In my post about the descendants of Mary Seligman, the youngest child of Marx Seligman, I wrote that I was hoping to be in touch with one of Mary’s descendants to learn more about what happened to some members of the family. Specifically, I was trying to connect with Bob Cohn, who is the son of Harold Cohn and Teddi Kremenko (sometimes called Tillie, sometimes Theodora). Harold Cohn was the son of Joseph Cohn and Rose Kornfeld. Rose was Mary Seligman’s daughter with her husband Oscar Kornfeld. Here’s a chart showing how Bob and my father are related as fourth cousins, making him my fourth cousin once removed.
After jumping through a number of hoops, I finally reached Bob after emailing someone at the public relations firm he founded in Atlanta forty-five years ago, Cohn & Wolfe. Although Bob has retired, the man I contacted at the firm immediately emailed Bob, and within minutes Bob and I had exchanged emails. It’s a long story as to how I figured out that the Bob Cohn at Cohn & Wolfe was the right Bob Cohn. I won’t describe all my crazy sleuthing on this one!
Anyway, Bob is himself a family historian and has generously shared with me a great deal of information and a wonderful collection of photographs. He, however, did not know very much about his grandmother Rose or her family, so he was delighted to learn what I had discovered about Rose and her Seligman(n) family roots. By sharing what we each knew, we each were able to fill in some of the gaps that we each had in our research.
For example, I had been unable to find Rose and Joseph on any record after the 1930 US census. At that time they were living on West 90th Street in New York, and after years in the printing business, Joseph had become an investor in the securities business. Obviously that was unfortunate timing because, as Bob told me, Joseph lost a great deal of money in the 1929 stock market crash and the ensuing Depression.
Bob also told me that he had no memory of his grandmother Rose. Since I knew Bob was born in 1934, I assumed that Rose might have died sometime between 1930 and 1940 if he had no memory of her. Although a death record had not shown up in my initial search, this time I was able to find it. Rose had died on June 24, 1930, shortly after the 1930 census. She was 52 years old and died from a cerebral hemorrhage caused by hypertension.
Since I had not found Joseph on the 1940 census or elsewhere after the 1930 census, I was hoping Bob would know when he died or where he lived. Bob believes that Joseph died in a nursing home in New Rochelle sometime in the late 1950s. Those death records are not publicly available, however, except to close family, so I don’t have any record of Joseph’s death. But knowing that he was a widow after 1930 led me to search again for him on other records. I still, however, ran into some trouble. On the 1940 US census, I found a Joseph Cohen (with the E), a widower of the right age, living in Newark, New Jersey, working as a storekeeper in a restaurant. (You will have to click on the images below to see them more clearly.)
Bob has no memory of his grandfather living in New Jersey. The man on this census record was living with a woman, Mary Miller, listed (I think) as “occupant,” working as a laundryman (?) in a hospital. Although the enumerator wrote that Joseph was living in the same place in 1935, he also wrote that he was living in Matthen (??), New York, in 1935. Maybe that’s Manhattan? The same page has lots of other strange entries. I think perhaps this enumerator was not very careful.
So why would I think that this is Joseph Cohn, Bob’s grandfather? Because I also found a World War II draft registration that shows that Joseph Cohn was living in Newark, New Jersey, in 1942. This is definitely the right Joseph Cohn; he lists his closest relative as Harold Cohn of East 9th Street in Brooklyn, which is where Bob and his parents and brother Paul were living in 1942. On the draft registration, Joseph was living on Court Street in Newark. The Joseph Cohen on the 1940 census was living on Bergen Street in Newark, less than two miles away. Joseph was working for L. Loeb in Newark in 1942 at 317 Mulberry Street in Newark.
I decided to search Newark directories for 317 Mulberry Street to see if I could find out what Joseph was doing in Newark. I did not find Joseph in the 1942 Newark directory, but at 317 Mulberry Street in 1942 I did find a listing for a butcher named Samuel Cohn. Bob had told me that his grandfather Joseph had had a brother Samuel, but he had not been able to learn what had happened to his great-uncle. When I saw the name and the same address that appeared on Joseph’s draft registration, I assumed that this had to be Joseph’s brother Samuel. I searched further in the Newark directories and found that in 1934 Sam Cohn was located on Bergen Street, where Joseph CohEn was living in 1940, according to the 1940 census. In 1941, Sam was located at 69 Court Street; Joseph was living at 59 Court Street in 1942. I was quite certain now that Joseph had moved to Newark after his wife Rose died in order to be closer to his brother Samuel.
That made me curious to know more about Samuel, the great-uncle Bob had not been able to locate. Knowing now that he was a butcher, I was able to find him living in New York City in 1940 on the US census; he was living with his wife Minerva and adult son Phillip as well as two boarders. The census indicated that he had been living in Newark in 1935 and that he was a butcher. Now knowing his wife and son’s names, I found Samuel on the 1910 and 1920 census (but not the 1930), working as a butcher and living with his wife Minerva (or Minnie) and his son Phillip in the Bronx.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any records for Joseph or Samuel Cohn after 1942. All I know is what Bob told me—that Joseph lived until sometime in the 1950s and was living at a nursing home in New Rochelle when he died.
Harold and Teddi
When I first wrote about Bob’s parents, Harold Cohn and Teddi Kremenko, I knew that Harold and Teddi had married in 1928, but then they disappeared for the next sixteen years. I couldn’t find them on either the 1930 or the 1940 census. All I knew was that Harold had died of coronary thrombosis at the age of 39 in 1944. I didn’t know what he had done for a living, I didn’t know what had happened to his wife Teddi, and I didn’t know whether they had had children. Fortunately, one of Teddi’s relatives, a granddaughter of one of her sisters, has a tree on Ancestry.com, and by connecting with her, I learned more and eventually found our mutual cousin, Bob.
