Before emigrating to America, the Kantoff and Brottman Families were associated with three cities within Imperial Russia, all located west of Kiev in what is now Ukraine: Zhytomyr, Shepetovka, and Korets. In addition, they were once inhabitants of a shetl near Shepetovka known as Sudilkov, and another just west of Zhytomyr known as Baranovka which was located in Volynsky Province.
Zhytomyr is the most important of the four towns in which the Brottman and Kantoff Families resided, and the most-likely place from where Samuel Kantoff and his family left the area at the turn of the 20th century because it is located on the main rail line to Warsaw. From Warsaw, trains departed for Berlin and from there to the Port of Hamburg, where those emigrating to the US could easily board ships on the Hamburg America Line sailing to Philadelphia and New York.
Within Imperial Russia’s Jewish Pale of Permanent Settlement, Zhytomyr in the south and Vilnius in the north were the most important centers of Jewish culture. The printing of Hebrew books was permitted only in these two cities from 1845 to 1862, and both cities were also chosen as the seats of the two rabbinical schools which were established by the government in 1848 in pursuance of its plans to force secular education on the Jews of Russia in accordance with the program of the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah) movement.