The Cohen Family Photograph: Who Are These People?

Ordinarily finding a large collection of photographs would be cause for much celebration, but when almost none of those photographs is labeled, it can be cause for much frustration.

That is the case with the collection of photographs my cousin Ken inherited from his great-grandparents, Lilian Katz and Isaac S. Cohen. Isaac S. Cohen was my grandfather’s first cousin. Isaac’s father Joseph Cohen was my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen’s older brother. Thus, Ken and I are third cousins, once removed, both descended from Jacob Cohen and Sarah Jacobs, my great-great-grandparents. (All photos in this post are courtesy of my cousin Ken except where noted.)

Fortunately, some of the photographs in Ken’s collection were labeled. Most important to me was this photograph labeled “Cohen Family.” Ken and I assumed that the couple sitting second and third from the left  in the front row are Joseph Cohen and his wife Caroline Snellenburg Cohen, parents of Isaac S. Cohen, and that Isaac was one of the other men in the photograph.

Joseph Cohen and Family c. 1915-1917

“Cohen Family” Courtesy of Ken Newbury

To help us identify the people in the photograph, I once again retained the services of Ava Cohn a/k/a Sherlock Cohn, the Photogenealogist. She concluded that the Cohen Family photograph was likely taken around 1915-1916 based on the clothing. Joseph Cohen would have been 67 in 1915, and the man who is sitting second from the left in the front row could be in that age range.

The other three men in the Cohen Family photograph all resemble each other, but who are they? Here are closeups of those three. You can see that they all have similar hairlines, long noses, and similar mouths and ears. To me, they look like brothers, although the third looks much younger than the first two, who have graying hair.

My hunch was that these three men were three of Joseph Cohen’s five sons who were still living in 1915. In 1915 the five living sons were Jacob, who would have been 43, Isaac, who would have been 41, Nathan, who would have been 39, and Samuel and Morris (the twins), who would have been 28.

I found a passport photograph of Jacob Cohen taken in 1922 when he was 51, and I do not see a resemblance to the men in the photograph. He has more hair and a different shaped head. Ava agreed that Jacob is not in the Cohen Family photograph.

So that leaves Isaac, Nathan, and the two twins Samuel and Morris. Since the photograph was in Isaac’s possession, Ken and I assumed that Isaac was in the photograph, and we knew what Isaac looked like from other photographs in Ken’s collection.

For example, this photograph is of Isaac S. Cohen and Lilian Katz and their son Jac, Ken’s grandfather, who was born in April 1907. Ava estimated that this photograph was taken in about 1908, when Isaac would have been about 34.

Isaac, Jack, and Lillian Cohen, c. 1908

Isaac, Jac, and Lillian Cohen, c. 1908

Ava opined that Jac was about nine years old in this photograph of Isaac, Lillian and Jac, meaning it was taken in about 1916.

Isaac S., Jac, and Lillian Katz Cohen. c. 1917

Jac is also in this photograph, sitting at the piano, and Ava thought he  was about six or seven when it was taken, meaning it dates to about 1913. A closeup of Isaac from this photograph appears below it.

Isaac S Cohen, c. 1913

These two profile shots were snipped from two other photographs also taken around the same time. One was from a large photograph of men promoting the sale of war bonds for World War I; the other from a photograph that Ava dated as about 1915  of Isaac with Lillian and Jac and Lillian’s father Leo Katz.

Here’s a lineup of three of the photographs of Isaac and the closeup of the man on the left in the second row in the Cohen Family photograph. Based on all the above photographs, Ava concluded that the man on the left in the second row of the Cohen Family photograph was Isaac S. Cohen, Ken’s great-grandfather.

But who are the other two men in the family photo? Ava did not have enough information to reach a conclusion on that question. I have no photographs of Joseph’s son Nathan, so we have no way to identify him in the photograph. And I have no photographs of Morris, one of the twins, so cannot identify him either.

I was able to obtain two photographs of Samuel Cohen from his grandson Sam, but they were taken when Samuel was older. Even so, Ava and I both concluded that Samuel Cohen had ears that were closer to his head than any of the men in the Cohen Family photograph as well as a different shaped nose and thus was not in this photograph.

So without photographs of Joseph’s other sons, it’s impossible to make any identifcation of the other two men in the Cohen Family photograph.

And what about the women in the photograph? Assuming that Caroline Snellenburg Cohen is sitting next to Joseph, who are the other four women? They certainly appear to be much younger than Caroline. Joseph and Caroline Cohen had four daughters, and Ava thought it was likely that the four women are their daughters. In 1915 Bertha would have been 42, Sallye 38, Fannie 33, and Julia 31. The woman seated on the far right is the spitting image of Caroline. I’d be shocked if she was not her daughter.  So this could be a photograph of Joseph and Caroline, their four daughters, and three of their five sons. But we can’t be certain.

The other mystery is….who was cut out of the photograph?  Ava focused on the sleeves and the size of the hands and concluded that it was a woman. But who could she have been?

One possibility is that it was Lillian Katz, Isaac S. Cohen’s wife. Why, you ask, would she have been cut out of the picture?

Well, it appears that sometime between 1915, when they were living together in Atlantic City, and 1919, Isaac and Lillian separated and then filed for divorce in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, in April 1919. They were divorced on February 20, 1920, on grounds of desertion. In 1920 Lillian was living with her parents in Pittsburgh with her son Jac (incorrectly listed here as John) and listed as divorced, and Isaac was living in Philadelphia with his sister Julia and her husband.1

Lillian Katz Cohen, 1920 US census, Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 14, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: T625_1522; Page: 20B; Enumeration District: 550
Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census

Isaac Cohen 1920 US census, Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 38, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: T625_1635; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 1328
Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census

Ken told me that  when his grandfather Jac was a boy, he was run over by a trolley car while sledding; as a result, he lost an arm. We have the hospital record from Jac’s accident, and it’s dated January 6, 1917.  Ken wondered whether the injury to their son caused a rift between Isaac and Lillian, as sadly often happens when a child is seriously sick or injured and upset parents find it difficult to deal with the tragedy.

But the story has a happy ending. On August 12, 1921, Isaac and Lillian applied for a marriage license in Philadelphia and were remarried:

And records suggest that they remained married for the rest of their lives.

But maybe someone cut Lillian out of the family picture during the brief period when she and Isaac were divorced. It would seem odd that Lillian saved a photograph from which she had been removed, but stranger things have happened. But as Ava said, we really have no idea who was cut out or why. It’s just speculation.

In the end, we still have many questions but at least a few answers about the Cohen Family photograph. It’s a good reminder that I really should do my descendants a favor and go label all those photos from my own life.

Thank you to my cousin Ken for sharing the photographs and to Ava Cohn, aka Sherlock Cohn the Photogenealogist for her invaluable insights and her determination to get this right!

 


  1. Isaac listed his marital status as married; the divorce didn’t take effect until February 20, 1920, and the census was enumerated on January 17, 1920. Obviously Lillian was already considering herself divorced. 

The “Disappearance” of Arthur Cohen, My Grandfather’s First Cousin

Way back in July, 2014, I wrote about my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen’s youngest sibling, his brother Abraham, the thirteenth child of my great-great-grandparents Jacob Cohen and Sarah Jacobs. What I reported was that Abraham, born in Philadelphia on March 29, 1866, had married Sallie McGonigal in 1886, and they had five children, but three of those children died in childhood. Only two children survived—their son Leslie, their second child, and their son Arthur, their fifth and youngest child. There were almost twenty years between the two boys: Leslie was born in 1889, Arthur in 1907.  They lost their mother Sallie to the dreadful flu epidemic on March 14, 1919.

Gravestone for Sallie and Abraham Cohen, courtesy of Michael DeVane

Abraham Cohen remarried in 1920, and I was able to trace Abraham and his son Leslie up through their deaths, as described here.

But Arthur’s story was unfinished. The last record I had for him was the 1930 census when he was living with his father Abraham and stepmother Elizabeth in Philadelphia and working in a gas station. He was 23 at the time. After that, he disappeared. I could find other Arthur Cohens who matched in some ways, but not in others. Thus, I was unable to find anything after 1930 that was definitely about my Arthur Cohen.

Abe Cohen and family, 1930 US census, Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Page: 13A; Enumeration District: 0505; FHL microfilm: 2341874
Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Censu

Until, that is, about a month ago when I received a comment on the blog from someone named Michael DeVane, who wrote, “I came across your blog while searching for information on Abraham Cohen, my grandfather. My father was Arthur Cohen. You really helped me fill in some of the missing information on my family. If you want to reach out to me, I will gladly help fill in some missing information to our family tree.” I immediately wrote back to Michael, and we arranged to chat by telephone a few days later.

To prepare for the conversation, I went back to all the research I’d done about Abraham and his family. One thing puzzled me. If Michael’s father was Arthur Cohen, why was his surname DeVane? Well, that clue led me to find more information, and then my conversation with Michael confirmed what I’d uncovered and added more insights. There was a very good reason that I’d not been able to find Arthur Cohen after 1930. By 1931, he’d changed his name to Arthur DeVane.

Once I knew that Arthur had in fact changed his name to DeVane, I located a marriage in the Philadelphia marriage index for Arthur DeVane and Ruth Bussard dated 1931. 1 Michael found in his family records the following document that confirmed that this marriage record was indeed for his father, born Arthur Cohen. It is his father’s baptismal certificate under the name Arthur Cohen with his parents identified.

On the reverse, it notes that Arthur changed his name to DeVane and that he married Ruth Bussard on September 30, 1931, at St. Agnes Church in Philadelphia. Michael thought he might contact the church authorities to see if the record for the name change can be located.

