Isaac Cohen 1850-1914: A Harder Story to Tell

The third child of my great-great grandparents was Isaac.  He was born on February 4, 1850, in Philadelphia, the first of their children both conceived and born in the US.  Until at least 1872 when he was 22 years old, he lived at home with his parents at 136 South Street and was working as a clerk in one of the family pawnshops.

He was living at a different address as of 1873, 923 Parrish Street, which was two and a half miles north of his family home, continuing the northward movement of the family.  I assume that sometime in 1873 he had married his wife, Emma Cordelia van Horn, since he was no longer living at home.  Emma was born in 1853 in Pennsylvania, the daughter of William van Horn and granddaughter of I.B. Merkel, according to documents relating to her death, but so far I have not been able to find out more about her family or to locate a William van Horn with a daughter named Emma.  I was surprised to see just how many William H. van Horns there were in Philadelphia alone.

Like his older brother Joseph (as well as many of his younger brothers) and his father, Isaac was a pawnbroker.  For his whole career he worked at a pawnshop at 830 North 10th Street, a block away from his residence in 1873 on Parrish Street.   On July 9, 1879, Isaac and Emma’s son, Isaac Wilbert Cohen, was born, and in 1880 the family was living at 636 North 11th Street, only a few blocks away from the store on 10th Street.  The 1880s seem to have been fairly uneventful.  Isaac continued to work at the same location throughout the decade, according to the city directories.  Emma and little Isaac were at home.

Isaac Cohen and son living with Emanuel Cohen and family 1880 census

Isaac Cohen and family 1880 census

Then in 1893, tragedy struck, and Isaac’s life was never the same.  His wife Emma died on November 3, 1893, when she was only forty years old and her son was only fourteen years old.  Emma died from “Septic Peritonitis from Suppurative Salpingitis,” according to her death certificate.  As explained to me by my brother, suppurative salpingitis means she had pus in her fallopian tubes, a condition today known as pelvic inflammatory disease.  In Emma’s case it led to a septic condition in her abdomen which killed her.

Emma Cohen death certificate 1893

Emma Cohen death certificate 1893

Emma Cohen funeral notes 1893

Emma Cohen funeral notes 1893

It was from the funeral notes above that I learned Emma’s father’s and grandfather’s names.

When she died, Emma and Isaac had been living at 1606 Diamond Street, so the family had moved again, about two miles north from 11th Street and Isaac’s store on 10th Street.  After Emma died, Isaac and his son remained at 1606 Diamond Street, and as of 1895, Isaac’s much younger brother, my great-grandfather Emanuel, was also living at 1606 Diamond Street.  Emanuel was thirteen years younger than Isaac, 32 in 1895, and was himself married and the father of three sons, including my grandfather John, who was born in 1895.  On the 1900 census, Isaac and his son were still living with Emanuel and his family, with Emanuel listed as the head of household.

Isaac Cohen and son living with Emanuel Cohen and family 1900 census

Isaac Cohen and son living with Emanuel Cohen and family 1900 census

I found this somewhat puzzling.  Had Emanuel moved his family to Isaac’s home to help take care of his widower brother and motherless nephew?  Or had Isaac taken in Emanuel to help him out?  I assume it’s more likely the former—that Isaac need help with caring for his teenage son and that my great-grandmother Eva was willing to help raise him as well as her three sons, who would have been young boys during the 1890s.  Isaac had twelve siblings, some much closer to him in age.  Why would he have ended up living with Emanuel, his much younger brother and not one of the others?

Isaac was the first member of the Cohen family to marry someone who was not Jewish.  Emma had been buried in a non-Jewish cemetery, West Laurel Hill in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia.  Had his other siblings been upset that he married outside the faith?

Isaac’s stay in Emanuel’s household continued for almost twenty years.  In 1910, he was still living with Emanuel, Eva, and their sons, now at 1441 Diamond Street, and still working as a pawnbroker.  His son Isaac Wilbert had married Gertrude Mann the year before and was living in his own place.  Why had Isaac stayed with Emanuel and not moved with his son?  To give the newlyweds their own space? Again, it does seem a bit strange, but I suppose that after fifteen years of living with his brother and family, Isaac at age 60 was content to stay put.

Isaac Cohen with Emanuel and family 1910 census

Isaac Cohen with Emanuel and family 1910 census

But then Isaac suffered another terrible loss.  On March 3, 1914, his son Isaac Wilbert Cohen died from lobar pneumonia.  According to the death certificate, Isaac Wilbert had suffered from myocarditis, another family member succumbing to heart problems.  He was only 34 and had been married only five years when he died.  He had no children.

Isaac Wilbert Cohen death certificate

Isaac Wilbert Cohen death certificate

Isaac Cohen, my great-grandfather’s brother, himself died just a few months later on September 15, 1914, from acute peritonitis secondary to pancreatic cancer.

Isaac Cohen death certificate

Isaac Cohen death certificate

He was 64 years old and had lost his wife 21 years before and his only child just six months before.  It seems like he endured far too many losses far too soon.  I hope that he found comfort living with my great-grandparents and my grandfather and great-uncles.  I wish that I knew more about his life and his story.

Like his wife, Isaac was buried at West Laurel Hill cemetery along with his son Isaac Wilbert.


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2 thoughts on “Isaac Cohen 1850-1914: A Harder Story to Tell

  1. Pingback: The Eleventh Child of Jacob and Sarah Cohen:  My Great-Grandfather Emanuel (FINALLY!) « Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  2. Pingback: The Seligmans: My New Mexican Ancestors—An Introduction « Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

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