Thank you, Alex from Root to Tip: A Mystery Solved and A Question about

In my last post, I commented that I had had no luck finding information about the parents of the Adrian Kramer who married my cousin Ruth Sondheim in 1924. I wrote:

Adrian’s background is a mystery.   According to his military record from World War I and his World War II registration card, he was born in New York City on December 14, 1896. But despite searching in numerous places for all Kramers and all Adrians within two years of that date, and all boys born on that date, I have not found his birth record. Perhaps he was born with a different name.

Military record of Adrian Kramer, World War I New York, Abstracts of World War I Military Service, 1917-1919 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013.
Original data: New York State Abstracts of World War I Military Service, 1917–1919. Adjutant General’s Office. Series B0808. New York State Archives, Albany, New York.

Little did I know that that was in fact the case. But it took the help of the wonderful researcher, Alex of the Root to Tip genealogy blog, to find that out.

Alex left a comment on my prior post that said in part, “I noticed there was an obituary for Adrian Kramer in 1950 and it says he was the son of “Della Kramer.” Could this be Sandilla?”

Death notice for Adrian Kramer, The New York Times, July 1, 1950, p. 10

The first record I had found for an Adrian Kramer that fit anywhere close to a birth year of 1896 was the 1905 New York State census. On that document, Adrian Kramer, eight years old, was living on West 88th Street in the household of Maier Kramer. Also living in the household were six of Maier’s siblings: Sandilla, Joseph, Leo, Eva, David, and Minnie. None of them was married, but Sandilla was divorced.  She was listed with the surname Kramer, however, not a married name.

Adrian Kramer 1905 NYS census
New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1905; Election District: A.D. 21 E.D. 03; City: Manhattan; County: New York; Page: 12
Election District: A·D· 21 E·D· 03
Source Information New York, State Census, 1905

I had wondered whether Sandilla might have been Adrian’s mother when I saw the 1905 census since she was the only Kramer sibling who had been married, but I was misled by the fact that the 1905 census identified Adrian as the son of the head of household, and the head of household was not Sandilla but Maier.   As I wrote last time, I was able to find the siblings also living together on the 1910 census, where Adrian was this time identified as the brother of the head of household, again being Maier.

The death notice Alex found seemed to suggest that Sandilla might have been Adrian’s mother, not his aunt or his sister. Alex then went the next step and located a marriage record for a woman she thought might be Sandilla; she was listed as Sundilla Kramer on the FindMyPast index.  That record showed that “Sundilla” had married a man named Jacob Baruch on June 26, 1895, in New York City, and that her parents’ names were Abraham Kramer and Miriam Rosenfeld.  Here is a comparable record from FamilySearch.

Marriage record of Sandilla Kramer and Jacob Baruch
New York, New York City Marriage Records, 1829-1940,” database, FamilySearch ( : 10 February 2018), Jacob Baruch and Sundilla Kramer, 26 Jun 1895; citing Marriage, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York City Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1,493,183.

I was blown away by Alex’s discoveries and her generous efforts on my behalf. Armed now with these clues, I checked the 18701 and 18802 census records for the Kramer siblings and saw that their parents were in fact named Abraham and Miriam; that confirmed that the “Sundilla Kramer” who had married Jacob Baruch in 1895 was the same woman who was living with Adrian Kramer and the other Kramer siblings in 1905 and 1910.

And Alex hadn’t stopped with the death notice and the marriage record; she also found on Ancestry an index listing for a child born in New York City in December 1896 named Abraham Baruch. Alex said in her comment that she wondered if that was possibly the name given to Adrian Kramer at birth.

So I went to find some evidence confirming that the baby born in December 1896 named Abraham Baruch was the son of Sandilla Kramer and Jacob Baruch. And I found an index listing from the New York, New York City Births, 1846-1909, database on FamilySearch that revealed more than the Ancestry listing located by Alex. It showed that Abraham Baruch, born in December 1896, was the son of Jacob Baruch and “Sandilla Kroper.” That seemed close enough to confirm that Abraham Baruch was Sandilla Kramer’s son with Jacob Baruch.3

But I still wasn’t sure that Abraham Baruch was the boy later known as Adrian Kramer. Fortunately, with the information Alex had provided, I was able to locate the Kramer family on the 1900 census, a census that had eluded me in my prior search:

Sandia and Abraham Baruch, 1900 US census
Year: 1900; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Page: 7; Enumeration District: 0255 1900 United States Federal Census

Notice that Sandilla’s name is given as “Sandia K. Baruch” and that she is listed as the sister of “Myer Cramer.” Under her listing is Myer’s nephew (and obviously “Sandia’s” son) Abraham Baruch, born December 1887 and two years old.

No wonder I couldn’t find this census initially. Look at all those errors. Sandilla is spelled wrong. Maier and Kramer are spelled wrong. And a boy allegedly born in 1887 was listed as two years old in 1900! Even my math isn’t that bad…..

But reading between the lines and ignoring the mistakes on the census record convinced me that Abraham Baruch was  the son of Jacob Baruch and Sandilla Kramer. By 1900, Sandilla and her son had moved in with her Kramer siblings. By 1905, Abraham Baruch was using the name Adrian Kramer, and his mother was divorced.

Now I knew who were the parents of Adrian Kramer and where he was between 1896 and 1905.

Thank you, Alex! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your efforts!

And now the question:

I was puzzled by the fact that I had not found the death notice for Adrian Kramer that Alex found on Ancestry. What had I done differently in my search logic that caused me to miss this critical piece of evidence?

I asked Alex where and how she’d found the death notice for Adrian Kramer, and she told me that she had simply searched for “Adrian Kramer” in “New York, USA,” on Ancestry, and the death notice had popped up as a result in the Historical Newspapers database.

How had I missed that, I wondered?  I duplicated Alex’s search terms, and still I did not get her results.  And I have the All Access subscription from Ancestry—their most expensive level. I get no results at all from the Historical Newspapers database from those search parameters.

But when I went to the Ancestry Card Catalog, pulled up the Historical Newspapers database, and did a search within the database itself, I was able to locate the obituary. So why didn’t it come up on an overall search for me like it had for Alex? I don’t know. But it sure has me doubting the reliability of Ancestry’s search engine.

If anyone has any explanation for why Alex and I would not get the same search results with the same search terms, please let me know.

UPDATE: Thanks to Lisa in the Ancestry Facebook group, I think I have the answer to why Alex got better results than I did.  Get this—searching with a UK subscription brings up BETTER results even in US databases than searching with a US subscription.  HOW CAN THAT BE FAIR? I will be calling Ancestry back next week (no time today) to address this.

Thank you once again to Alex for her extraordinary research and for taking the time to solve this mystery for me. Once again, I am in awe of the generosity of the genealogy village.

  1. Kramer Family, 1870 US Census, Year: 1870; Census Place: New York Ward 20 District 18, New York, New York; Roll: M593_1008; Page: 572B; Family History Library Film: 552507, 1870 United States Federal Census 
  2. Kramer Family, 1880 US Census, Year: 1880; Census Place: New York City, New York, New York; Roll: 886; Page: 506C; Enumeration District: 401, Source Information and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census 
  3.  New York, New York City Births, 1846-1909,” database, FamilySearch( : 11 February 2018), Jacob Baruch in entry for Abraham Baruch, Dec 1896; citing Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, reference cn 54590 New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1,322,346. I am hoping to obtain a copy of the actual certificate. 

The Great Harry Coopersmith Mystery (Almost) Solved!

Back on December 5, 2017, I wrote about the documents I’d received from an Ancestry member named Dale: the death certificate of Frieda Brotman Coopersmith, my grandmother’s sister, and the military discharge papers for her husband Harry Coopersmith.

Thanks to my fellow genealogy bloggers, I re-examined these documents more carefully and observed a few things I’d missed before.

One thing I had not noticed before was that the death certificate was ordered from New York City in 1943, almost twenty years after Frieda’s death. Similarly, the military discharge certificate was recorded in the New York County Clerk’s Office in 1947, something that Cathy Meder-Dempsey of Opening Doors in Brick Walls pointed out to me:

What was happening in the 1940s that would have prompted Harry or one of his sons to order these two documents? As Luanne Castle of The Family Kalamazoo pointed out in her comment on my prior post, there must have been some reason that these documents were ordered and why the military papers were recorded with the city clerk. I’ve yet to figure out the reason, however.

There were also two photographs in Dale’s father’s papers, but neither Dale nor I could identify the men in these two photographs:

In that last post, I went through all the possible theories that Dale and I had discussed about how these papers could have ended up in her father’s possession.  Dale had no idea who Harry or Frieda were; she found me through Ancestry because they are both listed in my tree there.  Dale thought at first the source was her great-aunt Anna Yurdin Haas, but my research and analysis led me to conclude that that was not the likely source as there was no apparent connection or overlap between Harry and Anna and Burton.

Instead, I concluded that it was more likely that the connection was between Dale’s father Howard Halpern and one or more of the sons of Harry Coopersmith from his second marriage: David, Lawrence, and Samuel. Howard grew up in Long Beach, Long Island, New York, just a mile away from Island Park, Long Island, New York, where in 1940 the three Coopersmith brothers were living as boarders in the home of Jacob and Pauline Davis.

After that post was published, I received several suggestions and questions from my readers.  Two, Su Leslie of the blogs Shaking the Tree and Zimmerbitch and Charles Moore of Moore Genealogy, pointed out that sometimes things end up in the hands of complete strangers through random events and that there might have been no relationship between the Halperns and the Coopersmiths.  Others suggested more questions to ask Dale and Harry’s grandson Stan.

I contacted Dale and Stan and asked them some more questions. On the “random distribution” theory Dale told me that her father had been an avid stamp and coin collector and met many people while pursuing those hobbies; he also purchased stamp collections from other collectors. She suggested I ask Stan whether anyone in the family collected stamps. And when I asked Stan, he responded that his father Lawrence had in fact been a stamp collector. Perhaps this was how the papers ended up with Howard? Did he purchase a collection from the Coopersmiths in which these papers had been left inadvertently?

Stan told me that his father had gone to a trade school in Manhattan to become a typesetter and had settled in Seaford, New York, on Long Island after he married.  Stan’s uncles David and Sam owned a printshop in Freeport, New York, and lived with their families in Wantagh, New York, towns that are also on Long Island. Stan also said that his grandfather Harry was living in Bohemia, New York, also on Long Island, at the end of his life.

Learning of these details, Dale pointed out that her father was a reporter for the Long Island newspaper, Newsday, and that her family had lived in Levittown, not far from Wantagh and Freeport. It thus was possible that her father knew the Coopersmiths from work or from stamp collecting.

To see if I could get more answers, I decided to try to contact some of Harry’s other grandchildren, whose names I found in the obituary of one of David Coopersmith’s children. I found two of them on Facebook, and one, David’s daughter, Mindy, was able to provide me with some critical information.

