Back to Genealogy
by Dianne Siegel - May, 2009
Over the years, I have spent some time exploring the Dorf family tree and I had more or less given up both for lack of information and because Pearl Dorf Segal (Siegel) was my husband, Leighton’s, great grandmother and it felt rather far back in time. However, I became reconnected to the Dorfs through John Singer who is also a Dorf relative and who has done a great deal of work with this family and has has shared a lot of his information.
To learn more contact John Singer who has more information on the various branches. His email is: email@example.com. In addition, Bert Press has written a book on the Superior Dorfs. and Jack Abrahamson has kept extensive track of the Superior Dorfs along with the Kaner/Karon branch. Jack can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What We Do Know
John Singer has documented three Dorf branches tied together by three known brothers leading to three branches of the Dorf family. The oldest family name that seems to be agreed upon is Moscovich. It is thought that Moscovich had 6 children. Three of the children might be: Itsko, Massey Dorf’s father (name unknown), and Mosha. Pearl Dorf’s great grandfather was Itsko and that is the branch that is outlined on this website under Family Trees.
History of the Name
The Dorf legend is that Moscovich may have changed his name to Dorf to avoid having his son drafted into the Russian army. “Dorf” means “small town” in German. Perhaps he picked the name off of a signpost when he was fleeing Russia to Germany. It was a common practice to change names, buy names etc. in order to avoid the Russian army which required a 25 year enlistment once you were drafted into it.
Pearl Dorf Segal was born in Smolinka, Lithuania in 1855. According to John Singer’s research, the family moved from Kavarskas to Balninkai around 1860. Pearl would have been 5 years old. Therefore, while a number of Dorfs were born in Kavarskas, it turned out to be a stopping place between Smolinika and Balninkai. Its possible that all the Dorfs moved to Balninkai at the same time. Pearl married Mikhel Leyb Segal, who was originally either from Vanag, or according to a Tax and Voter list, was from Balninkai as well. It seems as though Pearl and Mikhel Leyb actually settled in Balninkai. The communities were not far apart. Pearl died in 1896 when she was 35 years old. She and Mikhel Leyb Segal had eight children. Pearl was pregnant with the ninth child when she had a fatal accident. She heard a horse thief in the barn. Pearl tried to chase him away. In the process, the thief kicked her hard in the stomach. She hemorrhaged from the accident and died. Her daughter, Chya Rachel. came home from Riga to take care of the other children. In effect, she became the mother to the younger children.
During the First World War, Mikhel Leyb, his daughter Fruma, and his daughter Chya Rachel Delechky with her husband, Rafael Delechky and their children, were driven from their house. They slept in a cemetery for a week and wound up in a town named Glaboka. Rafael had been injured and was unable to work so the whole family had to work to earn money to live on. The older sisters baked cookies and sold them. One sister stood in a soup line for the others. Mikhel Leyb set up a table and sold buttons and threads. His granddaughter, Minna Delechky sat next to him and sold sunflower seeds.
Frume died in 1939 from heart disease at the age 46. Her records indicate that she lived in and died in Kavarskas. Betty Susnowitz, Chya Rachel's daughter, remembers her grandfather, Mikhel Leyb as being very philosophical. He taught Betty and her brothers Hebrew and in the process she remembers what he would tell her: "Flowers are God's jewels", "Clouds are God's paintings", "When you are too lazy to work, the bread cries", When Betty asked him what the last saying meant, he replied "When you believe in God you know all the answers.”
Carl Siegel, the second to youngest child of Pearl and Mikhel Leyb had settled in Virginia, Minnesota along with his brothers and sisters, who were either in Virginia or in surrounding communities. He helped his Dorf cousin, Samuel Shuster emigrate. Samuel came originally to Virginia, lived there and ultimately changed his name to Siegel . The story is that Samuel Shuster Siegel was on his way to the gold rush but ran out of money in Denver, Colorado. He married Rachel Dorf and settled in Denver.
Most of the children of Pearl and Mikhel Leyb Siegel emigrated to the United States. Chaya Rachel stayed in Russia and took care of Mikhel Leyb in his old age. Chaya Rachel’s children came to the United States. Fruma never married and did not emigrate. The Siegel; family tree can be found at www.siegelphotos.net. The “Siegel Family Reunion Book of 1980 has just been digitized and will be found there in the near future.
