VICTOR NICHOLAS LIGDAMale View treeBorn: 1832-01-31Died: 1902-11-06
Father: Nicholai LIGDAMother: EKATERINA

By all family accounts, Victor was the second and last child born to Nicholas and Ekatrina Ligda.  His date of birth is well documented and, although his death certificate shows Greece as his place of birth, there is little doubt he was born in Moscow. 1

The only accounts of Victor’s life in Russia are from Alec and Val, two of his children who were born after the family left Russia.  Both say their father was wealthy.  Alec says he worked for the Czar, traveling from city to city collecting money due the government for vodka concessions.  If so, he was in a position to demand payoffs from those in his district licensed to sell alcohol. 2  Alec says his father’s room at an inn was burglarized while he was sleeping.  The burglars entered his room and took some money, but failed to find 30,000 rubles Victor had under his pillow.  Val says her father was trained exclusively by private tutors, but this is unlikely as there were few private teachers in Russia at the time and he would have needed a diploma from the Gymnasia to become a civil servant.

Alec says his father traveled frequently.  He mentioned trips to Switzerland, Italy, and Germany.  About 1862, while on a trip to Saxony, Victor met Emilie Kramer, then 15.  They were married, first in Saxony and later in Russia.[The 1900 census shows Victor and Emilie married 33 years which would date the marriage in 1867 – probably the second ceremony in Russia.[/ref]

Victor and Emilie lived in Russia about 12 years.  In that period they had five children.  Two daughters, Elizabeth born in 1867 and Mary born in 1869, died in infancy  Olga, born in 1870, and two sons, Sismeon, born in 1867 and Paul, born in 1872, survived.  The family lived near Moscow.  Val says they also had a summer home in Niskhi Novgorod, a city on the Oka River near the junction with the Volga, they seldom used because it was so remote and Victor’s travels would have left Emilie and the children to deal with potential intruders.  Val says her father was called upon to do diplomatic errands for the government without official status.  His son, Paul, says he spent the bulk of his time managing his estate.

All family accounts, Victor wanted to leave Russia, either because of his growing dissatisfaction with the government 3  or his concern over the health of Simeon who was a frail and sickly child, or both.

Victor obtained a passport in Moscow on August 14, 1874.  He is listed as a “Candidate of Commerce,” a title of uncertain meaning.  The fact he was approved for foreign travel indicates he was recogized as a member of the Dvoriane Class – landless servants who administered the Czar’s land or property.  Perhaps the estate Paul believed his father owned was one he was actually managing for the Czar.  The family left for Italy on August 24th.  At the time Simeon would have been seven; Olga would have been three; Paul would have been two.

Both Val and Alec say that the family lived in a villa near Naples.  At the time, Italy was united and politically stable as a constitutional monarchy under the rule of Victor Emmanuel II.  The Pope was Pius IX.  Victor and Emilie’s third son, Alexander, was born in Naples on February 21, 1875.

Both Val and Alec indicate there was a diplomatic gathering in Naples at which their father refused to toast the Czar.  Alec says that, as a consequence, Victor was ordered to return to Russia and his passport was revoked. 4 and that any citizen who returned after a longer period faced penalties.  Five years would have elapsed in August of 1879.  His passport contains a single six month extension issued in paris on October 23, 1879.  It seems Victor remained in France without Russian approval after April 23, 1880.

While in Paris, Victor and Emilie had three more children: Pierre born October 17, 1879; Vladimir born October 11, 1881 (when the family was living a 4 Rue Halle (1st Dist.); and Valentine born July 31, 1886 (when the family was living at 20 Rue Arbalet (5th Dist.).  Paris was a cosmopolitan city – home to Degas, Monet, Caillebotte, Pissarro, and Gaugin and the Impressionist art movement.  Construction began on the Eiffel Tower.  In 1886, French children began donations to build the Statue of Liberty.  The Ligda children may well have been among those contributors.

It was also a period of lingering tension between France and Germany from the fallout of the Franco-Prussian War that ended in 1871 with a Prussian victory.  In 1887, the Germans arrested M. Schnaebele, a French official.  Russia, a French ally, moved troops to the German border.  In the Reichstag, Bismark threatened, if attacked, to: ” . . . make France incapable of attacking us for 30 years.”  The crisis passed with the release of Schnaebele. 5  Emilie could not have been comfortable with the possible outbreak of a war in which her sons could be conscripted to fight against her country of birth where she still had family. 6  Both Alec and Paul said their father did not want his sons in the military.  To evade their possible conscription, Victor felt the family had to leave France.  In 1887, Victor and Emilie sent Simeon, then twenty, to America to assess the possibility of the family relocating there.  During that trip, Simeon became ill and died in San Francisco, California,

In 1888, tensions between Germany and France again increased when General Boulanger, French Minister of War, advocated a policy ol revenge against Germany.  Emilie, who also wanted to see where Simeon was buried, insisted the family go to California.  Victor agreed.  The Ligdas left from La Harve on the La Normandie, traveling second class, thus avoiding the crowded steerage conditions typical of the period of mass immigration from Europe to the United States.  They arrived in New York at Castle Clinton 7 on June 17, 1889. 8.

The contrast between the settled cultures of Europe and the turbulence of a young nation still filling its borders must have shocked the Ligdas.  It is not clear they intended to stay.  The record of their entry states their intention was travel to California as visitors rather than immigrants and both Paul and Olga had expressed misgivings about leaving France.  Val says her parents came to San Francisco 9  because that was where Simeon died  Victor rented a house at 722 Bay Street.  They joined the small Russian community that worshipped at the Greek Orthodox Church despite the strained feelings towards the church officials who had misplaced the records of Simeon’s grave site.  It was through the Church that Olga met and married Ephrim Alexin in 1890.  There is a picture of Paul as a member of the church choir in 1891.

