John Nusbaum 1814-1889: The Family Patriarch

By 1880, my three-times great-grandparents, Jeanette (Dreyfuss) and John Nusbaum, and their extended families had not only grown in size but spread across a wider swath of the northeastern United States.  Some were still in Harrisburg or Philadelphia, but others were in Peoria, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh.  Although many were still dry goods merchants, the younger generations were also involved in various aspects of the liquor trade.  The family had endured the economic crisis of the 1870s, seeing some bankruptcies and the closings of several stores and businesses.  A number of young children had died, and by 1880, of the siblings of John and Jeanette Dreyfuss, only Ernst and John were still alive on the Nusbaum side, while Jeanette’s two sisters Caroline and Mathilde were both still living.

The next two decades brought with it more changes, more weddings, more new children, and sadly more deaths.  In my next series of Nusbaum/Dreyfuss posts I will try to bring the various branches up to the 20th century, focusing first on my direct ancestors, John and Jeanette and their children and grandchildren.

As I’ve written, in 1880 John and Jeanette were listed on the census in two different locations, living thousands of miles apart.  John was living with their daughter Frances and her husband Bernard Seligman (my great-great-grandparents) in Santa Fe along with his son Simon.  Jeanette, on the other hand, was living in Philadelphia with their daughter Miriam and her husband Gustavus Josephs along with Lottie Nusbaum, the youngest child of John and Jeanette, and Milton Josephs, the young son of Miriam and Gustavus who would die from bronchial pneumonia just a few months after the 1880 census was taken.  These must have been very hard times for my ancestors, and I will never know whether John moved to Santa Fe for financial reasons or because of marital problems.  I will never know whether he was there for a month or a year.

English: A Areal map of Santa Fe, New Mexico d...

English: A Areal map of Santa Fe, New Mexico during the Railroad era in 1882. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I do know that John is listed in the 1881 Philadelphia directory as residing at 1129 Master Street, the same address where the Josephs family and Jeanette and Lottie were living on the 1880 census.  Whether John was actually back or not is hard to say for sure, but he does not appear again on any Philadelphia directory until 1886, when he is listed as being in the “segar” business and living at 524 North 11th Street, the same address given for his daughter Lottie.  Although Gustavus and his family are not listed in the 1881 directory, they show up in the 1884 directory still living on Master Street, so it would seem that sometime between 1881 and 1886, John and Lottie and presumably Jeanette had moved to their own home on North 11th Street.

I found it puzzling that John, after over forty years in the dry goods business, had entered the cigar business.  But his store had gone bankrupt, and perhaps this seemed to be a good way to make a fresh start in the 1880s.  John was already in his 70s by 1886, so it is even more surprising that he was starting in a new trade instead of just retiring.  I did some reading about the tobacco industry and learned that the John Bonsack invented the cigarette rolling machine in 1881, leading to a widespread increase in cigarette smoking (previously, tobacco was either chewed, smoked in a pipe, or hand rolled into a cigar or cigarette).   I don’t know whether this technological development had any effect on John’s decision to sell cigars, and I don’t know whether he sold only cigars or also cigarettes, but the timing does seem to be enough for me to think this was not just coincidental.  In 1887, John again is listed at the same residence and as being in the “segar” business.

English: Trade card of a cigar dealer after a ...

English: Trade card of a cigar dealer after a photograph of Napoleon Sarony, using Oscar Wilde’s popularity during his American trip of 1882 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, the children of John and Jeanette were also finding their way in the 1880s.  Adolphus and Julius were still in Peoria, working in the dry goods business, now called Nusbaum Bros.  Since Julius had been one of his father’s creditors in the bankruptcy proceedings, perhaps the business was now owned by the brothers instead of their father.  Julius was living with his brother Adolphus and sister-in-law Fannie, who had no children.

Simon, meanwhile, had remained in Santa Fe and was still unmarried and living with his sister, my great-great-grandmother Frances Nusbaum Seligman, and her family in 1885 according to the New Mexico Territorial Census of that year.   In 1887 Simon was appointed to be a clerk in the US post office in Santa Fe, a position he continued to hold for many years, being promoted to assistant postmaster by 1889 and ultimately to postmaster in 1898.

Miriam and Lottie, the remaining two children of John and Jeanette, were living in Philadelphia.  Miriam and her husband Gustavus had a third child in 1882, Gertrude, after losing Milton in 1880.  Their second child Florence was then two years old.  On November 28, 1888, Gertrude died from diphtheria (croupus form, according to the death certificate). She had just celebrated her sixth birthday less than a month before.  Eight year old Florence was once again an only child.  The family had lost yet another young child.  For Miriam and Gustavus to lose two young children in the space of eight years must have been completely devastating.

gertrude josephs death certificate

As for Lottie, John and Jeanette’s youngest child, she was just seventeen in 1880 and still living at home, as she did throughout the decade.