Michael had understood that his father changed his name from Cohen to avoid anti-Semitism, but now we both wonder whether it also had to do with the marriage to Ruth Bussard. Perhaps she didn’t want to take on such an obviously Jewish name. As you can see from the headstone above, both of Arthur’s parents identified as Catholic and are buried in a Catholic cemetery, so Arthur was neither raised Jewish nor identified himself as Jewish.

In any event, the marriage to Ruth did not last. In September 1939, Ruth filed for divorce, and in February 1940, divorce was granted.2 Ruth remarried later that year.3

On the 1940 census, Arthur was living as a lodger with a family, listing his marital status as single and his occupation as a signal man for the railroad.4

On January 8, 1942, Arthur DeVane enlisted in the US armed services and served during World War II until September 5, 1945, including almost two and a half years serving overseas.5 During that time, while stationed in England , he met his second wife, Nellie Keep. Nellie was born April 1, 1917, in Oxford, England to Edward Keep and Nellie Massey. She and Arthur were married in New Hampshire on December 18, 1947. Like Arthur, Nellie had been previously married and divorced.

Marriage record of Arthur Devane and Nellie Keep, New England Historical Genealogical Society; New Hampshire Bureau of Vital Records, Concord, New Hampshire, Ancestry,com. New Hampshire, Marriage and Divorce Records, 1659-1947

The record for their marriage is interesting. Arthur reported that his father’s name was Leslie DeVane, not Abraham Cohen, the true name of his father. He also reported that his father had been a jeweler, when in truth, like so many of my Cohen relatives, Abraham had been a pawnbroker. Michael wasn’t sure whether Arthur did this to hide his background from his new wife or for some other reason, but Nellie did at some point know the truth of Arthur’s family background because she revealed it to Michael.

Part of the family lore is that Arthur had hoped to take over his father’s pawnbroker business, but that his father Abraham lost the business when his second wife Elizabeth died in 1939 and her family acquired it and apparently pushed Abraham out. That is why, as noted in my earlier post, Abraham’s death certificate in 1944 listed his occupation as elevator operator—a job he’d had to take after losing his business.

Abraham Cohen death certificate.

That meant Arthur also lost the business. Instead, Arthur ended up rejoining the military and spent most of his career serving his country in the US Air Force, as has his son Michael. Arthur was stationed over the years in England, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. He retired as a master sergeant in the Air Force after twenty years of service.

Arthur DeVane, born Arthur Cohen, died on April 16, 1976, in Burlington, New Jersey. He was sixty-eight years old.6  He was survived by his wife Nellie, who died in 2005, 7 and their three children and their grandchildren.

Michael kindly shared with me the following photograph of his father as a boy.

Arthur Cohen (later DeVane). Courtesy of Michael DeVane

I saw some similarity between young Arthur and his first cousin, once removed, my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr., as a little boy, but it could just be the haircut.

John Cohen Sr as a baby

Michael also shared the following photograph of his father Arthur in 1948:

Arthur DeVane, 1948. Courtesy of Michael DeVane

I don’t see many resemblances here to either my father or my grandfather, except perhaps around the mouth and the large forehead.

John N. Cohen, Sr., 1921

John N. Cohen, Jr. c. 1945

I am so grateful to my cousin Michael, my father’s second cousin, for finding me and sharing his father’s story and photographs with me.

 

 


  1. Arthur J DeVane, Gender: Male, Spouse: Ruth H Bussard, Spouse Gender: Female
    Marriage Place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, Marriage Year: 1931
    Marriage License Number: 606549, Digital GSU Number: 4141671, Ancestry.com. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marriage Index, 1885-1951 
  2. The Philadelphia Inquirer – 27 Feb 1940 – Page 11, found at https://www.newspapers.com/clip/59928918/divorce-granted/?xid=637&_ga=2.20757178.305149426.1602707833-2106877110.1599576721 
  3. Ruth Devane, Gender: Female, Spouse: Marturano, Spouse Gender: Male
    Marriage Place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, Marriage Year: 1940
    Marriage License Number: 716706, Digital GSU Number: 4141873, Ancestry.com. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marriage Index, 1885-1951 
  4.  Year: 1940; Census Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: m-t0627-03723; Page: 61B; Enumeration District: 51-1118, Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census 
  5. Arthur J DeVane, Birth Date: 9 Dec 1907, Birth Place: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, Gender: Male, Residence Date: 2 May 1950, Residence Place: Upper Darby, Delaware, Pennsylvania, USA, Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, World War II Veteran Compensation Application Files, 1950-1966 
  6. Arthur Devane, Social Security Number: 182-10-8245, Birth Date: 9 Dec 1907
    Issue Year: Before 1951, Issue State: Pennsylvania, Last Residence: 08016, Burlington, Burlington, New Jersey, USA, Death Date: Apr 1976, Social Security Administration; Washington D.C., USA; Social Security Death Index, Master File, Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 
  7.  Nellie A Devane, Social Security Number: 144-38-3406, Birth Date: 1 Apr 1917
    Issue Year: 1963, Issue State: New Jersey, Death Date: 26 Jun 2005, Social Security Administration; Washington D.C., USA; Social Security Death Index, Master File, Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 

My Three-Times Great-Grandfather Hart Cohen, Witness for the Prosecution

Imagine being able to read the testimony your ancestor gave in a case back in 1831. Thanks to Teresa of the Writing My Past blog, I found a case where my three-times great-grandfather Hart Levy Cohen was a critical eyewitness to a crime.

Teresa wrote on her blog about the Proceedings of Old Bailey Online Project. As described on the project website, “The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913 [is a] fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London’s central criminal court.”1 Teresa had found a number of interesting cases involving her English ancestors, and on a lark, I decided to search to see if I could find any references to my Cohen relatives who lived in London from about 1800 until 1851.

Old Bailey, photograph by Ben Sutherland from Crystal Palace, London, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Lo and behold, I found one case—an 1831 case in which Hart Cohen was a witness, not the defendant or the victim, fortunately.2  The case involved an alleged theft of money from a man named Michael Hart by a man named Isaac Isaacs. As described in the testimony recorded in the transcript of the trial, Michael Hart was a recent immigrant to England from Amsterdam and was courting Isaac Isaacs’ sister. According to Michael Hart, Isaacs grabbed Dutch notes worth 500 guilders from his hand and ran off with the money.

My three-times great-grandparents were present in the room when Isaacs took Michael Hart’s money, and Hart Cohen testified to the fact that he saw Isaacs snatch the notes. One witness, Mary Isaac (not a relative of the accused) testified that Michael Hart willingly gave the money to Isaacs. But the court found Isaacs guilty and sentenced him to “transportation for life,” meaning he was permanently exiled from England. I don’t know where Isaacs ended up, nor do I know where Michael Hart ended up.

UPDATE: Thank you to Teresa for pointing me to this site, which reveals that Isaac Isaacs was shipped of to what was then Van Diemen’s Island, now known as Tasmania. https://www.digitalpanopticon.org/life?id=obpt18311020-149-defend1043

In the testimony, Isaac Isaacs is referred to as “the prisoner” and Michael Hart is referred to either as “the prosecutor” or by his surname Hart. In the brief excerpt from the transcript below, I have added “the prosecutor” to any references to Michael Hart to prevent any confusion with my 3x-great-grandfather Hart Cohen. I also have highlighted a few relevant portions that I comment on below.

MICHAEL HART (through an interpreter.) I am a native of Amsterdam; I came to England nine or ten weeks ago, …. – I became acquainted with the prisoner, slightly, about a fortnight after I came to this country; I was courting his sister, and do so now. On a Monday morning, about eight o’clock, I met the prisoner in the neighbourhood, and went with him up the street to Whitechapel; we went into a public-house, and there had two quarterns of gin together- we then went back to the prisoner’s lodging: before we got there he asked me if I had my notes about me, and asked why I did not change them, as I could get English money for them; I said that at present I was not in need of money, and thought of saving them a little longer – I had them in my pocket at the time; they were two Amsterdam notes, for three hundred and two hundred guilders- he asked me to come home, and I went to his lodgings in Goulston-street, Whitechapel – when we got up stairs he asked me to let him look at the notes; I took them out of my pocket, intending to show them to him – I held them in my own hand; the prisoner took them out of my hand with one hand, and gave me a blow with his other hand – he went down stairs; I did not follow him immediately –[Hart] Cohen, his wife, and the prisoner’s wife and sister were in the room…. I went that evening to the Police-station, and told the inspector, who sent a Policeman with me, and he took the prisoner; I had a man with me, who interpreted for me – I have not seen or heard of my notes since – a guilder is worth 20d.

[Goulston Street was the street where my Cohen relatives were living on the 1841 English census. I tried to find a familial connection between Isaac Isaacs and my relatives but was unable to do so. I believe he was just a neighbor.]

New Goulston Street today

HART COHEN . I was in the prisoner’s room when he and the prosecutor came in, between eight and half-past eight o’clock in the morning – they spoke in Hebrew, which I understood, but did not notice what they were talking about; I saw [the prosecutor] Hart open his pocket-book, and take out some papers – the prisoner snatched them out of his hand, gave him a push, and ran down stairs; I could not see what the papers were, but [the prosecutor] Hart called out in Hebrew, “I have lost five hundred guilders;” I had seen him in possession of a three hundred and two hundred guilders Amsterdam notes; I have not seen them since.

[I found it interesting that Hart understood Hebrew—an indication that he was connected to Judaism and Jewish traditions.]

