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.

 

 

My Father

With much love and sadness, I share that my father passed away this weekend after 92 years of a life well lived. He was a man of great intellect, incredible curiosity, a passion for art, architecture, and music, and a lifelong commitment to progressive values—peace, justice, and human rights. He loved cats and dogs and the beaches of Cape Cod. But above all else, he was a man who passionately loved his family, especially my mother, whom he adored for 67 years of marriage.

Those of you who follow my blog may have seen the occasional comments my dad left on the blog. He was a devoted reader of the blog and supportive of and fascinated in the family history I was uncovering. He also was a constant source of information about his family and, most importantly, the inspiration for all the research I have done about all my paternal lines (which is probably 80-90% of what I’ve done since I have had much more luck finding information about my father’s side than my mother’s side). I will miss him deeply and will undoubtedly share more about him as time goes on.

For now I am taking a short break from blogging, but I will return soon because I know he would have wanted me to continue telling the stories of his many relatives.

Here are just a few photos.

My father at 9 months old

John Nusbaum Cohen, Jr.

In the Navy

Florence and John Cohen 1951

My father with Nate June 2010

 

Cohen and Company Photograph: Is That My Grandfather?

Hello, everyone! I have returned from my break and am ready to dive back into my exploration of my Goldschmidt/Goldsmith relatives. But before I do, I want to share my second experience working with “Sherlock Cohn, the Photo Genealogist” aka Ava Cohn.

In the course of my genealogy research, many cousins have shared photographs with me, and fortunately almost all the time they can identify the people in the photographs. But occasionally I have received photographs with unidentified people in them, and sometimes those photographs just stay in my head and bother me. Who are those people? How can I figure out who they are?

This is one of those photographs, a photograph that belonged to my late cousin Marjorie Cohen, my father’s first cousin, the daughter of Stanley Cohen, my grandfather’s brother. The only person I was fairly confident I could identify in the photograph was Marjorie’s father Stanley, the man on the far left in the photograph.

Cohen & Company photograph

Here is a photograph on Stanley taken just a few years later when he was serving in World War I. You can see the resemblance to the man on the left.

Stanley Cohen World War I

The group photograph was taken in Philadelphia in front of the Cohen & Company Money Loan store, which was part of the pawnshop business started by my great-great-grandfather Jacob Cohen in Philadelphia in the 1850s and then carried on by many of his sons, including my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen, who ran this particular store. I wondered whether these five men were also grandsons of Jacob Cohen. I was particularly curious about whether my grandfather John Cohen was one of the men standing in front of the store.

When I connected this summer with my second cousin Marcy, the granddaughter of my grandfather’s other brother, Maurice Cohen, she sent me some photographs of Maurice and of Maurice’s sons, Buddy and Maurice, Jr.

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

My great-uncle Maurice Cohen, Sr.

I also had photographs of my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen, my great-uncle Stanley, and my grandfather John. Having had fabulous success with Ava Cohn, aka Sherlock Cohn, the Photo Genealogist, in the past, I decided to have Ava analyze these photographs to see if she could identify the people in the Cohen & Company photograph.

Emanuel Cohen, my great-grandfather

Eva Schoenthal and John Cohen, 1923

John and Eva Cohen
c. 1930

John Nusbaum Cohen c. 1894

Ava’s work is remarkable. Her attention to detail and the research she did to try and answer my questions is incredibly professional and thorough. Although she could not definitively identify all the people in the photograph, she certainly narrowed down the possibilities and made some very helpful and persuasive comments and suggestions. With her permission, I am going to summarize and excerpt from her report.

First, Ava analyzed whether the date that I’d been told was on the back of the photograph—April 1913—was accurate.  She based her analysis in part on the type and content of the photograph:

…the scan appears to me to be a brown color, indicating a platinum print (sepia color) used generally from 1880-1930. Platinum prints often fade and there is some fading of this photograph. However, after 1920 most photographs were gelatin silver prints that had crisper black and whites than the platinum prints, another indication that this photograph was taken before 1920. … The photograph was taken outside. Since one of the men is wearing a sweater, it is appropriate to say that the photograph was taken in a cooler month, but obviously not winter. This is consistent with the presumed date of April, 1913. 

Ava then analyzed the clothing worn by the people in the photograph, labeling them A through E from left to right:

  1. Person A is wearing a coat sweater with V-neckline, knit cuffs, two patch pockets and six buttons. This dates from the 1911-1912 period.
  2. All the men are wearing shirts with detached collars from around 1908 and skinny ties that were popular in 1912.
  3. Person B is wearing a high cut vest also with 6 buttons, a style found in ads from 1912.
  4. Persons C and E are wearing jackets that are slightly fitted at the waistline. Person D is wearing an older jacket that is less fitted.  The slightly fitted waist style of men’s jackets was popular from 1912-1915. Also in that time period men’s jackets had 1, 2 or 3 buttons as can be seen on the men’s jackets in the photograph.
  5. Person D is holding a soft felt Optimo shape Panama hat from about 1912.
  6. Persons A, B, D and E have their hair combed back in a pompadour style with no part. Men wore their hair in this manner in the 1912-1913 period. Person C has a variation of this style with a side part.

From these observations, Ava concluded that the date of April 1913 on the photograph was likely accurate.

Then using that date and her estimation of the age of the five individuals in the photograph, Ava deduced the likely birth year of each of the five:

A: 24 years old. Born circa 1889.

B: 15 years old. Born circa 1898.

C: 24-26 years old. Born circa 1887-1889.

