My Cousin in Sao Paulo

In an earlier post I mentioned that I had been fortunate to have several German sources of information about Rosalie Schoenthal Heymann, her husband Willy, and their six children, three sons, Lionel, Walter, and Max, and three daughters, Johanna, Helene, and Hilda.  I’ve already posted about the lives of the three sons. This post and the next will tell about the lives of the three daughters.

The death notice for one of those sons, Lionel, mentioned a sister named Henny Mosbach Rothschild; his full obituary mentioned an unnamed sister living in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003 [database on-line]. Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003 [database on-line]. Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003 [database on-line]. Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003 [database on-line].


From the Steinheim site, I knew that the second-born child of Rosalie (Schoenthal) and Willy Heymann was their daughter Johanna; that site reported that Johanna was born in 1889, married someone named Mosbach, and died in Brazil.  From the Juden in der Geschichte des Gelderlandes book, I learned that Johanna’s husband was Hermann Mosbach, a merchant in Ratingen, and that they had married on April 8, 1915.


page 370 for blog

Bernhard Keuck and Gerd Halmanns, eds., Juden in der Geschichte des Gelderlandes, p. 370

Thus, I assumed that the sister mentioned in the obituary and the one named in the death notice were one and the same: Johanna (“Henny”) Schoenthal, who had married a man named Hermann Mosbach and who had ended up in Brazil.  But I didn’t know anything about what had happened in between: Why had she gone to Brazil, not Chicago where her three brothers were living? When had she gotten there? What had happened to Hermann Mosbach? And who was the apparent second husband named Rothschild?

I did not find anything helpful on Ancestry, but on, I found two records from Brazil. The first was a record for a widow (“viuva”), Johanna Mosbach, born February 27, 1889, in Geldern, Germany, daughter of Willy Heymann and Rosalie Schoenthal.  She was being admitted to Brazil as a permanent resident.  The card was dated February 18, 1939, and indicated that she had arrived at the Porto de Santos on the ship Monte Sarmento.


Brasil, São Paulo, Cartões de Imigração, 1902-1980," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 31 March 2016), Joana Mosbach Rothschild, 1939; citing Immigration, São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, certificate 544986, registration 20634, Arquivo Público do Estado de São Paulo (São Paulo State Public Archives, São Paulo).

Brasil, São Paulo, Cartões de Imigração, 1902-1980,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 31 March 2016), Joana Mosbach Rothschild, 1939; citing Immigration, São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, certificate 544986, registration 20634, Arquivo Público do Estado de São Paulo (São Paulo State Public Archives, São Paulo).


The second record I found for Johanna through FamilySearch’s Brazil database was not dated, but was presumably some years later.  Her name is now recorded as Joana Mosbach Rothschild, same birth date as above, and she is now “casada” or married.  She was apparently still an alien as this was a card issued by the public security secretary for registration of foreigners or “estrangeiros.”


Brasil, São Paulo, Cartões de Imigração, 1902-1980," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 31 March 2016), Joana Mosbach, 1939; citing Immigration, São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, certificate 20634, registration 544986, Arquivo Público do Estado de São Paulo (São Paulo State Public Archives, São Paulo).

Brasil, São Paulo, Cartões de Imigração, 1902-1980,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 31 March 2016), Joana Mosbach, 1939; citing Immigration, São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, certificate 20634, registration 544986, Arquivo Público do Estado de São Paulo (São Paulo State Public Archives, São Paulo).


But that was as far as I could get without more assistance, so I sent an inquiry to a woman named Anita on the JewishGen Family Finder, who listed Mosbach as one of her family names.  I also wrote to three of the JewishGen listservs, including one for Latin America.  Once again, the genealogy village came through and provided me with helpful suggestions and ultimately many answers.

First, Anita from the JewishGen Family Finder sent me three links that provided more information about Johanna and her first husband Hermann Mosbach.  All pertained to the Jewish community in Ratingen, Germany, before World War II.  From these three sources, I learned that Johanna was Hermann Mosbach’s second wife and that he’d had a daughter named Else with his first wife.  Hermann was born on July 18, 1877, and died on October 30, 1931, in Ratingen, when he was 54 years old.  Here is a photograph of Hermann, standing far right.



(Caption under photograph says, “Hermann Mosbach, owner of the “Rheinische department store C. Schmidt & Co.”, was a member of the Catholic Mercantile Association (CISO). In the picture he is seen at an event of the club in the second row on the right. (1928).”

These sources also indicated that Hermann’s daughter Else had immigrated to Brazil in 1936 and that Johanna also had left Ratingen by 1936.  Three years later she arrived in Brazil, presumably to be with her stepdaughter Else.  That might explain why she did not go to Chicago to be with her brothers.

I was curious as to why Else and then Johanna would have selected Brazil as their new home.  Was there a Jewish community there? Why Sao Paulo?

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Sao Paulo had a long history of being a city that welcomed immigrants, receiving over three millions immigrants from all over the world before 1940.  Jewish immigrants began to arrive in the late 19th century, but Jewish immigration really surged in the 1920s as immigration obstacles in the US and Canada made those less likely destinations for Jews leaving Europe.  Sao Paulo, however, welcomed these immigrants, and during the 1920s, synagogues, Jewish schools, cemeteries, and other institutions were created to serve the growing Jewish population.  After Hitler came to power in 1933, there was another large influx of Jewish immigrants to Sao Paulo.  Thus, it made sense that Else Mosbach and her stepmother, Johanna Heymann Mosbach, would have settled there.

English: aerial photograph of Sao Paulo Brazil...

English: aerial photograph of Sao Paulo Brazil 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Neither Anita nor I could find any information about what happened to Johanna or her stepdaughter Else once they got to Brazil.

Fortunately, I then heard from Sandra through the LatinAmSig on JewishGen; she was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil; her family had also immigrated there to escape Nazi Germany.  Sandra was incredibly generous and had asked her mother to see if she could find any information about Johanna or Else; she then sent me three links to additional online sources, including links to two newspaper articles regarding Else Mosbach Simon’s successful application to become a citizen of Brazil in 1950.

