Another Small World Story, Another Twist in the Family Tree

In my last post I described my discovery that Rose Mansbach Schoenthal was not only related to me by her marriage to Simon Schoenthal, the brother of my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal, but that she was also related by marriage to my other great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein through her Mansbach cousins.   This post is about another discovery of a strange twist in my family tree, but this one involving two living cousins.

Last week I received a comment on an old blog post about Elizabeth Cohen, who was the sister of my other great-grandfather, Emanuel Cohen.  The man who left the comment on my blog, Joel Goldwein, is the great-grandson, through his mother’s side, of Elizabeth Cohen.  He is thus my third cousin.  I was, of course, delighted to make this connection, and I emailed Joel to learn more about him and our mutual family.

In the course of the exchange of emails, Joel shared information not only about his mother’s family, but also about his father, Manfred (Fred) Goldwein, who had escaped from Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport to England.  His father’s parents and other family members, however, were murdered by the Nazis.  Joel sent me a link to a website about his son’s bar mitzvah in Korbach, Germany, the town where his father was born and had lived until he left Germany.  I was very moved by the idea that Joel’s family had returned to this town to honor the memory of his father’s family.

I mentioned that I was going to be in Germany, not far from Korbach, because I had Hamberg ancestors from Breuna.  Joel then mentioned that his paternal great-grandparents are buried in Breuna and that he had visited the cemetery there.  He sent me a link to his photographs of the cemetery, and I looked through them in search of anyone named Hamberg.

Imagine my surprise to find this photograph:

Courtesy of Joel Goldwein

Baruch Hamberg was the second cousin of my great-great-grandmother, Henrietta Hamberg Schoenthal.  More importantly, he was the great-grandfather of my fifth cousin, Rob Meyer.

Some of you may remember the story of Rob.  He and I connected through JewishGen’s Family Finder tool about a year and a half ago, and we learned that not only did Rob live about a mile from where I had once lived in Arlington, Massachusetts, we also had very good mutual friends.  It was one of those true goosebump moments in my genealogy research, standing in a cemetery in Longmeadow and talking to Rob as we realized that we both had the same close friends.

Rob’s mother had, like Joel’s father, escaped from Nazi Germany, and she also, like Joel’s father, had lost most of the rest of her family in the Holocaust. I sent the headstone photograph to Rob, and I asked whether he might be related to Joel.  Rob answered, suggesting that perhaps he was related to Joel not through Baruch Hamberg, but through Baruch’s mother, Breinchen Goldwein.  A little more digging around revealed that in fact Joel was related to Breinchen: her brother Marcus Goldwein was Joel’s paternal great-grandfather.

Thus, Joel and Rob are third cousins, once removed, through Rob’s mother’s side and Joel’s father side. And although they did not know of each other at all, Joel also had a photograph of the street in Breuna named in memory of Rob’s aunt:

Courtesy of Joel Goldwein

.

It gave me great pleasure to introduce Rob and Joel to each other, who soon discovered that not only are they third cousins through their Goldwein family line, they are also both doctors and both graduates of the same medical school.

And they are both my cousins, Rob through his mother’s Hamberg side and Joel through his mother’s Cohen side.

There truly are only six degrees of separation.

My Great-Grandmother Hilda

I have now written about all of the siblings of my great-grandmother, Hilda Katzenstein Schoenthal, as well as about her parents and some of her aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I still have more of the Katzenstein extended family to discuss, but first I want to look back at the life of my great-grandmother.  Her story has been covered only in bits and pieces through the stories of her husband and children and through the stories of her parents and siblings.  Isn’t that all too often the case with women—that their stories are seen only through the stories of those who surrounded them? Especially since this is Women’s History Month, I wanted to be sure to give my great-grandmother her own page, her own story.

Hilda Katzenstein Schoenthal

Hilda Katzenstein Schoenthal, my great-grandmother

Hilda was the third daughter and sixth and youngest child of her parents, Gerson Katzenstein and Eva Goldschmidt.  She was the third of the six to be born in the United States—in Philadelphia on August 17, 1863.

When Hilda was three years old, her sibling closest in age, Hannah, died at age seven from scarlet fever. Hilda was seven years younger than her brother Perry, who was the second closest to her in age, and so there was a big gap between Hilda and her surviving older siblings. Joe was fifteen years older, Jacob thirteen years older, and Brendena was ten years older than Hilda. My great-grandmother was the baby of the family, and I would imagine that after losing their daughter Hannah, her parents must have been very protective of her.

gerson-katzenstein-1870-census-1

Gerson Katzenstein and family 1870 census, Year: 1870; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 16 Dist 48 (2nd Enum), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1429; Page: 708B; Image: 96949; Family History Library Film: 552928

Her sister Brendena married Jacob Schlesinger in 1871 when Hilda was just eight years old. By the time Hilda was ten years old in 1873, her oldest brother Joe had moved to Washington, Pennsylvania, and within a few years after that her other two brothers, Jacob and Perry, had also moved to western Pennsylvania.  Thus, Hilda was still quite young when her older siblings left home, leaving her to live with just her parents.

Year: 1880; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1173; Family History Film: 1255173; Page: 274B; Enumeration District: 219; Image: 0561

Katzenstein family Year: 1880; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1173; Family History Film: 1255173; Page: 274B; Enumeration District: 219; Image: 0561

But her brother Joe’s move to Washington, Pennsylvania proved fateful for Hilda and for my family as it was there that she met her future husband, my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal, who had only arrived in the US a few years earlier from Sielen, Germany.

The Daily Republican
(Monongahela, Pennsylvania)
11 Aug 1887, Thu • Page 4

Hilda married him in 1888 when she was 25 years old and settled with him in Little Washington where he was a china dealer.  Their first son, Lester, was born that same year.

Isidore Schoenthal

Isidore Schoenthal

Then a series of tragic events hit the Katzenstein family. In the spring 1889, Hilda’s brother Jacob lost his wife Ella and both of his sons, one before the Johnstown flood and two as a result of the flood. The following year, my great-grandfather Gerson died at age 75.  Hilda named her second child for her father; Gerson Katzenstein Schoenthal was born on January 20, 1892. A year later Hilda lost her mother, Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein, on September 6, 1893; she was 66.

Hilda did not have another child until August, 1901, when my great-uncle Harold was born—more than nine years after Gerson.  Just a few months after Harold’s birth, Hilda’s brother Joe died in December, 1901; just over a year and a half later, her brother Perry died in August, 1903.  Hilda was forty years old and had lost her parents and three of her five siblings.  Only Jacob and Brendena remained.

In March, 1904, my great-grandmother Hilda gave birth to her last child and only daughter, my grandmother Eva Schoenthal, named for Hilda’s mother Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein.

eva-schoenthal-cohen-watermarked

My grandmother, Eva Schoenthal

When my grandmother was just a small child, her parents decided to leave Washington, Pennsylvania, and move to Denver, Colorado, believing that the mountain air would be better for their son Gerson, who had developed asthma.

Thus, Hilda packed up her children and belongings and moved far away from her two remaining siblings: Brendena, who was living with her husband Jacob and family in Philadelphia, and Jacob, who by that time had remarried and was living with his second wife Bertha and their children in Johnstown.  I don’t believe Hilda or Isidore knew anyone in Denver, but somehow they started their lives over in this city far from their families back east.

They remained in Denver for at least twenty years, raising my grandmother and my great-uncles. During the many years that Hilda lived in Denver, her brother Jacob died, and her sister Brendena lost her husband as well as both of her daughters.  It must have been hard to live so far away from all of her family during those painful times.