D: 18-19 years old. Born circa 1894-1895

E: 25 years old. Born circa 1888.

As noted above, I was already reasonably certain based on other photographs that Person A was my great-uncle Stanley Cohen, Marjorie’s father, who was in fact born in 1889. Ava’s analysis further confirmed that conclusion by relying on the physical descriptions of Stanley in his draft registrations for World War I and World War II. The World War II registration indicated that Stanley was 5’9” tall, and from that fact Ava was able to compare him to the other men in the photograph to reach some conclusions about their heights.

Using this information as well as information from draft registrations, census records, directories, and other sources, Ava reached the following hypotheses about the other four people in the photograph:

B: Simon LB Cohen, born 1898.

C: Samuel S. Cohen, born 1887.

D: John Nusbaum Cohen, born 1895.

E: Morris N. Cohen, born 1887.

For person B, Ava noted that Simon LB Cohen was the only grandson of my great-great-grandfather Jacob Cohen who would have been that young (roughly 15) in 1913. I would love for that to be Simon because I know so much about what happened to him just a few years after this photograph was taken. Simon served valiantly in World War I, was seriously injured and presumed (mistakenly) killed in action, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his bravery. He died as a young man in 1934, perhaps as a consequence of his time in the war.

Croix de Guerre awarded to Simon LB Cohen in 1918

But we can’t be sure that this boy was even related to the Cohens (or that anyone in the photograph other than Stanley was). Perhaps they are just a bunch of friends. But if we assume that they are all Cohens and all grandsons of Jacob Cohen, then Simon LB Cohen is a likely candidate to be person B. Since there are no draft registration descriptions of Simon nor any photographs, it is impossible to know for sure whether this is Simon in the photograph.

I was also very intrigued by Ava’s hypothesis that persons C and E  could be the twin brothers, Morris and Samuel Cohen, sons of my great-grandfather’s older brother Joseph Cohen and grandsons of my great-great-grandfather Jacob Cohen. Morris and Samuel were born on August 22, 1887, in Cape May, New Jersey, but in 1910 they were living with their parents in Philadelphia, both working as salesmen in a department store, according to the 1910 census. Ava thought that although they were not identical, they did look like brothers and appeared to be about the same age—24 to 26 years old.

Ava’s analysis seemed very convincing, so I was motivated to search for descendants of Morris Cohen and Samuel Cohen to see if they had any photographs of the twin brothers. With the help of a good friend who knew one of Samuel’s grandchildren, I was able to make a connection. Unfortunately the grandchildren’s memory and photographs of their grandfather Samuel (displayed below) did not confirm that he was either Person C nor Person E in the photograph so I am back to square one in identifying those two men.

Samuel Cohen. Courtesy of his grandchildren

Samuel Cohen, courtesy of his grandchildren

But it was Person D I was most interested in, as I hoped he was my grandfather John Cohen, who would have been almost seventeen and a half in April 1913 and thus close to the age of Ava’s estimated age of Person D. Also, Ava pointed out that on his 1921 passport application, my grandfather’s height was reported to be 5’6” and that his World War I draft registration described him as short; certainly Person D is a shorter man than Persons A, C and E. Those two factors pointed to Person D being my grandfather.

John Cohen Sr. World War I draft registration

John N Cohen passport application page 2

But comparing Person D to the photographs of my grandfather created doubts for Ava (and myself) as to whether Person D was my grandfather. My grandfather had very distinctive eyes—very deep set and slanted down; Person D is squinting, making it hard to see his eyes, so it is hard to tell if they are the same as my grandfather’s eyes. Ava also pointed out that Person D has a widow’s peak whereas there does not appear to be a widow’s peak in the photographs of my grandfather.

Here is a closeup of Person D and then several of my grandfather—in 1921,1923 and 1930. In addition, Ava believes (and I agree) that the man holding a baby in the fifth photograph is probably my grandfather.  I know we see what we want to see, but the more I study these, the more I think Person D might be my grandfather. The loss of the widow’s peak could be from his obviously receding hairline. Look at the difference between 1921 and 1923. In 1930 he is wearing a hat—perhaps to hide his balding?

One other thing I noticed in the photographs of my grandfather—he had attached earlobes. Unfortunately when I zoom into the Cohen & Company photo, it’s hard to tell whether Person D also has attached earlobes.

 

 

John Cohen in 1921

John Cohen in 1923

John Cohen, 1930

Could this be my grandfather John Cohen? And who is the baby?

I now believe that Person D is my grandfather, but I know that that’s what I am hoping for so I don’t trust my judgement. Ava was not certain, but thought it was possible.

What do you think?

Although it was not possible for Ava to identify all of the people in the group photograph, she certainly narrowed the field and provided solid and convincing reasons for her conclusions. Thank you, Ava, for a wonderful job on this extremely difficult project!

 

 

Finding Buddy and Junior and a New Second Cousin!

I’ve been on a long break from blogging since July 13, and it was wonderful to be with the extended family on our long-loved beach. And although I was not doing much research during this time, a family research discovery fell in my lap.  I made an amazing connection with a second cousin—yes, a SECOND cousin! Someone I had never known about and not found despite years of research.

Actually, my newly discovered second cousin found me—through the blog, of course. Over three and a half years ago I posted this question: Who Is The Little Boy? with the following photographs:

The man on the left is my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen, and the woman next to him is my great-grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen. But I had no idea until last week who that little boy was. He resembled my father as a little boy, but he is not my father.  Here’s a photograph of my father at a similar age:

Doesn’t my dad resemble that little boy?

