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Following the Paper Trail: The Komisaruk Family of Raseiniai

By Chaim Freedman, May 2004

Chaim Freedman’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, Berel Komisaruk, was identified from the patronymic of his son Zelman Berelov Komisaruk (Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Komisaruk, 1798-1853) in the 1858 Revision List of the Jewish agricultural colony Grafskoy in Ekaterinoslav Guberniya:  

Oral tradition held that the Komisaruks were a prominent family of scholars and communal leaders in Kovno. Lithuanian records prove that the family came from the city of Rassein, which was located in Kovno Guberniya (province). When the Jews were compelled to adopt a surname in 1804, Berel and his brothers or their father registered their surname as "Komisaruk." Later generations used various forms of this name: Komisaruk, Komesaroff, Komisar, Comisaroff, Comisarow.

The identity of Berel’s father was obtained from a list dated 1846 of people who were unable to pay taxes (LitvakSIG’s All Lithuania Database). In Berel’s case this was due to the fact that he had already died in 1843. His father’s name appears as David. 

This identification of David enabled other members of the family to be identified in the 1816 Revision list, and from that to link back to the 18thcentury censuses of 1784 and 1765.

 Cover of 1816 Revision List

The 1816 Revision List for Rassein city includes two Komisaruk family groups. In family number 58, Velvel Komisaruk, son of David, is the head of household in Russian, and in the translated table below:

In family number 147, the head of the household is Leib Komisaruk, who was missing in 1816, and his brother Berel, son of David Komisaruk, appears in Russian and in the translated table below:

Translation of 1816 Revision List for Raseiniai

The Komisaruks appear in two different sections of the 1816 census. Velvel appears under the main category of "Meshchani" - burghers or city citizens, whereas Leib and Berel appear under the small category "Rukidelniki," which is a currently obsolete term indicating "craftsmen." While tradition tells of the family’s activities as tax farmers and rabbis, it appears that some of them engaged also in some type of craft.

Berel’s son Zelmen is recorded in the 1816 census of Rassein city as the then only child of Berel and Ester Komisaruk. A note is appended to his name "came from over the border in 1812." He probably spent his youth in his father’s town Girtagola, then moved to Rassein in 1812 when he married Yokhved, a daughter of Rabbi Menakhem-Mendel of Girtagola and Rassein. Where he was immediately prior to 1812 that might qualify as being "over the border" remains to be seen. One can theorize that at the age of bar mitzvah (13) he was sent to learn with his scholarly maternal grandfather Rabbi Yehudah Leib in Serhei (son of the Gaon of Vilna) which was in the Province of Suwalki. This practice was repeated in later generations where members of the Komisaruk family were sent to study in other towns.

18th Century ancestors of the Komisaruk Family:

David Komisaruk’s name having been discovered from the patronymic used with his sons’ names in various Rassein records, the earliest being the 1816 Revision List for Rassein city, David was sought in the 1784 census. There is no relevant "David father of Leib, Berel and Velvel" on the 1784 Rassein city census. But, although this list precedes the adoption of surnames, it is possible to identify this exact family configuration in the 1784  census in Girtagola village. In 1784 they appear in Girtagola as “son 1 Leyba, son 2 Berel, son 3 Welwel.”    

This is exactly the same birth order as that derived from their ages on the 1816 Revision List.

When David died has yet to be discovered; he does not appear in the 1816 list for either Rassein or Girtagola.

An earlier generation was thereby also discovered, David’s father Meyer, as it appears as the patronymic of his son "Dawid Meyerowicz" in the 1784 Census.

It was customary in Lithuania/Poland or Russia and those territories under its influence, to refer to people by their first name together with that of their father. Surnames were adopted in the Russian empire after legislation in 1804. Since Meyer lived and probably died prior to that 

date, he bore no surname, yet he can be identified in documents by connection with his son David who apparently was the first member of the family to adopt the surname "Komisaruk."

Meir’s date and place of death have yet to be established. He can be identified in the 1765 census of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as "Major Joselowicz," the only person in the district of Rassein whose personal name coincided with the patronymic of his son David Meyerowicz. Indeed Major or Meyer had a son David who appears in the 1765 census, together with his wife Khana, which was also the name registered for David’s wife in the 1784 census. At that time Meir was living in Rassein city. At some subsequent date his son David moved to the village of Girtagola, as recorded in the 1784 census.

According to the 1765 census, Meyer had children other than David, but their subsequent surnames, which apparently differed from that adopted by David, have yet to be established by comparison between the 1784 and 1816 censuses. Biographical information has not been discovered yet in archival resources in Lithuania, but may be sought in the Lithuanian Historical Archive in Vilna (Vilnius). Oral family tradition claims descent of the Komisaruk family from a line of rabbis and communal leaders. Meyer’s family appears as the third family of 180 who are recorded in the entire Rassein district. Those families recorded at or near the beginning of the list were usually influential in the community.

From the patronymic of Meyer/Major in the 1765 census, another earlier generation, Josel, was discovered. Although ages are not recorded, it can be estimated that Josel was born in the late 17th century. If earlier ancestors of the Komisaruk family can be established, it will depend on the extraction of 17th century records by the Jewish Family History Foundation.  

Summary of records where the name of Berel Komisaruk appears:

1784 Census of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Rassein district, Girtagola village: appears as the second son of "Dawid Mejorowicz."

1816 Russian Revision List of the town of Rassein, Rassein district: appears under the Head of Household, "Leib, David son Komisaruk," his elder brother.

1846 List of people who did not, or were not expected to pay their taxes. The reason given in Berel’s case was that he "died in 1843". The recording of his name "Berel Davidovitch Komisaruk" in this list facilitated bridging between earlier documents bearing that name and later ones referring to his son Zalmen as "Zalmen Berelovitch."

1847/8 Lists of Rassein Jews who applied and were approved to become farmers in Novorussia (south-east Ukraine) where Berel appears as the patronymic of his son "Zalmen Berelovitch Komisaruk."

1848 List of taxpayers in Rassein where Berel appears as the patronymic of his son "Zalmen Berelovitch Komisaruk."


Jewish Family History Foundation: 18th century record and 1816 Revision List, provided by Dr. David Hoffman and Professor Eric Goldstein.

Kaunas Regional Historical Archive (Lithuania): 19th century records until 1848. Extracted by the Komisaruk Family Research Group managed by Professor Melvin Comisarow, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Zaporozhe Archive (Ukraine): 1858 Revision List of Grafskoy.

about the author
Chaim Freedman

Chaim Freedman’s family originated in the Raseiniai district of Lithuania. David Hoffman coordinated the Raseiniai researchers for the LitvakSIG and they developed a collegial relationship over several years. Hoffman accumulated documentation about his family’s oral tradition of a relationship to the Vilna Gaon. He discussed this with Chaim Freedman, who was studying the family of the Gaon. Freedman became very supportive of Hoffman’s efforts to obtain early 19th century Russian Empire revision lists and 1784 and 1765 censuses from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Together they traced some lines of their families back to the 18th century.