A Package from Germany, Part II: Did Moritz Seligmann Have Two Wives?

Gau-Algesheim, Rathaus am Marktplatz

Gau-Algesheim, Rathaus am Marktplatz (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (Town Hall)

As I mentioned in my last post, the package I received from Germany included both a book about Gau-Algesheim and photocopies of the birth records for Bernard Seligman and his siblings.  Unfortunately for me, the birth records were all in German and were half in Germanic font and half in handwritten old German script.  I could pick out names, and most meaningfully, I could see the signature of my great-great-great-grandfather Moritz Seligmann on all the records.  But I could not read any of the text.  Not the typeface print on the form, and certainly not the handwritten script.

Bernard Seligman's birth record

Bernard Seligman’s birth record

JewishGen has a function called ViewMate where you can upload documents and ask JewishGen members for help in translation.  I decided to try that first.  Unfortunately, ViewMate limits the size of the documents you can upload to a relatively small size, and once I reduced the records to the requisite size, they were hardly legible.  Plus ViewMate takes several days; your document has to be submitted to the site, approved, and then it will be posted.  Then you have to send an email to the listserv and ask for help in translating the documents up uploaded.  Then you have to wait for someone to see your email and respond.  And you can only do five documents in a week.  This seemed a bit frustrating for me in this day of instant communications.

So I turned once again to Facebook.  There is a group on Facebook for German Genealogy, and I asked a question about obtaining translations of German records.  Someone there referred me to a different group that exists just for that purpose: German Genealogy Transcriptions.  I joined the group, and I posted the record for Bernhard Seligmann depicted above, asking if anyone could help me translate it and other records like it.

Within two hours, I heard from a group member, Matthias Steinke, who translated that first document and then spent the next couple of hours—no exaggeration—helping me with all the others.  I was just blown away by his generosity as well as his ability to decipher that script from a small scanned photograph of the document.  Matthias, if you are reading this, once again I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

So what does that birth record for Bernhard Seligmann say?  This is the translation Matthias provided, as modified based on some of the later records he reviewed:

In the year thousand eighteen hundred thirtyandseven, the twentythird November at eleven o´clock pre midday came to me, Quirin Ewen, mayor and official for the civil registration of the comunity Gau-Algesheim, county Ober-Ingelheim, Moritz Seligmann, thirtyseven years old, merchant, residing in Gau-Algesheim and declared, that at the twentythird November Eighteen hundred thirtyseven at one o´clock in the morning in the Blosselgasse nr. 98, Babetta nee Schönfeld, twentyseven years old, wife of the named Moritz Seligmann, here residing gave birth to a child of male sex, who was showed to me and who got the first name Bernhard. The declaration and showing happened in presence of the witnesses: 1. Johann Kleissinger, thirty years old, church-clerk in Gau-Algesheim residing 2. Johann Wessel (?), thirtyfive years old, tax-messenger in Gau-Algesheim residing. [signatures]

There were nine records all together, and for the others I only needed the basic data: names, ages, dates, and addresses, since I now knew what the form template was asking based on this first translation.  All the basic dates and names for the children were consistent with the information I had been originally provided by Bernie Brettschneider from Gau-Algesheim, but now I had copies of the actual records to verify that information.

Plus I now had an address for where the family was living during the years from Sigmund’s birth in 1829 until Paulina’s birth in 1847.  Although the house numbers vary, throughout all those years the Seligmann family was living on Flossergasse (apparently rafter alley). (Bernard’s said Blossergasse, but all the others said Flossergasse.)   I was able to locate Flosserstrasse on the map as well as Langgasse where August and Hyronimus later lived.  I assume Flossergasse was either off of Flosserstrasse or the street was renamed at some point.


But the records also revealed a mystery.  For Sigmund (1829), Carolina (1833), and Benjamin (1835), the mother’s name is Eva nee Schonfeld.  But starting with Bernhard in 1837, the mother’s name is given as Babetta or Barbara nee Schonfeld for Bernhard (1837), Hyronimus (1839), August (1841), Adolph (1843), Mathilde (1845), and Paulina (1847).

At first I thought that Eva had changed her name, but Matthias pointed out that the ages did not quite line up.  Not all the birth records included a reference to the age of the mother, but in  March, 1833 Eva was 26, meaning a birth year of 1806/7, depending on the month of her birthday. In May, 1835, she was 28, so that is consistent with the same birth year range.  But on Bernhard’s birth record, Babette nee Schonfeld is 27 in 1837, meaning a birth year of 1809 or 1810.  Two years later on December 14, 1839, she was 30, meaning her birth year was most likely in 1809.  The other birth records are also consistent with a birth year for Babette in 1809.

So unless Eva both changed her name and lied about her age on the later birth records, it would appear that Sigmund, Carolina, and Benjamin had a different mother than their younger siblings and also perhaps that Moritz married Eva’s younger sister sometime between 1835 when Benjamin was born and 1837 when my great-great-grandfather was born.

Thanks again to Matthias Steinke for his incredible generosity and great skills in transcribing and translating from German to English.  Thank you also to Ralph Baer who has also  been a tremendous help. Ralph is the JewishGenner who has been helping me with my Nussbaum/Dreyfuss relatives as well as generally with German records and German translations.  Both Ralph and Matthias are also helping me with the Gau-Algesheim book as I try and confirm and understand the passages about the Seligmanns.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am filled with gratitude for all the help I have received as I continue on this path to find my family—from the readers who comment and send me helpful suggestions to the people on Facebook who jump in to help, to the people at various libraries and historical societies who respond to my inquiries, and to the people at JewishGen who have helped me solve many mysteries.  As I’ve said several times, the generosity of the genealogy community is an inspiration.  If only the whole world was as giving and helpful as the people I have met in the genealogy world.



8 thoughts on “A Package from Germany, Part II: Did Moritz Seligmann Have Two Wives?

  1. Sounds like two wives to me, and isn’t it interesting that they were sisters. You are SO right about all the helping that goes on in the genealogy community. I’m always amazed and delighted by that.


  2. A widower’s marriage to his wife’s sister was common. Indeed, I know of a US contemporary who was raised by his aunt/mother after his mother died in childbirth. Perhaps one goal was to avoid the ‘wicked stepmother’ ??


    • And to keep the grandchildren close to the family, I’d imagine. Of course, back then marriages were generally arranged by the parents, not based on love, so it probably did not feel quite as strange. My great-grandmother married her first cousin when his first wife died, leaving him with four children. Hard for us to imagine it today when we base marriage on love, not parental demands.


  3. Pingback: Life in Bingen, Germany 1850-1901: The Family of Martha and Benjamin Seligmann | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

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