Where do I start to express how I feel about what happened in Pittsburgh? Do I tell you how my heart didn’t stop racing all day on Saturday from when I first heard the news?  That I am just too sad and scared to be angry? That I feel like an outsider in my own country?

I didn’t know any of the individuals killed or injured in Pittsburgh, but I knew every single one of them. They are my friends and neighbors, my fellow congregants, my family, my ancestors. Yes, I have some actual ties to Pittsburgh—relatives from long ago who lived there including my great-grandfather, friends who grew up there, a brother who once lived there, and so on. But even if I didn’t, I knew these people. Because they were like me, a Jewish person living in America taking for granted all too often that we are safe. That it can never happen here. That people are basically good, that evil will not prevail.

Now I am not so sure. More and more we see the evil prevailing, the anger fanned, the hatred accepted and even condoned. Whether it is directed against someone because of their religion—be it Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Christianity—or their skin color or their sexual orientation or their gender or their age or their nationality, the hatred is not only there, it is being acted upon. And it is not being condemned by our federal government in strong enough terms to be credible. In fact, it is encouraged.

I am beginning to lose faith in people. I no longer feel safe, I no longer believe it could never happen here. I have learned from studying my family history and Jewish history in general how much hatred and oppression and discrimination and violence have shaped my own history. Many of my ancestors came to this country in order to escape anti-Semitism and the oppression and lack of opportunity they faced in Europe. When I learned how many of my not-so-distant relatives died in the Holocaust or survived it against all odds or escaped just in time, I felt so grateful for America. America was supposed to be different. But is it really so different now?

Of course, in some ways it is. In Pittsburgh, the police took bullets to protect Jews. The mayor condemned what happened. The government there was not afraid to help the victims or condemn the murderer. On Facebook I am heartened when I see non-Jews standing up and making any kind of statement condemning what happened. We attended a gathering at our synagogue, and I was touched to see representatives there from other faiths and government officials pledging to stand by us. The service ended with the singing of The Star Spangled Banner and Hatikvah. As the rabbi said, we sing The Star Spangled Banner, the American national anthem, because this is our home.  And we sing Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem which means “the hope,” because we are Jews and to remind us that that we must never abandon hope.

And as I write this, I realize that I am not afraid to publish these thoughts. Because somewhere deep inside I must still trust that I will be safe here. But not as much as I once did.

Tomorrow I will return to telling my family’s story—with even more urgency than before. Because people—not just my people, not just my family—need to know what we as Jews have endured and what we have learned, what we have suffered and what we have contributed. And people need to understand the dreams that brought our ancestors here. We must not let those dreams die.

The Goldschmidts Come to America

I was all set to be logical and sequential and report on each of the children of my three-times great-grandparents Seligmann and Hincka (Alexander) Goldschmidt, starting with their oldest child Sarah Goldschmidt and her husband Abraham Mansbach II. I began their story in this post, but then I realized that I could not tell the rest of the story of the children of Sarah and Abraham without some background regarding the other members of the Goldschmidt family.

What triggered this realization was this ship manifest:

Henry Schoenthal and Helene Lilienfeld with Analie Mansbach on 1872 ship manifest lines 95 to 98
Year: 1872; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 359; Line: 1; List Number: 484

Notice that this is the 1872 manifest for Henry Schoenthal, the brother of my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal. Henry had settled in Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1866, but then returned to Germany to marry Helen Lilienfeld. Then on May 24, 1872, Henry and Helen returned to the US, as shown on this manifest.

Why am I talking about a Schoenthal in the context of telling the story of the Goldschmidts?

Because on that manifest (lines 6 and 7, above) were two eighteen-year-old women both named Amalie Mansbach who were apparently sailing with Henry and Helen (lines 5 and 8). I believe that one of those two Amalie Mansbachs was Merla Mansbach, the daughter of Sarah Goldschmidt and Abraham Mansbach II. Merla Mansbach was born on December 10, 1853, meaning she would have been eighteen in May, 1872.

Birth record of Merla Mansbach
HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 384, p. 55

But why would Merla Mansbach be sailing with Henry Schoenthal? He was from Sielen, his wife Helen was from Gudensberg, and Merla was from Maden—all towns within a reasonable distance of each other in the Hesse region of Germany, with Maden and Gudensberg being very near each other. There had to be a connection.


And that drove me back to my earlier posts about Henry Schoenthal and how he ended up in Washington, Pennsylvania, a small town in western Pennsylvania about 30 miles from Pittsburgh. And those posts reminded me that Henry was not the first Schoenthal to settle in western Pennsylvania—his father Levi’s sister (my three-times great-aunt) Fradchen Schoenthal had preceded him some twenty years before.

And Fradchen Schoenthal was married to Simon Falcke Goldschmidt, the brother of Seligmann Goldschmidt and great-uncle of Merla/Amalie Mansbach:


So I am going to digress a bit from the story of the family of my three-times great-grandfather Seligmann Goldschmidt to tell the story of his younger brother Simon Falcke Goldschmidt because telling the story of the Goldschmidt’s immigration to the United States has to start with Simon, who was the first to arrive.

Simon was the youngest of the four sons of Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt and Eva Reuben Seligmann; according to numerous US records, he was born in 1795. In 1822, he married Eveline Katzenstein of Grebenstein (no known familial connection to my Katzensteins). Together they had five children: Jacob (1825), Lena (1828), Hewa “Eva” (1836), Joseph (1837), and Jesajas (1839), all born in Oberlistingen.

Notice the large gap between Lena, born in 1828, and the next child Hewa born in 1836.[1]

David Baron located a record that perhaps provides a reason for that gap; it seems that in 1826 Simon was charged with burglary and attempted robbery. (HStAM Fonds 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No G 40.) I requested a copy of the file from the Marburg archives and learned that the file covers Simon’s appeal of a ten year sentence for his criminal activity. The listing online indicates that the date of appellate decision was December 24, 1830.

The contact person at the Marburg archives did not reveal the outcome of the appeal, so I am now hoping to find someone who might be able to go to Marburg and provide me with a summary (in English) of the judgment. (I could order a copy, but it would be costly and in German. My German has improved, but 130 pages of a legal decision would be too great a challenge!)

Since Simon and Eveline had three more children beginning in 1836, I suppose it’s possible he served some of that ten year sentence. Sadly, Simon and Eveline’s last two babies did not survive. Both Joseph and Jesajas died in infancy.

Joseph Goldschmidt death record
Sterberegister der Juden von Oberlistingen (Breuna) 1827-1852 (HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 671), p. 6

Josajas Goldschmidt death record
Sterberegister der Juden von Oberlistingen (Breuna) 1827-1852 (HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 671), p. 7

And then Simon lost his wife Eveline as well. She died on August 19, 1840, in Oberlistingen:

Eveline Katzenstein Goldschmidt death record
Sterberegister der Juden von Oberlistingen (Breuna) 1827-1852 (HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 671), p. 8

Simon was left on his own to raise his fifteen year old son Jacob, twelve year old daughter Lena, and four year old Hewa/Eva.

Four years after Eveline’s death he married my three-times great-aunt Fradchen Schoenthal on September 10, 1844. Fradchen, the daughter of my three-times great-grandparents Heinemann Schoenthal and Hendel Berenstein, was 37 years old when she married Simon. Thus, as early as 1844, my Schoenthal and Goldschmidt lines had merged, explaining why Merla/Amalia Mansbach would have been sailing with Henry Schoenthal in 1872.

Marriage of Simon Goldschmidt and Fradchen Schoenthal
HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 669, S. 11

A year after marrying, Simon and Fradchen left Germany for the United States, arriving in Baltimore with Simon’s youngest daughter Eva on September 20, 1845.

Passenger manifest for Simon Goldschmidt, Fanny Schoenthal and Eva Goldschmidt
Ancestry.com. Baltimore, Passenger Lists, 1820-1964 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.
Original data: Selected Passenger and Crew Lists and Manifests. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

They must have settled first in Baltimore because Simon and Fradchen had two children who were born there, Henry on January 10, 1847, and Hannah on June 5, 1848. I assume that Henry was named for Heinemann Schoenthal and Hannah for Hendel Berenstein Schoenthal, their maternal grandparents and my three-times great-grandparents.

By 1850, Simon and Fradchen (also known as Fanny) were living in Pittsburgh with Henry and Hannah as well as two of Simon’s children from his first marriage, Lena and Eva. Simon was working as a tailor and had Americanized his surname to Goldsmith.[2]

Simon Goldschmidt and family 1850 census
Year: 1850; Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 3, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_745; Page: 135A; Image: 274

Simon lost his second wife Fradchen/Fanny soon thereafter; she died on August 11, 1850, at age 43. (The year on the headstone appears to be incorrect; based on the age given on both the marriage record and manifest, Fradchen’s birth year would have been 1807, not 1800. The 1850 census said she was then 39, not 50. Plus it’s unlikely she had children at ages 47 and 48.) She left behind two very young children, Henry and Hannah, as well as her three stepchildren, Jacob, Lena, and Eva, and her husband Simon.


Meanwhile, Simon’s son Jacob from his first marriage had settled in Washington, Pennsylvania, by 1850; he was working as a tailor and living with two other men who were tailors. Like his father Simon, Jacob had changed his surname to Goldsmith.

Jacob Goldsmith (Simon’s son) 1850 US census
Year: 1850; Census Place: Washington, Washington, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_834; Page: 363A; Image: 244

Sometime after 1850 Jacob married Fannie Silverman. (The 1900 census reports that Jacob, who was then widowed, had been married 51 years, but given that he was still single in 1850, that seems unlikely).

Jacob and Fannie had thirteen children between 1853 and 1871—first, six daughters, then three sons, then another four daughters. Wow. I will report on them in more detail in a later post.  For now, I will only name those born between 1853 and 1860: Ellena (1853), Emma (1854), Anna (1855), Rachel (1857), Leonora (1858), and Celia (1860). Six daughters in seven years.

Sometime after Fradchen died, Simon moved to Washington, Pennsylvania, to be with his son Jacob. In 1860, Simon and his two youngest children, Henry and Hannah, were living with Simon’s son Jacob and Jacob’s wife Fannie and their six daughters. Henry and Hannah were only five and six years older than their oldest nieces, Emma and Anna. I assume that Simon needed Fannie and Jacob’s help in raising Henry and Hannah.

