Adding another Dimension to the Story: What Newspapers Can Reveal

Before moving on to the next decade of the Cohen saga, I decided to spend some time searching through old newspapers online, seeing if I could find some birth, marriage or death announcement that might be helpful.  I was surprised to find some real news stories about my ancestors which add some additional dimensions to their life stories.

First, it seems that Jacob, my great-great grandfather, had a couple of interactions with law enforcement—never as the accused (as far as I found), but as a victim and/or witness to crimes.    One time Jacob was able to identify the man who had stolen a watch and chain and had pawned the chain to Jacob.[1]  The second incident involved Jacob purely as a victim of a crime when one of his servants, Eliza, stole a watch and chain worth about $50 from his home. [2]

Jacob’s grandson, also named Jacob Cohen, continued this tradition in 1899 when he also ended up with stolen goods in his possession as a pawnbroker. The thieves had broken into a house and stolen $1000 worth of household items, including some rugs that they had pawned to Jacob.   Jacob was able to identify the men who had pawned the rugs and thus assisted the police in capturing them.[3]

I am not sure what to make of these three stories, except to observe that (1) being a pawnbroker, one runs the risk of receiving stolen property, and (2) both Jacobs were observant witnesses and willing to assist the police in stopping crime.

I was also able to find several articles reporting that Jacob (among others) had obtained a pawnbroker’s license and several ads taken out by his son Isaac regarding the probate of Jacob’s estate.

The other article that I found quite interesting reported on a street argument or fight among several of my relatives, including Reuben Cohen, Lazarus Jacobs, and Reuben Jacobs.  Apparently an argument started at seven in the morning among what the article refers to as “barkers connected with the South Street clothing stores,” which “created considerable excitement in the neighborhood, with their jargon.” Four men were arrested, including my three relatives, who were taken to the alderman to “keep the peace.”  This article was dated Wednesday, July 10, 1867.[4]  In 1860, Joseph Jacobs, the brother of Lazarus and father of Reuben, had been a business partner in a clothing store Jacobs and Cohen with Jacob Cohen, father of Reuben Cohen.  I noticed in the 1868 Philadelphia directory that Jacob’s business was then called Hamberg and Co., presumably for his son-in-law Ansel Hamberg.  Had Jacob and Joseph had a parting of the ways? Were they now competitors? Were the cousins fighting over business at 7 in the morning? Or was this just a quarrel among young men that had nothing to do with the family businesses?

Although none of these articles revealed any significant clues or information about my relatives, they add a human dimension to the facts and data I can find in the census reports and vital records.  These were all real people with real problems.  Times may have changed, but people always have and always will deal with the forces of and the flaws of human nature.




[1] Hearings at the Central, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 4, 1869, p. 2.  Located at

[2] At the Central, Philadelphia Inquirer, February 15, 1873, p.2.  Located at

[3] Rugs Gave the Clue, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 28, 1899, p. 13.  Located at

[4] City Intelligence, Police Affairs, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 10, 1867. p. 2.  Located at

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