First, she shared this photograph of her father, David Coopersmith:

Comparing this photograph to one of the photographs Dale had sent me, I could see that both photographs were of the same man: Harry’s oldest son David.

Mindy believes that the other photograph—of the man standing behind a Coney Island sign—is her uncle, Larry Coopersmith. Now I knew who the men were in those two photographs—two of Harry Coopersmith’s sons.

Then one of those incredible small-world coincidences occurred. The next day I received an email from my friend and fellow genealogy blogger, Sharon Haimovitz-Civitano of the Branches of our Haimowitz Family Tree and Branches on Civitano Tree blogs.  She had been on Facebook and noticed that I had commented on a photograph that Mindy had posted and wanted to know how I knew Mindy because Mindy was her very close childhood friend. My head was spinning! Sharon said that when she’d read my earlier post about Harry Coopersmith and seen the “mystery photos,” she had in fact thought that one of them resembled her friend Mindy’s father, but she had dismissed the idea, thinking it was too far-fetched—-that Coopersmith was probably a common name and that there was likely no connection despite the resemblance and the fact that Sharon and her friend Mindy had both grown up on Long Island.

I asked Sharon to vouch for me—to assure Mindy that I was honorable and only interested in figuring out who was in the photographs and how they’d ended up with Dale’s father. And she did, and just a short while later, Mindy called me, and we had a lovely chat about our overlapping families.

Mindy told me that her father David had been in the Marines during World War II and that the photographs were taken in the 1940s—consistent with the answer I’d received from Ava Cohn, the Photo Genealogist. Mindy had not known about Harry’s first marriage, and she also did not know who Howard Halpern was or how these photographs and other papers could have ended up with Howard.  Mindy suggested that I speak with her mother Vivian for more information.

The next day I spoke to Vivian, and she confirmed what Mindy had told me and also filled in more of the gaps.  After Nettie was hospitalized, Harry could not find anyone to help him care for his sons, who were all under five years old at that time. He eventually decided to place them in the Hebrew Orphanage in New York City, and the orphanage found the Davis family to act as foster parents. David, Lawrence, and Samuel went to live with the Davis family as small boys and lived there until the two older boys were old enough to join the service during World War II.

Vivian also told me that Harry had himself been a stamp collector and that when he died in 1956, his son David had inherited the stamp collection. David, however, was not a collector so he gave the collection to his brother Sam, who was. Perhaps Sam or one of his children sold Harry’s stamp collection without ever knowing that there were papers and photographs inside.

Vivian and Mindy generously shared with me some photographs of Harry and his family, helping me put faces to the names of this family who were not biologically connected to my own, but whose story was nevertheless tied to my own.

This is Harry Coopersmith during his service in the army during World War I; Vivian said he’d served in Siberia and in the Phillipines:

Harry Coopersmith in World War I
Courtesy of the Coopersmith family

This is Nettie Lichtenstein Coopersmith, Harry’s second wife:

Nettie Lichtenstein Coopersmith Courtesy of the Coopersmith family

And here are two photographs of Harry with his sons, taken after they’d been taken into foster care and thus showing that Harry maintained contact with them during their childhood:

Lawrence Coopersmith, unknown man, Samuel Coopersmith, Harry Coopersmith, and David Coopersmith Courtesy of the Coopersmith family

Harry Coopersmith and his family Courtesy of the Coopersmith family

We may never know how Howard Halpern ended up with the photographs of David and Lawrence, Harry’s discharge papers, and Frieda’s death certificate. It might have been a random event—through, for example, a sale of a stamp collection. Or maybe he knew the Coopersmiths from school or from the community or from work. But somehow he came into possession of these items and kept them safe for a long time.

Thus, the mystery is not completely solved, but the most important questions have been answered. We know the identity of the men in the photographs, and now I can return them to their family. I know more about Harry and his life after Frieda died. And best of all, I’ve found some wonderful people who are connected to me through the tragically brief marriage of Harry Coopersmith to my great-aunt Frieda, my grandmother’s little sister who died far too young.

How Did My Great-Aunt Frieda’s Death Certificate End Up There?

This is a mystery without a solution—yet. Perhaps one of you can help me solve it.

Many months ago I received a message on Ancestry from a member named Dale who told me that she had a stamped and certified copy of the death certificate for my great-aunt Frieda Brotman.  Frieda was my grandmother’s younger sister, and she had been married to Harry Coopersmith for about a year when she died shortly after giving birth to their son Max.  Max had died as well.

Frieda Brotman Coopersmith death cert


Dale had been going through her parents’ papers and found not only Frieda’s death certificate, but military records for Frieda’s husband Harry Coopersmith and two photographs that Dale thought might be of Harry. She had seen that I had Frieda and Harry on my Ancestry tree and wondered if I was interested in the papers.

Well, of course, I was more than interested. Dale kindly offered to send me the documents and photographs. And since then we have been trying to figure out why these papers would have been among her parents’ belongings.  Since both of Dale’s parents have passed away, she had no one to ask.

Dale believed that these papers had belonged at one time to her great-aunt Anna Yurdin Haas.  Anna was her father’s mother’s sister. She was born in New York City to Russian immigrant parents in about 1895 and had lived in upper Manhattan as a child; in 1920 when she was 25, she was living with several of her younger siblings in the Bronx, working as a clerk in an office.

Anna Yurdin and family 1920 census
Year: 1920; Census Place: Bronx Assembly District 5, Bronx, New York; Roll: T625_1137; Page: 7B; Enumeration District: 286

On the 1930 census, Anna reported that she was married to Burton Haas, and they were living at 7035 Broadway in Queens.  Burton Haas came from a whole different class—he grew up on Central Park West in Manhattan; his parents were American born from German and Austrian backgrounds. He went to Dartmouth. He served overseas during World War I, enlisting on June 14, 1917 and being honorably discharged on May 6, 1919.

According to the 1930 census, Anna and Burton had been married about eight years in 1930, meaning they had married in about 1922.  There were no children living with them. Burton was a real estate broker, Anna a cashier for a theater. In 1940 they were still living in Queens at 35-30 73rd Street and had been in the same place in 1935. There were still no children. Burton was still a real estate broker, and Anna was the assistant treasurer of a theater.

Anna Yurdin and Burton Haas on the 1930 census
Year: 1930; Census Place: Queens, Queens, New York; Roll: 1590; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0197; FHL microfilm: 2341325

Then things get a little odd. On August 9, 1940, Burton Haas and Anna Yurdin were married in Norfolk, Virginia. At that point they had in fact been living together and holding themselves out as husband and wife for almost twenty years. But perhaps they had never really married until 1940.

Anna Yurdin and Burton Haas marriage record
Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Marriages, 1936-2014; Roll: 101166979

On his World War II draft card in 1942, Burton reported that he had his own business at 62 West 45th Street in Manhattan; they were still living at the same address in Queens. Burton died a year later on July 21, 1943, in Queens.  Anna died in 1983; they are both buried at Linden Hill Jewish cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens. Anna never remarried.

Comparing this to Harry and Frieda’s timeline, I see no overlap. While Anna grew up in upper Manhattan and then lived in the Bronx and finally Queens and Burton also grew up in upper Manhattan and went to college, Harry and Frieda were both born and raised in the Lower East Side.  Harry had served in the US Army from August 31, 1919, until his honorable discharge on September 6, 1922, so he did not overlap in the service at all with Burton Haas.

Harry married Frieda in 1923. Frieda had worked in a sweatshop as a finisher with feathers until she married Harry. They were still living on the Lower East Side in a tenement when she died on May 10, 1924, just days after giving birth to their son Max.

After Frieda died, Harry quickly married again. He married Nettie Lichtenstein sometime in 1924, presumably outside of New York City as no marriage records were located for them. Nettie was a recent immigrant; according to the 1930 census, she had arrived in 1920.  Their first son David was born on June 16, 1925 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Two more sons followed— Lawrence in 1926 and Samuel in 1928, both born in New York. In 1930 Harry and his family were still living in the Lower East Side. Harry was working as a taxi driver.

Harry Coopersmith and family 1930 census
Year: 1930; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Roll: 1550; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 0148; FHL microfilm: 2341285

By 1940, Harry’s family was in pieces.  Nettie was institutionalized at Kings Park State Hospital in Smithtown, Long Island, and the three boys were living in Island Park, Hempstead, Long Island, as boarders (I assume as foster children) with the family of Jacob and Pauline Davis and their sons. I have not found any familial connection between the Davis family and Harry or Nettie. Jacob was in the printing business, and he and Pauline had been living in Island Park since at least 1930. Before that, they had lived in the Bronx and upper Manhattan, nowhere near Harry or Nettie. I have no idea how they ended up with the three Coopersmith boys. Neither one ever lived on the Lower East Side.

Coopersmith sons boarding with David family 1940
Year: 1940; Census Place: Hempstead, Nassau, New York; Roll: T627_2685; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 30-82

Harry does not appear anywhere on the 1940 census and does not resurface on any records until 1945 when military records report that he was still living on the Lower East Side and had enlisted in the New York Guard on April 23, 1945 and had been discharged on June 26, 1946.

Harry Coopersmith New York Guard record
New York State Archives; Albany, New York; Collection: New York, New York Guard Service Cards and Enlistment Records, 1906-1918, 1940-1948; Series: B2000; Film Number: 45

The last records I have for Harry are his veteran’s burial records, showing that he died on January 14, 1956 and was buried at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York. Interestingly, a plot next to Harry was to be reserved for his widow Nettie, who was then residing in Bohemia, New York, also on Long Island. I don’t know if Harry had been living with her at the time of his death.

Given the absence of any overlap in places lived or worked between Harry and Anna Yurdin Haas or Harry and Burton Haas, I have no idea how or why Anna would have come into possession of Harry’s military papers or Frieda’s death certificate.

As for the two photographs, I am not even sure that they are pictures of Harry. I sent them to Harry’s grandson, but he had never met his grandfather and did not have any pictures of him. He sent me a picture of himself, and perhaps there is some slight resemblance, but not enough to determine if the photographs are of Harry Coopersmith.

Harrys grandson

Assuming they are photographs of Harry, they were likely taken in the 1940s, according to Ava Cohn, the expert in photography analysis. That would mean that the person who somehow came to possess these documents knew Harry in the 1940s.  He is in his military uniform in one of the photographs, so that means the photograph was probably taken some time in 1945 to 1946 since that was when Harry was in the New York Guard. At that point Anna Yurdin Haas was a widow, living in Queens, New York. Perhaps she and Harry somehow became friends or lovers.  After all, Harry’s wife Nettie was institutionalized, his sons were in foster care of some kind, and Harry was on his own. That seems like one possible explanation for how these papers ended up in Anna Yurdin’s possession.