The little boy appeared in this photograph as well. I thought the man on the right was Stanley Cohen, my father’s uncle, my grandfather’s brother. But who was the man on the left? And who was the little boy?

And here he is again—same little boy with a man I believed might have been my grandfather or my great-uncle Maurice, but I was not sure.

So who was the little boy? The question had been left unanswered for three and a half years. Until last week.

My new cousin responded all these years later by telling me that the little boy was in fact her father—Maurice L. Cohen, Junior.  Maurice, who my father knew as Junior, was my father’s first cousin. He was born in 1917, making him nine years older than my father. Junior had a younger brother Buddy, born in 1922. They had both gone to camp with my father when he was a boy growing up in Philadelphia.  Junior and Buddy and their mother moved to California in around 1938 after their father Maurice L. Cohen Sr.’s death in 1931. My father never saw or heard from his cousins again.

In researching my Cohen family, I had not found anything more about Maurice, Jr., and my father thought he’d never married or had children. Well, it turned out that “Junior” had married and had a daughter, Marcy, who is my second cousin. And Marcy generously shared with me photographs and stories about her father, her uncle Bud, and even a photograph of her grandfather, who died long before she was born.

For one thing, I learned what drew the family to California. Junior had been attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania when he received a full scholarship to attend the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California. He decided to take advantage of the scholarship and moved to California to finish his education.  His mother Edna and younger brother Bud followed him to the West Coast (Bud was still in high school at the time), and none of them ever returned to live in Philadelphia again. Edna and Bud settled in Beverly Hills, and Bud eventually attended UCLA and later married. He and his wife Helga lived in Santa Monica and did not have children.

While at the College of the Pacific, Maurice, Jr., met his wife, Laverne “Nicky” Nicolas, who was from San Francisco. After completing college, Maurice served in World War II and then returned to California where he and Nicky settled in Sacramento. Their first child, Ronald Maurice Cohen, was born on June 2, 1943, and died just two and half months later on August 14, 1943. Marcy was born several years later. Maurice, Jr., was a budget analyst for the State of California until his retirement at age 65; he is reputed to have known more about California finances than anyone. He died on March 30, 1988, and his wife Nicky died five years later on May 1, 1993.

Here are some of the wonderful photographs that Marcy shared with me, bringing to life my father’s first cousins and their father Maurice, Sr., my great-uncle. Fortunately my father was with me when I received these photographs last week, and I had the great pleasure of sharing them with him and seeing his face light up with recognition when he saw the faces of Junior and Buddy, faces he had not seen in over 80 years.

Emanuel Philip “Buddy” Cohen, Maurice Cohen, Sr., and Maurice Cohen “Junior.”

My great-uncle Maurice Cohen, Sr.

Buddy and Junior Cohen, c. 1932, my first cousins, once removed.

Maurice L. Cohen, Jr., during World War II, US Navy

Emanuel Philip “Bud” Cohen

Maurice L Cohen, Jr.

Now that I know what Maurice, Sr., looked like, it’s clear to me that he is the man in the third photo above, standing with his son and namesake, Maurice, Jr.  I often express envy of those who have so many photographs of their ancestors and other relatives. And those people often tell me not to give up hope. This experience renewed my hope.

And I cannot tell you how happy I am to have connected with a second cousin after all these years. Thank you, Marcy, for finding me and for telling me who that little boy was!

Walking in Their Footsteps

About two months ago we did a crazy thing.  We drove five and a half hours from western Massachusetts to Philadelphia and spent just 24 hours in the City of Brotherly Love before turning around and returning home.

So how did this crazy thing happen? I had received an email from my third cousin Jan Sluizer. Her great-grandmother Elizabeth Cohen was the sister of my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen.  We are both the great-great-granddaughters of Jacob Cohen and the three-time great-granddaughters of Hart Levy Cohen.  Jan lives now in California, but she grew up in Philadelphia and was coming east for a high school reunion.  She wanted to know if we could get together.

For several years I have wanted to visit Philadelphia—the place where my earliest American ancestors came in the 1840s, the place where my father was born and raised. Of course, I’d been to Philadelphia many times growing up to visit my grandmother and my aunt.  But I’d never seen where my ancestors lived or were buried. I’d never even seen the places where my father had lived. In fact, I’d never seen Independence Hall or the other historic sights in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia, City Hall

I knew that to do everything I wanted to do, I’d need more than 24 hours. But it has been a hectic fall with far too many weekends away from home.  The most we could do was get there on Saturday and leave on Sunday. And to top it off, a major storm was predicted for Sunday, meaning we’d have to hit the road even earlier than we had once hoped.

It was indeed crazy. But I am so glad we did it.

In the hours we had on Saturday, I managed to accomplish a few of the things I’d wanted to do. First, we took a tour of all the places where my Philadelphia ancestors had lived, starting with my great-great-grandparents Jacob Cohen and Sarah Jacobs and my three-times great-grandparents John Nusbaum and Jeanette Dreyfuss all the way to the last place my father lived in Philadelphia before moving to New York and marrying my mother in 1951.  Here in the order in which my family occupied these places (though not in the order we saw them) are my photographs from that day.

Jacob Cohen lived for many years at 136 South Street. His pawnshop was nearby. And this is where he and my great-great-grandmother Sarah Jacobs raised their thirteen children, including my great-grandfather Emanuel.  I do not think these are the same buildings that were there in the in the mid=19th century, but this is the street where they lived.

