Milton Goldsmith’s Family Album, Part XII: The Mystery of His Stepmother Francis

Will you help me solve a mystery?

The next page in Milton Goldsmith’s family album was devoted to his stepmother, Francis (sometimes spelled Frances) Spanier Goldsmith. But his story about her background and childhood left me with quite a mystery.

Milton was fifteen when his father remarried, and from this tribute to Francis, it is clear that he was extremely fond of and grateful to her.

Francis Spanier Goldsmith, the second wife of Father, Abraham Goldsmith, was born in Germany in 1854. Left an orphan at an early age, she was brought up in the home of Rabbi Krimke of Hanover, Germany. At the age of 20 she came to America, and having an Uncle, Louis Spanier, living in Washington, D.C. she went there for a while but soon settled in Baltimore, and became friends with our cousins, the Siegmunds. It was there that father met her, having been introduced by Mr. S. Father had been a widower for two years with five young children to bring up, and was looking for a wife, a lady with no relatives. He fell in love with Miss Spanier, proposed after two days and married within two months. She was 22 and he past forty. She was an attractive girl, dark-eyed, brunette, speaking a cultivated German but very little English;- of an amiable disposition. Father’s greatest mistake was to keep the parents of his first wife in the house. This naturally led to friction. A brother, Julius Spanier soon came in our home and lived there for a while. Later a sister, Rose, came from Hanover and also lived with us for several years. She eventually married and lived in Birmingham, Ala, where her brother also made his home. Within a year the oldest son, Alfred was born, and within five years there came Bertha, Alice and Louis. The later years of father’s life were embittered by sickness, loss of money and finally a stroke, rendering him helpless. He suffered for 12 years before he passed away in 1902. During that time Francis was an untireing [sic] nurse and faithful companion. She died of a stroke in Philada, 1908.

[handwritten underneath] She was distantly related to Heinrich Heine.]

I found this essay heartwarming, but also sad. Francis was orphaned, married a man  with five children who was more than twenty years older than she was, had to put up with his first wife’s parents, raise five stepchildren plus four of her own, and tend to Abraham when he suffered financial and medical problems. What a hard life! But how much of Milton’s essay was true?

When I first wrote about Francis over a year ago, I noted that I’d been able to find very little about her background, so finding this essay was very exciting because it provided many clues about Francis’ background. I’ve placed in bold above the many hints in Milton’s essay about people and places that I thought might reveal more about Francis.1

For example, who was Rabbi Krimke who allegedly brought up Francis? Was he just some rabbi from Hanover, or did Milton provide such a specific name because he was a well-known rabbi? It turns out that it was the latter. In Die Rabbiner der Emanzipationszeit in den deutschen, böhmischen und großpolnischen Ländern 1781-1871 (Michael Brocke, Julius Carlebach, Carsten Wilke, Walter de Gruyte, eds. 2010)( p. 549), there was this short biography of Rabbi Isaac Jakob Krimke of Hanover:

Here is a partial translation:

Rabbi Isaak Jakob Krimke, born in Hamburg in 24 June 1824, died in Hannover 20 Nov 1886. From orthodox school, 1857 third foundation rabbi at the Michael Davidschen Foundation School in Hannover, at the same time teacher at the Meyer Michael Foundation School and lecturer at the Jewish Teacher seminary, around 1869 first Foundation Rabbi. at the Michael Davidschen Foundation. Married to Rosa Blogg (died 1889), daughter of the Hebrew scholar Salomon Ephraim B.  ….  Was buried in the Jewish cemetery An der Strangriede. The tombstone for the foundation rabbi Isaac Jakob Krimke is preserved; it is adorned with a Magen David and also decorated with strong oak leaves….

I then fell into a very deep rabbit hole when I tried to track down Louis, Julius, and Rose Spanier, Francis’ uncle, brother, and sister, respectively. I was able to find a Joseph Spanier living with his wife and family in Birmingham, Alabama, on the 1910, 1920 and 1930 census reports.2  But Joseph Spanier was born in England, according to all three census records. I was skeptical as to whether this was Julius Spanier, the brother of Francis Spanier Goldsmith living in Birmingham, as mentioned in Milton’s essay.

Jos. Spanier and family, 1910, US census, Census Place: Birmingham Ward 2, Jefferson, Alabama; Roll: T624_18; Page: 14A; Enumeration District: 0047; FHL microfilm: 1374031
Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census

But when I searched further for Julius Spanier, I found this page from the 1861 English census:

Spanier family, 1861 English census, Class: RG 9; Piece: 243; Folio: 61; Page: 28; GSU roll: 542598
Enumeration District: 20, Ancestry.com. 1861 England Census

This certainly appears to be the same man described in Milton’s essay and found on the census records for Birmingham, Alabama, as he was the right age, born in England, and had two sisters, one named Frances, one named Rose. Could it just be coincidence? Also, my Francis was the same age as the Frances on the 1861 English census. This certainly appeared to be the same family as the Spanier family described in Milton’s essay about his stepmother.

What really sealed the deal for me were the names of Joseph Spanier’s children in Birmingham, Alabama. His first child was Adolph; Julius Spanier’s father on the 1861 census was Adolphus. Julius Spanier’s mother was Bertha. Joseph Spanier also had a daughter named Bertha.

And consider the names of the first two children Francis Spanier had with Abraham Goldsmith: a son named Alfred, a daughter named Bertha. It all could not simply be coincidence. I hypothesized that Joseph Spanier was born Julius Spanier in England to Adolphus and Bertha Spanier and that Francis Spanier Goldsmith was his sister.

But then things got murky. Look again at the 1861 English census. It shows that Frances was not born in Germany, but in Boston—in the US. Every American record I had for Francis indicated that she was born in Germany, not the United States. How could I square that with the 1861 English census and the connection to the siblings mentioned in Milton’s essay—Julius and Rose?

And if Frances was born in Boston and living in England in 1861, is it really possible that she did not speak much English when she met Abraham in 1876, as Milton claimed in his essay?

Spanier family, 1861 English census, Class: RG 9; Piece: 243; Folio: 61; Page: 28; GSU roll: 542598
Enumeration District: 20, Ancestry.com. 1861 England Census

Then I found a birth record for Frances Spanier born in Boston to “Radolph” and Bertha Spanier on September 10, 1854. “Radolph” was clearly a misspelling of Adolph, and this had to be the same Frances Spanier who appeared on the 1861 English census.  Francis Spanier Goldsmith had a birth date of September 13, 1855, on her death certificate, so just a year and few days different from this Boston birth record (though the death certificate said she was born in Germany.)

“Massachusetts Births, 1841-1915,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-XHB7-DJH?cc=1536925&wc=M61J-KNL%3A73565601 : 1 March 2016), 004023162 > image 102 of 857; Massachusetts Archives, Boston.

Frances Spanier Goldsmith death certificate
Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Pennsylvania, USA; Certificate Number Range: 006001-010000, Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966

I also found records showing that Francis Spanier Goldsmith’s uncle Louis was living in Boston in the 1850s.3 It certainly seemed more and more like Francis Spanier Goldsmith was born in Boston, not Germany, as Milton had written and American records reported.