The other possibility is that the papers never belonged to Anna Yurdin, but perhaps to Dale’s father Howard Halpern. Dale is not entirely certain that they had belonged to Anna. If they belonged instead to her father, how would he have known Harry?

Howard Halpern was the son of David Halpern and Anna Yurdin’s sister May Yurdin (sometimes identified as Mary). He was born in 1919 in New York and lived in the Bronx in 1920, but by 1925 had moved to Queens, living in the same Jackson Heights neighborhood where his aunt Anna and her husband Burton were living in 1930 and thereafter.  By 1930, however, Howard and his parents and brother had moved to Long Beach, Long Island, and were no longer in Queens. They were still living there in 1940.

Halpern family 1940
Year: 1940; Census Place: Long Beach, Nassau, New York; Roll: T627_2690; Page: 61B; Enumeration District: 30-209

Maybe Howard knew one of Harry’s sons. They were a bit younger than Howard, but Howard lived in Long Beach starting in 1930, and Harry’s sons were in Island Park in Hempstead by 1940. The two towns are about a mile apart, as seen on this map.

Howard had a younger brother Alvin, born in 1925, who would have been the same age as David Coopersmith and only a year older than Lawrence and three years older than Samuel.  According to the current Island Park School District webpage, today students in Island Park have a choice of attending two high schools in the area, one of them being Long Beach High School. That might also have been true in the 1940s when the Coopersmith boys and Howard and Alvin Halpern were in high school.

So my second hunch is that Alvin and his brother Howard knew the Coopersmith sons from Long Beach High School or from Hebrew school or some other community sports or activity.

But that doesn’t solve the mystery of why Howard Halpern had Frieda Brotman Coopersmith’s death certificate or Harry’s discharge papers. That the Coopersmith boys had their father’s military discharge papers is somewhat understandable—but why would they have had the death certificate for their father’s first wife, a woman with whom they had no connection at all? And why would Dale’s father Howard have ended up with those papers?

I don’t know. But David Coopersmith named his son Lee Howard Coopersmith—perhaps for his childhood friend Howard Halpern? If he was such a close friend, wouldn’t Dale have heard of him?

As I mentioned above, I have been in touch with one of Harry’s grandsons, but he had no information that shed light on this mystery. I am now trying to contact Harry’s great-granddaughter, who has a tree on Ancestry. Perhaps she will know. At the very least, she might be able to tell me if the photographs are indeed of Harry Coopersmith. But it’s been almost two months, and she has not responded to me.

Let me know your thoughts.


My Double/Triple? Cousins: The Children of Pauline Ruelf and Hirsch Abraham

The youngest child of Gelle Katzenstein and Moses Ruelf to live to adulthood was Pauline Ruelf. Part of Pauline’s story has already been told, as she was the mother of Julius Abraham, who married Senta Katz, the great-granddaughter of Rahel Katzenstein. That is, as I described here, Pauline’s son Julius and his wife Senta Katz were half-third cousins. Julius and Senta were the parents of Fred Abrahams, whose memoirs of his family’s life and departure from Germany were also posted here.

But I am getting a bit ahead of myself, so let me back up and start with Pauline’s birth. She was born on September 25, 1869, in Rauischholzhausen:

Pauline Ruelf birth record,
Geburtsregister der Juden von (Rauisch)Holzhausen (Ebsdorfergrund) 1824-1874 (HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 452)AutorHessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Wiesbaden, p.15

On December 26, 1891, when she was 22 years old, she married Hirsch Abraham. Hirsch was born on December 4, 1858, in Niederurff, and was the son of Jakob Abraham and Roschen Frank.

Pauline Ruelf marriage to Hirsh Abraham
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 915; Laufende Nummer: 7960

Hirsch was a widower when he married Pauline; his first wife was Pauline’s older sister Johanna Ruelf, who had died on August 12, 1890, eleven days after giving birth to a daughter, whose name was originally Rosa but was changed to Johanna (or Hannah) after her mother died.

Birth record of Rosa later Johanna Abraham
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Geburtsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 6175

So Pauline took on the responsibility for raising her niece Johanna. She and Hirsch also had six children together: Ricchen Rosa (1892), Julius (1894), Meta (1894), Sarah (1896), Siegfried (1897), and Recha (1900).  Although Julius and Meta were both born in 1894, they were not twins; Julius was born January 2, 1894, and his sister Meta was born almost twelve months later on December 26, 1894, meaning Julius was only three months old when Meta was conceived.

Birth record of Julius Abraham Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Geburtsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 6179


Birth record of Meta Abraham
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Geburtsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 6179

Pauline and Hirsch lost two of their children at young ages. Their daughter Sarah died on June 25, 1910; she was only fourteen.

Death Record for Sarah Abraham
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 920; Laufende Nummer: 6261

Their son Siegfried was killed fighting for Germany in World War I. He was only nineteen when he was shot in the line of duty on April 13, 1917. According to his death record, he was a musketeer in the Germany infantry and was shot twice, once in the left forearm and once in the chest, and died from his injuries; he was buried in a common grave.

Siegfried Abraham death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 920; Laufende Nummer: 6268

The fact that twenty years later Siegfried’s family would be forced to leave Germany to survive makes his death even more tragic. My cousin Fred Abrahams was named for his uncle Siegfried.

Siegfried’s brother Julius also served in World War I. Here is a photograph of three of Siegfried’s siblings at some gathering in Germany in 1915; first, the overall photograph and then a snip focusing on the three Abraham siblings, Meta, Julius, and Recha. You can see that Julius is in uniform:

Courtesy of Fred and Martin Abrahams

Courtesy of Fred and Martin Abrahams

On September 25, 1921, Johanna Abraham, Pauline’s niece whom she raised after her sister Johanna died, married Jakob Hirschberg of Zwesten, Germany. Jakob was born on April 15, 1893. He and Johanna had one child, a son Martin.

Marriage of Johanna Abraham and Jakob Hirschberg
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 920; Laufende Nummer: 6226

Although I have very little information at all about Hirsch and Pauline’s oldest daughter Ricchen Rosa Abraham, one passenger manifest lists her with the married name Zechermann; I don’t know her husband’s first name or when or where she married, nor do I know whether they ever had children.

Ricchen Rosa Abraham passenger card
The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger and Crew Manifests of Airplanes Arriving at Miami, Florida.; NAI Number: 2788541; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787 – 2004; Record Group Number: 85

The other surviving daughters of Pauline Ruelf and Hirsh Abraham both immigrated to the United States in the 1920s. Recha, the youngest child, was only 25 when she first left Germany on October 6, 1925, to travel to the US. According to the passenger manifest, she had been last living in Frankfurt and working as a housekeeper and was now traveling to her uncle, Max Abraham, who resided in Davenport, Iowa. Recha stated that she expected to stay for nine months.

Recha Abraham 1925 ship manifest
Year: 1925; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 3741; Line: 1; Page Number: 135 New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957

Max Abraham was Hirsch Abraham’s older brother; he had come to the US from Germany in the 1870s when he was just a teenager. In 1880, he was living in Louisville, Kentucky, and working as a dry goods merchant. He remained in Kentucky for a number of years and after marrying in 1988, he moved to Campbellsburg, Indiana, where he became president of the local bank. After 25 years in Indiana, Max and his family moved to Davenport, Iowa in 1916, where he and his sons started what became a very successful clothing business, Abrahams Brothers. “Max Abrahams, Treasurer of Ready to Wear Store in Davenport, Dies at 82,” Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa), 24 Apr 1938, p. 1

I don’t know how long Recha ended up staying with her uncle Max in Iowa on this trip, but on October 15, 1926, she again sailed from Hamburg to New York listing her destination as her uncle Max Abraham’s home in Davenport, Iowa. She listed her last address as Frankfurt. She provided no occupation nor did she indicate this time the length of her stay.

Recha Abraham 1926 ship manifest
Year: 1926; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 3947; Line: 1; Page Number: 182 New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957

On September 23, 1927, her older sister Meta also arrived in the US and also indicated that she was going to her uncle Max Abraham of Davenport, Iowa. Meta stated that she planned to stay in the US permanently. She stated that her occupation was a clerk.

Meta Abraham 1927 passenger manifest
Year: 1927; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 4135; Line: 1; Page Number: 94 New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957

In the fall of 1930, both Meta and Recha must have visited their family in Germany because a passenger manifest for a ship sailing from Hamburg and arriving in New York City on October 8, 1930, lists both sisters as residents of New York City where they were both living at 42 West 89th Street. Recha was working as a cashier and Meta as a dressmaker. Neither had yet become a US citizen. Both reported that they had been in the US since 1927, although Recha obviously had arrived earlier than that.

Meta and Recha Abraham 1930 passenger manifest
Year: 1930; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 4854; Line: 1; Page Number: 90 New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957

Meta and Recha did not show up on the 1930 census when I searched for them on Ancestry and FamilySearch, which puzzled me. I turned to, using his enumeration district finder tool and the address from the 1930 passenger manifest—42 West 89th Street. There they were, clear as could be.

Meta and Recha Abraham 1930 US census
Year: 1930; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Roll: 1556; Page: 9A; Enumeration District: 0450; FHL microfilm: 2341291

So why hadn’t they shown up when I searched? For one thing, both had reported themselves as much younger than they were; Meta, who apparently gave the information to the enumerator, said that she was 24 and her sister 22 when in fact Meta was 34 and Recha was 30. That obviously threw off my search even though I thought I’d given fairly wide ranges in my search parameters for their ages. Also, Recha was listed as Rebecca. But this household is clearly that of the Abraham sisters. Meta was working as a cashier for a butcher and Recha was a seamstress at Macy’s. Both are listed with the surname Abrahams, a change that had also been made by their uncle Max in Iowa.

Meanwhile, back in Niederurff, Germany, Pauline and Hirsh’s only surviving son, Julius Abraham, had by 1932 married his half-third cousin Senta Katz of Jesberg, and they had two sons in the 1930s, Martin and Siegfried/Fred. (Julius and Senta were married either on January 10, 1931, or January 10, 1932; their sons were not sure of the year, and I’ve not been able to find an official record.)

It was not too much longer before Julius and Senta recognized the need to escape from Nazi Germany. As Fred described in his memoir excerpted here and as I wrote about in that same post, Julius and Senta and their two sons left Germany and arrived in New York City on June 24, 1937 . They were going to Julius’ sisters, Meta and Recha, who were then living at 252 West 85th Street. Julius reported his occupation to be a tailor.

Family of Julius and Senta Katz Abraham, passenger manifest, Year: 1937; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 6003; Line: 1; Page Number: 18
Ship or Roll Number : Roll 6003
Source Information New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957

The next family member to arrive from Germany was Johanna Abraham Hirschberg, the half-sister of Meta, Julius, and Recha, daughter of Johanna Ruelf and Hirsch Abraham. Johanna came with her husband Jakob and son Martin on May 4, 1938; they also were going to Meta and Recha’s home at 252 West 85th Street in New York City. Jakob was a merchant. They had been living in Zwesten, Germany, before immigrating to the US.

