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Gaffen and Massirman Family Papers

Identifier: JHCP-001

Scope and Content Note

This collection comprises the genealogical information and family histories of the Gaffen and Massirman families, along with the Levinthal and Rottenberg families to a lesser extent. The research was primarily done by Dorothy (Massirman) Gaffen, and all of the family series include correspondence between her and family members, as well as with organizations, such as the National Archives and Records Administration and Yad Vashem. All series also contain family group records for each of the families. Some family series include other documents, such as vital records and photographs.


  • undated, 1889-1958, 1993-2017


Language of Materials

The collection is in English, Russian, and Hebrew.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for researcher use. Please contact us to request access or to make an appointment to view this collection at

Use Restrictions

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Biographical Note

This collection documents the histories and genealogies of the Gaffen and Massirman families, as well as the Levinthal and Rottenberg families. All four families originated in Eastern Europe and immigrated to the Boston area in the early twentieth century.

Abraham and Sarah (Hamburger) Gaffen and Family

Abraham Gaffen was born on February 20, 1868 in Russia (sources vary as to whether he was born in present-day Lithuania or Ukraine) as Ephraim Dorf. His parents were Isaac and Sarah Leah Dorf. He may have trained as a shoemaker in his youth, and at some point, may have served in the Russian Army or been conscripted to serve in the army before deserting. He changed his name to Abraham Gaffen around this time.

Abraham married Sarah Rachel Hamburger (born circa 1872), and the couple had three children while still in Russia (present-day Belokorovich, Ukraine). Abraham, Sarah, Abraham’s mother, and the children immigrated to the United States between 1903 and 1906 and settled in Brockton, Massachusetts. Abraham owned a fish market and grocery store, and he became a naturalized citizen on June 4, 1927. Abraham’s relatives (potentially younger brothers) David and Jacob also lived with them for a time in Brockton. The Gaffens eventually had three additional children who lived to adulthood while residing there.

The Gaffen children and their families are as follows:
  1. David Gaffen: born May 27, 1896 in Belokorovich, Russia; died September 12, 1958 (see below).
  2. Frances Doris Gaffen: born July 17, 1899 in Belokorovich, Russia; married Louis Myers; died August 3, 1987.
  3. Michael Gaffen: born April 25, 1904 in Belokorovich, Russia; married Zelda Hirsch (1901-1996), with whom he had one child, Susan; died April 5, 1993.
  4. Samuel Gaffen: born November 17, 1906 in Brockton; married Celia Kass (1916-2010) in 1946, with whom he had two children, Richard Max and Joseph Harold; died March 12, 1973.
  5. Isadore Gaffen: born June 28, 1909 in Brockton,; married Gwendolyn Reba Applebaum (1914-1993) on September 5, 1943, with whom he had two children, Esther and Lewis; died April 30, 1971.
  6. Rebecca Gaffen: born November 5, 1911 in Brockton; married Benjamin Lelyveld (1911-1992) on June 21, 1933, with whom she had one child, Sandra; died November 15, 1976.
Sarah Leah, Abraham’s mother, died on January 1, 1922 in Brockton. Sarah Rachel died on May 30, 1930, while Abraham died on July 25, 1961, both also in Brockton.

Samuel and Leiba (Salov) Soloducha/Levinthal and Family

Samuel (Shmuel) Soloducha was born in Holszany, Poland (present-day Belarus) in 1863, and he married Leiba (Liba) Salov, who was born in Vilna, Poland (present-day Lithuania) in 1865. Samuel and Leiba had six children in Poland: Yankel, Phillip, Annie, Jeanette, Etta, and Sarah. All but Yankel immigrated to the United States, and, at that time, they changed their last name to Levinthal. Yankel and his family perished in Poland during the Holocaust. The remaining family settled in Chelsea, Massachusetts, where Samuel died on October 15, 1926 and Leiba died on August 27, 1928.

The Soloducha/Levinthal children and their families are as follows:
  1. Yankel Soloducha: born 1882 in Holszany; spouse unknown but had three children, Misha, Sonya, and Issak; died 1941 in Poland.
  2. Phillip Levinthal: born May 22, 1884 in Holszany; married Rebecca Kessel (?-1937) in Boston, Massachusetts, with whom he had two children, Louis and Charles; died 1964.
  3. Annie Levinthal: born 1886 in Holszany; married Harry Reinherz (1886-1958), with whom she had three children, Albert, Dorothy, and Irving; died December 15, 1941.
  4. Jeanette Levinthal: born April 15, 1898 in Holszany; married Samuel Adis (1897-1968); died June 1977.
  5. Etta Levinthal: born 1899 in Holszany; died October 1, 1952 (see below).
  6. Sarah Levinthal: born February 15, 1900 in Holszany; married Mark Freedman (1893-1966) on March 20, 1920, with whom she had six children, Miriam, Frances, Sidney, Lila, Thelma, and Harvey; died September 19, 1977.
David and Etta (Levinthal) Gaffen and Family