What about the story that she was an orphan and raised by Rabbi Krimke? Francis’ mother Bertha died in England in 1862,4 when Francis was seven or eight years old, so she was partially orphaned as a child. But her father Adolphus died in England in 1873, so Francis was eighteen or nineteen when he died.5 But when Francis immigrated to the US in 1876, the ship manifest stated that she was a resident of Germany, not England.

Franziska Spanier, Year: 1876; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 403; Line: 1; List Number: 344, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957

Was Milton’s story just a family myth, or was there some way to reconcile it with these records?

Here is my working hypothesis:

After Bertha Spanier died in 1862, Adolphus was left with five  young children. Francis (then seven or eight) and at least some of her siblings were sent to Hanover, Germany, to live with Rabbi Isaak Jakob Krimke, as the family story goes. By the time Francis immigrated to the US fourteen years later, she might have forgotten most of the English she once knew, so she was speaking only German, and the Goldsmith family only knew that she was an orphan who had come from Germany so assumed she was born there, and the family myth grew and stuck.

How ironic would it be if Francis was, like Milton and his siblings, a child whose mother died, leaving her father with five young children? After all, Francis also ended up marrying a man whose first wife died, leaving him with five young children. Francis may have saved her stepchildren from the fate she might have suffered—being taken away from her father after her mother died and sent to live in a foreign country  with a stranger, who happened to be a well-known rabbi.

What do you think? Am I missing something here? Where else can I look to try and solve this mystery?

This is Part XII of an ongoing series of posts based on the family album of Milton Goldsmith, generously shared with me by his granddaughter Sue. See Part I, Part II, Part IIIPart IVPart V,  Part VI, Part VII , Part VIII,  Part IX,  Part X and Part XI at the links.

 


  1. I also spent far too much time trying to track down the Siegmund family of Washington, DC, whom Milton described as his cousins. I had no luck figuring this one out and finally forced myself to stop looking. I also resisted the temptation to try and track down the distant connection between Francis Spanier and Heinrich Heine, the great nineteenth century German-Jewish poet. 
  2. Jos. Spanier, 1910 US census, Census Place: Birmingham Ward 2, Jefferson, Alabama; Roll: T624_18; Page: 14A; Enumeration District: 0047; FHL microfilm: 1374031, Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census; Joe Spanier, 1920 US census, Census Place: Birmingham, Jefferson, Alabama; Roll: T625_25; Page: 21A; Enumeration District: 99, Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census; Joseph E. Spanier, 1930 US census, Census Place: Birmingham, Jefferson, Alabama; Page: 32B; Enumeration District: 0071; FHL microfilm: 2339762, Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census 
  3. Birth record for Clara Spanier, daughter of Louis Spanier, Massachusetts Births, 1841-1915,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FXDT-91R : 11 March 2018), Clara Spanier, 01 Oct 1855, Boston, Massachusetts; citing reference ID #p72 #3222, Massachusetts Archives, Boston; FHL microfilm 1,428,236. 
  4. Bertha Spanier death record, Inferred County: London, Volume: 1c, Page: 147, FreeBMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915 
  5. Adolphe Spanier death record, Inferred County: London, Volume: 1d, Page: 577, FreeBMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1837-1915 

Love That Dirty Water—Boston, You’re My Town: Great-great-uncle Felix

I lived in the Boston area for six years and still live just 90 miles to the west of the Hub; my older daughter went to college there; my younger daughter has lived there for almost ten years.  I have other family and friends in the area. And I’ve been a Boston Red Sox fan for over half my life.  So it gave me quite a smile to see that Felix Schoenthal, one of my great-grandfather’s brothers, ended up in the Boston area—Brookline, to be specific, a town that borders Boston and is known as the birthplace of President John F. Kennedy and the longtime center of the Boston Jewish community.

Felix and Margaret Schoenthal from 1919 passport application, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 - March 31, 1925; Roll #: 728; Volume #: Roll 0728 - Certificates: 70500-70749, 19 Mar 1919-20 Mar 1919

Felix and Margaret Schoenthal from 1919 passport application,
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925; Roll #: 728; Volume #: Roll 0728 – Certificates: 70500-70749, 19 Mar 1919-20 Mar 1919

But before he got to Boston, my great-great-uncle Felix had lived, like his siblings, in western Pennsylvania after immigrating from Sielen, Germany in 1872.  As I wrote earlier, Felix married Margaret or Maggie Swem in 1878; Margaret was born in West Newton, Pennsylvania, the daughter of John and Rachel Swem; her father was a blacksmith there.

UPDATE: Thanks to Diane Young Decker who commented on this post, I now know a bit more about the family of Margaret Swem.  Margaret’s father John was Diane’s great-great-great grandmother’s brother.  Margaret wrote the following about her great-great-great grandmother Abigail Swem Wilson: “[The family] was Baptist or another fairly straight-laced Protestant denomination. Life was very very different on the hardscrabble prairies of Iowa, which is where David and Abigail Swem Wilson settled and finished raising their family. They were desperately poor, particularly during the Civil War years, when four of their boys went to war, leaving David, who was only able to get around on crutches, Abigail and the young daughters to handle the farm. One of the boys, Eli Wilson, was killed in the war and another never returned to the home place for any length of time.” Diane would love to hear from anyone else with Swem relatives.

Felix and Margaret must have been an interesting couple: a fairly recently arrived German Jewish immigrant and a Baptist daughter of a blacksmith from western Pennsylvania.

Felix and Margaret had two daughters in the 1880s: Rachel (1881) and Yetta (1884).  I assume that Rachel was named for Margaret’s mother and that Yetta was named for Felix’s mother, my great-great-grandmother Henriette Hamberg Schoenthal, who had died in 1882.

In 1880, Felix was working as a bookkeeper for the paper mill in West Newton. Then in 1883, the mill was shut down.  This news article sheds interesting light on both the ways of business back then and the character of Felix Schoenthal:

"Why They Shut Down," The Indiana (PA) Democrat, June 14, 1883, p. 7

“Why They Shut Down,” The Indiana (PA) Democrat, June 14, 1883, p. 7

If I understood this correctly, the owner of the mill wanted employees, including Felix, to sign affidavits that falsely stated the cost of manufacturing paper.  I assume he was trying to justify his prices.  When Felix refused to do so, he was assaulted by the mill owner; other employees were fired for refusing to sign the affidavit.  As a result of the unrest, the mill was shut down.

Felix and Margaret relocated to Pittsburgh, where Felix continued to work as a bookkeeper according to directory listings in 1883; his listings in the 1884 and 1888 Pittsburgh directories are the same—bookkeeper.

Then in April, 1889, Felix opened a women’s clothing store.

Felix Schoenthal 1889 new store

Pittsburgh Daily Post, April 9, 1889, p. 3

Although this article only refers to “Mr. Schoenthal,” this listing in the 1889 Pittsburgh directory for “F. Schoenthal—Ladies’ Fine Furnishings” provides a home address, 144 Jackson Avenue, that matches the home address given for Felix Schoenthal in the 1888 Pittsburgh directory and earlier.