From those articles, I learned that Else was born on February 8, 1905, to Hermann and Selma Mosbach.  Thus, Else had been only ten years old when Johanna married her father in 1915, further explaining why Johanna would have moved to Sao Paulo—to be closer to the child she had helped to raise.  Else had married someone with the surname Simon by 1950, but unfortunately, I’ve not yet found out more information about her.

Sandra also gave me a link to the Arquivo Historico Judaico Brasileiro and suggested I contact the synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in Sao Paulo.  She then translated into Portuguese an email I drafted and sent it to a person she knew at the synagogue when I had trouble trying to contact them directly through their website.  From these sources, I learned that Johanna had died on September 11, 1971, and was buried at the Buntantan cemetery in Sao Paulo.  She was 82 years old.


By Dornicke (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Synagogue Beth El in Sao Paulo By Dornicke (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

The pieces were starting to come together, except that I still had no information about Johanna’s presumed second husband named Rothschild.  Then someone sent me (I apologize for failing to note who that was) this marriage announcement in the September 29, 1957 issue of the O Estado de Sao Paulo (p. 12) for someone named Hans Joseph Schmitz, described as the son of Ferdinand Rothschild and Johanna Mosbach Rothschild:



Could this be my Johanna? Could she have remarried and had a son born sometime after 1939 who was now marrying—although he could be no more than 18 years old?  That seemed unlikely, but now at least I had a first name to use for her presumed second husband.

I found a tree on Ancestry that included Ferdinand Rothschild and contacted the tree’s owner, Rainer.  He informed me that Ferdinand Rothschild had married Johanna Heymann on April 9, 1955, when Johanna was already 66 years old and Ferdinand was 67.  Ferdinand had been previously married to Grete or Gretchen Schmitz, Rainer’s great-aunt, who had died in Brazil on April 29, 1939.  Hans was her son.  He died on April 5, 1970, according to these death notices from the April 7, 1970, issue of O Estado de Sao Paulo, p. 35:


Hans Schmitz death notice April 7, 1970 O Estado de Sao Paulo Hans schmitz second death notice same paper p 35 same as other april 1970 o estado


Rainer also sent me Ferdinand’s death record.  He had died on December 31, 1958, while on a visit to Germany  and was buried in Dusseldorf, Germany, not in Sao Paulo where Johanna was living.  At the bottom of that record you can see a reference to the marriage date for Ferdinand and Johanna.


Ferdinand Rothschild death certificate

Ferdinand Rothschild death certificate


Johanna and Ferdinand had been married only three years when he died; he was seventy years old.  Johanna would outlive her second husband by another thirteen years, dying, as noted above, on September 11, 1971, in Sao Paulo.  Like her brothers Lionel and Walter, Johanna left no descendants behind, except for her stepdaughter Else Mosbach Simon and her stepson Hans Joseph Schmitz.

Once again, I am very grateful to all those who helped me put together these pieces of my cousin Johanna Heymann Mosbach Rothschild’s life, including my new cousins-by-marriage, Rainer and Anita, and especially Sandra, without whom I’d never have been able to learn where and when Johanna died and was buried.

That leaves me with the two remaining daughters of Rosalie Schoenthal and Willy Heymann: Helene and Hilda.





More Gifts from Doing Genealogy: The Gau-Algesheim Seligmanns and New Friends in Germany

As I’ve been researching and writing about my American Seligman relatives, I’ve also been busy trying to learn more about my German ancestors.  I wrote to about five different people in Gau-Algesheim, names I found on websites or through contacts from JewishGen or two Facebook groups, Tracing the Tribe and German Genealogy, including Klaus Cook.  I’d been trying since September 7 to find someone to help me learn whether there were any records of Jewish births, marriages and/or deaths from the town where I knew Sigmund, Bernard and Adolph Seligman were born.  I had gotten no responses—not even one saying that they had no such records.

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I also contacted a woman named Dorothee Lottman-Kaeseler.  I had found her name on the website describing the restoration of the Gau-Algesheim cemetery, and she did write back to me.  She was very helpful and eventually she managed to find someone to pay attention to my emails.  Imagine my delight when the other morning I woke up to this email:

On behalf of our registrar, Frau Hemmkeppler, I am hereby replying to your genealogy request, which we have received on 15. Oct. 2014 via email. 

At first, please note, that due to age, we do not have any electronic archives of our historical records.  However, we have put in extra efforts and were able to manually trace the following information related to the name of Seligmann: 

Siegesmund Seligmann, DOB: 24. Dec.1829 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 67/1829


Salomon Seligmann, DOB: 15. Mar.1832 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 19/1832


Carolina Seligmann, DOB: 18. Mar.1833 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 25/1833


Benjamin Seligmann, DOB: 10. May 1835 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 36/1835


Bernhard Seligmann, DOB: 23. Nov.1837 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 49/1837


Hyronimus Seligmann, DOB: 14. Dec.1839 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 75/1839


August Seligmann, DOB: 10. Dec.1841 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 88/1841


Adolph Seligmann, DOB: 29. Sep. 1843 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 52/1843


Mathilde Seligmann, DOB: 31. Jan. 1845 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 4/1845


Paulina Seligmann, DOB: 29.01.1847 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 5/1847 

All the beforementioned persons are the children of Moritz and Eva Seligmann (born as Eva Schoenfeld). …. 


B. Brettschneider



There was the birth record of my great-great-grandfather Bernard, his brothers Sigmund and Adolph, and seven other siblings, all born in Gau-Algesheim, all the children of Moritz and Eva Schoenfeld Seligmann.  I was so excited.  I now had seven more relatives to learn about and, most importantly, the names of my great-great-great-grandparents, Moritz Seligmann and Eva Schoenfeld.

I have now been in touch again with Bernie Brettschneider and hope to obtain copies of these records and also to learn if there are any other records of these individuals or of others who might be their children, spouses, and so on.

