Another Addition to the Brotman Family Tree: David Brotman and his wife Annie

Family Tree drawn by Elaine Goldschlager Lehbraum

Family Tree drawn by Elaine Goldschlager Lehbraum

As you may recall, a couple of weeks ago my cousin Jody made a big discovery: handwritten notes that her mother had made of Joseph Brotman’s children.  It included all the children we already knew about: Bessie’s children Hyman, Tillie, Gussie, Frieda (Florence in her notes) and Sam, as well as the two sons we knew of from Joseph’s first marriage, Abraham and Max.   My brother had recalled that our aunt had said Joseph had had four children from his first marriage, but we did not know the names of the two remaining children, and I had traced every possible Brotman I could find to see if there was a link.  I had hit many dead ends and found nothing that linked these other Brotmans to our family.

My aunt’s notes were a huge discovery because for the first time we had evidence of the names of those two missing children: David and Sophie.  As I wrote when Jody first sent me the tree, I was able to locate a David Brotman from Austria who was a possible match for Joseph’s missing son, but I needed to check further and obtain some documentation in order to be sure.

Well, those documents arrived the other day, and I was so excited to see that on David’s marriage certificate in 1897, he listed his father’s name as Joseph Brotman and his mother’s as Chaye Fortgang.

David Brotman and Annie Salpeter marriage certificate

David Brotman and Annie Salpeter marriage certificate

You may recall that Max had also listed his mother’s name as Chaye on his marriage certificate, so this confirmed that Joseph’s first wife was named Chaye, but now we know her surname as well.

Max Brotman marriage certificate

Max Brotman marriage certificate

In addition, the marriage certificate gave David’s current address as 85 Ridge Street—the same address where Joseph and Bessie were living in 1895 when Gussie was born, according to her birth certificate.

Gussie birth certificate

Gussie birth certificate

This confirmed for me that David was Joseph’s son, Max and Abraham’s full brother, half-brother to Hyman, Tillie, Gussie, Frieda and Sam, and our great-uncle.  I am still in a state of amazement that I was able to find him.  Thank you, Aunt Elaine, for leaving behind this great clue to our family.

Once I had this information confirming the relationship, I located whatever census reports and other records I could find for David and his wife, Annie Salpeter.  I found them on census reports for 1900, 1905, 1910, and 1920.  David was a tailor according to the first three census reports, and he and Annie were living on the Lower East Side until at least 1910. At times Annie’s brother Morris lived with them as well as a cousin Meier, but there were no children listed on any of these census reports.

At the time of his World War I draft registration in 1917, David and Annie had left the Lower East Side and were living at 143 Manhattan Avenue in Brooklyn, which was also their address on the 1920 census report, when David’s occupation was given as a cloak dealer in a “cloak house.”  Annie and David were now 44 years old and still had no children living with them, so I assume that they never had children. So there are no more second cousins to find and probably no pictures of David and Annie.  (But I’ve learned never to say never.)

I’ve yet to find David and Annie on the 1930 or 1940 censuses, but I am still looking.  It seems unlikely that they had left Brooklyn.  I was able to locate a 1946 death certificate for a David Brotman married to Anna living at 10 Sumner Avenue in Brooklyn, and I believe this is the same David, despite the fact that the death certificate has his father’s name as Isaac.  I’ve learned enough to know that death certificates are notoriously unreliable.  I will continue to see if I can find anything about David and Annie after 1920.

I do have David’s petition for naturalization in 1920, and it indicates that he had arrived in NYC on October 14, 1889, on the “Updam” from Tarnof, Austria.

David Brotman petition for naturalization 1920

David Brotman petition for naturalization 1920

Tarnof could be Tarnow, a city about fifty miles north of Tarnobrzeg/Dzikow and even further from Czchow, the two areas that I have been focusing on as the Brotman hometown based on Hyman’s listing of “Jeekief” and “Giga” on his documents.  But Tarnof could also be Tarnobrzeg, the larger town that is near Dzikow.  So did this new information help our search for our hometown in Galicia or did it just make it more confusing?

