The Michigan Raitts

Because I was first contacted by someone from the Michigan branch of this family, this is where I have currently placed them all – though one branch could be placed under New York and even later Florida (I have made links). Equally I could have called them the Polish Raitts or should that be Russian (see below)?!


Let us start the story with Zissel Raytowska, aged 40, who travelled from Antwerp to Ellis Island, New York aboard the SS Kroonland arriving on 11 August 1914 with three children: Abram Chaim, aged 11, Fege, aged 7 and Roza, aged 9. The family were allegedly Russian and had come from Ziradow (also Sirardow), in Russia – though this place seems actually now to be in Poland. They were born in Russia – in Warschau (Warsaw) - which did not become part of Poland until much later. Being Jewish they probably wanted to get out of the region before the 1st World War which they accomplished just in time. Zissel was going to join her husband David Hersh Raytowski in Brooklyn and the name of the relative she gave on her immigration form back home was Moses Raytowsky – presumably David’s brother.


What has made it harder to piece together the right people is that, just like the Raitts in Scotland with variant spellings and similar first names, so there are various names here including Ratowsky and Oratowsky – each with Davids and Hymans arriving from Poland/Russia with wives back home called Zeisel/Cecil and children called Abe and Joseph and all living in Brooklyn and/or Detroit! As with all old records, especially those foreign, spellings are never exact, so Zissel is also found as Zessel, Zeizle and Cecil and son Fege is found as Stze – though this is probably actually Itze (the Russian equivalent to Isak/Isaac). Itze is also found as Izador and although he later changed his name to Bernard, he seems to have been known as Pat! Further confusion was caused with Abram Chaim who is also found as Abe Hyman and just Hyman – the latter being an anglicized version of Chaim.


Zissel’s husband David Rajtowski (another variant), a shoemaker aged 40 with black hair and grey eyes and 5ft 5in in height, had arrived at Ellis Island on board the SS Finland from Antwerp on 5 July 1913 with supposedly his son Abram, aged 11. Both were born in Warschau, Russia, their nationality was Russian and their race was Hebrew. The relative named back in Warschau was David’s wife Cecil Rajtowski. It is interesting to note that Abram is listed as travelling with his father in 1913, yet with his mother in 1914 – presumably their eldest child Saul was the one making the trip with his father. Their destination was David’s brother-in-law Josef Oshnan (?) living in Brooklyn, New York. Whether this was the husband of an unknown sister of David’s or the brother of his wife Zissel is not yet clear. There appear to be several Joseph Oshmans (with variations) from Russia/Poland living in New York at the time.


New York was possibly just a transit place for the family to get acclimatized to a new life and culture, because they do not seem to be still there in the 1915 census, but by 1920 they are to be found in Detroit, Michigan with a change of name to Raitt. Just how this name change occurred is unclear. For a possible explanation see below.


David’s brother Moses and his family emigrated to the States in 1920 after the 1st World War. In yet another variation of spelling, his name is given as Meska (or Moska) Rajdewski. They arrived at Ellis Island on 18 September 1920 aboard the Lapland from Antwerp, the party consisting of Moska (46), his wife Cinia (29), and children Abraham (7), Bajla (6) and Jacob (3). Their nationality was Polish and the occupation of Moska was given as bijouter (i.e jeweller or watch maker). Their last place of residence was given as Girardow (i.e. Zirardow) in Poland this time, not Russia! And they were on their way to join Moses’s brother David living at 1547 Michigan Ave in Detroit.


Just as David did not stay too long in New York, so Moses did not tarry too long (if at all) in Michigan, for in 1921 he had already declared his intention to become a citizen of the United States and his petition for naturalization in 1926 was made from his residence in Brooklyn, New York where he was a watchmaker. The name on his application is “Morris Raitt also known as Moriss Raitowsky” Interestingly, one of the witnesses to the petition was David Raitt, jeweller, residing in Brooklyn. Whether this is his brother from Michigan is not yet known – however, would a family member be allowed to witness the petition, would David now be living in New York, and had he changed jobs to be a jeweller? I have tried to find David Raitt in the records for New York around this time, but have so far had no luck. There is a David Reit (also Reid) who was a jeweller in Brooklyn in the 1920 and 1930 censuses – this might possibly be him. There are other David Raitts – farmers, labourers and accountants, so they are unlikely to be him. The other scenario I thought of was that said David might be related to the jewellery firm of Robert Rait of Scotland and his son Crichton S. Rait who set up shop in Brooklyn and may still have had descendants there at the time (see Illustrious Raitts - The Craftsmen and also under New York on the American Raitts page.) Maybe Morris went to work with descendant David (if indeed there was such a descendant.) Morris’s wife Celia’s petition was granted in 1928. I have not yet found brother David’s.