136 South Street, where Jacob Cohen and Sarah Jacobs raised their children

South Street, looking towards the river

For decades the Cohens lived in this neighborhood where many of the German Jewish immigrants lived.

But my other early-arriving ancestor John Nusbaum lived on the north side of Philadelphia during this same period at 433 Vine Street and 455 York Street. We drove down these streets, but again the buildings that were there in the era are long gone, and I didn’t take any photographs here. It was mostly warehouse buildings and abandoned or run-down buildings.

Since my Nusbaum ancestor was a successful merchant, I imagine that in his time this area was quite desirable, in fact more desirable than area south of the city where the Cohens lived.  Today, however, the South Street neighborhood is quite chic and inhabited by young professionals and clearly more desirable than the neighborhood where the Nusbaums lived.

Although my great-great-grandparents Bernard Seligman and Frances Nusbaum lived almost their whole married life in Santa Fe, their last years were spent in Philadelphia at 1606 Diamond Street. Bernard died in 1903, and Frances in 1905.  During that same period Bernard’s daughter Eva Seligman Cohen, my great-grandmother, and my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen were also living on Diamond Street. That neighborhood is also in North Philadelphia.  Here is a Google Streetview of that street today. I don’t think these were the buildings that were there in the early 1900s, but I am not sure.

I had better luck as I moved further into the 20th century.  In 1920 Emanuel Cohen and Eva Seligman Cohen, my great-grandparents, were living on Green Street close to what is now the downtown district of Philadelphia.  It is a lovely tree-lined street with cafes and historic brick townhouses in what is clearly a gentrified neighborhood. I wonder what it was like when my great-grandparents and my grandfather John Cohen lived there in 1920.

2116 Green Street—where in 1920 my great-grandparents Emanuel and Eva Seligman Cohen lived as well as my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen

We did not have time to get to the West Oak Lane neighborhood in North Philadelphia where my father lived with his parents in 1930 at 6625 North 17th Street, so that’s on my list for when we return.But here is a Google Streetview shot of that street:

6600 block of North 17th Street, Philadelphia

I did find the apartment building where my father and aunt were living with their grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen in 1939 when she died. It is in the downtown area of Philadelphia and still called the Westbury Apartments.

Westbury Apartments on 15th Street where my great-grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen lived with my father and aunt in 1939

In 1940, my father, aunt, and grandmother were living in North Philadelphia at 106 Venango Street.  That building is no longer there unfortunately.  It is now a commercial area with warehouses and factory-like buildings.

But In 1950 they were living on North 21st Street in this building—another lovely tree-lined street not far from the center of the city.

North 21 Street in Philadelphia where my father, aunt, and grandmother lived in 1950

136 North 21st Street, my father’s home in 1950

Touring the city this way was enlightening because it provided some insights into the patterns of gentrification and how they have changed since 1850.  My ancestors for the most part started in the southern part of the city and as they moved up the economic ladder, they moved north of the city to an area that was newer, less crowded, and more “gentrified.” But today that pattern has reversed. Young professionals want to live close to downtown and have returned to the neighborhoods closest to the center of the city like Green Street and South Street.  The neighborhoods around Venango Street and Diamond Street were long ago abandoned by those moving out to the suburbs in the post-World War II period and are now depressed sections of the city.

After a visit to the National Museum of American Jewish History and the Liberty Bell and a walk along Market Street, we met Jan for dinner in the area known as Rittenhouse Square, another gentrified neighborhood with lots of boutiques, bars, and restaurants. Meeting Jan was a delight. We had long ago connected by email when Jan shared all the stories about her father Mervyn Sluizer, Jr., and her grandfather Mervyn, Sr., and the rest of her family. Now we were able to meet face to face, share a meal together, and connect on a deeper level than email allows.

Independence Hall

The Liberty Bell

The following day the rain began, but I was determined to try and see where my ancestors were buried. Our first stop was Mikveh Israel synagogue, where we met Rabbi Albert Gabbai, who took us to the second oldest Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia. Mikveh Israel has been in Philadelphia since before the American Revolution and was where my earliest Cohen ancestors belonged. It was then located about a mile from 136 South Street where Jacob Cohen lived. Although the original building is long, long gone, the synagogue still is in that same neighborhood, now on North 4th Street.  According to the rabbi, it now attracts empty nesters who have moved into downtown Philadelphia. Another example of urban gentrification. Jews who long ago left downtown are now returning in their later years.

Rabbi Gabbai drove us to the Federal Street cemetery, the second oldest Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, where he patiently and generously guided us with a map to see the gravestones of Jacob and Sarah Cohen as well as the location of Hart Levy Cohen’s grave (his stone has either sunk into the ground or otherwise disappeared).

Federal Street cemetery of Congregation Mikveh Israel

Location of Hart Levy Cohen’s grave. My 3x-great-grandfather

Jacob and Sarah’s grave is marked by one of the largest monuments in the cemetery:

While we walked through the cemetery, I also spotted the stones for Jan’s other great-great-grandparents, Bernard and Margaret Sluizer, and her three-times great-grandmother Jeanette Sluizer. I was very touched when I realized that Bernard and Margaret Sluizer are buried in the plots that abut Jacob and Sarah’s plots.

Grave of Meyer and Margaret Sluizer

I also found a stone for Joseph Jacobs, my 3-times great uncle, brother of Sarah Jacobs Cohen.

Joseph Jacobs, brother of Sarah Jacobs Cohen

Unfortunately, it was pouring by this time, and I could not find any small stones to put on the gravestones to mark my visit, which left me feeling as if I’d let my ancestors down.