Gau-Algesheim in MZ

Gau-Algesheim in MZ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am deeply grateful to Klaus Cook and the other people in the Facebook groups and JewishGen, to Dorothee Lottmann-Kaeseler and to Bernie Brettschneider for their assistance, and I am excited to see what else I can learn about this part of my family.  I am also in touch with Walter Nathan, who was the man behind the cemetery restoration in Gau-Algesheim.  Walter and I are trying to find what connections there may be between my Seligmanns and his Seligmann family, and I am learning more and more about how Jews lived in Germany in the 19th century.

When I started down this path less than three years ago, I never imagined how much I would learn about the world and its history by simply researching my own little family. I never imagined I would make contact with people in Germany and Romania and Poland, have cousins all over the world and talk to people whose lives have been so interesting.  The gifts I receive from genealogy continue to surprise me and warm my heart.

And I now am thinking that someday in the not too distant future I will visit Gau-Algesheim and see where my Seligmann ancestors lived.  And Iasi to see where my Goldschlager and Rosenzweig ancestors lived.  And Tarnobrzeg, Poland, to see where my Brotman ancestors lived.  In fact, that last one is being planned for this coming spring.  And then there are all the places right here in the US where I can go to walk in the places where my ancestors lived—New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, Santa Fe, Colorado, and who knows where else?  The adventures continue.



Gau-Algesheim and the Seligmans: My Great-great-grandfather’s Birthplace and What I Learned

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From several documents and historical references, I know that Bernard Seligman, my great-great-grandfather, and his brothers Adolph and Sigmund were born in a small town close to the Rhine River called Gau-Algesheim in what was then the Hesse Darmstadt region of Germany. Today it is located in the Mainz-Bingen district in the Rheinland-Pfalz state in Germany.   Gau-Algesheim is about 15 miles southwest of Mainz and 40 miles southwest of Frankfort, Germany.  Its population in 2012 was under seven thousand people, and it is less than five miles square in area.[1]   From the photographs posted on the town’s official website, it appears to be a very charming and scenic location.  There are wineries nearby, and tourism appears to be an important source of revenue for the town.[2]



What was Gau-Algesheim like almost 200 years ago when my ancestors were living there?  How long had my Seligman ancestors been there, and were there any family members who remained behind after Bernard and his brothers left? How long had there been Jews living in Gau-Algesheim, and are there any left today? These were the questions that interested me the most about my great-great-grandfather’s birthplace.

There is a book about the history of Jews in Gau-Algesheim written by Ludwig Hellriegel in 1986, Die Geschichte der Gau-Algesheimer Juden, but unfortunately there is no copy available online, and the closest hard copy is in the New York Public Library.  I tried to borrow it through my university’s interlibrary loan program, but was it was not available for lending.  Thus, I’ve had to piece together bits of information from Wikipedia,, the Gau-Algesheim website, and to get some answers to my questions, relying on Google Translate in order to read the sources written in German.  What follows is a very brief skeletal history of Gau-Algesheim overall and in particular of the history of Jewish life there based on these limited secondary sources.

Gau-Algesheim has ancient roots.  There is evidence of graves dating back as far as 1800 BCE, and evidence of a settlement during Roman times as well.  In the 700s a church and a monastery were established.  Gau-Algesheim was part of the Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages, and during that time was under the control of various different officials and jurisdictions within the Empire and often the subject of disputes and battles for control.  See  It was part of Napoleon’s empire until 1812, and then eventually became part of the nation state of Germany in the mid-19th century.


Gau-Algesheim. Rathaus am Marktplatz.

Gau-Algesheim. Rathaus am Marktplatz. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Its Jewish history dates back to at least the 14th century.  By the 14th century, the town had developed into a commercial center.  Many merchants and artisans lived in the town, including herring merchants, blacksmiths, bakers, barbers, coopers, tailors, and shopkeepers.  The monasteries owned a lot of the land, and there was also a fairly large class of nobility.  By 1334, there must have been a Jewish community in Gau-Algesheim because in that year a head tax was imposed upon the Jewish residents.  According to Wikipedia, Jews were required to pay this additional tax because they were considered the property of the crown and under its protection.[3] There was also a Jewish cemetery in existence during the 14th century.  However, this community must have been a very small minority, and the Jews were certainly considered outsiders by the Catholic majority.  In 1348 there was a flu pandemic in the region, and Jews were accused of poisoning the water, such accusations then leading to pogroms across the region.

Gau-Algesheim. Langgasse.

Gau-Algesheim. Langgasse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My sources do not reveal anything about Jewish life in Gau-Algesheim between 1400 and 1800, but the population in 1790 was reportedly only nineteen (it’s not clear whether this refers to people or households, but I assume it refers to total people).  In 1808 there were three Jewish families, and in 1819 only six Jewish families.  In 1857, the Jewish population was fifty people, and the Jewish population peaked in Gau-Algesheim in 1880 when it reached eighty people or 2.6% of the total population of the town, according to the alemannia-judaica website.  (JewishGen puts the 1880 population at only 66.[4])  According to alemannia-judaica, a synagogue is not mentioned as being in the town until 1838. It was described as very old and in poor condition in 1850 and was rebuilt in 1861 and renovated again in 1873-1874.  There was also a mikveh and a religious school, although it seems that there was a joint school with the nearby town of Bingen. (Bingen, by comparison, had 542 Jews in 1880, amounting to almost eight percent of its overall population; it was only six miles away from Gau-Algesheim. By further comparison, Mainz had a Jewish population of about 3,000 in 1900, and Frankfurt had almost 12,000 Jews in 1900.)[5]

The tiny size of the Jewish population in Gau-Algesheim in the 19th century in the years when my ancestors were living there surprised me.  How did my family end up there?  And why did they leave? I don’t know the answers to the first question at all and can only speculate about the second and will write more generally about it in a later post.   But what I want to focus on for now is what happened to the Jewish community in Gau-Algesheim after my great-great-grandfather Bernard and his brothers left in the middle of the 19th century.

