Back to the Real World and the 1870s…

And I am back from vacation.  We had a wonderful time, and not having reliable internet access may have been a blessing.  I couldn’t do any new research or posting to the blog so my brain had a chance to clear.  Always a good thing.  I did, however, have one more post “in the bank” that I prepared before I left, so here it is. I was awaiting a few more documents, hoping they would answer a few questions, and I received some while away that I have just reviewed.

I wish I could post a somewhat more uplifting post for the holiday season, but I can’t deny the sad fact that some of my relatives suffered considerable sadness in their lives.  On the other hand, researching and writing about the families of Leopold Nusbaum and his sister Mathilde Nusbaum Dinkelspiel only made me appreciate all my blessings.  So in that sense it is perhaps appropriate.  Nothing can make you appreciate all you have more than realizing how little others have.

So here is the story of two of the Nusbaum siblings, one of the brothers and one of the sisters of my three-times great-grandfather John Nusbaum.

Leopold Nusbaum had died in 1866 when he was 58 years old, leaving his widow Rosa and daughter Francis (how she apparently spelled it for most of her life) behind. Leopold and Rosa had lost a son, Adolph, who died when he was just a young boy.  Francis was only 16 when her father died.  After Leopold died, Rosa and Francis moved from Harrisburg to Philadelphia and were living in 1870 with Rosa’s brother-in-law, John Nusbaum.

Late in 1870, Francis Nusbaum married Henry N. Frank.  Henry, the son of Nathan and Caroline Frank, was born in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, where Leopold’s brother Maxwell Nusbaum and his family had once lived before relocating to Harrisburg.  Henry’s father Nathan Frank was in the dry goods business, so the Nusbaums and Franks might have known each other from those earlier times. Nathan, Caroline, and their children had relocated to Philadelphia by 1870 and were living on Franklin Avenue right near the Simons, Wilers, and other members of the Nusbaum/Dreyfuss clan.  Perhaps that is how Francis and Henry met, if not from an earlier family connection.

Not long after they were married, Henry and Francis must have moved back to Lewistown because their first child, Leopold, was born there on August 11, 1871.  Leopold was obviously named for Francis’ father.  A second child, Senie, was born in May 1876, and then another, Cora, was born in 1877.  In 1880, Henry and Francis were living in Lewistown with their three young children as well as Francis’ mother Rosa and Henry’s father Nathan. Maybe Nathan was shuttling back and forth between Lewistown and Philadelphia because he is listed on the 1880 census in both places, once with Henry and Francis and then again with Caroline and their other children.  Both Henry and his father Nathan listed their occupations as merchants.

Lewistown Town Square By KATMAAN (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Lewistown Town Square
By KATMAAN (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, there is not much else I can find about Henry, Francis, or their children during the 1870s because Lewistown does not appear to have any directories on the city directory database. Lewistown’s population in 1880 was only a little more than three thousand people, which, while a 17% increase from its population of about 2700 in 1870, is still a fairly small town.  It is about 60 miles from Harrisburg, however, and as I’ve written before, well located for trade, so the Frank family must have thought that it was still a good place to have a business even if the rest of the family had relocated to Philadelphia.

Mathilde Nusbaum Dinkelspiels’ family is better documented.  She and her husband Isaac had settled and stayed in Harrisburg, which is where they were living as the 1870s began. Isaac was working as a merchant.  Both of their children were out of the house.  Adolph was living in Peoria at the same address as his cousin Julius Nusbaum and working with him in John Nusbaum’s dry goods store in that city.  On January 4, 1871, Adolph Dinkelspiel married Nancy Lyon in Peoria, and their daughter Eva was born a year later on January 25, 1872.  Adolph and Nancy remained in Peoria, and by 1875 Adolph was listed as the “superintendent” of John Nusbaum’s store.  (Julius does not appear in the 1875 directory, though he does reappear in Peoria in 1876.)