That led me to search for the ship manifest for David, now that I knew when he arrived and on what ship.  With some help from Renee, I located a September 4, 1889,  German ship manifest for the Portia, sailing to Rotterdam, listing Dawid Brodmann as a passenger.  I was excited to see that David was traveling with his older brother, Abe Brodmann. I had not previously been able to find Abraham on a ship manifest, so this was another exciting discovery.

David and Abe Brodmann on the Portia 1889

David and Abe Brodmann on the Portia 1889

On the Portia ship manifest, Abe and David are listed as coming from “Grambow, Russland,” not Austria at all, let alone Tarnow, Tarnobrzeg, Dzikow or Czchow.  I would have found this an indication that these were not the right boys, but there is a town right near Tarnobrzeg called Grebow, and according to a 1914 map, Tarnobrzeg was very close to the Russian border. So perhaps our family lived in Grebow? Or maybe that is where Joseph lived with Chaye and then moved to Dzikow when he married Bessie?

On the manifest for the Obdam, sailing from Rotterdam to New York arriving on September 19, 1889, David and Abe are listed as coming from Austria, not Russia, which appears to be correct.

David and Abe Brodman on the Obdam to New York 1889

David and Abe Brodman on the Obdam to New York 1889

There is obviously some confusion and conflict here, but it’s another clue and another place to look for the Brotman home in Galicia. I already have contacted several people researching this area to see if I can uncover more clues.

I have a few more leads to follow to fill in the gaps in David’s life story, and maybe they will even lead me to Sophie, the only remaining child of Joseph to locate.  There is also some potential evidence that will link our family to the Brotmanville Brotmans, but again, I need to do more research before it is worth speculating about that connection.

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Big Brotman Family Update!

I’ve been focused on the Goldschlagers these last few weeks, but I have not at all forgotten my Brotman cousins.  I have just not had anything new to report as I am still awaiting a few documents and also hoping to break the brick wall that prevents me from finding out about our Galician home and our earlier ancestors.

But today I actually have some news about the Brotman family.  My first cousin Jody sent me the document depicted below:

Family Tree drawn by Elaine Goldschlager Lehbraum

Family Tree drawn by Elaine Goldschlager Lehbraum

It’s a family tree written by her mother, my aunt Elaine Goldschlager Lehrbaum, my mother’s sister.  At first I didn’t realize there was anything new about it until I read it over a second, third and now fourth time.  My aunt provided the names of all the other children of Joseph Brotman, including Max and Abraham, confirming what we already knew, that is, that they were Joseph’s sons from his first marriage.  But now we have the names of the other two children from that first marriage: David and Sophie!  This is huge news for me and gives me a new start to researching the other Brotman cousins.

Also, note that my aunt said that Joseph and Bessie were first cousins.  (No wonder our gene pool carries so many repeating traits—like those distinctive cheekbones.)  That may help me locate them in Europe since we now know that they had the same grandparents.

Finally, I never knew that my aunt’s Hebrew name was Esther.  That was Gisella’s mother’s name—Esther, married to David Rosensweig.  So my aunt was named for her great-grandmother.  I wonder if she knew that.

Another one of those days when a small document can just bring tears and smiles to my eyes.

Jody also sent some wonderful pictures which I will post later.  Thanks, Jo!

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Looking back on the first six months: Seven lessons learned by doing genealogy

As my semester has drawn to an end, as the year draws to an end, I want to take some time to reflect on what I have learned in the last six months or so since I began this project in earnest and what I still want to learn and to accomplish as we start a new year.

So first, what have I learned?

