Meyer Goldsmith: Another Clothier and More Double Cousins

Having now finished the stories of the families of two of my three-times great-uncles, Jacob and Abraham, I am going to turn to their youngest brother, Meyer, because he was the next to immigrate to the United States. I have been very fortunate to connect with one of Meyer’s descendants, who has generously shared photographs and stories with me, as you will see.

Meyer was the youngest son of Seligmann Goldschmidt and Hincka Alexander, my three-times great-grandparents. He was born October 25, 1834, in Oberlistingen, Germany.1

Birth record of Rafael/Meyer Goldschmidt 1834
Geburtsregister der Juden von Oberlistingen (Breuna) 1826-1852 (HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 668)AutorHessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Wiesbaden, p. 5

Meyer arrived in the US on July 8, 1852, when he was seventeen years old.

Meier Goldschmidt passenger manifest
Year: 1852; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 116; Line: 1; List Number: 895

In 1859, he married Helena Hohenfels,2 daughter of Jordan Hohenfels and Adelaide Freinsberg. Helena came with her mother and siblings from Berge, Germany to the US in 1846 and settled in Philadelphia. 3 Meyer and Helena’s descendant shared these amazing photographs of Jordan and Adelaide Hohenfels:

Adelaide Hohenfels Courtesy of the family

Jordan Hohenfels. Courtesy of the family

We also believe that these photographs may be of Meyer and Helena:

Possibly Helena Hohenfels and Meyer Goldsmith


Meyer and Helena’s first child Eugene was born on October 6, 1859,4 in Newton, New Jersey, which is about 100 miles north of Philadelphia and sixty miles west of New York City. In 1860 Meyer, Helena, and their infant son Eugene were living in Newton, New Jersey; Meyer was working as a “merchant tailor” and had $4000 worth of personal property. Also living with them were a servant and a thirteen-year-old boy named George Stone from the Hesse region, whose relationship to the family I’ve not determined. Like Jacob and Abraham, by this time Meyer had changed the spelling of his surname to Goldsmith.

Meyer Goldsmith and Helene Hohenfels 1860 census
Year: 1860; Census Place: Newton, Sussex, New Jersey; Roll: M653_709; Page: 605; Family History Library Film: 803709

By 1863 or so, Meyer and his family had relocated to Philadelphia where Meyer continued to be a clothing merchant. In 1867, Meyer filed a complaint and charges were brought against a man named John L. Rich, who apparently took delivery of $2809 worth of merchandise and failed to pay Meyer for those goods.

“An Absconding Merchant Takes $2800 Worth of Goods With Him,” The Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, December 28, 1867, p. 5.

As of 1870 Meyer and Helena had five children: Eugene (1859), Heloise (1860), Maurice/Morris/Murray (1863), Samuel (1867), and Rosa (1869). Helena’s mother Adelaide was also living with them in 1870. Meyer was working as a wholesale clothier and claimed $2000 in personal property. (I guess all those children ate into the $4000 worth of savings they’d had in 1860!) A sixth child, Florence, would be born in 1872.

Meyer Goldsmith 1870 census
Year: 1870; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 13 District 39, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1397; Page: 465A; Family History Library Film: 552896

In 1880, Meyer was still in the clothing business in Philadelphia, and his son Eugene, now 20, was working as a salesman. His second son Morris, seventeen, was employed as a clerk.  Their daughter Heloise was not employed, and the three younger children were all in school. Meyer’s mother-in-law Adelaide Hohenfels was still living with them as was a nephew named “Julius Stein” (actually spelled Stine); Julius was sixteen and working as a stock clerk. He was Helena’s sister’s son. I assume that Eugene, Maurice, and Julius were all working with Meyer in the clothing business.

Meyer Goldsmith and family 1880 US census, Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1173; Page: 276B; Enumeration District: 219 and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census

As I wrote about here, in the early 1880s, Meyer’s brothers Abraham and Levi ran into financial problems in their clothing business, and in 1883, they joined with their brother Meyer in the clothing business, using the name Goldsmith Brothers. The three brothers continued in business together for several years, but Levi died on December 29, 1886, and the business failed soon afterwards.

Two months after Levi’s death, Goldsmith Brothers was forced to make an assignment of its assets to another clothing business. The paper reported that at that time Goldsmith Brothers had assets of almost $70,000 but liabilities of over $142,000. From this report it appears that the creditors of Goldsmith Brothers were prepared to take 33 1/3 cents on the dollar for the money owed to them.

“The Creditors of Goldsmith Brothers,” The Philadelphia Times, February 13, 1887, p. 2.

Three days later there was a detailed update on the appraisal of the assets of the business, showing that the company had net assets of $69,306.73:

“Goldsmith Brothers’ Estate,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 16, 1887, p. 2.

And two days after that the creditors agreed to accept 37 ½ cents on the dollar for the money owed to them by Goldsmith Brothers.