Johanna Abraham Hirschberg and family on 1938 passenger manifest
Year: 1938; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 6152; Line: 1; Page Number: 168 New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957

Sadly, Pauline Ruelf Abraham died on March 22, 1938, in Niederurff, and thus did not get to join her children in the United States. She was 68 years old when she died.

Pauline Ruelf death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 920; Laufende Nummer: 6280

Pauline Ruelf Abraham gravestone

Her husband Hirsch Abraham left Germany a year later, arriving in New York on March 25, 1939. He also was joining his daughters at 252 West 85th Street. He was eighty years old when he left Niederurff, Germany and sailed alone to New York City, leaving behind the only home he’d ever known. He lived only a year in the US, dying on March 9, 1940 at age 81. (New York, New York, Death Index, 1862-1948, on

Thus, by March 1939, all but one of the children of Pauline Ruelf and Johanna Ruelf and Hirsch Abraham were living safely in New York City.  On the 1940 census, Meta and Recha were still living at 252 West 85th Street; Meta was a bookkeeper for a women’s clothing manufacturing company, and Recha had no occupation listed. Meta died in New York City on May 18, 1977, and her sister Recha died almost a year to the day later on May 24, 1978. Meta was 83 when she died, and Recha was 78. It appears the two sisters had lived together their entire adult lives once coming to the US in the 1920s.

Meta and Recha Abraham on 1940 census
Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Roll: T627_2643; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 31-809

Their half-sister/first cousin Johanna and her husband Jakob (listed as Jack) and son were also still living in New York in 1940; Johanna and Jack were both working as cooks, Jack for the city and Johanna in a private home. By 1955, the family had moved to Davenport, Iowa, where Jack and his son Martin were both working in Max Abrahams’ store. Johanna died August 15, 1955, and Jack died in 1960. They are buried in Davenport.

Johanna Abraham Hirschberg and family on 1940 census
Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Roll: T627_2636; Page: 13A; Enumeration District: 31-547

Julius Abraham and his wife Senta Katz and their sons were also living in New York City in 1940. As I wrote earlier, the family was living at 325 West 93rd Street, and Julius was working in the family business, Abrahams Brothers, the clothing business started by Max Abrahams and his sons in Davenport, Iowa. The business had grown to about a dozen stores throughout the Midwest. In 1940, Julius was working in the fur department of the New York office, where the administration and buying for the many stores was handled. He continued to work for the business for the rest of his life. Julius died on December 22, 1959; his wife Senta lived to 93, dying on October 15, 2000, in Stamford, Connecticut.

Senta Katz Abrahams and family, 1940 census
Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Roll: T627_2642; Page: 16A; Enumeration District: 31-777

The only child of Pauline Ruelf Abraham who is unaccounted for is Ricchen Rosa Abraham, Pauline’s first child. I have no records for her aside from her birth record and the 1961 passenger list card depicted above.  I am also only inferring that this is in fact Ricchen in the passenger list card based on the birth date and place of birth and the fact that her nephews Martin and Fred knew that she had ended up in Chile. The family story is that she was unable to gain entry to the US and so went to Chile instead.

I have no records for her in Chile so do not know when she got there, whom she married, whether she had children, or when she died. I have tried finding information about her from sources in Chile, but so far have had no luck. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know.

But what I do know is that all of the children and grandchildren of both Pauline Ruelf and her sister Johanna Ruelf survived the Holocaust. That in and of itself gives me a happy ending to this last chapter in the story of Gelle Katzensten and Moses Ruelf.



The Indomitable Human Spirit: The Descendants of Minna Ruelf Spier

Although the story of Minna Ruelf Spier is, like that of her sisters Esther and Bette, a story that includes much tragedy and suffering, in its way it is also uplifting for what it reveals about the human spirit and the will to survive. As we move closer to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I find Minna’s story appropriate for these days and inspiring.

I have been in touch with one of Minna’s direct descendants, my fourth cousin- once removed Jennifer Spier-Stern, and she has shared with me what she knows about the family history as well as some family photographs. I am so very grateful to Jennifer for her help and her generosity.

Minna Ruelf was born on February 16, 1859, in Rauischholzhausen, Germany:

Minna Ruelf birth record
Geburtsregister der Juden von (Rauisch)Holzhausen (Ebsdorfergrund) 1824-1874 (HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 452)AutorHessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Wiesbaden, p. 10

Three days after her 21st birthday, on February 19, 1880, she married Isaak Spier. Isaak was born June 12, 1850, in Leidenhofen, Germany, another town in the Hesse region, the son of Abraham Spier and Esther Schaumberg. Isaak was a merchant.  Minna and Isaak settled in Ebsdorf, a small village a mile from Leidenhofen, where they had the first of their three sons, Abraham, who was born on January 18, 1881.

Minna Ruelf and Isaak Spier marriage record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 915; Laufende Nummer: 2524

Their two younger sons, Julius (July 26, 1883), and Siegfried (November 29, 1886), were born in Rauischholzhausen.

Isaak Spier died on June 17, 1910, in Rauischholzhausen. He was sixty years old. At that time none of his sons had married.

Isaak Spier
Courtesy of  Jennifer Spier-Stern

Isaak Spier death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 915; Laufende Nummer: 8036

Abraham, the oldest son, married nine years later on November 3, 1919; he was 38 years old. He married Jenny Wertheim, who was born on June 4, 1890, in Hatzbach, Germany, to Wolf Wertheim and Sanchen Edelmuth.

Marriage of Abraham Spier and Jenny Wertheim
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Collection: Personenstandsregister Heiratsregister; Signatur: 915; Laufende Nummer: 5047


Abraham Spier, c. 1914
Courtesy of Jennifer Spier-Stern

Jenny Wertheim  Spier Courtesy of Jennifer Spier-Stern

Abraham and Jenny had five children, one daughter and four sons: Edith (1920), Julius (1922),[1] Alfred (1924), Martin (1925), and Walter (1927); they were all born in Rauischholzhausen.

Edith, Julius, and Alfred Spier , c. 1926 Courtesy of Jennifer Spier-Stern

Family of Abraham and Jenny Spier, Courtesy of Jennifer Spier-Stern

Just three weeks after Walter’s birth, his grandmother Minna Ruelf Spier died at age 68 on November 5, 1927.

Minna Ruelf
Courtesy of her great-granddaughter Jennifer Spier-Stern

Minna Ruelf Spier death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 915; Laufende Nummer: 8053

The youngest son of Isaak Spier and Minna Ruelf, Siegfried, died when he was 48 years old in Rauischholzhausen on February 21, 1935, just seven months before the Nuremberg Laws were adopted by the Nazis in Germany. Siegfried was unmarried.

Siegfried Spier death record
Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 915; Laufende Nummer: 8061

Not long after Siegfried’s death, Julius Spier (Abraham’s brother, not his son) left Rauischholzhausen. According to Alfred Schneider’s book, Die Juedischen Familien im ehemaligen Kreise Kirchain (p. 350), Julius was still in Rauischholzhausen in 1935, but as of 1936, his location was unknown. One source says that he went to Frankfurt where he had a seat on the stock exchange.  That same source said that he immigrated to England by 1945, perhaps as early as 1938.  (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Pedigree Resource File,” database, FamilySearch( : accessed 2017-09-06), entry for Julius /Spier).

According to Jennifer, Julius Spier married Lucie Henrietta Cohn. According to this website located by Jennifer, Lucie was the daughter of Hugo Cohn and Selma Marcuse of Halberstadt; she was born on October 28, 1897. The website also states that she’d gone to Frankfurt and married (no date or place was given, nor the name of her husband). If futher states that after getting divorced in 1938, Lucie had immigrated to England and worked in the fashion industry.  Although I have no marriage record or other document showing her marriage or divorce, Lucie appears on many passenger manifests between 1947 and 1960—first residing in London, later in the US, listed at various times as a commercial traveler, a housewife, and a nurse.

Julius died in London on February 25, 1959. (England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007, on

UPDATE: Thank you to Anne Callanan of the German Genealogy for sending me some records she found on FindMyPast, a genealogy service to which I do not (yet) subscribe. Anne found Enemy Alien registration cards for several family members including Julius Spier and Lucie Henrietta Spier. From those records, I now know that Julius was in England by November 1939, working as an agent. He was at first granted an exemption from being detained as an enemy alien, but that decision was reversed and he was interned on June 21, 1940, but was released two months later on August 23, 1940.

Lucie also had to register as an enemy alien. She registered on December 8, 1939, when she was living in Manchester, England (thus not with Julius) and working as a house servant for a Mr. M. I. Marks in his home. She was granted an exemption and was not interned. The card does not reveal any information about her marital status.

Julius Spier (son of Minna Ruelf and Isaak Spier)
Courtesy of Jennifer Spier-Stern

Abraham and Jenny Spier and their children were still in Germany during the Nazi era, but they were eventually able to get some of their children to England. According to my cousin Jennifer, Edith Spier left Germany on one of the early Kindertransports to England where she worked as au pair; according to the Schneider book (p. 351), Edith left on October 20, 1937, when she was seventeen. She eventually went to New York, where in 1943 she married Alfred Baumann, who was born in Adelsberg, Germany, in 1913, and had immigrated to the US in 1938.

Julius Spier (Abraham and Jenny’s son) was arrested along with ten thousand other Jewish men  in the aftermath of Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938, and sent to Buchenwald. His daughter Jennifer wrote this about his experiences:

My father, John Sanders (nee Julius Spier) was born in Rauischholtzhausen, Germany on June 17, 1922. At the age of 16, on November 9, 1938 he was arrested in his home by the Gestapo. It should have been my grandfather, but he was in a few towns over at his mother’s home. Rumors around the towns were that the Gestapo were going from house to house to arrest the eldest male.

My father was taken to Buchenwald concentration camp where he remained for 10 weeks. During this time, his mother heard about the organized efforts of the Jewish Agency of Bloomsbury, London to get as many Jewish children, between the ages of four to 17, out of Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. She went to the Jewish Agency and the police, where she was told to get all the documents ready, as well as a visa to leave Germany.

