Guide to the Gaffen and Massirman Family Papers

undated, 1889-1958, 1993-2017

alt text


Processed by Shannon Struble

Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at NEHGS

99-101 Newbury Street

Boston, Massachusetts 02116

Phone: (617) 226-1245



© 2018, Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at NEHGS. All rights reserved.
Machine-readable finding aid created by Shannon Struble in February 2018. Finding aid was encoded by Shannon Struble on April 14, 2018. Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Gaffen, Dorothy
Title: Gaffen and Massirman Family Papers
Dates: undated, 1889-1958, 1993-2017
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.
Languages:   The collection is in English, Russian, and Hebrew.
Quantity: .5 linear feet (1 manuscript box, 1 OS folder)
ID:   JHCP-0001
Repository: Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at NEHGS
Location: Located in Boston, Mass.

The Gaffen family, circa 1895. From left: Sarah Leah Dorf, Sarah Rachel (Hamburger) Gaffen, Frances Doris Gaffen, Jack (brother of Abraham), Abraham Gaffen, and David Gaffen.

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 in Canton, MA.

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.


Material from the collection.,


1858 Leb Bear Messer/Louis A. Massirman is born.
1862 Harry Rottenberg is born.
1863 Samuel Soloducha Levinthal is born.
1864 Esther Messer is born.
1865 Leiba Salov is born.
1868 Abraham Gaffen is born.
circa 1872 Sarah Rachel (Hamburger) Gaffen is born.
1882 Yankel Soloducha is born.
December 5, 1890 Samuel Masserman is born.
July 5, 1893 Sarah Rottenberg is born.
May 27, 1896 David Gaffen is born.
1899 Etta Soloducha Levinthal is born.
1903 Sarah Rachel Gaffen and her children immigrate to the US.
April 25, 1904 Michael Gaffen is born.
1905 Joseph Massirman immigrates to the US.
1906 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.
1910 Samuel Masserman immigrates to the US.
1911 Louis, Jenny, and George Massirman immigrate to the US.
1911 The Rottenbergs immigrate to the US.
1918 David Gaffen is discharged from the US Army.
January 21, 1919 Samuel Masserman and Sarah Rottenberg marry.
1920 David Gaffen becomes a naturalized citizen.
March 27, 1921 David Gaffen and Etta Levinthal marry.
1922 Sarah Leah Gaffen dies.
January 26, 1924 Dorothy Massirman is born.
February 3, 1926 Leonard Henry Gaffen is born.
1926 Samuel Soloducha Levinthal dies.
1928 Leiba Salov dies.
November 18, 1928 Leb Bear Messer/Louis A. Massirman dies.
May 30, 1930 Sarah Rachel Gaffen dies.
August 26, 1936 Harry Rottenberg dies.
1941 Yankel Soloducha 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.
July 25, 1961 Abraham Gaffen dies.
December 20, 1975 Sarah Rottenberg dies.
April 1, 1978 Samuel Masserman dies.
May 3, 2016 Leonard Henry Gaffen dies.

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.


The collection is arranged into a four series as follows:

  • Series I: Gaffen Family, undated, 1889-2017
  • Series II: Levinthal Family, undated, 1927-2010
  • Series III: Massirman Family, undated, 1915-2011
  • Series IV: Rottenberg Family, undated, 1997-2010

Access and Use

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

There may be some restrictions on the use of this collection. For more information contact

Related Material

Glick Family Papers, P-999

Jewish Heritage Center of the North Shore Records, I-584

Sterling and Selesnick Family Papers, P-1040

Taylor-Tatelbaum Family Papers, P-213

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date (if known); Gaffen and Massirman Family Papers; JHCP-0001; box number; folder number; Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at NEHGS, Boston, Mass.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Dorothy Gaffen, 2018.

Access Points

This collection is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.

Subject Names:

  • Gaffen, Abraham
  • Gaffen, David
  • Gaffen, Dorothy
  • Gaffen, Etta
  • Gaffen, Leonard
  • Gaffen, Sarah
  • Levinthal, Leiba
  • Levinthal, Samuel
  • Massirman, Jenny
  • Massirman, Louis
  • Massirman, Samuel
  • Massirman, Sarah
  • Rottenberg, Esther
  • Rottenberg, Harry

Subject Topics:

Subject Places:

Document Types:

Container List

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Series I: Gaffen Family, undated, 1889-2017.

  • In English and Russian.
  • Box 1.


Arranged alphabetically.

Scope and Content:

This series contains correspondence between Dorothy Gaffen and various parties, as well as family group records and research notes that contributed to the family genealogy. The series also contains photographs of Abraham and Sarah Gaffen and their children. The vital records included in the series consist of copies of Russian documents related to Abraham Gaffen, plus documentation pertaining to his immigration to the United States, a copy of Michael Gaffen’s marriage certificate, and a number of records about David Gaffen, such as his marriage certificate, Certificate of Naturalization, Honorable Discharge from the United States Army, and death certificate.

Box Folder Title Date
1 1 Correspondence undated, 1993-2017
1 2 Genealogical Information undated, 1889-1906, 1958, 2001-2009
1 3 Photographs undated, circa 1895-1900
1 4 Vital Records 1899-1921, 1942-1958, 1999


Series II: Levinthal Family, undated, 1927-2010

  • In English and Russian.
  • Box 1.


Arranged alphabetically.

Scope and Content:

This series contains correspondence and genealogical research, much of which relates to Dorothy Gaffen’s search for information on Yankel Soloducha and his family, who are believed to have perished during the Holocaust. The series includes correspondence with Yad Vashem and a survivor from Holszany, Poland who gave testimony to Yad Vashem, along with photographs and photocopies of postcards from Yankel and his family. A small group of documents pertain to Isaak Soloducha’s application for a visa to enter the United States in 1938, including an affidavit from his aunt’s husband, Mark Freedman, filed on his behalf.

Box Folder Title Date
1 5 Correspondence 1997-2010
1 6 Genealogical Information undated, 1927-1939, 2005-2005


Series III: Massirman Family, undated, 1915-2011

  • In English.
  • Box 1, OS folder.


Arranged alphabetically.

Scope and Content:

This consists of correspondence, genealogical research notes and family group records, and copies of vital records for various family members, including marriage certificates and assorted documents related to the Massirman family's immigration to the United States. Included in this series are photographs of the panel on Ellis Island on which Sam and Sarah Rottenberg Massirman’s names are inscribed. One folder in the Massirman series contains newspaper clippings, a photograph, and correspondence related to the “Chelsea Memories” exhibit, held on July 9, 2000 at the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore. Dorothy Gaffen was the co-chairwoman of the exhibit and served on the board of the North Shore Jewish Historical Society, which provided materials for the event. An oversized folder comprises additional vital records for Massirman family members and an issue of The Chelsea Record about the 1973 Chelsea fire. A VHS tape about the “Chelsea Memories” exhibit has been removed from the collection.

Box Folder Title Date
1 7 Correspondence undated, 1997-2008
1 8 "Chelsea Memories" Exhibit undated, 1923, 1952, 1998-2009
OS 1 "Chelsea Memories" Exhibit 1998
1 9 Genealogical Information undated, 1996-2011
1 10 Vital Records undated, 1923-1942
OS 2 Vital Records circa 1915, 1928


Series IV: Rottenberg Family, undated, 1997-2010

  • In English. 
  • Box 1.


Arranged alphabetically.

Scope and Content:

This series consists entirely of correspondence between Dorothy Gaffen and family members, along with research notes and family group records for the Rottenberg line.

Box Folder Title Date
1 11 Correspondence undated, 1997-2010
1 12 Genealogical Information undated, 1998-2001