Isidore, Hilda (Katzenstein), and Eva Schoenthal

Isidore, Hilda (Katzenstein), and Eva Schoenthal in Denver

After many years in Denver, Hilda and Isidore moved back east. Their son Harold had gone back east for college, and my grandmother had moved to Philadelphia after she married my grandfather, John Nusbaum Cohen, in 1923.  She had met him when, after graduating from high school, she’d gone to visit relatives in Philadelphia, probably Brendena’s family.

My father and aunt were born in the 1920s, and they were my great-grandparents’ only grandchildren at that time.  I assume that they were part of the reason that by 1930, my great-grandparents returned to the east and settled in Montclair, New Jersey, where their son Harold lived and not far from my grandmother and my aunt and father.

HIlda (Katzenstein) Schoenthal, Eva (Schoenthal) Cohen, Eva HIlda Cohen, and Harold Schoenthal

HIlda (Katzenstein) Schoenthal, Eva (Schoenthal) Cohen, Eva Hilda Cohen, and Harold Schoenthal

Hilda and Isidore lived in Montclair until 1941 when they moved to Philadelphia so that my grandmother could take care of them, both being elderly and in poor health by that time. Hilda died from pneumonia  on August 17, 1941, just seven months after the move to Philadelphia; she died on her 78th birthday. Her husband Isidore died eleven months later on July 10, 1942.  They were buried at Restland Memorial Park in East Hanover, New Jersey.

Looking back over my great-grandmother’s life, I have several thoughts.  Although she was the baby of the family, she was also the only one who ventured far from where her family lived.  Her brothers left Philadelphia, but never left Pennsylvania; her sister lived in Philadelphia for her entire life after arriving as a child from Germany. Hilda moved across the state to marry Isidore Schoenthal, and Hilda was the only Katzenstein sibling to leave the east, moving with her husband and four children all the way to Colorado.

Her life was also marked by many losses, some quite tragic: a sister died as a young child, her parents died before Hilda was thirty years old, and two of her brothers died before Hilda was forty.  Several nieces and nephews also died prematurely.  Her brother Jacob also predeceased her; she was 52 when he died. So many losses must have had an effect on her perspective on life.

On the other hand, she had a long marriage and four children who grew to adulthood.  She lived to see two of her grandchildren, my father and aunt, grow to be teenagers. My father remembers her as a loving, affectionate, and sweet woman; she loved to cook, and when for a period of time he lived near her in Montclair, she would make lunch for him on school days.

Hilda saw more of America than her parents and siblings, and she lived longer than any of them except for her sister Brendena, who survived her. She endured many losses in her life, but the love she received from her family must have outweighed all that sadness, for my father recalls her as a very loving and positive woman.

Fallen Leaves

I admit that I have been putting off this blog post.  Because it makes me sad.  One of the great gifts I’ve experienced in doing genealogy is learning about and sometimes having conversations with older people whose memories and lives can teach us so much.  The downside of that is that I am catching them in the final chapter in the lives.

In the past year or so, four of my parents’ first cousins have passed away.  I already wrote about my mother’s first cousin, Murray Leonard, born Goldschlager, son of my grandfather’s brother David Goldschlager.  You can see my tribute to Murray here, in case you missed it.

Murray Leonard older

Murray Leonard

Murray Leonard

David and Murray Goldschlager

David and Murray Goldschlager

Two of my mother’s other Goldschlager-side first cousins also died in the last year: Frieda Feuerstein Albert and Estelle Feuerstein Kenner, who were sisters and the daughters of Betty Goldschlager, my grandfather’s sister, and her husband Isidor Feuerstein.

Frieda died on July 30, 2015; she was 93. Frieda was born in New York on April 21, 1922. She married Abram Albert in 1943, and in 1957, they moved with their children to Arizona, where Abram opened a bedspread and drapery store in Phoenix. He died in 1991, and Frieda continued to live in Phoenix until her death last summer.

Frieda and Abe

Frieda and Abe

Frieda and Abe Albert at their wedding in 1943

Frieda and Abe Albert at their wedding in 1943

 

Her younger sister Estelle died almost three months ago on May 16, 2016.  She was 86 years old and had been living in Florida for many years.  She was born May 15, 1929.

 

courtesy of Barry Kenner

courtesy of Barry Kenner

Estelle

Estelle

Estelle Feuerstein, Betty's daughter

Estelle Feuerstein, Betty’s daughter

Estelle and Frieda each had three children who survive them—six second cousins I’d never known about until I started doing genealogy research.

I never had a chance to speak to either Frieda or Estelle, but have been in touch with some of their children.  My mother recalls Frieda and Estelle very well, although she had not seen them for many, many years.  She remembers them as beautiful young girls coming to visit her family in Brooklyn when they were living out on Long Island.

The other cousin who died in the past year was my father’s first cousin, Marjorie Cohen.  I wrote about my wonderful conversations with Marjorie here.  She died on July 6, 2015, but I did not learn about it until quite recently.  She was just a few months shy of 90 when she died, and she was living in Ventnor, New Jersey, near Atlantic City, where she had lived for almost all of her adult life after growing up in Philadelphia.  She was born on October 15, 1925, the daughter of Bessie Craig and Stanley Cohen, my grandfather’s brother.

Arthur Seligman, Marjorie, and Eva May Cohen, 1932 Atlantic City

Arthur Seligman, Marjorie, and Eva May Cohen, 1932 Atlantic City

Marjorie Cohen with Pete-page-001 Marjorie model 2-page-001

According to her obituary,

She was a graduate of the Sacred Heart School in Philadelphia and Trinity College in Washington, DC. For 33 years she served as the Director of the AAA Mid-Atlantic Travel Agency in Northfield. During her time with AAA she escorted both cruises and tours throughout the world. In 1978, she was the recipient of the Contemporary Woman of the Year Award for outstanding community involvement by McDonald’s Restaurant and radio station WAYV. Upon retirement she became actively involved in volunteer work with the Atlantic City Medical Center, RNS Cancer and Heart Organization, the LPGA Annual Golf Tournament and served as a Hostess with the Miss America Pageant for a number of years. Throughout her life, she had a deep and abiding love for all animals and was a generous supporter of the Humane Society.  (Press of Atlantic City, July 9, 2015.)

I am so grateful that I had the chance to talk to Marjorie, and I am filled with regret that I never was able to get to Atlantic City to meet with her as I had hoped.

These losses remind me once again how important it is to find my extended family members, especially those whose memories run back the longest.  I wish I had had the chance to meet all of these cousins, and now it is too late.

 

 

Part II: The Benefits of Teamwork

So who was Frederick Selinger, and how did he fit into the family? And who was Fanny Selinger’s mother?

In Part I, I described the research I had done first with Val Collinson in 2014 and then separately with Shirley Allen during the summer and fall of 2015 to try and find the connections between all our various Selinger relatives. Through that research we had established with a fair degree of certainty that Julius and Alfred Selinger, who married two of my Cohen cousins, sisters Augusta and Fanny, were themselves brothers, the sons of Seligmann Selinger and Breinle Hofstadter. We had also established that Helena Selinger Auerbach, who had been Val’s great-grandmother, was a first cousin to Julius and Alfred and the daughter of Abraham Selinger and Rosalia Wilhelmsdorfer.

Relationship_ Julius Selinger to Helena Selinger

We also had established that Fanny Selinger Rosenthal, Shirley’s grandmother, was also a daughter of Abraham Selinger, but Shirley and I had not found any document that revealed whether her grandmother Fanny was a full or half sister to Helena and the other children of Abraham Selinger; we had not found her mother’s name or where she was born.

And I still didn’t know how Frederick Selinger fit into the question.

We also knew that Abraham Selinger had immigrated to England by 1871 because he appeared on the 1871 UK census with a second wife, Gali, along with several children: Sigfried, Helena, Cornelia, and Oscar.  By 1881, Abraham had died, and his widow Gali was living with some different children: Morris, Flora, and Sidney, plus Oscar.  Aside from Helena, who were all these children, and where were they born?  I had no birth records for Cornelia, Morris, Flora, Sidney, or Oscar.