On November 28, 1879, his daughter Eva died from scarlet fever.  She was not quite eight years old.  Adolph and Nancy did not have other children, and this must have been a devastating loss.

eva dinkelspiel death cert

In fact, shortly thereafter Adolph, who had been in Peoria for over sixteen years, and Nancy, who was born there and still had family there, left Peoria and relocated to Philadelphia.  On the 1880 census, Adolph was working as a clothing salesman and Nancy as a barber.  (At least that’s what I think it says.  What do you think?)  Perhaps Adolph and Nancy left to find better opportunities or perhaps they left to escape the painful memories.  Whatever took them away from Peoria, however, was enough that they never lived there again.

adolph dinkelspiel snip 1880 census

Adolph and Nancy did not remain in Philadelphia for very long, however.  By 1882 Adolph and Nancy had relocated to St. Louis, Missouri, where Adolph worked as a bookkeeper for many years.  They remained in St. Louis for the rest of their lives.  Adolph died on November 25, 1896, and Nancy less than a year and a half later on March 5, 1898. Adolph was only 53, and Nancy was not even fifty years old.

My cousin-by-marriage Ned Lewison sent me a copy of Nancy’s obituary from the March 7, 1898 Peoria Evening Star.  It reported the following information about Nancy and Adolph Dinkelspiel:

“She married Adolph Dinkelspiel, at that time manager of the Philadelphia store on the corner of Main and Adams Street, one of the leading dry goods houses in Peoria.  When the house failed, they removed to St. Louis and lived happily together until the death of Mr. Dinkelspiel, when his widow came to this city.  But she preferred St. Louis for a residence, and although she made frequent visits to Peoria, she did not take up residence here.”

I found two points of interest in this obituary.  One, there is no mention of their daughter Eva.  And two, it reveals that the Nusbaum store in Peoria had closed, prompting Nancy and Adolph to relocate.  Thus, Adolph and Nancy not only suffered a terrible personal loss, like many others in the family and in the country, they were negatively affected by the economic conditions of the 1870s.

Nancy and Adolph are both buried, along with their daughter Eva, in Peoria.  Only death, it seems, could bring them back to Peoria.

dinkelspiel headstone

Adolph’s sisters Paulina and Sophia Dinkelspiel did not have lives quite as sad as that of their brother, but they did have their share of heartbreak.  Sophia, who had married Herman Marks in 1869, and was living in Harrisburg, had a child Leon who was born on October 15, 1870.  Leon died when he was just two years old on October 24, 1872.  I do not know the cause of death because the only record I have for Leon at the moment is his headstone.  (Ned’ s research uncovered yet another child who died young, May Marks, but I cannot find any record for her.)

leon marks headstone

Sophia and Herman did have three other children in the 1870s who did survive: Hattie, born May 30, 1873, just seven months after Leon died; Jennie, born August 24, 1876; and Edgar, born August 27, 1879.  Herman worked as a clothing merchant, and during the 1870s the family lived at the same address as the store, 435 Market Street in Harrisburg.

Paulina (Dinkelspiel) and Moses Simon, meanwhile, were still in Baltimore in the 1870s.  In 1870 Moses was a dealer “in all kinds of leather,” according to the 1870 census. At first I thought that Moses and Paulina had relocated to Philadelphia in 1871 because I found a Moses Simon in the Philadelphia directories for the years starting in 1871 who was living near the other family members and dealing in men’s clothing.  But since Moses and Paulina Simon are listed as living in Baltimore for the 1880 census and since Moses was a liquor dealer in Baltimore on that census, I realized that I had been confused and returned to look for Moses in Baltimore directories for that decade.

Sure enough, beginning in 1871 Moses was in the liquor business, making me wonder whether the 1870 census taker had heard “liquor” as “leather.”  After all, who says they deal in all kinds of leather?  All kinds of liquor makes more sense.  Thus, like the other members of the next generation, Adolphus and Simon Nusbaum in Peoria, Leman Simon in Pittsburgh, and Albert Nusbaum in Philadelphia, Moses Simon had become a liquor dealer.

Moses and Paulina had a fourth child in 1872, Nellie. The other children of Moses and Paulina were growing up in the 1870s.  By the end of the decade, Joseph was eighteen, Leon was fourteen, Flora was twelve, and little Nellie was eight.

Ned Lewison, my more experienced colleague and Dinkelspiel cousin, found a fifth child Albert born in 1875 who died August 25, 1876 and a sixth child Miriam born in July 1877 who died October 30, 1878, both of whom are buried at Oheb Shalom cemetery in Harrisburg, where their parents would also later be buried.  Thus, Paulina lost two babies in the 1870s.  For her parents, Mathilde and Isaac, that meant the deaths of four grandchildren in the 1870s alone.