David Gaffen was born in Belokorovich, Russia in what is now the Ukraine on May 27, 1896, and he immigrated to the United States with his family in the early 1900s. He served in the United States Army during World War I until his honorable discharge at the end of the war in 1918. He became a naturalized citizen in 1920. David married Etta Levinthal on March 27, 1921 in Chelsea. David’s occupation is listed as a public accountant on their marriage certificate, while Etta’s is listed as forelady. Together, they had two children:
  1. Eleanor Gaffen: born May 3, 1923 in Brockton; married George Cohen in 1948; married Wolf Fiszel (1916-1985) on October 27, 1956, with whom she had two children, Judith Reva and Marilyn Davida; died October 26, 2017.
  2. Leonard Henry Gaffen: born February 3, 1926 in Brockton; died May 3, 2016.
The couple separated while Eleanor and Leonard were children, and Etta moved to Dorchester, Massachusetts, where she lived until her death on October 1, 1952. David died on September 12, 1958 in Brockton.

Louis and Jenny (Katz) Massirman and Family

Louis A. Massirman was born Leb Bear Messer (Hebrew name Ariyah bar Moshe Aaron) in 1858 in Aleksandrya, Russia, which is now in the Ukraine. He had at least one sibling, a sister, Esther Messer, who was born in 1864. He married Jenny Katz (also called Zissel Caspi), who was the daughter of Gershon and Doby Caspi, and worked in the forest, perhaps as a logging overseer. The couple had three children, as follows:
  1. Joseph (Godel) Massirman: born February 15, 1884 in Aleksandrya; married Sarah Loitherstein (1890-1964) on Februrary 1, 1911 in Chelsea, with whom he had three children, Helen, Pearl, and Arnold; died November 21, 1965.
  2. Samuel (Shlomo) Masserman: born December 5, 1890 in Aleksandrya; died April 1, 1978 (see below).
  3. George (Gershon) Massirman: born February 12, 1895 in Aleksandrya; married Annie Gilbert (1899-1959) on August 5, 1928, with whom he had two children, Leonard and Sandra; died December 14, 1960.
In 1911, Louis, Jenny, and George immigrated to the United States, where Joseph and Samuel had already settled, and lived with Samuel as boarders in Chelsea. The family changed their name from Messer to Massirman upon applying for citizenship, though Samuel’s name differed in spelling due to the assistance of a teacher when preparing his citizenship papers. Louis and George worked for Joseph in his successful building supply business, and George later became a plasterer. Louis and Jenny eventually moved to an apartment above the offices of Joseph’s business, still in Chelsea. Louis died on November 18, 1928, while Jenny lived until June 18, 1944 in Chelsea.

Harry and Esther (Messer) Rottenberg and Family

Harry Rottenberg (also known as Hershel Royburd) was born in Russia (likely present-day Ukraine) in 1862. He married Esther Messer, who was born in 1864 in modern-day Ukraine and was the sister of Leb Bear Messer/Louis A. Massirman. The couple had three children, as follows:
  1. Isaac Rottenberg: born December 5, 1887 in Aleksandrya; married Sarah Wallace (1890-1963) in 1911 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with whom he had four children, Bessie, Samuel, Pearl, and Jack; died March 7, 1956.
  2. Sarah Rottenberg: born July 5, 1893 in Aleksandrya; died December 20, 1975 in (see below).
  3. Mollie Rottenberg: born February 12, 1897 in Aleksandrya; married Abraham M. Gillman (1895-1984) on June 21, 1919, with whom she had three children, Joseph Max, Harold Leon, and Lillian Beatrice; died January 30, 1984.
The family intended to emigrate from Russia to the United States early in the 1900s to join their relatives already in the country, but due to quota restrictions, they had to immigrate to Argentina instead. The family, including Isaac’s new bride Sarah, eventually arrived in New York on September 22, 1911 and settled in Chelsea. Harry died there on August 26, 1936, and Esther died on June 10, 1946.

Samuel and Sarah (Rottenberg) Massirman and Family

Samuel Messer (later Masserman) immigrated to the United States in 1910 and stayed with relatives until he joined his brother Joseph in Chelsea. He married Sarah Rottenberg in 1919, and the couple lived in a home in Chelsea that they co-owned with Sarah’s brother-in-law Abraham Gillman until they later bought out his share. Samuel worked as a carpenter his entire life, while Sarah was a homemaker and seamstress, making clothes for herself and her family. Sarah contracted influenza during the 1919 epidemic, which left her susceptible to pleurisy. She was pregnant five times, but just one child lived to adulthood:
  1. Dorothy Massirman: born January 26, 1924 in Chelsea; married Leonard Henry Gaffen (see below).
Sarah died on December 20, 1975, and Samuel moved to senior housing in Chelsea. He became ill during the Blizzard of 1978 and was hospitalized, and while he eventually returned to his home, he died a few months later on April 1, 1978.

