The Cohen Family Photograph: Who Are These People?

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

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

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

Joseph Cohen and Family c. 1915-1917

“Cohen Family” Courtesy of Ken Newbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaac, Jack, and Lillian Cohen, c. 1908

Isaac, Jac, and Lillian Cohen, c. 1908

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

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

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

Isaac S Cohen, c. 1913

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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