First Stop on Our Trip to Germany: Mainz

We spent our first day and a half in Germany in the beautiful and ancient city of Mainz, a city with a population of about 200,000 people and a city that was once an important center for Jewish learning and culture. Our visit there created some cognitive dissonance for me as we experienced such incredible beauty and also memories of such horrific ugliness.

We flew into Frankfurt Airport on May 2 and found the train to Mainz.  Once on the train, we were not entirely sure that we’d gotten on the right train.  Despite a full year of learning German online, I could not make out one word of the train announcements.  Fortunately, a very kind man sitting across from us realized we were confused and reassured us that we were on the right train and that he would tell us when to get off.  From the start, we were favorably impressed with the people in Germany.

Our hotel, the Mainz Hilton, was right on the Rhine; it is a large American-style hotel with large rooms and all the amenities.

The Rhine

We were exhausted after the overnight flight and took a short rest before meeting Wolfgang at 1:30.  And the adrenaline kept us going. I had so anticipated meeting my cousin Wolfgang.  We had been emailing each other for over two years on a regular basis, at first mostly about family history, but as time went on more often exchanging current information—about our families, our lives, politics, German and English, and life in general.  Meeting him in person for the first time, I felt as if I must have already met him and spent time with him. The connection was immediate, and he was just as I imagined based on his emails.  A warm and open person, sensitive and kind, intelligent and perceptive.  And with a delightful sense of humor.

My cousin Wolfgang and me

Wolfgang had planned a walk through the sights closest to our hotel and then a tram tour around the city to see some of the sites that were further out. We strolled along the Rhine for a bit.  The weather was rainy and quite cool, but it did not put a damper on my spirits. We passed a sculpture reflecting the division of Germany after World War II and its reunification in 1990.

We walked past a 15th century watch tower known as the Holzturm (“wooden tower); it was destroyed by bombing in World War II but reconstructed and restored to its original appearance.

Then Wolfgang showed us the house where Johanna Seligmann and Alfred Bielefeld had lived.  Johanna was my first cousin, three times removed.  She was the daughter of Hyronimus Seligmann, brother of my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman.  Alfred, her husband, was a wine merchant in Mainz.  Both were killed in the Holocaust.  They were deported to Terezin first, where Alfred died in 1945; Johanna was then sent to Auschwitz, where she was killed in 1945.  Their children, Hans and Lily, survived and lived in the United States.  I wrote about Johanna and her family here and here.

Johanna Bielefeld nee Seligmann

Bielelfed house in Mainz

Just around the corner from where the Bielefelds lived was the so-called “Jew House” where the Nazis moved Jewish families before deporting them.  Although the house itself no longer exists, this is where it was located:

We then visited a beautiful 18th century church, St. Augustine, with an elaborately decorated interior:

St Augustine church in Mainz

Perhaps my favorite spot in Mainz was the Kirschgarten—a small square framed by several half-timber houses, some now restaurants.  This little square captured exactly what I expected an old German city or town to look like—something out of Hansel and Gretel or some other fairy tale. The oldest house in Mainz is located in the Kirschgarten:

Kirschgarten in Mainz

Everywhere we turned there were beautiful half-timber buildings, sometimes right next to a post-war building.

We then visited the Dom, or cathedral, a large Romanesque sandstone structure located on the main market square in Mainz. The cathedral’s oldest sections are a thousand years old with later additions over the years.  It was damaged by bombing in World War II, but restored afterwards.  The cloister is a peaceful place for contemplation, and the high vaulted ceiling in the main part of the cathedral forces you to look upwards.  It is an impressive and inspiring building.

Mainz Marktplatz

Cloister at the cathedral in Mainz

At this point we caught the little tram that took us on a tour around other parts of the city, passing the Rathaus (town hall), the Schloss (a palace more than a castle), the new synagogue, and the building where the Gestapo was housed during World War II. I couldn’t get any photos of these sites as we were moving too fast, but I was glad to be seated and not walking at that point. I asked Wolfgang if we could come back the next day to see the synagogue.

As I wrote here, our first stop on Wednesday was our visit with Wolfgang’s mother Annlis, a time I will never forget.

Then we continued our tour of Mainz.  We passed the location where Fritz/Fred Michel once owned a store.  Fred Michel was the son of Franzeska Seligmann and the grandson of August Seligmann, Wolfgang’s great-grandfather and another brother of my great-great-grandfather Bernard. Fred and his wife Ilse came to the US in the 1930s and settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  I wrote about Fred, his mother, and his family here.

Fred Michel and Franziska Seligmann Michel
Courtesy of the Family of Fred and Ilse Michel

Location of Fred Michel’s store in Mainz

We then walked up the steep hill to St. Stephen’s church, where there are a number of windows designed by Marc Chagall.  The contrast between the thousand year old medieval structure and the gorgeous blue Chagall windows is striking. Like so many other buildings in Mainz, this church was damaged by bombing during World War II.  According to Wikipedia, the priest at St. Stephens, Monsignor Klaus Mayer, was a friend of Marc Chagall and approached him in the 1970s to design new windows. This is the only church in Germany for which Chagall designed windows, and he saw it as a way of expressing his hope for peace between Christians and Jews.  To see the work of a Jewish artist and his depictions of figures from the Jewish bible inside a medieval Catholic church was very moving.

St Stephen’s church in Mainz with Chagall windows

We then walked back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and Wolfgang drove us to see the new synagogue.  I knew before coming that Mainz had a long and very important history as a Jewish community. According to several sources, Mainz had a Jewish community at least as early as the tenth century. Rabbi Gershom ben Judah, known as “the light of the diaspora,” was an early important leader of the Mainz Jewish community, and his codification of Jewish law was accepted in many other communities in Europe as well.

The Jews, however, were expelled from the city in the eleventh century; they returned later, but then a thousand were killed during the first Crusade during the twelfth century.  Later, many died from the Black Death and from persecution. For several centuries there was not much of a Jewish community in Mainz. The community began to grow again in the 18th and 19th centuries. Synagogues were constructed, and Jews for some time lived in peace in the community. By 1900, there were 3000 Jews living in Mainz, according to JewishGen.org

On November 9, 1938, the Mainz synagogues were attacked as part of Kristallnacht and burnt and in some cases destroyed; there were over 200 synagogues at that time in Mainz, including the largest synagogue, Neue Synagogue, which was completely destroyed. Most of the Jews who remained in Mainz, including my Bielefeld cousins, were eventually deported and killed.

