Walking in Their Footsteps

About two months ago we did a crazy thing.  We drove five and a half hours from western Massachusetts to Philadelphia and spent just 24 hours in the City of Brotherly Love before turning around and returning home.

So how did this crazy thing happen? I had received an email from my third cousin Jan Sluizer. Her great-grandmother Elizabeth Cohen was the sister of my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen.  We are both the great-great-granddaughters of Jacob Cohen and the three-time great-granddaughters of Hart Levy Cohen.  Jan lives now in California, but she grew up in Philadelphia and was coming east for a high school reunion.  She wanted to know if we could get together.

For several years I have wanted to visit Philadelphia—the place where my earliest American ancestors came in the 1840s, the place where my father was born and raised. Of course, I’d been to Philadelphia many times growing up to visit my grandmother and my aunt.  But I’d never seen where my ancestors lived or were buried. I’d never even seen the places where my father had lived. In fact, I’d never seen Independence Hall or the other historic sights in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia, City Hall

I knew that to do everything I wanted to do, I’d need more than 24 hours. But it has been a hectic fall with far too many weekends away from home.  The most we could do was get there on Saturday and leave on Sunday. And to top it off, a major storm was predicted for Sunday, meaning we’d have to hit the road even earlier than we had once hoped.

It was indeed crazy. But I am so glad we did it.

In the hours we had on Saturday, I managed to accomplish a few of the things I’d wanted to do. First, we took a tour of all the places where my Philadelphia ancestors had lived, starting with my great-great-grandparents Jacob Cohen and Sarah Jacobs and my three-times great-grandparents John Nusbaum and Jeanette Dreyfuss all the way to the last place my father lived in Philadelphia before moving to New York and marrying my mother in 1951.  Here in the order in which my family occupied these places (though not in the order we saw them) are my photographs from that day.

Jacob Cohen lived for many years at 136 South Street. His pawnshop was nearby. And this is where he and my great-great-grandmother Sarah Jacobs raised their thirteen children, including my great-grandfather Emanuel.  I do not think these are the same buildings that were there in the in the mid=19th century, but this is the street where they lived.

136 South Street, where Jacob Cohen and Sarah Jacobs raised their children

South Street, looking towards the river

For decades the Cohens lived in this neighborhood where many of the German Jewish immigrants lived.

But my other early-arriving ancestor John Nusbaum lived on the north side of Philadelphia during this same period at 433 Vine Street and 455 York Street. We drove down these streets, but again the buildings that were there in the era are long gone, and I didn’t take any photographs here. It was mostly warehouse buildings and abandoned or run-down buildings.

Since my Nusbaum ancestor was a successful merchant, I imagine that in his time this area was quite desirable, in fact more desirable than area south of the city where the Cohens lived.  Today, however, the South Street neighborhood is quite chic and inhabited by young professionals and clearly more desirable than the neighborhood where the Nusbaums lived.

Although my great-great-grandparents Bernard Seligman and Frances Nusbaum lived almost their whole married life in Santa Fe, their last years were spent in Philadelphia at 1606 Diamond Street. Bernard died in 1903, and Frances in 1905.  During that same period Bernard’s daughter Eva Seligman Cohen, my great-grandmother, and my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen were also living on Diamond Street. That neighborhood is also in North Philadelphia.  Here is a Google Streetview of that street today. I don’t think these were the buildings that were there in the early 1900s, but I am not sure.

I had better luck as I moved further into the 20th century.  In 1920 Emanuel Cohen and Eva Seligman Cohen, my great-grandparents, were living on Green Street close to what is now the downtown district of Philadelphia.  It is a lovely tree-lined street with cafes and historic brick townhouses in what is clearly a gentrified neighborhood. I wonder what it was like when my great-grandparents and my grandfather John Cohen lived there in 1920.

2116 Green Street—where in 1920 my great-grandparents Emanuel and Eva Seligman Cohen lived as well as my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen

We did not have time to get to the West Oak Lane neighborhood in North Philadelphia where my father lived with his parents in 1930 at 6625 North 17th Street, so that’s on my list for when we return.But here is a Google Streetview shot of that street:

6600 block of North 17th Street, Philadelphia

I did find the apartment building where my father and aunt were living with their grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen in 1939 when she died. It is in the downtown area of Philadelphia and still called the Westbury Apartments.

Westbury Apartments on 15th Street where my great-grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen lived with my father and aunt in 1939

In 1940, my father, aunt, and grandmother were living in North Philadelphia at 106 Venango Street.  That building is no longer there unfortunately.  It is now a commercial area with warehouses and factory-like buildings.

