Before You Visit A Cemetery, Read This Post

There’s a lesson in here for anyone planning to visit a cemetery to find where their ancestors are buried.  I wish I’d had this lesson before traveling to Germany.

May 10 was our last day in the Kassel region, and we were going to see the village of Jesberg, home of the Katz and Katzenstein families.  As the Katzenstein/Katz family has been the one I have been researching most recently, these names and stories were freshest in my mind, and I was very interested in seeing what we could find and learn. Hans-Peter Klein was again going to be our guide along with Mrs. Ochs, who lives in Jesberg. We followed Hans-Peter from Kassel to Borken, where he picked up the key to the cemetery in Haarhausen where the Katzenstein and Katz family members from Jesberg were buried before the Jesberg cemetery itself was established.

As with the Obervonschutzen cemetery near Gudensberg the night before, I had no idea what to expect in Haarhausen.  I did like the horses who were grazing nearby.

This was another very big cemetery with close to 400 stones dating back to 1705. Once again, Hans-Peter came equipped with a map and pages from the LAGIS website showing the headstones and information about many members of the Katz and Katzenstein families who were buried at this cemetery.  So we were off on another treasure hunt—but with better lighting and more rested eyes than the evening before.

Haarhausen cemetery

And what treasure we found.  I have to admit that I should have been better prepared for this visit.  I should have searched the LAGIS website myself before leaving home and written down all the Katzensteins who were buried there, where they were buried, and how they were related to me.  But I failed to do that.  I am not sure I even knew about that part of the LAGIS website, or I’d forgotten about it.  It would have made my search both easier and more meaningful if I’d been better prepared.

For example, these two headstones:

I thought that these were the headstones of my three-times great-grandparents Scholum Katzenstein and Breine Blumenfeld because, looking quickly, they matched the pages for a Schalum and a Brendelchen.  I placed stones and even took a picture with both stones, believing these were the parents of my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein.

But I was wrong.

In fact, having now had the chance to sit and check my tree and the LAGIS pages and the photos, I know that these were the stones of my FIVE-times great-grandparents, Schalum, son of Pinchas ha-Cohen, and his wife Brendelchen (father’s name unknown) who died in 1774 and 1776, respectively.  They were the grandparents of Scholum Katzenstein, great-grandparents of Gerson. Wow. Do I wish I had known? Yes. Does it really matter? Probably not.  I paid tribute, I visited. I just thought they were different people.

I am, however, really sorry I could not find the stone for Meir, the son of Schalum ha Cohen and Brendelchen, who is buried at Haarhausen.  He was my four-times great-grandfather, the father of Scholum Katzenstein.  There were many stones that were similar to this one depicted on the LAGIS website.  But I could not find Meir’s stone.

I did, however, find the stone for his wife, Henchen, who was my four-times great-grandmother.  But I did not realize this was who she was at the time, only when I got home and checked my resources.

Henchen, wife of Meier Katz. My 4th great-grandmother

I assume that Meir’s stone was nearby.  Henchen died in 1793, Meir in 1803.

And this stone, which I photographed but could not read clearly at the site, is in fact the stone for my three-times great-grandfather, Scholum Katzenstein.  It is labeled on the LAGIS website as the stone for Abraham Schalum, son of Meir ha-Kohen, so I didn’t realize it at the time, but again, after checking with my resources at home, I now know that that was the Hebrew name used by Scholum Katzenstein and that that was in fact his stone. Perhaps the stone for his wife was nearby, but  Hans-Peter had no sheet for a Breine Blumenfeld Katzenstein, and I couldn’t find one either at the LAGIS site.

Scholem Katzenstein, my 3x great-grandfather

I did find the stone for Schalum Abraham Katzenstein, son of Jacob Katzenstein, grandson of Scholum Katzenstein.  He was my first-cousin, three times removed.  His brother Meier is also buried at Haarhausen, but we did not find his stone. (You can see why I was overwhelmed with all the similar names!)

