My Seligman Great-Great-Grandparents:  Two Pioneers Who Made A Difference with Integrity and Kindness

By the 1890s, my great-great-grandparents were “empty nesters.”  Their daughter Eva, my great-grandmother, was married to Emanuel Cohen and raising her family in Philadelphia.  (I’ve written about my Cohen great-grandparents here.) Their son James was working as a draftsman for the Department of Interior in Salt Lake City, Utah; he would marry Ruth V.B. Stevenson in 1893 in Salt Lake City, and have two children, Morton Tinslar Seligman, born July 1, 1895, in Salt Lake City, and Beatrice Grace Seligman, born December 4, 1898, also in Salt Lake City.  By 1900, however, James, Ruth and the children had moved to Santa Fe, where they were living next door to Bernard and Frances.  James was working as a clerk in a dry goods store, presumably the Seligman store.

Bernard Seligman and James Seligman and families 1900 US census

Bernard Seligman and James Seligman and families 1900 US census  Year: 1900; Census Place: Santa Fe Ward 4, Santa Fe, New Mexico; Roll: 1002; Enumeration District: 0126; FHL microfilm: 1241002

Arthur, the youngest child of Bernard and Frances, had returned to Santa Fe after college in Philadelphia, and in 1896, he married a widow named Frankie E. Harris in Cleveland, Ohio.

Marriage certificate of Arthur Seligman and Frankie E. Harris

Marriage certificate of Arthur Seligman and Frankie E. Harris Cuyahoga County Archive; Cleveland, Ohio; Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Marriage Records, 1810-1973; Volume: Vol 42-43; Page: 489; Year Range: 1892 Sep – 1896 Jul

Frankie had an eight year old daughter Richie from her first marriage who became a part of the Seligman family.  In fact for her ninth birthday on August 3, 1897, Bernard and Frances hosted a birthday party for Richie and 42 of her friends in their Santa Fe home.

Ritchie Harris birthday snip

City News Items Date: Tuesday, August 3, 1897 Paper: New Mexican (Santa Fe, NM) Volume: 34 Issue: 138 Page: 4

(This same “gossip column” also reported that Arthur and James Seligman and some friends were going on a two week fishing trip soon after this birthday party.)

Arthur and Frankie had a son together just a year later; Otis Perry Seligman was born on February 14, 1898, in Santa Fe.  Thus, by 1900, Bernard and Frances had four grandchildren living in Santa Fe plus three more grandsons living in Philadelphia, including my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen.

On the professional side, I could not find any specific references to Bernard’s political activities or his business activities during the 1890s although the 1900 census listed his occupation as a dry goods merchant.  In 1894 he seems to have taken an extended trip to Europe, including to Germany and to Italy.

Traveling Seligmans 1894

Saturday Small Talk Date: Saturday, October 27, 1894 Paper: New Mexican (Santa Fe, NM) Volume: 31 Issue: 214 Page: 4

From this clipping it is hard to know whether or not he was traveling with Frances.  I also wonder who the relatives were in Italy and who he was visiting on the Rhine.  Was this purely for pleasure or was it a business trip?  I don’t know.

At some point after this trip, however, Bernard and Frances moved back to Philadelphia.   Bernard was living in Philadelphia when he died on February 3, 1903, at age 65 from myocarditis.  He was residing at 1606 Diamond Street at the time.

Bernard Seligman death certificate

When I looked back to see where my great-grandmother Eva was living at that time, I was hardly surprised to see that she, her husband Emanuel Cohen, and their three sons were also living at 1606 Diamond Street as of the 1900 census.  In fact, in 1900, Emanuel’s brother Isaac and nephew were also living at 1606 Diamond Street after the death of Isaac’s wife.  Thus, Eva and Emanuel Cohen, my great-grandparents, were housing not only their three children, but also at least four other family members, Eva’s parents and Emanuel’s brother and nephew.

According to his obituary, Bernard (and presumably Frances) had moved back to Philadelphia three years before his death, to “recuperate from over-work.”  The obituary goes on to say that Bernard had been doing well until sometime in the prior year when he had a “severe stroke of paralysis which weakened him considerably.”  The paper noted, however, that he had been improving and that no one thought that he was near death.  The obituary described his death as “shocking” and reported that the day before his death he had appeared fine and had even sent a dispatch relating to business matters to his son Arthur.