1.  I’ve learned that I had two great-uncles whom I’d never known about.  For at least two months of my research, I was sure that Joseph and Bessie had only had five children: Hyman, Tillie, Gussie, Frieda and Sam.  When I kept running into a Max Brotman married to Sophie with children named Rosalie and Renee, I just figured Hyman had changed his name to Max.  My mother didn’t know about her cousins Joseph, Saul and Manny, but she had met Rosalie and Renee, and I was sure they were Hyman’s daughters.  My mother knew that Hyman’s wife’s name was Sophie.  So instead of looking harder, I just assumed Max was Hyman and that the other Hyman Brotman married to a Sophie was not my relative.  Only when I was able to find Max’s granddaughter Judy and Hyman’s grandson Bruce did I learn that Max and Hyman were BOTH my great-uncles, that both had married women named Sophie, and that Rosalie and Renee were the daughters of Max, not Hyman.  That was a HUGE turning point for me and a big lesson.  Lesson learned? Don’t trust memory alone, and don’t assume that documents are wrong just because family memories conflict with those documents.

Herman and Sophie with sons 1920

Herman and Sophie with sons 1920

2. The second new great-uncle was Abraham, and finding him was also somewhat of a lucky break.  I ran across many Brotmans in my research, but most I assumed were not our relatives because I could not find any document linking them to our relatives and because no one in our family had ever heard of them.  I can’t even remember all the details, but I recall that it was my brother Ira who found Abraham’s naturalization papers—I think (I am sure he will remember and correct me if I am wrong) it was in the course of looking into the Brotmanville Brotmans.  When I saw Max’s name on those papers, I did not assume it was the same Max.  (There were many Max Brotmans living in NYC at that time.)  Once I checked the address for the Max on Abraham’s card against the address I had for Max on the census form from that same time period, I knew it was in fact “our” Max.  That led me on the search that brought me to Abraham’s headstone and death certificate, indicating that his father was also Joseph Jacob Brotman.  Lesson learned? Don’t dismiss any clue.  You never know where one document may lead you, even if in a direction you never expected.

Naturalization of Abraham Brotman Max as Witness

Naturalization of Abraham Brotman
Max as Witness

3.  Contrary to Lesson #1 and Lesson #2, I have also learned that often you cannot trust documents.  Documents lie.  People lie.  People give bad information, and bureaucrats transcribe information inaccurately.  People who transcribe handwritten documents for indexing purposes make errors.  In particular, our relatives were entirely inconsistent when it came to birth dates and birth places.  I now know why one relative found it so easy to lie about her age.  It was family tradition.  So lesson #3: Don’t assume that because it is written on some “official document” that it is reliable in any way.

Sam's Birth Certificate Joseph was NOT 42!

Sam’s Birth Certificate
Joseph was NOT 46!

4. One of my most rewarding accomplishments was finding out what happened to Frieda Brotman. Now we know who she married and how she died and even the name of her infant son Max, who only lived one day.    We even know what happened to her husband Harry Coopersmith after she died.  I never thought I’d be able to track down her story.  That experience is what will keep me going as I continue to look for the answers to more questions.  Lesson #4: Do not give up.  Do not give up. Do NOT give up!

Frieda Brotman Coopersmith death certificate

5. There are more helpful and supportive people in the world than there are mean or evil people.  I know we hear all the time about all the evil in the world, and there is far too much of it.  And even if not evil, there are also many people who are rude, incompetent and unhelpful.  We all know that.  But we often forget that there are also many, many more people who are kind, helpful and competent.  In my six months of doing this research, I have gotten help from many strangers—government employees who patiently helped me find a document, FHL volunteers who helped me track down a document request I had made, JewishGen and GesherGalicia members and other genealogists who have gone far out of their way to teach me how to find documents and how to connect with other researchers, who have photographed gravestones and given me directions to gravestones, who have translated documents for me, who have helped me find a clue when I was sure I had hit a brick wall.  I cannot tell you how much these people have touched me and changed my views on human nature.

I want to express special thanks and deep appreciation to Renee Steinig, who contacted me many months ago in response to my cry for help on GesherGalicia and who has truly been my teacher and is now my friend as I have gone from being a total newbie to a fairly competent novice with her guidance. She is the one who found the obituary of Renee that led to me finding Judy.  She is the one who suggested I post an inquiry on a bulletin board that led me to Bruce.  When I look back, in fact, I know it was Renee who got me to where I am today.  Thank you, Renee, for everything.