It appears that my ancestors were not the only Jews to leave Gau-Algesheim.  By 1900, the Jewish population had declined to 27 people; in 1931 there were only 31 Jewish residents.  Presumably many of these Jews had immigrated to another country, and many may have moved to the larger cities in Germany.  In the Reichstag elections of 1933, the Nazi Party only received 26.6% of the vote in Gau-Algesheim with the Center Party carrying almost half the vote.  Unfortunately, that did not reflect the overall vote in Germany, and the Nazi Party took control of the country, soon dissolving the Reichstag and all other political parties, ultimately leading to World War II and the Holocaust.  Whatever Jews were left in Gau-Algesheim before World War II either left the town or were killed by the Nazis.

There is no Jewish community there today.  The Jewish cemetery remains, however, although it was desecrated during the Holocaust and has been vandalized several times since then.  In 2006, Walter Nathan, whose father was born in Gau-Algesheim, visited the cemetery and was so disturbed by the condition of the cemetery that he decided to work to have it restored and to create a memorial to those who were buried there and also to those who had been killed in the Holocaust.  On November 9, 2008, on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the memorial was dedicated by Nathan and many members of his extended family.[6]  Included in the headstones remaining in the cemetery was this one for a woman named Rosa Gebmann Seligmann who was born in 1853 and died in 1899 and married someone who was probably my relative.

With the help of two members of the Tracing the Tribe Facebook group, I can provide this translation of the German and the Hebrew on the headstone.  The German says, “Here rests in peace my unforgettable wife and good mother Rosa Seligman, nee Bergman, born May 11, 1854, died Feb.1 8, 1899. Deeply missed by her husband and children.  The Hebrew at the bottom says, “Here is buried Mrs. Roza wife of Alexander Seligman Died (on the) holy Shabbos 8(th day of) Adar 5659 by the small count. May her soul be bound in the bonds of life.”

There is also a plaque in town commemorating the Jewish citizens of Gau-Algesheim who were killed by the Nazis. It says, as translated by Google Translate, “The city of Gau-Algesheim commemorates their Jewish fellow citizens who were victims of Nazi violence and domination.”


There is another plaque hanging on the wall of the cemetery listing the Jews born in Gau-Algesheim who were murdered during the Holocaust according to Memorial Book: Victims of the Persecution of Jews under the National Socialist Tyranny in Germany 1933 – 1945.  It says, “Standing in this sacred place our hearts turn to the memory of those who fell victim to the violence of the Nazis, and we vow to keep their memory alive. In solemn testimony of the unbroken faith that connects us with them, their names are referred to in profound awe. We say the Kaddish—the prayer for the dead— and remember the terrible tragedy of the Jewish people.”

Among the names listed on this second plaque were these individuals: Bettina Elisabeth Arnfeld born Seligmann (1875), Johanna Bielefeld born Seligmann (1881), Anna Goldmann born Seligmann (1889), and Moritz Seligmann (1881),.[7]

On the site, I found two more Seligmanns born in Gau-Algesheim: Jacob Seligmann, born April 8, 1869, who became a resident of Neunkirche and emigrated in 1935 to Luxembourg, and Laura Seligmann Winter, born June 9, 1870, who was also a resident of Neunkirche and immigrated to Luxembourg in 1935. [8]

These may have been my relatives.  Given the small size of the Jewish community that lived in Gau-Algesheim, I have to assume that at least some if not all of those named Seligmann were related to my great-great-grandfather Bernard and were thus related to me.  When I saw those names, I was stunned.   Because I have not found where my Brotman relatives lived in Galicia, because I have not found any Goldschlagers from Iasi who were killed in the Holocaust, because my Cohen relatives left Europe long before Hitler was even born, I had not ever before seen the names of possible relatives who were victims of the Holocaust.  But Bettina, Johanna, Anna, Moritz, Jacob, and Laura Seligmann—they were likely the nieces and nephew or the cousins of Bernard, Sigmund, Adolph and James Seligman.  They were likely my family.

Now I need to see what I can learn about them and what happened to them.  I need to be sure that their names are not forgotten.  This is what I know so far from the Yad Vashem names database:

Bettina Elizabeth Seligmann Arnfeld, born March 17, 1875, was residing in Muelheim Ruhr, Dusseldorf, Rhine Province, and was deported to Theresienstadt on July 21, 1942, and she died there on January 23, 1943.



Johanna Seligmann Bielefeld, born March 13, 1881, was living in Mainz during the war.  She died in Auschwitz.



Anna Seligmann Goldmann, born November 30, 1889, was living in Halle der Saale, Merseburg, Saxony Province.  She was deported from there May 30, 1942.  Her husband Hugo Goldmann, born in 1885, and their daughter Ruth Sara, born in 1924, were also deported that same day.  They were all murdered.



Moritz Seligmann, born in 1881, was not listed in the Yad Vashem database.  On the memorial plaque placed at the cemetery in Gau-Algesheim the only notation after his name is Verschollen, which means “missing, lost without a trace,” according to one source.



Jacob Seligmann, despite escaping Germany in 1935 and moving to Luxemburg, did not escape the Nazis.  He was killed in 1941 in Luxemburg, according to the Yad Vashem website.

Laura Seligmann Winter, who may have been Jacob’s sister, was a widow; on August 28, 1940, she also was killed in Luxemburg.



I will continue to look for more records that will tell something about the lives of these people and their families so that they can be remembered not only for how they died but also for how they lived.


“Dachau never again” by Forrest R. Whitesides – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –














[1] See



[2] See



[3] See



[4] See



[5] See



[6] See








[8] [8]



A Brick Wall Tumbles, Thanks Once Again to the Genealogy Village

When I learned that my brother’s Y-DNA did not match the Y-DNA of a descendant of Moses Cohen of Washington, DC, I was sorely disappointed.  I was sure that all the circumstantial and documentary evidence I had found supported my hunch that Moses was the brother of my great-great-grandfather Jacob Cohen and son of my three-times great-grandfather, Hart Levy Cohen.  But DNA does not lie, and I was very surprised by the results.