Upon release from Buchenwald, my father had only two weeks to leave Germany. His father took him to the Frankfurt train station, where he was to meet the Kindertransport train that would take him to England. At the train station there were other families with children. The parents and their young ones had to say their good-byes inside the train station. The children, regardless of age, had to go onto the platform and then onto the train by themselves. Families with infants gave the infants to the older children. It is difficult to comprehend all sides. How does a parent give up a baby and how does a young adult care for one. My father said goodbye to his father, not realizing that this was the last time he would ever see him.  …

After his tenure in Dover Court, my father was taken into the home of an Orthodox family in Westgate, London. He was there until June of 1939 when his brother [Alfred] came over from Germany. Together, they went to a hostel in London. Shortly thereafter they were taken to a farm in Aberdeen, Scotland. An aristocrat owned the farm by the name of Sir Robert Grant. He treated my father and his brother with the utmost of respect and kindness. One memorable time for my father was when the chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce took him and his brother to Harrod’s department store in London and they were able to pick out all that they needed. Sir Robert Grant applied for visas to get my father’s parents and brothers out of Germany. Unfortunately war broke out a few days later and all visas were denied. 

Julius Spier, son of Abraham and Jenny (Wertheim) Spier, c. 1935
Courtesy of Jennifer Spier-Stern

That left Abraham and Jenny and their two youngest children, Martin and Walter, stranded in Germany. On September 7, 1942, all four were deported to Theriesenstadt. Then on May 18, 1944, all four were transported to Auschwitz, where Abraham and Jenny were murdered. Martin and Walter survived. Walter Spier talked movingly about his experience in this video. I implore you all to watch it. It’s less then fifteen minutes long, and when you considered what he suffered for years, you know you can spare fifteen minutes to hear him talk.


When I think of the two young men being reunited in Rauischholzhausen in 1945, it moves me to tears.

Meanwhile, their older siblings were for a time in the United Kingdom. But like many other Jews who were sent to England for safety from the Nazis, Julius and Alfred were sent to the Isle of Man as possible “enemies of the state” after England declared war on Germany in September, 1939.

According to this article from B’nai Brith Magazine, the first inmates arrived on the Isle of Man in May, 1940, and by August, 1940, there were over 14,000 men, women, and children imprisoned on the Isle of Man, some being Nazi sympathizers, many others being Jews who’d been born in Germany and thus were considered enemy aliens, ironically.  Because of overcrowding, in July, 1940, England decided to send some of the inmates to Canada or to Australia. (Cheryl Klemper, “Imprisoned On The Isle Of Man: Jewish Refugees Classified As “Enemy Aliens”, ” B’nai Brith Magazine, September 19, 2016)

Julius and Alfred Spier were among those sent to Australia. According to Jennifer, they both were on the ship known as the HMT (Hired Military Transport) Dunera. According to the Australian website for the Migration Heritage Centre:

On board the HMT Dunera were about 2,000 male German Jewish refugees aged between 16 and 45, who had escaped from Nazi occupied territories. Also on board were 200 Italian POWs and 250 Nazis. The voyage lasted 57 days. The conditions were appalling. Apart from overcrowding on the ship with the attendant problems of hygiene and harsh treatment by crew members, the journey was also made unpleasant by the fear of torpedo attacks, the uncertainty of the destination, and by tensions between Jewish refugees and Nazi passengers.

After arriving in Australia, Julius and Alfred spent two years interned at camps in Hay and Tatura in Australia. The Migration Heritage Centre website reported this about the Hay camp:

The Hay POW camp was constructed in 1940. The first arrivals were 2036 German and Austrian Jewish refugees who fled the Nazis. They were mostly professionals who had simply fled for their lives. They were placed along side 451 German and Italian POWs many of whom were pro Nazi and fascist.

While awaiting release, the Dunera Boys developed a rich cultural and intellectual programme at their camp, giving concerts and establishing an unofficial university. The small group of strictly Orthodox Jews also managed to organise a kosher kitchen. After a period of time the injustice of their situation was realised and they were permitted to return to Britain.

Here is a record identifying Julius Spier as a POW in Australia during the war:

Courtesy of Jennifer Spier-Stern

According to Jennifer, when Julius and Alfred were finally released, they were given a choice  either to return to Germany or join the British Army, so they both joined the British Army, where they served for the duration of the war and then returned to England.

UPDATE: Thanks again to Anne Callanan, I now have enemy alien registration cards for both Edith and Julius Spier.  Edith registered on December 12, 1939, and was granted an exemption; she was working as a domestic. Her brother Julius registered as an enemy alien on November 28, 1939, when he was working on Sir Robert Grant’s farm in Scotland. But as we know he was denied an exemption and interned until June 21, 1942, when he was returned to the UK from Australia.

In the years immediately after the war Edith was in New York City, Julius and Alfred were in England, and Martin and Walter were in Germany. Martin and Walter both stayed in Rauischholzhausen for a year after their liberation from the camps in 1945, and then both immigrated to New York City where both of them later married.

In England, Alfred married Hannelore Reimers, who was from Bielefeld, Germany. Hannelore wanted to return to Bielefeld where her family still lived[2], so Alfred and Hannelore ended up back in Germany.

Julius married Helene Trunec in England in 1952; Julius and Helene stayed in England until 1963 when they immigrated to the United States and were reunited with Edith, Martin, and Walter in New York City. Julius and Helene had two children, Jennifer and Mark.

The five children of Abraham Spier and Jenny Wertheim thus all survived the Holocaust, although their parents did not. The five siblings not only suffered the loss of their parents and of their home; two were tortured and suffered terribly in the Nazi concentration camps, and two were imprisoned like criminals by England, the country where they had sought sanctuary. It’s hard to imagine how any of them coped with what they had endured.

But listening to Walter Spier on that video reveals that somehow the human spirit can endure unimaginable suffering and still have faith, hope, and love. All five of the Spier siblings went on to have children after the war, one sign of the incredible power of faith, hope, and love.


[1] I find it interesting that Abraham named a son Julius since his brother Julius was still alive. I assume the son was named for another family member, not his uncle.

[2] Hannelore was not born Jewish, but converted when she married Alfred.

Pacific Street: Inspired by Facts and Love

Some of you know that since I retired two and a half years ago, I’ve been working on a novel inspired by my grandparents’ lives and the discoveries I’ve made about them and their extended families through my genealogy research.  Well, I finally put my “pen” down and decided to call it done.

Amy Gussie and Isadore

My grandparents, Gussie Brotman and Isadore Goldschlager, and me

It’s been an exciting process for me because ever since I learned to read, I’ve wanted to write a novel.  All through my career when I was writing long, boring articles for law journals, I wished that instead I was writing a novel. Novels have been my refuge all my life. I love being transported to different times and places and seeing into the hearts and minds of all kinds of characters.  I just wanted a chance to try to create some characters of my own.  When I retired, I promised myself that I would give it a try.

One friend reprimanded me when I said I was trying to write a novel.  She said, “Don’t say that.  Say you are writing a novel.”  I was and am insecure about the whole thing.  I never took a fiction writing course, participated in a writing workshop, or wrote any fiction at all, not since I wrote stories as a young child. What did I know?

My only sources of information about writing a novel were all the novels I’d read starting when I read Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White when I was eight years old.  That book transported me in ways that changed the way I felt about reading.  I cried so hard (spoiler alert) when Charlotte died.  And she was just a spider! A fictional spider! How had the author made her so real and moved me to care so much?

Charlotte's Web

Charlotte’s Web (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now that I’ve written my own novel, I am even more in awe of the many great authors whose books have moved me so deeply. I am humbled by what those authors were able to do with words, and thus I feel presumptuous trying to promote my own book, despite my friend’s reprimand.

But it was a labor of love—love for family and love for the magic of the written word.  I wrote this book for my children and grandchildren so that they would have a taste of what their ancestors’ lives were like. I had lots of help and inspiration from my family and friends, as I acknowledge at the end of the book.  And so despite this aching feeling of insecurity, I do want to share and promote my book so that others will also know the story I’ve created about my grandparents—grounded in fact, but expanded upon by my imagination.

I hope that you will be tempted to read it.  You can find it on Amazon both as a paperback ($6.99) and as a Kindle ebook ($2.99) at

If you do read it, I’d love your feedback.  Thank you!

Double Cousins…Everywhere!

The best part of my discoveries of the Goldfarb and Hecht families is that I have found more new cousins, three of whom are my double cousins—Sue, Debrah, and Lisa. They are descendants of Julius Goldfarb and Ida Hecht. Sue’s daughter Lisa shared this wonderful wedding photograph of Julius and Ida.


Wedding photograph of Julius Goldfarb, my grandmother’s first cousin, and Ida Hecht, my grandmother’s niece. Courtesy of the Goldfarb/Hecht family


Julius was the son of Sarah Goldfarb, my great-grandmother’s sister; Ida was the daughter of Tillie Hecht, my grandmother’s half-sister.   So I am related to both of them.

Julius and Ida had four daughters, Sylvia, Gertrude, Ethel and Evelyn. Sue, Sylvia’s daughter, shared with me this precious photograph of her grandmother Ida holding her as a baby:


Ida Hecht Goldfarb and granddaughter Sue

And Debrah shared this photograph of her grandparents, Julius and Ida, with her mother Evelyn:


Julius, Evelyn, and Ida (Hecht) Goldfarb

Julius, Evelyn, and Ida (Hecht) Goldfarb

One thing I wanted to define is how, if at all, Julius and Ida were related to each other, aside from being husband and wife.  Hecht/Goldfarb family lore says Julius and Ida were “distant cousins.”

Julius was the son of Sarah Goldfarb.  Sarah’s sister Bessie Brotman was the stepmother of Ida’s mother, Toba, as Bessie married Toba’s father Joseph after his Toba’s mother died.  Although that makes things complicated, it does not alone create any genetic connection between Julius and Ida since Bessie (and thus Sarah) had no blood relationship with Toba.


But if Brotman family lore is correct and Bessie and her husband Joseph Brotman were first cousins, then Joseph Brotman and Bessie’s sister Sarah were also first cousins. Sarah’s son Julius married Ida, who was the granddaughter of Sarah’s first cousin Joseph, making Julius and Ida second cousins, once removed.


That is, assuming that Joseph and Sarah were first cousins as Brotman family lore reports, Ida and Julius were in fact “distant cousins,” as Hecht/Goldfarb family lore indicates.  So maybe together the Brotman family lore and the Hecht/Goldfarb family lore validate each other.

Sue and Debrah, who are granddaughters of Julius Goldfarb and Ida Hecht, thus are both the great-granddaughters of Sarah Brotman Goldfarb, making them my third cousins on my great-grandmother Bessie’s side, and the great-great-granddaughters of Joseph Brotman, making them also my second cousins, once removed, on my great-grandfather Joseph’s side. (Lisa is one more step removed on both sides.) Renee is my second cousin; her mother Jean Hecht was my mother’s first cousin; her grandmother Toba was my grandmother Gussie’s half-sister. And then I’ve also found a cousin Jan, whose grandfather was Harry Hecht, Toba’s son, and my mother’s first cousin.


Harry Hecht and his wife and children 1945 Courtesy of the family

And, of course, if my great-grandparents Joseph and Bessie Brotman were in fact first cousins, the relationships get even more convoluted. But I think I will skip that calculation.  At least for now.  Maybe some brave soul out there wants to try and figure it out?