The family history has it that the name Raitowsky (in its variations) was changed on arrival in Ellis Island to Raitt – clearly a shortened form of the Russian/Polish name that could be used for convenience in America, but a very unusual choice to be spelled with two ts. And whether it was the very first Raytowsky to arrive (i.e David or even an earlier immigrant) or whether it was Moses/Morris himself that received the name change is not clear. Certainly the official records (immigration, censuses) show that there were others of similar names (Ratowsky, Raytowski) from the same region in Europe that did not change their names or have them changed on entry. However, the surname Raitt was certainly in use by David in 1920 and probably before and this is likely why Moses assumed it. Maybe David had neighbours in New York or Detroit called Raitt (there were certainly some in New York and it is possible he knew them - one might even have been David Raitt, the jeweller, mentioned above) and he decided it was more English-sounding that Rajtowsky.


Many of David Raitt’s family are buried in Machpelah graveyard in Michigan. Several of the New York branch moved to Florida , where, interestingly, there were a couple of other Raitt families too, namely Nathan S. Raitt also from New York as well as one of my grandfather’s brother’s sons, Edward Duncan Raitt.


It should also be mentioned that other members of the same Raitowsky family changed their name from yet another variation Roytowsky to simplifed Roy and emigrated to South Africa rather than to the United States - though some were subsequently born there. Several members lived in Cape Town, while another became a prominent doctor in Johannesburg. The family visited their relatives in New York on a number of occasions. I was recently contacted by a member of this South African branch who had come across the website and she has kindly given me some information on this side. For completeness on this quasi-Raitt family then I include the details below.

South African cousins


The death extract of David Hersh Raitt (above) confirms that his parents were Jacob Raitt and Bella Elving. Besides brother Morris/Moses, it appears that David had other siblings. A member of the South African branch of this same family (most of whom took the name of Roy rather than Roytowski which in itself was preumable just another variation of Rajtowski) has provided me with some further details.


It would appear that Jankiel (Jacob) Rajtwoski and his wife Bajla (Bella) Machla (nee Elving) besides David and Morris, had another son, Abram Icek (Abraham Isaac) and yet another named Joseph, as well as a daughter (whose name is not known at present).


Abram Isaac born in 1865 and dying in 1911 married Ryfka (Rebecca) Rubinsztein on 22 December 1888 in Mszczonow, Zyradow county, Poland. Two children, Louis and Simon Roytowski (why this form and not Rajtowski is not known - probably just misreading of names or poor spelling) were born in Poland, but then it appears that the family left Poland and went to the United States where three further children now with the surname changed to simply Roy (Tobie, Annie and Rosie) were born. The family then returned to Poland, but Abram/Abraham subsequently moved to Cape Town, South Africa with his wife and most of the children following four years later. Son Simon was left in England for a time as his family was unable to afford passage for him. Abraham and Rebecca’s remaining five children (Bertha, Barney, Maurice, Harry and Jos) were all born in South Africa.


Abraham’s brother Joseph was also in Cape Town, but their sister may have stayed in the United States - but whether she also changed her name to Raitt is not known.


Although Abraham’s South African born children had the surname Roy, son Morris retained the surname Roytowski, as did his son and grandson.


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There are, in fact, a number of other familes with the name Rajtowski, Ratowski, Radjewski and other variations - most with the familiar names of Abram, Isaac and other names as above - and all from Poland/Russia - often from the same place, Zirandow. They arrived in the United States in the early 1900s and appear in censuses. But whether they are related (one would imagine at least some of them are!) to the Raitts and Roys above, then that is still to be ferreted out.



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The tree below shows both the Raitt and Roy families from Poland. In the original tree, I noted that, for convenience I used the name Raitt for all members of this family since this was the name they adopted once in America. However, the newly discovered information about the Roys and the parenthood and siblings, then I have generally given the names as they were.

Morris Raitt


Although Moses (later Morris) Raitt and family lived in Brooklyn, New York rather than Michigan, I have placed them here, at least for the moment, to keep the family together. In fact later generations moved to Florida.