Jacob Goldsmith and family 1860 US census
Year: 1860; Census Place: Washington, Washington, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1192; Page: 1188; Image: 627; Family History Library Film: 805192

Simon’s other two children, Lena and Hewa/Eva, were married and on their own by 1860. Lena had married another German immigrant, Gustave Basch in 1856. In 1860, they were living in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, with their first two children, Frank (1858) and Jacob (1859).

Lena Goldschmidt and Gustave Basch and sons 1860 census Year: 1860; Census Place: Connellsville, Fayette, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1110; Page: 422; Family History Library Film: 805110


The story of Simon’s other daughter Eva has already been told. She married Marcus Bohm, an immigrant from Warsaw, Poland, and they had a daughter born in 1862 named Ella who married my great-great-uncle Jacob Katzenstein (son of Gerson Katzenstein and Eva Goldschmidt and thus also Ella’s cousin). Ella and one of her sons died in the Johnstown flood in 1889.  With Ella Bohm’s marriage to Jacob Katzenstein, my Goldschmidt and Katzenstein lines had merged.

I won’t repeat the research and story of Eva Goldsmith and Marcus Bohm, but despite further searching, I unfortunately have not yet found any record for either their marriage or Eva’s death. What I have concluded, however, is that Eva had died by 1870 because by then her daughter Ella was living with Eva’s brother Jacob Goldsmith.

Jacob Goldsmith and family on the 1870 census
Year: 1870; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 12 District 36, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Thus, by 1860, all the members of the family of Simon Goldschmidt were living in western Pennsylvania, most of them in Washington, Pennsylvania, where Fradchen’s nephew Henry Schoenthal would arrive six years later, soon followed by his siblings.

By the 1880s, there were thus familial connections between the Goldschmidt family and the Schoenthal family and also between the Goldschmidt family and the Katzenstein family.  These overlapping connections laid the groundwork for the 1888 marriage of my great-grandparents, Isidore Schoenthal and Hilda Katzenstein, whose mother was a Goldschmidt. It’s amazing to see how the many lines in the family came together in the pairing of two of my direct ancestors.


[1] I do not have German birth records for Jacob or Lena, only US records. For the last three children, I was able to locate Oberlistingen birth records.

[2] The names on this census are switched around. Simon’s wife was Fanny, not Lena, and his daughter was Eva, not Fanny. Another reminder of how unreliable census records can be.

My Grandmother’s Cologne Cousins: More New Records

Aaron Knappstein, our Cologne guide, really pulled the rabbit out of the hat when he found the Schopfloch death records for my four-times great-grandparents, Amson Nussbaum and Voegele Welsch, but his magic tricks did not end there.  He also was able to locate birth records for a number of the children of Jakob Schoenthal and Charlotte Lilienfeld.

My great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal had two siblings who did not immigrate to America, and his older brother Jakob was one of them.  Jakob married Charlotte Lilienfeld and was a merchant in Cologne.  He and Charlotte had five children: Johanna, Lee, Meyer, Henriette, and Erna. They were my grandmother Eva’s first cousins.

I’ve told their stories in prior posts.  Four of the children survived the Holocaust.  The two sons, Lee and Meyer, immigrated to the US long before Hitler came to power, and Erna escaped with her son Werner during the 1930s.  Johanna and her husband spent time in the Gurs concentration camp and came to the US after the war.  Tragically, Henriette and her husband were murdered by the Nazis.

Thus far Aaron has located birth records for four of the children: Johanna, Lee, Meyer, and Erna.  I hope that he is able to find the record for Henriette as it would indeed be tragic if her record was the only one that did not survive, just as she was the only sibling who did not survive.

Here are the records that Aaron has thus far located:

Birth record of Johanna Schoenthal (Nr. 3030/1880)

father: Jakob Schönthal (tradesman)
mother: Charlotte Lilienfeld
both jewish religion
Köln, Breitestraße 113

June 5, 1880



Birth record of Lee (Leo) Schoenthal (Nr. 5717/1881)

father: Jakob Schönthal (tradesman)
mother: Charlotte Lilienfeld
both jewish religion
Köln, Breitestraße 113

December 6, 1881



Birth record Meier Schönthal (no. 606/1883)

father: Jakob Schönthal (tradesman)
mother: Charlotte Lilienfeld
both jewish religion
Köln, Breitestraße 113
February 7, 1883
05.15 in the morning



Birth Record Erna Schönthal (no. 577/1898)

father: Jakob Schönthal (tradesman)
mother: Charlotte Lilienfeld
both jewish religion
Köln, Breitestraße 85
March 27, 1898
08.15 in the morning


A Special Photograph

While taking a short break from research, I want to share a few photographs and records I’ve received recently, but did not have a chance to post on the blog.

You may recall the series of blog posts I did about Amalia Hamberg and her family.  Amalia, born Malchen, was my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal’s first cousin:

corrected relationship isidore schoenthal to malchen hamberg


She acted as the administratrix of the estate of Charles Hamberg, the cousin who lived in South Carolina whose first wife had been murdered and whose son Samuel Hamberg ended up living with Henry Schoenthal in Washington, Pennsylvania after his father died as well.  Amalia had married Jacob Baer, with whom she had nine children, many of whom ended up working for the family jewelry business founded by the oldest brother, Maurice, in Attleboro, Massachusetts.

Well, one of the descendants of Amalia and Jacob Baer found my blog and connected me with his siblings, one of whom graciously shared with me this wonderful photograph of Amalia Hamberg and Jacob Baer. Both Amalia and Jacob lived long lives.  Amalia lived from 1851 until 1931; Jacob from 1847 to 1932. Imagine all the changes they saw—starting in Germany in the middle of the 19th century and living through the Industrial Revolution, the first World War, and the Roaring Twenties.  They raised nine children in western Pennsylvania and must have seen Pittsburgh grow from a small fairly rural area to the home of steel manufacturing.  They lived to see the invention and development of cars and telephones, even airplanes.


I don’t know when this photograph was taken.  Although Amalia and Jacob may look old because of their attire and Jacob’s seemingly gray hair, their faces have no wrinkles, and the style of dress does not look 20th century to me.  I would guess that they were in their 40s, so perhaps the picture was taken in the 1890s.  What do you think?

I am so excited to have this photograph. Thank you so much to the Adler siblings who shared this with me.

Who Was Ella Bohm Katzenstein? A Genealogy Adventure

This was truly a genealogy adventure. I’d written most of this post before I made two surprising discoveries that required me to rewrite substantial parts of it. The story of Jacob Katzenstein’s first wife Ella is heartbreaking. She was only 27 when she died in the 1889 Johnstown flood, and for a long time I knew almost nothing about her.  I’ve finally made some headway in learning more about her.

Here’s what I now know about her from various sources, more or less in the order I found them. Her first name was Ella, as seen from the birth record indexed on FamilySearch for her son, Milton B. Katzenstein.


Her birth surname was Bohm, as seen in a newspaper report of her death and as implicitly confirmed by the fact that Milton’s middle name was Bohm; that fact I learned from Milton’s burial record at Grandview Cemetery in Johnstown.

Philadelphia Jewish Exponent,, June 7, 1889, p. 3

Philadelphia Jewish Exponent,, June 7, 1889, p. 3

I know that Ella was probably born in February 1862, as indicated on the memorial stone placed at Eastview Cemetery in Cumberland, Maryland.   Her father’s name was apparently Marcus Bohm; that fact I inferred from the fact that Ella’s widower Jacob Katzenstein included Marcus in his household on the 1900 census and described him as his father-in-law (even though by that time Jacob had remarried). Ella presumably married Jacob sometime before or around January, 1886, since their son Milton was born in September, 1886. Milton died on April 18, 1889.  I also know that a second child, Edwin, was born June 5, 1887, and that he and Ella were killed in the Johnstown flood on May 31, 1889.


But where was Ella before marrying Jacob and having these two little boys?

For the longest time, I could not find her on the 1870  census, no matter how many ways I tried to spell her name, with and without wildcards. And then somehow she popped up after I’d just about given up.  I decided to search for any Ella with a surname starting with Bo born anywhere in about 1862 living in Pennsylvania or any state bordering it.  And there she was, listed as Ella Bohn, living in Philadelphia, an eight year old child born in Pennsylvania.  Her father was not living with her, nor was there anyone else in the household named Bohn or Bohm. So who was she living with?

Ella Bohm (Bohn) on the 1870 census Year: 1870; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 12 District 36, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Ella Bohm (Bohn) on the 1870 census
Year: 1870; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 12 District 36, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I took a deep breath when I saw.  She was living with Jacob Goldsmith. Who was he? The son of Simon Goldschmidt and Fradchen Schoenthal.  Simon Goldschmidt was the brother of my three-times great-grandfather Seligmann Goldschmidt, the father of Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein, whose son Jacob would later marry Ella Bohm.  And Fradchen Schoenthal was the sister of my three-times great-grandfather Levi Schoenthal, father of Isidore Schoenthal who would later marry Hilda Katzenstein, daughter of Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein and brother of Jacob Katzenstein, who would later marry Ella Bohm.


So little Ella Bohm was for some reason living with the first cousin, once removed, of her future husband Jacob Katzenstein.  And with in-law relatives of her future sister-in-law, Hilda Katzenstein, my great-grandmother. And they were all related to me.  Yikes.

But where was her father? Why wasn’t Ella living with him? Why was she living with Jacob Goldsmith? Unfortunately, the 1870 census did not include information about the relationships among those in a household, so I couldn’t tell.

A search for information about Ella’s father Marcus Bohm turned up nothing explicit connecting him to Ella, though I was able to piece together some information about Marcus. He was born November 9, 1834, in Warsaw, Poland, and immigrated to the United States in 1849, arriving in Baltimore.


Maryland, Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-897J-P6W?cc=2018318&wc=MKZ4-GPF%3A1004777901%2C1004778901 : 25 September 2015), 1820-1891 (NARA M255, M596) > image 404 of 688; citing NARA microfilm publications M255, M596 and T844 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

One document indicates that he was living in Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1853, which, of course, is where many members of my extended family also settled, including Jacob Goldsmith, who was a clothing merchant there as early as 1850, and Jacob Katzenstein’s brother SJ, who arrived around there in about 1871.

