I'm trying to determine my (step-)grandparents' birth place from the 1916 Canadian Census. The relevant portion is this:

Birth Place

For context, here is the entire record. The people in question are listed as Louis Keslar (line 3) and Sara Keslar (line 4).

I've been struggling with this since February when I discovered the record. The transcription of the information at the Ancestry.com page lists the towns as "Ogec, Russia":

enter image description here

Clearly, the town name could be interpreted many different ways just from the handwriting and Oyic is quite possible as well. The key thing is that the spelling will not be correct. Louis and Sara did not write the name of the town and wouldn't have been able to spell it in English. They would have just said it to the census taker with their accents and the census taker wrote what it sounded like as best as possible with very poor handwriting.

The clues I know that I've used to try to pin this down:

  • They were Jewish and it was most likely a town with a lot of Jewish people.
  • They were born around 1878 and 1876 and came over in 1904 and 1906.
  • Russia back then had extended boundaries and included much of today's Poland and more
  • They spoke Yiddish and the town's actual name could have been in Polish or Russian script.

The difficulty is that only Louis and Sara came over, with no other family and no one else from their town came with them. Louis was escaping the army in 1904 and Sara joined him in 1906. Determining the town will ultimately unleash a whole new frontier of discovery. I have not yet tracked down their ships records, which is a laborious task, since none of the Canadian ship records are indexed. It is a matter of manually going through the microfilms one by one. I'll need a month minimum to do so. But the information in Canadian ships records are not usually helpful, except for seeing the people before and after, who they might have come with. In their case, I suspect they came alone and the ship's records in my mind will most likely show that.

There is still the possibility that they may have changed names when they came over, if they were afraid of being traced by the army. We don't know of any contact they had with anyone back in Russia after they came over. To the people who remembered them, they never talked about Russia or relatives.

The only other major clue I had was a picture of Louis in the Russian Czar's army which I asked about in Extract Facts from an Army Portrait. The clue it provided is that the picture was taken in Chelm. In a comment in that question, I said (incorrectly) that this record said "Osek" which with the record now displayed above, clearly was incorrect. The "eureka" in that question was that I thought the town might be Osiek, which is not too far from Chelm.

I followed that up checking out the Osiek listing at the Poland Jewish Records Indexing site, and I have been in contact with Orit Lavi, the town leader. As it turns out, there is no Kessler or Katkow (Sara's maiden name) or anything similar in Osiek. There are at least two other significant towns named Osiek near enough to Chelm, but now my hope that the town was named Osiek is diminishing.

Going back again to the original town: "Ogec", "Oyec" or whatever. The real problem is that so many towns have the same or similar names in the Poland/Russia area. I've gone through the JewishGen Gazetteer numerous times to try all possible similarly-sounding town names. The problem with any one sound is you either get zero towns listed, or you get dozens.

Examples from the JewishGen Gazetteer: "Ogec" gives nothing. "Oyec" gives a town near Mongolia (very unlikely) "Osec" gives 70 matches, most of which are in Poland.

The "j" sound in Russian is written by two Cryllic characters.pronounced "zh" which may make finding the current name of the town difficult.

So yes, I see I've got a lot of research ahead of me.

But what I'd like to know in this question, is if anyone sees any clues in the discussion above that I have missed to help me identify or narrow down which town this may be.

Update, July 16, 2021. Today, I found a death record for Sarah Kesler from 1929 giving her mother and father's birthplace as Odessa, Russia. Two of the answers suggested that, and now this death record adds evidence to that.

I'm giving the accepted answer to Peteris who was the first to suggest Odessa.

  • 2
    Do you know if a Naturalization record exists for either of them? They would state on a Declaration of Intent for Naturalization where they came from.
    – Lorraine W
    Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 4:46
  • 1
    Do you have an idea of how they would have pronounced Osiek? Wiki says [ˈɔɕek], but if they said [ˈɔʐek] (sorry if my IPA is a bit off -- I don't know if ʑ would be more appropriate) I could see someone transcribing it into English as Ogec.
    – bstpierre
    Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 13:10
  • Related: genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/1388/75
    – bstpierre
    Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 14:44

5 Answers 5


A completely different direction - is it clear that the name wasn't written by that person themselves in cyrillic script?