But today there is hope.  A new synagogue was built on the site of the former Neue Synagogue in 2010, and it is an imposing structure.  As this article describes, it was consider a symbol of hope for the revival of Jewish life in Germany. Outside the synagogue stand pillars from the original synagogue, a permanent reminder of what had existed and what was destroyed. The city now has about a thousand Jews who are affiliated with the synagogue as well as many others who are not.

The website of Manuel Herz, the architect who designed the new synagogue, provides a great deal of information about the history and about the reasons for the choices made in naming and designing this new building.  The synagogue is called Meor Hagolah, which means “Light of the Diaspora,” the name used to refer to Gershom ben Judah because of his wisdom and his broad-reaching influence on the practice of Judaism. The Hebrew words on the door to the synagogue are translated as “Light of the Diaspora Synagogue Mainz.”

Meor Hagodah Synagogue Mainz

The building’s shape is supposed to evoke the Hebrew word Kedushah, meaning holiness and referring to one of the sections of the Amidah prayer. I must admit I could not see the letters no matter where I stood outside the building, but I like the concept. The building overall is quite imposing and, in my opinion, not very welcoming.  It looks more like a fortress than a house of prayer.  Maybe that is in part the point: that this is a safe place that will not be destroyed again.

We stopped at the historic Mainz cemetery on our way out of town.  I have no known family members there, and we could not go inside, but the age and number of the gravestones there are another reminder that there was once a large and important Jewish community there.

Mainz Jewish cemetery

Mainz is truly a beautiful city, and despite all the damage inflicted during the war, it retains its charm, its character, and its architectural beauty. It is hard to imagine, amidst all that beauty and all those churches, how the Jewish community that lived there so long could have been destroyed.  But it is also important to look forward. I left the city feeling hopeful, knowing that a new synagogue and a growing new Jewish community exist in the city of Mainz.

 

 

Jacob Katzenstein: Before, During, and After the Flood

My great-great-uncle Jacob Katzenstein was, like his sister Brendena, a man who faced a great deal of tragedy but managed to survive and, in his case, start all over with a new family.  In 1889, he lost first born child, Milton, at age two and a half, and then both his wife, Ella Bohm, and his other young son Edwin in the devastating Johnstown flood.  I’ve written about Jacob and these events in prior posts.

In one of those posts, I also described my search for more information about Ella Bohm and my hypothesis that she was the daughter of Marcus Bohm and Eva Goldsmith; I assumed Eva was her mother as Ella is listed on the 1880 census as the niece of Jacob Goldsmith, Eva’s brother.  Eva Goldsmith was also my distant cousin—her mother was Fradchen Schoenthal, my great-grandfather Isidore’s sister; her father was Simon Goldschmidt, my great-grandmother Eva Goldschmidt’s uncle.  And if I am right that Ella Bohm was Eva Goldsmith’s daughter, then Ella married her cousin when she married Jacob Katzenstein, as he was Eva Goldschmidt’s son.

jacob-katzenstein-to-jacob-goldsmith

But I had no definitive proof that Eva Goldsmith was Ella’s mother.  I also had not been able to find out when Jacob Katzenstein married Ella or why their first-born son Milton died.  On my cousin Roger’s old genealogy website, he had included a quote about Jacob from a book called The Horse Died at Windber: A History of Johnstown’s Jews of Pennsylvania by Leonard Winograd (Wyndham Hall Press, 1988).  I decided to track down this book to see if it revealed any more information about Jacob Katzenstein and Ella Bohm and their lives.

I was able to borrow a copy of the book through the Interlibrary Loan system from my former employer, Western New England University, and have now read the book.  Unfortunately it did not answer my two principal questions.  I still don’t know for sure who was Ella Bohm’s mother, and I still don’t know what caused the death of little Milton. I did, however, learn more about Ella’s father Marcus Bohm, about Jacob Katzenstein and his second wife Bertha and their children, and about the Johnstown Jewish community at that time and its history.

According to Winograd, in the second half of the 19th century when many Jewish immigrants started arriving from Europe, many made a living as peddlers, as I’ve written about previously. Pittsburgh was a popular hub where these peddlers would obtain their wares and then travel by foot or horse and wagon or train to the various small towns in western Pennsylvania. Winograd states that by 1882 there were 250 to 300 peddlers operating this way out of Pittsburgh. (Winograd, p. 12)

Eventually these peddlers would find a particular town to settle in and would set up store as a merchant in the town. But Pittsburgh remained the center for Jewish life.  These merchants and peddlers would attend synagogue there, participate in Jewish communal life there, and be buried there. Often they would move on from one town to another or return to Pittsburgh itself. (Winograd, p. 12-13)

Johnstown was a bit too far to be part of this greater Pittsburgh community (65 miles away), and although peddlers and merchants did come through there and even settle temporarily there, it was a more isolated location than the towns that became satellites of Pittsburgh.  Thus, its social, economic, and religious life was independent of the Pittsburgh influence.

 

Winograd reported that Johnstown had a population growth spurt between 1850 and 1860, jumping from 1,260 to 4,185.  In 1856, there were nine churches in Johnstown, but no synagogue (although there was apparently an attempt to start one in 1854).  The Jewish families in the town had services in their homes; there was not a large enough population to support the establishment of a synagogue at that time. (Winograd, p. 26) In 1864, the Jewish merchants in town formed a merchants’ association regulating store hours. Most of these merchants came from the Hesse region of Germany, as did Jacob Katzenstein. (Winograd, p. 48)

Two of those early merchants in the 1860s were Sol and Emanuel Leopold. (Winograd, p.56)  It was their sister Minnie Leopold and her husband Solomon Reineman with whom Marcus Bohm was living in 1910; Solomon Reineman came to Johnstown in 1875. (Winograd, pp. 77-78) Sol and Emanuel Leopold’s other sister Eliza Leopold Miller was Bertha Miller’s mother—that is, Jacob Katzenstein’s mother-in-law when he married Bertha Miller. As Winograd points out in Appendix C to his book (pp. 281-283), many of the Jewish merchants in town were related either directly or through marriage.