It appears that Marcus Bohm owned a clothing store there from at least 1853 from ads I found online in the Washington newspaper.  There was a fire at his store in April, 1860:

Washington Reporter, April 12, 1860, p. 3

Washington Reporter, April 12, 1860, p. 3

I also found an advertisement for Marcus Bohm’s clothing store in the Washington Reporter of August 30, 1860 (p.3):



But by November, 1860, Marcus was closing down his Washington store:


It seems he then left Washington, Pennsylvania, because according to a New Jersey index of the 1860 census, Marcus was living in Hudson Township, New Jersey, in 1860, although I cannot find him on the actual 1860 census records.  He is listed in the 1867 Trenton, New Jersey, directory as working in the clothing business and living at Madison House. On the 1870 census, he is listed as living in a hotel in Trenton and working as a clothier. There is no wife or child living with him.

Marcus continued to be listed in Trenton city directories in the 1870s up through 1876, and he is consistently listed as a clothing merchant and tailor and living in various hotels in Trenton. But in 1878, he declared bankruptcy in Trenton:


Why was his daughter Ella  living with the Goldsmiths in Philadelphia in 1870 and not with her father in Trenton? I decided to dig deeper into the background of Jacob Goldsmith, someone I had not yet really researched as I am (ahem) not yet focused on my Goldschmidt line (yet somehow they keep popping up everywhere).  I searched for him on the 1880 census, and this is what I found:

Jacob Goldsmith's family on 1880 census with Ella "Baum" Year: 1880; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1173; Family History Film: 1255173; Page: 158D; Enumeration District: 210; Image: 0325

Jacob Goldsmith’s family on 1880 census with Ella “Baum”
Year: 1880; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1173; Family History Film: 1255173; Page: 158D; Enumeration District: 210; Image: 0325

Jacob, Fanny, and their many children were living in Philadelphia, and living with them was a niece named Ella Baum, age 17.  This had to be Ella Bohm, who would have been turning 18 in 1880.  She was living with Jacob and Fanny Goldsmith because she was their niece! So her mother had to be either Fanny’s sister or Jacob’s sister. For reasons described below, I believe she was the daughter of Jacob’s sister Eva.

Jacob had several sisters, but for all but one, I’d found married names, and they had not married Marcus Bohm.  But there was one sister for whom I’d been unable to find anything more than her name on the passenger manifest with her father Simon and stepmother Fradchen in 1845 and her listing on the 1850 census with her father Simon and stepmother Fanny and several siblings. Her name was Eva Goldschmidt/Goldsmith.

Simon, Fradchen, and Eva Goldschmidt on 1845 passenger manifest The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Records of the US Customs Service, RG36; NAI Number: 2655153; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85

Simon, Fradchen, and Eva Goldschmidt on 1845 passenger manifest
The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Records of the US Customs Service, RG36; NAI Number: 2655153; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85

On the 1850 census, the names seem confused. It shows Simon’s wife’s name as Lena. Her name was Fradchen or Fanny in the US. Simon had a daughter Lena, who is also listed on the census.  And then there is a daughter named Fanny.  I think that daughter was really Eva, and the enumerator somehow thought Fanny was the daughter’s name instead of the wife and heard “Lena” instead of “Eva” for the other daughter’s name and thought that was the wife’s name. (Remember these were recent immigrants whose English might not have been very understandable.)

Simon Goldschmidt and family 1850 census Year: 1850; Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 3, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_745; Page: 135A; Image: 274

Simon Goldschmidt and family 1850 census
Year: 1850; Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 3, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_745; Page: 135A; Image: 274

But Eva is not listed as living with Simon in 1860 when he and two of her younger half-siblings had moved to Washington, Pennsylvania, to live with her older brother Jacob. So where was she then?  I don’t know, but here’s my theory.

My guess is that Marcus Bohm and Eva Goldsmith, Jacob’s sister, were married sometime around 1860. After their daughter Ella Bohm was born in 1862, Eva either died in childbirth or sometime shortly thereafter and before 1870. Supporting the theory that Eva had died is the fact that her brother Jacob named a child born in 1871 Eva.

I believe that Ella’s widowed father Marcus Bohm moved to New Jersey after losing his wife and his business in Washington, and he left his little daughter to be raised by her uncle, Jacob Goldsmith. That little girl then grew up and married Jacob Katzenstein, who was her second cousin.

I don’t know when she married Jacob. I cannot find Jacob or Ella on the 1880 census, although Jacob was listed in the Pittsburgh directories for 1879 and 1881, the Johnstown directory in 1884, both the Philadelphia and Johnstown directories for 1887, and the Johnstown directory in 1889. When their son Milton was born in 1886, Jacob and Ella must have been living in Philadelphia. And by 1889 they were living in Johnstown.

Where was Ella’s father Marcus in the 1880s? The 1880 census report shows that he was then living in Washington, Pennsylvania, boarding in a hotel there and working in a clothing store.  But by 1884, Marcus had moved to Johnstown, as the 1884 Johnstown directory lists Marcus living at 251 Main Street and working at 272 Main Street in the clothing business. That same directory lists Jacob Katzenstein as a commercial traveler living at 241 Main Street, just a few houses away from Marcus. I assume that Marcus moved to Johnstown because his daughter Ella had by that time married Jacob and was living there, but I don’t know for sure.

After the tragic deaths of his daughter Ella and his two grandsons Milton and Edwin in 1889, Marcus seemed to disappear for some years and does not appear in any city directories. The next record that does include Ella’s father Marcus is the 1900 census where, as noted above, he was living in Johnstown with Jacob Katzenstein and Jacob’s second wife Bertha Miller, their three children, Bertha’s brother Maurice, and a servant.  Marcus is described as Jacob’s father-in-law, widowed, and retired.

Jacob Katzenstein and family 1900 census Year: 1900; Census Place: Johnstown Ward 1, Cambria, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1388; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 0124; FHL microfilm: 1241388

Jacob Katzenstein and family 1900 census
Year: 1900; Census Place: Johnstown Ward 1, Cambria, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1388; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 0124; FHL microfilm: 1241388

I find it rather heartwarming that Bertha Miller took in the father of Jacob’s first wife.

Ten years later Marcus was still living in Johnstown, boarding in the household of Solomon Reineman, according to the 1910 census. I thought perhaps Solomon was a relative or married to a relative, but Solomon was born in Germany, not Poland. In 1880, Solomon had been living in Johnstown, so I assume that Marcus had become friendly with him during the 1880s when both were living in Johnstown.

And then I found a connection to Solomon’s wife, Minnie Leopold, though not directly. While researching Jacob’s second wife, Bertha Miller, I saw that her mother was named Eliza Leopold.  The name jumped out at me, and I thought—could there be a connection to Minnie Leopold? A few more steps of research, and lo and behold, I learned that Eliza and Minnie Leopold were sisters! So somehow Marcus Bohm ended up living with his son-in-law’s second wife’s aunt and her husband.

Two years later, however, Marcus had moved to Philadelphia. The 1912 Philadelphia directory lists Marcus Bohm living at 3333 North Broad Street. Four years later on February 25, 1916, Marcus died in Philadelphia.  He was 81 years old and died of chronic emphysema.

Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Pennsylvania, USA; Certificate Number Range: 021751-024880

Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Pennsylvania, USA; Certificate Number Range: 021751-024880

He’d been living at the Masonic Home of Pennsylvania, and the informant was William H. Sivel, the superintendent at 3333 North Broad Street, which I assume is the location of the Masonic Home and where Marcus had been residing.  There is no other personal information on the certificate except for Marcus Bohm’s birth date, birth place (Poland), age, and occupation, which the informant described as “gentleman.”  I was unable to find an obituary or any other document that would reveal family information for Marcus, only this death notice.

Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 1916, p. 18

Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 1916, p. 18

Thus, I was lucky enough to learn a little more about Ella Bohm Katzenstein and can only speculate that her mother was Eva Goldsmith, that Eva Goldsmith Bohm had died, and that Ella had been left to live with the family of Jacob Goldsmith while her father tried to recover from losing his wife and his store in Washington, Pennsylvania.

If I am right in this speculation, it makes her short life even more tragic. It was heartbreaking enough to know that she’d lost her first son Milton and then was killed along with her other son in the Johnstown flood of 1889 when she was only 27. But adding to that the loss of her mother and in some ways her father as a young child makes her story especially poignant.


The Flood

As we saw in my last post, by 1880, four of the five surviving children of Gerson and Eva (Goldschmidt) Katzenstein were on their own.  SJ, their oldest child, was married to his second cousin Henrietta Sigmund and living in Washington, Pennsylvania, where he was a merchant.  Brendina, the older daughter, was married to Jacob Schlesinger and living in Philadelphia, where Jacob worked as a butcher.   Jacob and Perry Katzenstein, the second and third sons of Gerson and Eva, were living together in Pittsburgh and working as salesmen.  Only my great-grandmother Hilda, who was seventeen in 1880, was still living at home with her parents in Philadelphia.

During the 1880s, Gerson and Eva were blessed with many grandchildren. SJ and Henrietta, whose first child Moynelle was born in 1879, had four sons in the 1880s: Milton (1881), Howard (1882), Ivan (1884), and Earl (1885).  Brendina and Jacob already had four children by 1880, Heloise (1874), Solomon Joseph (1875), and Alfred (1879), and a fourth child, Sidney, was born in 1880.  Their daughter Aimee was born seven years later in 1887.

In 1884 or 1885 (sources vary), Perry Katzenstein married Rose Elias, daughter of Samuel Elias and Fanny Greenwald.  Rose was born in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, which is, strangely enough, nowhere near the New Jersey shore.  In fact, it’s about 250 miles west of the Atlantic and about 190 miles west of Philadelphia and 180 miles east of Pittsburgh.   Rose’s parents were both German immigrants, and her father was a merchant. In 1880, her father was selling liquor; in 1870, he’d been selling clothing. In 1887, Perry is listed in the Philadelphia directory at the same address as his father, Gerson—870 Marshall Street.

His brother Jacob is listed right down the street at 919 Marshall Street in that same directory for 1887. Sometime before September 16, 1886, Jacob Katzenstein had married Ella Bohm, daughter of Marcus Bohm.  I cannot find any official records for Ella, except for this birth record indexed on FamilySearch:


Unfortunately, it did not reveal Ella’s original surname or anything else about her.  But it does show that their son Milton was born in Philadelphia in 1886, suggesting that they were all living there at that time.  I found her original surname and her father’s name from other sources, discussed below.