Jacob Katzenstein’s son, Schalum Katzenstein

So I learned an important lesson: be really well prepared for cemetery visits.  I feel extremely fortunate that I found the stones of my 5x great-grandparents, my 4x-great-grandmother, and my three-times great-grandfather. But I sure wish I’d known more about who was buried at Haarhausen and where they were buried before I even got to the cemetery.  Am I kicking myself? Yes. I missed some important stones because I had not done a careful enough job of preparation. It’s too late now, and I am annoyed with myself, but I also learned a very important lesson.  Do the hard work of preparation ahead of time because cemeteries are overwhelming, stones are hard to read, and time is limited.

We left the cemetery and proceeded on to Jesberg, where the Katz and Katzenstein families lived from at least the early 19th century. Today there are about 2500 people living in Jesberg, making it about four times the size of Sielen but smaller than Breuna. A castle was built in Jesberg in the 13th century, and there was a Jewish community dating from the 17th century. In 1905, the Jewish community of about 90 people made up over ten percent of the overall population of Jesberg; during the 19th century when my great-great-grandfather was born and raised, the Jewish population ranged from 55 people to 73 people, according to Alemannia-Judaica.  A synagogue was built in 1832, and there was a mikveh, a Jewish school, and eventually a cemetery.

Jesberg synagogue before World War I

In 1933 when many members of my Katz family were still living there, there were still more than fifty Jews in Jesberg.  Today there are no Jews in Jesberg.

Helping us in touring Jesberg along with Hans-Peter was Mrs. Ochs, who is another volunteer in the research of the Jewish history of the area and who works with Barbara Greve, who was out of town. Mrs. Ochs lives in Jesberg and was, like all the others, very warm, friendly, and helpful. We first drove out to the Jesberg cemetery, which did not open until about 1900 and which only has about twenty stones.

View of Jesberg from the cemetery

Jesberg cemetery

These are all the stones at the Jesberg cemetery

I knew that Meir Katz and his wife Sprinzchen Jungenheim were buried there, the parents of Jake, Aron, Ike, Regina, and Karl Katz, all of whom came to the US and settled in Oklahoma, some in the 19th century, others in the 1930s to escape the Nazis. I had spoken to Karl Katz’s son Fred before we left for Germany, and he had asked me to look for his grandparents’ graves and told me how to find them in the cemetery.

Back of the stones for Sprinzchen and Meier Katz in German

Front of stones for Sprinzchen and Meier Katz in Hebrew

There were three children of Jacob Katzenstein, brother of my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein, buried in the cemetery.  These were my great-grandmother Hilda’s first cousins:

Levi Katzenstein, son of Jacob Katzenstein, and his wife Jeanette

Levi  Katzenstein, son of Jacob Katzenstein, and his wife Jeanette

Pauline Katzenstein, daughter of Jacob Katzenstein:

Pauline Katzenstein, daughter of Jacob Katzenstein

Baruch Katzenstein, son of Jacob Katzenstein:

Baruch Katzenstein, son of Jacob Katzenstein

There were also a few stones where half of the stone was left blank, obviously reserved for a spouse.  What had happened to their spouses? Had they left Germany and escaped safely or had they been killed in the Holocaust? I decided I would check.

Markus Katz: He was the son of Moses Katz, as I wrote about here.  His grandmother Rahel Katzenstein was the sister of my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein.

Markus Katz, son of Moses Katz, grandson of Rahel Katzenstein

Markus was married to Minna Wallach, also known as Nanny according to other records.  As I had feared, she was murdered in the Holocaust, explaining the blank side of this headstone.

Another stone with a blank half was for Josef Katz.  He was quite distantly related to me, a third cousin, three times removed.  According to David Baron’s research, Josef was married to Bertha Lowenstein, daughter of Simon Lowenstein and Esther Stern, and she was born in Fronhausen, Germany in 1870.  I have not yet found any information about Bertha’s death so cannot say why the other half of Josef’s gravestone is blank. Perhaps she escaped the Holocaust, though her son Siegfried did not survive, so I doubt she did either. I will keep looking.