After leaving Rabbi Gabbai, we drove north to the two other Philadelphia cemeteries where my ancestors are buried: Mount Sinai and Adath Jeshurun.  Fortunately they are located right next to each other, and I had carefully written down the location of the graves I wanted to visit at Mount Sinai from the records I found on Ancestry. (I did not have that information for Adath Jeshurun, but only a few ancestors are buried there as compared to Mount Sinai.)

Unfortunately, despite my good planning, I had no luck. There was no office and no one at the cemetery; there was no map posted of the cemetery. And there were no obvious markings in the cemetery identifying sections or plots. And it was pouring.

My ever-patient husband sat in the car and drove slowly around as I walked up and down the drives and walkways with an umbrella and in my orthopedic boot,[1] looking for Cohens, Nusbaums, Katzensteins, Schoenthals, and Seligmans.  This was the only one I could find for any of my known relatives:

Simon Schoenthal and family at Mt Sinai cemetery in Philadelphia

This is the stone for Simon Schoenthal, my great-grandfather’s brother, and his wife Rose Mansbach, who was also related to me by the marriage of her cousin Marum Mansbach to my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein’s sister Hannchen. It also marks the burial place of two of their children, Martin and Harry, as well as Harry’s wife Esther, and their son Norman. I was delighted that I had found this marker, but nevertheless disappointed that I could not find the place where my grandfather John Cohen is buried along with his parents, Emanuel Cohen and Eva Seligman. Nor did I find any of the others I had been hoping to visit.

From there we headed home, leaving Philadelphia exactly 24 hours after we’d arrived. It was a wet and long trip home, but I still was glad we had made this whirlwind visit. I was able to meet Jan, I saw places where my ancestors lived and are buried, and we were introduced to the city where so many of my relatives have lived. It was not enough, so we will have to return. Next time we will need to spend at least 48 hours!

 

[1] I had broken my ankle a few weeks before the trip. It’s better now.

Another Small World Story, Another Twist in the Family Tree

In my last post I described my discovery that Rose Mansbach Schoenthal was not only related to me by her marriage to Simon Schoenthal, the brother of my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal, but that she was also related by marriage to my other great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein through her Mansbach cousins.   This post is about another discovery of a strange twist in my family tree, but this one involving two living cousins.

Last week I received a comment on an old blog post about Elizabeth Cohen, who was the sister of my other great-grandfather, Emanuel Cohen.  The man who left the comment on my blog, Joel Goldwein, is the great-grandson, through his mother’s side, of Elizabeth Cohen.  He is thus my third cousin.  I was, of course, delighted to make this connection, and I emailed Joel to learn more about him and our mutual family.

In the course of the exchange of emails, Joel shared information not only about his mother’s family, but also about his father, Manfred (Fred) Goldwein, who had escaped from Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport to England.  His father’s parents and other family members, however, were murdered by the Nazis.  Joel sent me a link to a website about his son’s bar mitzvah in Korbach, Germany, the town where his father was born and had lived until he left Germany.  I was very moved by the idea that Joel’s family had returned to this town to honor the memory of his father’s family.

I mentioned that I was going to be in Germany, not far from Korbach, because I had Hamberg ancestors from Breuna.  Joel then mentioned that his paternal great-grandparents are buried in Breuna and that he had visited the cemetery there.  He sent me a link to his photographs of the cemetery, and I looked through them in search of anyone named Hamberg.

Imagine my surprise to find this photograph:

Courtesy of Joel Goldwein

Baruch Hamberg was the second cousin of my great-great-grandmother, Henrietta Hamberg Schoenthal.  More importantly, he was the great-grandfather of my fifth cousin, Rob Meyer.

Some of you may remember the story of Rob.  He and I connected through JewishGen’s Family Finder tool about a year and a half ago, and we learned that not only did Rob live about a mile from where I had once lived in Arlington, Massachusetts, we also had very good mutual friends.  It was one of those true goosebump moments in my genealogy research, standing in a cemetery in Longmeadow and talking to Rob as we realized that we both had the same close friends.

Rob’s mother had, like Joel’s father, escaped from Nazi Germany, and she also, like Joel’s father, had lost most of the rest of her family in the Holocaust. I sent the headstone photograph to Rob, and I asked whether he might be related to Joel.  Rob answered, suggesting that perhaps he was related to Joel not through Baruch Hamberg, but through Baruch’s mother, Breinchen Goldwein.  A little more digging around revealed that in fact Joel was related to Breinchen: her brother Marcus Goldwein was Joel’s paternal great-grandfather.

Thus, Joel and Rob are third cousins, once removed, through Rob’s mother’s side and Joel’s father side. And although they did not know of each other at all, Joel also had a photograph of the street in Breuna named in memory of Rob’s aunt:

Courtesy of Joel Goldwein

.

It gave me great pleasure to introduce Rob and Joel to each other, who soon discovered that not only are they third cousins through their Goldwein family line, they are also both doctors and both graduates of the same medical school.

And they are both my cousins, Rob through his mother’s Hamberg side and Joel through his mother’s Cohen side.

There truly are only six degrees of separation.

Fallen Leaves

I admit that I have been putting off this blog post.  Because it makes me sad.  One of the great gifts I’ve experienced in doing genealogy is learning about and sometimes having conversations with older people whose memories and lives can teach us so much.  The downside of that is that I am catching them in the final chapter in the lives.

In the past year or so, four of my parents’ first cousins have passed away.  I already wrote about my mother’s first cousin, Murray Leonard, born Goldschlager, son of my grandfather’s brother David Goldschlager.  You can see my tribute to Murray here, in case you missed it.