[Cross-examination of Hart Cohen]:  Who was in the room? A. My wife, the prisoner’s wife, his sister, and children: he being an intended brother-in-law, I did not like to interfere – I did not call Stop thief! my wife was alarmed – the prosecutor was standing up; he could have followed him down stairs if he chose – I had merely called there because the children were ill with the measles; I saw two men carrying the prisoner home, drunk, about two o’clock; the prosecutor went to Brighton, and my son went with him as an interpreter, and I wrote to him, directing my letters “Lewis Cohen,” which was my son’s name – the prisoner was to inquire at the post-office for a letter in that name; my wife is too ill to be here.

[When Hart testified “he being an intended brother-in-law,” I at first thought he meant that Isaacs was to be married to either his sister or his wife Rachel’s sister, but Isaacs was already married. On rereading, it was clear to me that Hart Cohen was referring to the fact that Michael Hart was courting Isaacs’ sister and thus was his intended brother-in-law.” It’s clear from this comment and the one that follows that Hart had not wanted to get involved in this dispute.]

[It was the mention of his son Lewis that helped to convince me that this was my Hart Cohen. Lewis would have been eleven years old at that time.]

[Witness for Isaacs] MARY ISAAC . I was at the prisoner’s house, between eight and nine o’clock, when this gentleman came up stairs, and he gave Mr. Isaacs the notes – I live there as servant to the prisoner; I am not related to him; Mr. and Mrs. Cohen. Mr. and Mrs. Isaacs, and I were in the room, nobody else – I cannot speak Hebrew; I saw the prosecutor give the prisoner the notes; he put them into his pocket, had his breakfast, shaved himself, and went down – before he went down the prosecutor took out his pocket-book, and wrote down on a piece of paper, how many guilders there were, and how much they would come to – I did not read the paper; he wrote it in numbers – I understand numbers; the prisoner then went down – Mr. Cohen went down directly after.

….

HART COHEN . I did not notice [Mary] Isaac there, and do not suppose that she was – it is a middling sized room, and has a bed in it.3

[This testimony effectively undercut Mary Isaac’s testimony. Hart made it clear that there was no way that he would not have seen her if she were in the room, given the size of the room.]

There were other witnesses and testimony, but I was primarily interested in the role my relative played in this dispute. And what did I learn? That my three-times great-grandfather was a man who did not initially want to get involved, but did his civic duty and testified to the facts he observed, that he knew Hebrew, and that my great-grandparents were neighbors who would come check on sick children. Given that I’d known nothing about his personality beforehand, these are wonderful insights.

Take a look at the Old Bailey project website if you ever had relatives living in London. It could provide interesting insights into their lives.


  1. Tim Hitchcock, Robert Shoemaker, Clive Emsley, Sharon Howard, and Jamie McLaughlin, et al., “Home page.” The Old Bailey Proceedings Online, 1674-1913 (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 24 March 2012).
  2. Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0, 04 October 2020), October 1831, trial of ISAAC ISAACS (t18311020-149. 
  3. Ibid. Emphasis and annotations added. 

Henriette Katzenstein Schnadig, Part I: Two Dutch Sons-in-Law

The third surviving daughter of Amalie Goldschmidt and Juda Katzenstein was Henriette. As we saw, she was born on February 13, 1858, in Eschwege, and married Simon Schnadig on August 20, 1877, in Eschwege. Henriette and Simon had four children—Julius, Helene, Betty, and Elsa—-but only three survived to adulthood.

Their son Julius only lived two years. He was born on May 13, 1878, in Frankfurt, where Henriette and Simon were then living, and died in Frankfurt on August 13, 1880.

Julius Schnadig birth record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 903_8917, Year Range: 1878, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

Julius Schnadig death record, Certificate Number: 1961
Personenstandsregister Sterberegister; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 10336
Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Deaths, 1851-1958

Ten months later Henriette gave birth to their second child, Helene, born in Frankfurt on June 26, 1881.

Helene Schnadig birth record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 903_8956, Year Range: 1881, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

I found it odd that Henriette named her daughter Helene since that was the name of her older sister, who was definitely still living in 1881, and I cannot find any other close relative of Henriette or Simon with that first name. Perhaps the Hebrew names were different.

Betty Schnadig, the second daughter, was born August 27, 1882, in Frankfurt.

Betty Schnadig birth record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 903_8970, Year Range: 1882, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

Henriette and Simon’s third daughter Elsa was born in Frankfurt on January 14, 1890, seven and a half years after Betty, making me wonder whether Henriette and Simon had other babies or pregnancies that did not survive.

Elsa Schnadig birth record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903; Signatur: 903_9071, Year Range: 1890, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901

The oldest daughter Helene Schnadig married Emil Cohn on May 28, 1900, in Frankfurt. She was only eighteen, and Emil was thirty. He was born in Hamburg on February 4, 1870, to Simon Cohn and Malvine Josaphat.

Helene Schnadig and Emil Cohn marriage record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 903, Year Range: 1900, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

Helene and Emil had four children, all born in Hamburg. Meta was born on April 3, 1901.

Meta Cohn birth record, Year Range and Volume: 1901 Band 03
Ancestry.com. Hamburg, Germany, Births, 1874-1901. Original data:Best. 332-5 Standesämter, Personenstandsregister, Sterberegister, 1876-1950, Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Hamburg, Deutschland.

Siegbert was born April 23, 1905;1 Hertha Johanna was born September 1, 1906;2 and Lissy Sitta was born July 21, 1910.3

Betty Schnadig, the middle sister, married Bernard Arie Cohen on April 21, 1903, in Darmstadt, where Betty’s parents Henriette and Simon Schnadig were living at that time. He was born January 5, 1879, in Groningen, Holland, and was the son of Arie Cohen and Amalia Breslour. Since Groningen, located in the very northernmost part of the Netherlands, is over 300 miles from Darmstadt and in an entirely different country, I wonder how Betty and Bernard connected.

Betty Schnadig and Bernard Arie Cohen marriage record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 901; Laufende Nummer: 223, Year Range: 1903
Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

Betty and Bernard had four children. Arnold was born February 2, 1904, in Groningen, Holland, where Betty and Bernard had settled and where all their children were born.4 Anita was born on November 25, 1907;5 the third child Simona Hedda was born January 16, 1912,6 and the youngest child Adolf was born July 17, 1916.7

Elsa Schnadig, the youngest child of Henriette Katzenstein and Simon Schnadig, also married a Dutch man. She married Salomon Aron Cats, the son of Aron Salomon Cats and Louisa Frieser; he was born on June 3, 1882, in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. Elsa and Salomon were married on August 9, 1909, in Offenbach am Main, where her parents were then living.

Elsa Schnadig and Salomon Cats marriage record, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 918; Laufende Nummer: 517, Year Range: 1909, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Marriages, 1849-1930

So between 1900 when their oldest daughter Helene was married in Frankfurt and 1909 when Elsa was married, Simon and Helene had moved from Frankfurt to Darmstadt to Offenbach. I wonder why since in those days people seemed to stay in one place for many years if not their entire lives.

Elsa and Salomon had two sons. Marcel was born on February 25, 1916, in Schaerbeek, Belgium, and Harry was born August 20, 1919, in Amsterdam, where the family was then living as seen on this family register from the Amsterdam archives.

Family register of Salomon Cats and Elsa Schnadig, Archive cards , archive number 30238 , inventory number 152 Municipality : Amsterdam Period : 1939-1960, Other information
Resident registration card, Web Address https://archief.amsterdam/indexen/persons?ss=%7B%22q%22:%22marcel%20cats%22%7D, Amsterdam Archives Gemeente Amsterdam Stadsarchiev

I want to express my deep gratitude to Bert de Jong of the Tracing the Tribe group on Facebook for his generous efforts in finding this Dutch record and many other Dutch records for the family of Salomon Cats and Elsa Schnadig. I would never have known of these records without his help.

If you look closely at the above record (click to zoom in), you will see that Elsa’s mother Henriette was also living with Elsa and her family in Amsterdam for some time. The record depicted below is from a registry of foreign residents and shows more specifically when Henriette spent time in Amsterdam. It appears that she was there for a period in 1917-1919 and then returned to Germany in June 1919. There is no mention of Simon so it appears he was not with her while she was living in Amsterdam.

Source reference Reproduction parts , archive number 5416 , inventory number 213 Municipality : Amsterdam Period : 1930 Web Address https://archief.amsterdam/indexen/persons?ss=%7B%22q%22:%22schnadig%22%7D  Amstserdam Archives Gemeente Amsterdam Stadsarchiev

Thus, two of Simon and Henriette’s children, Betty and Elsa, married Dutch men and relocated from Germany to the Netherlands long before the Nazi era.

Simon Schnadig died on May 7, 1920, at the age of seventy in Brussels, Belgium.8 I don’t know whether Simon and Henriette had moved once again, this time to Brussels, or whether he just happened to die there while traveling either to visit one of his daughters in Holland or on business. If Simon had relocated to Brussels, Henriette must have moved back to Hamburg either before or after Simon died because she was living in Hamburg when she died on May 27, 1924, at the age of 66. Her son-in-law Emil Cohn was the informant on her death record.

Henriette Katzenstein Schnadig, death record, Year Range and Volume: 1924 Band 01
Ancestry.com. Hamburg, Germany, Deaths, 1874-1950

Simon Schnadig and Henriette Katzenstein were survived by their three daughters and ten grandchildren. Unfortunately, those descendants faced tragic times ahead during the Nazi era, as we will see in the posts to follow.