But it appears that the store venture did not last too long.  These ads in the October 19, 1889 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggest that Felix was already closing down the store six months later:

F Schoenthal store closeout october 1889

And in the 1890 Pittsburgh city directory, he listed his occupation as an accountant, not a merchant. In 1892, the Pittsburgh directory lists Felix as a cashier, and in 1896, he was an advertising manager. Then in 1897 he was again a bookkeeper.

It might have seemed like Felix was struggling to find his niche, but in fact Felix had developed quite a reputation.  According to Felix’s obituary, “Henry M. Whitney of Boston came to know of Mr. Schoenthal’s skilled operations in accountancy and interested him in association with New England Gas & Coke Company and Dominion Coal Company and Dominion Iron & Steel Company of Canada, for which vast enterprise he was general auditor.” Boston Herald, August 26, 1926., p. 6.  Felix took the job and moved to Boston, where he was listed in the 1898 and 1899 city directories as an auditor.

On the 1900 census, Felix and his wife Maggie and their two daughters, now 19 and 16, were living at 8 Kenwood Street in Brookline.  Felix was still working as an auditor for the coke and coal companies.

From September 23, 1901, until April 24, 1904, Felix and his family lived in Montreal, Canada, according to his 1919 passport application. I assume he continued to work for the same company since it had a Canadian division.

Felix Schoenthal passport application, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 - March 31, 1925; Roll #: 728; Volume #: Roll 0728 - Certificates: 70500-70749, 19 Mar 1919-20 Mar 1919

Felix Schoenthal 1919 passport application, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925; Roll #: 728; Volume #: Roll 0728 – Certificates: 70500-70749, 19 Mar 1919-20 Mar 1919

 

This news item in the September 8, 1901, Boston Herald announced the family’s upcoming move:

Felix Schoenthal move to Montreal 1901

 

After over three years in Montreal, they returned to Brookline and moved to 26 Kenwood Street (a different house from their prior home, which was at 8 Kenwood Street), according to the 1905 Brookline directory. Here is a photo of the house, which according to Zillow was built in 1905, so it was new when my relatives moved in.

 

26 Kenwood Street, Brookline, Massachusetts

26 Kenwood Street, Brookline, Massachusetts

At that point, Felix was still working as an auditor, but the following year’s directory lists Felix’s occupation as “typewriter,” and that is the occupation given in every Brookline directory thereafter.[1]

What was Felix doing with typewriters? According to an article written in the Boston Herald on July 13, 1924, Felix Schoenthal was the founder of the Model Typewriter Company in Boston.  The article described how Felix transformed the typewriter business not only for this company but nationally:

Felix Schoenthal typewriter story part 1

Felix Schoenthal Typewriter story part 2

Boston Herald, July 13, 1924, p. 31

Thus, Felix took a risk leaving his job as the auditor for the coke and coal corporations, a risk that seemed to pay off.  His innovation—refurbishing typewriters rather than selling them in need of repairs—is something that today has become part of many business models, whether it’s computers, cars, electronic equipment, or appliances.

Meanwhile, Felix and Margaret’s daughters had grown up.  In 1910, Rachel (also known as Ray) was 29, and Yetta was 25.  Both were still living at home and not working outside the home.   In the Boston Herald of May 28, 1911,  Felix and Margaret announced the engagement of their daughter Yetta to David Edward Moeser.

 

Yetta Schoenthal engagement
David Moeser was a year younger than Yetta and was born in Montreal in 1885.  He immigrated to Boston around 1904 or 1905, soon after Felix Schoenthal and his family had returned to Boston from Montreal.  David would have been only 19 when he left Canada for Boston.  Call me a crazy romantic, but I think David must have followed Yetta to Boston—a teenage love affair.  Or alternatively, Felix was a friend of his family and offered to help David get started on a career in Boston.  I like the first version better.

In 1905 David was working as a cashier, and in 1906 he was an accountant, leading some credence to the second alternative, that Felix, an accountant, was helping him start his career. He was also living in Brookline, less than two miles from the Schoenthals.  In 1910 his directory listing description is as a financial manager, still living in Brookline.

After marrying on August 11, 1911, David and Yetta lived with Felix, Margaret, and Rachel at 26 Kenwood.  In 1918, when David registered for the World War I draft, they were still living at 26 Kenwood.

David Moeser World War I draft registration Registration State: Massachusetts; Registration County: Norfolk; Roll: 1685068

David Moeser World War I draft registration
Registration State: Massachusetts; Registration County: Norfolk; Roll: 1685068

David was by then a naturalized citizen and the treasurer and general manager of Conrad and Company, Incorporated, a women’s clothing store that grew into a department store on Winter Street in Boston.

 

Boston Herald, January 4, 1928, p. 10

Boston Herald, January 4, 1928, p. 10

By 1921, David had established himself sufficiently as a knowledgeable business person that he was quoted in the Boston Post on the issue of whether or not a sales tax should be instituted to raise revenue:

David Moeser on sales tax 1921

 

Yetta and David were still living at 26 Kenwood Street in 1920 with Felix and Margaret Schoenthal, according to the 1920 census.  Rachel, however, was no longer living there.  In 1915 she had married Samuel Kronberg, who was almost twenty years older than Rachel and a widower.  His first wife, Nannie, an opera singer, had died in 1907.

Samuel was born in about 1862 in Russia-Poland (records conflict), the son of Marcus/Max and Tobie Kronberg, who had immigrated to Boston where Max was a merchant.  According to his obituary (see below), Samuel was a music student from an early age and studied in Europe for several years.  He then taught music and was the director of the Knickerbocker Opera Company in New York before returning to Boston where he became a successful music impresario.

Samuel was perhaps best known for producing a performance of Richard Wagner’s opera Siegfried at Harvard Stadium in 1915, the year Samuel Kronberg married Rachel Schoenthal.

Springfield Sunday Republican, May 9, 1915, p. 18

Siegfried part 2

Springfield Sunday Republican, May 9, 1915, p. 18

(I was tickled to see that one of the performers was Alma Gluck, who,  according to family lore, knew my maternal grandfather Isadore Goldschlager.)

Samuel’s younger brother Louis Kronberg was also well-known in the arts.  He was a painter whose work was supported by Isabella Stewart Gardner, the famed Boston patron of the arts, and many of his works are in her collection at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston; Kronberg also has paintings at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and elsewhere.

La Gitano by Louis Kronberg, about 1920, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

La Gitano by Louis Kronberg, about 1920, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston http://www.gardnermuseum.org/collection/browse?filter=artist:3297

In 1920, Samuel and Rachel were living at 1742 Commonwealth Avenue in the Brighton section of Boston, an area I know well since my younger daughter lived about half a mile away from that building when she first moved to Boston.  Unfortunately, Rachel’s marriage to Samuel was not long-lived as he died two years later on February 3, 1922, less than seven years after marrying Rachel.