According to Winograd, both Marcus Bohm and Jacob Katzenstein came to Johnstown in the 1880s. Here’s what he wrote about Marcus Bohm:

marcus-bohm-in-winograd-book

(Winograd, p. 78)

Winograd wrote that Jacob Katzenstein first came to Johnstown in 1882 as a clerk for another merchant. He married Ella Bohm on March 26, 1883, (Johnstown Daily Tribune, May 16, 1883, p. 4, col. 7).  Winograd even mentioned their wedding.  In discussing what he described as “the first public Jewish wedding” in Johnstown, which took place in 1886, Winograd says, “There had been an earlier Jewish wedding, that of Jacob Katzenstein to Ella Bohm on March 26, 1883, a private ceremony conducted by J.S. Strayer, Esquire.” (Winograd, pp. 93-94)  The implication appears to be that Jacob and Ella might have been the first Jewish couple married in Johnstown. Based on the date, I was able to locate a marriage notice from the May 16, 1883, edition of the Johnstown Daily Tribune (p. 4, col. 7).

According to Winograd, Jacob and Ella lived in rooms over the store of another Johnstown merchant, Sol Hess. Sol Hess was the brother-in-law of Emanuel Leopold, who had married Sol’s sister Hannah. In March 1884, Marcus Bohm moved in with Jacob and Ella and soon thereafter, Marcus lost his own store when an Eastern dealer executed a judgment of $2,625 dollars against him. (Winograd, pp.78-79)

According to Winograd, Jacob moved back to Philadelphia for a few years.  This must have been when Jacob and Ella’s first son Milton was born in 1886, but by June 1887 when Edwin was born, they must have returned to Johnstown. Here is a photograph of Johnstown in 1880s, showing what it must have looked like when Jacob Katzenstein first settled there:

As noted, 1889 was a tragic year for Jacob.  First, there was the tragedy of Milton’s death on April 18, 1889 (Johnstown Daily Tribune (April 18, 1889, p. 4, col. 2), and then the deaths of Ella and Edwin on May 31, 1889, during the flood.  According to Winograd, Ella and little Edwin were in their house on Clinton Street when the flood waters rushed into the city, causing the house to collapse.  After the flood, Jacob lived in one of the temporary structures erected in Johnstown’s Central Park. (Winograd, p. 79)

In March 1891, almost two years after losing his two sons and his first wife, Jacob married Bertha Miller, the daughter of Eliza Leopold and Samuel Miller of Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Jacob and Bertha had six children: Helen (1892), Gerald (1893, presumably named for Jacob’s father Gerson Katzenstein), Eva (1894, presumably named for Jacob’s mother Eva Goldschmidt), Leopold (1898), Maurice (1900), and Perry (1904)(named for Jacob’s brother Perry). Jacob was still a clothing merchant.

Jacob Katzenstein and family 1900 census Year: 1900; Census Place: Johnstown Ward 1, Cambria, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1388; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 0124; FHL microfilm: 1241388

Jacob Katzenstein and family 1900 census
Year: 1900; Census Place: Johnstown Ward 1, Cambria, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1388; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 0124; FHL microfilm: 1241388

It was during the 1880 and 1890s that formal, organized Jewish life really developed in Johnstown. Before that time, the primarily German Jewish residents of the town, who came from a Reform background and, as Winograd observed, identified more as German than Jewish in many ways, had services in their private homes and holiday celebrations with their families, but there were no official synagogues or rabbis in the town. (Winograd, pp. 77, 87-88, 103-107)

Then, with an influx of Russian Jewish immigrants in the 1880s who came from a more traditional, Orthodox background, there was a demand for more of the organized elements of Jewish communal life, including a synagogue, Hebrew school, and kosher butcher.  (Winograd, pp. 76-77) In the 1890s, two synagogues were organized: Rodeph Shalom for the more Orthodox Jews in town and Beth Zion for the Reform Jews.

Beth Zion grew out of a Jewish social club, the Progress Club, of which Jacob Katzenstein was an organizer and founding member in 1885. (Winograd, pp. 80, 148). The group used their building (known as the Cohen building) for services, but it was not until 1894 that they had their first Reform High Holiday Service; there was still no full time rabbi, and lay people often led services. (Winograd, pp. 148-151)

Beth Zion synagogue in Johnstown Courtesy of Julian H. Preisler. The Synagogues of Central and Western Pennsylvania: A Visual Journey (Fonthill Media 2014), p. 74 Courtesy of Beth Shalom Synagogue and the Johnstown Area Heritage Association

Beth Zion synagogue in Johnstown
Courtesy of Julian H. Preisler. The Synagogues of Central and Western Pennsylvania: A Visual Journey (Fonthill Media 2014), p. 74
Courtesy of Beth Shalom Synagogue and the Johnstown Area Heritage Association

Jacob was an officer in Beth Zion Temple. (Winograd, pp. 79-80)  In 1905 he donated five dollars to a fund to provide assistance to Jews in Russia who were being persecuted. (Winograd, pp. 114-116) In 1907, his son Gerald celebrated becoming a bar mitzvah the evening before Rosh Hashana; in 1912 when Gerald’s brother Leo became a bar mitzvah, it also was celebrated during the high holidays. Winograd described the Beth Zion congregation at that time as small, but tightly knit.  (Winograd, pp. 150-151) Obviously, Jacob Katzenstein and his family were active members in this community.

By 1910, Jacob and Bertha’s children ranged in age from five to eighteen and were all still living at home. Jacob listed his occupation as a retail merchant, the owner of a clothing store:

Jacob Katzenstein and family 1910 US census Year: 1910; Census Place: Johnstown Ward 1, Cambria, Pennsylvania; Roll: T624_1323; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0118; FHL microfilm: 1375336

Jacob Katzenstein and family 1910 US census
Year: 1910; Census Place: Johnstown Ward 1, Cambria, Pennsylvania; Roll: T624_1323; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0118; FHL microfilm: 1375336

Six years later on October 4, 1916, Jacob Schlesinger died at age 65 from chronic myocarditis and acute cholecystitis, an inflammation of the gall bladder. Rabbi Max Moll, a rabbi from Rochester, New York who was in Johnstown for the high holidays, presided at Jacob’s funeral. (Winograd, p. 80) Jacob left behind his wife Bertha and his six children ranging in age from 12 (Perry) up to Helen, who was 24.  In his will, executed on September 6, 1916, a month before he died, he appointed his wife Bertha to be his executrix and left his entire estate to her. Jacob was buried at the Grandview Cemetery in Johnstown.