“A Good and True Man Called Hence,” Santa Fe New Mexican, February 3, 1903, p. 1

The obituary recounts all of Bernard’s many accomplishments, both political and business, and describes him as follows:

“Mr. Seligman was a pioneer in New Mexico, and during his residence of over forty years in this city and territory, was one of the most progressive, shrewdest and brightest businessmen and citizens of the commonwealth.  He was a man of the strongest integrity and keen perception and high courage, public spirited and thoroughly posted on public affairs, indeed a valuable and good citizen in every sense of the word, a loving husband and a kind and indulgent, yet at the same time, a firm and sensible father.  He was a prominent and important factor in the building up of the commercial, educational, civic, moral, and material interests in this city and county and of the entire territory.  A good and true man has gone to the great beyond.”

What can I possibly add to that? Only that I wish that I had known him.  I stand a bit taller knowing that I am descended from Bernard Seligman.

Just two years later, my great-great-grandmother Frances Nusbaum Seligman also died.  She died in Philadelphia on July 27, 1905, at age 59.

Frances Seligman death certificate

She had been living at 1431 Diamond Street at the time of her death.  Again, I checked to see where my great-grandparents Eva and Emanuel Cohen were living, and 1905 Philadelphia directory, their address was, not surprisingly, 1431 Diamond Street, and they still had their three sons and Isaac living with them in 1910 as well.

Frances was described in her obituary in very loving terms:

“She was a beautiful and accomplished woman, as good as she was beautiful and as beautiful as she was good, and of a most lovable and gentle disposition.  She was an exemplary wife, a fond and good mother, and a dutiful and loving daughter.  Indeed she was all that is implied in the phrase ‘a thoroughly good and moral woman.’  … She will be especially remembered by the poor people of [Santa Fe], to whom she was particularly kind.  Many and many truly charitable deeds have been put to her credit.”

The obituary further commented:

“From the moment of her arrival to within a few years ago, when she commenced to spend most of her time in Philadelphia, she was a social leader, admired, respected and popular.  She was a woman without guile and always ready to lend a helping hand in social as well as in charitable work.”

frances seligman obit July-27-1905 new mexican

(“Gentle, Good Woman Gone,” Santa Fe New Mexican, July 27, 1905, p. 1)

While I was impressed and proud when I read my great-great-grandfather’s obituary, I was very moved and emotional in reading about my great-great-grandmother Frances.  The words “good,” “gentle,” and “kind” are the same words that I have heard my father and my cousin Marjorie use to describe their grandmother, Eva Seligman Cohen, the daughter of Frances Nusbaum and Bernard Seligman.  She seems to have inherited or learned those very traits from her parents, two people who left the city of Santa Fe a better place by the time and the effort that they spent in caring for their community while they lived there.  As I will describe, their surviving children also left their mark, my great-grandmother Eva by her kindness and caring for others, and her two brothers James and especially Arthur by their service to Santa Fe and New Mexico.


Bernard Seligman


Frances Nusbaum Seligman

These two photos were given to me by my cousin Arthur Scott.  They were taken from a video made by his sister of family photos in their home.  The one of my great-great-grandmother Frances is so far the only photograph I have of her.







Isaac Cohen 1850-1914: A Harder Story to Tell

The third child of my great-great grandparents was Isaac.  He was born on February 4, 1850, in Philadelphia, the first of their children both conceived and born in the US.  Until at least 1872 when he was 22 years old, he lived at home with his parents at 136 South Street and was working as a clerk in one of the family pawnshops.

He was living at a different address as of 1873, 923 Parrish Street, which was two and a half miles north of his family home, continuing the northward movement of the family.  I assume that sometime in 1873 he had married his wife, Emma Cordelia van Horn, since he was no longer living at home.  Emma was born in 1853 in Pennsylvania, the daughter of William van Horn and granddaughter of I.B. Merkel, according to documents relating to her death, but so far I have not been able to find out more about her family or to locate a William van Horn with a daughter named Emma.  I was surprised to see just how many William H. van Horns there were in Philadelphia alone.