The decade drew near a close on another sad note for the family when my three-times great-grandfather John Nusbaum died on January 24, 1889.  He was 74 years old.  According to his death certificate, he died from lobular heart disease, chronic cystitis, and diabetes.  Notice also that the residential address on both Gertrude Josephs’ and John Nusbaum’s death certificates is the same: 1617 North 13th Street.

John Nusbaum death certificate

John Nusbaum was born in Schopfloch, Germany, in 1814, the sixth child of Amson Nusbaum and Voegele Welsch.  He had been one of the pioneers in the family, coming to Pennsylvania in the 1840s, probably starting as a peddler and then establishing himself as a merchant first in Harrisburg and then in Philadelphia.  He had seen much success and some failure in his business; he had helped out his siblings and their widows when his brothers Maxwell and Leopold died.  He and Jeanette had been the common link that brought together many connections between the Nusbaum, Dreyfuss, Dinkelspiel, Wiler, and Simon families.  I imagine that it must have been very hard for the family to lose him.  Sadly, I cannot find one obituary or death notice for him.

John Nusbaum’s name lived on in other ways, however. Four years after he died, his daughter Miriam and her husband Gustavus had one last child on July 26, 1893, five years after they had lost Gertrude and eleven years since Miriam had last given birth.  They named their son Jean, I assume in honor of Miriam’s father.

Two years later in 1895, John Nusbaum’s granddaughter Eva Seligman Cohen had a fourth son whom she and her husband Emanuel Cohen named John Nusbaum Cohen.  He was my grandfather, named for his great-grandfather.  Eva must have known her grandfather John Nusbaum very well, not only when she was a young child living in Philadelphia and not only when he had lived with her family for some period of time in Santa Fe, but also because she had moved to Philadelphia for college and then settled there after marrying my great-grandfather in 1886.  She must have seen a great deal of him in those last few years of his life.

John Nusbaum Cohen c. 1894

John Nusbaum Cohen c. 1895

When Simon Nusbaum married at a late age, he and his wife also named a son for Simon’s father.  John Bernard Nusbaum was born on May 15, 1904, in Santa Fe. (I assume that the Bernard was for Simon’s brother-in-law Bernard Seligman, who had died the year before.)

And, of course, John Nusbaum’s name lives on today through my father, John Nusbaum Cohen, Jr.  It’s a legacy that my three-times great-grandfather well deserved.  We may not have a photograph to remember his face, but we will always remember his name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 thoughts on “John Nusbaum 1814-1889: The Family Patriarch

  1. Today we think it is terrible (and it is) when a parent has to bury a child. But it was not that long ago when it was the norm. I am so thankful for the advancements we have made in medical care. This is something that many of us take for granted.

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    • I agree. When I see what some of these children died from—diptheria, pneumonia, etc.—all things today that are either prevented by vaccine or treated with antibiotics—it does make me very grateful that my children were born after those developments occurred.

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      • I don’t know if any of them do that yet, but isn’t it about time they started? I mean, people are doing the work for them and they have the option to set up a website that can link to lots of blogs with information. For instance, our archives at Western Michigan University is where I studied years ago and where my grandfather donated many many photographs. I have many more photos with info and stories to go along, but do you think they are interested? I never heard back from them. I think your family’s story is PARTICULARLY interesting in that it’s pretty unique.

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      • Do you mean a library? I am so ignorant about these things. I would think given that almost all of my father’s lines lived in Philadelphia, that Philly or PA might be interested in the story as it tells the story of PA Jewish immigrants from 1840 onwards. But I’d have no clue how to get them to put anything I’ve done in an archive.

        I am curious why you think my family is more interesting than any other. Don’t we all have stories of survival, assimilation, heartbreak, succes and failure? I am flattered, but think mine is just representative of many if not most families.

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      • I think that what you have been able to pull together for that time period for a Jewish family is pretty unusual. I even took a class when I was a history grad student 1,000 years ago where I focused on Jewish and local Jewish history and archiving and what you have found is truly amazing. Plus many of your ancestors in this country predate the major Jewish immigration period. An archives is separate from a library, although it can be part of a library. Archivists have very specialized training in old documents, photographs, etc. They are responsible for caretaking these things, sometimes for a library and sometimes for an “archive.”

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      • That’s so interesting—I do not have that perspective so did not think I was doing or finding anything unusual. I knew my ancestors came with the first wave of Jewish immigration, but did not think that there wasn’t much out there about them. Thanks for explaining.

        Also, thanks for the explanation about archives. I wonder if Gratz College in Philadelphia would have any interest in my research. Maybe it’s worth contacting them. Thanks for making me think about this. I tend to think very narrowly about this work, so it’s good to hear a broader perspective!

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