Jacob’s residence during the 1880s is a bit of a mystery.  I cannot find him on the 1880 census.  In 1881, he is listed in the Pittsburgh directory, living with Perry.  In 1884, he is listed in the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, directory, and in 1887, he is listed in both the Johnstown and Philadelphia directories.  I have no idea whether Ella was from Philadelphia, Johnstown, or someplace else. I don’t know where or when she and Jacob were married. I did find this quote about Jacob on my cousin Roger’s old website:

[Jacob] came to Johnstown in 1882, as a clerk for Louis Cohen.  He returned to Philadelphia for a few years but then came back to take charge of the Economy clothing Store which belonged to Amos Sulka and himself. (quoting Leonard Winograd, The Horse Died at Windber: A History of Johnstown’s Jews of Pennsylvania (Wyndham Hall Press, 1988)).

Jacob and Ella had a second son named Edwin born apparently on June 5, 1887, a date I determined from his headstone, as discussed below.  But June 5, 1887 is less than nine months after Milton’s birth date of September 16, 1886.  It seems highly unlikely that a woman could have had two children less than nine months apart. I assume one of those birth dates is off by at least a few months, or that Edwin was premature, or that Ella conceived almost immediately after Milton was born. Or that Ella was not the biological mother of one of those two children.

In 1888, Gerson and Eva saw their youngest child get married.  Hilda, my great-grandmother, married Isidore Schoenthal in Philadelphia. As I’ve written previously, Hilda and Isidore first lived in Pittsburgh, where on December 3, 1888, their first son was born, my great-uncle Lester Schoenthal.

Hilda Katzenstein Schoenthal

Hilda Katzenstein Schoenthal

Thus, by 1888, Gerson and Eva’s children were all married, and there were twelve grandchildren.  Things must have seemed quite good for them all, but in 1889, their fortunes began to change.  First, on April 18, 1889, Jacob and Ella’s son Milton died; he would have been only two and a half years old.  I learned of his death from an entry on FindAGrave showing his headstone at Grandview cemetery in Johnstown:

But the headstone says he was born in 1888, not 1886 as the Philadelphia birth record stated. So I searched the interment database for Grandview cemetery in Johnstown and saw that the interment record indicates that Milton was two when he died in April, 1889, suggesting that the headstone is wrong and the birth record and interment record are right.  Very odd.  I also learned from the interment record that Milton’s middle name was Bohm, his mother’s birth name.

A little over a month after Milton’s death in Johnstown, one of the most tragic events in American history occurred: the Johnstown flood of May 31, 1889. Over two thousand people died that day.  According to the Johnstown Area Heritage Association (JAHA) website, that was the largest loss of civilian life in America in one day until September 11, 2001.

The JAHA website and several other sources describe how after several days of heavy rain, the South Fork dam, which was in need of repairs, collapsed, causing havoc and death as the rushing waters swept everything in its path under and aside.


The aftermath of the Johnstown Flood (Johnstow...

The aftermath of the Johnstown Flood (Johnstown, Pennsylvania). “The Debris above the Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge.” In: “History of the Johnstown Flood”, by Willis Fletcher Johnson, 1889. P. 199. Library Call Number M79.4 J71h. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is how the JAHA described it:

20 million tons of water rushed down the narrow Conemaugh Valley like a moving mountain of water at an average speed of 40 miles per hour. The “terrible wave” picked up houses, trees, and even trains on its way down the valley. It flattened a railroad bridge. It swept whole towns away as it made its way to the city of Johnstown.

By the time it reached Johnstown the flood didn’t even look like water anymore. People who saw it coming said it looked like a moving, boiling black mountain of junk. 35 feet high at its crest, it had the force of Niagara Falls. Even the best swimmers couldn’t swim in that mess. Many people drowned. For most, the only warning was a thunderous rumble before the water hit.

In minutes, most of downtown Johnstown was destroyed. Survivors clung to roofs, debris, and the few buildings that remained standing. Others who weren’t killed instantly, were swept down the valley to their deaths.

Just when it seemed like it couldn’t get worse, it did. All that wreckage piled up behind the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Stone Bridge. People who managed to survive so far became trapped in the huge pile of debris, all wrapped in a tangle of barbed wire from destroyed Gautier Wire Works. Then the pile, which was 40 feet high and 30 acres across, caught fire!

Four square miles of downtown Johnstown was completely leveled, including about 1600 homes, 280 businesses, and much of the Cambria Iron Company. Even more tragic was the loss of life. 2,209 people are known to have died in the flood waters. 99 whole families perished. 400 children under the age of ten were killed.

Among those who lost their lives in the flood were Ella Bohm Katzenstein, Jacob’s wife, and their younger son, Edwin, who was just five days short of his second birthday.

Philadelphia Jewish Exponent,, June 7, 1889, p. 3

Philadelphia Jewish Exponent,, June 7, 1889, p. 3

Note that this list includes Ella (identified by her birth name incorrectly as Ellen) and her son among those who were killed and Jacob on the list of those who survived.

Jacob Katzenstein had lost his entire family starting with Milton on April 18 and then, 43 days later, he lost Ella and Edwin in the flood.


Headstone of Ella and Edwin Katzenstein, FindAGrave, courtesy of Byron http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=118211407&ref=acom

The headstone allowed me to infer the birthdates for Ella (February 1862) and Edwin (June 5, 1887), as it says Ella was 27 years, six months, and zero days old at her death on May 31, 1889, and that Edwin was one year, eleven months, and six days old that day.

The odd thing is that this headstone is located at Eastview Cemetery in Cumberland, Maryland, not at Grandview Cemetery in Johnstown where Jacob and Ella had buried Milton the month before.  Also, note that the stone says “In Memory of,” an indication to me that it is not marking a grave, but is just operating as a memorial.  Maybe the bodies of Ella and little Edwin were never found. (I’ve contacted the Eastview Cemetery to see if they have more information, but so far they’ve not found any information about the stone, who put it there, or whether Ella and Edwin are in fact buried there.)

But why is this memorial in Cumberland? Jacob was living in Johnstown; his parents were living in Philadelphia. The only Katzenstein family members I know of who were living in Cumberland at that time were some members of the family of H.H. Mansbach, Jacob Katzenstein’s first cousin.  Did the Mansbach family install this memorial?  I am still trying to figure this one out.

It is hard to imagine the devastation caused by this flood. Over two thousand lives lost as well as all the injuries and the destruction of the town itself.  Just as we cannot really grasp the full meaning of  the more than two thousand people who died on 9/11, we cannot truly understand the impact of this tragedy unless we focus on one life at a time and the story of that life. Trying to imagine what this must have been like for Jacob Katzenstein gives me a better sense of how horrifying and devastating the flood must have been, multiplying his story over two thousand times.

English: After the Flood at Johnstown -- Main ...

English: After the Flood at Johnstown — Main Street, a wood engraving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It also makes me want to know more about Ella Bohm, the woman he married.  I am still trying to learn more about her.  All I know now is that she was born in February, 1862 (based on that headstone), that her father’s name was Marcus Bohm, that she had two sons, Milton and Edwin, and that both of them died as toddlers.  She was only 27 on May 31, 1889, when she died along with her son Edwin and the 2,207 other people who were killed in the Johnstown flood.

I will write more about her in my next post.


Of Rabbit Holes and Twisted Trees and the Curse of Endogamy

Now that I have emerged from the Mansbach rabbit hole I dove into weeks ago, I can return to the story of my direct ancestors, Gerson Katzenstein and Eva Goldschmidt and their children, including my great-grandmother Hilda Katzenstein.  As I wrote previously, Gerson was one of eight children of Scholum Katzenstein, including four full siblings, two of whom died as children, and three half-siblings, one of whom died as a child. As best I can tell Gerson was the only one of the eight to leave Germany and come to the United States.

Gerson and Eva were married in Oberlistingen in June 1847, and then settled in Gerson’s home town of Jesberg, where they had three children: Scholum (1848, named for Gerson’s father), Jacob (1851), and Brendina (1853, named for Gerson’s mother, Breine Blumenfeld).


Marriage record of Gerson Katzenstein and Eva Goldschmidt HHStAW fonds 365 No 673, Arcinsys Hessen

Gerson and Eva immigrated to the US in 1856 with Scholum, Jacob, and Brendina. A fourth child Perry was born a few months after they had settled in Philadelphia. In 1858, they had a fifth child, Hannah, and in 1860 they were all living in Philadelphia where Gerson was working as a salesman.  As noted in an earlier post, there were three others living in the household, Abraham “Anspach,” who I believe was actually Abraham Mansbach (III), David Frank, a bookkeeper, and Marley Mansbach, who I believe was Abraham Mansbach’s cousin and only related to Gerson through his sister Hannchen’s marriage into the Mansbach family.

Gerson Katzenstein in the 1856 Philadelphia directory

Gerson Katzenstein in the 1856 Philadelphia directory

Gerson Katzenstein and family 1860 US census Year: 1860; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 13, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1163; Page: 519; Image: 105; Family History Library Film: 805163

Gerson Katzenstein and family 1860 US census
Year: 1860; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 13, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1163; Page: 519; Image: 105; Family History Library Film: 805163

On August 17, 1863, Gerson and Eva had their sixth and final child, my great-grandmother Hilda.

The family suffered a terrible loss on December 17, 1866, when their eight year old daughter Hannah died from scarlet fever.  She was buried at Adath Jeshurun cemetery in Philadelphia. I have to wonder what impact that had on the family, especially little three year old Hilda, who must have been very frightened and confused.

Hannah Katzenstein death certificate "Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-DTXQ-JWY?cc=1320976&wc=9FRX-W38%3A1073285701 : 16 May 2014), > image 316 of 1079; Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Hannah Katzenstein death certificate
“Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-DTXQ-JWY?cc=1320976&wc=9FRX-W38%3A1073285701 : 16 May 2014), > image 316 of 1079; Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

In 1870, Gerson and Eva were living with their five surviving children.  Scholum was listed as Joseph and was 22; Jacob was 18, Brendina 15, Perry 14, and Hilda was seven.  The 1870 census was taken twice because there were felt to be errors in the first enumeration.  For the Katzenstein family, the first enumeration is barely legible and is missing some of the children, but indicates that Gerson was working as a clerk in a store.  The second enumeration is quite clear and includes all the children, but has no information about occupations.


Gerson Katzenstein on 1870 census, first enumeration Year: 1870; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 16 District 48, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Gerson Katzenstein and family 1870 census, second enumeration Year: 1870; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 16 Dist 48 (2nd Enum), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1429; Page: 708B; Image: 258; Family History Library Film: 552928

Brendina Katzenstein, the oldest daughter and third child of Gerson and Eva, was the first to marry.  According to the 1900 census, she married Jacob Schlesinger in 1871 when she was only eighteen years old.  It took some serious digging and the help of the German Genealogy Facebook group to find some background on Jacob.  First, from his death notice, I saw that he was born in “Epplagan” in Germany.