  1. Siegbert Armin Israel Cohn, Gender: Male, Marital status: Married, Birth Date: 23 abr 1905 (23 Apr 1905), Birth Place: Hamburgo, Arrival Date: 1939, Arrival Place: Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Father: Emil Cohn, Mother: Helene Cohn, Traveling With Children: Yes, FHL Film Number: 004542471, Ancestry.com. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Immigration Cards, 1900-1965 
  2. Hertha Johanna Cohn, Amsterdam Archives Gemeente Amsterdam Stadsarchiev, Source reference Archive cards , archive number 30238 , inventory number 159 Municipality : Amsterdam Period : 1939-1960, Web Address
    https://archief.amsterdam/indexen/persons?ss=%7B%22q%22:%22hertha%20cohn%22%7D 
  3. Lissy Sitty Cohn, The National Archives; Kew, London, England; HO 396 WW2 Internees (Aliens) Index Cards 1939-1947; Reference Number: HO 396/14, Piece Number Description: 014: Internees at Liberty in UK 1939-1942: Cohn-Cz, Ancestry.com. UK, World War II Alien Internees, 1939-1945 
  4.  Arnold Cohen, Birth Date: 2 feb 1904, Birth Place: Groningen, Father: Bernard Arie Cohen, Mother: Bettij Schnadig, AlleGroningers; Den Haag, Nederland; BS Birth, Ancestry.com. Netherlands, Birth Index, 1784-1917 
  5.  Anita Cohen, Birth Date: 25 nov 1907, Birth Place: Groningen, Residence Year: 1907, Father: Bernard Arie Cohen, Mother: Betty Schnadig, AlleGroningers; Den Haag, Nederland; BS Birth, Ancestry.com. Netherlands, Birth Index, 1784-1917 
  6.  Simona Hedda Cohen, Residence Age: 0, Birth Date: 16 jan 1912, Birth Place: Groningen, Residence Year: 1912, Father: Bernard Arie Cohen, Mother: Bettij Schnadig, AlleGroningers; Den Haag, Nederland; BS Birth, Ancestry.com. Netherlands, Birth Index, 1784-1917 
  7.  Adolf Cohen, Birth Date: 17 jul 1916, Birth Place: Groningen, Father: Bernard Arie Cohen, Mother: Betty Schnadig, AlleGroningers; Den Haag, Nederland; BS Birth,
    Ancestry.com. Netherlands, Birth Index, 1784-1917 
  8. https://www.genealogieonline.nl/stamboom-bouweriks-neervoort-frenk/I29524.php 

Henriette Werner Cohen and Her Children: Escaping from Germany

Helene Katzenstein Werner died in 1912, and her husband Max died seven years later in 1919. Their son Carl was killed fighting for Germany in World War I. Helene and Max were survived by four of their five children—Henriette, Elsa, Rosa, and Moritz—and many grandchildren. What happened to those children and grandchildren when Hitler came to power in 1933?

We know that Elsa and her husband Julius Loewenthal survived and immigrated eventually to the US, as did two of their four children, but their daughter Ruth and her husband were killed in a terrible car accident in Switzerland in 1937, and Ruth’s orphaned daughter Margot was later murdered by the Nazis at Sobibor. Their son Herbert spent the war years in a sanitorium in Zurich and lived the rest of his life in Switzerland.

What about Elsa Werner Loewenthal’s three siblings? What happened to them? As we will see, they all survived, but ended up spread throughout the world. Today’s post is about her sister Henriette Werner Cohen.

Henriette and her family ended up in the United States, as had Elsa. But Henriette first endured the tragedy of losing her husband Julius Cohen. He died on June 7, 1933, in Hamburg, just two months after Hitler’s rise to power; he was 64.

Julius Cohen death record, Year Range and Volume: 1933 Band 01, Ancestry.com. Hamburg, Germany, Deaths, 1874-1950

Julius was survived by Henriette and their three children, Mary, Manfred, and Willy, who all left Germany for the US in the 1930s. Manfred left first; he arrived in the US on December 24, 1936, but the ship manifest indicated that he was only planning to stay for three months. The person he listed as his contact in the US was a cousin, Max Stern. I assume this referred to Hilda Loewenthal’s husband Max Stern, the founder of Hartz Mountain Corporation. Manfred listed his mother as his contact back in Germany; she was still living in Hamburg, but Manfred listed his last residence as Eschwege, his mother’s birthplace. I wonder whether he was working for his uncle/cousin Julius Loewenthal.1

Manfred returned home to Germany, but then came again to the US two years later on April 4, 1938, this time intending to stay permanently. By that time he was married to Caecilie Gundersheimer. Caecilie was born on February 10, 1915,2 the daughter of Samuel Gundersheimer and Bertha Schwarzschild.3  According to the ship manifest, she was born in “Kleinheubad,” Germany, which I assume is a misspelling of Kleinheubach, as I cannot find any place (in Germany or elsewhere) named Kleinheubad. When Caecilie’s parents immigrated to the US the following year, they were going to Reading, Pennsylvania, where Manfred and Caecilie had settled.4

Manfred Cohen, ship manifest, Year: 1938; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 1; Page Number: 46, Ship or Roll Number: Queen Mary,
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957

Manfred’s brother Willy Wolf Cohen also immigrated permanently to the US in 1938. He arrived on August 19 of that year, listing his mother Henriette in Hamburg as the person left behind and his brother Manfred of Reading, Pennsylvania as the contact person in the US.5  He filed his declaration of intention to become a US citizen on October 12, 1938, at which time he was living in Reading, presumably with his brother Manfred.

Willy Wolf Cohen, declaration of intention, The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; ARC Title: Naturalization Petition and Record Books for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, Cleveland, 1907–1946; NAI: M1995; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States; Record Group Number: 21
Petition Number: 104154 – 104657, Ancestry.com. Ohio, Naturalization Petition and Record Books, 1888-1946

Their mother Henriette and sister Mary finally arrived the following year, January 26, 1939, also listing Manfred as the person they were going to in the United States.6 On the 1940 census, Henriette was living with her son Manfred in Reading, along with his wife and his in-laws.  Manfred was the owner of a mushroom plant there, and his wife Caecilie worked there as well, as did her father Samuel Gundersheimer.

Manfred Cohen, 1940 US census, Census Place: Reading, Berks, Pennsylvania; Roll: m-t0627-03679; Page: 9A; Enumeration District: 70-53, Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census

But when he registered for the World War II draft in 1942, Manfred listed his employer as the American Photocopy Equipment Company.

Manfred Cohen, World War II draft registration, The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; WWII Draft Registration Cards for Pennsylvania, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947; Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box: 439, Ancestry.com. U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947

Manfred’s siblings Mary and Willy do not appear on that 1940 census with him and his mother although Mary’s declaration of intention filed on June 26, 1939, shows she was still residing in Reading at that time.

Mary Cohen, declaration of intention, The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; ARC Title: Naturalization Petition and Record Books for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, Cleveland, 1907–1946; NAI: M1995; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States; Record Group Number: 21
Petition Number: 104154 – 104657, Ancestry.com. Ohio, Naturalization Petition and Record Books, 1888-1946

I am not certain, but I think I located both Mary and William living in New York at the time of the 1940 census. There is a Mary Cohen, age 35, working as a maid in Brooklyn, who could be Mary as her residence in 1935 was Hamburg, Germany. But Mary would have been 37 in 1940, so I can’t be positive this is the same Mary Cohen, although this is the only Mary Cohen who comes close to matching my Mary.7

There was a Willy Cohen living in Queens, New York, in 1940, married to a woman named Hilda who had last been living in Strasbourg, France.8  But I don’t think this is my Willy; according to my Willy Cohen’s petition for naturalization, filed in June 1944, he didn’t marry his wife, Hildegarde Goldbach, until March 15, 1942, at which time he was living in Cleveland. Hildegarde, who was born on May 13, 1920, in Eschwege, immigrated in August 1940; she was the daughter of Abraham Goldbach and Luise Muller.9

Willy Wolf Cohen, naturalization petition, The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; ARC Title: Naturalization Petition and Record Books for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, Cleveland, 1907–1946; NAI: M1995; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States; Record Group Number: 21
Petition Number: 104154 – 104657, Ancestry.com. Ohio, Naturalization Petition and Record Books, 1888-1946

So where was Willy Wolf Cohen in 1940? There is a William H. Cohen living in Manhattan as a lodger on the 1940 census, single, 34 years old, born in Germany, with no occupation listed. Again, I can’t be certain this is the right person, but he is the only other William Cohen on the 1940 census who matches the age and birthplace of my Willy, and as noted on his petition for naturalization, Willy had adopted the name William Henry Cohen in the US, matching “William H. Cohen.”

William H. Cohen, 1940 US census, Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Roll: m-t0627-02641; Page: 9B; Enumeration District: 31-736, Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census

But not long after the enumeration of the 1940 census, Henriette, Mary, and William all moved to Cleveland, Ohio. As seen above, William’s 1944 petition for naturalization indicates that he’d moved to Cleveland by June 1, 1940; the petition also lists his occupation as a service engineer.

Henriette moved to Cleveland by November 1940, according to her petition for naturalization filed in 1944.10 Mary moved to Cleveland in March 1941, according to her petition for naturalization filed in 1944; she was working as a nurse at that time.11

Comparing all three petitions, it appears that Henriette, Mary and William were all living at the same address, 1040 Parkwood Drive in Cleveland, when they petitioned for naturalization. Henriette’s petition is also interesting in that it reports that by 1944, Manfred had moved to Philadelphia from Reading, Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, I could not find any information for Henriette or any of her children after the 1940s except for information about their deaths. Henriette died in March 1951 in Cleveland, as seen in this death notice from the Cleveland Plain Dealer of March 21, 1951; she was 69 years old.

Henriette Cohen, obituary, Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 21, 1951, p. 30.

Aside from a 1950 telephone directory listing, I cannot find any other record of Manfred in Philadelphia except for this obituary from the November 30, 1973 Philadelphia Jewish Exponent:

Manfred Cohen, obituary, The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, November 30, 1973, p. 67

He died on November 18, 1973, in Philadelphia; he was 69, the same age his mother had been when she died and just five years older than his father had been at his death in 1933.