Jacob Katzenstein death certificate Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Pennsylvania, USA; Certificate Number Range: 102541-105790

Jacob Katzenstein death certificate
Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Pennsylvania, USA; Certificate Number Range: 102541-105790

My next post will address what happened to his six children.

Jacob Katzenstein headstone courtesy of Find-A-Grave Member Brian J. Ensley (#47190867).

Jacob Katzenstein headstone
courtesy of Find-A-Grave Member Brian J. Ensley (#47190867).

(Does anyone know why that World War I sign would be posted near Jacob’s headstone? He died before the US entered the war so was not a veteran.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Brief History of Jews in Western Pennsylvania: 1840-1900

Pittsburgh 1874 By Otto Krebs [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pittsburgh 1874
By Otto Krebs [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the questions I had when I started researching my Schoenthal relatives and their lives in western Pennsylvania was what kind of Jewish community existed in that region during the second half of the 19th century.  Learning more about my great-great-uncle Henry Schoenthal made me even more curious about that community.   I now have found two resources that help answer that question.

Susan Melnick, who is doing a project on the history of Jews in western Pennsylvania, told me about Jacob Feldman’s The Jewish Experience in Western Pennsylvania: A History 1755-1945 (1986, The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania), and I ordered a copy.  According to Feldman, although there were a number of Jews who traveled to the Pittsburgh area to transact trade and a few who even briefly settled in the region or purchased land there for investment in the mid-1700s, there was no established Jewish community in the region until the 19th century.  In fact, Jews were slow to move to Pittsburgh even in the first half of the 19th century even though the Jewish population of the US was growing as many more Jewish immigrants arrived from Europe.  Jews were settling in places like Cleveland, Cincinnati, and New Orleans, but not in Pittsburgh because it was at that point less accessible.  Although Pittsburgh was itself growing as the coal industry and manufacturing developed, there was no real Jewish community in western Pennsylvania’s largest city or elsewhere in the region as of 1840.  (Feldman, pp. 3-12)

Slowly in the early 1840s, Jewish peddlers and merchants began to arrive in Pittsburgh, and some settled there.  But as Feldman wrote, “Certainly, this tiny group of Jews could not muster a minyan, a quorum of ten men aged thirteen and over, for the religious services they held in private homes unless a few itinerant peddlers or visitors also were stopping off in town.” (Feldman, p. 16)

As transportation to and from Pittsburgh improved after 1845, the Jewish population grew, with most of the men engaged in sales of dry goods.  By 1848 Jews had organized a cemetery (Troy Hill), a mourner’s society, and a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Shaare Shamayim. Feldman estimated that by 1850 there were 35 Jewish men in Pittsburgh, three times the number of Jews that had been there just three years earlier—before the cemetery and synagogue had been founded.   These were predominantly immigrants from Germany, Lithuania, and Russia.  They were engaged primarily in making and selling clothing as well as sales of dry goods. (Feldman, 17-20)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Albanese

Troy HIll cemetery Photo courtesy of Lisa Albanese

The arrival of the railroad in the 1850s led to another substantial increase in Pittsburgh’s overall population and economy, and poor economic conditions in Germany also led to an increase in the number of Jewish immigrants leaving Germany and arriving in western Pennsylvania, including my cousins Marcus and Mina (Schoenthal) Rosenberg and Simon and Fanny (Schoenthal) Goldschmidt (later Goldsmith).  Pittsburgh was also experiencing some significant industrial development, including the beginnings of a glass manufacturing industry.  Jews expanded beyond the dry goods and clothing fields to sales of liquor and of livestock.  Many were drovers, like Amalie Schoenthal’s husband, Elias Wolfe. (Feldman, 21-23)

As the Jewish population grew, so did the number of Jewish institutions in Pittsburgh, including a benevolent society to help new arrivals, a burial society, a kosher butcher, and a new synagogue.  A  number of members split from the first synagogue, Shaare Shamayim, and formed Rodef Shalom in 1855.  The population could not support two separate congregations, however, and as more and more members joined Rodef Shalom, Shaare Shamayim suffered and in 1860 merged with Rodef Shalom, which became the name of the surviving synagogue.  In 1861, the cornerstone was laid for a synagogue building, which would be the first building owned by a Jewish congregation not only in Pittsburgh, but anywhere in western Pennsylvania.  It opened to great fanfare in 1862.  (Feldman, 23-31.)

Rodef Shalom Temple, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,...

Rodef Shalom Temple, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (Current building, not the original)

During the 1860s and 1870s, the Jewish population of Pittsburgh continued to grow.  Rodef Shalom faced challenges as it moved from an Orthodox practice to Reform under the influence of its German-American leaders.  Those who wanted to continue an Orthodox practice left to form Tree of Life congregation.  Because services at Rodef Shalom were conducted in German,  other members left a few years later and formed another new congregation, Emanuel, also Reform but with services in English. Now the Jewish population in the city was large enough to support three congregations.  Thus, by the time some of my Schoenthal ancestors were moving to Pittsburgh in the 1870s and 1880s, there was a well-established Jewish community in Pittsburgh. (Feldman, 33-54)

But what about “Little Washington,” a much smaller town 30 miles from Pittsburgh? What kind of Jewish community existed there when Henry Schoenthal arrived in 1866 and when my great-grandfather arrived fifteen years later in 1881? Feldman reported that in 1853 my cousin Jacob Goldsmith may have been the first Jew in Washington, Pennsylvania,  followed by four more Jews within the next five or six years.  According to Feldman, when one of them, David Wolfe (possibly a relative of Amalie’s husband Elias Wolfe?) was killed accidentally by some rowdy soldiers in 1863, all the other Jews left Little Washington. (Feldman, p. 57)

According to my records, Jacob Goldsmith is listed as living in Washington, PA, even before 1853. The 1850 US census has him listed as living there and working as a tailor.  He was still there for the 1860 census and also registered for the Civil War draft in Washington in 1863. His father Simon, widow of Fanny Schoenthal, was also living in Washington by 1860. And Jacob Goldsmith was still there when his cousin Henry Schoenthal arrived there in 1866, according to Henry’s diary and the Beers biography of Henry, which says that Henry clerked in Jacob’s store for three years after he arrived in Washington.