Lesson #5: If you ask for help, there will be generous and kind people who will reach out and help you.  Don’t do this alone.

6. I have also learned that I have many second cousins and second cousins once and twice removed—people I would never have discovered if I had not started down this path.  This has been probably the biggest gift of all from doing this research.  What a wonderful and interesting group of people I have gotten to know—by email, by phone, by pictures and stories.  When I look at the pictures and see the distinctive Brotman cheekbones shared by so many of you and your parents and your children, it gives me such a great sense of connection.  This may be the best lesson I’ve learned: everyone is looking for connections, everyone is looking to find their place in time and in the world.  I am so glad to have made these connections with so many of you, people who never even knew my name until this fall but whom I now consider not just cousins, but friends.

7. Finally, and in some ways the point of this whole adventure, I have really learned more than I ever could have hoped about my great-grandparents and their children and how they lived in the United States.  Joseph and Bessie were nothing but names to me six months ago; now they are flesh and blood people, my flesh and blood.  Their drive and courage is an inspiration to me, as it must have been to their own children.  After all, Abraham, Hyman and Tillie all named a son for their father Joseph, and perhaps some of the great-grandchildren were named for him as well.  I was so blessed to have been named for Bessie, as were some of you.  Bessie and Joseph—they are the real heroes of this story.  That’s the real lesson.

Joseph's headstone

Joseph’s headstone

Bessie Brotman

Bessie Brotman

Next post: Looking forward to the next six months

This Made My Day!

Yesterday was one of those winter days where I didn’t leave the house all day.  I read the paper, did the crossword puzzle, and played on the computer.  It was quiet, relaxing, but not exciting.  Then late yesterday afternoon, I received an email from Judy, Max’s granddaughter, that made my day.  Attached to the email was a document that Judy’s sister, Susan, had found while going through some old papers.  It’s a family tree sketched out by hand by Renee Brotman Haber, one of Max Brotman’s daughters and Roz, Susan and Judy’s mother.

Take a look at it:


If you now compare this to the family tree on the blog for Abraham and his descendants, you will immediately realize that Renee had written out the family tree of her father’s brother Abraham.  Judy and Susan don’t know when she did it or where, but this is definitely written by Renee and it is definitely Abraham’s family.

Paula Newman, Abraham’s granddaughter, commented on the blog a couple of months ago that she believed she had met Rosalie and Dick Jones in Florida years ago when she was there with her parents.  Rosalie was Renee’s sister, and Judy said that both families used to go to Florida every year at Christmas time.  Perhaps it was during one of those vacations that Paula’s family met with Renee and Rosalie’s families and provided Renee with the information she sketched out on the family tree.

This is the third piece of evidence that supports the conclusion that Abraham and Max were brothers and that Abraham, like Max, was Joseph’s son from his first marriage.  First, we have the fact that Max was the witness on Abraham’s naturalization papers.  Second, we have the fact that Abraham’s Hebrew name was Avraham ben Yosef Yaakov, named for his grandfather Avraham whose son was Yosef Yaakov.  (Recall that Joseph’s Hebrew name was Yosef Yaakov ben Avraham.  Also, Abraham named his son Yosef Yaakov shortly after Joseph died, as did Hyman and Tillie.) And now we have evidence that Renee met or spoke with Abraham’s daughter or granddaughter to write down this family tree.  I don’t know how they found each other, or , more sadly, how they had all lost each other beforehand and then afterwards.

I guess you can tell how much this all means to me that receiving this document made me so happy.  Who cares about snow and sleet and cold when there is a new discovery linking our families!!

This should also be an inspiration to the rest of you to look for things like this—old letters, cards, postcards, pictures. You never know what you will find. Come on, make my day!  