So by late November, we had many answers, but many questions remained.

Fast forward again to January 13, when I again heard from Shirley.  She had received a copy of the marriage authorization for Fanny Selinger and Jacob Rosenthal from the Chief Rabbi in London.  It confirmed that Fanny was the daughter of Abraham and that she was born in Hurben, but did not reveal her mother’s name.  Although we did not have any new information, the new communication inspired us to try again to get answers to our primary questions: Who was Fanny Selinger’s mother?  And how did Frederick Selinger fit into the family, if at all?

Fanny Selinger Rosenthal and her husband Jacob Rosenthal and children Gladys, Daniel, and Alfred Courtesy of Shirley Allen

Fanny Selinger Rosenthal and her husband Jacob Rosenthal and children Gladys, Daniel, and Alfred
Courtesy of Shirley Allen

After reviewing everything we had, I decided to post on the German Genealogy group on Facebook for information about records in Ansbach , where Oskar Selinger had claimed to be born on his UK naturalization record.  Although I was unable to find Ansbach birth records for the appropriate years, my friend Matthias did find two websites with information about Abraham Selinger in Ansbach: one, a website listing past and present tobacco businesses in Germany; Abraham Selinger was listed as the manager of Equity and cigar-tobacco factory in Ansbach from 1862 until 1871. Thus, it made sense that Oscar Selinger was born in Ansbach.

The second website was even more revealing.  It was an Ansbach police report from 1870 reporting the arrest on May 31, 1870 of Abraham Selinger from Hurben, manager of a cigar factory,  for fraud.  Perhaps that is why 1871 was both the last date he had the cigar business in Ansbach as well as the first year he appeared on UK records.

But it also meant that the children I believed had been born to Abraham in the 1850s—Frederick, Fanny, Morris, Flora, and Sidney—were probably not born in Ansbach if Abraham’s business there didn’t start until 1862.  So where were they born?  Shirley continued to contact various offices in Germany, and I tried to think of new paths for research.

And then I had the best idea I’d had yet.  While doing all this work with Shirley in 2015, I had somehow forgotten about my correspondence with Val Collinson back in 2014.  Maybe Val had made some new discoveries or would have some new ideas.  I wrote to Val on January 22, 2016, and now we had three heads working on the mysterious Selingers.

Filament Productions

Filament Productions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The emails started flying back and forth among the three of us, and it became clear fairly quickly that Val and Shirley had some relatives in common, that is, relatives they both had met or at least had heard of.  I just sat back, enjoying the fact that I had brought these two cousins together.  They both were descendants of Abraham Selinger:  Shirley through his daughter Fanny, Val through his daughter Helena.  We weren’t yet sure whether Helena and Fanny were full or half-sisters, but in any event Shirley and Val, who’d never heard of each other before and who live about 60-100 miles apart in the UK, are third cousins.  I was thrilled that I’d brought these two wonderful family researchers and cousins together.

Shirley and Val both had lots of information about the marriages and descendants of some of the other Selinger siblings and also some wonderful photographs, but neither had any information about Frederick and neither was sure as to the identity of the mother or birthplaces of Fanny, Cornelia, Morris, Flora, or Sidney.

And then on January 29, 2016, the walls started tumbling down.  Val found this on Ancestry:

JPF Ludwigshafen page

Ludwigshafen?? Where was that? It’s a town very close to Mannheim.  Could be this OUR Fanny? Val asked me to follow up because I have the broadest Ancestry subscription (All Access), and I was able to pull up a scan of the actual record.  And not only did I find birth records for Fanny, I found them for three other children, all born to Abraham Selinger and Rosalia Wilhelmsdorfer, his first wife.

The four children born in Ludwigshafen were:  Babetta, born in 1853, died in 1854; Flora, born in 1855 (later Flora Wallach); Fanny, born December 5, 1856; and  Sigmund (later Sidney) born in 1858.  We finally had a birth record for Fanny, and we knew now that she was in fact a full sister to Helena as they were both the daughters of Abraham Selinger and Rosalia Wilhelmsdoerfer.  Val and Shirley were officially third cousins.

 

Fanny Selinger birth record from Ludwigshafen Ancestry.com. Ludwigshafen, Germany, Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1798-1875 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Ludwigshafen Zivilstandsregister, 1798-1875. Stadtarchiv Ludwigshafen, Ludwigshafen, Deutschland.

Fanny Selinger birth record from Ludwigshafen
Ancestry.com. Ludwigshafen, Germany, Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1798-1875 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Original data: Ludwigshafen Zivilstandsregister, 1798-1875. Stadtarchiv Ludwigshafen, Ludwigshafen, Deutschland.

So that left three children whose birthplaces were still unknown: Morris, Cornelia, and, of course, Frederick.  Since Morris and Cornelia were both born before 1862 when the Selinger family arrived in Ansbach and after 1848 when the family had moved to Mannheim, I assumed that they were probably born in Mannheim.  The 1881 census recorded Cornelia’s age as 18, two years younger than Helena, whom they reported as twenty. But even English census records are unreliable.  Helena would have been turning 22 that year; maybe Cornelia was really 19 or 20 and thus born in 1850 or 1851.  The 1881 census said Morris was 28; he was probably born in 1852 since Babetta, the child who died in 1854, was born in 1853, in Ansbach.  Cornelia and Morris would also probably have been the children of Abraham and Rosalia since there were four children born to that couple even after Cornelia and Morris were born.

So I went back to the Mannheim records because my initial search had been only for the years between 1853 to 1859; now I searched the set of records before it, dating from 1842 to 1852.  And there they were, birth records for Cornelia (1850) and Morris (1852).  And Helena (1849).  All three were the children of Abraham Selinger and Rosalia Wilhelmdoerfer.

landesarchiv_baden-wuerttemberg_generallandesarchiv_karlsruhe_390_nr-_2862_bild_147_4-1229196-147 Birth record for Helena Selinger from Hurben

landesarchiv_baden-wuerttemberg_generallandesarchiv_karlsruhe_390_nr-_2862_bild_147_4-1229196-147
Birth record for Helena Selinger from Mannheim (center, left page)

 

So there are two birth records for Helena, one in Hurben, one in Mannheim.  Go figure.

Meanwhile, Val found yet another document:

Abraham Selinger - Ansbach, Germany JPG

(I cannot understand why neither the Ludwigshafen nor the Ansbach registers showed up for me when I searched.  Val has a magic touch with the search engine logic that I don’t have.)

I then retrieved the image of the actual document:

Abraham Selinger Lutheran register Ansbach

 

Abraham Selinger family in Ansbach Ancestry.com. Ansbach, Germany, Lutheran Parish Register Extracts, 1550-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Ansbach Lutheran Parish Register Extracts. Digital images Tobias Brenner Collection.

Abraham Selinger family in Ansbach
Ancestry.com. Ansbach, Germany, Lutheran Parish Register Extracts, 1550-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Original data: Ansbach Lutheran Parish Register Extracts. Digital images Tobias Brenner Collection.

This document revealed two more things: that Gali’s birth name was Kohn and that she and Abraham had had another child before Oskar, Isidor, who died when he was an infant. So now I had a record confirming that Oscar was born in Ansbach and that his mother was Gali Kohn, not Rosalia Wilhelmsdoerfer.

Shirley, Val, and I had pretty much closed the circle on the children of Abraham Selinger.  But despite all our efforts, we still had not found one record for Frederick Selinger.  If he was born in 1856 as his passport application and his death certificate indicated, he should have been included with those children born in Ansbach.  He would have been born around the time of Flora or Fanny, maybe even a twin of one of them.  But he wasn’t there. And he wasn’t in the Mannheim records or the Hurben records.