But Jacob Goldsmith had moved to Philadelphia by 1870 and Simon Goldsmith had returned to Pittsburgh by then as well, so Henry Schoenthal and his family must have been among a very small number of Jewish residents of Washington in 1870.   Feldman noted that in 1860 there were only 250 Jews, “mostly of German origin,” living in western Pennsylvania in places other than Pittsburgh, spread out over an area of about 15,000 square miles, meaning that there were not too many Jews in any one locality.  (Feldman, p. 58)  In places like Washington, the few Jews who lived there would meet in private homes for prayer services. My great-great-uncle Henry was one of those who hosted and led such services. As of 1880, only Pittsburgh and two other towns in western Pennsylvania, Altoona and Erie, had actual synagogues. (Feldman, p. 63)

By 1890, things began to change in Little Washington.  In that year the very small Jewish community established a synagogue, Beth Israel, a congregation which exists to this day.  I was very fortunate to connect with Marilyn A. Posner, a past president of Beth Israel as well as the author of the centennial history of the synagogue, The House of Israel, A Home in Washington: 100 Years of Beth Israel Congregation, 1891-1991 / 5652-5752 (1991, Congregation Beth Israel, Washington, Pennsylvania).  As Posner’s book describes, in 1890 the congregation hired a young rabbi named Jacob Goldfarb as its first spiritual leader.  Rabbi Goldfarb was a recent immigrant from Lithuania.  As described by Posner, “He was fluent in the Lithuanian, Russian, German, Hebrew and Yiddish languages.  He was a mohel, able to perform ritual circumcisions; a shochet, or ritual butcher; a chazzan or cantor; and he studied Talmud and Torah.” (Posner, p. 1.)  If that’s not killing multiple birds with one stone, I don’t know what is!

Photo courtesy of Marilyn Posner from her book, "The House of Israel, A Home in Washington: 100 Years of Beth Israel Congregation, 1891-1991 / 5652-5752

Photo courtesy of Marilyn A. Posner from her book,
“The House of Israel, A Home in Washington: 100 Years of Beth Israel Congregation, 1891-1991 / 5652-5752

 

Beth Israel’s services were at first held in the home of one of its members, Nathan Samuels.  Then the congregation met in rented facilities for some years.

House of Nathan Samuels in Washiington PA where Beth Israel congregants first met Photo courtesy of Marily Posner from her book, "The House of Israel, A Home in Washington: 100 Years of Beth Israel Congregation, 1891-1991 / 5652-5752

House of Nathan Samuels in Washiington PA where Beth Israel congregants first met
Photo courtesy of Marilyn A. Posner from her book, “The House of Israel, A Home in Washington: 100 Years of Beth Israel Congregation, 1891-1991 / 5652-5752

Among the nine original members of the congregation were four of my relatives, my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal and two of his brothers, Henry and Nathan[1], and S.J. Katzenstein, my great-grandmother Hilda’s brother.  (Posner, p. 2).  Henry also became the president of the local branch of B’nai Brith, the Jewish fraternal organization.  (Feldman, p. 231)  My relatives were not, however, on the list of those who signed the original synagogue charter in 1901.  Feldman explained it as follows:

Beth Israel, unlike some nearby synagogues, was not Hungarian or Galician.  When its charter was taken out in 1901, twenty-four of its twenty-seven subscribers were Lithuanian …. The few Germans in Washington, Henry Schoenthal among them, were absent from the charter.

(Feldman, p. 199)

With the synagogue officially chartered, ground was broken for building a permanent home for the congregation and a cornerstone was laid on June 29, 1902.  By that time the Washington Jewish community had become one of the leading Jewish communities in western Pennsylvania outside of Pittsburgh.

Sketch of the original Beth Israel synagogue building. Courtesy of Marilyn Posner from her book, "The House of Israel, A Home in Washington: 100 Years of Beth Israel Congregation, 1891-1991 / 5652-5752

Sketch of the original Beth Israel synagogue building.
Courtesy of Marilyn A. Posner from her book,
“The House of Israel, A Home in Washington: 100 Years of Beth Israel Congregation, 1891-1991 / 5652-5752

With this history in mind, I better understand why my relatives settled in western Pennsylvania and specifically in Washington and why they felt comfortable living there.   Many of the Schoenthal descendants continued to live there for many years, and there are still quite a few living in Pittsburgh to this day.

———-

[1] My research indicates that Nathan was no longer living in western Pennsylvania, let alone Washington, in 1890, but that he had moved to Washington, DC, ten years before and was living in either Richmond, VA, or Philadelphia by 1890.

Shana Tova—A Good Year to All

Once again I find myself in the midst of the early September craziness after a long, relaxing summer: several family birthdays and anniversaries, school starting (well, not for me anymore, but for my husband), and preparation for the Jewish holidays.  In my spare time, I am trying to put together the pieces of my Schoenthal research slowly but surely.  But for the next week or so, I won’t have much time to write anything coherent about my research, so I will be taking a short break.

That seems appropriate as this is the time of year when I am supposed to be contemplating the year past and making decisions about the year to come.  It’s a time to be thoughtful and thankful.  A time of making amends and making resolutions.

So I wish all who celebrate a wonderful holiday with time for your families and your thoughts.  And for everyone, I wish a new year filled with gratitude, happiness, good health, and love.  And for the world, I will hope for peace and for a way to protect and shelter all those people all over the world who have been uprooted and seen their lives and families destroyed by war, poverty, and hatred.  Today is the 14th anniversary of the day that showed us all what hatred can do. May we finally learn from it.

WTC memorial lights

WTC memorial lights (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

May it be a year when somehow people everywhere find a way to accept differences and respect and honor the humanity of each other.

Shana tova.  A good year to all.

Yom Hashoah

In honor of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, I am posting the links to six of my blog posts in which I discussed the members of my own family who perished in the Holocaust. Six to represent the six million Jews who were slaughtered by the Nazis during World War II.