I had been unable to find Harold and Teddi on the 1930 census, but one clue from Bob helped me locate a Harold Cohn who seems likely to be the right one. I asked Bob what his father had done for a living, and he told me he’d been in the silk importing business. I’d had no luck looking for a Harold Cohn married to a woman named Teddi, Tillie, or Theodora, but by entering “silk” into the search form, I came up with this Harold Cohn. (You will need to click and zoom to read it.)
Yes, it says his father was born in Germany, whereas Harold’s father Joseph Cohn was born in New York. But his grandfather Philip was born in Germany. Harold’s mother Rose was born in New York, as the census reports. He was a silk distributor, as the census reports. His age is not exactly right, but it’s close, or at least within the range of accuracy that census records generally report. They were living on West 86th Street, the same neighborhood where Harold’s parents were living in 1930. All that certainly supports my assumption that this is the correct Harold Cohn.
But then it says his wife was Fay, not Tillie, Teddi, or Theodora. It says she was born in New York, but Teddi was born in Russia. It says her mother was born in England, but Teddi’s mother was born in Russia. How do I explain these inconsistencies? I can’t. Did the census enumerator talk to a neighbor who knew more about Harold than he or she knew about Teddi? I don’t know, but I still think this is the right Harold. But am I certain? No. What do you think?
The 1940 census is even more problematic. In 1940, Bob turned six, his brother Paul turned three. Bob said that they were living in Brooklyn when he started school at PS 99. But I can’t find them in Brooklyn. Even looking at the census report for everyone living on East 9th Street between Avenues J and K where Bob recalls the family living, I couldn’t find them on the 1940 census.
I only found one possible entry for Harold and Teddi on the 1940 census, and it is even more of a stretch; I have serious doubts about whether these are the right people. I found a Philip Kohn married to Lillie with a four year old son named Michael, living in Queens. Why would I even for a second think this was Harold and Teddi Cohn? Because Philip Kohn was in the silk business. But it says he was born in Russia, not New York. But it also says Lillie (could be Tillie?) was born in New York, not Russia. Had the enumerator switched the birthplaces? And gotten all the names wrong? And forgotten a child? Probably not. Especially since Bob says they never lived in Queens. So the Cohn family remains missing from the 1940 census as far as I can tell.
For the rest of the story, I have the great benefit of Bob’s memories, experiences, and research. I think it best to let him tell his story mostly in his own words.
First, a few pages that Bob wrote about his mother’s family, the Kremenkos.
As for his father’s family, Bob wrote:
The Cohn family history covers three generations. Bob’s father, Harold, was born in New York City and was the only child of Joseph and Rose Cohn. Joseph was also born in New York to Adela and Phillip Cohn in 1876. … Phillip and Adela immigrated to New York in 1866 and married four years later. Adela was from the Alsace Region of France hat sits on the west bank of the Upper Rhine River next to the German border. It is one of France’s principal wine-growing regions. Phillip was born in Baden in July, 1842 and later worked as a banker there.
From the collection of family photographs Bob shared with me, it looks like Harold Cohn and Teddi Kremenko and their sons were living happily up until 1944:
And then, as noted earlier, Harold died unexpectedly. Bob wrote:
When I was 9 years old, I remember my father giving me a nickel on the front porch of our home on East 9th Street between Avenue J and Avenue K. The money was for a Red Cross Fund Drive. My Dad died that day, February 1, 1944, at the age of 39 from a heart attack.
As if that wasn’t tragedy enough for two young boys and their mother, less than two years later, Bob and Paul’s mother Teddi died at age 42 from throat cancer.
My mother, Theodora (Teddi) Cohn died on Oct. 13, 1945, barely a month after World War II ended. For my Oct. 12th birthday Uncle Barney (Kremenko) took me to Yankee Stadium’s press box to watch undefeated Army play a highly ranked Michigan team. Army had two Heisman trophy winners in the backfield—Doc Blanchard and Glen Davis—and four consensus All-Americans. At halftime the score was 14-0 when Uncle Barney got a call to rush home because my mother was dying. We got there before she passed away and she gave me an ID bracelet that was popular in those days. Everyone in the family called me Robert, including my Mom, but she knew I preferred the name Bob. So it was the first time she acknowledged my preference and gave me the sterling silver bracelet with Bob Cohn inscribed on the top. On the reverse side she had inscribed “From Mother, Oct. 12, 1945.
As it turned out Army won 28-7 and it was a historic day in college football.
(According to Wikipedia, “Outmanned by Army, Michigan’s Coach Fritz Crisler unveiled at halftime the first known use of the so-called “two-platoon” system in which separate groups played offense and defense.” Click the link for more on the game.)
Thus, by the time he was eleven, Bob Cohn had lost both his parents; his brother Paul was only eight years old. Where would they go?
There was a family circle meeting to decide who would take my brother Paul and I in. Aunt Diana and Uncle George said they wanted to have us but the others voted against them because they would not be right for young children because they had no experience, having no children of their own. Then Aunt Rose and Uncle Louie put in their bid but they also were turned down. The decision was made by the family for us to live with Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Sol because they had two young children and could best deal with the situation. Aunt Diana understood but over the years spent a lot of her time with the two of us. Ann [a cousin] said she loved us deeply.
Bob pointed out that his Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Sol had two children—Barbara and Morton—who became like siblings to Bob and Paul. Barbara is three years older than Bob, and Morton is seven years younger.
What would happen to these two little boys who lost both their parents so young? Not only did they survive; they both thrived, as we will see in Part II of Bob’s story. That they did is a tribute to the love they had received from Harold and Teddi in their early years and the love they received from the family members who raised them and cared for them after they’d lost their parents.