As for Mathilde and Isaac Dinkelspiel themselves, although they began and ended the decade in Harrisburg, my research suggests that for at least part of that decade, they had moved to Baltimore.  Isaac has no listing in the 1875 and 1876 Harrisburg directories (there were no directories for Harrisburg on line for the years between 1870 and 1874), but he does show up again in the Harrisburg directories for 1877 and 1878.  When I broadened the geographic scope of my search, I found an Isaac Dinkelspiel listed in the Baltimore directories for the years 1872, 1873, 1874, and 1875 as a liquor dealer.  This seemed like it could not be coincidental.  It’s such an unusual name, and Isaac’s son-in-law Moses Simon was a liquor dealer in Baltimore.  It seems that for at least four years, Isaac and Mathilde had left Harrisburg for Baltimore, leaving their other daughter Sophia and her husband Herman Marks in charge of the business at 435 Market Street in Harrisburg, where Isaac and Mathilde lived when they returned to Harrisburg in 1877.

Market Street in Harrisburg 1910  By Wrightchr at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Market Street in Harrisburg 1910
By Wrightchr at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The extended Dinkelspiel family as well as the Nusbaum family suffered another major loss before the end of the decade.  According to Ned Lewison’s research, Mathilde Nusbaum Dinkelspiel died on June 20, 1878. Another Nusbaum sibling had died, leaving only John and Ernst alive of the original six who had emigrated from Germany to America; Maxwell, Leopold, Isaac, and now Mathilde were gone. Mathilde is buried at Oheb Shalom cemetery in Harrisburg.

What happened to Isaac Dinkelspiel after his wife Mathilde died? Although Isaac appeared in the 1880 Harrisburg directory at 435 Market Street, the same address as his son-in-law Herman and daughter Sophia (Dinkelspiel) Marks, he does not appear with them on the 1880 census at that address.  In fact, I cannot find him living with any of his children or anywhere else on the 1880 census, although he is again listed in the Harrisburg directory at 435 Market Street for every year between 1880 and 1889 (except 1881, which is not included in the collection on  I assume the omission from the census is just that—an omission, and that Isaac was in fact living with Sophia and Herman during 1880 and until he died on October 26, 1889, in Harrisburg.  He is buried with his wife Mathilde at Oheb Shalom cemetery in Harrisburg.

Thus, the Dinkelspiels certainly suffered greatly in the 18070s.  Five children died in the 1870s—Eva Dinkelspiel, May Marks, Leon Marks, Albert Simon, and Miriam Simon.  And their grandmother, Mathilde Nusbaum Dinkelspiel, also passed away, joining her brothers Maxwell, Leopold, and Isaac, leaving only John and Ernst left of the six Nusbaum siblings who left Schopfloch beginning in the 1840s to come to America.

And so I leave you with this thought as we start looking forward to a New Year.  Don’t take your children or your grandchildren for granted.  Cherish every moment you get to share with them.  And be grateful for modern medicine and the way it has substantially reduced the risks of children being taken from us so cruelly.


Seeing the Forest: In Memory of Jacob and Sarah Cohen and All their Children



When doing genealogy research, I often find I get very focused on one person or one couple or sometimes one nuclear family and forget to think about the bigger picture, the extended family and their history.  This has been particularly true in researching my great-great grandparents Jacob and Sarah Cohen and their thirteen children.  Each one of those children was a story unto itself; each of their nuclear units told a complete story.  Doing the research for each of them brought me into their individual lives—their relationships, their careers, their children, their achievements, and their tragedies.

Leaf lamina. The leaf architecture probably ar...

Leaf lamina. The leaf architecture probably arose multiple times in the plant lineage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was only when I got to child number eleven, my great-grandfather Emanuel, that I realized I had lost the bigger picture.  His life was not only about his adulthood—his wife and his children and grandchildren, but was also shaped by and always affected by what was happening with his extended family—his parents, his siblings, his nieces and nephews. It was then that I looked at the overall timeline to see what was happening outside his nuclear family as well as within it.

