had a difficult time tracing back to Europe. I know that she was from Kishinev, but I haven’t been able to locate any records there for her. Her gravestone lists her father’s name as Mordecai, but I had no luck finding Bessarabian records for him either. In order to work my way back, I decided to try to find her passenger record, but this proved quite difficult, because I had no idea what last name she traveled here under. Her real last name was Citron (also spelled Citrin, Tsitrun, etc.), but I wasn’t sure which side of her family her cousin Ester was  on, and searches for Ester Citron and variants turned up nothing.

Esther (Fera) and David Aptekar Gravestone

Esther (Fera) and David Aptekar Gravestone

So my next strategy, after a basic search for variants of “Fera Citron” and “Ester Citron,” was to try to track down her siblings. My aunt remembers that Fera had two siblings in the United States: a brother, possibly named Mischa, with whom she lived when she first arrived; and a sister, Jenny, who married into the Batuchansky family, which later went by the last name Blayne.

I had searched and searched for Fera’s passenger record under the names “Ester Citron” (and variants) and “Fera Citron” but could find matching records with appropriate dates for neither.

I had more success with records from after she was in the United States. Her 1930 and 1940 census records indicate that she arrived in the United States in 1913 or 1914, narrowing down her possible immigration year. But the most helpful item I found was a census record listing Esther Aptekar and her two young daughters, Sadia and Rose (my grandmother), as living with a couple named Morris and Rose Citron and several of their children. Their presence together as one household on the census helped cement my identification of this Morris Citron as Fera’s brother.

1925 New York Census Record for Citrons and Aptekars

1925 New York Census Record for Citrons and Aptekars

I also found a naturalization record for a Morris Citron, born in Kishinev, and his wife Rose, born in Odessa. The names of his children roughly match those on the census, although not exactly.

Morris Citron Declaration of Intention/Petition for Naturalization

Morris Citron Declaration of Intention/Petition for Naturalization

However, I still could not locate passenger lists for any of the siblings. I had looked several times without success. I had run across a listing for a Jente Citron, but the transcribed place of origin was “Risinow,” and I had dismissed this record several times because I didn’t think the place of origin was a match. But this time I decided to take a closer look and realized that in fact, the listed place of origin could be Kishinev. Furthermore, Jente’s father’s name was listed as something like “Mordky” (the first four letters are clearer than the last two), which is close to “Mordko,” a variant of Mordechai—the same name listed on Fera’s gravestone. Interesting, I thought, and went to save the record to my shoebox for further investigation later.

But just as I was about to set it aside, I noticed something: Jente Citron’s name is bracketed, by hand, with the person above hers, an Ester Greis, from Odessa, whose father’s name is listed as Seidel Greis. Both Ester and Jente are listed as being 20 years old. They clearly had been bracketed together because they were traveling together, but one was from Odessa, and the other was from Kishinev.

Passenger List for Ester Greis and Jente Citron, SS Campanello, September 6, 1913

Passenger List for Ester Greis and Jente Citron, SS Campanello, September 6, 1913

I then decided to check the corresponding incoming list of “detained aliens” who had arrived at in New York. On that list, too, Ester and Jente (here “Jette” are listed together; Ester’s name is followed by an ampersand (&), and next to their names is scrawled a bracket linking them followed by the name: “Sis. Rose Citron, 309 Osborne St.”

1913 Record of Detained Aliens/Arrival of Ester Greis and Jette Citron

1913 Record of Detained Aliens/Arrival of Ester Greis and Jette Citron

Suddenly, I realized I might be able to match the address on the passenger list to an address in one of Morris Citron’s records. I also recalled that Morris Citron’s wife was named Rose. I pulled up Morris’s 1925 New York census record again, but the address wasn’t a match. Then I opened up his naturalization papers again, and on his declaration of naturalization, I found a matching address: 309 Osborne St.

Morris Citron Declaration of Intention/Petition for Naturalization

Morris Citron Declaration of Intention/Petition for Naturalization

Given that “Jente Citron” is from Kishinev and lists her father as “Mordky,” it seems likely that this is in fact the passenger record for Jenny, although the 1920 US Census gives her arrival date as 1915 and the 1930 Census says she arrived in 1911. The best guess is that she did arrive sometime within that 4 year range.

But who is Ester Greis, why was she traveling with Jente/Jette Citron from Kishinev, and why is Rose Citron listed as their “sister” on the passenger list? And why isn’t Morris Citron listed as Jente/Jette Citron’s brother?

Searching on Ancestry.com, I found a couple of public family trees that match the information found in Morris and Rose’s census records. Both trees list Rose’s maiden name as “Griess,” but neither tree documents the source of Rose’s maiden name. I contacted the owner of each tree and received a reply from one of the granddaughters of Morris and Rose Citron. Her mother, who is still alive, confirmed that Rose’s last name was in fact Greiss, so it seems likely Ester Greis and Rose Griess were in fact sisters. But was this the real Ester Greis? Or is this perhaps the record of Fera coming over under Ester’s name?

The next step is to see if there are any other records for Ester Greis after her arrival, and to find out whether any other records connect Fera to this name.

To be continued…

Esther (Fera) and David Aptekar at my father's bar mitzvah.

Esther (Fera) and David Aptekar at my father’s bar mitzvah.

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