Samuel Kronberg obituary

Rachel was only 41 years old when her husband died; she never remarried.  In 1926 she was living with her parents at 341 St. Paul Street in Brookline, another familiar address as my daughter lived on St. Paul Street for several years before moving to her current apartment.

Four years later the family suffered another loss when my great-great-uncle Felix Schoenthal died on August 26, 1926.  He was 69 years old.

Boston Herald, August 26, 1926., p. 6

Felix Schoenthal obit Boston Herald 8 26 1926 p 6

Boston Herald, August 26, 1926., p. 6

 

His widowed wife and widowed daughter Rachel moved in together and in 1930 were living at 4 Chiswick Street in Boston; neither was employed outside the home.  Yetta and her husband David Moeser had also moved out of the house at 26 Kenwood Street; in 1930 they were living at 20 Chapel Street/Longwood Towers in Brookline; David was still working for Conrad and Company.  He and Yetta had no children.

In 1940, Margaret Schoenthal and her daughter Rachel Schoenthal Kronberg were still living together on Chiswick Street; Margaret was now 80 years old, Rachel was 58.  Neither was employed.  Felix’s success in the typewriter business and Samuel’s success as an impresario must have been keeping them secure.

By 1940, David and Yetta (Schoenthal) Moeser had moved to 534 Beacon Street in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston where my younger daughter lives now.  David’s World War II draft registration indicates that he was still working for Conrad and Company in 1942.

David Moeser World War II draft regisration The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Massachusetts; State Headquarters: Massachusetts; Microfilm Series: M2090; Microfilm Roll: 107

David Moeser World War II draft regisration
The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Massachusetts; State Headquarters: Massachusetts; Microfilm Series: M2090; Microfilm Roll: 107

 

I have been unable to find a death record for Margaret Swem Schoenthal; the last document I have for her is the 1948 Boston directory which lists her residing still at 4 Chiswick Road in Boston.  In 1951, only her daughter Rachel is listed at that address, so I assume that Margaret had died sometime between 1948 and 1951.  She would have been at least 89 years old.  Her daughter Rachel died on June 4, 1953, according to the Boston city directory for that year.  She was 72 years old.

By 1953 David Moeser was the president and treasurer of Conrad and Company, and he and Yetta were back in Brookline, living in the Longwood Towers on Chapel Street, according to the city directory for that year.

David Moeser Boston Daily Record, November 4, 1955, p. 53

David Moeser
Boston Daily Record, November 4, 1955, p. 53

 

In 1968, David Moeser was chairman of the board and treasurer of Conrad & Chandler, the company produced when Conrad and Company merged with another department store, Chandler and Company, in 1957.  David Moeser had been instrumental in that merger, which changed the face of shopping in Boston, according to this article.

David Moeser died on July 12, 1969; he was 84 years old and had been quite a prominent businessman in Boston.

David E. Moeser obituary

David E. Moeser obituary Boston Herald, July 14, 1969, p. 22

Just one month later almost to the day, on August 11, 1969, his wife Yetta also died.  She was 85 when she died. She and David had known each other probably since they were teenagers and had been married for 58 years.

 

Yetta Schoenthal death notice

 

Since neither Rachel nor Yetta had had children, Yetta’s death ended Felix Schoenthal’s line in the family. That is a real shame; they were an interesting group of people.  Felix was obviously a very smart and creative entrepreneur.  He started as an immigrant coming to the US as a teenager and rose to own a very successful business in Boston.  His two sons-in-law were also creative and successful; Samuel Kronberg was a dedicated and well-known impresario, and David Moeser for many years oversaw one of the best known department stores in Boston .

I love having an old Boston family to claim as my own.  Not exactly the Cabots and Lodges, but a more recent and more ethnic version of the Boston elite.  When I think of Felix and his family living in Boston, I wonder whether he took his family to the newly-opened Fenway Park in 1912, whether he cheered for the Red Sox, and whether he ever saw Babe Ruth play for the Sox before he was traded to the Yankees in 1920.

1918 Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park

1918 Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Did Felix take his family to the Museum of Fine Arts, which opened the building at its current location on Huntington Avenue in 1909? Did they stroll down the streets in Back Bay and downtown Boston to go shopping? Did they picnic in the Boston Public Garden and ride the swan boats, which had been there since 1877?

I am sure they visited David Moeser’s Conrad’s store on Winter Street and listened to Samuel Kronberg’s musical performances at Copley Plaza.  They likely also visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in order to see the paintings of Samuel’s brother Louis.
Copley Plaza, Boston, with Boston Public Libra...

Copley Plaza, Boston, with Boston Public Library at left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know these streets, and I know these places.  Unlike when I write about my relatives in places like Pittsburgh or Santa Fe or Philadelphia or even New York City, I really can envision my Schoenthal relatives living in in Boston and Brookline.  The next time I am there, I will think of them and smile.

English: Boston skyline at night, as seen from...

English: Boston skyline at night, as seen from Cambridge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

[1] For some reason the 1910 census states that he was a clothing merchant, but that was clearly an error.  Perhaps a neighbor gave the information, just another example of how unreliable census information can be.

One New Database, A Whole Lot of Answers: The Social Security Applications and Claims Index

 

Back in January when I was researching my Nusbaum relatives, I ran into a dead end.  My great-great-grandmother Frances Nusbaum had a sister Miriam.  Miriam married Gustavus Josephs and had a daughter named Florence born in Philadelphia in 1880.  Florence had married Louis Siegel in 1903; Louis was also from Philadelphia and was working as a traveling salesman.  I found Louis and Florence on the 1910 US census, but after that, things got fuzzy.

I wrote then:

Sometime thereafter, Louis must have become ill.  He died on September 30, 1915, at the State Hospital for the Insane in Norristown, Pennsylvania.  According to his death certificate, he had been ill for three years and had been hospitalized since November 19, 1913.  His cause of death was general paralysis of the insane or paresis.  He was only 43 years old.

Although I only have one document to support this, it appears that in 1913, Florence and Louis had had a child, a daughter Marion.  On the 1920 census, Florence Siegel was living with her father Gustavus Josephs and her brother Jean Josephs, both of whom were working at a mill as manufacturers, presumably of fabrics, as discussed in an earlier post.  Included in the household was a seven year old girl named Marion Siegel.  Although she is described as the daughter of the head of household, it seems apparent that Marion was Florence’s daughter, given her age and her surname.

Gustavus Josephs 1920 census

When her father Gustavus died in May 1924, Florence continued to live in the home at 2020 North Park Avenue; she is listed as a dressmaker in the 1925 Philadelphia directory residing at that address.  Unfortunately, that is the last document I have for Florence.  I cannot find a marriage record or a death record for her, nor can I find any definitive document for her daughter Marion.

Despite searching for every Marion with a mother named Florence, I could not find either of them on any document after that 1920 census and the 1925 directory.

And then just about a month ago, Ancestry.com added a new database to its collection—the U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 (“SSACI”).  Ancestry describes the new database this way: “This database picks up where the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) leaves off by providing more details than those included in the SSDI. It includes information filed with the Social Security Administration through the application or claims process, including valuable details such as birth date, birth place, and parents’ names. While you will not find everybody who is listed in the SSDI in this database, data has been extracted for more than 49 million people.”