Now looking back and trying to get that bigger picture overall, I can make some fairly general observations about these thirteen children and their extended family.  First, they were all very interconnected in their work as well as their personal lives.  Almost all the men, including many of the brothers-in-law and sons-in-law, were pawnbrokers.  I don’t have a very good sense of how many separate stores there were in the Cohen pawnshop industry, but obviously there were enough to support more than a dozen families, including a family as large as that of Reuben Cohen, Sr., with his many children.  Yes, there were some trouble spots and some disputes undoubtedly, but this was a family that worked together and lived together, often within blocks of each other.  One project I have in mind at some point is creating a map to show where they all were living at a given point in time.  This was a family where almost everyone stayed in Philadelphia or perhaps New Jersey for multiple generations at least until the 1930s or 1940s.

Every tragedy—the deaths of so many young children, the premature deaths of so many young adults, the horrible accidents—must have rippled through the entire family in some way.  This was a family that suffered greatly over and over again—perhaps no more than any other of its time, but nevertheless, more than most of us can imagine today.  Almost every one of them lost at least one young child; some lost several.   Reuben and Sally lost ten children.  Some, like my great-grandparents and Reuben, not only lost a young child, but also lost adult children who died too young.

Yet this was also a family that triumphed.  Most of them lived fairly comfortably, if not luxuriously.  They moved to the northern sections of Philadelphia away from the increasingly poor sections where Jacob and Sarah had settled at 136 South Street.  Many had servants living with them, even when they had only a few or even no children.  These were not college-educated people.  Most did not even finish high school.  But they were savvy business people who, as far as I can tell, for the most part operated their businesses honestly but successfully, as the profile of Reuben Cohen described.  They saw themselves as money lenders, as the banks for those who could not borrow money from a traditional, established bank. Some were more successful than others, but overall this was a family that came to America in the 1840s and made a good life for themselves and their descendants.

Looking back on those times makes me wonder what happened.  How did this large, interconnected family lose touch with each other?  It’s not just my father’s immediate line that was disconnected; every Cohen descendant I’ve been able to locate says the same thing—that they had no idea about all these other cousins and Cohen relatives.  My father said he had no idea that his father had cousins.  I counted sixty-nine grandchildren born to Jacob and Sarah Cohen.  Even if you subtract the many who did not survive childhood, there were probably fifty—meaning that my grandfather had fifty living first cousins, mostly living in Philadelphia, yet my father did not know of any of them.

I suppose that that is how it is as families grow, children marry, grandchildren are born.  You no longer can fit everyone around the table even for special occasions.  Other families also need attention—the in-laws and all their relatives.  Especially back then, before the telephone and the automobile and certainly before the internet, Facebook, Google, email, and cellphones, it was just too hard and too expensive to stay in touch if someone was not in your immediate neighborhood and your day-to-day life.  We all know how hard it is to stay in touch even with all those modern means of communication.

So people moved away, grew apart, and lost touch.  At least now we can all benefit from knowing the bigger picture, from looking at our shared history, and knowing that even if we do not know each other, we are all part of the same tree.


Thanks to Rabbi Albert Gabbai of Mikveh Israel Congregation in Philadelphia, I now have photos of the headstones for Jacob and Sarah.

jacob headstone enhanced 2

Headstone for Jacob and Sarah Cohen

Jacob Cohen's headstone enhanced

They are not very legible, but you can clearly see Jacob’s name in English, and with the help of others, I’ve been told that the Hebrew includes Jacob’s name, Yaakov ben Naftali ha Cohen, and his date of death, 13 Iyar 5648, or April 24, 1888.  It also apparently has a reference to London as his birthplace.

Jacob headstone from FB

The side for Sarah (the second one above)  is almost completely eroded, so no one could decipher it.    Rabbi Gabbai also found the stone for Hart Levy Cohen, but he said it was nothing but a plain stone as all the engraving had eroded so he did not take a picture.  I wish that he had, but did not have the heart to ask him to go back to the cemetery.

All that is left is for us to remember them and their children and their grandchildren.












Reuben Cohen 1854-1926: You Really Do Not Want to Read This

As I wrote in an earlier post, I skipped over Reuben Cohen, my great-great-grandparents’ sixth child and fifth son, in order to wait for some information from one of Reuben’s direct descendants.  I have to admit that I had other reasons as well.  My initial research indicated that Reuben and his wife Sallie Livingston had twelve children.  The thought of researching another huge family was a bit overwhelming.  In addition, my preliminary research had uncovered a number of very sad stories about those children, and I just did not have the heart to research, write, or even think about them after researching the story of Reuben’s older brother Hart.  Little did I know that his sisters, whose lives I’d not previously researched very far, also had more than their fair share of heartbreak as well.