But Henriette’s other two children both lived longer lives. Mary died on February 10, 1993, in Beachwood, Ohio; she was 90.11 William died at 89 on April 9, 1995. 12 Unfortunately I was unable to find an obituary or a death notice for either of them.

Henriette and her children were survived by the children of Manfred and William; Mary has no direct descendants. There are many other descendants living today because Henriette and her children were able to get out of Germany in time.

 


  1. Manfred Cohen, ship manifest, Year: 1936; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 1; Page Number: 203, Ship or Roll Number: Manhattan, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 
  2. Caecilie Cohen, Social Security Number: 179-14-7310, Birth Date: 10 Feb 1915, Issue Year: Before 1951, Issue State: Pennsylvania, Last Residence: 21215, Baltimore, Baltimore City, Maryland, Death Date: 21 Jan 2010, Social Security Administration; Washington D.C., USA; Social Security Death Index, Master File, Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 
  3. Obituary of Bertha Gundersheimer, The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 16, 1968, p. 32; Berta Gundersheimer, Maiden Name: Schwarzschild, Birth Date: 6 Sep 1887, Birth Place: Schluchtern, Last Residence: Frankfurt/M., Departure: Emigrated, Date of Departure: 2 Apr 1939, Destination: North America, German Special Interest Group of JewishGen, comp. Germany, Data on 7,400 North Bavarian Jews 
  4. Samuel and Bertha Gundersheimer, ship manifest, Year: 1939; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 29; Page Number: 46; Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 
  5. Willy Wolf Cohen, ship manifest, Year: 1938; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 3; Page Number: 93, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 
  6. Henriette Cohen and Mary Cohen, ship manifest, Year: 1939; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 10; Page Number: 47, Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 
  7. “United States Census, 1940,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G9MY-RH6G?cc=2000219&wc=QZXR-H21%3A790105101%2C795835101%2C804245901%2C804301301 : accessed 27 August 2020), New York > Kings > New York City, Brooklyn, Assembly District 18 > 24-2048B New York City, Brooklyn Borough Assembly District 18 (Tract 343 – part) > image 1 of 16; citing Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 – 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012. 
  8. “United States Census, 1940,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9MB-GJSV?cc=2000219&wc=QZXT-HLF%3A790105101%2C805603701%2C805654201%2C805688901 : accessed 14 August 2020), New York > Queens > New York City, Queens, Assembly District 3 > 41-679B [from 41-679]: New York City, Queens Borough Assembly District 3 (Tract 271 – part) > image 18 of 30; citing Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 – 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012. 
  9. Hildegarde Goldbach, petition for naturalization, The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; ARC Title: Naturalization Petition and Record Books for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, Cleveland, 1907–1946; NAI: M1995; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States; Record Group Number: 21, Petition Number: 106651 – 107164, Ancestry.com. Ohio, Naturalization Petition and Record Books, 1888-1946. Hildegard Doris Cohen, [Hildegard Doris Goldbach] , Birth Date: 13 May 1920, Birth Place: Eschwege, Federal Republic of Germany, Death Date: Mar 1993, Father: Abraham Goldbach, Mother: Luise Mueller, SSN: 285420684, Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 
  10. Henriette Cohen, Naturalization petition, The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; ARC Title: Naturalization Petition and Record Books for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, Cleveland, 1907–1946; NAI: M1995; Record Group Title: Records of District Courts of the United States; Record Group Number: 21, Petition Number: 104154 – 104657, Ancestry.com. Ohio, Naturalization Petition and Record Books, 1888-1946 
  11. Mary Cohen, Age: 90, Birth Date: 21 Sep 1902, Death Date: 10 Feb 1993, Death Hospital: Other/Nursing Home, Death Place: Beachwood, Cuyahoga, USA, Father: Cohen, Occupation: Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants, Ohio Department of Health; Columbus, Ohio; Ohio Deaths, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007, Ancestry.com and Ohio Department of Health. Ohio, Death Records, 1908-1932, 1938-2018 
  12. William H Cohen, Birth Date: 29 Mar 1906, Death Date: 9 Apr 1995, Claim Date: 14 Dec 1970, SSN: 063144546, Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 

Blogging in a Pandemic, Part II

As we enter our third or really our fourth week of social distancing, self-quarantine, or whatever else you want to call it (no closer than six feet from anyone but each other, washing our hands religiously, no restaurants, no stores except when we can’t get delivery of groceries, and so on), I have to say that this week things suddenly seem much harder and much sadder. But we are still fortunately feeling fine despite having flown twice in March, and we feel very, very relieved, and are so grateful to be home.

And we also feel very grateful that so far our families are also okay and our friends. I almost am afraid to write that for fear of tempting the corona gods. But I know that magical thinking is just superstition. We all just have to keep staying apart, staying safe, and staying home. The anxiety sometimes feels unbearable, but my mantra has always been and continues to be—one day at a time.

We’ve taken some wonderful walks in places nearby, a few of which we’d never been to before. And we’ve taken many walks in our neighborhood, chatting with neighbors from at least six feet apart, and feeling a sense of community and warmth that can be overlooked when we all just drive in and out of our garages.

I’ve cleared out a drawer filled with expired medicines and other products, organized our “junk” drawer, and discovered dust in places you cannot imagine. Every day I try to think of at least one small project to accomplish, even if it is simply remembering to mail a check.

I’ve also started to accept that I will never do some of the things the internet keeps throwing at us: free courses online, free tours of museums and national parks, free videos of exercise classes, and so on. I just can’t focus long enough to do those things. Fortunately, doing genealogy in shorter spurts than usual and writing my blog still provide me with a way to escape from the pandemic pandemonium.

Now we are preparing for a Zoom seder. The planning has given me an opportunity to work with my nine-year-old grandson on that project. In fact, we’ve had more contact with our kids and grandsons during these weeks than we usually do, though not in person. I am reading the wonderful book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen with the older grandson and playing chess online with the younger one. And we’ve had Zoom cocktail hours with friends and with family. So it’s not all bad.

What really prompted me to write this particular post was one of those little benefits I’ve gotten from people spending all this time at home. My brother, who also has been spending more time at home than usual (but who is still working since he is a doctor), was going through a box of papers and photographs that had been my father’s and discovered this photograph.

I know this is not great quality (and my brother’s scan of it does not help). But I am so excited by this photograph. Let me explain why.

This is a photograph of my father as a baby being held by his father with my aunt sitting on her father’s left. My father had written the ages in the margins, and although he had not written the names, it was easy to deduce the identities from the relative ages and the facial characteristics using other photographs of my grandfather, of my aunt as a young child, and even of my father as a baby.

Eva Schoenthal and John Cohen, Sr. 1923

My aunt Eva Hilda Cohen and my grandmother Eva Schoenthal Cohen, c. 1925

My grandmother and my father, c. 1927

But what made this so special is that I had never seen a photograph of my grandfather with his children. All the photographs I had of him were either of him alone or with my grandmother. So seeing this photograph was really touching. Look at how he is looking at his son. There is such joy and love on his face.

It was especially touching because I knew that my father had had very few years living with his father before my grandfather became disabled from multiple sclerosis and was ultimately institutionalized for the rest of his life.  He died long before I was born, and for most of my life I knew almost nothing about him. I didn’t ask when I was young because my father seemed to be reluctant to talk about him. I didn’t know if that was out of sadness or anger or indifference. But I didn’t want to upset him either way.

One of the gifts of doing genealogy and talking to my father in the five or six years before he died in February 2019 was that he finally did talk a bit about his father. And in doing so, I realized that even though he had not spent many years living with his father, my father had loved him. His reluctance to talk about him was due to pain and sadness, not anger or indifference.

The fact that my father saved this photograph and hid it away in a box we never saw before is telling. This must have been a photograph he cherished, something special that he didn’t want mixed in with the hundreds of other photographs he had taken over the years of vacations and friends and family. I am so glad that my brother discovered it and that he shared it with me. It gave me new insights into my father and his father.

Have you discovered any wonderful photographs or other treasures while staying at home? Have you always planned to label and/or scan your family photographs? Maybe now is a good time.

The Man with the Mustache: Are You My Grandfather?

For Thanksgiving week, I am only posting once, so let me wish all of you a wonderful holiday (for those in the US, anyway). May we all be thankful for all the good we have in our lives—those ancestors and parents who paved the way for us, those we now share our lives and love with, be they spouses, relatives, or friends, and those who will come after us—our children, grandchildren and all our descendants.


For today, I want to update an earlier post where I reported on Ava aka Sherlock Cohn’s analysis of this photograph, taken in 1923, probably in Atlantic City. I am curious about your reactions to our thoughts on the man with the mustache. Is he my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen?

Based on earlier research and photographs along with Ava’s report, I am now fairly certain of the identities of most of those in the photograph, as I discussed here.  In the front row are Bessie Craig Cohen, probably her mother Sarah Tadley Craig, and Maurice Cohen, Jr. In the middle is Bessie’s niece Margaret Craig and behind Maurice Cohen Jr is his mother, Edna Mayer Cohen. Kneeling behind Edna is her husband, Maurice Cohen, Sr., my great-uncle. I also assume that the photograph was taken by my great-uncle Stanley Cohen based on the fact that he appears in a separate photograph quite obviously taken at the same time and place.

But who is the man kneeling on the left in the top photo, the man with the mustache? How does he connect to the rest of this group? It could not be Bessie Craig Cohen’s brother James because he died in 1918.1 It also could not be her brother Christopher if the photograph was taken in 1923 because he died in 1922.2 Edna Mayer Cohen had a brother Eugene born in 1893 who is the right age to be the man with the mustache. He was living in the Philadelphia area in the 1920s,3 so he is one possibility, but I have no photographs of Eugene.