These are all members of the Seligmann/Schoenfeld family.  I did not even know about them a year ago. And I know that there must have been members of my other family lines who were also murdered during the war.  I just haven’t found them yet.  So in memory of all those who were killed, those we know about and all those we do not yet know about, please read these posts if you have not done so already.  Or even if you have.  We must never forget.

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six


English: A lit Yahrtzeit candle, a candle that...

English: A lit Yahrtzeit candle, a candle that is lit on the Hebrew anniversary of a loved one’s death. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Passover 2015: The American Jewish Story

Handmade shmura matzo used at the Passover Sed...

Handmade shmura matzo used at the Passover Seder especially for the mitzvot of eating matzo and afikoman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A year ago I was feeling disconnected from Passover until I heard my grandson tell us the story of Passover in a way that made it feel new and exciting and different all over again.  This year his little brother will experience his first seder, though at only ten months, that experience will likely be short and quite unfocused.  Just a lot of really noisy people sitting around a table eating food that he neither can nor would want to eat.  But it’s a new reminder that every generation and every child experiences Passover as a new experience, allowing all of us who are jaded and detached to be able to relive our own early experiences with this special holiday.

Last year I entered into Passover thinking about my mother’s ancestors, the Brotmans, the Goldschlagers, and the Rosenzweigs.  I focused on their exodus from the oppression and poverty and anti-Semitism of Galicia and Romania and their courage and the desire for freedom that led them to leave all they knew to cross the continent and then the ocean and come to New York City, where they again lived in poverty but with greater hopes for a life of freedom and economic opportunity.  And they attained their goals if not in that first generation, certainly by the third and fourth generations.

Poor Jews taking home free matzohs, New York

Poor Jews taking home free matzohs, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the last year now, I have been researching, studying and writing about my father’s paternal relatives.  It has taken just about a full year to cover the Cohens, the Jacobs (with whom I actually need to do more work), the Seligmans, the Schoenfelds, the Nusbaums, and the Dreyfusses.  Soon I will start my father’s maternal relatives—the Schoenthals and Katzensteins and whatever other surnames pop up along the way.  Researching my father’s families has been so different from my mother’s, and I can go so much further back.  I can’t get back much before 1840 with my mother’s family and have absolutely no records before 1885 or so for any of them.  Although I have a number of Romanian records for my Rosenzweig and Goldschlager relatives, I have no records at all from Europe for my great-grandparents Joseph and Bessie Brotman, despite hours and hours of searching and even DNA testing.

In contrast, my father’s ancestors have provided me with a rich opportunity to learn about Jews in Amsterdam, London, and especially the towns of Gau-Algesheim, Erbes-Budesheim, Bingen, and Schopfloch, Germany.  I have been able to find records all the way back to 1800 or so for almost every line.  I’ve had amazing help along the way on both sides of the Atlantic, and I’ve even learned a little German to boot.  My father’s families were pawnbrokers and peddlers and clothing merchants; they were pioneers and politicians and war heroes.

Harrisburg Market Square with Leo Nusbaum store

Harrisburg Market Square with Leo Nusbaum store

They came to the United States in the 1840s and 1850s, and most of them suffered terrible heartbreaks, economic struggles, and early deaths.  Most of them settled in Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but there were those who went to places that I’d never think a Jewish immigrant would go: Iowa, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, California, and, of course, New Mexico.  Many married outside the Jewish community and assimilated into American culture far more so than my mother’s relatives.  Ultimately, the Cohens/Jacobs and Seligmans/Schoenfelds and Nusbaums/Dreyfusses were successful; they found the American dream, and they embraced it.

But there is a very sad underside to this story of American success.  It’s the story of those who did not leave Europe.  For the first time in my life I confronted the reality that the Holocaust did not just happen to other families, to other Jews.  Not that I have not been deeply affected by the Holocaust all my life; ever since I read Anne Frank’s diary as a child, I’ve identified with and cried for all those who were murdered by the Nazis.  But I never knew that I had relatives left behind in Germany who were part of that slaughter.  I am still finding more, and I will write about them soon.  The list of names of my cousins who died in the Holocaust grows longer and longer, and I realize more than ever how grateful I should be to Bernard Seligman, John and Jeanette (Dreyfuss) Nusbaum, and Jacob and Sarah (Jacobs) Cohen for leaving Europe and taking a chance on the new country across the ocean.

memorial plaque gau aldesheim

So this year for Passover I will be thinking about that first major migration of Jews from Europe to America.  I will be feeling thankful for the risks my ancestors took, and I will be feeling the loss of not only all those who were killed in the Holocaust, but the loss of all the children and grandchildren who would have been born but for those deaths.

And overall I will be celebrating family, freedom, and faith—faith that the world can be a better place and that human beings can be their best selves and live good and meaningful lives.  May all of you have a wonderful weekend—be it Passover or Easter or perhaps just another weekend in April for you.   Celebrate all the good things in life in whatever way you can.

The Schoenfelds and Erbes-Budesheim: Part II

In my last post, I wrote about Erbes-Budesheim, the German town where my Schoenfeld ancestors lived, where my 3x-great-grandmother was born, and where my 4x- and 5x-great-grandparents lived.   From the records I was able to obtain, I know that my 4x-great-grandparents Bernhard Schoenfeld and Rosina Goldmann were married and living in Erbes-Budesheim by 1804 when their first child Benedict Baehr was born.

As explained to me by Gerd Braun, the man in Erbes-Budesheim who sent me the documents,  when the French took over control of the region, one thing that they did in 1808 was order the Jewish residents to adopt surnames akin to those used by the Christian population.  Before that, Jews used patronymics.  Thus, before 1808, Bernhard Schoenfeld was named Baer (ben) Salomon[1] and Rosina was Rosina (bat) Benjamin.  The two children born before 1808 were named Benedict (ben) Baer and Taubchen (bat) Baer.  Taubchen was renamed Eva Schoenfeld after 1808.

Here is the birth record for Benedict.  (All the records before 1816 are in French, and my high school French classes came in handy.)  The translations for all of the documents below are in italics.