I was a bit overwhelmed.  This could be an incredibly helpful tool, but it meant going back and searching through it for any and all ancestors who were alive in the 1930s when Social Security was enacted and who might have applied for its benefits.  That’s a lot of ancestors!  But I slowly plodded through, and for the most part, I found either confirmation of what I already knew or a tidbit of information that was interesting on its own, but not terribly helpful in terms of further research.

But with Marion Siegel, the daughter of Florence Josephs, I hit the jackpot.  Here is Marion’s record in the SSACI:

Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Social Security Applications and Claims, 1936-2007.

Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Original data: Social Security Applications and Claims, 1936-2007.

What did I learn from this? Well, it confirmed that Florence Josephs and Louis Siegel did have a daughter, as the 1920 census record suggested.  It also gave me her birth date, birth place, her date of death, and, most importantly, her married name—Kane.  I then was able to search for a marriage record and found this one from the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Marriage Index on Ancestry:

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Marriage Index, 1885–1951." Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2009. Philadelphia County Pennsylvania Clerk of the Orphans' Court. "Pennsylvania, Philadelphia marriage license index, 1885-1951." Clerk of the Orphans’ Court, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Marriage Index, 1885–1951.” Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2009. Philadelphia County Pennsylvania Clerk of the Orphans’ Court. “Pennsylvania, Philadelphia marriage license index, 1885-1951.” Clerk of the Orphans’ Court, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

So now I knew that Marion Siegel had married Louis Kane in 1932.  Since they were married in Philadelphia, I assumed that they were living there after getting married, but I could not find them at all on the 1940 census in Philadelphia.  But then I found a 1952 ship manifest for a cruise from the West Indies to New York with three passengers with the last name Kane: Louis Kane, Marion Kane, and Lois Kane.  The ages for Louis and Marion were correct, and Marion’s birthplace in New Jersey was also correct.  And they were living at 573 Washington Street in Brookline, Massachusetts—a neighborhood I know well since my daughter once lived right near there as does a close friend from college.

Year: 1952; Arrival: New York, New York via West Indies; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 8085; Line: 1; Page Number: 237

Year: 1952; Arrival: New York, New York via West Indies; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 8085; Line: 1; Page Number: 237

Knowing now that Louis was born in Connecticut and that the family was living in the Boston area, I was able to find a number of additional records for Louis and Marion Kane and their daughter Lois. In 1930, Louis was living with his parents in Newton, Massachusetts, according to the census of that year.  Louis was the son of Harry and Jessie Kane, both of whom were born in Connecticut and were the children of Russian immigrants.  Harry Kane was the owner of a furniture business, Kane Furniture, which further research revealed later belonged to Louis.  It was apparently quite successful, as this article  from the April 18, 1954 Boston Herald indicates.

Kane photo

Kane furniture text

By then finding Louis and Marion Kane in several directories and passenger manifests, I learned Louis’ precise birth date, which then led me to the SSDI, where I learned that he had died in October 1963.  Unfortunately, I could not find an obituary for him.  He was only 53 when he died, and Marion was just 51.  What happened to her between 1963 and 1994 when she died?  I did not yet know.

While searching for information about Louis and Marion, I also found an article revealing that their daughter Lois Kane had played an important part in the prosecution of a murder case in Boston in 1954 when she was just a teenager.  As described in many newspaper articles, eighteen year old Ronald Blumenthal had committed a brutal murder of 53 year old Ora Schornath in July, 1954; he had beaten, stabbed, and strangled her in her home.  Blumenthal had then described the murder to Lois Kane and another friend, suggesting that he had committed it.  When the victim’s body was discovered and the crime was described in the newspapers, Lois realized that Blumenthal’s story could in fact be true.  She informed the police, and Blumenthal was arrested.  He ultimately confessed and pled guilty to second degree murder on October 1, 1954.  He was sentenced to life in prison, but was paroled in 1967, over the objections of Schornath’s brother.

Lois Kane part 1

Lois Kane part 2

Lois Kane part 3Lois Kane part 4

Boston Herald, July 31, 1954, p. 4.  (For more information on this case, see also “Boy Tells Thrill Killing,” Boston Daily Record, July 30, 1954, pp. 3, 6; “Ronnie Pleads 2d Degree Murder Guilt, Gets Life,” Boston American, October 1, 1954 (p. 3); “Killer’s Parole Opposed,” Boston Record American, October 6, 1966, p. 5; “Brookline ‘Thrill Killer’ Wins Parole,” Boston Record American, February 2, 1967.)

I then searched for more information about Lois Kane.  I wanted to know what had happened to this courageous young woman. Once again, the SSCAI was a valuable resource.  I found this entry.

Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.

Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.

I now had her birth and death dates and locations, and I had two married names, suggesting that she had married twice, once to someone named Sisson and once to someone named Brooner.  In the Florida Marriage index, I found a listing for a Lois F. Kane who married H. Michael Sisson in November 1960 in Dade County.  Unfortunately I have had no luck yet finding out anything about Michael Sisson; I cannot find him on any documents that predate or postdate their marriage in 1960.   But I will keep looking.

Either Michael Sisson died before January 1, 1982, or he and Lois had divorced by then, because on that date Lois Florence Sisson married James C. Brooner in Broward County, Florida.  Seeing that Lois’ middle name was Florence confirmed for me that I had the right person, based on the SSACI.  I knew from the SSACI that Lois died in 2006, but as with her father Louis, I’ve had no luck finding an obituary.  I don’t know what she did after the Blumenthal case or how she ended up in Florida or whether she had children.

One thing that bothered me about the entry for Lois on the SSACI was the listing for her mother’s name: Marion Hageman. Even though I was reasonably confident that I had the correct Louis, Marion, and Lois Kane, I had to find out why the SSACI listing had Marion’s name as Hageman, not Siegel, which was her birth name.

Searching for Marion Hageman answered a number of the unresolved questions.  In particular, it told me more about what had happened to Florence Josephs after her first husband Louis Siegel died in 1915.  On the 1930 census I found a Marion Hageman listed as the daughter of Ely and Florence Hageman, who were living in Philadelphia, Florence Joseph’s hometown.  I was pretty sure that this was Marion and Florence (Josephs) Siegel, given the birth places listed for them and their parents and the ages.  It seemed that Florence had married someone named Ely Hageman.

Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 2136; Page: 26B; Enumeration District: 1075; Image: 53.0; FHL microfilm: 2341870

Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 2136; Page: 26B; Enumeration District: 1075; Image: 53.0; FHL microfilm: 2341870

Ely Hageman is listed on the 1930 census as born in Florida, but later documents indicate he was born in Virginia.  He was working as a salesman for a furniture company in 1930.  (Looking back at what I already knew about Marion’s then future husband Louis Kane, I wondered whether her stepfather Ely introduced her to Louis, who after all was living in the Boston area, quite far from Philadelphia where Marion had been living.)