But In 1950 they were living on North 21st Street in this building—another lovely tree-lined street not far from the center of the city.

North 21 Street in Philadelphia where my father, aunt, and grandmother lived in 1950

136 North 21st Street, my father’s home in 1950

Touring the city this way was enlightening because it provided some insights into the patterns of gentrification and how they have changed since 1850.  My ancestors for the most part started in the southern part of the city and as they moved up the economic ladder, they moved north of the city to an area that was newer, less crowded, and more “gentrified.” But today that pattern has reversed. Young professionals want to live close to downtown and have returned to the neighborhoods closest to the center of the city like Green Street and South Street.  The neighborhoods around Venango Street and Diamond Street were long ago abandoned by those moving out to the suburbs in the post-World War II period and are now depressed sections of the city.

After a visit to the National Museum of American Jewish History and the Liberty Bell and a walk along Market Street, we met Jan for dinner in the area known as Rittenhouse Square, another gentrified neighborhood with lots of boutiques, bars, and restaurants. Meeting Jan was a delight. We had long ago connected by email when Jan shared all the stories about her father Mervyn Sluizer, Jr., and her grandfather Mervyn, Sr., and the rest of her family. Now we were able to meet face to face, share a meal together, and connect on a deeper level than email allows.

Independence Hall

The Liberty Bell

The following day the rain began, but I was determined to try and see where my ancestors were buried. Our first stop was Mikveh Israel synagogue, where we met Rabbi Albert Gabbai, who took us to the second oldest Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia. Mikveh Israel has been in Philadelphia since before the American Revolution and was where my earliest Cohen ancestors belonged. It was then located about a mile from 136 South Street where Jacob Cohen lived. Although the original building is long, long gone, the synagogue still is in that same neighborhood, now on North 4th Street.  According to the rabbi, it now attracts empty nesters who have moved into downtown Philadelphia. Another example of urban gentrification. Jews who long ago left downtown are now returning in their later years.

Rabbi Gabbai drove us to the Federal Street cemetery, the second oldest Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, where he patiently and generously guided us with a map to see the gravestones of Jacob and Sarah Cohen as well as the location of Hart Levy Cohen’s grave (his stone has either sunk into the ground or otherwise disappeared).

Federal Street cemetery of Congregation Mikveh Israel

Location of Hart Levy Cohen’s grave. My 3x-great-grandfather

Jacob and Sarah’s grave is marked by one of the largest monuments in the cemetery:

While we walked through the cemetery, I also spotted the stones for Jan’s other great-great-grandparents, Bernard and Margaret Sluizer, and her three-times great-grandmother Jeanette Sluizer. I was very touched when I realized that Bernard and Margaret Sluizer are buried in the plots that abut Jacob and Sarah’s plots.

Grave of Meyer and Margaret Sluizer

I also found a stone for Joseph Jacobs, my 3-times great uncle, brother of Sarah Jacobs Cohen.

Joseph Jacobs, brother of Sarah Jacobs Cohen

Unfortunately, it was pouring by this time, and I could not find any small stones to put on the gravestones to mark my visit, which left me feeling as if I’d let my ancestors down.

After leaving Rabbi Gabbai, we drove north to the two other Philadelphia cemeteries where my ancestors are buried: Mount Sinai and Adath Jeshurun.  Fortunately they are located right next to each other, and I had carefully written down the location of the graves I wanted to visit at Mount Sinai from the records I found on Ancestry. (I did not have that information for Adath Jeshurun, but only a few ancestors are buried there as compared to Mount Sinai.)

Unfortunately, despite my good planning, I had no luck. There was no office and no one at the cemetery; there was no map posted of the cemetery. And there were no obvious markings in the cemetery identifying sections or plots. And it was pouring.

My ever-patient husband sat in the car and drove slowly around as I walked up and down the drives and walkways with an umbrella and in my orthopedic boot,[1] looking for Cohens, Nusbaums, Katzensteins, Schoenthals, and Seligmans.  This was the only one I could find for any of my known relatives:

Simon Schoenthal and family at Mt Sinai cemetery in Philadelphia

This is the stone for Simon Schoenthal, my great-grandfather’s brother, and his wife Rose Mansbach, who was also related to me by the marriage of her cousin Marum Mansbach to my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein’s sister Hannchen. It also marks the burial place of two of their children, Martin and Harry, as well as Harry’s wife Esther, and their son Norman. I was delighted that I had found this marker, but nevertheless disappointed that I could not find the place where my grandfather John Cohen is buried along with his parents, Emanuel Cohen and Eva Seligman. Nor did I find any of the others I had been hoping to visit.