Nick in the German Genealogy group figured out that that was Eppingen.  I then searched the Landesarchiv for Baden Wurttemburg and found Jacob’s birth record, which Nick helped me translate:

Jacob Schlesinger birth record from Eppingen

Jacob Schlesinger birth record from Eppingen,  Landesarchiv Baden-Wurtenberg, 390 Nr. 1320, 1 Band Gliederungssymbol Eppingen, israelitische Gemeinde: Standesbuch 1811-1870 Bild 235

The child was born on March 3rd, 1843 and named Jacob. The father was Jacob (?) Schlesinger, a schützbürger (see note below) and hand[e]lsmann (merchant) and his wife Guste? born Sülzberger.

[UPDATE: Thanks to Dorothee Lottmann-Kaeseler for explaining the word “schutzburger” and providing a cite with this explanation: The “Law on the Situation of the Jews” (“Gesetz über die Verhältnisse der Juden”) from 1809 recognized the Jewish religious community as a church. Constitutionally, Jews were to be treated as free citizens. Their position in the municipalities did not change however, they remained only “protected citizens” (“Schutzbürger”) who did not have the right to be elected to a local council and did not have rights of usage of the common land.]

Nick wasn’t sure whether Jacob’s father’s name was Jacob, and I was skeptical of the fact that his father would also have been a Jacob.  Looking at the record itself, it certainly looks like “Jacob” was crossed out and something else was written over it.  Perhaps the scribe who entered the record confused the child’s name and the father’s name.

Although I could not find Jacob Schlesinger on any US census record before 1880, I was able to locate him in a number of Philadelphia directories where he was living at the same address with men named Abraham, Israel, and Myer Schlesinger, all of whom, like Jacob, were working as butchers.  I assumed these were his relatives, and so I searched for information about them.

I found a passenger manifest that shows an Israel Schlesinger and his family arriving in the US in 1860; along with Israel was his wife Gustel or Gurtel, sons Maier (26) and Abraham (11), and two daughters, Fanny (20) and Malchen (15).  There was no son named Jacob on this manifest.

Family of Israel Schlesinger 1860 ship manifest Year: 1860; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 205; Line: 1; List Number: 918 Description Ship or Roll Number : Roll 205 Source Information Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957

Family of Israel Schlesinger 1860 ship manifest
Year: 1860; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 205; Line: 1; List Number: 918
Ship or Roll Number : Roll 205
Source Information
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957

Then I found another manifest listing a fourteen year old named Jacob Schlesinger arriving in 1857 with what appears to be an older sibling named Hagar.  Since my Jacob Schlesinger reported on the 1910 census that he’d arrived in 1857 (and in 1855 according to the 1900 census) and he would have been fourteen in 1857, I assumed that this was the right Jacob.  Further research uncovered a Hagar Schlesinger, a woman of the right age, who was living in Philadelphia in 1885, so she was probably his sister.

Jacob and Hagar Schlesinger 1857 ship manifest Year: 1857; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 173; Line: 1; List Number: 497

Jacob and Hagar Schlesinger 1857 ship manifest
Year: 1857; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 173; Line: 1; List Number: 497

But I still had no proof that this Jacob was the son of Israel Schlesinger.  He could have been just a nephew or a cousin.  So I searched for a birth record for one of Israel’s sons and found this one for Myer, as translated by Nick:

Myer Schlesinger birth record landesarchiv_baden-wuerttemberg_generallandesarchiv_karlsruhe_390_nr-_1320_bild_174_4-1128670-174.jpg

Myer Schlesinger birth record

The child was born June 4th, 1834, named Mozes and the parents are Israel Schlesinger and Geitel Si?lzberger.

Myer was also the son of Geitel Sulzberger and Israel (not Jacob) Schlesinger.  Looking back at Jacob’s birth record, it does seem that “Israel” was written over “Jacob” and that thus Jacob’s father was also Israel Schlesinger.  I also found a birth record for Hagar Schlesinger; she also was the daughter of Israel and Geitel.

Thus, I feel fairly comfortable concluding that my Jacob Schlesinger was a son of Israel Schlesinger from Eppingen, especially since he and Israel were living at the same address in 1865, according to the Philadelphia directory for that year. In addition, Jacob, like Israel, Myer, and Abraham, was a butcher in Philadelphia, as seen in numerous entries in the Philadelphia city directories as well as census reports.

Brendina and Jacob Schlesinger had three children listed on the 1880 census: Heloise (5), Solomon (4), and Alfred (1). Jacob was still working as a butcher.  Brendina and Jacob would have a fourth child, Sidney, in 1880, and a fifth, Aimee, born in 1887.

Jacob and Brendina Schlesinger and family 1880 census Year: 1880; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1176; Family History Film: 1255176; Page: 156A; Enumeration District: 301; Image: 0314

Jacob and Brendina Schlesinger and family
1880 census
Year: 1880; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1176; Family History Film: 1255176; Page: 156A; Enumeration District: 301; Image: 0314


The 1870s were also active years for Brendina’s three brothers. The oldest brother, Scholum Joseph, had lived in many places since coming with his family to the US.  An 1896 profile of him reported that he had left his family for Leavenworth, Kansas, when he was fourteen to learn how to be a cigar maker, but since he did not arrive until he was eighteen in 1856, that seems more myth than truth.  The profile goes on to state that after being in Kansas for a number of years, he returned to Philadelphia, but eventually gave up the cigar trade because of health concerns.  The article continues by saying that he then “went to Winchester, VA., and took a clerkship, remaining for five years. Thence he went to Uhrichsville, Ohio, thence to New Castle and on the nineteenth of April 1871, he came to Washington [Pennsylvania].”  “The Saturday Evening Supper Table,” Washington, Pennsylvania, June 27, 1896, found here (my cousin Roger Cibella’s genealogy website).

The U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s, database on Ancestry, confirms that by 1873, Scholum, also known as S.J. or Joseph Katzenstein, had moved to Washington, Pennsylvania.  That is, he moved to the small town in western Pennsylvania where his mother’s uncle Simon Goldschmidt and his children were living at that time.  Readers with excellent memories may recall that Simon Goldschmidt was married to Fanny Schoenthal, my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal’s sister. By 1881 Isidore was also living in Washington, Pennsylvania.

S.J.’s move to Washington, Pennsylvania, may have had long lasting repercussions for my family, as I am fairly confident that he was the one who engineered the introduction of his younger sister, my great-grandmother Hilda, to Isidore Schoenthal, my great-grandfather.

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

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

S.J Katzenstein married Henrietta Sigmund in 1875.  Henrietta was born in 1851 in Baltimore to Ella Goldschmidt and Albert Sigmund. That added yet another twist to my family tree because Ella Goldschmidt was the daughter of Meyer Goldschmidt whose brothers were Seligmann Goldschmidt, father of Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein, and Simon Goldschmidt, husband of Fanny Schoenthal.  In other words, Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein was Ella Goldschmidt Sigmund’s first cousin, meaning that S.J. Katzenstein married his maternal second cousin, Henrietta Sigmund.


But let me stay focused on the Katzensteins rather than diving into the Goldschmidt rabbit hole.

S.J. and Henrietta, who was also known as Dot or Dottie, had a daughter Moynelle in 1879.  S.J., who is listed as Joseph on the 1880 census, was working as a clothing merchant in Washington, Pennsylvania. He and Henrietta would have five more children: Milton (1881), Howard (1882), Ivan (1884), Earl (1885), and Vernon (1892).

S. Joseph Katzenstein and family 1880 census Year: 1880; Census Place: Washington, Washington, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1202; Family History Film: 1255202; Page: 577A; Enumeration District: 270

S. Joseph Katzenstein and family 1880 census
Year: 1880; Census Place: Washington, Washington, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1202; Family History Film: 1255202; Page: 577A; Enumeration District: 270

S.J. was not the only child of Gerson and Eva Katzenstein to leave Philadelphia for western Pennsylvania in the 1870s.  In 1878, Perry Katzenstein, the third brother, was listed in the Pittsburgh directory as a clerk; the following year his brother Jacob joined him.  Both were living at 25 Second Avenue and working as salesmen.  Although I cannot find either of them on the 1880 census, both were listed in the 1881 Pittsburgh directory, still working as salesmen and still living together, though now at 188 Wylie Avenue. (Perry also appears in the 1880 directory, but Jacob does not.)

As for their parents and little sister Hilda, they were still living in Philadelphia in 1880.  Gerson continued to work as a clerk in a store.  Living with them, in addition to a number of boarders, was Louis Mansbach, listed as Gerson’s nephew, age 31, and born in “Prussia.” At first I thought this was Louis Mansbach, son of H.H. Mansbach, who would have been Gerson’s great-nephew.  But that Louis Mansbach was far too young and born in the US. So who was this Louis Mansbach?

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

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

Well, remember that post where I was trying to sort out all the different men named Abraham Mansbach? One of them, whom I called Abraham II, was the son of Leiser Mansbach and grandson of Abraham Mansbach I.  Abraham II was the brother of Marum Mansbach who married Hannchen Katzenstein, Gerson Katzenstein’s half-sister.  And Abraham II had a son in 1849 who was named for his grandfather: Leiser Mansbach II. He was therefore the nephew of Marum Mansbach and Hannchen Katzenstein.  Leiser became Louis, and he was living with Gerson and Eva Katzenstein in 1880, working as a veterinary surgeon.

And so you might be thinking, “Well, he wasn’t Gerson’s nephew.  He was Gerson’s brother-in-law’s nephew.” And you might be thinking, “Perhaps Gerson was just being liberal in using the term ‘nephew.’”

But, alas, it’s not that simple. Once again there is a twist in the tree.  Louis Mansbach’s mother was Sarah Goldschmidt, Eva Goldschmidt’s sister.  So Louis Mansbach was in fact Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein’s nephew as well as Gerson’s brother-in-law’s nephew.



And on that confusing note, I am going to go get a breath of fresh air and curse the endogamy gods who make using DNA results so utterly pointless in my family research.


Letters to Frank: A Close Family Revealed

As I mentioned here, included with all the photographs that my cousin Steve scanned and sent to me were a number of letters.  I posted the letter written by Gerald Oestreicher to his family during World War II, and I mentioned that there were also letters written by Gerald’s uncle, Francis Oestreicher, when he was serving during World War I.  Frank was my father’s second cousin, both being the great-grandchildren of Levi Schoenthal and Henriette Hamberg. Thus, he was my second cousin, once removed:

Frank Striker to me relationship chart


There were also some letters written to Frank, as he was known after the war.  In this post I will share the letters written to Frank. The next post will contain the letters written by Frank during World War I.  I’ve transcribed all the letters as close to their original spelling and punctuation as I could, but made some changes just for purposes of readability.  No words were deleted or changed; nothing was added, except where I’ve put my own comments in brackets.