So something did not make sense.  Frederick was not the child of Abraham Selinger with either of his wives.  I was convinced of it now.  So who was he? What was I missing?

 

P question

P question (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

This is the part of the story where I just want to kick myself.  I went back once again to the Hurben birth records and looked more closely at the children born to Seligman Selinger.  There were nineteen of them.  NINETEEN.  Nine were born to Seligman and his first wife between 1835 and 1844.  They all were born too early to be Frederick.  Ten children were born to Seligman Selinger and his second wife, Breinle Hofstadter, between 1849 and 1866.  There were five girls and five boys from that second marriage.  The five boys were Heinrich (1852), Julius (1853), Sigfried (1855), Hugo (1860), and Alfred (1866).  Julius and Alfred were the two who had married my Cohen cousins Augusta and Fanny.  That left Heinrich, Sigfried, and Hugo. Could any of them be Frederick?

Sigfried.  Hmm, I thought.  That could have become Frederick, maybe?? But he was born December 29, 1855, and Frederick was born in December 1856, according to his US death certificate and his US passport application.  So what, I thought? People lie! He made himself a year younger. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that Sigfried was Frederick.  The disparity in the dates in December for his birthday (the death certificate said December 27, the passport application December 21) didn’t bother me either.  Jews in Europe might not have known their birthday on a Gregorian calendar, only a Jewish calendar.  Frederick might have just known that his birthday was close to Hanukkah and nothing more precise than that.

I went back to Ancestry to look at the records I had for Frederick.  The earliest two—his 1880 marriage record and the 1880 census—list him as Fred, not Frederick.  Fred could be a shortened version of Sigfried, couldn’t it?  So I decided to search for Sigfried Selinger.

Marriage record for Frederick Selinger and Rachel Cohen 1880

Marriage record for Frederick Selinger and Rachel Cohen 1880

And I found this ship manifest from 1872:

Siegfried Selinger ship manifest 1872 to Baltimore The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Records of the US Customs Service, RG36; NAI Number: 2655153; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85

Siegfried Selinger ship manifest 1872 to Baltimore
The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Records of the US Customs Service, RG36; NAI Number: 2655153; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85

Siegfried Selinger, sixteen years old, arrived in Baltimore in June 1872, when Sigfried Selinger of Hurben would in fact have been still sixteen years old.  I thought that this could very well be the man who became Frederick Selinger.  Supporting this assumption was the fact that his marriage record states that he was from Baltimore and that he ended up marrying a woman from Washington, DC, so it would make sense that he would have entered the US through Baltimore, as his naturalization papers indicated.    (They also say he entered the country in June 1871.  People lie!  People forget!)

Frederick Selinger passport application National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, 1795-1905; Roll #: 378; Volume #: Roll 378 - 14 Jul 1891-31 Jul 1891 Description Volume : Roll 378 - 14 Jul 1891-31 Jul 1891

Frederick Selinger passport application
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, 1795-1905; Roll #: 378; Volume #: Roll 378 – 14 Jul 1891-31 Jul 1891
Description
Volume : Roll 378 – 14 Jul 1891-31 Jul 1891

And when I searched for Fred Selinger in Baltimore, I found two listings in Baltimore directories, one in 1875, one in 1878.  I am quite certain I have found Frederick and now know that he was Sigfried Selinger,  the son of Selinger Seligmann and Breinle Hofstadter.  He was the middle brother to his brothers, Julius and Alfred, who followed him to the US in the following decade and married respectively the aunt (Augusta) and the sister (Fanny) of Frederick’s wife Rachel.

So why do I want to kick myself? Not only because I should have seen this much, much earlier, but because Ralph Bloch in fact told me he thought Sigfried could be Frederick way back in August, 2015.  I’d forgotten that until I reviewed all the old emails to write this blog post.  I probably saw his comment and forgot it or thought that I needed more proof.  And I got caught up in searching for Fanny and the other Selingers and for some reason assumed Frederick had to be the child of Abraham.  I could have so easily searched back then for Sigfried in the US and found what I found just this past week.

But actually I am so glad that I didn’t.  Because if I had done that in August, I might never have continued searching and working with Shirley and Val.  I might never have brought Shirley and Val together, third cousins who’d never known each other before.  I would have missed out on all the fun Val and Shirley and I have had as we worked together to solve this mystery.  That makes this all very worthwhile.

All this, you might say, for people who aren’t even my blood relatives? For people who happened to marry my distant cousins Rachel, Augusta, and Fanny?

It’s moments like this that I want to say, “We are all cousins.  Our families are all entangled.  And every person’s life, every person’s story is worth remembering and is worth memorializing.”

 

 

 

 

The Benefits of Teamwork: Part I

In my recent post, I mentioned that I had been working with two other researchers on the mystery of the three Selinger men who married my Cohen cousins.  Frederick Selinger had married my cousin Rachel Cohen in 1880 in Washington, DC.  Rachel was the daughter of Moses Cohen, my three times great-uncle (brother of my great-great-grandfather Jacob).  Julius Selinger had married Augusta Cohen in 1884 in Washington, DC; Augusta was the daughter of Moses Cohen, Jr. and niece of Rachel Cohen.  Finally, Alfred Selinger had married Fannie Cohen in Washington, DC, in 1893.  Fannie was also a daughter of Moses Cohen, Jr., also a niece of Rachel Cohen, and a sister of Augusta Cohen.

Julius and Augusta Cohen Selinger passport photos 1922

Julius and Augusta Cohen Selinger passport photos 1922

 

Way back on July 22, 2014, when I first posted about the three Selinger men, I had speculated that they all had to be related.  Both Julius and Frederick had documents indicating that they had been born in Hurben, Germany.  Alfred and Julius had lived together in DC before they’d married, and Alfred had traveled with Julius and Augusta to Europe before he married Augusta’s sister Fannie.  But I had nothing to support that speculation besides that circumstantial evidence.

Then a month later on August 5, 2014, I wrote about the marriage of Eleanor Selinger to Henry Abbot.  Eleanor was the daughter of Julius Selinger and Augusta Cohen; Henry was the son of Hyams Auerbach (Abbot) and Helena Selinger (some records say Ellen or Helen).  I was curious as to whether Helena Selinger was somehow related to Julius and the other Selinger men, Alfred and Frederick.  I thought that she might be since how else would an American woman have met an Englishman? And the shared name seemed too uncommon to be pure coincidence.

 

Eleanor Selinger Abbot and Abbot family-page-001

Eleanor Selinger Abbot (center) with the Abbot family Courtesy of Val Collinson

 

As I wrote then, I had contacted the owner of an Ancestry family tree who turned out to be Eleanor Selinger and Henry Abbot’s great-niece: Val Collinson.  Val and I exchanged a lot of information, but we could not at that time find any definitive evidence linking Helena Selinger, her great-grandmother, to Frederick or Julius or Alfred.  All were born in Germany, but it seemed from the records in different locations.  Helena’s marriage record indicated that her father’s name was Abraham Selinger, whereas Julius had indicated on his passport application that his father was Sigmund Selinger.  We were stumped.  And that was that.  Or so I thought.

Fast forward a full year to August, 2015, when I received a comment on my earlier blog post about Eleanor Selinger and Henry Abbot from someone named Shirley Allen, whose grandparents were Jacob Rosenthal and Fanny Selinger:

Fanny Selinger Rosenthal and her husband Jacob Rosenthal and children Gladys, Daniel, and Alfred Courtesy of Shirley Allen

Fanny Selinger Rosenthal and her husband Jacob Rosenthal and their children Gladys, Daniel, and Alfred
Courtesy of Shirley Allen

I’ve been delving into my paternal (Rosenthal) family history. I’ve found that my grandfather Jacob Rosenthal was married to Fanny Selinger. Unfortunately I haven’t found anything further about Fanny other than she was born in Germany, probably in 1857. However, I’ve recently come upon a wonderful paper lace invitation to the 1873 wedding of Hyams Auerbach and Helena Selinger that you referred to. What I don’t know is why Fanny would have been invited. Clearly she and Helena were related – but how ?