With all this shared DNA, I was very curious to see if there were any family resemblances among the various members of the Goldfarb, Hecht, and Brotman families.  My newly found double cousins Debrah, Sue, and Lisa shared some family photos with me, including this one of Toba/ Taube/Tillie Brotman Hecht:


Toba/Taube/Tillie Brotman Hecht Courtesy of the Goldfarb/Hecht family

Here is a photograph of her brother Max Brotman that I’d earlier received from his family:

Max Brotman

Max Brotman, courtesy of the family

Do you see a resemblance? Unfortunately I don’t have any photographs of Toba’s other full siblings, Abraham and David, to help with the comparison.

But here are photographs of Toba’s half-siblings, Hyman, Tillie (Ressler), Sam, and my grandmother Gussie:

Hyman Brotman

Hyman Brotman

Tilly Brotman

Tilly Brotman Ressler

Sam Brotman

Sam Brotman

Gussie Brotman

Gussie Brotman Goldschlager

I can see some similarities—in particular in the shape of the noses.  But it appears that Max and Toba do not have faces that are as round as those of their half-siblings.  Perhaps the shape of their faces was a genetic trait they inherited from their mother Chaye, not their father Joseph Brotman.

Here is one other photograph of the extended Goldfarb and Hecht family.


Goldfarb Hecht family gathering for Chanukah

Standing on the far left is Julius Goldfarb.  Seated at the head of the table is Ida Hecht Goldfarb.  On the right side of the table starting at the front are two of Ida’s sister, Etta and Jean Hecht.  Also in the photograph are Julius and Ida’s four daughters as well as their spouses and a few of the grandchildren and other cousins.

It’s sad to think that in 1917 Julius and Ida were close enough to my grandmother that they came to visit when my aunt was born, as did Ida’s mother, my grandmother’s sister Toba Hecht, but somehow the families all lost touch, and my mother only has a few  memories of some of the Goldfarbs from her childhood.

On the other hand, I feel very fortunate that now, almost a century after my aunt was born, I know who the Goldfarbs and Hechts were and I am in touch with a number of these “new”  cousins of mine.


The Goldfarbs and the Hechts: Some Lingering Questions and Some Answers

Finding the woman I believe to have been my grandmother’s long missing sister was definitely one of those high points in my research that I will always remember.  I had spent hours and hours searching for the elusive Sophie years before. I had completely given up on ever finding her.  I even wondered whether she’d been a figment of my aunt’s very creative imagination. But she wasn’t.  My aunt just had the wrong name.

That she ended up being named Toba or Taube or Tillie and not Sophie certainly is a lesson in not relying too heavily on family lore, and it is also one of the many perplexing things about this discovery and how it fits with family stories.

max mason

Hecht family lore said that Taube had two brothers who had arrived in the US before she did, but I have no evidence that there were two Brotman brothers here before 1887 when Taube arrived.  Joseph Brotman had three sons in Galicia with his first wife Chaye and one with his second wife, my great-grandmother, Bessie.  His oldest sons, Abraham and David, came to the US in 1889, the same year that Joseph immigrated; Max came in 1890. His next son, Hyman, was born in 1883 and came to the US with my great-grandmother Bessie in 1891.  None of these European born sons was here in 1887 when Taube arrived, at least as far as I can tell.

Of course, it is possible that I have missed a child or missed an earlier manifest.  Or it is possible that the Hecht family lore is not correct, just as my aunt’s document naming the missing sister as Sophie is seemingly not correct.  I don’t know which is more likely.

There’s also the mystery of Eva Singer and Ascher Singer, the two people who sailed from Tarnobrzeg on the Moravia apparently with Taube Brodt.  Were they really sailing with her or just bracketed on the manifest to show they were all from the same town? And what happened to the Singers after they got to the United States?

Taube Brodt ship manifest 1887 Staatsarchiv Hamburg; Hamburg, Deutschland; Hamburger Passagierlisten; Microfilm No.: K_1736 Description Month : Direkt Band 059 (3 Jul 1887 - 29 Dez 1887)

Taube Brodt ship manifest 1887
Staatsarchiv Hamburg; Hamburg, Deutschland; Hamburger Passagierlisten; Microfilm No.: K_1736
Month : Direkt Band 059 (3 Jul 1887 – 29 Dez 1887)

More importantly, what happened to Taube after she arrived if, in fact, she did not have two brothers living here already? Did she really go to St. Louis, as Hecht family lore indicates?

How I wish we had the 1890 census.  Perhaps if it still existed, I would have found that my great-grandfather Joseph Brotman was living in 1890 with his four children from his first marriage: Abraham, David, Max, and Taube.  But the 1890 census was destroyed in a fire, taking the answers with it.

I searched the 1890 New York City police census and the 1892 New York census on Ancestry, but alas, none of the Brotmans appears on those either.  I’ve searched in city directories for both New York and St. Louis, but again with no luck. There is a J. Brodman in the 1891 NYC directory, a “pedlar” living on Ridge Street; that could be my great-grandfather, but I certainly can’t tell for sure; plus it doesn’t help me find Taube as there is no listing for her nor, for that matter, for Abraham, David, or Max.

I thus don’t know where Taube was from the time she arrived in the US in 1887 until she gave birth to her first son, Harry, in 1892.  But from there on, I have been able to find her story—up to her sad death in 1944.


As her death certificate reported. she died from osteomyelitis after a fall on the sidewalk. The Mayo Clinic defined osteomyelitis as follows: “Osteomyelitis is an infection in a bone. Infections can reach a bone by traveling through the bloodstream or spreading from nearby tissue. Infections can also begin in the bone itself if an injury exposes the bone to germs.”  According to my medical consultant, today osteomyelitis rarely results in death, but back in 1944, antibiotic treatment was not as effective.

I also have an answer to the question I posed in my last post; I had asked for help in deciphering Ida Hecht’s occupation on the 1910 census:

Ida Hecht occupation on 1910 census

Ida Hecht occupation on 1910 census

Several readers, here and on Facebook, responded to my question with “button holer.” I wasn’t sure what that was, but another commenter did.  Bob Brotman (no relationship yet found to my Brotmans) wrote that it meant buttonhole maker, and explained, “In 1910 it was a specialized skill in the sweat shops and worth higher pay than most of the piece work. Women who sewed their own clothing at home would take the almost finished garments to a buttonhole maker for this final touch. Special buttonhole making machines were used commercially in the late 1800’s. Home sewing machines could not make decent buttonholes until the 1950’s.” Live and learn—always something new!

But other questions remain unanswered. There is the question of whether Brod, Brodman, Brotman, etc., are different names or different versions of the same name.  Were my great-grandparents both really named Brod or Brotman? Or was one a Brod, the other a Brotman?

I posted a question on the JewishGen listserv about whether Brod and Brotman were the same or different names, and I received conflicting responses.  One person, referring to Alexander Beider’s Dictionary of Surnames for the Russian Empire, wrote that Brotman is just another form of the surname Brot, meaning bread or bread man. Another person suggested that Brotman was an Americanization of Brod and that people often forgot the original name once they immigrated.

But another person said that they are two different names; this person said Brotman means “bread man” whereas Brot is a toponym for the place where people “ford” rivers, Brodt being a Slavic word for “ford.”  And then Stanley Diamond of JRI Poland wrote that both names existed in the Tarnobrzeg region and seemed to come from different families. So I am just as confused as I was before I asked the question.

Also, I still don’t know how, if at all, my great-grandparents Joseph and Bessie were related to each other. If they were first cousins, through what relationship? Were their fathers brothers? Or was it that one’s mother and the other’s father were siblings? Or were their mother’s sisters? I don’t know.

As has happened time and again with my Brotman line, I can only move forward in inches, but at least I am moving forward.  I have found a woman I believe to have been my great-grandmother’s sister—Sarah Brod/Brotman Goldfarb.  I have also found a woman I believe to have been my grandmother’s half-sister—Toba/Taube/Tillie Brotman Hecht.  And it all started with the discovery of my aunt’s 1917 baby book and two names that were not familiar to me.[1]  Once again, I am indebted to my Aunt Elaine, who would have been 99 years old tomorrow.

Aunt Elaine baby book 5

Can I say with 100% certainty that I am right about either one? No, but I am probably as right about it as I can get.  Having checked again to see if there were any new records discovered in Tarnobrzeg and learning that there have not been (and will not be, apparently), this may be the best I can do.

In my next post I will share some of the photos of my Hecht and Goldfarb cousins and compare them to my known Brotman relatives to see if there are any family resemblances.


[1] There are still other names in the baby that I will investigate more completely, though nothing has yet turned up that’s been helpful.

Oh, Happy Day! Tillie Hecht Mystery, Part II

I was just about to throw in the towel.  I couldn’t find one additional clue about Taube Brotman Hecht and whether she was related to me.  There were no records online to help.

According to the 1900 and 1905 census records, Jacob Hecht and his wife Tillie lived in the Lower East Side and then by 1910 had moved to Brooklyn.  Jacob was a tailor, and in 1910 their son Harry was working as a bookkeeper in a department store and their daughter Ida was also employed, but I can’t quite make out her job: operator in a button or butter something?


Jacob and Tillie Hecht 1910 US census Year: 1910; Census Place: Brooklyn Ward 16, Kings, New York; Roll: T624_964; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 0329; FHL microfilm: 1374977

Ida Hecht occupation on 1910 census

Ida Hecht occupation on 1910 census

In 1913, Ida married Julius Goldfarb, as noted in an earlier post.  In 1915, Jacob and Tillie Hecht and their other seven children were living in the same building as Sam and Sarah Goldfarb, Ida’s in-laws, and Hyman and Sophie Brotman, my grandmother’s brother and his wife.  Jacob was working as a tailor, and Harry was working as a salesman; the other children were still in school.


Hecht family 1915 NY census;  New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1915; Election District: 18; Assembly District: 06; City: New York; County: New York; Page: 85

Jacob and Tillie Hecht still had the seven other children living with them in 1920, now on East 4th Street in New York City; Jacob continued to work as an operator in a cloak factory and Harry as a salesman in a department store.  David Hecht was working as a clerk for the War Department, and Etta, Gussie (listed as Augusta here) and Sadie were all working as stenographers.  The two youngest children, Rose (listed as Rebecca here) and Eva, were not yet employed.


Jacob and Tillie Hecht and family, 1920 US census Year: 1920; Census Place: Manhattan Assembly District 2, New York, New York; Roll: T625_1188; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 226; Image: 1055

Meanwhile, Ida and her husband Julius Goldfarb and their children had by 1920 moved to Jersey City, NJ, where Julius was in the liquor business.  Within five years, almost all of the Hecht family had followed them to Jersey City, including Jacob and Tillie.  As you can see from this segment from the 1925 Jersey City directory, Jacob and Tillie were now living at 306 4th Street, and right above their listing is a listing for their son Harry.  He was working as a clerk for none other than Herman Brotman: my great-uncle, my grandmother’s brother Hymie.  Another piece of the puzzle was fitting together.