I had one small glimmer of hope when I learned about a family story that indicated that Moses Cohen, Sr., was not the biological father of Moses Cohen, Jr., who was in fact the biological great-great-grandfather of the living descendant whose DNA had been compared to that of my brother.  But how would I ever prove that?  It seemed hopeless.

Nevertheless, I decided to see what I could find that might help answer some of my questions.  Where and when was Moses, Jr., born? When and where did Moses, Sr., marry his mother Adeline Himmel? I could not find any American records showing a marriage or an immigration record for Adeline and her son Moses, Jr.  All I had were census records from 1850 and 1860 showing that Moses, Sr. and Adeline were already married by 1850 and that in 1850, Moses, Jr., was eleven years old.  Later census records indicated that both Moses, Jr., and Adeline were born in Germany and that Moses, Sr., was born in England (though a few later census reports filed after Moses, Sr.’s death by his children said he was also born in Germany).  Some of Moses, Jr.’s and Adeline’s records were even more specific, several naming Baden as her place of birth.

Several months ago when I first discovered the DC branch of the Cohen family, I had tried without success to find where in Baden Adeline had lived.  I sent a message on the GerSIG listserv (German Special Interest Group) of asking for help.  I received many suggestions, but the most helpful one was from a man named Rodney.  First, he looked up the surname Himmel in Lars Menk’s “Dictionary of German-Jewish Surnames” and found that there was only one Jewish community in Germany where the name Himmel appeared, in  the Eberbach region of Baden.  Then he pointed me to a website that compiled various birth, death and marriage records from various towns in Germany, the Landesarchiv, and specifically to a book of the Jewish records for a town in Eberbach called Strumpfelbrunn where Rodney found a birth record for Jacob Himmel that he translated for me.  The record said, “On the 24th December 1815 was born Jakob Himmel, legitimate son of Moses Himmel and his wife Bromit nee Jakobin(?). Witnesses are Jakob Goez and Abraham Mond.”

(Generallandesarchiv Karlsruhe 390 Nr. 1137, Bild 8
Standesbücher / (1691-) 1775-1875 (-1958)
Kernlaufzeit 1810-1870 > Amtsgerichtsbezirk Eberbach >
Strümpfelbrunn, israelitische Gemeinde: Standesbuch 1810-1866 / 1810-1866)

Jacob Himmel birth record

Jacob Himmel birth record

I immediately wondered whether this Jakob Himmel could be the same as the one living next door to Moses, Adeline, and Moses, Jr., in Baltimore in 1850, the one I suspected was the brother of Adeline.

Moses Cohen and family 1850 census

Moses Cohen and family and Jacob Himmel and family  1850 census

Rodney suggested that I look for other records in the Strumpfelbrunn book, but it was written in old German script that looks like what you see above.  I wouldn’t even recognize my own name written in that script.  I tried my best, but after a few pages, I gave up and said that there had to be an easier way.  But there was not.  These records are not digitized or translated anywhere yet.  So I returned to American records and moved on, figuring I’d either never find Moses, Jr.’s records or I’d find them some other way.

Then in the last few weeks I found the passenger manifest for Jacob Himmel.

Jacob Himmel ship manifest

Jacob Himmel ship manifest



I posted it to a Facebook group called Baden Genealogy for help in deciphering the town listed as Jacob’s place of last residence, which looked like Rutlingheim to me and to most others.  But there was no such town in Baden, no town that had a name that looked even close.  I tried searching for the two men who appeared to be traveling with Jacob from “Rutlingheim” and had no luck at all locating them in the US.  Then two days ago, I posted again to the Baden Facebook group, asking whether the town could be Billigheim, a town reasonably close to Strumpfelbrunn where a Jacob Himmel had been born.

Monica, a member of that group, responded, and when I explained why Strumpfelbrunn was my point of reference, she invited me to send her the birth record I had and the source where I had found it and she would translate it for me.  Her translation was consistent with that of Rodney except that she read Jacob’s mother’s name as Fromit, not Bromit.  She, like Rodney, said I should look for other mentions of Himmel in the record.  The book is close to 300 pages long, and I told her that I just could not decipher the old German script.  Then she made a brilliant suggestion; she sent me a link to the font for that old script, had me install it into Word, and then suggested I type out Himmel and any other relevant names in the script and compare it to what I could find on the pages of the records book.

And so I did, and on page 78, I found a record that looked like it had the name Moses Himmel in that old script.

Moses Himmel birth record 1839

Moses Himmel birth record 1839

Moses Himmel birth record 1839 detail

Moses Himmel birth record 1839 detail

I sent it to Monica, who translated it as follows: “In the year 1839 29th Dec at noon an illegitimate son of the spinster Adelheid Himmel was born.  She is the legitimate daughter of the deceased Moses Himmel and of Frommat nee Lagg from Amsterdam.  The boy will be named Moses at his circumcision.”  It then names some witnesses.

When I received that email with the translation, I felt those bricks tumbling down.  Could this be anyone other than Adeline Himmel Cohen and her son Moses? Does this not provide evidence that the family story that Moses, Jr., was not the biological child of Moses Cohen, Sr., is reliable? Doesn’t it explain why Moses, Jr.’s great-great-grandson does not share DNA with my brother, who is a direct descendant of Hart Levy Cohen, who was Moses, Sr.’s father, but not the biological grandfather of Moses, Jr.?

I then found another page, 26, that also seemed to have the name Himmel.  Monica translated that one as well.  “On the 5th of May 1820 in the morning 4 o’clock he died and was buried at noon.  Moses Himmel was married with Fromat Lagg (or Lugg or Legg) from Holland.  Age forty and four years.”  This was the death notice for Moses Himmel, the father of Adelheid or Adeline Himmel.  She named her illegitimate son for her father, not as a junior for Moses Cohen, the man she would later marry, probably in the United States.