Ava at first had a much more intriguing conjecture with respect to the man with the mustache. She saw “a resemblance also to the young man holding a hat in the Cohen & Co. Money Loan Office photograph from ten years earlier. If we are to assume that the young man in that photograph is John Nusbaum Cohen, born 1895, then we can assume that the man on the beach is also John Nusbaum Cohen who I estimated to be born circa 1893-1895.” Ava had done a previous report for me on the Cohen & Company photograph and had tentatively identified the young man holding the hat as my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr.

Cohen & Company photograph

That is, Ava speculated that the man with the mustache could also be my grandfather because he resembled that boy holding the hat. I can definitely see the resemblance. Look at the chin and lips, the deep set eyes, the angles of the ears, and the high forehead:

It would make sense for my grandfather to be in the 1923 beach photograph.  He was the right age (born in 1895 so 28 in 1923), and he would have been with his two brothers and their wives.

But my grandfather did not have a mustache in any of the photographs I have of him. Also, my grandfather definitely had attached earlobes. It’s hard to see in the beach photograph, but that man does not appear to have attached earlobes.

And where is my grandmother? They married in January, 1923, so if the beach photo is correctly dated as 1923, my grandparents were already married by then. My grandmother would have been pregnant in the summer of 1923 as my aunt was born in January, 1924. Why wouldn’t she have been at the beach with her husband and brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law?

So I was not convinced that the man with the mustache in the photograph was my grandfather, but I also wasn’t willing to dismiss the possibility.

Then I received a whole box of photographs and other papers and books from my cousin Marjorie Cohen’s cousin Lou. Inside that box was this treasure, my grandfather’s 1921 passport including this stunningly clear version of his passport photograph:

The beach photograph was taken two years later in 1923. I definitely see similiarities—in the shape of the face, the lips, the forehead and eyebrows, the chin, and the nose. The eyes are so hard to see in the beach photograph, but they are definitely deep-set. But that mustache threw me off, and I could also see differences. My grandfather’s ears looked smaller and seemed lower set on his face, the top of his ears set below his eyes rather than at the same level.

Later, while doing a search on my computer for pictures of my father, I tripped on this photograph. I have no idea where I got this photograph. And I had no memory of seeing it before. But it had been saved to my computer three years ago. Hmmm. Why didn’t I label it when I got it?

Anyway, it’s another photograph of my paternal grandparents, Eva Schoenthal and John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr., taken some years later than the other two I have of them together. My grandfather was wearing glasses, so I wonder whether he was already having some of the early symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Eva Schoenthal and John Cohen, Sr.

Does this help to identify the man with the mustache on the beach?

I sent these two additional photographs to Ava to see what she thought, and interestingly, she concluded that although she now believed that the young man holding the hat in the Cohen & Company photograph was my grandfather John Nusbam Cohen, Sr., she did not think that the man with the mustache on the beach was my grandfather. Ava wrote:

He does look similar and, as you know, I initially said that the man with the hat in Cohen & Co. is the same man with the mustache in the beach photo. But as I said, the man in the beach photo is about the same age as John in the [recently added] photo taken with Eva and the two look different. I’m figuring the John and Eva photo is circa 1928-1931. So John would be in his early 30s. I’m quite certain John is in Cohen & Co. and the fact that his hair was parted in the center in 1921 for his passport picture and again in about 1928 would make the 1923 beach photo an anomaly if he had grown a mustache and changed his hairstyle two years after his passport photo and then changed it back by the end of the twenties.

That mustache is the real problem for me. The change in hair style is less concerning—he was at the beach. Maybe he went swimming? But that mustache. Facial hair often makes a man look older, so maybe that’s why he looks more like he’s in his early 30s and not 28, as my grandfather would have been in 1923.

But as Ava said, none of the other photos I have of my grandfather show him with a mustache—not the passport photo from 1921, not the one taken with my grandmother in 1923, and not the two later photographs. In fact, the 1923 photograph of my grandparents is dated July 1923 on its reverse, as I discovered when Lou sent me Marjorie’s collection:

Eva Schoenthal and John Cohen, Jr. July 15, 1923

Did my grandfather grow a mustache sometime that summer after the July 1923 photograph was taken, or maybe before and then quickly shaved it off? Neither of his brothers ever had mustaches. Were they even in style then?

Ava and I decided we both needed to get some distance from the photograph and come back with fresh eyes.  So for over a month, I put this all aside as did Ava. Then we both returned to it.

I asked the Photo Restoration Free Service group on Facebook to help by adding some clarity to the photograph and removing the mustache. Here was the result:

We then studied all the photographs again, adding this new one to the mix.

As I looked over every adult photo of I have of my grandfather, I began to see that he looked different in every single one of them. I was totally befuddled, but now thought that the man on the beach wasn’t my grandfather.

Ava was also convinced that the man with the mustache was not my grandfather. She wrote:

I took a long look at John’s passport photo and compared it to the man on the beach. I still don’t believe the two are the same person. Besides the obvious clues like hairstyle and mustache, it appears that John’s ears and the ears of the man in the beach photo are not the same shape and even though they both seem to have attached earlobes, the pattern of the “shell” is different. … I looked at all the identified pictures of John that I have from you, including his baby picture. I don’t think the man on the beach is your grandfather. I also don’t think that the man on the beach is the person holding his hat in the storefront photo.

I responded that I agreed with her and wrote:

So here’s the $64,000 question—do you think the boy holding the hat in the Cohen & Company photo is my grandfather? 

Ava responded that she thinks it is likely that the boy holding his hat in the Cohen & Company photograph is my grandfather, but without more photographs, it’s impossible to be certain, especially given the blurriness of that photograph and the fact that the boy is squinting, making it difficult to see his eyes.

As I looked over the photographs yet another time, I made a new observation. My grandfather’s hairline, even as it receded, always seemed a bit further back along the temples, a bit more forward in the center. The man with the mustache seems to have a hairline that did not curve backwards in this way.

So in the end, Ava and I both concluded that the man with the mustache was not John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr., but that the boy holding the hat likely is.

What do you all think? Here for your final review are all the photographs that I know are of my grandfather, John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr. as well as the beach photo.

 


  1. James Craig, death certificate, Certificate Number: 140783, Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1967; Certificate Number Range: 140251-143500, Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1967 
  2. Christopher Craig, death certificate, Certificate Number: 23826, Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1967; Certificate Number Range: 023001-026000, Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1967 
  3. Eugene Mayer, 1930 US census, Census Place: Cheltenham, Montgomery, Pennsylvania; Page: 12B; Enumeration District: 0024; FHL microfilm: 2341815, Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census 

Cohens on the Beach: Another Case for Sherlock Cohn, The Photogenealogist

This photograph and the analysis of it will stick with me for a long time, probably forever. Why? Because it’s the last photograph that I asked my father about before he died in February, 2019.

A little background. A scan of that photograph and many others had been sent to me several years ago by a cousin-by-marriage named Lou; he and I were connected through my our mutual cousin, once removed, Marjorie Jane Cohen, the daughter of Bessie Craig, Lou’s great-aunt, and Stanley Cohen, my great-uncle.

In addition, in the summer of 2018 I connected with another Cohen cousin, Marcy, the granddaughter of Maurice Cohen, Sr., who was also my great-uncle, my grandfather John’s other brother. Marcy sent me several photographs including this one of Maurice, Sr., and his sons, Buddy and Junior, my father’s other first cousins.

Emanuel (Buddy), Maurice, Sr., and Maurice, Jr. (Junior) Cohen

Emanuel (Buddy), Maurice Sr., and Maurice Jr. Cohen

I already had the photographs below from Lou and used this one from Marcy to identify the people in these two. The bottom one was obviously Maurice Cohen, Sr., and looking at these two photographs with my father in the summer of 2018, we identified the woman as Maurice’s wife, Edna Mayer Cohen, the baby as their son Emanuel (Buddy) Cohen, born in 1922, and the little boy as their older son, Maurice Cohen, Jr., born in 1917.

Edna Mayer Cohen holding Buddy Cohen, 1922

Maurice Cohen Jr. and Maurice Cohen Sr., 1922

Based on these photographs, I could identify  the man kneeling in the right rear of the beach photograph as Maurice Sr. with his wife Edna sitting in front of him. Here are close-ups of the man and woman on the right side of the beach photograph; you can see they are the same people as the adults depicted in the three photos above:

It was also clear that the woman on the left side of the beach photo was Bessie Craig Cohen, Stanley Cohen’s wife, as you can see from these photos of Bessie that Lou had sent me from  Marjorie’s collection:

Stanley and Bessie (Craig) Cohen

Bessie Craig Cohen

Bessie Craig Cohen

Here is a closeup of the woman I believe is Bessie Craig Cohen in the beach photo:

But who who were the two children and the older woman in the center? And who was the man with the mustache in the rear left side of the photograph?

Although the back of the  beach photograph is dated 1923, I wondered if that was a mistake. I thought that perhaps the photo was really taken in 1933 because the girl in the middle resembled pictures I had of Marjorie when she was a girl:

 

Marjorie 1933

But Marjorie was born in 1925, meaning the photograph could not have been taken in 1923. I also speculated that the little boy could be my father, who was born in 1926. And perhaps the woman in the middle was Eva Seligman Cohen, my great-grandmother, Marjorie and my father’s paternal grandmother. I speculated that the photograph had been incorrectly dated 1923 when 1933 would have been more accurate.