“The Goldsmith Failure,” The Philadelphia Times, February 18, 1887, p. 1.

In 1888, Abraham went into business with his sons, and Meyer continued alone in his own clothing business. His oldest son Eugene was in the button business with someone named David Jonger Lit in 1888.5

Meanwhile, Meyer and Helena’s oldest daughter Heloise married Simon Bernheim Hirsh in 1886.6 As soon as I saw Simon’s name, I had a feeling that he was also somehow related to me, and indeed, he was my second cousin, four times removed. Simon’s great-grandfather was Samson Bernheim, my five times great-grandfather:

Thus, Simon Bernheim Hirsh was part of my Bernheim branch, and his wife Heloise was my first cousin, three times removed, on the Goldschmidt/Goldsmith branch of my family tree. These are two otherwise unrelated branches; the Bernheims came from Hechingen in the Baden-Wuerttemberg region of Germany and the Goldschmidts from Oberlistingen near Kassel in Hesse.

Simon was born  on September 3, 1859, to Herman Hirsh and Auguste Bernheim in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.7 Lancaster is about eighty miles west of Philadelphia.  His parents were both born in Germany, and his father Herman was a merchant in Lancaster when Simon was born.8  The 1870 census reports that Herman was in the notions business,9 and in 1880 he was in the clothing business, and Simon was a clerk, presumably in his father’s store in Lancaster. Perhaps Simon and Heloise’s fathers knew each other from the clothing business.10

After marrying, Heloise and Simon settled in Lancaster, where their first child Irma was born on June 4, 1888.11  They would have two more daughters in the 1890s, both born in Lancaster; Helen was born on February 27, 1895, but only survived a few months, dying on May 29, 1895.12. The third daughter Dorothy was born on March 21, 1898.13 The Hirsh children were my double-cousins, related to me through these two otherwise completely unrelated lines. Endogamy, endogamy, endogamy.

Meanwhile, the 1890s brought many other changes to the family of Meyer and Helena Goldsmith, including a move from Philadelphia to New York City. More on that in my next post.


  1. As I wrote here, although this record shows a baby registered with the name Rafael, I believe that this was the same child later known as Meyer, based on his age on several US records and the fact that the 1900 census says that he was born in October 1834, and that there is no other birth registered to Seligmann Goldschmidt and Hincka Alexander for that month and year. Birth record of Rafael/Meyer Goldschmidt 1834, Geburtsregister der Juden von Oberlistingen (Breuna) 1826-1852 (HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 668)AutorHessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Wiesbaden, p. 5. 
  2. Helena and Meyer Goldsmith and family, 1900 US Census, Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Page: 15; Enumeration District: 0780. 1900 United States Federal Census 
  3.  The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Records of the US Customs Service, RG36; NAI Number: 2655153; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85. Baltimore, Passenger Lists, 1820-1964 
  4. Eugene Goldsmith passport application, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Roll #: 2421; Volume #: Roll 2421 – Certificates: 367850-368349, 29 Jan 1924-31 Jan 1924. U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 
  5. 1888 Philadelphia City Directory, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. 
  6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marriage Index, 1885-1951 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: “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. 
  7. Simon Bernheim Hirsh death certificate, Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Pennsylvania, USA; Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1966; Certificate Number Range: 006501-009500. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966 
  8. Herman Hirsh and family, 1860 US Census, Census Place: Lancaster, South West Ward, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1126; Page: 582; Family History Library Film: 805126. 1860 United States Federal Census 
  9. Herman Hirsh and family, 1870 US Census, Census Place: Lancaster Ward 2, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1356; Page: 195B; Family History Library Film: 552855. 1870 United States Federal Census 
  10. Herman Hirsh and family, 1880 US Census, Census Place: Lancaster, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1142; Page: 29A; Enumeration District: 148. and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census. 
  11. Irma Hirsh Manheimer death certificate, Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Pennsylvania, USA; Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1966; Certificate Number Range: 069751-072450. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966. 
  12. JewishGen, comp. JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR) 
  13. Number: 204-03-8654; Issue State: Pennsylvania; Issue Date: Before 1951. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 

Whose Clothing Were They Wearing?

I recently posted these two photographs of two of the Strolowitz/Adler sisters, Rebecca (Ray) and Leah.

Leah Strolowitz Adler

Leah Strolowitz Adler

Ray Strolowitz Adler

Ray Strolowitz Adler

A number of people asked me questions about the photographs.  In particular, people were struck by the fact that two poor immigrant young women were dressed so well and were able to sit for a formal portrait.  The photograph was dated 1918, so Ray and Leah had only been in the US for about ten years.  They were both working as dressmakers.  How could they afford these luxuries like furs and hats and fancy shoes and a studio photograph?