The Brotmanville Brotmans

One of the questions raised early on by several of the Brotman cousins was whether and how we were related to the Brotmans of Brotmanville, NJ.  The history of Brotmanville is quite interesting and something I knew nothing about until I started this project; in fact, I’d never heard of Brotmanville at all.

Brotmanville was established by Abraham Brotman to provide jobs to the Jewish community that had settled in nearby Alliance, New Jersey.  Alliance was founded to be an agricultural community for Jewish immigrants and funded by the Baron de Rothschild.  As The New York Times reported:

In the 1880’s, pogroms and anti-Semitic laws in Russia caused a historic exodus of Jews. Most ended up crowded into tenements in American cities. But some Jewish thinkers urged their brethren, as one of them wrote, “to become tillers of the soil and thus shake off the accusation that we were petty mercenaries living upon the toil of others.” And so hundreds of Jews established agricultural colonies on land bought for them by charities and philanthropists.

As Richard Brotman, Abraham Brotman’s great-grandson, reports in a film he made in the 1980s about Brotmanville, the land was difficult to farm, and many people needed an alternative way to earn a living.

Abraham Brotman, himself a recent immigrant from Galicia, had established a successful coat factory in Brooklyn, NY, and decided to relocate it near Alliance to provide jobs for the people who lived there.  Abraham moved with his wife Minnie and their children and his father Moses and his wife and children to southern New Jersey, where eventually a portion of the community was named in his honor.

Many of the Brotmans descended from Moses and/or Abraham Brotman stayed in the southern New Jersey/Philadelphia area, including Judge Stanley Brotman, Rich Brotman’s father, who recently retired from the federal bench at age 89.  In addition, Moses’ granddaughter (through a child of Moses’ second wife), Elaine Ashin, still lives in nearby Vineland.  I spoke with Elaine last week to try and find out more about her grandfather, but unfortunately he died when she was just a few months old so she knew very little about him or his background.

Moses Brotman (photo courtesy of Elaine Ashin)


Bruce and Dennis Brotman remembered meeting with Judge Brotman many years ago and attempting to trace some family connection.  Although they cannot recall finding anything specific, they all left believing that there was some family tie.

Unfortunately, I have yet to find anything that reliably demonstrates that tie.  Moses Brotman was born in Austria in 1847, making him a contemporary of our Joseph Brotman.  Elaine Ashin sent me this photo of Moses’ headstone last week, and I was very excited when I saw it because Moses’ father’s name was Abraham.  I thought perhaps Moses and Joseph were brothers, making us all closely related to the Brotmanville Brotmans.

Photo courtesy of Elaine Ashin


I ordered a copy of Moses’ death certificate from Trenton, NJ, and it arrived the other day.  It confirmed that Moses’ father’s name was Abraham.  However, it listed Moses’ mother’s name as Sadie Bernstein, not Yetta as listed on Joseph’s death certificate.


So I see four possibilities: one, Moses and Joseph are not related at all, but it’s just coincidence that they both had fathers named Abraham Brotman.  Two, either Joseph’s death certificate is wrong as to his mother’s name or Moses’ death certificate is wrong as to his mother’s name, and they are brothers.  Given that we have seen that so many records, even death certificates, have errors (Frieda’s birth year,Hyman’s place of birth, etc.), it certainly is possible that one is wrong, that both are wrong or that both are right.  Three, it could be that Moses and Joseph are half-brothers and that Abraham had two wives and children with both, just as Moses and Joseph both did.  Four, perhaps they are distant cousins sharing a common ancestor named Abraham for whom both their fathers were named.

Unfortunately, we may never know.  In order to learn more, I would need to find documents from Galicia that would trace the history back further.  So far I am still not even sure what town our family came from nor where Moses’ family came from, so that is a difficult task.

So at the moment, the lawyer in me says there is just not enough evidence to conclude with any degree of certainty that we are related in any direct way to the Brotmans of Brotmanville.  But I have not given up, and I will keep looking or find someone in Poland who perhaps can search for me.