Needless to say, I was intrigued.  Maybe Fanny Selinger was related to Helena and/or maybe she was related to Julius, Frederick, and Alfred.  Shirley and I communicated by email, and we both started digging.

Invitation to the wedding of Helena Selinger and Hyms Auerbach Courtesy of Shirley Allen

Invitation to the wedding of Helena Selinger and Hyms Auerbach
Courtesy of Shirley Allen

 

I found a website called Jewish Genealogy of Bavarian Swabia (JGBS) that had records for Hurben and located 25 Selingers in their database, including those for Alfred and for Julius, who were the sons of Seligman Selinger and Breinle Hofstadter and thus were brothers, as I had suspected. Shirley and I both thought that Seligman Selinger had been Americanized to Sigmund by Julius on his passport application and that the birth records for Julius and Alfred confirmed that they were in fact brothers.

I also found a birth record for Helena Selinger, whose father was Abraham Selinger, not Seligman Selinger.  Abraham and his wife Rosalia Wilhelmsdoerfer had six children listed: Seligman (1842), Raphael (1843), Pauline (1845), Karolina (1847), Heinrich (1848), and Helena (1849). Pauline, Karolina, and Heinrich had all died as young children, leaving Seligman, Raphael, and Helena as the surviving children of Abraham.  Here is Helena’s birth record from Hurben in August 1849.

Helena Selinger birth record from Hurben http://jgbs.org/SuperSearch.php?Sp=3&Book=birth&Com=11

Helena Selinger birth record from Hurben (third from bottom)
http://jgbs.org/SuperSearch.php?Sp=3&Book=birth&Com=11

 

But what about Frederick?  And Fanny? And was there a connection between Helena’s father Abraham and the father of Julius and Alfred, Seligman Selinger?

A little more digging on the JGBS site revealed that both Abraham Selinger and Seligman Selinger were the sons of Joachim Selinger, thus confirming that they were brothers and thus that Helena was a first cousin to Julius and Alfred.

Marriage record from Hurben for Abraham Selinger, son of Joachim, and Rosalia Wilhelmsdoerfer http://jgbs.org/detail.php?book=marriage&id=%206671&mode=

Marriage record from Hurben for Abraham Selinger, son of Joachim, and Rosalia Wilhelmsdoerfer (second in page)
http://jgbs.org/detail.php?book=marriage&id=%206671&mode=

 

Seligmann Selinger, son of Joachim, marriage to Breinle Hoftsadter

Seligmann Selinger, son of Joachim, marriage to Breinle Hoftsadter (second from bottom) 1848 http://jgbs.org/detail.php?book=marriage&id=%206695&mode=

 

That meant that Eleanor Selinger, daughter of Julius Selinger, had married her second cousin, Henry Abbot, son of Helena Selinger.

 

But that still left us wondering about Frederick Selinger and Shirley’s great-grandmother Fanny Selinger.  How did they fit into this picture?

I contacted Ralph Bloch, the webmaster for the JGBS website, and he was extremely helpful.  More helpful than I realized at the time, but more on that later.  Ralph also could not find any evidence that Fanny was born in Hurben, and he reassured me that the birth records for Hurben were quite complete.  He even searched through the original pages to be sure that Fanny hadn’t somehow been missed when the records were indexed. (There was a Fany Selinger born in the 1830s, but that would have been far too early for Shirley’s ancestor.) Ralph also sent a photograph of Seligman Selinger’s headstone, which confirmed that his father’s name was Joachim or Chaim, his Hebrew name.

Seligman Selinger gravestone

 

So once again we hit the brick wall.  We still had not found either Frederick or Fanny.  Shirley said she would pursue it on her end, and I turned back to the other research I’d been doing when I received Shirley’s comment.

Not much happened again until late November when I heard again from Shirley, telling me that she had received a copy of Fanny Selinger’s marriage certificate, which revealed that Fanny was the daughter of Abraham Selinger.  Now we could link Fanny to Helena, also the daughter of Abraham, as well as to Julius and Alfred, Abraham’s nephews. But we didn’t know if Fanny and Helena were both the daughters of Rosalia Wilhelmsdoerfer.

Shirley’s research of UK records showed that by 1871 Abraham was married to a woman named Gali, and we assumed that Abraham had left Hurben at some point, that his first wife Rosalia had died, and that he had had several children with Gali.  That is what the UK census records from 1871 seemed to reflect. Abraham and Gali were living with Sigfried (28), Helena (20), Cornelia (18), and Oskar (4).  But there was neither a Fanny nor a Frederick.

 

Abraham Selinger and family 1881 UK census Class: RG10; Piece: 555; Folio: 86; Page: 3; GSU roll: 823397 Description Enumeration District : 10 Source Information Ancestry.com. 1871 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1871. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1871.

Abraham Selinger and family 1881 UK census
Class: RG10; Piece: 555; Folio: 86; Page: 3; GSU roll: 823397
Description
Enumeration District : 10
Source Information
Ancestry.com. 1871 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.
Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1871. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1871.

Abraham died in 1880, and in 1881, Gali was living with four children, but aside from Oskar (13), they were all different from those on the 1871 census: Morris (28), Flora (surname Wallach) (25), and Sidney (23).  Now I was really confused.  Who were these people, and where had they been in 1871?  Flora was presumably married to someone named Wallach and now a widow, but Morris would have been eighteen in 1871 and Sidney only thirteen. Where were they living?  Who were they? None of those children were listed on the Hurben birth register on the JGBS site; in fact, there were no children listed for Abraham Selinger and any wife in Hurben after Helena’s birth in 1849.

Gali Selinger and family 1881 UK census Class: RG11; Piece: 472; Folio: 118; Page: 55; GSU roll: 1341103 Description Enumeration District : 9 Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1881

Gali Selinger and family 1881 UK census
Class: RG11; Piece: 472; Folio: 118; Page: 55; GSU roll: 1341103
Description
Enumeration District : 9 Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1881

I assumed that Morris, Flora, Sidney, and Oscar, all born after 1850, were born in a different place and perhaps to a different mother.  Certainly Oskar had to be Gali’s child since he was so much younger than all the rest and only four on the 1871 census.

Searching again on Ancestry, I found a new record:  an entry for Abraham, Rosalia, Seligman, and Raphael Selinger on the Mannheim, Germany, family register dated November 26, 1848.  What were they doing in Mannheim? By that time the three younger children, Pauline, Karolina, and Heinrich, had died.  Perhaps they needed a change of scenery.  But what about Helena? She was born in Hurben in 1849.

Then I found a second Mannheim family register that included Helena, the final entry on the page:

 

Abraham Selinger and family, Mannheim register Ancestry.com. Mannheim, Germany, Family Registers, 1760-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Polizeipräsidium Mannheim Familienbögen, 1800-1900. Digital images. Stadtarchiv Mannheim — Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Mannheim, Germany.

Abraham Selinger and family, Mannheim register
Ancestry.com. Mannheim, Germany, Family Registers, 1760-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Polizeipräsidium Mannheim Familienbögen, 1800-1900. Digital images. Stadtarchiv Mannheim — Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Mannheim, Germany.

My friends in the German Genealogy group,  Heike Keohane, Matthias Steinke, and Bradley Hernlem, came to my rescue and translated it to read, “Helene, his daughter, here born the 22 August 1849.”  So Helena’s birth is entered on the Hurben birth records (on the same date) and on the Mannheim records.  I’ve no idea which is the correct birthplace; maybe Rosalia went home to Hurben to give birth and returned to Mannheim afterwards where the family was living.