The image can also be read as Russian cursive handwriting, spelling 'Одес', which can be interpretted as Odessa, a major city in current Ukraine.

  • Welcome to Genealogy.SE! This is an interesting take on the problem and a very probable one as well. I'm glad to hear your input.
    – Luke_0
    Commented May 11, 2014 at 12:47
  • 3
    An interesting suggestion to pursue. From the pen-strokes in the above image, likely only the enumerator filled out the form. However, it doesn't rule out him being shown a document and copying an indicated placename with his own interpretion.
    – bgwiehle
    Commented May 11, 2014 at 13:53
  • 1
    That is a very nice theory that I will now keep in mind. If you look up 'Одес' on Google, there are other possible places that are more likely than Odessa, because the latter would normally be 'Одесca'.
    – lkessler
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 3:16
  • The first letter seems quite surely to be an capital "O". Even though there is just one other "O" as the first letter of the name "Ole" in line 36, it seems to distinct from the capital "A" in "Alvina" in line 40.

  • The second character could be either "y" or "g". Both can be supported by the other letters on the page: "y" by line 19 "Charley" and line 36 "Norway" (a little less clear) and "g" by line 32 "King".

  • In my opinion it is very unlikely that the third character is an "i", because every other "i" that I encountered on the page has a dot on it. Why would just those two be consistently omitted?

  • The last letter could be an "e". In line 3 it looks a lot like one.

I thought about Ogre, but when I look at other inline "r"s, it does not seem likely.

So, after all, I'm just lost in the dark, too...

  • I was going to make largely the same conclusions, except that I think the last letter is a c -- see Catholic on lines 14/15. So Ogec or Oyec seem most likely to me, but really that's just the Anglicized transcription of the way the census-taker heard them pronounce the city.
    – bstpierre
    Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 13:01
  • 1
    I couldn't find anything plausible for this either. I tried the zh sound for the 'g' but that was a dead end as well. The leading vowel could refer to either an A or an O sound in Russian, depending on where the speaker came from. Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 23:35

JewishGen Gazetteer & JewishGen Communities Database

Examples from the JewishGen Gazetteer: "Ogec" gives nothing. "Oyec" gives a town near Mongolia (very unlikely) "Osec" gives 70 matches, most of which are in Poland.

It appears that you were using the Beider-Morse search for Phonetic matches. You'll get additional possibilities by using the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex search. In the results list, towns known to have a Jewish Community have a JewishGen logo to the left of the name, and clicking on the logo brings up an information page about the town.

Also try the JewishGen Communities Database, which specifically focuses on the towns that have Jewish communities and filters out the rest.

A search for Ogec in the JewishGen Communities Database results in 4 hits (variant spellings and town names in parentheses):

  • Acîş, Romania (Ákos [Hun], Fürstendorf [Ger], Acâş)
  • Ahaus, Germany
  • Egyek, Hungary
  • Tiszakécske, Hungary (Okecie, Ókécske, Ókeske, Újkécske)

None of these appear to be in regions that were once considered Russia, so your town may not be any of these. However, try some of the other potential spellings of the town listed in the census, and see what other hits you get.

Canada Passenger Lists

Ancestry actually has ship indexes for Canada. Links to the two record sets are below, as well as some of the pertinent details provided by Ancestry.

Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935

  • Quebec Ports (May 1865–Jun 1908, Jun 1919–Jul 1921, Apr 1925–Nov 1935)
  • Montreal, Quebec (Apr 1925–Nov 1935)
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia (1881–Oct 1922, 1925–1935)
  • North Sydney, Nova Scotia (Nov 1906, Aug 1908–Aug 1922, 1925–1935)
  • Saint John, New Brunswick (1900–Sep 1922, 1925–1935)< li>
  • Vancouver, British Columbia (1905–Sep 1922, 1925–1935)
  • Victoria, British Columbia and Pacific Ports (Apr 1905–Sep 1922, 1925–1935)
  • Eastern U.S. Ports (Jul 1905–Feb 1919, 1925–1928)
  • New York (1906–1921)

Passengers from mainland Europe usually sailed to Great Britain, where they boarded trans-Atlantic ships at ports such as Liverpool, London, and Glasgow, and some Canadian immigrants arrived at American ports.