What struck me as meaningful about these letters is what they reveal about the close connections among the Schoenthal siblings—the ten children of my great-great-grandparents Levi Schoenthal and Henriette Hamberg.  These three letters date from 1907 to 1939, and each one shows that this large and extended family knew and cared about each other.

The oldest letter was a letter written by Frank’s great-aunt Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal, the wife of my great-great-uncle, Henry Schoenthal.  Helen wrote this letter from Washington, Pennsylvania in 1907, to Frank, grandson of her sister-in-law Hannah Schoenthal.

Letter from Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal dated December 12, 1907 from Washington, PA


My dear Francis,

Years roll by, and children grow up to man and womenhood before we know it. And so it is with you my dear boy.  I can hardly realize that you have reached your 14th birthday, and it seems to me only a little while that dear Hilda was our representative at your Bris mihle.  With a hearty birthday kiss accompanied by the best wishes I send you many congratulations.  May our heavenly Father always protect and bless you, so that with every birthday your young life may be brighter and happier.  May the best of health and a long life free of care and worry be yours that your dear parents will have a great deal of pleasure on you.  Again I send you a little gift which help a little to swell your Bank account and which I hope will bring you the best luck in business.

Wishing you a very happy birthday with lots of fun.  I am


Your affectionate Aunt Helen

Uncle Henry, Hilda and Therese send their congratulations and love to everybody.

There is also a message written by Helen in German along the margin that I could not read, but with the help of my friend Matthias Steinke in transcribing and translating the old German script, I now know what it says:

My dear all! I am sending you this time only the heartiest greetings and kisses because my eyes close already automatically, because this evening I wrote already a couple of letters. In Love, your aunt, Helen 

Isn’t it interesting that in 1907 after being in the US for 35 years and clearly fluent in English,  Helen reverted to German (and German script) to write to Frank’s parents, Gustav and Sarah Stern Oestreicher? Both Sarah and Gustav were native German speakers, but both also had been in the US for a very long time. I wonder if Frank could read German or was as puzzled as I was by the German script scrawled on the margin of his birthday letter.

Aunt Helen--maybe Lilienfeld Schoenthal

The second letter was written a little over ten years later in July, 1918 when Frank had joined the army, but before he was shipped overseas.  It is also from his great-aunt Helen, with a short addendum by his great-uncle Henry Schoenthal.

Once again, it is evident that Helen and Henry were closely connected to Frank, a child of their niece Sarah Stern, grandson of Henry’s sister Hannah.  I was touched by how much affection there was for this young man, their great-grandnephew.  The letter is also interesting because it talks about Henry and Helen’s own children, their daughter Hilda, their son Lee (born Lionel) and his wife Irma, and Henry and Helen’s granddaughter Florence, who was only thirteen when this letter was written.  Helen did not use any paragraph breaks, but I’ve added some to make the text more easily read.

Letter from Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal and Henry Schoenthal dated July 30 1918 written from NYC

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My dear Francis,

I was just thinking to write to your dear parents and ask for your address, when we were agreeably surprised on last Sunday, when your dear brother Sidney came to see us, stayed for supper and until late in the evening.  And so we are able to write to you, as Sidney was glad to give us your ad: for every soldier likes to get letters from some one, and if it is not from a sweetheart, this letter comes from your old Uncle and Aunt, who always loved you. 

I suppose your ears were ringing last Sunday, for Sidney and we talked about you a great deal, and we were glad to hear that you liked soldiers life and also the camp.  Are any boys with you from Pittsburg who you know? And how is the weather in your section?

We have terrible hot spell here since over a week, and I feel the heat very much.  But I am so thankful that we live on such nice open place near the Hudson and get all the fresh air that is going.  There is a good deal of suffering on the East side I know. 

Uncle and I are alone since the 19th of July. Irma & Lee went to the Adirondex Mountains to stay two weeks, as Lee had not been feeling well and needed a rest badly.  They choose this place so that they could be near Florence who is at a girls camp named camp Woodmere.  It is owned by Misses Goldsmith and Kuhn from Philadelphia.  They have 54 girls there and it an ideal place.  Florence is crazy about and Irma & Lee are also very much taken with the place and how beautiful it is managed.  They have all sorts of sports there.  Florence is a good swimmer and also can now [?] and take long hikes. 

We expect Irma and Lee back next Saturday and the following Saturday Hilda will arrive here and spend her vacation with us. I am looking forward to her coming with great joy, and we will try and make her stay very pleasant.  She can take many nice boat trips which she likes so much.  Sidney will come up again next week when Irma & Lee is here. 

I am making a nice lunch cloth for Helen’s engagement present, but I am taking my time making it as I have to be very careful with my eyes. [I assume Helen was Frank’s sister Helen, who married in 1920.] We also had a long letter from dear Meyer [their younger son] last week. 

Now dear Francis, be bright and cheerful and take good care of yourself.  Our good God will be with you wherever you are, and He will bring peace to every heart and all the countrys before long. 

With loads of love and a hearty and write soon to your affectionate Aunt Helen.

 My dear Francis

Your aunt has left me a little space and I gladly add a few words to tell you that we often think and speak of you.  I have no doubt that you like the life in the camp, as most of the boys do and that you will make such a fine soldier that all your friends will be proud of you.  Should the time come when you have to be on your way for “Over There” we may have a chance to bid you God’s speed in person. God be with you and bless you.

Affectionately yours,

Uncle Henry

I read this letter as an attempt by his aunt and uncle to give him their blessing before he went off to war without making him too nervous about what he was about to face.  Frank’s own letters, as we will see, reflect a similar impulse, only he is reassuring those at home that he is and will be okay.

The last letter for this post was written many years later by Frank’s father, Gustav Oestreicher.  It was written in 1939 after Gustav and Sarah had moved to California, as had their daughter Helen.  I am not certain whether Frank was living in Minneapolis or just visiting; the letter is addressed to him at a hotel, and from the content of the letter, I can infer that Frank had recently been to Chicago. I assume he was on the road in his capacity as a traveling salesman.

A little background to help identify the people named in the letter:  First, Gustav mentions the Good family.  He must be referring to Edith Stern and Leo Good and their son Bernard; Edith was Sarah Stern Oestreicher’s younger sister, thus Gustav’s sister-in-law.  In 1939, the Good family was living in Chicago.

Gustav then mentions a Lionel and his brothers and sister and another sister Hilda. At first I thought this referred to the children of Henry and Helen Schoenthal, as they had a son named Lionel, a son Meyer, and a daughter Hilda. But after reading through the letter more carefully, I realized that he was referring to Lionel Heymann, the oldest child of Rosalie Schoenthal and Willy Heymann, about whom I wrote here.  Rosalie was the youngest Schoenthal sibling, sister of Hannah Schoenthal, who was Gustave’s mother-in-law. So Rosalie was Sarah Stern’s aunt.

Here’s why I think Gustav is talking about Lionel Heymann, not Lionel Schoenthal. For one thing, Henry and Helen Schoenthal’s son Lionel was called Lee at this point, not Lionel.  And at the time this letter was written, Lionel Heymann (the photographer) was living in Chicago as were his brothers Walter and Max, so if Frank had seen the Good family, he must have been in Chicago. (I am not sure why Gustav writes that he hoped Frank might see Lionel’s “bros.& sister” since there was no sister at that time living in the US, but perhaps he was referring to Max’s wife Frieda.)

Also, Gustav mentions a sister Hilda who was still in Germany. Henry Schoenthal’s daughter Hilda was not living in Germany, but in Washington, DC, in 1939.  But Lionel Heymann had a sister Hilda who was still in Germany in 1939.  I have written about what happened to Hilda Heymann as well as her sister Helene, who married Julius Mosbach and had two daughters, Liesel and Gretel.  All were killed in the Holocaust.  That fact makes Gustav’s comment even more chilling.  I put those comments in bold below.

I do not know who the Fannie mentioned towards the end of the letter could be.

Letter from Gustav Oestreicher to his son Frank [edited for readability only]

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September 16, 1939 from Los Angeles

My dear Francis,

Although late, [I] will begin my letter extending to you my best wishes for a healthy, happy and prosperous new year. [Obviously a reference to Rosh Hashanah, given the September date.] You ought to know you enjoy our good wishes at all times so hope you will pardon the expression of it at a rather late date. As usual we were happy to learn the contents of your recent letter.  It pleased us to learn you enjoyed your visit with the Good family as well as that all of them are getting along nicely.  You evidently misinformed them about our anniversary as we rec’d a very nice letter from them congratulating us for our golden wedding anniversary which will not be until next year. [Gustav and Sara were married in 1940.]

We regretted very much you could not see Lionel and his Bros. & Sister again. [You] May be aware dear Mother is very much interested in his family that are still in Germany particular so his Sister Hilda. [We]  presume the anti-semitism in Germany has somewhat diminished since the war as I noticed in the papers they are eager to get the Jewish Doctors, Engineers and other Professional Man back even promising to restore their property.  Conditions regrett to note are not very encouraging for England and France particular so since the uncertain attitude of Russia but let us hope for the best.

You need not fear about me getting into the market further. Am fairly well satisfied with my holdings. Have absolutely no intention to buy anything nor feel inclined at this time to sell any of my stocks with possible exception of Congoleum-Narin and even should I sell that, may apply it to my loan or in other words will not increase my loan if I do not reduce still more.  Have not decided whether or not I will sell same. 

Fannie is at least a weekly visitor by us.  She still has not secured a position but is hopefull some thing will be available before long.  As for ourselves have nothing of interest to offer so will leave it to dear Mother to inform you pertaining herself so will conclude for to day with love and best wishes. 

Your loving Father

As with the earlier letters from Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal, this letter reveals the close connections among the many Schoenthal siblings and their children.  I’ve often wondered what the family knew about the two siblings who had stayed in Germany: Jakob Schoenthal and Rosalie Schoenthal.  From Gustav’s letter it is apparent that the family was in touch at least to some extent with those family members who had not immigrated.  They knew that the three Heymann brothers were in Chicago, and they knew that some family members were still in Germany.