Once I returned to the story of Reuben and did more research, I learned that his story was worse than I had even originally thought. His life started out well.  He was born in April, 1854, and grew up at 136 South Street with his parents and siblings. By the time he was sixteen he was working as a clerk in a store, presumably his father’s pawnshop.  In 1878 when he was 24, he married Sallie Livingston, and in 1880 they were living at 1725 Bainbridge Street and already had two children, Sallie R., who was a year old, and Jacob, who was a month old.  Reuben was working as a pawnbroker at 635 South 17th Street in 1881.

Reuben Cohen 1880 census

Reuben Cohen 1880 census

Originally I thought that the 1880s must have been fairly happy years for Reuben and Sallie, as Reuben continued to work as a pawnbroker and their family continued to grow.  In addition to Sallie R. and Jacob, I originally found that five more children were born between 1881 and 1890:  Minnie (1882), Hortense (1887), Rae (1887), Reuben, Jr. (1888), and Arthur (1890). The family continued to live at 1725 Bainbridge Street.

Then in 1891, tragedy struck.  Little Hortense, only three years old, was run over and killed by a cable car owned by the Philadelphia Traction Company.

Hortense Cohen death certificate

Hortense Cohen death certificate

The company had only been in business since 1883. I found this gruesome description of the accident in the June 14, 1891 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

[According to a witness who saw the accident], the child, who was with two other children, started across the street to reach the house of her grandmother, Mrs. Livingstone, at 607 South Ninth Street, with whom she had been living. When she had crossed the tracks she saw a carriage coming, and she made an attempt to run back.  The child got bewildered, and as she reached the middle of the track the car struck her. The front wheel jammed the head against the track. It required the united efforts of [three police officers] to lift the car off the child’s head.

(“Killed by a Cable Car Little Hortense Cohen Becomes Bewildered and is Run Down,” Sunday, June 14, 1891, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA),  Volume: 124   Issue: 165   Page: 5) The conductor and gripman were arrested.  Little Hortense was taken to the hospital where she died.

This story raises so many hard questions.  What was a three year old child doing alone without an adult? Who were the other two children, and how old were they? Were they her siblings? What a terrible impact this must have had on them as well as the rest of the family.  And why was Hortense living with her grandmother?  Were any of the other children living with Mrs. Livingston?  I don’t have any answers to these questions.

Obviously, times were different.  There were no helicopter parents, and children were much more likely to be left to their own devices than children are allowed to be today.  Also, cable cars were a recent addition to the city streets, and perhaps parents and children were not yet aware of the dangers they presented, nor were these companies likely regulated to any degree to prevent such accidents from occurring.  But one thing must have been true even in those days: the absolute horror the family must have endured after losing a child in such a terrible way.

Somehow the family went on.  My original research found that two more children were born in the next few years:  Lewis in 1892 and Penrose in 1894.  The family moved from their Bainbridge Street home sometime after Hortense’s death. In 1893 Reuben’s store was at 625 South 17th Street, and he and his family were residing at 623 South 17th Street.  They remained in that residence for many years.  In 1895 Violet was born, and in 1896 Irene was born, bringing the number of children living in the family to eleven.

Then another tragedy occurred in 1896.  Two year old Penrose died from some form of capillary bronchitis.  Perhaps someone can help me decipher and interpret the rest of the description of his cause of death.  As if the family had not suffered enough, a year and a half later baby Irene, only a year old, died also from capillary bronchitis.  The family had lost three young children between 1891 and 1897.  The last child, Simon, was born in 1898, bringing the number of children to nine out of the twelve that I first thought had been born to Reuben and Sallie.

Penrose Cohen death certificate

Penrose Cohen death certificate

Irene Cohen death certificate

Irene Cohen death certificate

I wish I could say that that was the end of Reuben and Sallie’s heartbreak, but I cannot.  There was a period of relative calm.  In 1900 the family was living in Cape May, New Jersey, at the time of the census.