Moses Himmel the grandfather of Moses Himmel

Moses Himmel the grandfather of Moses Himmel

Of course, there are many questions remaining.  I still don’t know when Moses, Sr., married Adeline.  Nor can I be 100% certain this is the right Adeline, though it certainly would appear to be so.  These discoveries also open up some new doors for my research.  If Adeline’s mother was named Fromat Lagg or Lugg or Legg and she lived in Holland, perhaps there is a connection to my Dutch ancestors in Amsterdam.  Her name was given as Jakobin on Jacob’s birth record; perhaps she was part of the same family as Rachel and/or Sarah Jacobs, my three-times and two-times great-grandmothers.  Now I need to return to the Dutch research and see what I can find.

In any event, once again the generosity of my fellow genealogy researchers has been demonstrated.  I never could have done this without the help of Rodney and Monica, two people I’ve never met, and the larger GerSIG and Baden Genealogy Facebook group communities.  It is astonishing what can be accomplished when people work together instead of fighting and killing each other.


A Distributed Denial of Service Attack on and other Genealogy Sites

There was an attack on by hackers yesterday, taking down the entire site and all of its associated sites including FindAGrave,, and many of the databases shared by JewishGen.  That means I could not access my tree or do more research except on the FamilySearch website.  Although I have my tree backed up on my computer, I had not backed it up in the last week or so (stupidity on my part), so it was not up to date.

What have I learned from this?  I am too dependent on for storing my family history information.  Yes, I do download copies of all the photographs and most of the documents to my computer, and they are also accessible through FamilyTreeMaker, the family tree software I have on my computer.  All my blog posts are also stored in Word format on my computer as well as on WordPress, the host of this blog.  But what if my hard drive is destroyed? What if WordPress is attacked?  How do we protect our photographs and documents as safely as possible?  I can’t imagine losing everything that I have worked so hard to find and collect, so if others out there have suggestions, please let me know. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) was up very briefly this morning, so I was able to update my hard drive version of my tree with Family Tree Maker.  But it is down again now, and I am just wondering how much at risk my saved files and research are and will be in the future.




It Takes A Village: Mystery Solved!

Immigrant children, Ellis Island, New York.

Immigrant children, Ellis Island, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I received a lot of exciting documents today, but I cannot write about them all at once.  I want to write first about the one that resolved a longstanding mystery I had almost despaired of ever solving.

Just to refresh your recollection (or to tell you the story for the first time), my great-great aunt Tillie Strulowitz arrived at Ellis Island with her husband Jankel and three of her seven children, the older four having already emigrated.  They were detained at Ellis Island because of questions about Jankel’s health, and I was able to obtain, with the help of the generous people at JewishGen, the file for the immigration hearing. From that I knew that he had been admitted to the United States and had not been deported or died before arriving in the US, as some of his descendants believed.

But I still could find no evidence of what happened to him after January, 1908, when he was admitted.  He was not on the 1910 census with Tillie and the children. Tillie was listed as a widow, but I could not find a death certificate or a cemetery burial that proved he had died. I began to wonder whether Jankel had abandoned them or been institutionalized or returned to Romania.

I wrote to the JewishGen discussion group for a second time to ask for help, and I received many very helpful and creative suggestions.  I pursued each one of them, but with no success.  The only one that I had still not been able to put closure on was a suggestion from a man named Barry Chernick who had found a death recorded for a Jankof Israelwitch in April 1908.  Barry hypothesized that this might be Jankel because Israelwitch could be an Americanization of Strulowitz or Srulovici.  Since Srul is Yiddish for Israel, perhaps the family had switched their name after leaving Ellis Island.  It seemed like a long shot, but I figured it was worth a try and wrote away for the death certificate.

Well, today I received the death certificate for Jankof Israelwitch, and I am certain that it is the death certificate for Jankel Srulovici.  My conclusion is based on the following clues: his birth place (Romania), length of time in the US (4 months—he died in April 1908 and arrived in the US at the very end of December 1907), his father’s name (Israel—Jankel’s first born son was named Israel or Srul in Romania), his residence (East Harlem, where his family was living from 1910 and afterwards), and his age (57).

Jankel Srulovici death certificate

Jankel Srulovici death certificate

The death certificate also revealed on the reverse side that he was buried at Mt Zion cemetery, so I went to their website and searched for Jankof Israelwitch, and there I was now able to find that he is in fact buried there under that name.  The fact that Tillie and Isidor and Pincus are also buried at Mt Zion (though not in the same sections) is further corroboration that this is the right person.

reverse side

reverse side

And so now, thanks to the assistance of so many people at JewishGen and especially Renee and Barry, I can put closure on the life of Jankel Srulovici.  He did not abandon his family, he was not deported, he was not institutionalized, he did not divorce Tillie.  No, he died what must have been a painful death from a metastatic growth in his ribs.

Like my great-grandfather Moritz, Jankel’s brother-in-law, Jankel died soon after arriving in America.  How awful it must have been for the two sisters, Tillie and Ghitla, to lose their husbands after making the brave and difficult decision to leave home and start anew in this country.  Yet somehow they both continued on, they raised their children, and they made a life for themselves as widows in the United States.  I continue to be amazed by the resilience of the immigrant generation.

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Uncle Gustave to the Rescue Again

A key lesson I’ve learned over the months I’ve been doing genealogy work is that it is important to go back and look at documents and information you received over and over again.  Something that seemed unimportant or confusing when first viewed can take on a lot more meaning after you’ve learned more about a family or a person.  So while I am waiting for new documents, I took the opportunity to review some old documents.

I went back to look at the information I had for Isidor Strolowitz Adler, Tillie and Jankel’s oldest child.  I did this because I noticed (for the first time) that on the 1910 US census that Tillie said that she had been married for 27 years.

The Strolovitz Adler family with Isadore and Betty in 1910

The Strolovitz Adler family with Isadore and Betty in 1910

Since she was a widow, the first time I looked at this it did not seem relevant.  This time I thought there might be a clue here as to when Jankel had died.  Assuming that Isidor was born within a year of marriage, as seemed to be the case in so many of the marriages of that era, if Tillie and Jankel were married the year before Isidore’s birth and were married for a total of 27 years, I might get a better estimate of when he died (or disappeared).