Tania Chaet is the only relative that I am aware of still living in Lithuania. She is the granddaughter of Chya Rachel Delechky, great grand daughter of Mikhel Leyb Siegel. She is a professional artist and appears to be able to make a living from her art. Her father, Favial, used to be a professional photographer. Tania took care of her father in his old age. Tania shared with Phillip Bennett a bit about her family. She told Phillip that the family members were not killed by Nazis but by Lithuanian fascists and that Tania’s mother was able to identify them after the war and they were punished. You can see her art work at: http://www.culture.lt/ArtDB/Taibe.htm
Interesting snippets from other Dorf branches: Some Dorfs settled in Superior, Wisconsin. Another group landed in Tenafly, New Jersey and still more are in Ohio.
The Tenafly, New Jersey Dorfs came to the US because Simon Dorf got a job in the United States working on the stained glass installation of the expansion of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in New York City. His glass capabilities stood him in good stead and enabled him to bring over more of the family. He even got a US patent for his window invention that was cited in a more recent US patent application. Aaron Morris (Simon’s older brother) went across the river to establish the “farm” which was his old profession – dairy farming, and that’s how the Tenafly farm got established.
The John Dorfs of Superior, Wisconson include nationally famous Morrie Arnovich, who is still today on the number one team of the All Time Jewish Major League Baseball Players.
Recollections from an email from Howard Liberman in February of 2009, the Ohio branch:
Howard is a grandson of Morris and Anna Dorf. Morris and Anna Dorf had four children and they all stayed in Toledo, except for Aunt Billie, who lived in Michigan for several years and then in Florida, but moved back to Toledo after her husband died.
Aunt Billie was the oldest of the four Dorf Children in Toledo and lived the longest. Billlie’s real name was Wilma. Her parents, Morris and Anna came to the United States looking for opportunity. They moved to Toledo, Ohio because there were “landsmen” and they heard there were jobs.
Anna was from Minsk Gabernia. Her family was very poor – Billie said they were peasants – and basically migrant agricultural workers. Anna’s father went to London looking for better opportunities and then sent for his children and wife, one at a time. Anna was about 13 when she joined her father in London. She met Morris there and they were married in London and Billie was born in London. Billie married Robert Thornton, Irish and a Notre Dame University graduate. Intermarrying was very rare in those days. Howard was told that that her mother sat shiva for her, however, they appear to have reconciled in later years.
Eli Dorf, who lived in Toledo, worked for the Toledo Blade newspaper. Eli is remembered by his Virginia cousins, because he would visit Virginia, MN in order to go fishing with them.
This excerpt is from a book that John Singer found, THE SHTETL THAT WAS by Ralph Jaffe.
I thought it interesting both because it contains the names of some of the family, but also because it gives a picture of how the family celebrated Shabbat.
"----- whether in winter or in summer. Shabbat was Shabbat and did not change with the seasons.
After we had partaken of the cholent, some of the older folk would, take a nap, a very proper thing to do on the day of rest. After some twenty or thirty winks, they would go shpatziring, not as lonely walkers but, in the spirit of the shtetl, with their friends and neighbors, as part of a community. They would stroll less as individuals than as an assemblage of associates on a symbolic wandering, whose essence was less where they were going than the fact that they were going wherever they were going together. They were reenacting, on a Saturday afternoon in Kavarsk, the story of the wandering Jew over generations, undoubtedly unaware that they were doing so.
My parents, together with the Shmucklers and some friends and neighbors, would walk to the town square, where they would be joined by my mother's cousin Zelda and her husband, by Chana Rachel and her husband Chatze Dilatski, and by other relatives and guests. All came in their Saturday best. Thev would start out by walking up Wilkomer Street; then they would walk to the krenitzeh, on church property, a short and pleasant walk through an arcade of overarching trees. The spot was called krenitzeh because it had bubbling cold springs at the bottom of a hill. Wooden troughs carried that water to the road where other troughs, about six feet high, had been installed, enabling us to get at the water that was in continuous flow. To capture the water for drinking purposes, enamel cups, attached to chains, were made available for our use. This refreshing spot was our "pit stop," an oasis for us, the ever-wandering Jews.
If you stood at the springs and looked upward you were treated to a truly picturesque panorama. At the top of the hill was the residence of the priest, a beautiful spacious house overlooking the countryside and the river. Leading to the top of the hill were steps with benches located at the half-way point to give the climber a chance to relax. Past the roadway and the drinking fountain was another fountain in the form of a showerhead spraying water. The water would, from that point, flow into a large concrete reservoir and would be fed downhill in pipes to a turbine engine, where it would generate enough electricity to light up the church and the residence of the priest.
This krenitzeh was the high point of our ritual wanderings for most of the townspeople on a Saturday afternoon-after cholent."
Back to Genealogy