Reuben Cohen and family at 208 Ocean Street 1900 US census

Reuben Cohen and family at 208 Ocean Street 1900 US census

They were living back in Philadelphia by 1902, so I do not know whether the time in Cape May was a long stay or perhaps just a shorter stay for the summer.  I do know from one of Reuben’s descendants that Reuben owned a home in Cape May built in 1864 at 208 Ocean Street that eventually became the home of his son Arthur and his descendants.  It seems that during Reuben’s life this was not the year-round home, but perhaps just a summer home.  Reuben must have been quite successful to have two residences.  I found the house currently listed for sale on,with a description of the house and many exterior and interior pictures, such as this one.

208 Ocean Street, Cape May, NJ

208 Ocean Street, Cape May, NJ

1900 also was a good year for the family in other ways.  Their daughter Sallie R. was married that year to Ellis Samuel Abrams in what appears to have been quite a society event. There had been a large engagement party the year before at Reuben and Sallie’s home where an orchestra played throughout the evening “behind a bower of palm trees.”  The guest list was very long and included many of the aunts, uncles, and cousins I have written about on the blog: the Wolfs, the Sluizers, the Hambergs, and, of course, many Cohens.(“Melange of Events,”  Sunday, December 31, 1899, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA) Volume: 141 Issue: 184 Page: 14)   Before the wedding took place on May 21, 1900, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a drawing of Sallie R., announcing the upcoming nuptials.  Clearly the Cohen family was part of the elite of Philadelphia Jewish society.

Sallie Cohen

Sallie Cohen

But all the business success in the world was not worth the personal losses that the family suffered. In 1907, Sallie R.’s young husband Ellis died from acute appendicitis.  He was 30 years old, and they had only been married for seven years.  They had had two children, Dorothy, born around 1905, and Simon, born around 1907.

Ellis Abrams death certificate

Ellis Abrams death certificate

Then, two years later, in 1909, Reuben and Sallie’s son Jacob died of cardiac failure secondary to tabes dorsalis, or late stage syphilis.  He was only 29 years old when he died.  From his death certificate it appears that he had been sick and under a doctor’s care for five months before he died in December, 1909.

Jacob Livingston Cohen death certificate

Jacob Livingston Cohen death certificate

And then, just four years later in 1913, Jacob’s older sister Sallie R., Ellis’ widow, Reuben and Sallie Livingston’s oldest child, died at age 34 from nephritis, kidney disease.  That left Sallie R. and Ellis’ two children, Dorothy and Simon, orphaned at ages eight and six, respectively.

Sallie J. Cohen death certificate

Sallie J. Cohen death certificate

On the 1920 census, both children were living with their grandparents, Reuben and Sallie.  So far, I have had no luck finding out what happened to them next.

Reuben Cohen and family 1920 census

Reuben Cohen and family 1920 census

But what I did find was even more disturbing.  In doing some last minute checks for additional documents on Sallie J. and Jacob, I found their headstones on FindAGrave.  And to the left behind Jacob’s headstone, I spotted a headstone with eight names on it.  Some were familiar:  Hortense, Penrose, Irene.  But five were new to me: Maria, Fanny, Joseph, Hart, and Edith.  Who were they? When I saw it, I sighed so loudly that my husband wondered what was wrong.  I took a deep breath and then started looking for these other five children.

Since none of these names had appeared on either the 1880 census or the 1900 census (and since the 1890 census was destroyed by fire), I assumed that they were born after the 1880 census and died before 1900 census.  Eventually I found all five of these children, all of whom died before they were four years old.

As I mentioned above, I had originally thought that the 1880s were a happy decade for Reuben and his family, but this additional research revealed the opposite.  After Sallie R. and Jacob were born, the third child, Hart, was born in 1881.  He died February 27, 1883, when he was seventeen months old from uremia.  In between Minnie was born in 1882.

Hart Cohen death certificate

Hart Cohen death certificate

The next child, Maria, was born in September, 1883, meaning Sallie was pregnant with Maria when Hart died.  Maria died in Cape May, New Jersey on August 2, 1886, just shy of three years old, from paralysis caused by diphtheria (also evidence that the family had been spending summers in Cape May for quite some time before 1900).

