Fannie Lichstein: From Mołodiatycze to Calgary

Genealogical evidence can often prove surprising and force us to grapple with new information about our ancestors and their relationships.

Fannie Lichstein: From Mołodiatycze to Calgary

Genealogical evidence can often prove surprising and force us to grapple with new information about our ancestors and their relationships we hadn't previously been aware of. Such is the case with my great grandparents, Albert Sidney and Fannie Lichstein.

Fannie was born Finkel Rotenberg in Mołodiatycze, Hrubieszów, Lublin Governorate, Polish Russia sometime between 1878 and 1884. Her birth records have not yet been found, but this range of years is based on her marriage and census records. She was raised in nearby Grabowiec by her parents. Her father was certainly Jacob Rotenberg, though the name of her mother remains unclear. She listed her mother on her marriage documents as Jochwet Merensztejn, but according to a Rotenberg genealogy document, Jochwet was Jacob's second wife, and Fannie was a child of his first marriage.

Abraham and Fannie: Canadian Homesteaders

Finkel married Abram Lichtsztajn in the town of Chełm in November 1903. They returned to live in Abram's home town of Krasnystaw where they had two children: Joseph (b. 1904) and Paul (AKA: Pesach, b. 1906). Abram left Europe to join his older brother, Israel Mendel (AKA: Srul, b. 1872), in New York apparently prior to Paul's birth.

Contact for Albert Lichstein ("Abram Lichtschein") on 1906 passenger list: brother, "Srul Lichtschein"

Finkel joined her husband in New York with the children in December 1908:

Contact for Fannie Lichstein ("Finke Lichtschein") on 1908 passenger list: husband, "Avram Lichtschein"

Finkel and Abram, now known as Fannie and Abraham got busy within a month of her arrival in New York and she gave birth to Betty in October 1909.

Birth record for Betty Lichstein ("Bessi Lichtestein") via FamilySearch.

Abraham, whose career back in Krasnystaw was as a painter, soon decided to try on the life of a homesteader through the acquisition of cheap land in Canada. He moved Fannie and the children to Lipton, Saskatchewan and, in 1911, applied for a land grant on two quarter sections of land South of Eyre, Saskatchewan.

"Saskatchewan Provincial Records, 1879-1987," images, FamilySearch ( : 16 May 2014), Homestead files 1911 no 2528822-2530498 > image 107 of 1077; Saskatchewan Archives, Regina.

It was harsh land and hard to work. In 1914, Abraham and family officially became Canadian and in 1915, the year of birth of their fourth child, Martin, Abraham applied to have the Southeast quarter of the land returned to the government due to its difficulty to farm. He did have some success with the Northeast quarter, however, and applied for and received a land patent (ownership) in 1916.

"Saskatchewan Provincial Records, 1879-1987," images, FamilySearch ( : 16 May 2014), Homestead files 1911 no 2526637-2528820 > image 157 of 918; Saskatchewan Archives, Regina. Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada, Homestead Grant Registers, 1872-1930 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016. Homestead Grant Registers. R190-75-1-E. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

In 1918, Fannie and Abraham had a fifth child, Henry (AKA: Hirsch). It's difficult to know what provoked struggles at this time, but things became difficult for Abraham and Fannie. Looking to historic conditions, it seems certain the 1918-20 drought in the prairie provinces would have hit this family subsisting on rough farmland particularly hard.

In any case, circumstances became dire enough that in late 1919, Albert was arrested for neglecting and failing to provide for his wife and family. A month later, he was found guilty and released on probation, conditional upon providing for his family for no less than two more years.

Things get a little hard to track past this point, but it seems Abraham continued not to support his family and, in the meantime, had been the target of an alleged conspiracy to commit murder. I've found no other mentions of this case in news print and will likely need to make a request of the Saskatchewan courts for more information.

Empress Express, 1913-1936 (Empress, Alberta, Empress Express), Peel's Prairie Provinces,, February 12, 1920, Page 1, Item Ar00104.

On December 25, 1920, Abraham Lichstein re-entered the United States with intent to remain, deserting Fannie, and taking with him his daughter Betty and son Martin. It's unclear whether Fannie and Abraham had a proper divorce; under the new name Albert Sidney Lichstein, he claimed on his Petition for US Citizenship that the two had divorced in 1919 which is uncertain. I was not able to find any mention of this divorce in the Canadian Acts of Divorce database for this period of time.

As this post is about Fannie, I'll save discussion of Abraham/Albert's later life for another post.

Fannie and the Boarding House

Fannie was left with little, apparently unable to seek alimony nor the return of her two children now in the United States. - Star-Phoenix - 4 Jan 1923 - Page 3 (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, Star-Phoenix, 4 Jan 1923),, Legal re: cancellation of mortgage, custody of infant children.

Fannie was living in Saskatoon with her three remaining children in Canada as of the 1926 Census of the Prairie Provinces. In spite of Abraham/Albert Lichstein's living status in the USA, Fannie recorded herself as a widow.