Murray Leonard older

Murray Leonard

Murray Leonard

David and Murray Goldschlager

David and Murray Goldschlager

Two of my mother’s other Goldschlager-side first cousins also died in the last year: Frieda Feuerstein Albert and Estelle Feuerstein Kenner, who were sisters and the daughters of Betty Goldschlager, my grandfather’s sister, and her husband Isidor Feuerstein.

Frieda died on July 30, 2015; she was 93. Frieda was born in New York on April 21, 1922. She married Abram Albert in 1943, and in 1957, they moved with their children to Arizona, where Abram opened a bedspread and drapery store in Phoenix. He died in 1991, and Frieda continued to live in Phoenix until her death last summer.

Frieda and Abe

Frieda and Abe

Frieda and Abe Albert at their wedding in 1943

Frieda and Abe Albert at their wedding in 1943

 

Her younger sister Estelle died almost three months ago on May 16, 2016.  She was 86 years old and had been living in Florida for many years.  She was born May 15, 1929.

 

courtesy of Barry Kenner

courtesy of Barry Kenner

Estelle

Estelle

Estelle Feuerstein, Betty's daughter

Estelle Feuerstein, Betty’s daughter

Estelle and Frieda each had three children who survive them—six second cousins I’d never known about until I started doing genealogy research.

I never had a chance to speak to either Frieda or Estelle, but have been in touch with some of their children.  My mother recalls Frieda and Estelle very well, although she had not seen them for many, many years.  She remembers them as beautiful young girls coming to visit her family in Brooklyn when they were living out on Long Island.

The other cousin who died in the past year was my father’s first cousin, Marjorie Cohen.  I wrote about my wonderful conversations with Marjorie here.  She died on July 6, 2015, but I did not learn about it until quite recently.  She was just a few months shy of 90 when she died, and she was living in Ventnor, New Jersey, near Atlantic City, where she had lived for almost all of her adult life after growing up in Philadelphia.  She was born on October 15, 1925, the daughter of Bessie Craig and Stanley Cohen, my grandfather’s brother.

Arthur Seligman, Marjorie, and Eva May Cohen, 1932 Atlantic City

Arthur Seligman, Marjorie, and Eva May Cohen, 1932 Atlantic City

Marjorie Cohen with Pete-page-001 Marjorie model 2-page-001

According to her obituary,

She was a graduate of the Sacred Heart School in Philadelphia and Trinity College in Washington, DC. For 33 years she served as the Director of the AAA Mid-Atlantic Travel Agency in Northfield. During her time with AAA she escorted both cruises and tours throughout the world. In 1978, she was the recipient of the Contemporary Woman of the Year Award for outstanding community involvement by McDonald’s Restaurant and radio station WAYV. Upon retirement she became actively involved in volunteer work with the Atlantic City Medical Center, RNS Cancer and Heart Organization, the LPGA Annual Golf Tournament and served as a Hostess with the Miss America Pageant for a number of years. Throughout her life, she had a deep and abiding love for all animals and was a generous supporter of the Humane Society.  (Press of Atlantic City, July 9, 2015.)

I am so grateful that I had the chance to talk to Marjorie, and I am filled with regret that I never was able to get to Atlantic City to meet with her as I had hoped.

These losses remind me once again how important it is to find my extended family members, especially those whose memories run back the longest.  I wish I had had the chance to meet all of these cousins, and now it is too late.

 

 

Why I Love the Internet: The World Wide Web

Internet

Internet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Internet continues to provide me with so much more than access to information.  Through my blog, Ancestry, Facebook, Google, and ordinary old email, I continue to find and be found by cousins all over the world.  In the last two weeks, I have seen my network of cousins expand and greatly enrich my knowledge and understanding of my family history.  So a few updates.

First, I heard from a relative of Margaret Swem, the wife of Felix Schoenthal, my Boston relative, and she filled me in on the background and family of Margaret.  Quite interesting information that I will add to the post about Felix and his family.  Once again, having a blog proved useful because Margaret’s relative found my blog by Googling Margaret Swem’s name.

Second, an Israeli second cousin, once removed, of my husband found me through my tree on Ancestry.  I haven’t even done very much yet on my husband’s family, but through this new cousin we’ve learned a great deal about the Shrage family in Zabarazh, a town once in Galicia but now part of Ukraine.  It’s been very exciting learning from our new Israeli cousin.

Third, I’ve heard from a descendant of Hettie Schoenthal, one of Simon Schoenthal’s younger children about whom I’ve yet to blog.  This new cousin has shared some of Hettie’s own remembrances of her life as well as other stories.  I am looking forward to incorporating some of those into the blog as well as some photographs.

Fourth, I’ve been in touch with two British relatives of the UK Selinger cousins, relatives of Julius, Alfred, and Frederick Selinger, all of whom married my Cohen relatives.  I then put the two of them in touch as they had not previously known each other despite being cousins.  That gave me great satisfaction, and now all three of us are hunting for answers about the connections among some of the Selingers.

Fifth, I am in touch with a Goldfarb cousin and hoping to learn more about this recently discovered branch of my Brotman family line.  I just received a huge package of information that I need to go through, enter into my tree, and research.

Sixth, another Hamberg cousin just contacted me this morning.