Maria Cohen death certificate

Maria Cohen death certificate

But in between Minnie and Maria, Reuben and Sallie had had two other children, both of whom died before they were a year old.  In January, 1884, Fanny was born, and six months later in July, 1884, she died from enterocolitis.  On April 17, 1885, Joseph was born, and he died on August 9, 1885, not yet four months old.  Thus, in each year from 1883 through 1886, Reuben and Sallie buried one of their children. Perhaps that is why some of the children were living with Sallie’s mother?

Fanny Cohen death certificate

Fanny Cohen death certificate

Then came the tragic accident involving three year old Hortense in June, 1891.  What I had not known before I found the additional names on the headstone is that in July, 1891, the very next month, Sallie had given birth to Edith.  Perhaps that was some relief, but only for a very brief time because Edith died less than a year later on April 24, 1892, from “Diptheritic Laryngitis.”  I am not sure what that means, but it seems like it must be some complication from diphtheria. And then, as described above, Penrose died in 1896 and Irene in 1897.

Finally, there were the untimely deaths of Jacob L. and Sallie R. as adults.  So between 1883 and 1913, Reuben and Sallie had lost ten of their seventeen children and also had two young grandchildren who were left without either a mother or a father. Aside from Hortense, who died from an accident, all the other young children died from an illness that today would likely have been either prevented by a vaccine (diphtheria) or treated with antibiotics or somehow otherwise controlled by medicine.  Reading about all these babies’ deaths made me aware once again of how grateful we all should be for the developments of 20th century medicine.

How did Reuben and Sallie go on? It is unfathomable.  But they did. Did they find strength in the seven children who survived? Or did these deaths leave them bitter, angry, depressed? How does a marriage survive all that stress? Did they find strength in religion? In their large extended family? I do not know; I only know that in the last few days as I researched this family’s saga, I also was spending time with my newborn grandson and my four year old grandson, both of whom are so precious to me, not to mention their parents and other grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and great-grandparents.  Seeing either grandson cry over even the smallest pain or disappointment breaks my heart.  I found myself so disturbed by reading about Reuben and Sallie’s children that I was not sure that I could bear to write this story down. But then I had to do it, if only so that those little children could be perhaps more than just names on a headstone.  Someone should know that they lived and were loved.

Reuben and Sallie had seventeen children (at least—perhaps others lived who have not been recorded somewhere).  They were married for many years.  Somehow there was enough love to keep them together so that they could continue to raise the children who survived, including their two grandchildren from Sallie R.

Reuben died on December 31, 1926; he was 72 years old.  His wife Sallie died four years later in 1930 when she also was 72.  There were seven children left who survived them, and almost all of them lived long lives, but I will leave their stories for a later post.

David Rosenzweig and The Reality of Infant Mortality

In the course of researching Abraham Rosenzweig’s life, I discovered a tenth child born to Gustave and Gussie Rosenzweig.  On the 1910 census there were nine children, all but one born in New York City between 1888 and 1904.  (Lillian, the first child, was born in Romania around 1884.) There were four boys, Abraham, Jacob/Jack, Harry and Joseph, and five girls, Lillian, Sarah, Rebecca, Lizzie and Rachel.  The NYC birth index covers those years, so I started my research of Abraham by looking for a birth record.  I had several records indicating that he was born sometime around 1890, but I could not (and still have not) found a record for Abraham’s birth.

Gustave Rosenzweig and family 1900 census

Gustave Rosenzweig and family 1900 census

I expanded my search to look for any Rosenzweig born around 1890-1892, using FamilySearch as my tool as it allows for liberal use of wild card searching and, unlike or other sites, reveals the names of the parents in the search results.  I still did not see any Abrahams or Abes, but in scanning the results, I noticed a child named David who was born to Gadaly and Ghitel Saak Rosentveig.  Before receiving the Romanian records for Gustave and Gussie I might not have recognized that these were their Yiddish names: Ghidale Rosentvaig and Ghitla Zacu on their marriage records from Romania.Ghidale Rosentzveig with Ghitil Zacu_Marriage Record_1884_5  I knew that this could not be a coincidence, that this baby had to be their son, born September 5, 1891.  Since I still have not found Abraham on the birth index, I cannot be sure whether David was born before or after Abraham.  What I did realize was that David must have been named for my great-great-grandfather, David Rosentvaig, who had been alive in 1884 when Gustave married Gussie in Iasi but who must have died sometime before the birth of this new David.