Hechts in 1925 Jersey City directory Title : Jersey City, New Jersey, City Directory, 1925 Source Information U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.

Hechts in 1925 Jersey City directory
Title : Jersey City, New Jersey, City Directory, 1925
Source Information U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.

But there were two other Hechts listed here at the same address as Jacob and Tillie: Jean and Shirley, both working as stenographers.  I wasn’t sure which daughter was now using Jean and which was now using Shirley, but I guessed that Jean was probably Gussie and Shirley was probably Sadie. David, Etta, Rose, and Eva were not listed.  I could not find them elsewhere either.  Was Etta married? Rose and Eva were young enough that they could have still been in school, but where was David, who would have been 29 in 1925?

Fortunately, I was able to find a few of the Hechts on the 1930 census, which answered some of those questions.  In 1930, Jacob and Tillie were still living in Jersey City with David, Rose, and Eva (listed as Evelyn here).  Jacob was no longer working, but David was working as a real estate broker and Rose and Eva were both working as stenographers.

Jacob and Tillie Hecht 1930 US census Year: 1930; Census Place: Jersey City, Hudson, New Jersey; Roll: 1353; Page: 22A; Enumeration District: 0100; Image: 602.0; FHL microfilm: 2341088

Jacob and Tillie Hecht 1930 US census
Year: 1930; Census Place: Jersey City, Hudson, New Jersey; Roll: 1353; Page: 22A; Enumeration District: 0100; Image: 602.0; FHL microfilm: 2341088

Their son Harry Hecht had moved to Brooklyn by 1930 and was now married to a woman named Sophie; they had two children.  Harry was the proprietor of a store.

Harry Hecht and family 1930 US census Year: 1930; Census Place: Brooklyn, Kings, New York; Roll: 1522; Page: 15A; Enumeration District: 1357; Image: 271.0; FHL microfilm: 2341257

Harry Hecht and family 1930 US census
Year: 1930; Census Place: Brooklyn, Kings, New York; Roll: 1522; Page: 15A; Enumeration District: 1357; Image: 271.0; FHL microfilm: 2341257

As for Etta, Gussie, and Sadie, I assumed they were married, but I couldn’t find them.  And at that point I hit a wall. I could not find any of the Hecht daughters on the NYC marriage index.  Because the family had moved to New Jersey, and New Jersey has so far refused to put even an index of its birth, marriage, or death records online, there was no simple way for me to find marriage records for them in New Jersey. I assumed that Gussie/Jean and Sadie/Shirley had married between 1925 and 1930 and that Etta had married between 1920 and 1925, but paying for a search for these certificates did not seem like a wise use of my resources.

I already had two documents that said that Tillie Hecht’s birth name had been Taube or Toba Brotman: her son Harry’s birth certificate and her daughter Ida’s marriage certificate; there was also a ship manifest for a Taube Brodt from Tarnobrzeg.    In addition, I had found this entry on the SSACI for a Jean Gross, giving me not only information about Jean Hecht’s married name, but also another confirmation that Taube’s birth name was Toba Brotman: U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015.

The additional marriage certificates for the remaining daughters might have given me further confirmation that their mother’s birth name was Taube/Toba Brotman, but what I really wanted to know was who Taube’s parents were.  And that meant finding either her marriage certificate or her death certificate, not her children’s marriage certificates.  But before I could do that, I wanted some rough idea of when she died so that I could make a reasonable request of my researcher in Trenton.

That meant finding the 1940 census to see if Tillie Hecht was still alive in 1940.  The New Jersey archives allows public access to death certificates up to 1955; I had to hope that Tillie had died in New Jersey before 1955.

I was able to find Tillie Hecht on the 1940 census; she was still living in Jersey City at 306 East 4th Street.

Tillie Hecht and family 1940 US census Year: 1940; Census Place: Jersey City, Hudson, New Jersey; Roll: T627_2401; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 24-50

Tillie Hecht and family 1940 US census
Year: 1940; Census Place: Jersey City, Hudson, New Jersey; Roll: T627_2401; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 24-50

She was now a widow, so Jacob had died since the 1930 census. It also says she was sixty years old whereas Tillie would really have been at least sixty-four.  There were two adult children living with her: Dave, who was listed as 35 and not employed, and Ruth, who was 26 and working as an assistant in a doctor’s office.  David Hecht should have been 45 in 1950, and Rose would have been 36. Had Rose changed her name from Rebecca (1930) to Ruth in 1940?  Had Tillie shaved ten years off the ages of herself and both of her children, or was there possibly another Tillie Hecht living in Jersey City, born in Austria?

I decided to assume for search purposes that this was the right Tillie Hecht and to ask my researcher to see if she could find a death certificate for a Taube or Tillie Hecht between 1940 and 1955.  And then I waited.

But while I was waiting, I also emailed Tillie’s great-granddaughter Sue and asked her what she knew about her Hecht relatives: what were the married names of her grandmother’s sisters? When did Jacob and Tillie and their children die? Did she know anything else that might help me find out how Tillie Brotman Hecht was related to my Brotmans, if at all?

Sue then spoke to her cousin Renee, one of Tillie’s grandchildren (Jean Hecht’s daughter), and filled me in on what Renee had told her.  It was an email filled with a great deal of information, but the part that was most critical to solving my question about Tillie Hecht was this one:

Tillie (Toba) Brotman came to U.S. at 10 years of age she thinks. 2 brothers were already here…redheads …or at least one was. The brothers sent Tillie to a house in St. Louis…to work…learn English, or both. Renee remembers her mother and Aunt Etta (also a Hecht girl) taking the subway to Brooklyn to see “The Uncle” who must have been one of Tillie’s brothers.

I read this paragraph several times, trying to sort out what it meant.  First, the fact that Tillie had come to the US at ten was consistent with the Taube Brodt I’d found on the 1887 ship manifest, listing Taube as eleven at that time.

Second, Renee reported that Taube had had two brothers here already— and that they were redheads.  That stopped me in my tracks—my mother, my aunt, my grandmother, my grandmother’s sisters—all were redheads.  Red hair is recessive and not all that common.  Could this just be coincidence? A Brotman from Tarnobrzeg with red hair had to be related to my family.

My grandmother with her two daughters, my Aunt Elaine and my mother 1933

My grandmother with her two daughters, my Aunt Elaine and my mother 1933.  All redheads.

But who were these two brothers? And why did they send Taube to St. Louis? I had no record of any Brotman from my family arriving before 1887 when Taube Brodt arrived.

I then read Sue’s email again.  This time a different paragraph jumped out at me:

Renee recalls meeting a cousin also named Renee who she thinks was the daughter of one of Tillie’s brothers. As she recalls, they owned a hardware store on Lexington Ave. and 59th in NYC.  Renee thought that both Renees were named for an Aunt Irene.

A big, loud bell went off in my slow-witted brain.  I knew who that second Renee was.  She was Renee Brotman, daughter of Max Brotman, my grandmother’s older half-brother.  Renee had married Charles Haber, and they owned a hardware store on Lexington Avenue and 59th Street in New York City.  I emailed Renee’s daughter Judy to confirm that that was in fact the address.

Max, Sophie, Rosalie and Renee

Max, Sophie, Rosalie and Renee Brotman. Max was my grandmother’s half-brother.

Suddenly I knew exactly who Toba Brotman, aka Taube Brodt, aka Tillie Hecht, was.

She was my grandmother’s half-sister, the missing sibling I had long ago, years ago, given up on ever finding.  I had searched and searched and found not one shred of a clue.  I only knew she existed because my Aunt Elaine had listed all of the children of Joseph Brotman, including those with his first wife Chaye, on her family tree.  There had been a daughter named Sophie, according to my aunt.

Family Tree drawn by Elaine Goldschlager Lehbraum

Family Tree drawn by Elaine Goldschlager Lehbraum

max mason

My aunt had all the other names right—could she have been mistaken about Sophie’s name? Was it really Toba or Taube or Tillie?

Plus there was another thing that troubled me: if Tillie Hecht was really my grandmother’s sister, it meant that my grandmother had two sisters using the name Tillie: her full sister Tillie, the one my mother knew well, Tillie Brotman Ressler, and this other half-sister Tillie Brotman Hecht.  How could there be two sisters with the same first name?

Tilly Ressler 1944

Tilly Brotman Ressler 1944.  My grandmother’s sister. And also a redhead.

But then I thought some more.  Tillie Hecht’s original name had been Toba; Tillie Ressler’s original name had been Tema.  They were not given the same name at birth; they both had just adopted the same Americanized nickname in the United States.  Maybe that’s why my aunt thought of Tillie Hecht as Sophie? Maybe some in the family still called her Toba or Taube and that sounded like Sophie to my aunt? (Those of us who knew her well knew how my Aunt Elaine could mangle a name.)

And who was this Aunt Irene that the two Renees were named for? A clue for that came from my cousin Judy; she said her mother Renee had originally been named Ida, but it was changed to Irene soon after she was born.  Irene then evolved into Renee.  When I saw “Ida,” I recalled that Ida was often a secular name for girls named Chaye.  Chaye was the name of Joseph Brotman’s first wife, the mother of Abraham, David, Max, and “Sophie.” Max Brotman had named his daughter Ida (then Irene) for his mother Chaye.  If Tillie Brotman Hecht was in fact “Sophie,” it made sense that she also named her first daughter Ida for her mother Chaye.

It all made sense.  But I knew better than to rely on family lore.  I needed some kind of official record to back up my hypothesis.

And then it arrived.  Tillie Hecht’s death certificate:


Her father was Joseph Brotman, my great-grandfather. Tillie Hecht, born Toba Brotman, was my grandmother’s half-sister.  The Hecht children, all eight of them, were my mother’s first cousins.  I had found the long missing Sophie, only she was really Toba.

There were still questions to address, but for the moment, I just was content to wallow in the joyous mud of discovery.


Who was Tillie Hecht? Another Brotman Mystery

If you had asked me three years ago when I started this blog whether I’d still be finding new Brotman relatives three years later, I’d have laughed. I had so little information about even my great-grandparents.  And yet here I am in 2016 having found a whole new Brotman/Brod family of relatives based on a name in a baby book from 1917.

The discovery of Julius Goldfarb and his family, in particular his mother Sarah Brotman/Brod, was a true blessing.  Now I have corroboration of where my great-grandparents lived in Poland, and I have a better picture of my grandmother’s extended family and the people who were part of her life when she was a child and an adult.  I also have several newly discovered living cousins who have already enriched my life.