Josef Katz, third cousin, three times removed

The third stone with a blank half was for someone named Moses Schloss.  As far as I know, he was not a relative of mine, but I still wanted to know what had happened to his wife.  According to Yad Vashem, his wife was Lisette Gans Schloss, and she died at Theriesenstadt on October 14, 1942. So it appears my hunch was right.  At least two of the three blank stones were for victims of the Holocaust.

After visiting the cemetery, we returned to Jesberg, where Mrs. Ochs showed us the former synagogue and pointed out the brook that ran behind it, feeding what was probably once a mikveh.

Former synagogue in Jesberg

Brook running behind the synagogue

Back of former synagogue

I could imagine the carefree life that my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein and his many cousins had in Jesberg, running through the quiet streets and playing in the brook.  The town is probably not that much different today in appearances, other than the cars and paved roads.

We also walked down Bahnhofstrasse, the street where Fred Katz had lived as a young boy before escaping with his parents to Oklahoma in December 1938.  Fred had told me the house number, so I was able to find the house where he had lived with his parents, Karl Katz and Jettchen Oppenheimer, his brothers Walter and Max, his uncle Aron and his wife Sarah, and their sons Jack and Julius.  More on Fred and his life in Jesberg in a later post.

Marktplatz and church in Jesberg

Bahnhofstrasse in Jesberg

House where the Katz family lived in Jesberg in the 1930s

The brook that runs through Jesberg

We then all went to lunch in a nearby town (there was no place to eat—not even a bakery—in Jesberg), and then Harvey and I said another difficult goodbye to Hans-Peter and Mrs. Ochs and to the Kassel region.

Our days in the Kassel region far exceeded my expectations.  The friends we made and the places we saw will stay with me forever.  Yes, I wish I had better prepared for the cemetery visits, but overall I have no regrets and am so thankful that I got to visit the homes of my Hamberg, Goldschmidt, Schoenthal, and Katzenstein ancestors.  I am particularly thankful to Ernst Klein, Julia Drinnenberg, Hans-Peter Klein, Barbara Greve, and Mrs. Ochs for all their hard work and dedication, and, of course, especially to Harvey for being a willing and helpful participant in the hunt for stones in so many cemeteries.

Now we were heading south to Wurzburg and then to Schopfloch, the home of the Nussbaums





Thanksgiving: More Gifts, More Gratitude

cemetery sign for Mikveh Israel

It’s been a week or so of amazing gifts.  First there was the package from Gau-Algesheim with the records and book relating to my Seligmann ancestors and the amazing help I received from Ralph Baer and Matthias Steinke with translation of these items.

Then a day or so after the Gau-Algesheim package arrived, I received a gift from my third cousin once removed Todd Graham.  Todd is the great-great-great-grandson of Jacob Cohen, my great-great-grandfather.  Todd wrote to tell me that he had been to the Federal Street cemetery in Philadelphia where many of our mutual Cohen ancestors are buried and that he had taken photographs.  He asked if I wanted to see the photos, and I said of course.  So here are the photographs I received from Todd.

First is a photograph of where our ancestor Hart Levy Cohen is buried.  There is no stone visible, and the rabbi at the cemetery explained to Todd that they believed that the stone had sunk beneath the surface and was buried underground.  I have written to the rabbi and asked whether there is anything we can do to uncover the stone or to mark the gravesite in some other way.

Burial Site of Hart Levy Cohen

Burial Site of Hart Levy Cohen

This photo shows where Hart’s children Lewis and Elizabeth are buried.  Again, the stones are not visible, but this is the location of their graves.


Burial sites for Elizabeth Cohen and Lewis Cohen (Hart's children)

Burial sites for Elizabeth Cohen and Lewis Cohen (Hart’s children)

Todd also took photographs of the stone for Jacob and Sarah Cohen.  Although I had a photo of this stone before from Rabbi Albert Gabbai, I am hoping that these will be easier to read so that I can learn what the Hebrew inscription says.