From there we headed home, leaving Philadelphia exactly 24 hours after we’d arrived. It was a wet and long trip home, but I still was glad we had made this whirlwind visit. I was able to meet Jan, I saw places where my ancestors lived and are buried, and we were introduced to the city where so many of my relatives have lived. It was not enough, so we will have to return. Next time we will need to spend at least 48 hours!


[1] I had broken my ankle a few weeks before the trip. It’s better now.

A Brick Wall Tumbles, Thanks Once Again to the Genealogy Village

When I learned that my brother’s Y-DNA did not match the Y-DNA of a descendant of Moses Cohen of Washington, DC, I was sorely disappointed.  I was sure that all the circumstantial and documentary evidence I had found supported my hunch that Moses was the brother of my great-great-grandfather Jacob Cohen and son of my three-times great-grandfather, Hart Levy Cohen.  But DNA does not lie, and I was very surprised by the results.

I had one small glimmer of hope when I learned about a family story that indicated that Moses Cohen, Sr., was not the biological father of Moses Cohen, Jr., who was in fact the biological great-great-grandfather of the living descendant whose DNA had been compared to that of my brother.  But how would I ever prove that?  It seemed hopeless.

Nevertheless, I decided to see what I could find that might help answer some of my questions.  Where and when was Moses, Jr., born? When and where did Moses, Sr., marry his mother Adeline Himmel? I could not find any American records showing a marriage or an immigration record for Adeline and her son Moses, Jr.  All I had were census records from 1850 and 1860 showing that Moses, Sr. and Adeline were already married by 1850 and that in 1850, Moses, Jr., was eleven years old.  Later census records indicated that both Moses, Jr., and Adeline were born in Germany and that Moses, Sr., was born in England (though a few later census reports filed after Moses, Sr.’s death by his children said he was also born in Germany).  Some of Moses, Jr.’s and Adeline’s records were even more specific, several naming Baden as her place of birth.

Several months ago when I first discovered the DC branch of the Cohen family, I had tried without success to find where in Baden Adeline had lived.  I sent a message on the GerSIG listserv (German Special Interest Group) of JewishGen.org asking for help.  I received many suggestions, but the most helpful one was from a man named Rodney.  First, he looked up the surname Himmel in Lars Menk’s “Dictionary of German-Jewish Surnames” and found that there was only one Jewish community in Germany where the name Himmel appeared, in  the Eberbach region of Baden.  Then he pointed me to a website that compiled various birth, death and marriage records from various towns in Germany, the Landesarchiv, and specifically to a book of the Jewish records for a town in Eberbach called Strumpfelbrunn where Rodney found a birth record for Jacob Himmel that he translated for me.  The record said, “On the 24th December 1815 was born Jakob Himmel, legitimate son of Moses Himmel and his wife Bromit nee Jakobin(?). Witnesses are Jakob Goez and Abraham Mond.”

(Generallandesarchiv Karlsruhe 390 Nr. 1137, Bild 8
Permalink: http://www.landesarchiv-bw.de/plink/?f=4-1121353-8
Standesbücher / (1691-) 1775-1875 (-1958)
Kernlaufzeit 1810-1870 > Amtsgerichtsbezirk Eberbach >
Strümpfelbrunn, israelitische Gemeinde: Standesbuch 1810-1866 / 1810-1866)

Jacob Himmel birth record

Jacob Himmel birth record

I immediately wondered whether this Jakob Himmel could be the same as the one living next door to Moses, Adeline, and Moses, Jr., in Baltimore in 1850, the one I suspected was the brother of Adeline.

Moses Cohen and family 1850 census

Moses Cohen and family and Jacob Himmel and family  1850 census

Rodney suggested that I look for other records in the Strumpfelbrunn book, but it was written in old German script that looks like what you see above.  I wouldn’t even recognize my own name written in that script.  I tried my best, but after a few pages, I gave up and said that there had to be an easier way.  But there was not.  These records are not digitized or translated anywhere yet.  So I returned to American records and moved on, figuring I’d either never find Moses, Jr.’s records or I’d find them some other way.

Then in the last few weeks I found the passenger manifest for Jacob Himmel.

Jacob Himmel ship manifest

Jacob Himmel ship manifest



I posted it to a Facebook group called Baden Genealogy for help in deciphering the town listed as Jacob’s place of last residence, which looked like Rutlingheim to me and to most others.  But there was no such town in Baden, no town that had a name that looked even close.  I tried searching for the two men who appeared to be traveling with Jacob from “Rutlingheim” and had no luck at all locating them in the US.  Then two days ago, I posted again to the Baden Facebook group, asking whether the town could be Billigheim, a town reasonably close to Strumpfelbrunn where a Jacob Himmel had been born.

