In my last post about the Schoenthals, I mentioned that Hannah Schoenthal, my great-grandfather Isidore’s oldest sibling, had had a child out of wedlock in 1865, a daughter she named Sara (later spelled Sarah).
I wondered how such a child would be treated under Jewish law and by society at that time. According to Jewish law, a child born to an unmarried couple is not treated any differently for religious or marital purposes than one born to a married couple, unless the mother was married to someone else or there was an incestuous relationship between the parents. Even if the father was not Jewish, the child would still be considered a legitimate member of the Jewish community. Although some sources indicated that there was disapproval by the Jewish community of unwed mothers, other sources said that there was no stigma attached to a child born to a single woman. Sarah’s story indicates that she was fully accepted as part of her mother’s extended family and that there was no stigma.
In 1874, nine years after Sarah was born, her mother Hannah married a man named Solomon Stern with whom she had three children, Jennie, Edith, and Louis, all born between 1875 and 1879.
Solomon died in February, 1888, and Hannah emigrated from Germany that year, settling in Pittsburgh where several other Schoenthal relatives were living. Although I could not find with any certainty a ship manifest for Hannah, at the time of the 1900 census she was living with two of her children, Edith and Louis, in Pittsburgh. Also living with them was Hannah’s 44 year old stepson, Morris Stern. All four said they had arrived in 1888.
As for Jennie, I did find a possible ship manifest dated December 10, 1888, for a sixteen year old named Jenny Stern from Germany; the index on Ancestry said her destination was Pittsburgh, but to be honest, I think that the manifest says that she was destined for New York. Hannah’s daughter would have been only thirteen, not sixteen like the Jenny Stern on the manifest. So I am not convinced this was my Jennie Stern. See the last entry below and the column on the far right indicating the destination.
Thus, when I didn’t see Jennie on the 1900 census with Hannah, Edith, and Louis, I wasn’t sure that she had immigrated with her family, but then I found Jennie’s death certificate:
This was obviously the right Jennie, given her parents’ names, and now I knew that her husband’s name had been Max Arnold and that she also had been living in Pittsburgh. I then found Jennie and Max and their family on the 1900 census:
But what about Hannah’s first child, Sarah? Had she left her illegitimate daughter behind? Had she put her up for adoption after she was born? Or had Sarah died? I had no idea, and I could not find Sarah in any records.
Until I saw that social announcement in the paper about Henry Floersheim’s party for the Schoenthal and Katzenstein families:
Who was Sarah Stern, and what was she doing at this party? The dim lightbulb in my head slowly lit up: Sarah Stern had to be Hannah’s first child, the one she had before marrying Solomon Stern, who must have given her his name when he married Hannah.
But was I right?
The document that helped to answer that question was, surprisingly enough, an entry in the California Death index on Ancestry.com for a Sarah Oestreicher, who died on February 5, 1940, in Los Angeles. How did I know that this was Hannah’s Schoenthal’s daughter Sarah? Because the index said her father’s surname was Stern, her mother’s Schoenthal, and that she had been born January 8, 1867, in a foreign country. Although the birth record I had for Hannah’s daughter Sara recorded her birth date as January 8, 1865, the other facts certainly made it clear to me that Sarah Oestreicher was in fact the daughter of Hannah Schoenthal and that she had just made herself two years younger than she actually was.
Now that I had Sarah’s married name, it was not hard to find other records for her. I found a Sarah Oestreicher living in Pittsburgh on the 1900 census with her husband Gustav Oestreicher and their three children, Sidney (9), Francis (6), and Helen (4). Sarah reported her birthdate as January 1865, her birthplace as Germany, and her arrival date as 1884.
The 1910 and 1930 census reports also gave an 1884 arrival date for Sarah. (The 1920 census said she arrived in 1895, but that is obviously not correct, especially since it says she was naturalized in 1894.) Thus, Sarah had arrived before her stepfather Solomon Stern had died and before her mother Hannah and her half-siblings immigrated in 1888. It thus makes sense that she, a young woman living without her immediate family, would have been invited along with her two uncles, Henry and Isidore Schoenthal, to the party given by Henry Floersheim in 1887. Perhaps she was even living with her uncle Henry at that time in Washington, Pennsylvania, or maybe she was living in Pittsburgh with another relative.
According to the 1900 census record, she and Gustav had been married for ten years, meaning they had married in 1890 or 1889. According to his passport application filed in 1911, Gustav was born in Austria on September 17, 1867, and had arrived in the United States in September, 1884. He had lived in New York and Cincinnati before settling in Pittsburgh. In 1900, he was working as an artist, doing painting and photography, according to the census record for that year.
Sarah and Gustav appear to have been connected to the Pittsburgh Jewish community. In 1907, both Sidney and Helen participated in the Purim festivities held by the sisterhood of the Rodeph Shalom synagogue.
In 1910 Sarah and Gustav and their three children were still living in Pittsburgh, where Gustav was now working as a merchant, apparently having abandoned artistic pursuits. Their two sons, Sidney and Francis, now 18 and 16, respectively, were working as clerks, perhaps in their father’s store.
The oldest Oestreicher child, Sidney, married Esther Siff in 1915. Esther was the daughter of Isaac and Rosa Siff, who were immigrants either from Germany and Austria or from Russia, depending on the census record. Isaac had been a coppersmith, but was working as a traveling salesman in 1920. Esther was born and raised in Chicago. When Sidney registered for the draft in 1918, they were living in Chicago, and he was working as a traveling salesman for a New York based company.