Jacob and Sarah Cohen monument Jacob Cohen headstone by Todd Jacob Cohen monument by Todd jacob headstone edit 1


Todd also found the stones for three of Jacob’s children.  First, a new photograph of the headstone for my great-grandparents Emanuel and Eva (Seligman) Cohen and my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr.

Headstone for Emanuel, Eva and John Cohen

Headstone for Emanuel, Eva and John Cohen

Side of Emanuel Eva and John by Todd

Next are photographs of the headstones for Emanuel’s brother Reuben and his wife Sallie Livingston Cohen and of their son Jacob Livingston Cohen.

Reuben and Sallie Livingston Cohen

Reuben and Sallie Livingston Cohen

Jacob Livingston Cohen

Jacob Livingston Cohen


And finally, this is a photograph of the headstone for Todd’s great-great-grandparents Lewis and Carrie (Dannenbaum) Cohen and his grandparents William and Helen (Cohen) Bacharach.  Lewis Cohen was also the brother of my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen.

Bacharach and Cohen headstone

Bacharach and Cohen headstone

Thank you so much, Todd, for these photographs, and I hope that we can do something to honor the graves of Hart, Lewis, and Elizabeth Cohen.

There is one more gift I want to acknowledge, and it came totally unsolicited and from a total stranger.  About two weeks ago I received a comment on the blog from someone who had found a set of matches on a website selling vintage items.  The matches were for a business called Selinger Associates at an address in Washington, DC.  Kimberly Crosson, the woman who commented on the blog, had purchased these matches and was now asking me whether this business was connected to the Selingers on my blog.  I was skeptical at first, I must admit.  I thought it was some kind of scam or spam.  But I emailed Kim and found out that not only was she not looking to make money, she was incredibly kind-hearted and generous and just wanted to get the matches to someone in the family—for no charge.

I checked the address and found that this was Eliot Selinger’s business.  Then I tracked down a descendant of Eliot Selinger and asked him if he was interested in the matches, and he was, so I put him in touch with Kim so that she could send him the matches.  I asked only for some pictures of the matches, so here is what Kim sent to me.  You can tell these are from a different era once you see the picture on the matches.

Selinger matches cover Selinger matches reverse


So once again, let me express my thanks to all these generous people, especially Todd and Kim for these photos, but to all who have helped and continue to help me with my research. I could never have done all this on my own.

And now I will be taking a short break from blogging for Thanksgiving.  May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and thank you all for supporting me and providing me with so much help as I continue to learn about the lives of my ancestors.





Questions raised by Headstones

I was reminded of the power of headstones when I received a set of photos from Tillie Strolowitz/Adler’s great-granddaughter Jean.  Jean has been doing genealogy research for many, many years, and it has been wonderful to have a family member who shares this passion.  Jean started in the pre-internet era, and she has been helpful in reminding me to be patient as I wait for documents.  I want immediate gratification, typical of those of us working with modern technology; Jean reminds me that back in the pre-internet era there were no documents that you could view from the comfort of your home just by clicking on a computer.  You had to travel to libraries, government offices, cemeteries, synagogues, and other record-holding institutions—or at best mail away (snail mail) and wait for documents to be returned by snail mail.

Anyway, Jean wrote to me about her visit to Mt Zion Cemetery back in 1999 to search for her great-grandmother’s headstone.  Her experience was very much like mine when I searched for my great-grandfather Joseph Brotman’s headstone last fall.  The stones are so overcrowded in the old cemetery that it is impossible to walk around without stepping on the gravesites of other people.  It is also very difficult to find a particular headstone.  There are no straight lines, no easy paths, as in other cemeteries.  Here are some photos Jean took back then to capture the feeling.