Monica, a member of that group, responded, and when I explained why Strumpfelbrunn was my point of reference, she invited me to send her the birth record I had and the source where I had found it and she would translate it for me.  Her translation was consistent with that of Rodney except that she read Jacob’s mother’s name as Fromit, not Bromit.  She, like Rodney, said I should look for other mentions of Himmel in the record.  The book is close to 300 pages long, and I told her that I just could not decipher the old German script.  Then she made a brilliant suggestion; she sent me a link to the font for that old script, had me install it into Word, and then suggested I type out Himmel and any other relevant names in the script and compare it to what I could find on the pages of the records book.

And so I did, and on page 78, I found a record that looked like it had the name Moses Himmel in that old script.

Moses Himmel birth record 1839

Moses Himmel birth record 1839

Moses Himmel birth record 1839 detail

Moses Himmel birth record 1839 detail

I sent it to Monica, who translated it as follows: “In the year 1839 29th Dec at noon an illegitimate son of the spinster Adelheid Himmel was born.  She is the legitimate daughter of the deceased Moses Himmel and of Frommat nee Lagg from Amsterdam.  The boy will be named Moses at his circumcision.”  It then names some witnesses.

When I received that email with the translation, I felt those bricks tumbling down.  Could this be anyone other than Adeline Himmel Cohen and her son Moses? Does this not provide evidence that the family story that Moses, Jr., was not the biological child of Moses Cohen, Sr., is reliable? Doesn’t it explain why Moses, Jr.’s great-great-grandson does not share DNA with my brother, who is a direct descendant of Hart Levy Cohen, who was Moses, Sr.’s father, but not the biological grandfather of Moses, Jr.?

I then found another page, 26, that also seemed to have the name Himmel.  Monica translated that one as well.  “On the 5th of May 1820 in the morning 4 o’clock he died and was buried at noon.  Moses Himmel was married with Fromat Lagg (or Lugg or Legg) from Holland.  Age forty and four years.”  This was the death notice for Moses Himmel, the father of Adelheid or Adeline Himmel.  She named her illegitimate son for her father, not as a junior for Moses Cohen, the man she would later marry, probably in the United States.

Moses Himmel the grandfather of Moses Himmel

Moses Himmel the grandfather of Moses Himmel

Of course, there are many questions remaining.  I still don’t know when Moses, Sr., married Adeline.  Nor can I be 100% certain this is the right Adeline, though it certainly would appear to be so.  These discoveries also open up some new doors for my research.  If Adeline’s mother was named Fromat Lagg or Lugg or Legg and she lived in Holland, perhaps there is a connection to my Dutch ancestors in Amsterdam.  Her name was given as Jakobin on Jacob’s birth record; perhaps she was part of the same family as Rachel and/or Sarah Jacobs, my three-times and two-times great-grandmothers.  Now I need to return to the Dutch research and see what I can find.

In any event, once again the generosity of my fellow genealogy researchers has been demonstrated.  I never could have done this without the help of Rodney and Monica, two people I’ve never met, and the larger GerSIG and Baden Genealogy Facebook group communities.  It is astonishing what can be accomplished when people work together instead of fighting and killing each other.


Who Knew?  My Great-Great Grandmother’s Family, the Jacobs

One of the great surprises I’ve encountered in doing genealogy work is that I have many more surnames in my family than I ever knew.  I knew about Goldschlager and Brotman, on my mother’s side, and I knew about Cohen, Schoenthal, Seligman and Katzenstein, on my father’s side. But I never knew that I was also a Rosenzweig until I found my great-grandmother Ghitla’s maiden name, and now I know that I am also descended from the Jacobs family on my father’s side.  My great-great grandmother was Sarah Jacobs, married to Jacob Cohen.  My great-great-great grandmother was Rachel Jacobs, married to Hart Levy Cohen.  Although I have not yet found any familial connection between Rachel and her mother-in-law Sarah, I have found some evidence of Rachel’s parents and siblings.

First, I noticed that a man named Lazarus Jacobs was living with Rachel and Jacob Cohen in Philadelphia in 1860.  Then yesterday while researching the Cohens in the 1860s, I found a Philadelphia directory that listed Jacob’s business partner as Joseph Jacobs.  I assumed this was another of Rachel’s relatives, but was not sure how they might be related.

After some further searching, I found Joseph Jacobs on the 1841 England census, living with his parents Reuben and Frances and his siblings Rachel, my great-great-grandmother, and Lazarus, the younger brother who was living with Jacob and Rachel in 1860.