I did some research online but did not find anything that indicated that photographers provided clothing for customers to wear, although there are many references to the props photographers kept in their studios to add interest to the photographs.  There is also this quote from a website that addresses the question of how to determine the date of a particular photograph:

“Your ancestor may have only owned one nice dress or suit that was used for all sorts of occasions. Perhaps they did not own a nice suit of clothing and borrowed one from the photographer.”

I also posted a question to the Tracing the Tribe group on Facebook about these issues and received numerous responses that were very helpful.  One commenter pointed out that since Leah and Ray were dressmakers, it was entirely possible that they made these outfits themselves.  The commenter recalled that her own ancestor was able to create fashionable dresses from older clothing and scraps by copying what she had seen in store windows.  Another commenter made the point that furs may not have been that expensive back then.  There was also discussion of the possibility that the furs and hats were props supplied by the photographer to supplement the clothing that belonged to the customers.  And some commenters believed that photographers did have clothing at their studios for the customers to wear.

As to the question of the cost of having a portrait taken, several people pointed out that having portraits done, regardless of your economic status, was very common.  Immigrants wanted to be able to send photographs back to the old country and to mark their own special occasions.  This website points out that with improved photographic techniques, it was in fact not that expensive to have a formal photograph taken even for a family of limited means.  The early 20th century saw the development of postcard photographs in the size used like the ones of Leah and Ray, and the website states that they were a “cheaper, quicker format for producing prints, made photo portraits available to almost everyone.”

I was also able to locate some information about the photographer.  From the photographs I was able to find his name, Rothman, and address, 186 East 116th Street in New York.  By using the tool for finding an address on a census, I was able to find Isadore Rothman, recent Russian immigrant, residing at 186 East 116th Street.  In 1916, Mr. Rothman was working for a different studio, Mantor Photographic Studio, according to the 1916 New York directory.  So perhaps Rothman was just starting out on his own when Ray and Leah came to have their pictures taken.  They also all lived in the East Harlem neighborhood.

Isadore Rothman on the 1920 census

Isadore Rothman on the 1920 census

So I don’t know the answer for sure, but it is possible that Leah and Ray made their outfits or borrowed them from the photographer or from someone else or a combination of both.   I guess we will never know.  And it is also possible that these photographs were not that expensive despite their seeming formality and quality.

UPDATE:  I just received this comment from Ava Cohn, an expert in using photographs in genealogical research.  She said, “Photographers did have props that were used in photos. By this time, however, the clothes were usually not part of what was “borrowed” from the photographer. As many have suggested, our Jewish ancestors were tailors in Europe and quite adept at pattern-making and sewing. There were also many companies that produced patterns and sewing one’s own clothes was both a business and a past-time. Studio photos were relatively inexpensive. …  And btw, if you are certain that your photos were taken in 1918, then Ray’s outfit is not the latest fashion. Her skirt length and shape are more typical of the 1916-1917 period.”  You can learn more about Ava Cohn and her services at her website, Sherlock Cohn.

Keep it or Throw it Away? Why we save things

I tend to be a saver.  Not an out-of-control packrat, but a saver.  I save books, photographs, letters, papers, cards, report cards, etc.  I also saved almost all the clothes that my children wore as babies and toddlers, regardless of the condition.  I just couldn’t part with the memory of each of them being so little.  The clothes were tangible evidence, more so than photographs, that they were once tiny babies.

When my grandson was born, I went down to the basement to see if any of the baby clothes I’d saved were usable.  For the most part, they weren’t.  Things were stained, stretched out, out of style—not what you’d put on a new baby.  So I had to decide what to do.  Throw them away? Put them back in the boxes?  I weeded through them, saving the ones that triggered particular memories: the purple corduroy outfit that both girls wore when they were toddlers, the Snoopy outfit that my older daughter wore almost every day when her sister was born and we were both too tired to fight with her about what to wear; sweaters my mother had knit, a few special party dresses.  The ones that were badly stained and not wearable I threw away.  All the rest I put back in the boxes anyway, not having the heart to throw them away just yet.

Now I am glad that I did keep some of these things.  One of the pictures Jody sent me a couple of weeks ago was this picture:


Imagine—these booties are almost 100 years old.  My aunt Elaine was born in 1917, my uncle Maurice in 1919.  Someone saved these and pinned a label to them to identify them for posterity as the booties of Elaine and Maurice.  There were not a lot of material objects passed on from my grandparents, but here is one that says so much.  They, too, cherished their babies, wanted to preserve the memories of them as tiny babies, and held on to something tangible to keep those memories alive.  And it worked—I now can imagine those babies and my grandparents as new parents, probably as overwhelmed, exhausted and delirious as all new parents, but also in love with those babies.

So I guess I won’t be getting rid of the baby clothes yet.  Maybe some time in the 2080s, a great-grandchild will find a box with a sweater, a Snoopy outfit, a purple corduroy jacket, and imagine the children who once wore them.

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