So I turned to Isidor’s information and saw that I had an estimated date of birth of 1883 based on the fact that Isidor was listed as 27 on the 1910 census.  According to his death certificate, he was 31 years, two months at the time of his death on April 23, 1915, giving him a birth date of February, 1884.

Isidor Adler death certificate

Isidor Adler death certificate

Since Bertha, the second child, was born in February, 1885, it certainly is feasible that Isidor had been born twelve months earlier.   Unfortunately, these were the only two documents I had for Isidor since he died so soon after arriving in the US.  I am hoping my Iasi researcher will find his birth record (he has located birth records for two of Isidor’s siblings; more on that in a separate post), but I decided to see if I could find a ship manifest for Isidor.

On my entries for Isidor I had two different arrival dates: 1901 and 1903.  His death certificate in 1915 said he’d been in the US for twelve years, giving me 1903.  The 1910 census said that he had arrived in 1901.  Although the 1910 census indicated that Isidor had petitioned for citizenship, I’ve yet to locate that petition.  And I had no ship manifest.  Although I had found ship manifests for all of his siblings and for his parents, I’d not been able to locate one for Isidor.  I’d searched for Isidor, Isaac, Ira, and Israel and all the variations of his last name, but had not found anything.

But this time I vaguely remembered something: in the records for his father’s hearing at Ellis Island, Isidor had been referred to by another name.  I went back to look at those records and found that Isidor had been identified as Srul.

transcript listing Srulovici children

transcript listing Srulovici children

I had learned from one of my JewishGen contacts that Srul was a Yiddish version of Israel—that Srulowitz means son of Israel.  So Srul had become Israel and then Isidor in the US.  The transcript also said that Srul was 26 in January, 1908, making his birth year 1883.

So I went back to the Ellis Island search engine created by Steve Morse and searched again, using Srul, and lo and behold—there it was.  Strul Strulovici, age 19, had arrived on January 12, 1902, from Jassy, Romania, via Hague on the ship La Gascogne.   That would make his birth year either 1883 or 1882.  So I am no more certain of his birth year and thus no more certain of when his parents had married.  But assuming they were married sometime between 1881 and 1883, that would mean that Tillie became a widow between 1908 and 1910, which is what I already assumed.

Strul Strulovici ship manifest

Strul Strulovici ship manifest

But I did learn something new from the manifest.  Under the column asking who was meeting Strul/Isidor in America was the entry “Uncle.”  I have to believe that this was his mother’s brother, Gustave Rosenzweig, my great-great uncle, the same uncle who stood up for Jankel in 1908 and posted a bond, the same Gustave who acted as a witness at his niece’s wedding.  I can only imagine all the other things that this man did that were not documented for eternity.  This new finding gave me the incentive to go back and learn more about Gustave and his children.

Gustave Rosenzweig

Gustave Rosenzweig

So keep reviewing those documents.  You never know what you will learn a second time or third time or even a fourth time through.

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Is there a Yelp for Genealogy Resources?

The always helpful and amazing Renee did it again.  I asked her for help finding Nathan and Gertrude Mintz and their daughter Susanne, and within hours she had located an obituary for Gertrude, naming her daughter Susan and granddaughters and great-grandchild.  A second obituary for Susan’s husband revealed another great-grandchild.  So now I have some living descendants to track down and contact.  I’ve already reached out to one, but have not yet heard back.  Perhaps we will be able to learn what happened to Harry, Zusi and Nathan after Hyman died and the family seems to have split apart or disappeared.

I would like to be able to find this kind of information myself.  I asked Renee how she had found these materials, and once again it was two resources to which I do not subscribe or have access: and PeopleFinders.  It’s all quite overwhelming.  There are so many different sources and websites. There are an amazing number of free resources:,,, JRI-Poland,,, Google, Facebook, the White Pages, for example. and Gesher Galicia are free, but if you want full access, you need to pay or make a contribution. All of these sites are tremendously helpful, especially for finding people before 1940, but to find people after that date requires access to other resources since the census reports and vital records dated after 1940 are not publicly available.  To find someone after 1940 or so requires access to obituaries, phone books, newspaper articles, marriage announcements, and other more modern databases.

There are also a very large number of paid sites.  Each time I’ve asked Renee how she found a source, usually a wedding announcement or an obituary, I’ve checked out that database or website and subscribed to a few.  For example, and are two sites to which I have subscribed but that have been almost useless to me.  I don’t know whether I am using them incorrectly or just unlucky, but I’ve found almost nothing of value on those sites.   So I’ve become a little reluctant to plop down my credit card for more sites without figuring out whether they are worth the investment.

Some of the sites are not that expensive—$25 a year; others are far more expensive.  For example,, the site Renee used this time, costs $125 a year.  They do offer a free 14-day trial, however, so I might at least try that.  There are also so many other sites—Intelius, PeopleFinders—the list goes on and on.  I am confused and overwhelmed.  Do I really need any of these? Do I need all of them?  Where do I draw the line?

Maybe somewhere there is a source that rates these sources for genealogy research value.  Maybe some of the genealogists who are reading this post can point me to that source or provide me with some guidance.  What are the best sources for locating obituaries, wedding announcements and other information relating to people living after 1940? Why have both and proven to be so useless to me?  Is worth the price?

Let me know what you think.  Thanks!

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Brotman Ancestral Home: Tarnobrzeg (probably)

While researching my Goldschlager/Rosenzweig relatives, I have also been continuing to work towards an answer to the question

Photograph of Tarnobrzeg Main Square.

Photograph of Tarnobrzeg Main Square. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

of where in Galicia my ancestors Joseph and Bessie Brotman lived.  The discovery of David Brotman, Joseph’s son from his first marriage, provided a new jumpstart to that research because David had listed two different home towns on his documentation: Tarnof on the ship manifest and Grambow on his naturalization papers.  Unfortunately, that information seemed to conflict with what I had from Hyman’s papers—Jeekief and Giga.