So I showed the photograph to my father. He agreed with me about my identifications of Maurice, Sr., Edna, and Bessie. But he was adamant that the woman in the middle was not his grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen and that the little girl was not Marjorie. He pointed out that Marjorie did not have the high forehead of the little girl on the beach, as you can see above. He wasn’t as certain about the little boy since his face is partially hidden in the photograph. Nor could he identify the man with the mustache.

I knew this was another case for Ava “Sherlock” Cohn, who has done such outstanding work for me before. I recently received Ava’s report on the beach photograph, and once again she has done an incredibly thorough job of research and analysis and written a persuasive report on her conclusions. I wish my father was still alive because he would be so happy to read Ava’s report. She agreed with him that that is not Marjorie on the beach and that the woman is not my great-grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen, and my father loved to be right.

So who are these people? Thanks to Ava’s expert analysis, I believe I now have some of the answers. In order to explain, I will share, with Ava’s permission, some of her report.

First, Ava concluded that the photograph was correctly labeled as having been taken in 1923, not 1933 as I had hoped:

In order to properly date this photograph, it is important to look at the clothing of the beach-goers.

In general, the beachwear is appropriate for the time period of the early 1920s. The woman on the left side of the photograph (who has been identified as Bessie Craig, wife of Stanley Cohen) is wearing the most recognizable twenties bathing suit and swim cap. Below, left, is an example from around 1920 of a swim cap very similar to Bessie’s cap that covers her forehead to the eyebrows.  On the right is an example of a suit and cap from a 1919 advertisement for Tom Wye of Winchendon, Massachusetts, a knitting plant. Notice the white sash that is similar to the one on Bessie’s suit.

Likewise, the same type of white sash/belt can be seen on the man on the right in the back. Bessie’s dark stockings are a little old-fashioned for 1923 as stockings were generally worn pre-1923 when bare legs were the preference of style setters. The swimwear/streetwear worn by the others in the photograph is less revealing of the date but within the same time period of the early 1920s.

… Given all of the clothing/bathing suit styles being worn in the photograph, the date of the photograph is clearly closer to 1923 than to 1933 as Amy had speculated.

Once the photograph was dated in the early 1920s, it was clear that Marjorie and my father could not be the children in the photograph as they weren’t yet born.

Ava then estimated the ages and birth years of the people in the photograph:

 I am estimating the following age and approximate birth year (based on a 1923 photo date) of those in the photograph as follows:

    1. Woman seated in front—early to late 60s; birth year (approx.1854-1863)
    2. Young boy seated in front on the right—5-6 years old; birth year (1917-1918)
    3. Woman behind young boy—early 30s; birth year (1890-1891)
    4. Man kneeling on the right—early 30s; birth year (1890-1891)
    5. Young girl in middle—5-7 years old; birth year (1916-1918)
    6. Man kneeling on left—28-30; birth year (1893-1895)
    7. Woman seated on left (identified as Bessie Craig)—29 years old; birth year 1894

Based on these ages and birthdates and other photographs that I had shared with Ava as well as her own research, she made several possible identifications of the people in the photograph.

First, she concluded that the young boy was Maurice Cohen, Jr., the son of Maurice Sr. and Edna, who are right behind him in the photograph. Ava wrote;

Maurice’s eldest son, Maurice, Jr., was born in 1917 and would be age 6 in 1923. Though he resembles Amy’s father, John, Jr., (particularly his haircut) he has been identified in the photograph of Eva Seligman Cohen and Emanuel Cohen also taken in Atlantic City in 1922 as Maurice, Jr. (known as “Junior”) and, therefore, I believe the boy on the beach is Maurice, Jr.

Here is that 1922 photograph:

Emanuel Cohen, Eva Seligman Cohen, and Maurice Cohen Jr. 1922

Here is a closeup of the boy on the beach taken a year later:

As for the young girl, Ava’s hypothesis is that she is a niece of Bessie Craig Cohen, one of the two daughters of Bessie’s brother Christopher, Margaret or Mary Rita.  Ava located some photographs online of Christopher Craig’s daughters that show a resemblance. Margaret was born in 1918 and thus would have been about five in 1923 when the photograph was taken.

 

When I received Ava’s report, I contacted Lou, who is the son of one of those daughters and the nephew of the other.  He sent some additional photographs of his mother and aunt that support Ava’s conclusion that the girl in the photograph is Christopher Craig’s daughter. The girl in this 1934 photograph is Lou’s mother Mary Rita Craig. Note the resemblance to the girl on the beach, who was probably her older sister Margaret:

Mary Rita Craig, 1934

That brings me to the older woman in the center of the photograph. Ava agreed with my father that this woman was not his grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen. Ava based her conclusion on comparisons to other photographs of my great-grandmother Eva and noted the differences in their facial structure and appearance.

Eva Seligman Cohen

Then she considered other women in the extended family who might have been in the photograph. She narrowed the possibilities to Sarah Jane Tadley Craig, Bessie Craig Cohen’s mother, or Edna Mayer Cohen’s mother, Ella Stern Mayer. Ella was born in about 1860 (sources conflict), making her about 63 in 1923; Sarah was born in 1869, so would have been 54 in 1923.

Although Ava thought the woman on the beach appeared to be closer to 63 than 54 in age and also found some resemblances between that woman and Edna Mayer Cohen, she was not willing to rule out the possibility that the woman on the beach was Sarah Jane Tadley Craig.

In fact, when I sent Ava additional photographs of Marjorie, Sarah’s granddaughter, Ava was struck by the resemblance between the shape of Marjorie’s face, her chin in particular, and that of the woman on the beach. We hope to receive a photograph of Sarah Jane Tadley Craig from Lou that may make a final identification easier.

One other hint that that woman may be Sarah Craig came from an additional photograph Lou sent after receiving Ava’s report—a photograph that was obviously taken at the same time as the photograph we are analyzing:

Note that in this photograph Stanley has replaced the man with the mustache and only Stanley, Bessie, the young girl, and the older woman are in the photograph (with Edna in the background). After thinking about this, it occurred to me that this photograph was intended only to show the members of the Craig family: Bessie, her niece, and her mother, plus her husband, Stanley. Look how the older woman has her hand affectionaltely placed on Bessie’s leg, something a mother would do, but probably not the mother of a sister-in-law. That seems to corroborate the theory that the older woman was Sarah Craig, not Ella Mayer.

But who was the man with the mustache? How does he connect to the rest of this group? That is the subject of post to come at a later time. Ava and I were going back and forth, both of us somewhat uncertain about that one, so she suggested we get some distance from it and revisit “in a while.” So I am heeding her advice and will postpone that discussion after a break from staring at that man with the mustache over and over and over.

England, Part IV: Visiting My Ancestors’ Neighborhood

One of the reasons I wanted to revisit London on this trip to England was that when we first visited London in 1995, I had no idea that I had ancestors who once lived there. I did not start doing family history research until 2012, and sometime thereafter I learned that my three-times great-grandfather Hart Levy Cohen was born in Amsterdam, but had immigrated to England and settled in London by 1799. He married my three-times great-grandmother Rachel Jacobs at the Great Synagogue in London in 1812, and together they had five children born in London, including my great-great-grandfather Jacob Cohen, who was born in 1824. By 1851, however, Hart and all his children had left London and settled in Philadelphia. 1

But from at least 1799 until 1851, I had direct ancestors living in London, and I wanted to know more about where they lived and what their community was like. I’d done some research several years back about the area and about the treatment of Dutch Jews, known as Chuts, so I knew that the neighborhood ranged from poor to middle class in those days and that Dutch Jews like my three-times great-grandparents were often treated as outsiders in the community.2

I was fortunate to find Isabelle Seddons, a historian who does walking tours of London including the former Jewish neighborhoods of Whitechapel and Spitalfields. I knew that the Cohens had lived on New Goulston Street in 1841 and at Number 8, Landers Buildings on Middlesex Street, in 1851, both addresses located in Spitalfields in the Whitechapel district of London. I gave Isabelle the information I had, and we arranged to meet at 2 pm on May 30 at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.

What made the tour even better is that my friend and cousin-by-marriage Shirley and her husband Ron were able to join us. Shirley and I had connected years back when I was trying to sort out the three Selinger brothers who married three of my Cohen relatives and Shirley was trying to learn more about her Selinger ancestors. I was quite excited that we would finally get to meet in person. Shirley kindly brought me a copy of an 1875 map of the neighborhood showing New Goulston and Middlesex Streets.

The four of us on the tour

Shirley and I standing in front of the pub where we and our husbands shared some beers and some stories after the tour

Here’s a current map of the area we visited.

 

Isabelle started the tour with an overview of the Jewish history of the area. She pointed out that during World War II, the neighborhood was heavily bombed by the Nazis because of the ports that were (and are) located nearby. Thus, many if not most of the original buildings are gone, as can be seen from this photograph and from others.

According to Isabelle, the Whitechapel-Spitalfields area was predominantly Jewish from the 18th century until World War II, when the neighborhood was evacuated because of the bombing. After World War II, the Jews did not return to this area of London, and a new wave of immigrants settled in the area. Today it is primarily a Bengali neighborhood where mosques have replaced synagogues.

This building was originally a church, then later a synagogue, and now a mosque. See https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1240697

The area was always poor, though some of the Jewish merchants were better off than most of the residents. As Hart Cohen and his sons were china merchants and living on a street that Charles Booth designated on his historic poverty map of London as less poverty stricken than others, I assume they were among those who were somewhat better off. Nevertheless they left London by 1851.

The largest influx of Jews came in the late 19th century from Eastern Europe, long after my Cohen ancestors had emigrated. They came in huge numbers and lived in terrible conditions, and much of what is left in the area that reflects its Jewish past dates from that era of immigration and afterwards, not from the early 19th century when my family lived there.