But where was the new David in 1900, only nine years later? Since he was not listed on the 1900 census, I assumed the worst, as I have gotten accustomed to doing, and checked the death index.  Sure enough a one year child named David Rosenzweig had died on December 25, 1892.  Although I have not yet seen the death certificate for this child, I have to assume that this was Gustave and Gussie’s son David.  My great-great-grandfather’s namesake had died before his second birthday.

I have expressed in an earlier post my thoughts and feelings about the impact the deaths of babies and children must have had on their parents and their siblings.  The numbers are staggering.  On the 1900 census Gussie Rosenzweig reported that she had had thirteen children, only eight of whom were then living (Rachel was not yet born).  In 1910, she reported eighteen births and only nine living children.  Had she had five more infants die between 1900 and 1910? My great-grandmother Bessie Brotman reported in 1900 that she had given birth to nine children, only four of whom were living (Sam was not yet born).  We also know that Hyman Mintz died within a month of birth and Max Coopersmith within a day of birth.

These infant deaths were not at all unusual for that time period.  According to a PBS website for a program called The First Measured Century, “[p]rior to 1900, infant mortality rates of two and three hundred [per one thousand births] obtained throughout the world. The infant mortality rate would fluctuate sharply according to the weather, the harvest, war, and epidemic disease. In severe times, a majority of infants would die within one year. In good times, perhaps two hundred per thousand would die. So great was the pre-modern loss of children’s lives that anthropologists claim to have found groups that [did] not name children until they have survived a year.”

This same source reports that most of these deaths were caused by poor infant nutrition, disease and poor sanitary conditions.  In the early 20th century substantial efforts were made to deal with these causes of infant and other deaths.  “Central heating meant that infants were no longer exposed to icy drafts for hours. Clean drinking water eliminated a common path of infection. More food meant healthier infants and mothers. Better hygiene eliminated another path of infection. Cheaper clothing meant better clothing on infants. More babies were born in hospitals, which were suddenly being cleaned up as the infectious nature of dirt became clear. Later in the century, antibiotics and vaccinations join the battle.”  The infant mortality rate began to decline, and today it is well under ten deaths per thousand within the first year of life in the United States.

Infant mortality

But what impact did this high death rate for babies have on their parents?  There have been many books written by sociologists, social historians and psychologists on the history of society’s view and treatment of children.  According to this research, until the 18th century, children were not valued highly by parents, perhaps in part because of the high infant mortality rate.  The likelihood of losing a child was so great that it made it difficult for parents to become too attached.  In Europe often parents did not even attend the funerals of their children and even wealthy parents had their children buried as paupers. See, e.g., Viviana A. Rotman Zelizer, Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children (1994); Linda A. Pollock, Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations from 1500 to 1900 (1984). Both authors also observe that the attitude towards children changed during the 18th and 19th centuries as people began to be more concerned about their children’s growth and development and families started to become more child-oriented and affectionate.  This change in attitudes contributed to the increased efforts to reduce infant mortality.

It’s so difficult for me to imagine that these parents were indifferent or unaffected by the deaths of so many of their babies.  I know I live in another era, an era when parenting has become not just a part of life, but in some ways an obsession. I plead guilty to being a helicopter parent, to being probably too involved in my children’s lives as they were growing up.   We live in a time of thousands of books on parenting, dealing with every issue imaginable.  There are experts to help you before a baby is born and experts to help you deal with every imaginable childrearing issue that can arise after they are born: doulas, lactation consultants, sleep consultants, life coaches, tutors, college admissions consultants, and probably some I don’t even know about.    So many of us center our lives on our children.  Losing a child is often said to be the worst thing anyone can experience.

Could it really have been so different back then? Were children really seen as disposable and replaceable? Is that why people had so many children—in order to ensure that at least some would survive to adulthood?  Or was it simply the absence of effective birth control, not the desire for so many children, that led to these huge families?  Did those huge families make it easier to accept the loss of so many babies? Were even those who survived devalued and distanced as a defense mechanism against their possible death?  It seems unlikely they were as doted upon and cherished as children of today, given both the cultural attitudes and the economic and environmental conditions of the time.

Maybe that made those children stronger and more self-reliant, less indulged and less entitled.  But it also had to have left its scars.  Maybe it is why so many of them did not want to talk about their families, their childhoods, their feelings.

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