After consulting with a few people in the field, my best guess is that the family came from Tarnobrzeg, then called Dzikow.  A town called Grebow or Grybow is close by, and I am wondering whether David was born in Grebow, near Tarnobrzeg, when Joseph was married to Chaye Fortgang, and that Joseph moved to Dzikow/Tarnobrzeg when he married Bessie and when Chaim/Hyman was born.  It’s a guess, but it’s the best I think I will be able to do, given the unreliability of the US records and our ancestors’ memories.

Having decided to make the assumption that Tarnobrzeg was the Brotman ancestral home, I then again researched the available resources online such as JRIPoland, Gesher Galicia, and JewishGen, to see if there were any records that might be relevant, adding the surname Fortgang to my search since that is what David’s death certificate said had been his mother Chaye’s maiden name.  I could not find any, and then I checked to see what records were even available in general for Tarnobrzeg. 

I wrote to Stanley Diamond, the creator of JRI-Poland, and this is what he informed me: “Among all the towns listed [on JRI-Poland], Tarnobrzeg is the one with the fewest surviving records.  They are the 1889-1911 births that are in the Polish State Archive branch in Sandomierz (for which we now have digital images) and the 1912-1937 birth records in the town hall in Tarnobrzeg.”  Obviously, all of those records are too late for our family as the last child born in Galicia was Tillie in 1884. Just our luck—our relatives had to come from the place with the fewest surviving records.

Stanley told me not to give up all hope—that new records are sometimes discovered over time.  And I will certainly keep renewing my search periodically, hoping that something does turn up.  But for now, I think I have to accept the limitations of our ability to learn everything about our past.

So am I content with this? No, of course not.  It’s particularly frustrating because it means I cannot go back any earlier than Joseph, Bessie and Chaye to find our earlier ancestors. I think that I can learn to be comfortable saying that my great-grandparents Joseph and Bessie Brotman probably came from the Tarnobrzeg region of Galicia.  That’s much better than what I could say last summer when I really started digging for answers.  But being even 99% sure is not the same as knowing for certain, and I am not even close to 99% sure.

For those who are interested, here are two websites about Tarnobrzeg, the town where my great-grandparents Joseph and Bessie Brotman probably lived.

Poland, Tarnobrzeg - Museum of City History, p...

Poland, Tarnobrzeg – Museum of City History, placed in old granary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ShtetlLinks page

Gesher Galicia page

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The Wonderful Generosity of Genealogists

I have been working the last couple of days on the search for what happened to the husband of my great-great aunt, Tillie Rosensweig Srulovic/Strolowitz/Strulowitz/Adler.  The last record I have of him is on the manifest for the ship that brought him along with Tillie and their three youngest children to the United States in December, 1907.  On the manifest, as previously discussed, his name is Itic Yankel Srulovici.  There are notations on the manifest that indicate that although he first was considered in good health, a later notation written over that finding indicates that he had scars on his corneas and coloboma in both irises.  However, the record also indicated that he was examined by a Doctor Snider and is stamped “admitted,” though it also indicates that the family was held for several days and a bond had to be posted for their release.

ship manifest 1907

ship manifest 1907

page 2 of manifest

page 2 of manifest

I did some research on the history of Ellis Island, and apparently there was a contagious eye condition, trachoma, that was commonly a basis for refusing entry to an immigrant.  Perhaps when the inspectors saw something strange about Itic’s eyes, they decided to hold him for further examination.  Reading this the first time, however, I wasn’t sure how to interpret the “admitted”—did that mean he was admitted after the exam? Was it possible they had deported him? And if he stayed, when did he become Jacob Adler, and when did he die?

And why is there no record of him after leaving Ellis Island?  In my emails with Itic’s great-granddaughter Jean, she said that family lore is that her great-grandfather never left Ellis Island.   Did that mean he had died on Ellis Island? Had he been deported?  I could not determine how to figure this out.

Immigrants just arrived from Foreign Countries...

Immigrants just arrived from Foreign Countries–Immigrant Building, Ellis Island, New York Harbor. (Half of a stereo card) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And that’s where the generosity of genealogists comes in.  I posted an inquiry on the JewishGen discussion list, asking for opinions and help in figuring out what had happened to Itic/Jacob.  And within less than an hour, I started receiving responses and continue to receive very helpful responses.  I have said this before, but I continue to be amazed and touched by how helpful, supportive and generous with their time and energies these experienced genealogists are.  Renee Steinig continues be an incredible source of support—with ideas, suggestions, and documents that she finds for me on her own time.  Others also have gone out of their way, including Bette (whose last name I don’t even know but who has helped me before on other questions), Phyllis Kramer, Marian Smith, Don Solomon, Sally Bruckheimer, David Crook, Diane Jacobs, Adelle Gloger, and several more.

And so what have I Iearned? Well, most of these people advised me that it is very unlikely that he was deported.  If the document is marked “admitted,” then he was admitted.  There would be some notation in the file if he had been deported.  Several people gave me websites and search engines to use to see if I could find a death record or gravesite where Itic/Jacob appeared.  So far I have not found any record other than the the death certificate for a Jacob Adler who died in 1910, but I can’t find a gravesite for that person.  I hope to have the death certificate by the end of next week, so perhaps if it identifies him as Tillie’s husband, we will have an answer.

I also was advised to request a document from the National Archives and was even provided with the document identification information by someone who was looked it up on an index I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to access.  I called the National Archives, and I am now waiting for them to call me back.  So I am hoping that by the end of next week I will have some documentation that may fill out the story and tell us what happened to Tillie’s husband, Gisella’s brother-in-law.

I could never have gotten as far on this journey without all this help.  Thank you again to every person who has provided me with help.  I look forward to paying it forward to another new genealogy researcher some day soon.  I can never pay all of you back for what you have given me.

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