Even more amazing to me is the most recent discovery of Taube Hecht because that discovery was even more far-fetched.  Remember that in my aunt’s baby book the last name on the list of visitors was Mrs. Taube Hecht.  At first I’d had no idea who she was.

Aunt Elaine baby book 5

Then while researching Julius Goldfarb to figure out how he was related to my grandmother, I obtained a copy of his marriage certificate.  Julius Goldfarb had married Ida Hecht, and on their marriage certificate it said her father was Jacob Hecht and her mother’s name was originally Taube Brotman, now Taube Hecht.  I had wondered whether Ida’s mother was also somehow related to my grandmother’s family.


In researching Taube Brotman Hecht, I learned that she was also known as Tillie and that she’d had eight children with Jacob Hecht: Harry (1892); Ida (1894); David (1896); Gussie (1899?); Etta (1900); Sadie (1903); Rose (1906); and Eva (1908).

On the 1915 New York State census, the Hecht family was living in the same building on Avenue C in New York City as Sam and Sarah Brotman/Brod Goldfarb and as Hyman Brotman, my great-uncle, and his family.  It certainly seemed possible that Taube was related to my Brotman great-grandparents and to Sarah Brotman/Brod Goldfarb.


1915 NYS census with the Hecht family, the Goldfarb family, and the family of Hyman Brotman

So I jumped for joy—perhaps another relative, another set of clues about my Brod/Brotman relatives.  And then I jumped back into the research, hoping that Taube Brotman Hecht would provide more clues about my elusive relatives from Galicia.  I figured that with eight Hecht children to research, I would undoubtedly find more clues from birth, marriage, and death certificates.  But alas, the Hechts proved to be far more elusive than I’d hoped.

I started by searching for birth certificates.  Since I knew from the Goldfarb family records provided to me by my cousin Sue that Ida Hecht Goldfarb was born in New York City on October 19, 1894, and that the Hechts were still living in New York City in 1910 when the US census was taken, it seemed quite likely that all eight children, born between 1892 and 1908, were also born in New York City.  I searched the New York City birth records databases on Ancestry, FamilySearch, and Steve Morse’s website, and I could only find birth records listed for two of those eight children: the firstborn, Harry, and the last born child, Eva.  The other six children are just not there at all, no matter how I spelled their names, no matter how many wildcards I used.  Jacob and Taube must not have filed a birth certificate at all for those other six children.

In addition, when I asked my regular researcher at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City to find Harry’s birth certificate, she was unable to do so because it was a certificate marked “S,” meaning a later filed certificate.  Those are not on the microfilms at the FHL.  Instead I had to ask someone in NYC to go to the archives there to dig up Harry’s birth certificate.  It hadn’t been filed until 1906 when Harry was already fourteen years old.  I wonder what would have prompted the family to file it at that point in time.


But the certificate is quite interesting.  It shows that in 1892, Jacob and Taube (“Toba” here, the Hebrew name) were living at 33 East Houston Street in New York City, that they were both born in Austria, and that Jacob (like Sam Goldfarb) was a cloaks operator.  Jacob was 25 when Harry was born, Toba only twenty, meaning they were born in about 1867 and 1872, respectively.

And most importantly, Harry’s birth certificate records Toba’s name before marriage as Toba Brotman.  Brotman! I was right that Ida’s marriage certificate said “Brotman,” not Braitmer as it had been indexed.  And, of course, this meant that there was a real chance that Toba, like Sarah Goldfarb, was related to my great-grandparents in some way.

And then I looked at the certificate I’d ordered for Eva Hecht.


She was born on January 30, 1908, at 38 Montrose Avenue in Brooklyn.  On the 1910 census, the Hecht family was living at 48 Boerum Street in Brooklyn, which is right around the block from 38 Montrose Avenue.  So far, so good.  But then I looked at her parents’ names: JOSEPH Hecht and Tillie ROTHMAN.  Was this in fact the same Eva Hecht? The father was 40 years old, meaning born in about 1868; the mother was 37, so born about 1871. Those years were very close to the ages Jacob and Taube would have been in 1908.  Both parents were born in Austria, as were Jacob and Taube.  And the father “Joseph” was a tailor, as was Jacob Hecht.

Given all these similarities and the fact that by that time Taube was using Tillie on the census records, I have to believe that this is in fact a birth certificate for Eva Hecht, daughter of Jacob and Tillie/Taube/Toba Hecht.  And if it has Jacob’s first name wrong, it could very well have Tillie’s birth surname wrong.  Rothman does sound like Brotman, and many family members spelled Brotman as Brothman.  Perhaps the person filing the birth certificate, Mrs. Ida Goldman, just had bad hearing or the family’s accents were hard for her to understand.

So I had one new solid piece of evidence that Taube Hecht was born Toba Brotman and one rather shaky document that was at least somewhat supportive of that assumption. And, of course, I had Ida’s marriage certificate as well.  What else might I find? If there were no more birth certificates, could I find other marriage certificates or death certificates? Would the census records provide any more clues? So I decided to start from the beginning and search for records about the Hecht family.

The earliest census on which they appear is the 1900 US census.  The family was then living at 64 Broome Street on the Lower East Side.  The information for Jacob Hecht (spelled “Hect” here and indexed by Ancestry as “Hast,” making this a tough one to find) has some inconsistencies.   His birth year is 1870, so a year or two later than the other records indicated.  His birth place is Russia, not Austria.  But he is working as a tailor.  His wife’s name is listed as Mitilda, which certainly could be Tillie, and she also is listed as born in Russia, not Austria.  Her birth year is given as 1875, also several years later than her children’s birth records indicated.

Hecht family 1900 US census Year: 1900; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Roll: 1094; Page: 14A; Enumeration District: 0290; FHL microfilm: 1241094

Hecht family 1900 US census
Year: 1900; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Roll: 1094; Page: 14A; Enumeration District: 0290; FHL microfilm: 1241094

The names of their children also have some consistencies, some differences.  The first born, Harry, was born in 1892; that was consistent with Harry Hecht’s birth record.  The second child, however, is listed as Annie, born in 1893.  That should be Ida, the second child, who, according to the Goldfarb family papers, was born in 1894.  The third child, David, was reported to be four years old (the birth year is not very legible); that is consistent with David’s name and birth year on later census reports.  The fourth child is Yetta, who is listed on later reports as Etta; she is reported to have been seven months old when the census was enumerated in June 9, 1900, meaning she would have been born in October, 1899, not October 1889, as the census record has it recorded.  A birth year of 1899 is consistent with later census reports for Etta.

What this census record also revealed was that Jacob and “Miltilda” had been married for nine years, or in 1891.  It also said that Jacob had been in the US for only twelve years and arrived in 1887 (though it looks like 1777).  “Mitilda” had arrived earlier and had been in the country for fifteen years or since 1885 (though it looks like 1875 was written over it).  With this additional information, I searched for both a marriage record for Jacob and Taube/Tillie/Mitilda and for immigration records.

I had no luck finding a marriage record in the New York City marriage databases on Ancestry, FamilySearch, or Steve Morse’s website.  I guess it’s not surprising that a couple who failed to file birth certificates for their children also had failed to file a marriage record.  I am still hoping that some record will show up.

As for immigration records, I am fairly certain that I found the ship manifests for Taube.  I found two manifests, first a German manifest for the ship Moravia, dated July 9, 1887, sailing to New York from Hamburg.  On that manifest is a passenger named Taube Brodt, an eleven year old girl, and her name is bracketed with two other passengers, Eva Singer, a 38 year old woman, and an eleven month old baby named Ascher Singer, presumably the son of Eva.  And all three are listed as last residing in “Tarnobchek.”  That is, Tarnobrzeg—the home of my great-grandparents Joseph Brotman and Bessie Brod.

Taube Brodt ship manifest 1887 Staatsarchiv Hamburg; Hamburg, Deutschland; Hamburger Passagierlisten; Microfilm No.: K_1736 Description Month : Direkt Band 059 (3 Jul 1887 - 29 Dez 1887)

Taube Brodt ship manifest 1887
Staatsarchiv Hamburg; Hamburg, Deutschland; Hamburger Passagierlisten; Microfilm No.: K_1736
Month : Direkt Band 059 (3 Jul 1887 – 29 Dez 1887)

The second manifest is also for the Moravia, but is the American manifest, written in English, and dated July 21, 1887, the arrival date in New York; it also lists Taube Brodt and the Singers as coming from Tarnobchek.

Taube Brodt 1887 NY ship manifest Year: 1887; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 509; Line: 1; List Number: 911

Taube Brodt 1887 NY ship manifest
Year: 1887; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 509; Line: 1; List Number: 911

But who were Eva and Ascher Singer? And why was this eleven year old child traveling with them? My great-grandfather arrived in 1889, my great-grandmother 1891; Sarah Brod/Brotman Goldfarb didn’t arrive until 1896.  So if Taube Brodt was their relative, who was she going to and why was she leaving home at such a young age? And where did Taube Brodt and Eva and Ascher Singer end up after they disembarked in New York City in July 1887?

Although I can find many women named Eva Singer, there is only one born in Austria who arrived in 1887 and who had a son who would have been born in 1886.  But that Eva’s son’s name is Herman, and that Eva was older than the one who sailed on the Moravia with Taube.  Maybe that is the right Eva, and Ascher became Herman.  That Eva’s birth name was Goldman, according to the listings in the SSCAI for two of her children.

And I had little luck finding an Ascher Singer.  The only record I could find that might fit was a marriage record dated 1910 for an Ascher Singer marrying Lena Laufer.  I ordered that marriage record, and it shows that Ascher’s parents were Seide Singer and Taube Druckman.


When I saw the name Taube, I wondered—could Ascher have been Taube Brodt’s baby, not Eva’s? Maybe Taube wasn’t only eleven.  Taube’s age on the census records and her children’s birth certificates suggest she was born in 1871 or 1872, not 1876, as the ship manifest would suggest.  So maybe she was really fifteen, not eleven, when she emigrated.

But that is the only record I can find for Ascher Singer, and there is no way to know for sure whether it is the same person who sailed with Taube on the Moravia in 1887 or whether Taube Druckman was really Taube Brodt.

Plus even if this is the right Eva or the right Ascher, I’ve no idea how they are connected to Taube Brodt or anyone else in my family. And maybe they weren’t.  Maybe Taube just happened to be traveling with them.  But then where was she going and to whom? And was this even the same person who married Jacob Hecht in about 1891? If so, she would have been only 15 in 1891 if she was eleven in 1887.  Maybe Taube Brodt isn’t even Toba/Taube/Tillie Brotman Hecht?

Now what could I do?  Besides pull my hair out.  I kept on looking.

And then the most amazing thing happened. One of my toughest brick walls came tumbling down and when I least expected it.