Canada, Ocean Arrivals (Form 30A), 1919-1924

This data collection contains individual declarations of passengers arriving at various Canadian ports between 1919 and 1924. The declarations were a standard pre-printed form called Form 30A. This form was in officially in use between June 1, 1921 and December 31, 1924


The 1916 census says that Louis was naturalized in 1915. Sarah probably derived her citizenship from Louis, but she may have applied for her own naturalization certificate later. Naturalization records often list the place of birth and when the person immigrated, although earlier naturalization records tend to have less detail than later ones.

Per the Saskatchewan Archives:

Citizenship and Immigration Canada holds the records of naturalization and citizenship from 1854 to the present. Unfortunately, the originals of records dated between 1854 and 1917 have been destroyed. However, a nominal card index has been maintained and provides information given at the time of naturalization, including:

  • present and former place of residence
  • former nationality
  • occupation
  • date of certification
  • name and location of the responsible court

Records created after 1917 are more detailed, and the information given includes:

  • surname
  • given name
  • date and place of birth
  • date of entry into Canada
  • in some cases, the names of spouses and children

There's more info on the Library and Archives Canada website, including a name index for 1915-1936. I tried a few searches for Louis, with various spellings of Kessler, but couldn't find him. Perhaps the census has the wrong year -- if he was naturalized before 1915, then he won't be in this database.

  • Unfortunately, Louis was naturalized in 1915 and is not in the database. Sarah does not appear to have been officially naturalized. And I have been unable to find either of their immigration records which was likely between 1904 and 1906, Louis arriving first and Sarah following a year or two later.
    – lkessler
    Commented Jul 16, 2021 at 20:57

Looking at the full record page and seeing how the enumerator has written other words these are my thoughts.

The second character looks like a lower case G (line 1 and 44) the third character, if it is one, is unlikely to be an i as all the i's in the other records have a period above the stroke and all the towns this household record don't have the period. I think the first character is an O, there is one other capital O on the page (line 36) but it seems to be constructed in the same way as the lower case o's that there are. The fourth character is more challenging if you look at line 40 it could be an R or if you look at line 50 it could be an N.

I'm not sure whether this helps or not but is my interpretation of what is written so

OGEN OGU OGR OGIU OGEC seem likely to me.

Hope this helps rather than hinders.


My guess would be that when immigrating, the Keslers never bothered to think how their place of origin spells in English. Later, when their mastery of written English grew, they never bothered to change the spelling of the faraway location in order to have papers "consistent with prior statement".

It is an actual problem for a lot of people to switch to the English alphabet in areas they strongly associate with their "non-English" identity. They might have used the first 4 letters of Odesa, Ukraine (Russian or Ukrainian cursive for Odesa would look exactly like Ogecca, g being surprisingly enough the standard handwritten form for Cyrillic "d" while typed form is д).

I found this discussion because a student of mine who had come to Canada several months ago, yesterday recounted a great-grandfather by name of Leonid Kesler/Kessler/Kisler -- the latter born in Odessa.

As for Russian Imperial uniforms in the picture, I have seen similar photos uploaded, discussed and identified by forum users at https://vgd.ru/ but I do not know much more than that.

  • It turns out that Odessa is likely correct (see my 2021 update to my question). I just wanted to comment that your ideas here are all correct, except that they did not write the place Ogec Russia on the Census itself. That is clearly the handwriting of the Census taker. However, they may have written it down on paper in Russian and the Census taker might have transcribed that. But you had the right idea. +1
    – lkessler
    Commented Jul 16, 2021 at 20:56

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