I was able to locate a marriage record on the Philadelphia marriage index indicating that Ely Hageman and Florence Siegel had married in 1929.  In 1940, Ely and Florence were still living in Philadelphia, where Ely was still working in the furniture business.  Sadly, four years later Ely died from a coronary occlusion brought on hepatitis and diabetes, according to his death certificate.  He was 67 years old.

Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

I do not know what happened to Florence after Ely died.  She did take a trip with her granddaughter, daughter, and son-in-law in 1953, as this passenger manifest indicates.

Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1949-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.

Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1949-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.

But I have not found any record after that indicates what happened to Florence after that.  Did she move to Boston to be closer to Marion, her only child, and Lois, her only grandchild? Or did she move to Florida, where her granddaughter Lois had married by 1960 and lived thereafter? I don’t know.  Yet.

But isn’t it amazing how one new database entry led to so much more information?  Thank you, Ancestry, for adding the SSCAI.

 

 

 

The Legacy of Rebecca Rosenzweig: Her Son, Irwin Elkins

Iriwin Elkins 1960

Iriwin Elkins 1960

I recently connected with Richard Elkins, the grandson of Rebecca Rosenzweig Elkin.  Rebecca died in 1921 at age 27, when her son Irving was less than two years old.  Irving grew up to be Irwin Elkins, who married Muriel, with whom he had two sons, Michael and Richard.  Richard was kind enough to share with me some stories about Irwin’s life.  With his permission, I am including some of what he shared with me in his own words.

First, some background.  Rebecca Rosenzweig, my grandfather’s first cousin and the daughter of Gustave and Gussie Rosenzweig, married Frank Elkin in 1914.  Her son Irving was born in 1919.  After Rebecca died in 1921, Frank married Frances Reiner in 1922 and moved to Boston. Frank and Frances had a son named Stanley, who was born in 1925.  In 1930 Frank was back in Brooklyn with Frances and the boys, but sometime thereafter they returned to the Boston area, where they settled permanently.  I had assumed that Irving had stayed with Frank and his new wife during the 1920s, but Richard informed me otherwise.

“When Rebecca Rosenzweig passed away in 1921, Irwin Elkin moved into the home of Gustave and Gussie Rosenzweig, where he resided for eight years until 1929.  Irving adored his Grandma Rosenzweig, and Grandma Rosenzweig adored my Dad. My Dad thought of Gussie as his mother. My Dad said Gussie was a fabulous cook.   My Dad never spoke about Gustave.”

Perhaps the reason that Irwin never spoke about Gustave was that by 1921, Gustave and Gussie were divorced or at least no longer living together.  If Irwin’s years with his grandmother were from 1921 to 1929, he was living with just Gussie, Ray, and Lizzie.

One of Irwin’s favorite stories about his years living with his grandmother was this one, according to Richard:  “There was a large family gathering at Gustave and Gussie’s home, and Gussie discovered that she did not have enough food to feed the entire clan.  Gussie pulled my Dad aside and told him to tell all the other children that when Gussie asked who wanted chicken for dinner, all the children were to say, ”No, thank you,” because they were not hungry.  That way there would be enough food for the adults. When everyone sat down at the table, Gussie asked who wants chicken for dinner?  All the children dutifully said no thank they were not hungry and were excused from the table.  After the dinner was served and completed, Gussie then announced, ‘Any child who did not eat my chicken dinner will get no dessert!’ “

Richard also shared this story about his uncle, Jack Rosenzweig: “The only other story I recall about my Dad growing up in the Rosenzweig household is someone my Dad referred to as Uncle Jack who had a wild sense of humor.  Jack worked behind the counter in the post office.  One day my Dad walked into the post office to see Jack and Jack told my Dad he went to Yankee Stadium and met with legend Babe Ruth.  Jack then tossed to my Dad a baseball with Babe Ruth’s autograph on it.  There was just one problem.  The autograph was written in purple indelible ink that was the same color ink that Jack used to address packages for postal customers.”

Irwin’s time with the Rosenzweig family ended in 1929.  Richard wrote: “In 1929 Irwin was told to pack up his belongings. Frank arrived from Boston, picked up Irwin, and they went back to Boston on the train. My Dad was aware that Frank had remarried and had met Frances (Fan) Reiner. What my Dad did not know, until he arrived at his new home, is that he had a kid brother named Stanley who was six years younger than he was. That fact had been withheld from him while Irwin was living in the Rosenzweig household.”

I asked Richard if he knew why Frank and Frances had moved to Boston rather than stay in NYC.  He wrote:

“Although Francis Fan Reiner was born in New Jersey, her extended family lived in Boston. … The second move back to Boston occurred because Frank changed professions. He met a couple who were twenty years younger than he was named Joseph Cohen and his wife Rene Cohen.  They opened up a business called Debonair Frocks located on Kneeland Street that was in the high rent fashion district in Boston.  Frank was the salesman who traveled throughout New England.”

Richard also told me that his father graduated from Boston English High School and was accepted into the MIT School of Engineering.  He could not afford the $600 per year tuition and instead went to Northeastern University, which had awarded him a football and baseball scholarship and the opportunity to work on a paid co-op job.  According to Richard, “Frank and Fanny Elkins were very unhappy that Irwin wanted to study engineering in college. They believed it was a useless profession. They would invite family and friends over to convince my Dad that the future was in clothing, not engineering.  People need things to wear, they don’t need mechanical engineers.”

Irwin soon proved them wrong.  Richard wrote:

“When World War II broke out with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, my Dad had just graduated Northeastern and tried to enlist as a fighter pilot.  He was rejected for two reasons.  He stood 6’4 and weighed 200 pounds which made him too large to fly.  He also had his degree in mechanical and aeronautical engineering that made him too valuable to serve in the armed forces. My Dad was assigned to be a civilian contractor working for Bethlehem Steel at the Fore River Ship Yard in Quincy, Massachusetts.  His responsibility was to oversee the construction of light cruisers and destroyers, take them to sea on shakedown cruises, and sign off on their seaworthiness before turning over the ships to the War Department.

“It was my Dad’s crew of engineers at the Fore River Shipyard who perfected the “Davit” that was first invented in 1928.  It’s the device that holds a ship’s lifeboats in place that would lower the lifeboat by hand cranking the boat down into the water.  My Dad was the lead engineer who re-designed the Davit into a fully automated self-contained hydraulic system that would first lower the two arms holding the lifeboat from their vertical position – while keeping the lifeboat level – into a horizontal position for boarding. The Davit hydraulics would then resume lowering the lifeboat into a fully locked horizontal position at which point a second set of hydraulics would automatically lower the lifeboat while maintaining its level stability even if the weight distribution in the boat was not balanced. The end result was an automated steady descent onto the water regardless of the surf conditions or high winds. 

“If you want to see first-hand the engineering legacy of Irwin “Tiny” Elkins, then take a vacation cruise on a Princess, Carnival, Disney, or Royal Caribbean ship.  Look closely at the hydraulics on the Davit’s holding up the lifeboats. Nothing has changed in the past seventy years. The survivors of cruise ship disasters like the Concordia in Italy can thank the Rosenzweig family genes for that innovated engineering solution.”