Isabelle took us to see the archway built in the late 19th century as part of a housing project supported and promoted by the Rothschild family and other wealthy English Jews to provide the poverty-stricken Jews living in the area with decent housing. It was called the Four Percent Industrial Dwellings Company because the investors were promised a four percent return on their investment.  The housing units were destroyed during the war, but the arch remains as a reminder of this early attempt at urban renewal.

One Jewish entrepreneur had what today would seem like an excellent business idea.  He wanted to create an indoor market where various vendors could sell their wares—food, clothing, household goods—all in one covered space. In today’s world where places like Covent Garden Market and Faneuil Hall Marketplace thrive as well as all the shopping malls that exist throughout the US, such an idea would seem to be a no-brainer and an instant success. But in those times people—vendors and shoppers—rejected the idea, and the owner converted his building into a textile factory. Today it houses graduate departments of Glasgow Caledonian University offering advanced degrees in, among many other areas, in International Fashion Marketing and Luxury Brand Marketing.

Most of the Jews made their living in the late nineteenth century as tailors or working at a nearby matchstick factory, and working conditions were terrible. In 1888 the matchstick workers went on strike after organizing themselves at Hanbury Hall, a building originally built as a Huguenot chapel in 1719. The hall became a center for union and radical activity during the late 19th century. Today it operates as a café and venue for social events.

Hanbury Hall

The poverty of the Jewish residents of the area was also reflected in this building, which was built as a soup kitchen for poor Jews, as the engraved inscription indicates, and still operates as a soup kitchen today for the newer poor immigrants in the area.

Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor

But there are still some signs that this was once a Jewish neighborhood, such as these old store signs:

And this Star of David at the top of a drainpipe. This is the Christ Church primary school on Brick Lane, one of the major thoroughfares in the area. It was founded in 1708 as a parish school, but when the building on Brick Lane was built in 1874, most of the children in the neighborhood who attended the school were Jewish. According to Isabelle, the Star of David was added to reflect the school’s tolerance and openness to students of all backgrounds.

Christ Church Primary School with Star of David on the drain pipe

We saw another Star of David with what appears to be the scales of justice inside it so perhaps this was once a lawyer’s office.

UPDATE: A member of the Tracing The Tribe group on Facebook provided me with this information about the Star of David below: “The interesting Magen David at 88 Whitehall is not on scales but is actually shown as supported by two lions of Judah wielding sabres. Beneath is a pair of medallions, decorated with Menorahs. It was designed by Arthur Szyk in the mid 1930s. It is a staple of every Jewish London tour and there is actually a more ornate but similar design also by Szyk located inside.”

And we found an old mezuzah painted over a doorway at this house:

The relief sculptures above the windows and door on this building reflect that this was at one time a Jewish bakery:

Once a Jewish bakery

There is also still one active synagogue in the neighborhood, the Sandy’s Row Synagogue. Although the synagogue was not housed in this building until 1867 after my ancestors had left the area, this could be the congregation that my ancestors joined as it was founded by Dutch Jewish immigrants to the area.

But Hart Cohen and Rachel Jacobs were married at the Great Synagogue in 1812, and their son Jacob, my great-great-grandfather, and my great-great-grandmother Sarah Jacobs were also married at the Great Synagogue in 1844. Unfortunately, the Great Synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis and no longer exists though Isabelle did show us where it once stood.

Where the Great Synagogue once stood

I asked Isabelle how a synagogue could survive today in this community, and she explained that there are a number of Orthodox Jews who work in downtown London who come to the synagogue for daily minyans before and after work.

We also heard the story of Jacob Adler, an actor and violinist who played in the Yiddish theater. His former home was marked with a plaque of a violin in the sidewalk. Adler had immigrated to London from Odessa where he had already had a career in theater. After Yiddish theater was banned in Russia in the 1880s, he came to London and within a short time had established his own theatrical club on what was then Prince Street in the Spitalfields neighborhood. His theater was quite popular until a fire broke out and the audience panicked. In the stampede to exit the building, seventeen people were killed. After that Adler lost his audience and so immigrated to the US, where he became a well-known actor on the Yiddish stage in New York.

The last few stops on our tour were of the streets near and where my three-times great-grandparents lived between 1841 and 1851, according to the census records and other records: New Goulston Street and Middlesex Street. The Landers Buildings identified  on Rachel Jacobs’ death certificate in 1851 no longer exist, and Isabelle had no luck finding where they were located or what they were, though we do know they were somewhere on Middlesex Street. Both streets are located in the area where Dutch Jews once lived and where the principal market for the neighborhood was located on Petticoat Lane. As you can see in the photograph below, it still is the setting for an open air market.

Petticoat Lane

These other photographs are my attempts to capture a sense of where my ancestors once lived. I don’t know whether any of these buildings were even there in 1841. But 180 years ago or so, my Cohen ancestors walked, lived, and worked on these streets:

And like so many neighborhoods in cities in the United States, this once poor neighborhood is today being gentrified by young people who want to live close to where they work in downtown London. In many of the photographs you can see the skyscrapers of the financial district looming behind the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields. Isabelle told us that this house is now worth four million pounds:

So this neighborhood that was for almost two hundred years a Jewish neighborhood and then a Bengali neighborhood is now becoming a chic place for millennials and others looking to live close to work.

Signs of gentrification

Will they tear down what remains of the evidence that the area was once Jewish? Will the Stars of David and Jewish signs and other reminders disappear as yet another upscale community of coffee shops and expensive restaurants takes over? I hope not, and if so, I am glad I got to see this area before that happens.

 

 

 

 


  1. My three-times great-grandmother Rachel died in London on January 9, 1851, and Hart and the two children still living with him in England came to the US shortly after her death. I still haven’t found out where she was buried. 
  2. See my earlier blog posts here and here

A Life Well Lived

I am slowly emerging from the initial period of mourning and trying to re-enter the world. My father and my concern for my mother continue to fill almost all the spaces of my brain and heart. But Jewish tradition encourages one to return to a regular routine—to work, to school, to ordinary life—once the initial period of mourning is over. So I am going to try.  And that means returning to my family history work and to my blog. It also means picking up where I left off in reading the blogs I follow.

For today, let me just share a bit more biographical information about my father. I described his personality and interests a bit in my last post, but I’d like to tell a little more about his life, especially his early life.  Next time I will return to the Goldsmiths, my father’s cousins through his maternal great-grandmother Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein.

My father was born on November 15, 1926, in Philadelphia, to Eva Schoenthal and John Nusbaum Cohen. He was named John Nusbaum Cohen, Junior, which is an unusual thing to do in Ashkenazi Jewish families where the tradition is to name a child for a deceased relative. But that break with tradition was consistent with the assimilation of his family. Although my father was confirmed in a Reform Jewish temple, his family was not religious or traditional in any way.

When he was just a young boy, both of his parents became ill and were unable to care for him. His father had multiple sclerosis and eventually was institutionalized; my father had no memory of him walking unassisted. His mother suffered a breakdown and also was hospitalized and then cared for by her parents. My father and his sister Eva were taken care of by their paternal grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen, whose kindness and generosity I’ve written about before.

Eva and John Cohen, Jr. (my father and his sister)

My father was an excellent student; he also loved music and art. One of his favorite childhood memories was playing the role of Buttercup in Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore when he was at an all-boys summer camp. He often sang his parts from that show to us when we were children. He also enjoyed summer trips to Atlantic City with his grandmother and sister.

Just weeks before his thirteenth birthday, his beloved grandmother died in Philadelphia. The doctor who came to attend to her at home had to tell my father and aunt that their grandmother had died. There was no one obvious to take care of the two children, and for quite a while they were shuttled back and forth among various cousins for a week or so at a time. Eventually their mother was healthy enough to come back and take care of them.

My father graduated from high school and started college, but on February 14, 1945, when he was eighteen, he was drafted into the US Navy to serve during World War II. He was based in Chicago and then in Newport News, Virginia, doing intelligence work, until he was honorably discharged on August 1, 1946. He returned to Philadelphia and to Temple University to continue his education, but later transferred to Columbia University’s School of Architecture to complete his degree. He was encouraged and inspired by his uncle, Harold Schoenthal, to pursue a career in architecture, a decision he never regretted.

In the Navy

During the summer of 1950 when he was still a student at Columbia, my father worked as a waiter at Camp Log Tavern, a resort in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.  One weekend he spotted a young red-headed woman across the room and said to a fellow waiter, “That’s the girl I am going to marry.” Although she was more interested in another waiter during her stay, my father asked her for her number before she departed. She gave him the wrong number and a shortened version of her last name, which was Goldschlager. According to family lore, he searched the Bronx phone book until he found her. She was so impressed that she agreed to go out with him, and after that, they became inseparable.

They were married one year later on September 9, 1951. I came along eleven months later, just two months after my father’s graduation from Columbia.

My father and my grandmother at his college graduation in 1952

In the years that followed, my parents had two more children, moved to the suburbs, and lived a good life. Theirs was a true love match, and they adored each other through 67 years of marriage. Yes, there were hard times and harsh words at times, but I never once doubted that they were devoted to each other.

My father worked first for an architectural firm in New York City, commuting with all the other fathers. But not many years later he left the firm and established his own practice, a practice he maintained into his 90s, working with people and developers on houses, office buildings, additions, and other work.

Although my father had a hard childhood, his adult life was happy and fulfilling. He loved his family, and he loved his work. He was active in his local community, working as a volunteer fireman and as a member of the planning board.  When he died at age 92 on February 16, 2019, he was a well-loved and much respected member of his community and an adored husband, father, grandfather, uncle, and great-grandfather. His was truly a life well lived.