Gustav’s hope that anti-Semitism was diminishing in Germany once the war started is so terribly painful to read, knowing what was going to happen not only to Hilda, her sister, and her nieces, but to six million other Jews living in Europe.

Realizing how connected the family was to each other as late as 1939 makes me wonder what happened.  Why didn’t my father even know about all his Schoenthal second cousins like Frank and his siblings? Did my grandmother Eva Schoenthal know any of these people? My guess is that because my great-grandparents moved from western Pennsylvania to Denver when my grandmother was just a small child, not even four years old, she did not grow up with the benefit of knowing all those cousins in western Pennsylvania.  Perhaps if she had, I would not have had to search to find my Oestreicher cousins.  Perhaps we would have always known about each other.

More Manna: The Family of Sidney Oestreicher and Esther Siff

In my last post I shared some of the wonderful photographs I received from my cousin Steve of Sarah Stern and Gustav Oestreicher and their three children, Sidney, Frank, and Helen.  This post will focus on the children of Sidney Oestreicher and Esther Siff, Steve’s grandparents.

Their first child Gerald was born in 1916, in Chicago, where Sidney and Esther lived in the early years of their marriage. Their daughter Betty was born three years later in 1919. Sidney was working as a traveling salesman during those years.

Gerald Oestreicher

Gerald Oestreicher, c. 1917

Gerald and Betty Oestreicher, c. 1922

Gerald and Betty Oestreicher, c. 1923

Betty and Gerald Oestreicher

Betty and Gerald Oestreicher, c. 1930

By 1930 Sidney’s father Gustav had retired and moved with Sarah to Atlantic City, and Sidney returned with Esther, Gerald, and Betty to Pittsburgh to help run the family store, The People’s Store.  Sidney and Esther had their third child Elaine in Pittsburgh in 1931.

Elaine Oestreicher

Elaine Oestreicher

This photograph below, probably taken in Pittsburgh in the late 1930s, includes the whole family–from left to right, Betty, Sidney, Elaine, Esther, and Gerald.

Betty, Sidney, Elaine, Esther, and Gerald

Betty, Sidney, Elaine, Esther, and Gerald

After The People’s Store went bankrupt during the Depression, Sidney had a hard time finding work.  Steve told me that Gerald would sell apples on the street after school to earn money.  Steve also shared this story about his grandmother Esther:

Grandma, Esther Oestreicher, was a homemaker to her three children, but also a very good pinochle player.  Twice a week she would sit down at night with friends and earn a living. 

Once a week or month, there was a raffle at the local theater after the matinee movie.  On one occasion as Gerald and Esther were walking to the theater, she repeatedly announced to neighbors sitting on their stoups, “My son and I are going to the movie where I will win the raffle today.”  This terribly embarrassed my Dad, who said he wanted to tuck his head under his shirt.  Sure enough after the movie ended, Esther won the raffle.  On the way home passing many of those same neighbors on their stoup, she waved the money at them joyfully yelling, ” I told you I would win the raffle.”

Elaine, Gerald, and Esther Oestreicher

Elaine, Gerald, and Esther Oestreicher

Gerald played saxophone in high school.  In 1937 and 1938, Gerald was a student at Northeastern University in Boston, where he continued to play the saxophone in the university band.

Gerald Oestreicher playing saxophone

Gerald Oestreicher playing saxophone


On October 1, 1941, Gerald enlisted in the US Army Air Corps. Here is his draft registration card and his Army identification card. (Note that his name change to Striker is dated December 5, 1945, while he was in the service.)

Gerald Oestreicher draft registration for World Wa II

Gerald Oestreicher draft registration for World Wa II


Steve shared with me the following story about his father’s decision to enlist.  Gerald could see that war was coming, and without consulting with his parents, he decided to enlist in the Army Air Corps.  He had hammerhead toes so his choice of which service to join was limited.  As told by Steve, Gerald had to break the news to his parents the night before he had to report for duty:

The Oestreicher family dinner that night started with nothing out of the ordinary.  Sidney at the head of the table, Esther next to him, Jerry next to his mother on one side, and sister Elaine on the other.  Sister Betty on the other side of her father.  A roast and potatoes in the middle.

Towards the middle of the meal the war was brought up.  There had been little talk from Jerry about it.  My Dad told me his mother at one time looked up,and then straight at him, and dropped her fork on her plate.  “My God, you’ve enlisted.” Jerry responded.  Esther’s eyes teared.  Sidney said,  “When do you leave?”  Jerry announced early tomorrow morning.Sidney became very angry.  Jerry announced he needed to pack and get some sleep.  Sidney offered to take him to the train station, but Jerry insisted no, “I want to say our goodbyes here”. There was a lot of crying by everyone but Sidney.  Jerry announced they should say their goodbye’s that night.  Shortly later Jerry then went to bed.  He left without saying goodbye in the morning.

The next morning Jerry arrived alone at the train station around 6am.  Waiting for him was Sidney, with a sack of food, and advise “stay alive for your mother”.

They waved to each other as the train departed

As you can see from his service record posted below, he had a distinguished record of service during the war.  He attended Officer Candidate School in Aberdeen, Maryland, and a Naval Mine Warfare training center in Yorktown, Virginia.

Gerald Striker service record during World War II

Gerald Striker service record during World War II

In February, 1944, he shipped out, arriving in North Africa by March 10, 1944, when he wrote the following note to his father Sidney:

Gerald Oestreicher note to Sidney Oestreicher, March 10, 1944

Gerald Oestreicher note to Sidney Oestreicher, March 10, 1944

What a sweet and reassuring note! Can you imagine thinking that fighting in a war could be an experience one could “thoroughly enjoy”? I certainly can’t.

After some time in North Africa, Gerald was shipped out again, this time to Asia.  While at sea, he wrote the following undated long letter to his family. Please read it, especially the last two pages.  It is truly a look into the heart and mind of a young man about to face combat.

Gerald Striker letter home from WW2 p 1

“Somewhere at Sea”

Dear Folks,

It has been sometime since I last wrote a letter of any length to you, and will attempt to do justice to this one.

While I was in Africa I had my first taste of what will be in store for me during the duration.  I can honestly say that it is not too bad.  Militarily there is nothing I may write, however I can tell you that living conditions were most primitive. We slept on the ground and lived out of cans.  And speaking of cans—even the toilet paper was rationed out to us.  We get plenty of cigarettes, but candy is very scarce.

I had the opportunity to visit Oran, North Africa, and found the living conditions most interesting.  I was surprised how much of my high school French held me in good stead.  I also picked up a little Arabic.  My knowledge of the foreign rate of currency exchange

Gerald Striker letter home p2

has been added to my general knowledge.  Among the strange things that I saw were rest stations located in the middle of streets, natives without shoes, and automobiles drawn by horses, and I saw the Kasbah which was built in 1501.  I drank champagne at $2.00 per bottle until it poured out of my ears—cognac at dinner time—and ice cream in the afternoon!

Since I left the states I have been to Italy which I found not as beautiful as the travel booklets make one believe—perhaps that is due to friendly and enemy bombings.  The natives fight for American products.  I could have bought a horse for 2 cases of soap! Of course I had no need of a horse, but it does give you an idea as to what the natives are like in this part of the world.

While on ship I gained back the weight

Gerald Striker letter home p3

I lost while in Africa,  I have felt very well at all times and can not complain of anything.  I had my head shaved and after 5 weeks time I finally have grown about 3/4 of an inch back.  I did notice that on top it is getting “a la Sidny.” Also, it is getting slightly gray.

I suppose by the time I get to my destination there will be plenty of mail for me.  If there is—I’m going to ration myself several letters every day.

I think I did tell you that I got my promotion to “first”while in Africa.

I have an insurance premium due in May or June, so just draw the amount out of my account.  I could use some Bond Street tobacco—so you can send me some when you again see Harold Powell.  We can’t get that kind, and I’d rather not smoke a piple than smoke the stuff they sell us here.

Gerald Striker p4

There is so much more I would like to say—but somehow I do not wish to reveal everything.

No, you did not raise your boy to be a soldier nor did he wish to be a soldier.  But we can not control all factors.

I am not a soldier.  I am merely a chap who is doing as directed, and to some extent doing what I believe in.  The German boys too are doing what they believe in.  It is a game of life—death really has no part. The dead can not play.

Yes, I am going in there fighting—I’m fighting for you and folks like you, I’m fighting for myself, my friends—and I’m fighting for what I know is right!

Thanks to you my life has been almost complete.  I can face the worst of it and still smile for I know there is happiness ahead.

And so I’m saying “I’ll be seeing you”—and it won’t be long.

Just remember—if I can feel that you are all good soldiers at home, I can be the best one abroad.  Well I guess

Gerald Striker p5

there is little else I can think of to write at this time.

I hope you are all well and brave.  Also, if at any time you do not hear from me for even a months time do not get alarmed as the mails may be late or I am in such a position that writing is impossible or of little value.

My love to all,


You can see in this letter that Gerald was still struggling with his parents’ reaction to his enlistment, and despite his brave words, his statement that his “life has been almost complete” seems to suggest that he did worry about being killed in the war.

As his service record indicates, after leaving Africa Gerald served as an ordnance officer in the China Burma India theater of the war and received several commendations for his service.  Here are a few photographs of Gerald while serving in World War II.  Steve told me that his father considered his time in the service the best and most exciting time of his life.

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Steve also shared this story of his father’s return home from the war:

Four plus years after leaving the U.S, Jerry sailed into New York.  He did not tell anyone when  he would return.  He got to his parents’ apartment and entered a phone booth to call his mother Esther with the intention of announcing he would be home “shortly”. But his little sister Elaine arbitrarily came bounding down the stairs.  But he said she was not his little sister, but a grown young woman.  Then Elaine also spotted him.  Yelling Jerry! Jerry!  she leaped at him.  They both went upstairs to see their mother.

Shortly after the war, Gerald was invited by his Uncle Frank to the Scaroon Manor resort in upstate New York.  There he met a woman who was singing at the resort, Faye Karol, whose real name was Faye Krakower. Her career as a singer was described in my earlier post.  According to Steve, his father Gerald proposed to Faye six days later, and they were married in November, 1946.

Here are some pictures of Faye.

Faye Krakower and her mother Freida

Faye Krakower and her mother Freida

Faye Striker

Gerald and Faye (Krakower) Striker

Gerald and Faye (Krakower) Striker

Gerald and Faye and their son moved to California in 1948 where Gerald worked as a salesman for a number of different clothing lines and other businesses.