Paul bought a four volume English dictionary which he used daily to help everyone in the family learn English.  He preferred speaking Russian, but Val recalls family conversations in Greek, German, Italian, and French as well.  Victor did not work.  He is listed as a capitalist in the city directory of 1891.  Val says he enjoyed watching ships enter the Golden Gate with a telescope he had in his library.  The library, according to Val, contained over 2,000 volumes.  After Val accidentally started a fire that destroyed part of the Bay Street house, the family moved to 2109 Jones Street.  City directories show later addresses of 910 1/2 Vallejo Street (1892) and 614 Lombard Street (1893).  The sons lived at home and worked in the trades.  Paul became a carpenter.  Alec was a jeweler.  Pete was a printer.  All contributed to the household expenses.

On February 14, 1892, Olga Alexin, the first grandchild, was born.  This was certainly an event of considerable joy.  The next grandchild would not be born until 1907, long after Victor’s death.

Victor became a naturalized citizen on July 25, 1894, taking the oath of allegiance in San Francisco before Superior Court Judge Charles Slack. 10  He registered to vote on October 9th 11.

The family moved to Oakland in 1895.  Victor’s investments included a loan secured by property at 233 Harlan Street in Oakland. 12  When the borrower defaulted, Victor foreclosed on the property and moved his family into the house.  Emilie liked the house, so they stayed.  Victor then purchased the ajacent property at 229 Harlan for his sons.  The 1898 Oakland Directory shows his address as 233 Harlan with Alec, Paul, Pete, and Vladimir living at 229 Harlan.

Little is know of Victor’s life in Oakland.  He continued to be listed as a capitalist in the city directories.  He is shown as the head of the family in the 1900 census with all members in the household.  He prepared his will leaving his estate in trust to be divided equally between his wife and six children when Valentine, the youngest, became twenty one; meanwhile allowing $100/month to support the family.

Victor died in Oakland on November 6, 1902.  His resentment of the Church for misplacing the records of Simeon’s burial led to his insistence that his body be cremated despite church opposition to the practice.  He did not want the Church to have the opportunity of misplacing the records of his burial too.  The family honored his wishes.  Funeral services were held at a German Lutheran Church.  His body was then cremated as he instructed. 13


  1. The information on his death certificate would have been provided by a surviving relative.  In addition to the family accounts that he was born in Moscow, his place of birth is listed as Russia in the 1900 and 1920 censuses.  Presumably he provided that information.  Additionally he had a Russian passport issued in 1874; was listed as a citizen of Russia on his arrival in the United States in 1889, and was listed as a Russian citizen when he was naturalized in 1894.  It is unlikely he was born in Greece and naturalized as a Russian citizen before 1874.
  2. Turner, Europe: 1789-1920, pp. 278-80.
  3. In 1863, the government made sweeping changes to the laws governing the vodka industry including an attempt to eliminate bribery by having the taxes collected by local excise institutions staffed with personnel who were well educated and well paid: Modern Russian History, Vl. II, p. 89.  It is possible this change affected Victor’s income from bribes.
  4.   The family’s move to Paris in 1879 may have been prompted by some loss of standing in diplomatic circles.  There were no other apparent reasons to move.  None of the political changes after the deaths of Emmanuel II and Pius IX in 1878 would have affected the LIgdas.  At the time of the move to France, Victor was 47, Emilie 32, Simeon12, Olga eight or nine, Paul six, and Alec two.

    Victor’s passport contained a provision that no Russian citizen could remain abroad more than five years unless engaged in a commercial business; 14According to Alec, his father supported the family from investments he made in Greek bonds.  There was no commercial business.  He is listed as having no occupation on the entry of Vladimir’s birth in 1881 and Val’s birth in 1886.

  5. Europe 1789-1920.
  6. France had a system of universal military training: Europe 1789-1920, p. 394.
  7. Castle Clinton was the largest immigrant landing depot in the country.  Between 1855 and 1800, when it was closed, more than eight million immigrants were processed – about two thirds of the people who came to the country in that period.
  8. In 1889, the United States was a country of 62 million living in 38 States and Territories.  The President was Benjamin Harrison.
  9. San Francisco was a wide open city of about 280,000.  The Barbary Coast (what is now Pacific Street) and Devil’s Acre (a diagonally shaped area bordered by Broadway, Kearny, and Montgomery Streets) were notorious for their dives and high crime rates.  There was a licensed saloon for every 96 inhabitants.  Cable cars provided public transportation along streets crowded with horse drawn vehicles.  The Cliff House was open as was Golden Gate Park with Stow Lake, a children’s playground, and Sunday concerts.  There were organ grinders with their monkeys and the cry of the “rags” man: Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast (1933), Alfred A. Knopf, Inc,, pp. 119-123.
  10. The Court file number is 10079, but the original file has been destroyed.  All that remains is an entry that the naturalization took place.
  11. The record of voter registration lists Victor as 5’6″ tall with a dark complextion and grey hair and no occupation.
  12. Harlan Street ran north from Peralta Street to the Oakland Trotting Park.  It is now bisected by the I580 approach to the Bay Bridge.
  13. Vladimir Ligda removed his father’s remains to a Central Bank safe deposit vault on August 1, 1904.