Friday, July 23, 2021

Surprise: Great-Grandpa Had a First Wife!

Who knew? My great-grandfather, Meyer Elias Mahler (1855?-1910) was married and divorced before he married my great-grandmother, Tillie Rose Jacobs (185x?-1952). I was really surprised to learn about the first marriage when my kind gen friend Lara Diamond discovered this 1877 divorce document in the unindexed but browsable Riga records on Family Search.

The records are in Russian and Hebrew, and not yet transcribed. In the red rectangle above is my great-grandfather's name in Russian handwriting: Meer Eliyash, son of Dovid Akiva Mahler. The record indicates he was 21 at the time of the divorce, and his first wife Gita was 26. They were granted a divorce on the grounds of quarreling.

I'm not the only descendant who never heard this story. It only whetted my appetite to learn more about this branch of my family tree.

Siauliai or Sabile?

Meyer's town is shown as "Shavlin" on the Hebrew side of the document and "Shavel" on the Russian side, Lara told me. Using the "Town Finder" database, I found two possibilities. One is Sabile, Latvia and the other is Siauliai, Lithuania. NOTE: A reader suggested possibly Siaulenai, Lithuania.

Looking through the records for these two towns, I found entries for a David Mahler (or a surname variation like Meller) in both towns. The various entries didn't mention Meyer, only David, but there may be additional names and details on the documents that aren't listed in the extracts. I need both names on one document to determine whether any of these entries is my family and to confirm a hometown.

This research will focus on Lithuania and Latvia, so naturally I'm studying Lara Diamond's strategies for finding genealogical records in Eastern Europe.

In search of Meyer, David, Hinde, and more

I'll be on the lookout for Meyer's mother (Hinde Luria) on a birth record or on a document describing her marriage to David Akiva Mahler. This would be a real long-shot, but it's a possibility.

Meanwhile, I'm also going to browse the unindexed Riga records in search of entries that mention Meyer and/or his second wife and/or his two Latvian-born children. I have a rough idea of which years to search. Although Hebrew and Russian are definitely not my strength, I'm lucky enough to have some help!

My good friend "Is" enlarged the Russian handwriting on Meyer's divorce document and suggested hints for spotting names on these Riga documents. Also, I'm consulting the Family Search Russian genealogical word list as I search. And, given that I could be looking at Lithuanian records on Family Search, I'm reading the LitvakSIG guide to Family History Library films. 

Another important item on my to-do list is to find Meyer Elias Mahler on a ship manifest with an arrival in New York City on or around May 27, 1885. That's the date and port listed on his naturalization index and paperwork, but no ship is named. I've previously browsed passenger manifests for that date and the days before and after, with no success. Time for another look with fresh eyes.

Meyer and family won't be found in a day, but they're on my research list now, with sources to examine. A good start.


  1. Quarreling! Wonder what they quarreled about.

  2. Is Savlin actually Siaulenai?