But perhaps now I could find out where Frederick was born, not to mention Morris, Flora, Sidney, and Oscar. Maybe they were born in Mannheim.  I checked the Mannheim birth records from 1853 through 1866 and found not one person named Selinger.  I checked over and over, looking at each page until my eyes were blurry.  There were no Selingers born in Mannheim during that period that I could find.

Then I discovered that Oskar Selinger had listed Ansbach as his birth place on his UK naturalization papers and thought that perhaps the family had moved from Mannheim to Ansbach.

Oscar Selinger UK naturalization papers The National Archives; Kew, Surrey, England; Duplicate Certificates of Naturalisation, Declarations of British Nationality, and Declarations of Alienage; Class: HO 334; Piece: 54 Description Description : Piece 054: Certificate Numbers A20701 - A21000

Oscar Selinger UK naturalization papers
The National Archives; Kew, Surrey, England; Duplicate Certificates of Naturalisation, Declarations of British Nationality, and Declarations of Alienage; Class: HO 334; Piece: 54
Description
Description : Piece 054: Certificate Numbers A20701 – A21000

I had no luck locating Ansbach birth records for that period, and by then it was Thanksgiving, and other matters distracted me, and I put the Selinger mystery on the back burner.

To be continued…..

Part III: My Grandmother and Her Brothers 1942-2004

 

As I wrote in my last post, my Schoenthal great-grandparents died in 1941 and 1942.  At that time, three of their children were living on the East Coast: Harold in Montclair, New Jersey, Lester in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, and my grandmother Eva in Philadelphia.

Gerson/Gary, the son whose asthma had taken them to Denver in 1907, continued to live in Denver with his wife Maude for many years, but in May, 1954 they decided to move to Desert Hot Springs, California, due to Gerson’s continuing health problems. The Desert Sentinel of Desert Hot Springs reported on June 10, 1954, p. 4, that, “Mr. and Mrs. Gary Sheridan are the lovely couple renting the Herb Ecclestone cottage for the summer. They are enamored of the village and will build a home here.” Sadly, within a few months of moving there, Gerson’s asthma finally took its toll, and he died at age 62.  As this article from the July 1, 1954, Desert Sentinel reported, it appears he and Maude had quickly made friends in their new home.

Gerson Schoenthal death Desert Sentinel July 1, 1954 p 1 Desert Hot Springs CA

How very sad that a fluke in the weather contributed to his death from the asthma he had battled for so many years.

Lester died five years later in August 1959, when he was seventy years old and had retired to Florida with his wife Juliet Grace “Julia” Beck.  She lived another fourteen years, dying in 1983, dying in and buried in Livingston County, Michigan.

Neither Lester nor Gerson had ever had children and thus have no descendants living today.  I never met Gerson or Lester, although I was two when Gerson died and seven when Lester died.  I had known virtually nothing about their lives before I started doing this research.

 

Harold Schoenthal

Harold Schoenthal

 

I did meet my great-uncle Harold, however. He had lived with his parents until they moved to Philadelphia in 1941 and had remained single.  When he was in his late 40s, he married May Gunther, and they had one child, my second cousin June.  Harold was in many ways a role model and mentor for my father.  He encouraged my father to pursue architecture, and my father took his advice and following in his footsteps, going to Columbia to study architecture.  Harold was not only a designer; he wrote poetry and painted.  He lived to 103, dying in 2004, in Montclair, New Jersey, where he had lived for almost eighty years.  Although I only saw him a handful of times, I remember him as a very gentle and kind man with a good sense of humor and a positive outlook on life.  I wish that I had been interested then in family history because he would have been an amazing source of information.

 

My Aunt Eva, my father, May and Harold Schoenthal

My Aunt Eva, my father, May and Harold Schoenthal

Uncle Harold and Aunt Eva

Aunt Eva and Great-Uncle Harold

Uncle Harold older

 

As for my grandmother, I knew almost nothing about her childhood before I started my research.  When I found the pictures and news stories about her in the Denver papers and in her high school yearbook, it made me think that she might have had a happy childhood growing up in Denver.  But her life was filled with challenges once she left Denver.  She was only eighteen and just out of high school when she married a man she had known for only half a year and who was nine years older than she was; within a year she had had a child and before she was twenty-three, she had two children.  She was living halfway across the country, far from her parents and two oldest brothers.  Only Harold was nearby.

Eva Schoenthal Cohen

Eva Schoenthal Cohen

Then her husband became disabled, and she just was not strong enough to deal with it all.  When she finally started getting her life back together in the early 1940s, she lost both of her parents within a year of each other. Soon thereafter both of her children became adults and left home.  She remarried in the 1950s to a very nice man named Frank Crocker who cared for her until she died in 1963 when she was 58 years old.

It was when she was married to Frank that I knew her, and we would see her a few times a year when we would make day trips to Philadelphia to visit. My clearest memory involves Frank more than my grandmother; he and I watched a Dodgers-Phillies game together on television during one of those visits, and if I remember correctly, Sandy Koufax was pitching.   I thought of that day when I saw last week that Sandy Koufax had turned eighty years old.

My memory of my grandmother is of someone who was fragile and insecure with a reserved and genteel presence.  But to be honest, I really did not know her well at all.  Doing this research has given me a somewhat fuller picture, and although she remains largely a mystery to me, at least I now know more about her brothers and her parents and the lives they led as well as more about her and her life.

My father and my grandmother at his graduation from Columbia, 1952

My father and my grandmother at his graduation from Columbia, 1952

 

 

My Aunt Eva’s Magic Suitcases: Another Small World Story

A long time back I mentioned that my father had two suitcases filled with photographs and letters that had belonged to his sister, my aunt, Eva Hilda Cohen.  My aunt had died February 14, 2011, but my father had never gone through the suitcases and wasn’t eager to do so.  Finally this past weekend he agreed to let my brother and me bring the suitcases down from their garage and go through their contents.  I was hoping for some old photographs or letters about my ancestors, and I didn’t find much of that, but there was an amazing small world story that came out of those suitcases. (I will report on the other finds in later posts.)

First, a little bit about my Aunt Eva.  She was born on January 13, 1924, the first child of my paternal grandparents, John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr. and Eva Schoenthal.

Eva Hilda Cohen

Eva Hilda Cohen

My father was born almost three years later.  They were very close as children growing up together.

Eva and John Cohen, Jr.

Eva and John Cohen, Jr.

My father describes his sister as a strong-willed and rebellious child who became a strong-willed and rebellious teenager and adult. She also was a very intelligent woman with many interests. She graduated from Gratz High School in Philadelphia in 1941, where she apparently was known by the nickname “Ave,” and was described as follows in the yearbook: “To Gratz our “Ave” has given services of hours; in almost every field she has displayed her powers.”  From the list of her activities, that inscription seems accurate: drama club, debate club, a cappella choir, and several others.

Aunt Eva yearbook picture

Simon Gratz High School yearbook 1941 Ancestry.com. U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

During World War II, she served in the United States Navy. She served from February 10, 1944 until February 10, 1946, and was stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas, for most of her second year of service.  She wrote a letter to her mother in May, 1945, describing her trip by train from Philadelphia to Texas.  I had to chuckle as I read it because it sounded so much like her, describing and naming every person that she met along the way.    She clearly was a hit with the servicemen, frequently being invited to eat and drink and sit with them on that long train.  That ability to befriend new people wherever she went was a skill she maintained throughout her life.

After the war, she completed her education at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  There she also was active socially and academically.

Aunt Eva college yearbook

University of Colorado at Boulder yearbook 1949 Ancestry.com. U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

After college she became engaged to be married to a man named Karl, but when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Karl broke it off, not wanting to care for someone he thought would be an invalid.