Irwin Elkins with Piper Cub 1958

Irwin Elkins with Piper Cub 1958

Richard also shared these recollections of his father:

“My Dad was physically a large man and a wonderful athlete.  Growing up we skied together, played tennis, and golfed.  In a batting cage he could outdo me with little effort.   Whenever anyone asked my Dad why such a large person like him was called “Tiny,” his standard response was “I was an incubator baby, and the nurse in charge turned the heat up too high.”  Whenever he was asked why he did not have a middle name, his standard response was, “My parents were so poor they could not afford one for me.” Whenever someone asked him why he was so tall, his standard response was “So if I cut off my legs, will it make you feel any better?” In his business dealings he often told his customers, “It will be done my way and don’t worry about it. If I’m wrong, I’ll deal with it after I’m dead.” If someone did something that my Dad considered to be stupid, my Dad would point to his head and say “That’s using your toukis.”

Finally, I asked Richard whether his father ever reconnected with the Rosenzweig family.  He shared this story:

“In 1969 a woman and her son walk into my Dad’s office in Brattleboro.  When my Dad asks if he can help her, she introduces her son named Steven Rosenthal who will be a student at Windham College in nearby Putney. My Dad replies, why is that of interest to me? She informs my Dad that her name is Rebecca Kurtz Rosenthal. She was named after my Dad’s mother Rebecca Rosenzweig. Her mother was Sarah Rosenzweig, the sister of Rebecca Rosenzweig.  To say that my Dad was completely stunned at this unannounced visit is an understatement.”

Irwin Elkins reunited with his cousins Rebecca Kurtz and Ben Kurtz and others in Florida 1992

Irwin Elkins reunited with his cousins Rebecca Kurtz and Ben Kurtz and others in Florida 1992

The following year Richard himself met the Rosenzweig family:

“In 1970 at a family reunion in Long Island, New York, at the home of Rebecca Kurtz Rosenthal and her husband Sam Rosenthal, I arrived with my parents.  Other than Rebecca and her husband Sam, none of the Rosenzweig family knew that my Dad would be attending the reunion.  When we walked into the backyard Rebecca introduced my Dad to all of her family.  I distinctly remember a flood of tears because the entire Rosenzweig clan had not seen Irwin in over forty years.”

“Rebecca’s and Sam’s son, Steven, introduced me to a woman he called “My Great Aunt Lizzie.” She must have been Lizzie Rosenzweig. She knew the name of the cemetery where Rebecca was buried. When my Dad asked her what his mother died from, Lizzie replied that she succumbed to a flu pandemic in 1921 that devastated NYC. Lizzie also informed my Dad that he had two older brothers named Milton and David who also died from the same pandemic that took his mother’s life. “

“When the emotions settled down several hours later, Lizzie told my Dad a comical story about when Frank showed up at the Rosenzweig household to court Rebecca, Lizzie’s parents would lock all the other sisters into their parent’s bedroom.  However, they were allowed to put their ear to the door and listen.”

Rebecca’s death certificate indicates that Rebecca in fact died from tuberculosis at a sanitarium in Liberty, New York, where she had been a patient for a little over a month before her death. rebecca elkin death certificate I also found the death certificates for Rebecca and Frank’s two other sons.  The first born was Milton, born on December 14, 1914, just nine months after Rebecca and Frank were married.  He died just five months later on May 16, 1915.  It seems he had been sick for two months, in other words, since he was really just an infant.

Milton Elkin death certificate

Milton Elkin death certificate

The second child was Daniel (not David).  He was born October 31, 1916, and died December 16, 1917, when he was just over a year old, from broncho pneumonia.

Daniel Elkin death certificate

Daniel Elkin death certificate

Although the family lore was that Rebecca and the two boys died during the flu pandemic of 1921, that appears not to be true.  It would appear instead that Milton died over a year before Daniel was even born, and that Daniel died two years before Irving was born and four years before Rebecca died.  Maybe the family remembered it differently because it was just too painful to imagine Rebecca and Frank losing one child after another and then Frank losing Rebecca when Irving was not yet two years old.  It is too painful to imagine.

I am deeply appreciative of Richard’s willingness to share his family stories.  They preserve not only the memory of his grandmother Rebecca, who never saw her son grow up; they also preserve the memory of that son, Richard’s father, Irwin Elkins, who despite losing his mother at such a young age, grew up to be a man with a great sense of humor, a wonderful father, a successful businessperson, and an inspired engineer.  The resilience of the human spirit is remarkable.

 

 

 

 

 

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My Grandfather’s Cousin Rebecca: Another Life Cut Short

About ten days ago I posted about my search for Rebecca Rosenzweig, my grandfather’s first cousin and daughter of Gustave and Gussie Rosenzweig.  I had certain hunches about who she married and what happened to her, but was awaiting documentation to confirm those hunches.

The first document provided evidence of Rebecca’s birth on May 27, 1893.

Rebecca Rosenzweig birth certificate 1893

Rebecca Rosenzweig birth certificate 1893

It’s interesting that in 1893 Gustave was still using Ghedale as his first name and Gussie was still using Ghitel, as in Romania; they were spelling the surname Rosentveig.  Gustave was already a painter, and they were living at what seems to be 34i 74th Street in Manhattan. (It was actually 341 East 74th Street, according to a city directory published the following year.)

One mystery raised by the birth certificate is that it reports that Gussie had already had five children, four of whom were then living.  According to my research, in 1893, Gussie had four living children, Lillie, Sarah, Abraham, and Rebecca, and one child who had died, David (1891-1892).  Who could the other child be?  Lillie was probably born in 1885, Sarah probably in 1887, Abraham probably  in 1889, David in 1891.  Was there another child who was born between 1885 and 1893 who was living in 1893 but who died before the 1900 census? A quick search of the NYC death index for children with surnames that sound like Rosenzweig who were born between 1885 and 1893 and who died between 1893 and 1900 turned up a horrifying number of young children who died in that period with surnames similar to Rosenzweig: 366.  My guess is that one of those 366 children was a child of Gustave and Gussie, just adding to the list of children they lost.  I will have to sift through them and search for the death certificates to see if I can figure out which ones might be my lost cousin.

One hunch I’d expressed in my last post was that Rebecca had married a man named Frank Elkin in 1914, based on the fact that there was only one Rebecca Rosenzweig in the NYC marriage index for the appropriate time period.  I was also sure that this was correct because she and Frank ended up living on the same streets as Rebecca’s family on both the 1915 and 1920 census reports. I also wondered whether Rebecca was the one who introduced my grandfather, her cousin, to my grandmother, her neighbor on Pacific Street.   My hunch that this was the right Rebecca was confirmed when I received the marriage certificate.

Rebecca and Frank Elkin marriage certificate

Rebecca and Frank Elkin marriage certificate

This is obviously the correct Rebecca, as seen by her parents’ names on the certificate.  Rebecca was living at 1166 Nostrand Avenue, the same address Gustave gave in 1913 when his son Harry died.  Perhaps this means that Gustave and Gussie were still living together in 1914 when Rebecca married Frank.

