Finding Rebekka Ruelf: A Genealogy Adventure

The fourth daughter of Gelle Katzenstein and Moses Ruelf was Rebekka. Finding her story was a bit of a challenge.

She was born on November 7, 1865 in Rauischholzhausen.

Rebekkah Ruelf birth record
Geburtsregister der Juden von (Rauisch)Holzhausen (Ebsdorfergrund) 1824-1874 (HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 452)AutorHessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Wiesbaden, p. 14

At first, that was the only information I had about Rebekka, and I feared that she might have died as a child like three of her siblings, including Roschen, who was born on April 25, 1864, and died less than eleven months later on March 3, 1865. That meant that Gelle was recently pregnant with Rebekka when Roschen died, and she gave birth to Rebekka just eight months after losing Roschen. I feared that Rebekka also had died, perhaps because her mother was still grieving Roschen.

But then a marriage record popped up as a hint on Ancestry, and I sighed with relief that Rebekka had in fact grown to adulthood.  She married Jakob David on November 24, 1896, in Roßdorf, Germany, near Rauischholzhausen.

Marriage record of Rebecca Ruelf and Jakob David
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 915; Laufende Nummer: 7965

Jakob was born December 5, 1866, in Röhrenfurth, Germany, son of David David and Bertha Gottschalk. According to the marriage record, Jakob was a merchant in Moringen in the Lower Saxony region of Germany at the time of the marriage.  (Thank you to Doris Strohmenger for translating the marriage record for me.)


And then once again I was stymied. I could not find anything else about Rebekka and Jakob. I could not find anything more on Ancestry, FamilySearch, the LAGIS website, or Arcinsys for the Hesse region, so I turned to JewishGen, and decided to search in all the possibly relevant towns: Rauischholzhausen, Roßdorf, Röhrenfurth, and Moringen.

And JewishGen turned up this result:

Looking at the date of Hugo David’s birth date of September 25, 1897, ten months after Rebekka and Jacob’s wedding, I figured that this was probably their son. Since the record also suggested that Hugo had gone to the US, I searched for Hugo David on Ancestry and FamilySearch and found a lot more information about him.

First, I found his naturalization records. I knew this was the same Hugo David as that identified by JewishGen by his birth date and place.

Hugo David naturalization index card Rhode Island, Indexes to Naturalization Records, 1890-1992 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.
Original data: Indexes to Naturalization Records for the District Court, 1906-1991, and the U.S. Circuit Court, 1906-1991, Rhode Island.

From other naturalization documents I learned that Hugo had lived in Abbazia, Italy, before immigrating to the US, sailing on the Nea Hellas from Portugal to New York in August, 1940.

Hugo David Declaration of Intent
National Archives at Boston; Waltham, Massachusetts; ARC Title: Petitions and Records of Naturalization, 2/1842 – ca. 1991; NAI Number: 3432872; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009; Record Group Number: RG 21

With that information, I searched for their passenger manifest.  I still had no proof that Hugo was in fact the son of Rebekka Ruelf and Jakob David, even though the records did support that assumption. I needed to find something that linked him with Rebekka and Jakob. The passenger manifest helped bridge that gap:

Hugo David and family on ship manifest
Year: 1940; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 6488; Line: 1; Page Number: 153 New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897.

According to the second page of the manifest, Jakob was going to his cousins Meta and Reka [sic] Abraham. Who were they? They were the daughters of Pauline Ruelf, Rebekka Ruelf’s younger sister.

I now was quite confident that Hugo was in fact the child of Rebekka Ruelf and Jakob David. From the records I’d found, I learned that Hugo had married his wife Berta Loeber on June 5, 1926, in Alten-Buseck, Germany, where she was born. The ship manifest said that Hugo was a merchant.

The naturalization papers revealed that by April 18, 1941, Hugo and his family had settled in Providence, Rhode Island. From a number of Providence city directories from 1943 through 1960, I learned that Hugo had worked as a machine operator in Providence for many years.

But I still did not know what had happened to Hugo’s parents Rebekka Ruelf and Jakob David. Had they been killed in the Holocaust? Escaped from Germany? Died before the Nazi era? That question proved to be much harder to answer.  There were no records for them in the US, they were not listed on the Yad Vashem site or on the US Holocaust Memorial and Museum database of survivors and victims, and there were no death records I could find in Germany.

I searched on the internet for information about the Jewish community of Moringen and for information about death records for that town. Andre Gunther from the German Genealogy group also gave me some good suggestions for learning more.  I wrote emails to the town itself and to a Jewish genealogy society for Lower Saxony. Finally, I was able to connect with a man named Dietrich Feldmann, who contacted the Moringen archives and found three relevant documents.

First, he found Hugo’s birth record:

Second, he found a record for a second child born to Rebekka Ruelf and Jakob David, a baby girl who was stillborn on January 4, 1900:

It says in part, “It appears the merchant Jakob David, resident in Moringen, and notified that by Rebecka nee Rülf, his wife, of mosaic religion, was born in his flat … a stillborn girl.”

And third and most importantly, he located Rebekka Ruelf David’s death record. She had died on September 16, 1929. At least I had closure on Rebekka.

But Herr Feldmann had not been able to find a death record for Rebekka’s husband Jakob David.