Benedict Baer birth record 1804

Benedict Baer birth record 1804

Act of birth of Benedict Baer born the 15th of Frimaire[2] at 10 in the morning, the legitimate son of Baer Salomon, merchant, living in Erbesbudesheim, and of Rosine nee Benjamin of Munchweiler.  The sex of the child has been recognized as masculine.  [Witnesses and signatures]

Benedict died just eight months later.

Benedict Baer death record 1805

Benedict Baer death record 1805

Act of death of Benedict Baer, died the 17th of Messidor[3] at 7 in the evening, eight months old, born in Erbesbudesheim and living in Erbesbudesheim.  Son of Baer Salomon and Roes nee Benjamin.  On the declaration made by Baer Salomon, his father, resident of Erbesbudesheim and a merchant, and Francois Colin, resident of Erbesbudeshem, a barber and a neighbor.

A year later, Taubechen (who became Eva) was born:

Birth record of Taubchen Baer/Eva Schoenfeld 1806

Birth record of Taubchen Baer/Eva Schoenfeld 1806

Act of birth:  In the year 1806 on the 2d of June in the afternoon appeared before the mayor of Erbesbudesheim… Baehr Salomon, a merchant, 34 years old, living in Erbesbudesheim, No. 66, and presented to us a female child of him and his legal wife Rosine nee Benjamin born the 2d of June at 5 in the morning and also stated that he wanted to give the child the name Taubchen.  [Witnesses and signatures.]

The children born after 1808 were given the name Schoenfeld, including my 3-x great-grandmother, Babetta.  You will see that on this record, Bernard and Rosine are referred to with surnames.

Babete Schoenfeld birth record 1806

Babete Schoenfeld birth record 1806

In the year 1810, the 28th of February, at nine in the morning, Bernard Schoenfeld, 37 years old, a merchant, and a resident of Erbesbudesheim,appeared before Andre Cronenberger, Mayor of Erbesbudesheim and presented a female child born the 28th of February in the morning of himself and Rosine nee Goldmann, his wife, and also declared that he wanted to give the child the name of Babet. [Witnesses and signatures]

In addition, I received records for other children of Bernard and Rosina Schoenfeld, ancestors I’d not known about before.  The first two are in French, but the last two are in German because they occurred when the region was back under German control.  The two in French follow the format and content of those above and evidence the births of a daughter Marianne, born June 29, 1812, and a daughter Rebecque, born July 20, 1814.

Birth record of Marianna Schoenfled 1812

Birth record of Marianna Schoenfled 1812

Birth record of Rebecque Schoenfeld 1814

Birth record of Rebecque Schoenfeld 1814

The last two are in German.  Thank you to Matthias Steinke for the translations. The first record is for the birth of another daughter, Zibora, in 1818.

 

Birtn record of Zibora Schoenfeld 1818

Birtn record of Zibora Schoenfeld 1818

In the year 1818, the 23rd of May came to me, the mayor and official for the civil registration of the comunity of Erbesbuedesheim, county of Alzey, Bernhard Schoenfeld, 45 years old, merchant, residing in Erbesbuedesheim, who reported, that at the 22nd of May at 11 o´clock in the night a child of female sex, which he showed me, was born and whom he intends to give the first name Zibora, and which he declared to have fathered with his wife Rosina Goldmann, 35 old, residing in Erbesbuedesheim.  The child was born in the Hauptstr. nr. 77. This declaration and presentation happened in presence of the witnesses Johannes Knobloch, 55 years old, farmer, in Erbesbuedesheim residing and Jacob Landesberg, 29 years old, farmer, in Erbesbuedesheim  residing, and have the father and the witnesses signed his birth-record and it was read to them. Signatures

The last child of Bernard and Rosine for whom I have a record was their daughter Saara, born in 1820:

Birth Record of Saara Schoenfeld 1820

Birth Record of Saara Schoenfeld 1820

In the year 1820 the fifteenth of October at twelve o´clock midday came to me, mayor and official for the civil registration of the comunity Erbes-Buedesheim Bernhard Schoenfeld, 51 years old, merchant, residing in Erbes-Buedesheim, who reported, that at the fifteenth October at two o´clock in the morning a child of female sex, whom he showed me, was born and whom he intends to give the name Saara, and he also reported, that he fathered the child with Rosina Goldmann, 41 years old, residing in Erbes-Buedesheim, his legal wife. This declaration and showing happened in presence of the witness Johannes Knobloch, 57 years old, farmer, and Jakob Landsberg, 28 years old, merchant, both residing in Erbes-Buedesheim, and have the father and the witnesses with me this present birth-certificate after it was read to them, signed. Signatures

In the midst of all these births, there was also a death.  On February 16, 1813, Salomon Schoenfeld, father of Bernard Schoenfeld, died at age 63 (or is that soixant treize meaning 73?).  His occupation was given as “cultivateur,” or cultivator, which I assume means that he was a farmer.  The witnesses to his death included Benoit Schoenfeld, his son, age 23, a “propietaire”  or owner, but no indication of what he owned.  This must have been a younger brother of Bernard since in 1813 Bernard would have been at least 40 years old.  (His age seems to vary from birth record to birth record.)

Death Record of Salomon Schoenfeld 1813

Death Record of Salomon Schoenfeld 1813

 

There is also a record for the birth of the child of an Isaac Schoenfeld and a Barbe Goldmann who is probably also a family member, though I am not sure what the exact connection was between these Goldmanns and Schoenfelds and Bernhard and Rosina, my 4x great-grandparents. But the number of marriages between a Schoenfeld man and a Goldmann woman are somewhat revealing.  Here is a third such marriage, this one between Rebeka (Rebecque) Schoenfeld, the daughter of Bernhard and Rosina,  and Salomon Goldmann.  Is it any surprise that Ashkenazi Jews come up with thousands of matches when DNA testing is done?  We are all interrelated at so many different levels.