Eva and Karl

Eva and Karl

He sorely underestimated her.  She never married, but her inner strength and her independence held in her good stead for the rest of her life even as her physical challenges became greater.  She worked for the city of Philadelphia until retirement age, and she had a large circle of friends who were devoted to her. She traveled all over the world and was interested in many things and well-informed about current events. She remained devoted to my father, and he to her, her whole life.

Her collected photographs and letters reflected those priorities— the many letters she kept that she had received from my father over the years; lots of photographs of our family, extended and immediate; lots of pictures from her numerous trips and cruises.  And many, many pictures of people who were her friends. The photographs were not at all organized by subject matter or date, so as I went through the photographs with my brother, I sorted them into piles—family, travel, friends.  I wasn’t particularly interested in the last two categories, but I still looked at each photo, hoping to find some of my ancestors or distant cousins mixed in.

Then I found this photograph.  It was a Christmas card with a family photograph, an item for the friends’ pile.  But I looked at it more closely and thought one of the faces looked familiar.  Then I looked at the family’s surname, and I got the chills.  The face was in fact familiar.

Scan0014

 

The little boy in that photograph looked just like the young man who is now engaged to my daughter’s best friend Anna.  I knew that her fiancé Mark was from Philadelphia, and it certainly was possible that my aunt could have known his family.  But nevertheless—what were the odds?  Mark’s parents are at least a generation younger than my aunt.  How in the world would they have known her? It made no sense.  I continued looking through the photographs, and I found five more pictures of Mark’s family, including his parents’ wedding photograph.  Obviously, my aunt knew his family for a long, long time.

I took snapshots of the pictures of Mark’s family with my phone and sent them to Maddy and Anna, asking them if this was Mark’s family. Anna responded that indeed it was his family.  Anna asked Mark what he knew about my aunt, if anything, and he did remember her and said that his father had been a lifeguard at the pool in her building and had met her there.

That made perfect sense to me.  My aunt was an avid swimmer; being in the water gave her the mobility and comfort that she could not find out of the water because of her MS.  As my father wrote in one of his letters to her, she swam in pools and oceans all over the world; she found it liberating.  When she moved into The Philadelphian, one of the large apartment buildings in Philadelphia, one of the great benefits was that there was a pool in the building.  It was there that she made many friends over the years, including Mark’s father and his family.

Scan0016 (2)

I still get the chills thinking about this.  There I was sitting in my parents’ house, sorting through photographs mostly of strangers, and I found a photograph of someone who will now be marrying Anna.  Anna, whom I’ve known since she was born and who has been my daughter Maddy’s best friend since they sat in the sandbox as one year olds at our child care cooperative in 1985.  Anna, who was Maddy’s roommate in Boston for several years—until she met Mark.  Mark, a delightful young man whom we met the first time a few years back when he was helping Maddy and Anna move from one apartment to another and sitting patiently outside the apartment, watching their stuff while they went to rent a truck.  Mark, whose father befriended my aunt years before Mark was even born and who obviously stayed in touch with her over the years as his children grew to adulthood.

I am sure that my aunt would have been thrilled to know that her friend’s son was marrying her great-niece’s best friend.  I am just sorry she is no longer around to hear the story.  It’s the kind of story she would have loved.

Scan0025

 

My Grandmother, Eva Schoenthal Cohen

It’s time to turn another page in the history of my family, or I suppose I should say, to climb another branch on the family tree.  Thus far I have researched my mother’s maternal and paternal sides as far back as I’ve been able (not far enough yet, but as far as I can, given the lack of documentation) and my father’s paternal side as far as I’ve been able.  Now I turn my focus to my father’s maternal side—his mother’s parents and their ancestors.  His mother’s father was Isidore Schoenthal; his mother’s mother was Hilda Katzenstein.  I am going to start with the Schoenthal family and explore and learn what I can about my great-grandfather, his parents, his siblings, and his children, including my paternal grandmother Eva Schoenthal Cohen.

My Grandma Eva

My Grandma Eva

My grandmother Eva was a beautiful and refined woman.  She was born on March 4, 1904, in Washington, Pennsylvania, but the family moved to Denver, Colorado, by the time she was six years old because one of Eva’s brothers had allergies and the doctors had recommended the drier climate out West.  After graduating from high school in Denver in 1922, Eva traveled to Philadelphia to visit with some of her mother’s family who lived there.

Eva Schoenthal high school yearbook picture

Eva Schoenthal high school yearbook picture

My grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen, who was born and raised in Philadelphia, met her at a social event there, and he was so taken with her that he followed her back to Colorado to woo her and ask her to marry him.  She was very young when they met—only eighteen and right out of high school; my grandfather was nine years older.  Eva accepted his proposal, and they settled in Philadelphia after marrying in Denver on January 7, 1923.

Eva Schoenthal and John Cohen, Jr. 1923

Eva Schoenthal and John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr. 1923

John and Eva Cohen c. 1930

John and Eva (Schoenthal) Cohen
c. 1930

Their first child, my aunt Eva Hilda Cohen, was born a year later on January 13, 1924, and my father was born almost three years after that.

My grandmother Eva Schoenthal Cohen and my aunt Eval Hilda Cohen

My grandmother Eva Schoenthal Cohen and my aunt Eva Hilda Cohen

My grandmother and my father

My grandmother and my father

In 1930, they were living at 6625 17th Street in Philadelphia, and my grandfather was a merchant, selling jewelry and clothing at a store called The Commodore, as I’ve written about previously.  They even had a servant living with them named Frances Myers, according to the 1930 census.

Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 2133; Page: 41B; Enumeration District: 1034; Image: 588.0; FHL microfilm: 2341867

Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 2133; Page: 41B; Enumeration District: 1034; Image: 588.0; FHL microfilm: 2341867

But not long afterwards, their life as a family suffered two major blows.  My grandfather was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and by 1936 had to be admitted to a veteran’s hospital where he lived the rest of his life.  Meanwhile, my grandmother Eva, a fragile and sensitive woman probably overwhelmed by what was happening to her, had herself been hospitalized and when released was not able to take care of her two young children.  As I’ve written before, my father’s paternal grandmother Eva May Seligman Cohen took care of my father and my aunt for several years.  After my great-grandmother died in 1939, my grandmother was well enough to move back to Philadelphia to live with my father and aunt.  In 1940, the three of them were living at 2111 Venango Street, and my grandmother was employed as a saleswoman in the wholesale china business, according to the 1940 census.

Year: 1940; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: T627_3732; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 51-1431

Year: 1940; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: T627_3732; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 51-1431

The 1940s must have been very difficult for my grandmother.  Her mother died in 1941, her father the following year.  My father and my aunt both served in the military during World War II and went away to college.  My grandmother remarried after World War II.  Her second husband, Frank Crocker, was the only “grandfather” I knew on that side of my family.  He was a kind and talkative man, much more outgoing than my shy, reserved grandmother.

My father and my grandmother at his college graduation in 1952

My father and my grandmother at his college graduation in 1952

Even as a child, I sensed that that my grandmother was a bit insecure and unsure of herself and perhaps uncomfortable around her three grandchildren.  I found her beautiful and refined,  and also somewhat mysterious.  Of course, as a child I knew nothing about her life.  Only by stepping into the family history and asking my father more questions did I develop a better understanding of who she was.

My grandmother died on January 10, 1963, when I was ten years old.  Her death was the first one I ever experienced.  (Although my mother’s father Isadore Goldschlager died when I was four years old, I really have no memory of his death.)  I remember being frightened and worried about my father and also confused because no one really talked about it before she died or after.  We weren’t (and still aren’t) too good at those things.

So as I start to delve now more deeply into her family history, I do it with the perspective of trying to understand who my grandmother was, where she came from, what her family was like, and how that all fits with the woman I remember.