Having confirmed that I had the correct Rebecca, I now knew that the information on the 1920 census reporting that Rebecca’s parents were from Minsk, Russia, was incorrect, just another example of how unreliable census information can be.

Elkin Family 1920 census

Elkin Family 1920 census

More importantly, I was also now able to trace what happened to Rebecca.  I had not been able to find her on the 1930 census, but I had found a Frank Elkin, living with his parents Louis and Ida and siblings in Brooklyn, along with a woman named Fannie, listed as the daughter-in-law of Louis, and two children, Irwin and Stanley, listed as Louis’ grandsons.

Frank Elkin with his parents 1930 census

Frank Elkin with his parents 1930 census

From the marriage certificate, I now know that the Frank who married Rebecca was the son of Louis and Ida Elkin, so this was clearly the same Frank.  But where was Rebecca? Who was Fannie? And who were Stanley and Irwin?

I could not find a death certificate for Rebecca, but I was able to find a headstone through Jewishdata.com and findagrave.com.  I knew now that Rebecca died on January 22, 1921, just two years after her son Irving was born in 1919 (as per the 1920 census). She was only 27 years old.

Rebecca Elkin's headstone

Rebecca Elkin’s headstone

Having confirmed that Frank Elkin was in fact Rebecca’s husband, I wanted to figure out who Fannie and Stanley were—were they his second wife and child or the wife and child of one of his brothers, Edward or Matthew? I looked back at the 1920 census and found Frank’s parents Louis and Ida and his siblings.  His brothers were both single and living at home.

Louis Elkin and family 1920 census

Louis Elkin and family 1920 census

I then searched the NYC marriage index for Edward and Matthew Elkin and saw that both were married after 1930.  Thus, I inferred that Fannie was indeed married to Frank as of 1930.  But I could not find a marriage record in NYC for them.

I searched forward to the 1940 census and was able to find a Frank and Frances Elkins with two sons, Irving and Stanley, living in Boston.

Frank Elkin and family 1940 census

Frank Elkin and family 1940 census

Could this be just coincidence? The sons were the right ages—Irving was 20, Stanley was 14.  Frances could certainly be the same as Fannie.  The name was Elkins, not Elkin, but the 1920 census for Frank’s parents also had the surname as Elkins, not Elkin.  But what were they doing in Boston? I thought perhaps Frances had been born in Boston, but the census said that she was born in New Jersey.  (It also says that Frank was born in Massachusetts, but that has to be an error.) It reports that Irving was born in New York and Stanley in Boston.

Then I searched for records of Frank Elkin or Elkins in the Boston area, and I found on the Massachusetts marriage index a listing for a Frank Elkins and Frances Reiner, married in 1922, the year after Rebecca had died.  Perhaps Frank had left NYC to start anew after losing Rebecca? Where had he met Frances? Stanley was born in Massachusetts, so they must have been living there in 1925 when he was born (which also explains why Frank is not found on the 1925 NYS census).  But then they moved back to Brooklyn as of 1930, yet were back in Boston by 1940.

According to his 1942 draft registration for World War II, Frank owned a dressmaking business in Boston.

Frank Elkins World War II draft registration

Frank Elkins World War II draft registration

His Mason’s membership card dated 1945 confirms that he was still living in the Boston area (Newton) as of that date.

Mason Membership card

Mason Membership card

I was fortunate to be able to find one of Frank’s grandchildren, who told me that Frank had been a scrapper or bare-handed boxer when he was a young man.  According to family legend, Frank had boxed with his brother, a champion boxer in the Navy himself, over who would get to date Rebecca Rosenzweig.  Frank won that fight and not only dated Rebecca; he married her.  Frank’s grandson also told me that Frank never forgot his first wife although he also loved Frances very deeply.  Apparently Frank and Frances did a wonderful job raising Irwin and Stanley, as they were never thought of as half-brothers, but as brothers.  Frank also must have been a terrific grandfather, as his grandson said he still thinks of him often.

Frank Elkins and two of his grandchildren

Frank Elkins and two of his grandchildren

It appears that the Elkins family ultimately developed strong New England roots.  Irwin, Rebecca’s son, my second cousin once removed, ultimately settled in Brattleboro, Vermont, where he and his wife Muriel were the co-owners of Brattleboro Kiln Drying and Milling Company, which they sold after they retired. They were both devoted to the Brattleboro community and made significant contributions to its growth over the 50 years they lived there, according to Frank’s grandson.   He also told me that Irwin had been able to connect with some of Rebecca’s relatives in Florida late in his life.  Irwin died in 1996 in Boynton Beach, Florida, and is buried along with his wife Muriel in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Irwin and Muriel Elkins

Irwin and Muriel Elkins

Stanley, Irwin’s half-brother, became an influential American history scholar who died only last year.  According to his obituary, Stanley Elkins “graduated from Boston English High School and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943, where he served in the 362nd Infantry Regiment in Italy. After the war, Stanley attended Harvard University on the G.I. Bill and married Dorothy Adele Lamken in 1947. He graduated from Harvard in 1949 and received a master’s and a doctorate in American history from Columbia University, where he studied with historian Richard Hofstadter. …  In 1959, Stanley’s doctoral dissertation, “Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life”, was published by the University of Chicago Press. His book received widespread attention from scholars, politicians, and students, and is considered a seminal work on the subject of slavery in the United States. Stanley was hired by Smith College in 1960, became the Sydenham Clark Parsons Professor of History in 1969, and continued his career there until his retirement in 1993.”

Stanley Elkins

Stanley Elkins

When I had first seen the name Stanley Elkins on the 1930 census, I had immediately wondered whether this was the same Stanley Elkins whose book on slavery I had read in my American history course on the Civil War during college.  The obituary confirmed for me that it was the same Stanley when it identified Stanley as “the son of Frank and Frances (Reiner) Elkins.”  Discovering that gave me the chills.  Stanley Elkins died only six months ago and lived not far away from me.  He was not a blood relative, but nevertheless he was someone whose work I had read and admired, and he was connected to me through family.

The last bit of research I need to complete regarding Rebecca relates to one of the other questions raised in my original blog post about her life: the child who was born before Frank’s World War I draft registration in 1917 but who died before the 1920 census, Daniel Elkin.  I am still awaiting the death certificate for Daniel Elkin, and in the course of my subsequent research I have learned that a second child also had been born and died before 1920, Milton, so I need to order that death certificate as well.  I also am looking for Rebecca’s death certificate to find out what cut her life short at 27.

Once I obtain those documents, I will have learned a great deal about the short life of Rebecca Rosenzweig Elkin, my first cousin twice removed, my grandfather Isadore’s first cousin, and perhaps the cousin who introduced him to my grandmother.  In her 27 years Rebecca experienced not only the loss of several siblings, but also the loss of two young sons.  She never got to see Irwin, the one son who survived, grow up.  I hope that by recording her life, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren she never knew will get to know a little more about her and her family.

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