Like his older brother Joseph (as well as many of his younger brothers) and his father, Isaac was a pawnbroker.  For his whole career he worked at a pawnshop at 830 North 10th Street, a block away from his residence in 1873 on Parrish Street.   On July 9, 1879, Isaac and Emma’s son, Isaac Wilbert Cohen, was born, and in 1880 the family was living at 636 North 11th Street, only a few blocks away from the store on 10th Street.  The 1880s seem to have been fairly uneventful.  Isaac continued to work at the same location throughout the decade, according to the city directories.  Emma and little Isaac were at home.

Isaac Cohen and son living with Emanuel Cohen and family 1880 census

Isaac Cohen and family 1880 census

Then in 1893, tragedy struck, and Isaac’s life was never the same.  His wife Emma died on November 3, 1893, when she was only forty years old and her son was only fourteen years old.  Emma died from “Septic Peritonitis from Suppurative Salpingitis,” according to her death certificate.  As explained to me by my brother, suppurative salpingitis means she had pus in her fallopian tubes, a condition today known as pelvic inflammatory disease.  In Emma’s case it led to a septic condition in her abdomen which killed her.

Emma Cohen death certificate 1893

Emma Cohen death certificate 1893

Emma Cohen funeral notes 1893

Emma Cohen funeral notes 1893

It was from the funeral notes above that I learned Emma’s father’s and grandfather’s names.

When she died, Emma and Isaac had been living at 1606 Diamond Street, so the family had moved again, about two miles north from 11th Street and Isaac’s store on 10th Street.  After Emma died, Isaac and his son remained at 1606 Diamond Street, and as of 1895, Isaac’s much younger brother, my great-grandfather Emanuel, was also living at 1606 Diamond Street.  Emanuel was thirteen years younger than Isaac, 32 in 1895, and was himself married and the father of three sons, including my grandfather John, who was born in 1895.  On the 1900 census, Isaac and his son were still living with Emanuel and his family, with Emanuel listed as the head of household.

Isaac Cohen and son living with Emanuel Cohen and family 1900 census

Isaac Cohen and son living with Emanuel Cohen and family 1900 census

I found this somewhat puzzling.  Had Emanuel moved his family to Isaac’s home to help take care of his widower brother and motherless nephew?  Or had Isaac taken in Emanuel to help him out?  I assume it’s more likely the former—that Isaac need help with caring for his teenage son and that my great-grandmother Eva was willing to help raise him as well as her three sons, who would have been young boys during the 1890s.  Isaac had twelve siblings, some much closer to him in age.  Why would he have ended up living with Emanuel, his much younger brother and not one of the others?

Isaac was the first member of the Cohen family to marry someone who was not Jewish.  Emma had been buried in a non-Jewish cemetery, West Laurel Hill in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia.  Had his other siblings been upset that he married outside the faith?

Isaac’s stay in Emanuel’s household continued for almost twenty years.  In 1910, he was still living with Emanuel, Eva, and their sons, now at 1441 Diamond Street, and still working as a pawnbroker.  His son Isaac Wilbert had married Gertrude Mann the year before and was living in his own place.  Why had Isaac stayed with Emanuel and not moved with his son?  To give the newlyweds their own space? Again, it does seem a bit strange, but I suppose that after fifteen years of living with his brother and family, Isaac at age 60 was content to stay put.

Isaac Cohen with Emanuel and family 1910 census

Isaac Cohen with Emanuel and family 1910 census

But then Isaac suffered another terrible loss.  On March 3, 1914, his son Isaac Wilbert Cohen died from lobar pneumonia.  According to the death certificate, Isaac Wilbert had suffered from myocarditis, another family member succumbing to heart problems.  He was only 34 and had been married only five years when he died.  He had no children.

Isaac Wilbert Cohen death certificate

Isaac Wilbert Cohen death certificate

Isaac Cohen, my great-grandfather’s brother, himself died just a few months later on September 15, 1914, from acute peritonitis secondary to pancreatic cancer.

Isaac Cohen death certificate

Isaac Cohen death certificate

He was 64 years old and had lost his wife 21 years before and his only child just six months before.  It seems like he endured far too many losses far too soon.  I hope that he found comfort living with my great-grandparents and my grandfather and great-uncles.  I wish that I knew more about his life and his story.

Like his wife, Isaac was buried at West Laurel Hill cemetery along with his son Isaac Wilbert.


Enhanced by Zemanta