Meanwhile, Gerald’s younger sister Betty had married Julius Jacob in 1942.  I wrote about Betty and Julius here.

Betty Oestreicher and Julius Jacob

Betty Oestreicher and Julius Jacob

Betty Oestreicher Jacob

Betty Oestreicher Jacob

This is Betty and Gerald’s little sister, Elaine, the one who stayed and lived with Maxine Schulherr Stein in PIttsburgh and started me on the journey that led to all these amazing photographs.

Elaine Oestreicher

Elaine Oestreicher

Although Steve shared many more photos of the family, I will end with this one of my cousin Sidney Oestreicher, later in life, with his three adult children, my cousins Gerald, Betty, and Elaine.

Standing: Betty, Gerald, and Elaine Seated: Sidney Oestreicher Striker

Standing: Betty, Gerald, and Elaine
Seated: Sidney Oestreicher Striker

There are a few more posts to come based on the materials Steve shared with me including the letters written by his uncle Frank Striker during his service in World War I and some letters that were written to Frank by various family members.



Like Manna from Heaven

Last Monday I posted about my third cousin, Betty Oestreicher Jacob, who passed away on July 19, 2016.  Betty and I were related through our mutual great-great-grandparents, Levi Schoenthal and Henriette Hamberg.  Her great-grandmother Hannah Schoenthal and my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal were sister and brother.  Betty’s grandparents were Sarah Stern, Hannah’s daughter, and Gustav Oestreicher.  Her parents were Sidney (Oestreicher) Striker and Esther Siff

At the time I posted about Betty’s passing, I had only one photograph of Betty and none of her grandparents, parents, or siblings.  But within hours of publishing my post, I received a comment on the blog and then emails from Betty’s nephew, Steve, the son of her brother Gerald.  And Steve generously shared with me numerous photos of all those people and then some. Now I can place faces to the names of the people I have researched and written about.  And what gorgeous photos these are.

In this post, I will share some photographs of Sarah Stern and Gustav Oestreicher and their three children, Sidney, Frank, and Helen.  In a later post, I will share the photos of Sidney’s children, Gerald, Betty, and Elaine.  All are courtesy of Steve Striker, who so generously spent his time scanning and emailing these to me and answering my many questions.

First, here are some photographs of Sarah Stern Oestreicher, my grandmother Eva Schoenthal’s first cousin.  I’ve written about Sarah’s life here.

Sarah Stern as a child edited

Sarah Stern as a young child in Germany, probably before her mother married Solomon Stern in 1874. Sarah was born in 1865, so this picture was probably taken between 1870 and 1872.

The photograph below of Sarah was taken in Pittsburgh.  She emigrated to the US by herself around 1884 when she was nineteen years old.

Sarah Stern

Sarah Stern

I assume the photograph below was taken sometime later than the one above, but I am not sure. Does Sarah look older or younger in this photograph? The hairstyle in the one above seems more “contemporary,” but Sarah’s face seems softer and somewhat younger than in the one immediately below.

Sarah Stern Oestreicher

Sarah Stern Oestreicher


A while back I had posted the next photograph, which I’d received from my cousin Maxine Stein, and she and I had wondered whether the woman on the left was Sarah Stern, her grandmother’s sister.  Now I am quite certain that it is in fact Sarah.  What do you think? Is the woman on the far left of the photograph the same woman as the one in the photo directly above?


Jennie Stern Arnold, center, and perhaps Sarah Stern Ostreicher on the right and Edith Stern Good on the right

Jennie Stern Arnold, center, and perhaps Sarah Stern Ostreicher on the left and Edith Stern Good on the right

Sarah married Gustav Oestreicher, the man she met while he was staying at her mother’s boarding house in Pittsburgh in about 1890. Gustav, an immigrant from Austria, was working as an artist and photographer in 1900.

Gustav Oestreicher

Gustav Oestreicher

What a dashing man he was!

Here are Sarah and Gustav’s three children, Sidney (1891), Francis (Frank) (1893), and Helen (1895).  You can see that the children inherited their father’s piercing light-colored eyes.  I would guess that these were taken in the late 1890s, perhaps 1898 or 1899, from the ages of the children.  They were also probably taken at the same time as the photos above of Gustav and Sarah, as all five photos were mounted together in a frame.  Perhaps Gustav himself took these photos.

Sidney Oestreicher

Sidney Oestreicher

Frank Oestreicher as a boy

Helen Oestreicher

This photo of Gustav and Sarah was taken in 1915, when their children were already grown.  By this time Gustav was no longer working as an artist, but was a merchant in Pittsburgh.
Gustav and Sarah Stern Oestreicher

Here is a photograph of the Oestreicher store in Pittsburgh:

Oestreicher store

Here’s a photo of Gustav and Sarah and their three children in about 1910, I’d guess, given the ages of the children. Unfortunately, Sidney’s head was cut off either in the photo itself or in the scan.

Rear: Frank, Helen, Gerald (with head cut off) Front: Gustav and Sarah Oestreicher

Rear: Frank, Helen, Sidney (with head cut off)
Front: Gustav and Sarah Oestreicher

Sidney Oestreicher (later Striker) married Esther Siff on November 16, 1915, in Chicago. Sidney was working as a traveling salesman, and as his daughter Betty told me, he met Esther at a dance in Chicago while there on business.  Esther’s father was also a traveling salesman. (I have more pictures of Sidney and Esther, but will share them in my next post.)

Sidney and Esther 1915

The second son, Francis, better known as Frank, served his country in World War I. (Sidney was exempt as he had a wife and young child.)  The postcard below shows Frank’s dates of service:

Frank postcard with military service dates

He was gone for just over a year—from June 25, 1918, when he left for camp, until July 17, 1919, when he arrived home.  He had gone overseas on September 24, 1918.  As I wrote about here, Frank served in the Meuse Argonne Offensive, one of the most important if not the most important battle in World War I. He was a member of Company C of the 301 Water Tank Train in the American Expeditionary Forces.

According to Richard Rubin’s book, The Last of the Doughboys:The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), p.220, a water tank train was actually a caravan of white trucks used to carry water to the front.  According to his honorable discharge papers, Frank served as a private, which Rubin’s book suggests meant he was likely an assistant driver of one of the trucks.

I found this photograph online depicting Company C of the 301 Water Tank Train.  I wonder if Frank is in the photograph:

Company C, 301 Water Tank Train, H. E. Edwards, Capt. M. J. C. U. S. A., Arthur Armstrong Paler papers, Box 1, World War I Photographs http://bentley.umich.edu/legacy-support/ww1/military-life.php

Company C, 301 Water Tank Train,
H. E. Edwards, Capt. M. J. C. U. S. A., Arthur
Armstrong Paler papers, Box 1, World War I

Francis Oestreicher (Frank Striker) discharge papers

Francis Oestreicher (Frank Striker) discharge papers

As you can see below, he was awarded a Victory medal for his service. (Steve has also sent me some of the letters Frank wrote home during World War I; I will post those separately once I have a chance to review and transcribe them.)

Frank Striker WW1

Francis Oestreicher, later known as Frank Striker

Frank Striker WW1 medal

Frank Striker’s Victory Medal for service in World War I

Gustav and Sarah’s third child was their daughter Helen. Here she is in 1917 when she was 22 years old.

Helen Oestreicher 1917

Helen Oestreicher 1917

As I wrote earlier, Helen married Robert Steel Kann in 1920, but he died a year later at age 26.  Sometime before 1929, she married Aaron Mitchell Siegel, known as Mickie, and they had a daughter Betty.

Helen Oestreicher Kann Siegel and her family

Helen Oestreicher Kann Siegel and her family

I was tickled to see this item in Steve’s collection:

invitation to Henry Schoenthal 50th anniv party

As you can see, it is an invitation to the 50th wedding anniversary celebration in 1922 for Henry Schoenthal and Helen Lilienfeld, about whom I’ve written extensively.  Henry Schoenthal, my great-great-uncle, was Sarah Stern Oestreicher’s uncle, brother of her mother Hannah Schoenthal Stern.

Steve sent me this photo labeled Aunt Helen by his uncle Frank, and I wonder whether this is Helen Lilienfeld Schoenthal, who would have been Frank’s great-aunt.  Frank received a long letter from his great-aunt Helen and great-uncle Henry while he was serving in Europe; the tone and content of that letter suggest that Helen and Henry Schoenthal had a very close relationship with the Oestreicher family. (I will post the letter in a separate post.)

Aunt Helen--maybe Lilienfeld Schoenthal

Frank returned to Pittsburgh after the war and worked as a salesman in the family dry goods store. After the family store went bankrupt in 1933, the Oestreicher family began its migration west to California. Although neither Steve nor his cousin Ron was sure of who first went to California or why, the 1940 census indicates that by 1935 at least Helen and her family and Gustav and Sarah had settled there.  I was not able to locate Frank on the 1930 or the 1940 census,nor do I have any address for him between 1920 and 1942, but his World War II draft registration indicates that by then he was definitely living in California along with his parents and his sister Helen.  Sidney and his family did not move west until the 1940s.

Here is a photograph of the Oestreicher family in Los Angeles in 1936.

Oestreicher family edited 1936

I found this letter written by Sarah Stern Oestreicher to her son Frank in 1933 to be very touching in its religious tone and its affection for her son.  Perhaps it was written around the time that family members were planning to move to California.  From the text of the letter, it appears that Frank had just visited, perhaps before he was leaving to move out west or his parents were.



Letter from Sarah Stern Oestreicher to her son Frank, dated January 11, 1933

My dear Francis!

Always remember that The present is under God’s guidance, the future in His keeping. God is guiding, directing, controlling and suplying His children with all good.  His Love and [?] is with you always. Thanking you for all your kindness and the pleasure of having you with us will be the the most pleasant memmories to us.

With my love I remain your devoted Mother. January 11—1933

Here is a photo of Frank in 1940.

Frank Striker 3

One of Steve’s favorite stories about Frank is that he offered to take photographs at Steve’s bar mitzvah, only to discover there was no film left in the camera.  There is only this one photo taken by Frank that day.


Although Steve has many photographs with Frank with women throughout the years, Frank never married. He died in Los Angeles on April 23, 1990, at the age of 96.  His sister Helen died in 1989 when she was 94.

I am so grateful to my cousin Steve for sharing these amazing photographs with me and allowing me to post them on my blog. There is just nothing better than a photograph to help bring to life the people whose lives I’ve researched.

More photos and stories about the Oestreicher family in my next post.