I have the WWI registration records of my great-great grandpa who was supposedly born in Russia in 1890-1892. He emigrated to the US (Chicago) in around 1910, I think. The typed up transcript on their site says the town name is "Swel", but below is the actual image. I'd like to know the real name of that town, and what area/town of Russia that is today so I can see where he was from and maybe find out if any of his Russian family is still living today.

I've asked some Russians and they can't figure out what the town name's supposed to be, and then I read that "Russia" might actually mean Lithuania etc on old US documents.

enter image description here

Unfortunately I know almost nothing about him as clues, I want to know the town name in part so I can try to find out more about him. I think I heard that his dad was a potato farmer back in the old country while he himself was a carpenter. According to the census records he married a Pole (born in Knogness) who had two German parents, and according to my memories the two of them spoke "German" together. They passed down Russian, Polish and "German" to their children as first languages. Their maid at home was (I think) Polish.

In his obituary it seems at least one of his parents was Lutheran. I grew up with my great-grandpa being alive and he never mentioned his/their religion around me, nor did he call his German "Yiddish" (I also don't know the precise religion of my great-grandpa or his children either), but of course it's very possible one or both of his parents switched religions upon moving to the US, or that his dad knew Yiddish as well as German, or that he himself hid that he spoke Yiddish due to WWII stuff, etc.

I did some more searching around. I seem to remember he was a carpenter, if he was indeed from Zvil it said there was an unusually high number of carpenters who were Jewish. Also both the first name "David" (as was written on some results that were him, not "Daniel" as in the WWI record) and the last name "Meister" are apparently Jewish names. I also found a different person whose ancestors were from Russia/Polland with the last name Meister and it stated they were Lutheran too, that person was wondering if there was any kind of mass conversion from "Jewish" to "Lutheran" that took place at some point.

Here's the full image for the WWI registration record:

enter image description here

I looked up the house address on Google Maps, and from an old realtor ad it says "built in 1879", so this must be the original house he lived in in Chicago.

enter image description here

  • 1
    Can you give some more details about your great-great-grandfather? It may help understand the town name. Keep in mind that Russia in the 19th century was an empire, so the town could be in Poland, Finland, Georgia—anywhere. So for example religion and name would help.
    – texnic
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 21:18
  • Hey, I added the full pic now. Unfortunately I know almost nothing revealing about him, including religion...
    – magipojken
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 0:06
  • @magipojken I think I may have found his arrival in the US (via his naturalisation) on Familysearch. I think Ancestry has the images for the United States Border Crossings from Canada to United States, 1895-1956, so - if it is the right person - you can compare the birthplace given there. Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 0:20
  • If the Daniel Meister that @sempaiscuba found is the correct one, then the Canada Archives has the digitized arrival record here: bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/immigration-records/… . Page 26 at that link lists a Meister, Daniel, male age 21, single, from Russia, laborer headed to Chicago, Ill. There is a column for "race of people" that is blurry but appears to say "German." Religious denomination column is NOT "Hebrew" but appears to be "Evang" -- Evangelist? Again, only applies if it's the right DM.
    – shoover
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 3:33
  • 1
    "Evang" usually means Lutheran. (Short for "Augsburg Confession Evangelical".)
    – JPmiaou
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 3:53

3 Answers 3


I think it is Новоград-Волинський, which is transliterated as Novohrad-Volyns'kyi, Novograd-Volinskiy, etc. and is also known as Zhvil, Zvil, etc. This is in the Zhytomyr Oblast in northern Ukraine. If this is the correct location, unfortunately there are probably no relatives left.

I searched on Fold3 for "Swel, Russia" and found two men in the WWII "Old Man's Draft" who claimed to have been born in Swel in the late 1880s. Neither one of these is probably your ancestor, but I'm showing you the process I followed so you can do something similar for your next query.

The first one is handprinted and clearly says "Swel" as the place of birth. The second one is written in cursive but appears to say "Swėl" where the E has a dot over it.

I searched on FamilySearch for other documents for both of these men. I had more luck with the second one.

In 1942, Barnet Litman, b. Feb 21, 1887, registered for the WWII Old Man's Draft, giving his place of birth as Swėl, Russia, and his contact as Ida E. Litman of Revere, Suffolk Co., Mass.

Litman draft

Barnet Litman, b. Feb 22, 1887, was naturalized in 1913 in Chelsea, Suffolk Co., Mass., giving his birthplace on one page as Zvill, Russia, and on another page as what looks like Zutomir, Russia. His wife is given as Ida E.

Litman naturalization p1 Litman naturalization p2

In 1908, Barnet Litman, age 23, of Chelsea, Suffolk Co., Mass., originally from Russia, married Ida E. Bernstein, age 22. Litman marriage

In the early twentieth century, there was a town known as Zhvil or Zvil in Yiddish. It is also known as Novogrod-Volynsky and various other transliterations of both of those names. (That linked page contains a link to 19th century census records for Zhvil.)

According to Wikipedia, Novohrad-Volynskyi (Yiddish: Zvil) is a city in the Zhytomyr Oblast (see Litman's naturalization papers where this is transliterated as Zutomir).

Wikipedia notes that the Jewish population was 50% of the town around 1900, but many (most?) of the Jews were murdered either in the pogroms of 1919 or in mass executions in WWII.

Therefore, if this is the correct location, and your ancestors were Jewish emigrants from Zvil, it is unlikely that there are any relatives left in the town.

  • I put up the full image now as well as the little info about him I knew. Looking it up, his name is apparently a Jewish/Yiddish one so it all seems to fit and your answer seems extremely likely, thank you so much!! I'm voting it as correct until I find any proof otherwise.
    – magipojken
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 1:44
  • It is not "apparently" a Jewish name. It could equally well be a German name. If you don't have any other information to go on, you should not rule out German Baltic origins.
    – simon
    Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 16:15

It could be Nevel. It would help to see the rest of the document, or other documents written in the same hand to get a better feel for the handwriting.

Edit: After seeing the whole document it is clearly not Nevel. The first letter is the same as the S in Sept. So Swel looks like a good transcription although it could also be Sivel or Sevel.

  • I've put up the full image now, thanks. It looks like it was written by the official and not my relative himself, as it seems they misspelled his name at first.
    – magipojken
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 23:40

I've been researching my grandfather, who lived in Korets [now Ukraine] and emigrated to Boston, MA. In the early 1900s, a family in Boston, with the same surname as mine, reported their place of birth as "Zvill". I'm not sure they are my relatives but, Novohrad-Volynskyi is less than 40 miles from Korets.

These individuals are buried in the Jewish Cemetery in West Roxbury, MA. The name of the subdivision is "Zviller". I don't believe that's a coincidence to their origin.

[Apparently, back then, it wasn't unusual for lonsmen to purchase a burial area for multiple people from the same shtetl. My grandfather is buried in West Roxbury too but, his subdivision is called "Korets".]

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