Moses (Morris) Raitt was born about 1874 in Mororanow, Poland. Around 1912 he married Celia (surname unknown) who was born Zyrardow, Poland in 1891 and they had three children: Abraham (1913); Bella M. (1914); and Jacob (1917) – all born in Zyrardow. The family emigrated to the USA in September 1920. Morris died in 1946 in Suffolk County, New York, and Celia died there in 1993 aged 102 years.


In the 1930 census for 180 Sackman Street, Brooklyn, Kings, New York, where he was living also in 1926 at the time of his naturalization petition, we find Morris Raitt, 50, watchmaker in own store; wife Celia, 38, housewife; children: Abe, 17; Bella, 16; and Jacob, 12 – all born in Poland. Morris and Celia had been married 18 years and all had entered the US in 1920. They were still there in 1935.


The family is still at the same address in 1940. Morris Raitt is 64 and a watch repairer in the watch trade; his wife Celia is 49; daughter Bella is 25 and a stenographer in an office; while son Jack (Jacob) is 22 and watch maker in the jewellery retail trade.


However in 1940, son Abe, 27, a hairdresser in a beauty salon, was living at 693  Shotto Place, Los Angeles, with his wife Yetta Weinstein, 23, born in New York. In 1935 they had both been living in New York, where they married in Kings on 7 June 1936 (Abe’s surname was spelled Rait). Abe enlisted in the US Army on 12 December 1942 in California. He was a private in the Ordnance Department. He had two years of high school, was described as a machinist for his civil occupation, was married and was 68 inches tall and weighed 182 pounds.


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A note about Poland and Warsaw – taken partly from Wikipedia. Warsaw was the capital of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1795, when it was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia to become the capital of the province of South Prussia. The contents of Warsaw’s archives and libraries and surviving registers were seized by the Russian army in 1795 and transported to St Petersburg. (They were largely returned in 1921, but many records were lost during the 2nd World War due to fire, bombing and German looting.) Liberated by Napoleon's army in 1806, Warsaw was made the capital of the newly created Duchy of Warsaw. Following the Congress of Vienna of 1815, Warsaw became the centre of the Congress Poland, a constitutional monarchy under a personal union with Imperial Russia. Warsaw flourished in the late 19th century and saw its first water and sewer systems as well as the expansion and modernization of trams, street lighting and gas works. In 1897 the Russian Empire Census recorded 626,000 people living in Warsaw, making it the third-largest city of the Empire after St. Petersburg and Moscow. Warsaw was occupied by Germany from the 4 August 1915 until 1918. It then became the capital of the newly independent Poland in 1918. In the course of the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1920, the huge Battle of Warsaw was fought on the eastern outskirts of the city in which the capital was successfully defended and the Red Army defeated by the Poles.


The fact that at the time that David and Morris were born, Warsaw was considered part of Russia, then this explains the ambivalence in the various records as to their place of birth and nationality. Warsaw, Poland and Warsaw, Russia are used almost interchangeably. On his Petition for Naturalization, Morris gives his place of birth as Warsaw, Russia, but for his wife and children, he states Warsaw, Poland. He also renounces any kind of allegiance or fidelity to “The Republic of Poland and (or) The Present Government of Russia.”

Since the family name of Raytowski (Rajtowski, Radjewski, Reitowsky and other variations) was discarded once in America and the surname Raitt adopted, then this is the name used in the census details and family tree below. I have also placed Warsaw in Poland rather than Russia for their town of birth.


David Hersh Raitt


David Hersh Raitt was born about 1873 in Warsaw, Poland (though at the time it was part of Russia - see below). Around 1900, he married Zeisel (surname unknown – though possibly Oshnan) who was born about 1875 also in Warsaw and they had four children: Saul J. (1901); Abram Chaim (1903); Itze (1907); and Roza (1908) – all born in Warsaw. David and either son Saul or Abram emigrated to the USA in 1913, with the rest of the family arriving the year later. David died in Detroit, Michigan in 1941, a couple of years after his wife.  


The 1920 census for Detroit Ward 16, Wayne lists David Raitt, (47), wife Zer (45); children Sall (18), Hyman (16), Isador (14), and Rose (12) living in their own house at 1547 Michigan Avenue. The record notes that David emigrated in 1913, and the others in 1914. They were all born in Poland, as were David and Zer’s parents, and their nationality was Polish. David appears to be working in a furniture store. The census also notes that David became naturalized in 1920, thus within the first three months of the year.