"Canada, Prairie Provinces Census, 1926," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 18 April 2019), Fannie Lichstein, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada; citing Census, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa.

Her son, Joseph, an office clerk for Canadian National Railway (C.N.R.) Express in Saskatoon, was able to contribute to the construction of a large, many-roomed home for the family at 402 Avenue F South, which Fannie later operated as a boarding house.

Fannie, it seems, was not too picky about boarders, with a search of the home address in newspapers of the time producing several results for arrested and on-the-run criminals and vagrants listing 402 Avenue F South as their home address. Fannie's boarding house was apparently under observation by the police; in November 1938, Fannie was arrested as part of a coordinated set of raids for "keeping liquor for sale". - Star-Phoenix - 18 Nov 1938 - Page 5 (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, Star-Phoenix, 18 Nov 1938),, Violation of Saskatchewan Liquor Law 18 Nov 1938.
Saskatoon Police, Result from Access to Information Request #2019-0048.

Meanwhile, Joseph, still living at the same address, was becoming quite well known in Saskatoon both as a musician and as a contributor to the community. An active member of the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Canada and the Saskatoon Board of Trade, he had reason to travel to the US for a conference in 1941. Having discovered upon applying for a passport that, while naturally being a citizen, he was not in possession of acceptable proof of citizenship, Joseph petitioned the Under Secretary of State, Naturalization Branch, for a certificate of naturalization. After a standard procedure RCMP investigation, his petition came back denied! The reason? The RCMP were aware of his mother's boarding house's reputation with local authorities.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Result from Access to Information request A201867663. RCMP Division File from Saskatoon Sub-Division, January 19, 1942.

From R.S. Primrose of the Saskatoon Detachment of the RCMP:

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Result from Access to Information request A201867663. RCMP Division File from Saskatoon Sub-Division, August 16, 1941.

While this RCMP officer refers to the boarding house as a "house of prostitution," I found little additional evidence to back up that claim in either police documentation or the newspapers. It seems simply as though Fannie was not particularly concerned about the criminality of some of her house guests and was willing enough to provide room and board to those the police and others found unsavoury. Fannie was never charged for supposedly being a procuratrix.

Fannie's home did appear in the news occasionally over the years when she was the victim of criminal activity: - Star-Phoenix - 10 Dec 1928 - Page 3 (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, Star-Phoenix, 10 Dec 1928),, Defrauded as landlady 10 Dec 1928. - Star-Phoenix - 21 Jun 1934 - Page 3 (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, Star-Phoenix, 21 Jun 1934),, Eight chickens stolen from coop. 21 Jun 1934. - Star-Phoenix - 20 Oct 1936 - Page 5 (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, Star-Phoenix, 20 Oct 1936),, Fire at 402 Avenue F, South 20 Oct 1936. - Star-Phoenix - 28 Jun 1943 - Page 4 (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, Star-Phoenix, 28 Jun 1943),, Hose Stolen 28 Jun 1943.

Joseph, in any case, delayed by the bureaucracy for over a year, enlisted the assistance of his Member of Parliament, Alfred Henry Bence, in having the decision regarding his proof of citizenship reversed. Bence wrote a letter to the Under-Secretary of State on Joseph's behalf. On July 20, 1942, Under-Secretary of State E. H. Coleman finally approved Joseph's application (denial of which appears sketchy to my eyes, and apparently did to Coleman's as well).

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Result from Access to Information request A201867663. Memorandum, July 20, 1942.

Fannie's Final Years

Fannie continued to run the boarding house for some time after, and the family eventually put the property on the market. The timeline is a little unclear here, but Fannie fell ill in the mid-to-late 1940s and her son Paul travelled to Saskatoon to support her. Since she was ailing and Paul wanted her close, he bought Fannie a house in Calgary.

Uncredited photo. From left to right, Betty Lichstein, Paul Lichstein, Fannie Lichstein (nee Rotenberg), Esther Lichstein (nee Snider), Joseph Lichstein.

Shortly after, Fannie decided to travel to Pittsburgh to live with her daughter, Betty. Prior to her departure, Paul had married Esther and the two of them, who had been living in a crowded one-room apartment since their wedding, moved into the house. By 1951, apparently Fannie and Betty were not getting along. Esther wrote about this period in her memoir:

By this time, my mother-in-law was not getting on well with her daughter. (Betty had been taken to the States with her father when she was very young and so she and her mother were virtually strangers to each other.) It was then decided to send her back to Regina. Joe arranged for her to stay with some people there but they didn't get along. She wrote to me and asked if she could come live with us. I wrote to my mother to ask her opinion. My mother said that, after all the problems that Fanny had caused in my relationship with Paul, if I let her move in with us, I was making a big mistake. It was, therefore, decided to send her to a Nursing Home in Winnipeg. She was there only a few months when she passed away, in 1952. She was then brought back to Calgary and buried here.

Fannie passed away on February 2, 1952 and was buried in the Calgary Jewish (Erlton) Cemetery.