Mt Sinai cemetery

Mt Zion cemetery

But when you do find the headstone, it is a powerful experience.  You suddenly understand that your long-lost relative is in fact buried there and that someone stood there in mourning to bury them many years ago.  Jean pointed out that Tillie’s headstone only refers to her as a loving mother, not a wife, and that the Strolowitz name is nowhere included on the stone, just the name the family adopted in America, Adler, despite the fact that Tillie’s death certificate is under the Strolowitz name.

Tillie Strolowitz Adler headstone Mt Sinai

Tillie Strolowitz Adler headstone Mt Zion

When Tillie died, two of her sons had already passed away, Isidor and Pincus, and were also buried at Mt Zion under the Adler name.  Had the family erased Jankel from their memory by dropping his name and not including any reference to Tillie as a wife on her headstone?  Does that provide any clues as to what happened to him? One would assume that he, too, was buried at Mt Zion, if he had died shortly after arriving in NYC, but I cannot find anyone with a name similar to his buried there.

I am still waiting for some records that may relate to Jankel and his fate.  I am not optimistic that these will in fact relate to Jankel, but I will be patient, count the days, and hope that these records will help to answer the mystery of Jankel Srulovici.

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Max Brotman: Who was his mother?

Yesterday I received Max Brotman’s death certificate from the City of Mount Vernon.  It has been quite a task tracking down this document.  Although I knew from Judy and the picture of his headstone that he had died in 1946, I could not find any record of his death certificate.  There is a public index of NYC death certificates that runs through 1948, so if he had died in 1946, it should have been there.  But it wasn’t.  Death certificates dated after 1948 from NYC are much harder to obtain; to get Abraham’s I had to use snail mail (!) and a notarized form and fee and self-addressed envelope sent to the NYC Department of Vital Records.  I was hoping that I could just obtain Max’s electronically through the Family History Library, which is faster, easier and free.  Unfortunately, the FHL does not have non-NYC certificates, and I could not find Max in the NYC register.

I was fortunate to find a volunteer in NYC who checked the paper records and found a reference indicating that Max, a NYC resident, had died “upstate.”   But where upstate?  It’s a big state! I recalled that Max had had a summer home in Congers, NY, and since he died in late May, I thought that perhaps he had died while up there. Image I contacted the town registrar in Congers, sent them a written request, check, and envelope, but they sent it back, saying that they had no record for Max Brotman.

So I was stumped.  I asked Renee, my mentor, for advice, and she suggested calling the cemetery where he was buried to see if they had a record for where he had died.  I called Beth David Cemetery on Long Island, and sure enough, they did have such a record and were willing to divulge where he died without a written letter, check and envelope.  They said he had died in Mount Vernon, New York, not far from where I grew up.

I asked Judy if she had any idea what he might have been doing in Mount Vernon at the time of his death.  She didn’t know.  I wrote to Mount Vernon (yes, a notarized letter, check and envelope), and finally received the long-sought-after document yesterday.Image

So what does it say? Well, it explains what he was doing in Mount Vernon.  He was a patient at the Mount Vernon Convalescent Home, where he was suffering from liver cancer.  It looks like he was there for three weeks, as the doctor who signed the certificate had cared for him from May 6 through May 27 when he died.

What else does it report? It lists Joseph Brotman as his father (phew!), but Adda Browman as his mother.  That conflicted with his marriage certificate which said his mother’s name was Chaye. Image And Browman? Is that just a misspelling of Brotman? Or was her maiden name really Browman? I consulted with Renee, and she said that Chaye was often Americanized to Ida, which is close to Adda.  (She said immigrants tended to Americanize even the names of ancestors who never left Europe.)  So maybe Adda is Chaye? Or maybe Richard Jones, who was Max’s son-in-law and the informant on the certificate, misunderstood or was misunderstood.  I don’t know and probably won’t know until I can learn how to research records from Europe.

The good news is that it’s just one more bit of evidence confirming that Max was Joseph’s son.  The bad news is that the document brings us no closer to knowing the town in Galicia from which they all came.