Reuben Jacobs and family 1841 England Census

Reuben Jacobs and family 1841 England Census

Joseph married his wife, Rachael, in 1847, whose maiden name may also have been Jacobs.  (The BMDIndex has two Rachels on the registry page for Joseph Jacobs, so until I can obtain the actual records, I am not sure if she was Rachel Levy or Rachael Jacobs.)

Joseph and Rachel had a son, Solomon, born in 1848, and a son Reuben, born in 1850.  Both were living with Rachel on the 1851 England census.  Rachel was listed as the sister of the head of household, whose name was Abraham Abrahams; his wife’s name was Elizabeth.  I cannot find a Rachel Abrahams on the marriage registry on the BMDIndex, and although I did find an Abraham Abrahams married to an Elizabeth Levy, I also wonder whether the census taker took down Abraham’s name incorrectly since there is also an Abraham Jacobs married to an Elizabeth.

Rachel Jacobs and children 1851 England census

Rachel Jacobs and children 1851 England census

At any rate, the bigger question is— where was Joseph?

My guess was that he was in the US, preparing to move the family to Philadelphia.  I could not find him, however, on the 1850 US census nor could I find him on a ship manifest for that time period.  I did, however, find a Joseph Jacobs on the 1851 England census as a visitor in Birmingham, England; he was listed as born in Middlesex, London, and his occupation was as a general dealer, so my guess is that Joseph was simply away on business the day the census was taken.

Joseph Jacobs 1851 England census  a visitor

Joseph Jacobs 1851 England census
a visitor

Joseph and his family left England and, like Joseph’s sister Rachel, settled in Philadelphia.  It appears that Rachel Jacobs and her three children, Solomon (4), Reuben (2) and Emanuel, who was described as an infant, left in 1853 along with her brother-in-law, fourteen year old Lazarus (L. Jacobs on the manifest).

Rachel Jacobs and children 1853 ship manifest

Rachel Jacobs and children 1853 ship manifest “Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1800-1882”, index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K8CH-1V8 : accessed 20 May 2014), Jacobs, 1853.

Her husband Joseph may not have left until 1854.

Joseph Jacobs ship manifest 1854

Joseph Jacobs ship manifest 1854 “Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1800-1882”, index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K8CC-N1Z : accessed 20 May 2014), Joseph Jacob, 1854

These dates make sense because according to the 1860 US census, their daughter Frances or Fanny was born in England and was six at the time of the census in 1860, but their daughter Esther was born in Pennsylvania and was already two years old in 1860.


Joseph Jacobs and family 1860 US census

Joseph Jacobs and family 1860 US census

What seems inconsistent, however, is that Frances/Fanny is not on the ship manifest with either her mother Rachel or her father Joseph.  Perhaps the 1860 census was incorrect, and Frances was born shortly after arriving in the US, but the 1870 census also has her listed as born in England, so more likely she just wasn’t included on the ship manifest. Emanuel Jacobs, however, although listed on the ship manifest, is not included in the 1860 census.  In fact, a later born child was named Emanuel, born in 1866.  So was “Emanuel” on the manifest really Frances? Or did the first Emanuel die?

Sadly, it was the latter.  Emanuel died on May 3, 1860, of heart disease, according to the US Federal Census Mortality Schedule.  The Philadelphia death certificate identifies his father as Joseph Jacobs residing at 150 South Street, so this is definitely the right child since that is where the Jacobs family was living in 1860.  The certificate also says that Emanuel had been in Philadelphia for 2 and 2/3 years, meaning since sometime in 1857 (which seems incorrect unless they lived elsewhere between 1853 and 1857), and although I cannot decipher the age very well, I think it says he was 8+ years, meaning he was born sometime either in 1851 or 1852, which would explain why he was not on the 1851 census, but was on the 1853 manifest.  Apparently, the second Emanuel, born in 1866, was named for the deceased older brother.

Emanuel Jacobs death certificate May 3, 1860

Emanuel Jacobs death certificate May 3, 1860

That does not explain where Frances was, however, when the rest of the family was sailing to Philadelphia.

In 1860 Joseph Jacobs and his family lived at 150 South Street in Philadelphia, not more than a few houses from my great-grandparents who lived at 136 South Street.  He was in business with his brother-in-law, Jacob Cohen, my great-great-grandfather. Although I will track what happened to Joseph and to Lazarus after 1860 as well as research Joseph, Sarah, and Lazarus’ parents in England, for now I will return to the Cohen family and finish their story before returning to my newly discovered family line, the Jacobs.  The tree just keeps on growing.

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