Passover 2015: The American Jewish Story

Handmade shmura matzo used at the Passover Sed...

Handmade shmura matzo used at the Passover Seder especially for the mitzvot of eating matzo and afikoman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A year ago I was feeling disconnected from Passover until I heard my grandson tell us the story of Passover in a way that made it feel new and exciting and different all over again.  This year his little brother will experience his first seder, though at only ten months, that experience will likely be short and quite unfocused.  Just a lot of really noisy people sitting around a table eating food that he neither can nor would want to eat.  But it’s a new reminder that every generation and every child experiences Passover as a new experience, allowing all of us who are jaded and detached to be able to relive our own early experiences with this special holiday.

Last year I entered into Passover thinking about my mother’s ancestors, the Brotmans, the Goldschlagers, and the Rosenzweigs.  I focused on their exodus from the oppression and poverty and anti-Semitism of Galicia and Romania and their courage and the desire for freedom that led them to leave all they knew to cross the continent and then the ocean and come to New York City, where they again lived in poverty but with greater hopes for a life of freedom and economic opportunity.  And they attained their goals if not in that first generation, certainly by the third and fourth generations.

Poor Jews taking home free matzohs, New York

Poor Jews taking home free matzohs, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the last year now, I have been researching, studying and writing about my father’s paternal relatives.  It has taken just about a full year to cover the Cohens, the Jacobs (with whom I actually need to do more work), the Seligmans, the Schoenfelds, the Nusbaums, and the Dreyfusses.  Soon I will start my father’s maternal relatives—the Schoenthals and Katzensteins and whatever other surnames pop up along the way.  Researching my father’s families has been so different from my mother’s, and I can go so much further back.  I can’t get back much before 1840 with my mother’s family and have absolutely no records before 1885 or so for any of them.  Although I have a number of Romanian records for my Rosenzweig and Goldschlager relatives, I have no records at all from Europe for my great-grandparents Joseph and Bessie Brotman, despite hours and hours of searching and even DNA testing.

In contrast, my father’s ancestors have provided me with a rich opportunity to learn about Jews in Amsterdam, London, and especially the towns of Gau-Algesheim, Erbes-Budesheim, Bingen, and Schopfloch, Germany.  I have been able to find records all the way back to 1800 or so for almost every line.  I’ve had amazing help along the way on both sides of the Atlantic, and I’ve even learned a little German to boot.  My father’s families were pawnbrokers and peddlers and clothing merchants; they were pioneers and politicians and war heroes.

Harrisburg Market Square with Leo Nusbaum store

Harrisburg Market Square with Leo Nusbaum store

They came to the United States in the 1840s and 1850s, and most of them suffered terrible heartbreaks, economic struggles, and early deaths.  Most of them settled in Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but there were those who went to places that I’d never think a Jewish immigrant would go: Iowa, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, California, and, of course, New Mexico.  Many married outside the Jewish community and assimilated into American culture far more so than my mother’s relatives.  Ultimately, the Cohens/Jacobs and Seligmans/Schoenfelds and Nusbaums/Dreyfusses were successful; they found the American dream, and they embraced it.

But there is a very sad underside to this story of American success.  It’s the story of those who did not leave Europe.  For the first time in my life I confronted the reality that the Holocaust did not just happen to other families, to other Jews.  Not that I have not been deeply affected by the Holocaust all my life; ever since I read Anne Frank’s diary as a child, I’ve identified with and cried for all those who were murdered by the Nazis.  But I never knew that I had relatives left behind in Germany who were part of that slaughter.  I am still finding more, and I will write about them soon.  The list of names of my cousins who died in the Holocaust grows longer and longer, and I realize more than ever how grateful I should be to Bernard Seligman, John and Jeanette (Dreyfuss) Nusbaum, and Jacob and Sarah (Jacobs) Cohen for leaving Europe and taking a chance on the new country across the ocean.

memorial plaque gau aldesheim

So this year for Passover I will be thinking about that first major migration of Jews from Europe to America.  I will be feeling thankful for the risks my ancestors took, and I will be feeling the loss of not only all those who were killed in the Holocaust, but the loss of all the children and grandchildren who would have been born but for those deaths.

And overall I will be celebrating family, freedom, and faith—faith that the world can be a better place and that human beings can be their best selves and live good and meaningful lives.  May all of you have a wonderful weekend—be it Passover or Easter or perhaps just another weekend in April for you.   Celebrate all the good things in life in whatever way you can.

Death Certificates: Answering Some Unanswered Questions

Over the last few weeks I have received a number of death certificates, most for people about whom I have written, so I will also post them as updates to the relevant posts.  But I also wanted to post about them separately for those who might never go back to those original posts.

Three of these were for relatively young men whose deaths puzzled me.  Why had they died so young?  E.g., Simon L.B. Cohen.  He was only 36 when he died on October 24, 1934, after serving valiantly in World War I.  He was my first cousin, twice removed, the first cousin of my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen.  Simon had faced the horrors of war, been awarded a Distinguished Service Cross by General Pershing for his service, and had been reported killed in action when he was in fact still alive.  He came home and married, but then died only five years after he married.  I had wondered what might have caused such a young man to die after surviving everything he did during the war.

His death certificate reported that his cause of death was glomerulonephritis, chronic myocarditis, and arterial hypertension.  Glomerulonephritis is a form of kidney disease, sometimes triggered by an infection like strep or some other underlying disease.  Overall, it would appear that Simon was just not a healthy 36 year old.  But that’s not the whole story.  The death certificate also described Simon as an “unemployed disabled veteran.”  Although I do not know in what way he was disabled, obviously Simon paid a huge price for what he endured while serving in the military.

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The second young man whose death puzzled me was Louis Loux.  Louis was the husband of Nellie Simon, daughter of Eliza Wiler and Leman Simon.  Louis was thirteen years younger than Nellie.  They had a daughter Florrie, born in 1910, who died from burns caused by matches.  She was only eight years old when she died in September, 1918.  Then her father Louis died just three months later on December 15, 1918.  He was only 36 years old.  I had wondered whether there was some connection between these two terrible deaths.  I knew from the 1920 census that Nellie and Louis had divorced, but I did not and still do not know whether that was before or after their daughter died.  From the death certificate for Louis, I learned that he died from broncho pneumonia. So it would seem that it was perhaps just a terrible sequence of events and that Louis’ death was not in any directly related to the death of his daughter.

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The next death I had wondered about was that of Mervin Simon, the great-grandson of Mathilde Nusbaum and Isaac Dinkelspiel.  He was only 42 years old when he died on August 27, 1942.  He was the son of Leon Simon, who was the son of Moses Simon and Paulina Dinkelspiel.  Mervin died almost a year to do the day after his father Leon.  According to his death certificate, he also died from broncho pneumonia.  Like Simon Cohen, he had no occupation listed on his death certificate.  Even on the 1940 census, neither Mervin nor his brother William had an occupation listed.

Mervyn Simon death certificate

The last death certificate I received in the last few weeks was for Dorothy Gattman Rosenstein.  Dorothy was the daughter of Cora Frank from her first marriage to Jacques Gattman.  Cora was the daughter of Francis Nusbaum and Henry Frank and the granddaughter of Leopold Nusbaum.  Cora’s husband Jacques had died when Dorothy was just a young child, and Cora had remarried and moved to Dayton, Ohio, with her new husband Joseph Lehman and her daughter Dorothy.  I had had a very hard time tracking down what happened to both Cora and Dorothy, and only with the help from a number of kind people had I learned that Dorothy had married Albert Rosenstein from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  But I wanted the death certificate to corroborate all the other less official evidence I had that this was in fact the same Dorothy Gattman, daughter of Jacques Gattman and Cora Frank.  Her death certificate confirmed that.

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Thus, all of these certificates helped put closure on some lingering questions that had bothered me.