Mt Zion and Mt Hebron

[This is the second part of my post about the weekend in New York. If you haven’t read the post about the Lower East Side, that is Part One. This is Part Two.]

Before I write about my trip to Mt Zion and Mt Hebron cemeteries, let me tell you that I have never been someone who understood why people go to cemeteries, and it always seemed a little creepy to me. I don’t believe in an afterlife, and it seemed to me that you could remember those who had died without standing over the place where their bodies were buried.

I initially saw a cemetery trip this time as a way of doing more research. Then when I realized that Joseph was not buried near any of his children or his wife, I felt badly. It was likely no one had been there for a hundred years. Did that matter? Joseph didn’t know, so why did I care? I am not sure, but somehow I felt compelled to pay him honor. In fact, once I received the photos of the headstone and footstone from Charlie Katz, I no longer needed to go for research. I was going for some emotional reason that was mysterious even to me. The trip to Mt Hebron, which is only ten minutes away from Mt Zion, then seemed like an obvious addition to the trip to Mt Zion.

So off we went on Sunday morning, first to Mt Zion. It is one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in New York City, and the graves are very close together with almost no open land left. I knew from Charlie Katz that it would be hard to find Joseph’s gravesite. The stones are so close together that it is very difficult to walk between and around them, and without Charlie’s directions, we might never have found it. But then suddenly we spotted it.



I stood there, not really knowing what to do or to think. I thought of his life, thanked him silently for bringing his family here, tried to imagine what he looked like. Did he have red hair? No idea. Then I left on the headstone one of the beach rocks I had collected the prior weekend. I had decided to bring a piece of something I loved to leave at the graves, and the beach is the place that always makes me the happiest. I left feeling that I had at least done something to honor his memory.

Then we went on to Mt Hebron, a much larger and much less crowded cemetery. The section where Bessie is buried is across the road from the section where my grandparents and Sam are buried. [What I didn’t know then is that Frieda is also buried there, but that’s a story for another post.] I saw Philip’s headstone right away, but did not realize that Bessie’s was right behind it, as you can see in the photo below.


It took some counting and looking, but finally Harvey spotted it. I felt the same way standing at Bessie’s grave—grateful and wistful. I found myself drawn to her name—both in Hebrew and in English—and rubbed my hand over the name Bessie, saying, “That’s my name.” I also was very touched to see that the Brotman name was included on her headstone, not just Moskowitz.


I left one of my beach rocks there as well and then walked across the street to the other section.

In that section I first saw Sam Brotman’s headstone. I never met Sam, and I really felt badly about that, given that he lived until I was 22 years old. I left a beach rock on his stone, saying, “I am sorry I never met you.”


In the row behind Sam’s grave I found my grandparents’ grave. The headstone was covered with ivy, which looked pretty but made reading the inscriptions impossible. I gently tore away the ivy so I could see the stones.


My grandfather died when I was almost five, so I have only the vaguest memories of him, but have heard lots of stories about him—how funny he was, how smart he was (he knew several languages), and how opinionated. He walked across Romania to escape oppression and poverty. I wish I had had a chance to know him better. There was a rock left on his headstone when we arrived. Who could have been there? I don’t think it could have been anyone recently, but perhaps it had been there for many years. I placed mine next to it and rubbed his name.


Seeing my grandmother’s headstone was the most difficult for me. She lived until I was 23, and when I was a little girl I loved her very much. She was fun and loving with her grandchildren, despite having had a difficult and often sad life. I have thought of her so many times while doing this research and learning what her life was like, but standing there, thinking of her, I suddenly was overcome with emotion and found myself sobbing, thinking of her and her life and the memories I have of her. As I did with Bessie and Isadore, I found myself rubbing my hand over her name, Gussie, feeling some unexpected emotion in doing so. I left my beach rock, specially selected for her, and wished I had asked her more questions while I could have.

Apparently, I was wrong. Going to the cemetery can bring you closer to those who are gone.