Perhaps Sidney had met Esther’s father during their traveling as salesmen? In 1920 Sidney and Esther were living in Chicago where Sidney was still working as a traveling salesman, selling women’s undergarments. They had two children by then, Gerald (1916) and Florence Betty (1919).
In 1920, Sarah and Gustav were still living in Pittsburgh with their other two children, Francis and Helen, and Gustav was still a retail merchant. Francis was now a salesman; he had served in the US Army during World War I and had participated in the Meuse Argonne offensive in that war, fighting against the country where his mother had been born. As described here, it was the major offensive of US troops during World War I:
The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the greatest American battle of the First World War. In six weeks the AEF lost 26,277 killed and 95,786 wounded. It was a very complex operation involving a majority of the AEF ground forces fighting through rough, hilly terrain the German Army had spent four years fortifying. Its objective was the capture of the railroad hub at Sedan which would break the rail net supporting the German Army in France and Flanders and force the enemy’s withdrawal from the occupied territories.
It’s hard to know what impact this had on Francis, though it’s hard to believe it did not have some major effect on him.
On March 3, 1920, Helen Oestreicher married Robert Steel Kann, the son of Myer Kann and Bertha Friendlander of Pittsburgh. Myer was a Pittsburgh native, the son of a German immigrant father and a Pennsylvania born mother; he had been a steel manufacturer (hence, his son’s middle name) and had died from gall bladder cancer just three months before the wedding. Robert was also working in the steel industry in 1920. Tragically, Robert’s life was cut short less than two years after he married Helen. He died from acute lobar pneumonia when he just 26 years old.Helen remarried sometime between 1925 and 1929. Her second husband was named Aaron Mitchel Siegel. He was born in Barre, Vermont, in 1895, the son of Russian (or Polish, depending on the census) immigrants, Harry and Gertrude Siegel. Harry was a clothing dealer in Vermont in 1900, and the family was still living there in 1910. Sometime thereafter, the family to Brooklyn, where Aaron was living when he registered for the draft for World War I. In 1920 Aaron was selling cotton goods and living with his parents, as he was in 1925 as well. But sometime after that he must have met and married Helen Oestreicher Kann because their daughter Betty was born in about 1929 in New York. I wish I knew the story of how Helen, a young widow from Pittsburgh, met Aaron, a Vermont-born young man living in Brooklyn.
By 1930 Gustav Oestreicher had retired, and he and Sarah had moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Their son Sidney and his family had returned to Pittsburgh by 1930, for Sidney to take over the store once operated by his father. Sidney and Esther’s two children, Gerald and Florence Betty (known as Betty) would both graduate from high school in Pittsburgh during the 1930s. In 1931, Sidney and Esther had another child, Elaine.
The 1930s and the Great Depression were not kind to the Oestreicher’s longstanding Pittsburgh retail store. In the spring of 1933, Sidney Oestreicher filed for bankruptcy on behalf of himself, his brother, and their store, The People’s Store.
During the 1930s, most of the family relocated to Los Angeles. Gustav and Sarah were living there by 1935, according to the 1940 census. Helen and Aaron Siegel also relocated there by 1935, and Aaron was working as salesman for a textile company. Francis Oestreicher also moved to LA by 1942, according to his draft registration for World War II. It appears that Francis was not married, as he listed his sister Helen as his contact person and also indicated that he was living with Helen at that time.
By this time Francis had changed his surname from Oestreicher to Striker; I am not sure whether that was a change done to make it easier to say and spell or to avoid sounding German or Austrian during World War II or to make it seem less Jewish, but it was a change made by his brother Sidney as well.
In 1940, Sidney was still using Oestreicher, and he and his family were still living in Pittsburgh; Sidney was selling ladies’ lingerie. But by 1942, Sidney’s draft registration showed some recent changes. Oestreicher was crossed out and replaced with Striker, the same name being used by his brother Francis. And the Pittsburgh address was crossed out and replaced with an address in the Bronx, though his mailing address and the address for his wife Esther remained the address in Pittsburgh. Perhaps Sidney was working out of New York when he registered for the draft.
Sarah Stern Ostreicher died on February 5, 1940. She was seventy-five years old.
Her husband Gustav died ten years later on December 22, 1950. He was 83. They are both buried in Los Angeles at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.
All three of their children lived very long lives. Sidney died in 1985; he was 94. Francis died at 97 in 1990. Their sister Helen died in 1989; she was 94. As far as I can tell, Sarah and Gustav’s three granddaughters are all still living, and their grandson Gerald lived to 97. Those are some fairly amazing genes for longevity.
Sarah may have started life off with the potential disadvantage of being born out of wedlock, but it certainly appears that her mother, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents fully embraced her as did her stepfather Solomon Stern, whose name she took. She traveled alone to the US as young woman, settled in Pittsburgh near her extended family, and married a fellow immigrant with whom she raised three children, each of whom lived over 90 years. She appears to have had a good life surrounded by lots of loving family.
Sarah and Gustav lived many years in Pittsburgh, where Sarah’s mother Hannah and many of her other family members were living, but she and Gustav ended their lives together in Los Angeles. There is almost something Hollywood-like about their story, so Los Angeles seems quite an appropriate final destination for my cousin Sarah and her husband Gustav.