And last but definitely not least, my cousin Wolfgang in Germany sent me new information about our Seligmann family line.  He and his mother received four new documents about our ancestors.  The first reveals two more generations back in the line of Jacob Seligmann, my four-times great-grandfather from Gaulsheim, Germany.  I will be blogging separately about these documents and what they revealed in the next few days before I return again to the children of Simon Schoenthal.

English: internet Español: internet

English: internet Español: internet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Turning on my computer in the morning has become a real treat, waiting to see who has found me, who has responded to my inquiries, and which cousin has new information to share.  Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by my good fortune.  Sure, there are still many people who don’t reply to my emails or Facebook messages, but for every person I have found or who has found me, I am so deeply grateful.  The family tree keeps growing, and with it so does the world-wide web of fascinating and generous people whom  I can call my cousins.

Going Back East: My Schoenthal Great-grandparents and their Family 1924-1942

Happy New Year! I am still on vacation, but had this post 90% ready before we left, so with a cloudy morning I was able to get it finished.  Here is the remainder of the story of my Schoenthal great-grandparents; I have one more post almost done which will wrap up the story of my grandmother and her brothers.

….

By the mid-1920s, my grandmother Eva Schoenthal and her brother Harold had left Denver and moved east.  My grandmother had married my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen and moved to Philadelphia in 1923. She had two children by the end of 1926.

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

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

 

My father and his mother, Eva Schoenthal Cohen, c. 1927

My father and his mother, Eva Schoenthal Cohen, c. 1927

 

My great-uncle Harold was in college at Columbia University, studying architecture; he would graduate in 1927.

The rest of the Schoenthal family was still in Denver, where as seen in the 1924 and in 1925 Denver directories, they were still in the same occupations in which they’d been employed earlier in the decade: my great-grandfather Isidore was still working for Carson Crockery; Lester was still a traveling salesman, and Gerson was a salesman for the Sunland Sales Cooperative Association.

Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. 1925 Denver directory

In 1926, however, my great-grandparents and their son Gerson and his wife Gratice were the only family members listed in the Denver directory.  Lester is not listed in the Denver directory and does not reappear in a directory in the Ancestry database again until 1929, when he is listed in the Richmond, Indiana directory as a manufacturer’s agent; his wife is now listed as Grace. By that time Lester and Juliet Grace had moved back and forth between Denver and Indiana twice.  It’s hard to know whether Lester kept moving for jobs or because he and his wife couldn’t decide whether to be closer to her family or his.

1929 Directory, RIchmond, Indiana Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

1929 Directory, Richmond, Indiana Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

On June 15, 1928, my great-uncle Gerson  was divorced from Gratice.

Ancestry.com. Colorado, Divorce Index, 1851-1985 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.

Ancestry.com. Colorado, Divorce Index, 1851-1985 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.

Also around this time, my great-grandparents left Denver and followed their two youngest children back to the east.  They settled in Montclair, New Jersey, where their son Harold was working as a designer after completing his undergraduate degree at Columbia.  They were all living together at 16 Forest Street in Montclair in 1929, 1930, and 1931, according to the city directories for those years, yet they are not listed in the 1930 US census at that address or elsewhere.  The enumerator did include other people who were living at that address (presumably an apartment building), but not my relatives.  According to those directories, Isidore was working at The China Shop and Harold was a designer.  A later news article about Harold indicated that in 1931 he was working at the interior design firm Schulz and Behrle.

Hilda (Katzenstein) Schoenthal, Eva Schoenthal Cohen, Eva Hilda Cohen, and Harold Schoenthal

Hilda (Katzenstein) Schoenthal, Eva Schoenthal Cohen, Eva Hilda Cohen, and Harold Schoenthal

 

My grandparents, Eva (Schoenthal) and John Cohen, and their two children were living at 6625 17th Street in Philadelphia, according to the 1930 US census; my aunt was six, my father three and a half.  My grandfather was a clothing and jewelry merchant. But not long after the 1930 census, my grandparents’ lives changed dramatically.   My grandfather was diagnosed with MS, and in the aftermath of that diagnosis, my grandmother suffered a breakdown and was unable to care for her children. My grandmother ended up living with her parents and brother Harold in Montclair, New Jersey.  Her children were living with their ailing father and his mother, my great-grandmother Eva Mae Seligman Cohen, in Philadelphia, as I wrote about here and here.

As for Lester, he and his wife  were living in Richmond, Indiana, in 1930.  Lester was a traveling salesman and Juliet (listed on the 1930 census as Grace) an office manager for an insurance company, according to the 1930 census.  A year later, they had moved again.  In 1931, Lester and his wife (listed here as Julia G.) were living in Dayton, Ohio.  Lester was still a salesman. They are not, however, in the 1932 Dayton directory.  I do not know where they were until in 1935, when, according to the 1940 US census, they were living in Montclair, NJ, where my great-grandparents and great-uncle Harold were also living.

Thus, by 1930, Gerson was the only Schoenthal left in Denver. Gerson must have visited his family back East around 1930. That is my father in the photograph, and he appears to be about three or four years old in that picture.

Dad Uncle Gerson Eva

My father, his uncle Gerson Schoenthal, and his sister Eva Hilda Cohen

 

Although Gerson is listed in the 1930, 1931 , and 1932 Denver directories, like his parents and brother Harold in Montclair, NJ, he seems to have been missed by the census enumerator. Gerson is also missing from the Denver directories in 1934 and 1935, and when he reappears in the 1936 directory for Denver, he is listed with a wife named Maude.