I have not yet found the family in the 1930 census – possibly because the first letter of their surname is transcribed incorrectly. In any event it is assumed they were still in Detroit, though son Saul, at least, seems to have moved back to New York before 1926.


In the 1940 census for 3255 Lawrence Avenue, Detroit is David A. Raitt, head, 67, born Poland; wife Abe, 33, born Poland; daughter-in-law Beatrice, 23, born Pennsylvania; and grandson Cecil, 8 months, born Michigan. There is an X by Abe’s name since clearly this is not David’s wife, but his son and husband of Beatrice and father of Cecil! No occupation is given for David, who was presumably retired, and although the record states he is married, in fact he was a widower, Zissel having died in 1938. Abe was a manager in a retail ready to wear store. They were living at the same address in 1935.


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David and Zissel’s eldest son Saul married Elsie Youdelman on 6 June 1926 in Kings, New York and they had two children Barbara (1928) and Stephen (1936). Saul died in 1971 in Hollywood, Florida and Elsie died (presumably there) in 1986.


In the 1920 census Saul is living with his family in Detroit (see above)


In the 1930 census for Brooklyn, living at 8750 Bay Parkway there is Saul J. Raitt, 28, born Russia (as both parents); wife Elsie, 25, born New York (though both father was born in Russia and her mother in Austria); and daughter Barbara, 2.5, born New York.. The immigration date for Saul is given as 1914 and his occupation was dentist. They appear to be in the census twice – also living at 204 W. 35 th Street, Manhattan. Saul is named Samuel J. Raitt in this record. Possibly one of the addresses was his place of work.


In the 1940 census for 2166 79th Street, Brooklyn there is Saul Raitt, 38, a dentist, born Russia; wife Elsie, 36, born New York; daughter Barbara, 12; and son Stephen, 12 - both born New York. They were at the same address in 1935.


Saul and Elsie made a couple of trips abroad - one to Bermuda in 1926 which was probably their honeymoon and a cruise in 1950 which started and finished in New York. For the former, they were recorded as arriving in New York from Hamilton, Bermuda on 17 June 1926 aboard the SS Fort St George and their address was 1927 Merweid Ave, Brooklyn. He was 25 and she was 22. For the trip in 1950 they were residing at 1634 E. 24th St, Brooklyn, He was 48, born Michigan, and she was 45, born New York. They are recorded as arriving [back] in New York on 14 February 1950 on board the Italia.


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David’s second son, Abe Hyman. born 15 March 1903, in Warsaw, Poland as Abram Chaim, married Beatrice Oppenheim, born 1916 in Pennsylvania about 1938, presumably in Detroit where their first child, son Cecil G. was born in 1939. Cecil was named in honour of his grandmother Zeisel (Zissel). In 1941, Abe and Beatrice’s second child, David Harris, was born. Abe died in 1992 in West Bloomfield, Michigan, and Beatrice died nearby in Farmington Hills in 2009. Son David died of cancer in 2003 in Southfield, Michigan. His family still lives in Michigan.


In the 1920 census Abe is living with his family in Detroit (see above). He is so far unplaced in 1930, though in 1940 he is married and living at the home of his widowed father David in Detroit (see above.) There is a little story about him under Raitt Anecdotes.


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Son Itze, later known as Bernard, as well as Pat, married Neldonna Wasserman, born 1916 in Michigan, a little before 1940. They had three children: Joel (1940), Cynthia, and Dennis (1950).  Bernard died in Southfield, Michigan in 1984 and Neldonna died in Bloomfield Hills in 1995.


In the 1920 census Itze is living with his family in Detroit (see above). He is so far unplaced in 1930. In the 1940 census for 3317 W. Grand Ave, Detroit, Bernard, 31, born Poland, sales manager in a retail dress shop, was living with his wife Neldonna, 23, born Michigan in the household of Neldonna’s widowed father, Julius Wasserman, who had been born in Russia.


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David and Zissel’s only daughter Rose married Louis Mintz.. In the 1920 census Rose is living with her family in Detroit (see above). She is so far unplaced in 1930 – she may be married by then as there seem to be several Louis and Rose Mintz’s in the 1930 and 1940 census and it is not sure which is the right pair.