A Spiritual Testament, Kovno, 1867

JHCNS past President and resident genealogist the late Dr. Richard Winer obtained a copy of two wills from Vitalia Gircyte, archivist for the Lithuanian Archives. The documents were written in a 19th-century bureaucratic Russian hand. As legal documents, they were also difficult to translate, but Dr. Winer found a scholar who undertook the task. The wills are presented here to give the reader a glimpse of life in Kovno, Lithuania during the mid-19th century. The Dembo family described in these wills are cousins of Winer's paternal grandmother, Blume Dembo. For information on the Lithuanian community of Ukmerge, see this page (which will open in a new window).

Price: 20 silver kopecks [seal]

No. 124
The Kovno Rabbinate herewith requests [to be recorded] that the Kovno dweller, the Jew Movsha Ioselovich Dembo, died in the city of Kovno from consumption on the 21st of October in the year 1866 at the age of 45 years, and was buried on the 23rd of that month at the Kovno Jewish Cemetery. In confirmation of the aforementioned is this certificate with signature and accompanying official seal on the 13th of October, 1867, by the Kovno Rabbi I. Yavno.

Price: 40 silver kopecks [seal]

Translation. I, Movsha Ioselovich Dembo, reasoning from the circumstances that no mortal person knows the exact time of his own death, moreover since I am in weak health, and only God on High knows when I will return to health, therefore turning to the Creator for help, I am completing this spiritual testament that is obligatory to be carried out neither may anyone be permitted to depart from what I state here:

1) After my death, sell my silver dishes, similarly my household items and my stone houses including the attached structures so as to dispose of all my houses and those of my wife. From these funds 600 silver rubles are to go to my wife and in addition she is to return to my hired laborers an outstanding promissory note of the sum of 650 silver rubles; the remaining funds are to be divided as follows: to my daughter Gliushka go 400 silver rubles because she is in weak health; to my only son Shimshel go 800 silver rubles; and the remaining money is to be divided in equal parts among my above-mentioned son Shimshel and my four daughters.

2) The few books in my possession will belong to my son Shimshel.

3) To my above-mentioned daughter Gliushka go an additional 400 silver rubles if she, as I beg her to do, refrains from marriage since she is in weak health.

4) My daughter Pesya may be given her part of the inheritance when she reaches the age of 18, at which time she will be at the appropriate age to get married. Until then she will be under the guardianship of my relatives per their agreement, and until she reaches the age of 18, her portion of the money will be saved in a certificate earning 5%. She should be given this percentage for her upkeep.

5) Sums to be apportioned to my son Shimshel and my two daughters Khisva and Simka should be allowed to earn interest, therefore try to put these funds into good hands. A percentage of this money should go for the upkeep of these children. The capital may be given to them when they reach the age of 18. If you don't find a good loan to invest the money in, then put it into certificates earning 5%.

6) Under my care are my brothers Abram and Itsik, and likewise my sister Rasha Dembova, who will accurately carry out my wishes as stated above without any departures of any kind; I beg that she keep oversight over my memory and watch over the well-being of my children.

7) Until the change of ownership and sale of my home is accomplished, I ask that my son and all my daughters live together in harmony with each other, in the apartment where I used to live, trying over the course of one year to pray each day for the peace of my soul.

8) Of my daughter Gliushka I ask that if possible she keep with her my son Abram-Shimshel and daughters Khisva and Simka, receiving a percentage of the capital and raising them according to her good sense.

All that is written here is with a sound mind and firm memory, in sincere religious attitude and lawful manner, and I request that no one depart from my wishes as stated in this spiritual testament.

Monday, September 5, 1866, Kovno. Willed and signed by Movsha Ioselovich Dembo. [legalese] Witnessed by Girsh Abenovich Gurvich, Abram Getselovich Gordon and Yudel Shiemovich Kreters. Translated by Kovno itinerant translator I. Sanoleichi. M. P. [these are probably the initials of a clerk]. Movsha Ioselovich Dembo bequeaths with completion of this spiritual will in sound mind and firm memory as confirmed to the satisfaction of the family physician, Doctor of Medicine Collegiate Assessor Lyovich Ivanovich Zebailo (?).

Copy. No. 124
Certificate. [final paragraph at end is exact copy of what is written on the first page above, also designated No. 124] M. P.


Herewith is requested [that it be recorded] that Yanova dweller Mortkhel Ovseivich Dembo at the age of 45 years died from a beating in the township of Yanova and was buried in the Yanova Cemetery. The 25th [27th written just below] of August in the year 1878.

No. 23. Written in the register of those who died in the course of the second half of the year 1878. Signed and sealed the 11th of July 1882 regarding M. Dembo. Original signed by the Rabbinate of the township of Yanova, Rabbi Aaron Yankelovich. /M.M./

No. 63. Kovno district Rabbi of Yanova Aaron Yankelovich signed and sealed this on the 24th of January, 1883.

No. 441. [standardized footnote re: authenticity of this certificate per Kovno city records per laws founded in 1613, etc.]

[First 4 lines are an official declaration of the authority of the all-powerful Czar-Imperator Alexander Alexandrovich]

Request [to be recorded] by the dweller in the Yanova Jewish community of the Kovno district, Khaya Golda Mortkhelova Dembo, per the following statement:

On the death of my father, Yanova dweller Mortkhel Ovseiovich Dembo, who died the 25th of August 1878 from a beating in the town of Yanova, I received a rural parcel of land as is attested by the attached document from the Mir 3rd Level Court of the Kovno district, the 28th of January 1883. [legalese: 26, previously established 12,15 ... of February 1879 by the St. Petersburg ... Nr. 13, 14 and Nr. 16-21] The substance of the above-mentioned household as witnessed in the civil register per a copied extract regarding the death of my father an official copy of my birth certificate attached. The Rabbi of Kovno was asked to confirm that the above-mentioned houses and the belongings owned in 1883 on the 24th of February are subject to taxation according to the Rabbinic Office of [...] and the Civil Court — this request submitted for acceptance by M[...] Alexander Alexandrovich [reference to czarist govt].. Acknowledgment for the illiterate Khaya Golda Dembo of Yanova is attested by Shimon Girshovich by the signature in his hand. Local dweller in the town of Yanova of the Fourth Kovno district, specifically the hand of Shimon Girshovich, signed for Khaya Golda Dembo, signed and sealed the 24th of February 1883.


[Following is separate document, i.e. official copy of birth certificate]

Herewith is requested [to be recorded] that on the 3rd of April 1858 to the dwellers of the Yanova community Mortkhel Ovseivich Dembo and G [...] Tsadikovna a daughter was born in the town of Yanova, to whom the name Khova Dembo was given, and recorded in the register of female births for the year 1858,. N. B. Noted and sealed on the 11th day of June 1882 by the Rabbi of the town of Yanova, Aaron Yankelovich. No. 62. [...] Attested for M. Dembo by Kovno district Rabbi Aaron Yankelovich of Yanova, on the 24th of January 1883...[...]

No. 441 [Kovno civil confirmation of the above on the 4th of February 1886]

Aaron Dembo, Sarah Dembo and Blume Dembo Winer, relatives of the beneficiaries

Aaron Dembo Sarah Dembo Blume Dembo Winer
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