Doris Strohmenger, who’d helped me translate Rebekka and Jakob’s marriage record, also helped me try and find more about Rebekka and Jakob and their son Hugo. She found a website about Moringen that included a page on the former Jewish community in Moringen. On that page was a bit of information about the David family. It reported that Hugo David had until 1936/1937 been the owner of a textile business in Moringen, a business he had taken over from his father, and that Hugo and his family had emigrated by 1938. There was also a photograph of the David family’s former home.

Although I still don’t have any information about when or where Jakob David died, there is circumstantial evidence that he died before Rebekka, as Hugo was the one who attested to his mother’s death. Also, I think I can infer from the fact that Hugo had been in charge of the family business until 1936/1937 that his father had passed away before that time.

Hugo David died at age 85 on June 25, 1983, in Warwick, Rhode Island, about six weeks after his wife Berta. She was 79.  They are buried at Sinai Memorial Park in Warwick. Hugo’s obituary named his parents as “the late Jacob and Sarah (Rulf) David.” (Providence Journal”, Rhode Island, ( : accessed 10 September 2017)

“Sarah” was obviously a mistake. It’s interesting that whoever supplied this information for the obituary knew Rebekka Ruelf’s birth surname, but not her first name. I would assume this was Hugo’s daughter, who was born a year before her grandmother Rebekka died and whom she thus never really knew.

Perhaps if I can locate Rebekka’s descendants I will learn what happened to her husband, Jakob David.


28 thoughts on “Finding Rebekka Ruelf: A Genealogy Adventure

    • Thanks, Sharon! The overseas records are a challenge, especially if you don’t know the languages (which except for some limited German, I don’t). But it does open up lots of new doors!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I loved reading step by step research of Rebekkah and her family, Amy.
    It’s so rewarding when you run the gamut of researching a person for an assumed relationship and it turns out to be right.
    Those hints, when used correctly, can be the key to opening doors in brick walls. I had to add that since open, doors, key were mentioned in the comments. 😃

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Amy. I love it when the research path takes lots of twists – those are the journeys that teach us the most as genealogists. I hope someone will be able to tell you more about Jakob. I felt especially sad for Rebekka that her only daughter was stillborn.

    I’ve been trying to find the rest of the story on two of my aunts (about 6 generations back). So far, no luck. But the effort has added a whole lot of children for two of their nephews. One had 22+ children with his one and only wife. Both nephews lost so many babies at birth. There is one stretch with about 5 babies in row dying at birth. It’s impossible to tell if they were stillborn or died immediately after birth. In the Catholic records in Québec they use two different words for a child in these circumstances – Anonymé as the name, meaning unnamed, and Ondoyé meaning that an emergency baptism was performed by someone attending the birth because the child was in imminent danger of death. The trouble with that is that never, not once, have I seen an entry that includes a word meaning stillborn. I think stillborn babies fell under one of these two groups. I can’t imagine losing baby after baby like that. So heartbreaking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am in touch with Jakob’s granddaughter and great-grandson, so there will be more to report!

      Wouldn’t the unnamed babies likely have been stillborn and those born alive and baptized not stillborn? It is mindboggling first to imagine 22+ children. And no matter how many you have, losing each one must have been heartbreaking.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m so glad! I look forward to reading more.

        The two phrases are used in various combinations. Sometimes Anonymé is listed with the surname in the margin, but then it’s an Ondoyé baptism and burial, and then sometimes it’s just one or the other. Everything I have read online indicates that the only real proof that a child might have been stillborn is if there is a burial record but not a baptism record. But with the numbers of Anonymé and Ondoyé baptisms, and almost no burial records without a baptism record (in my family), I have a feeling that many of those children were stillborn. If I understand the religious teachings of the Catholic church at that time, an unbaptized individual was confined to hell/purgatory. I wonder if many of the Ondoyé entries were stillborn children that a loved one gave an emergency baptism to prior to the burial.

        And I agree, 22+ children is very difficult to imagine. Being pregnant that often and for that much of your adult life sounds like torture to me.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I loved being pregnant and was lucky that both times were easy and healthy, but twenty-two times?? Yikes.

        That’s really interesting about the two terms. Is it possible that stillborn children, since never alive, were just not buried or baptised? Traditional Jewish practice treated stillbirths somewhat like that, though today there is more recognition of the need for parents to mourn in more liberal practices. But I don’t know what other religions do. See this:

        Liked by 1 person

      • You were lucky! My pregnancies were really hard. Total bedrest with the first two, including some bedrest in the hospital. Lots of restrictions with the last one – almost like bedrest. Two of my three children were early and spent time in the NICU. But you are correct, even with easy pregnancies, 22 would be a lot!

        That is a really good question. I don’t know. I’ll have to look into that possibility. I suppose I hadn’t considered that because most families had their children so close together that there usually aren’t gaps that could be attributed to stillborn children. I’ll have to spend some time looking into that.

        Mourning is so important. Thank you for the fascinating link! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I was lucky! I even thought (for a brief moment) about being a surrogate, but then came to my senses.

        Let me know what you learn about how Catholics and/or Protestants treated stillbirths!


  3. Pingback: The Search for Jakob David: A New Story Discovered | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

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