Maude Sheridan was born in May 11, 1883, in Salt Creek Township, Kansas.  Her father died when she was just a young child, and she and her mother lived in Kansas until at least 1905.  By 1910, she and her mother had moved to Colorado Springs, where they were living with Maude’s father’s brother, Patrick Sheridan, a leather retailer.  Maude was working as a public school teacher.  She became a school principal in Colorado Springs, Colorado, around 1912, and had great success there.  In 1916, she signed a long term contract with Colorado Agricultural College, and she and her mother were living in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 1920.  Maude was working as a college instructor.

Maude Sheridan principal

 

 

By 1930 Maude had left her education career and was the owner of a restaurant in Alamosa, Colorado.  She was still single and no longer living with her mother.  Then sometime between 1930 and 1936, Maude married my great-uncle Gerson Schoenthal.  In 1936, she would have been 53, he would have been 44.

Meanwhile, back in Montclair, New Jersey, in 1935, my great-grandfather was continuing to work for The China Shop, and his son Harold continued to work as a designer, living with his parents at 16 Forest Street in Montclair and working in Newark. My grandmother was also living with her parents in Montclair. Lester and Grace also continued to live in Montclair where Lester worked as a salesman.  All of them were still in Montclair for the rest of the 1930s, although my great-grandparents and Harold moved to 97 North Fullerton Avenue by 1937.

Upper Montclair NJ

Upper Montclair NJ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1939, my grandmother moved back to Philadelphia to live with her children, who were then sixteen and thirteen.  Their father was in a long term care facility by that time, and their paternal grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen had died on   October 31,  1939.  According to the 1940 census, my grandmother was working as a saleswoman in the wholesale china business at that time.

Her parents and brother Harold were still living in Montclair where in 1940 my great-grandfather was retired and Harold was working as a designer in the interior decorating business.  Lester and Juliet had moved once again, this time to Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, where according to the 1940 census, Lester was working as a refrigeration engineer for a wholesale refrigeration business.

As for Gerson, for a long time I could not find him on the 1940 census.  Then when Ancestry added the Social Security Applications and Claims Index to its database collection, the mystery was solved.  This is what I saw:

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

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

Obviously, Gerson had changed his name to Gary Sheridan sometime between the 1938 Denver directory and the 1940 US census.  And for some reason he had changed his mother’s birth name (and his middle name) from Katzenstein to Kay.  Why? To sound less Jewish, I’d assume. Or maybe to sound less German as Europe and eventually the US were at war against Germany. Sheridan had been Maude’s birth name, and Gerson kept his initials the same, but otherwise he’d taken on a whole different identity.

Once I knew his new name, I found Gerson a/k/a Gary and his wife Maude on the 1940 census.  He was working as a salesman for the American Automobile Association, and Maude was working a manager of a tea room in Denver.

Year: 1940; Census Place: Denver, Denver, Colorado; Roll: T627_488; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 16-148

Year: 1940; Census Place: Denver, Denver, Colorado; Roll: T627_488; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 16-148

In early 1941, my great-grandparents moved to Philadelphia to help my grandmother with her children and lived next door to them on Venango Street.  My great-grandmother Hilda Katzenstein Schoenthal died not long after on August 17, 1941; she had only been living in Philadelphia for seven months when she died, according to her death certificate.  She was 77 years old and died from pneumonia.

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

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

My great-grandfather Isidore died a year later on July 10, 1942; he was 83 when he died; he also died from pneumonia.

Isidore Schoenthal death certificate 1942 Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Isidore Schoenthal death certificate 1942
Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

When I think about my great-grandfather’s life, I am left with many questions.  He was the second youngest child in a large family and the youngest son.  Of those who emigrated from Germany, he was among the last members of his family to arrive. He watched, one by one, as his older brothers and sisters moved away. Then he finally came to the US himself with his mother and younger sister Rosalie.  He lived in the small town of Washington, Pennsylvania, for the first 25 years of his years in the US, a town where his older brother Henry was a recognized leader both in the business and Jewish community.  Isidore had most of his siblings relatively close by once again.

Then suddenly in his late 40s he moved far away from his entire family, taking his wife and his four children far from everything they knew to start again in order to give his son Gerson a healthier place to live. He started over working in the china business. And then he started over one more time when he returned to the east coast twenty years later to be closer to his two youngest children.  In the end he and his wife Hilda ended up helping to care for his daughter and his grandchildren, including my father.  By the time my great-grandfather died, he had lost every one of his nine siblings as well as his wife and his parents.

 

Cologne, after bombing of World War II By U.S. Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Chief Signal Officer. [2] [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons HTML Attribution not legally required

Cologne, after the bombing of World War II
By U.S. Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Chief Signal Officer. [2] [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My father recalls him as a very quiet man. He has a vivid memory of his grandfather Isidore crying when he learned of the bombing of Cologne by the Allies in May, 1942, during World War II.  My father had assumed that Isidore had lived in Cologne, and although his brother Jacob had lived in that city, there is nothing to indicate that Isidore had ever lived anywhere but Sielen when he lived in Germany.  Perhaps it was more the notion that his homeland was at war with his adopted country and that the land of his birth and his childhood was being devastated by Allied bombing that made him cry. Perhaps he had visited Jacob in Cologne and remembered what a beautiful city it was. Or maybe he was just crying for the memories of his nine siblings and his parents, living in Germany, when he was a child.

My father said that his grandfather didn’t talk about it, just sat with tears running down his face. He died just two months later. I will always wonder what stirred beneath the surface of this man who had led what seemed to be a quiet life but with so many twists and turns and so many losses.

In Part III, I will follow up with what happened to Lester, Gerson, Harold, and my grandmother Eva after 1942.