Leonard and Dorothy (Massirman) Gaffen and Family

Leonard Henry Gaffen attended school in Brockton until his parents, David and Etta (Levinthal) Gaffen, separated and his mother moved with the children to Dorchester. He enlisted in the United States Navy at the age of 17, and he served as Pharmacist’s mate at the Naval Hospital in Oakland, California. After he was discharged, he attended the University of Massachusetts and received a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. He worked at a paper factory and a dairy laboratory before ending up at Gillette Co., where he remained until his retirement in 1987.

Leonard married Dorothy Massirman on July 2, 1958. The couple had two children:
  1. Dian Judith Gaffen: born February 10, 1959 in Boston; married Stephen Seidel (1952-) on October 14, 1990 in Leesburg, Virginia, with whom she had one child, Brina.
  2. Nancy Lee Gaffen: born October 11, 1961 in Salem, Massachusetts; married Daniel Maurice Desrochers (1960-) on October 22, 1989, with whom she has two children, Neal Samuel and Emily Claire.
Leonard died on May 3, 2016.


  1. Material from the collection.
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Leb Bear Messer/Louis A. Massirman is born.
Harry Rottenberg is born.
Samuel Soloducha Levinthal is born.
Esther Messer is born.
Leiba Salov is born.
Abraham Gaffen is born.
Yankel Soloducha is born.
February 15, 1884
Joseph Massirman is born.
May 22, 1884
Phillip Soloducha Levinthal is born.
Annie Soloducha Levinthal is born.
December 5, 1887
Isaac Rottenberg is born.
December 5, 1890
Samuel Masserman is born.
July 5, 1893
Sarah Rottenberg is born.
February 12, 1895
George Massirman is born.
May 27, 1896
David Gaffen is born.
February 12, 1897
Mollie Rottenberg is born.
April 15, 1898
Jeanette Soloducha Levinthal is born.
Etta Soloducha Levinthal is born.
July 17, 1899
Frances Doris Gaffen is born.
February 15, 1900
Sarah Soloducha Levinthal is born.
Sarah Rachel Gaffen and her children immigrate to the US.
April 25, 1904
Michael Gaffen is born.
Joseph Massirman immigrates to the US.
Abraham Gaffen and his mother Sarah Leah immigrate to the US.
November 17, 1906
Samuel Gaffen is born.
June 28, 1909
Isadore Gaffen is born.
Samuel Masserman immigrates to the US.
Louis, Jenny, and George Massirman immigrate to the US.
Rebecca Gaffen is born.
The Rottenbergs immigrate to the US.
David Gaffen is discharged from the US Army.
January 21, 1919
Samuel Masserman and Sarah Rottenberg marry.
David Gaffen becomes a naturalized citizen.
March 27, 1921
David Gaffen and Etta Levinthal marry.
Sarah Leah Gaffen dies.
May 3, 1923
Eleanor Gaffen is born.
January 26, 1924
Dorothy Massirman is born.
February 3, 1926
Leonard Henry Gaffen is born.
Samuel Soloducha Levinthal dies.
Leiba Salov dies.
November 18, 1928
Leb Bear Messer/Louis A. Massirman dies.
Sarah Rachel Gaffen dies.
August 26, 1936
Harry Rottenberg dies.
Yankel Soloducha dies.
December 15, 1941
Annie Levinthal dies.
June 18, 1944
Jenny Katz dies.
June 10, 1946
Esther Messer dies.
October 1, 1952
Etta Levinthal dies.
July 2, 1958
Leonard Gaffen and Dorothy Massirman marry.
September 12, 1958
David Gaffen dies.
February 10, 1959
Dian Judith Gaffen is born.
December 14, 1960
George Massirman dies.
Abraham Gaffen dies.
October 11, 1961
Nancy Lee Gaffen is born.
Phillip Levinthal dies.
November 21, 1965
Joseph Massirman dies.
April 30, 1971
Isadore Gaffen dies.
March 12, 1973
Samuel Gaffen dies.
December 20, 1975
Sarah Rottenberg dies.
Rebecca Gaffen dies.
June 1977
Jeanette Levinthal dies.
April 1, 1978
Samuel Masserman dies.
August 3, 1987
Frances Doris Gaffen dies.
April 5, 1993
Michael Gaffen dies.
May 3, 2016
Leonard Henry Gaffen dies.
October 26, 2017
Eleanor Gaffen dies.


0.5 linear feet (1 manuscript box, 1 OS folder)


This collection documents the histories and genealogies of the Gaffen and Massirman families, as well as the Levinthal and Rottenberg families, to a lesser extent. The collection contains correspondence and family group records for each line, while a few family series also include photographs and vital records.

Physical Location

Located in Boston, Mass.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Dorothy Gaffen, 2017.

Separated Material

A VHS tape containing recordings related to the "Chelsea Memories" exhibit has been removed from the collection.

Processing Information

Processed by Shannon Struble, 2017
Guide to the Gaffen and Massirman Family Papers, JHCP-001
Processed by Shannon Struble
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society Repository

99-101 Newbury Street
Boston MA 02116 United States