Marriage Record for Rebecque/Rebkah Schoenfeld and Salomon Goldmann

Marriage Record for Rebecque/Rebkah Schoenfeld and Salomon Goldmann

 

 

In the year 1834 on the fifteenth October at ten o´clock pre midday came to me, Andreas Cronenberger mayor and official for the civil registration of the comunity Erbes-Buedesheim, county of Alzey:

Salomon Goldmann, 42 years old, merchant, residing in Kirchheimbolanden, Rhein-county, Bavaria, born in …thal, like it was presented to me by a certificate of the district-court Kirchheimbolanden from the 24th of December 1807, which was certified by the district-court in Mainz, the adult son of 1. Joseph Goldmann, 75 years old, during his lifetime a merchant in Kirchheimbolanden, deceased there the 8th of  November, 1800 (some parts here were cut off) 2. Friederike Goldmann, widow, nee Goldmann, 62 years old, without profession residing in Kirchheimbolanden and here present and giving her confirmation and who declared to be unable to write.

And on the other hand, Rebeka Schoenfeld (Schönfeld), 20 years old, born in Erbebudesheim in 1814, like I have seen in the present birth-register of the year 1814, without profession, in Erbes-Buedsheim residing.

Minor daughter of 1. Bernhard Schoenfeld, 62 years old, merchant and owner of a manor, in Erbes-Buedesheim residing. 2. Rosina Schoenfeld nee Goldmann, 55 years old, without profession, in Erbes-Buedesheim residing, both are present and giving their confirmation.

The appearing people asked me to do the marriage. The proclamation was published at the main-door of the comunity-building the September 24, 1834 at noon and the second the September 26 at noon in Erbes-Buedesheim and in Kirchheimbolanden the 14th of September the first time and the 21st of September of the same year the second time was made.

Due to the case, that no objections against this marriage appeared, and after reading the sixth chapter of the civil-rights-lawbook which is titled „about the marriage“ I asked them whether they want to marry each other. Both confirmed this question and I declared that Salomon Goldmann, widower from Kirchheimbolanden and the maiden Rebeka Schoenfeld of Erbes-Buedesheim are from now on connected by the matrimony.

About this act this certificate was made in presence of the following witnesses:

Georg Peter Erbach, 54 years old, member of the regional council and manor-owner in Erbes-Buedesheim, a neighbour of the bride, not related.  Johannes Klippel, 45 years old, farmer in Erbes-Buedesheim, not related, a neighbour of the bride, Christoph Zopf, 49 years old, farmer in Erbes-Buedesheim, not related, a neighbour of the bride,  Johannes Härter, 82 years old, comunity-servant in Erbes-Buedesheim, not related, a neighbour of the bride. After happened reading have all parts this document with me signed. Signatures

I have a couple of observations about this marriage certificate.  First, the groom was a widower and 24 years older than the bride.  Also, Rebeka was younger than her sister Babete or Babetta, my 3x-great-grandmother, yet married before her, even though this would appear to have been an arranged marriage.  Did Babetta object to marrying Salomon? Or did Salomon choose Rebeka over her older sister?

Also, I was struck by the fact that Bernard was described not just as a merchant, as he had been in the records of his children’s births, but as the owner of a manor.  Perhaps this explains why my Schoenfeld relatives were living in this small village with almost no Jewish residents.  Bernard must have  been quite successful to be a manor owner.

Two years after this wedding, Bernard Schoenfeld died.

Death record of Bernard Schoenfeld 1836

Death record of Bernard Schoenfeld 1836

In the year 1836 November 20th, at eight o´clock pre midday came to me, Andreas Cronenberger, mayor and official for the civil registration of the comunity Erbes-Buedesheim, county of Alzey, 1. the Jakob Landsberg, 46 years old, merchant in Erbes-Buedesheim residing, related as uncle of the below named deceased, and 2. Leopold Schoenfeld, 42 years old, merchant, in Erbes-Buedesheim residing, related as sibling of the below named deceased, and have reported to me that Bernhard Schoenfeld, 67 years old, merchant and manor-owner, born and residing in Erbes-Bueresheim, married to Rosina Schoenfeld, nee Goldmann ,56 years old, without profession, residing in Erbes-Buedesheim. Parents were: Salomon Schoenfeld, during lifetime merchant and manor-owner in  Erbes-Buedesheim, 2. Gertrude Schoenfeld nee Judah, during lifetime also residing in Erbes-Buedesheim.

Died November 1836 at three o´clock past midday in house nr 85 in the Hauptstrasse (Mainstreet) here is deceased and have the here present this certificate after it was read to them with me undersigned.

In this record, Bernard’s father Salomon is described as a merchant and manor owner, not a cultivator.  I am not sure how to reconcile that with the earlier record of Salomon’s death. The above record also reveals two more relatives: Leopold Schoenfeld, another brother of Bernard, and Jakob Landsberg, an uncle.  But Jakob Landsberg was over 20 years younger than Bernard.  Perhaps he was a nephew?  Leopold Schoenfeld’s headstone appeared in the video I posted in the last post.  Here’s a screenshot from that video:

Leopold Schoenfeld headstone

Leopold Schoenfeld headstone

Just a few months after Bernard Schoenfeld died, his daughter Babete, my 3-x great-grandmother, married Moritz Seligmann on February 14, 1837.

Marriage record of Babete Schoenfeld and Moritz Seligmann 1837

Marriage record of Babete Schoenfeld and Moritz Seligmann 1837

In the year 1837 the 14th of the month February, at three o´clock past midday to me, Peter Cronenberger, mayor and official for the civil registration of the comunity Erbes-Buedesheim, county of Alzey came:

Moritz Seligmann, 38 years old, widower of Eva Seligmann, nee Schoenfeld, deceased in Gaulsheim the 12th of May 1835 as it is written in the death-register of the comunity Gaulsheim of the year 1835, merchant, in Gau Algesheim residing, like it is in the birth-records of the community Gau Algesheim to find, adult son of 1. Jacob Seligmann, 63 years old, merchant, in Gaulsheim residing, 2. Martha Seligmann nee Mayer, 63 years old, in Gaulsheim residing, both not present, but giving their permission to this marriage according a notary-certificate of the notary Wieger in Gaulsheim from the 6th of February, 1837,

and on the other hand, Babete Schoenfeld, 26 years old, without profession, in Erbes-Buedesheim residing, born the February 28, 1810, like it is stated in the birth-register of the comunity Erbes-Buedesheim of the year 1810, adult daughter of 1. Bernhard Schoenfeld, during lifetime merchant, in Erbes-Buedesheim residing, deceased 19th of November 1836, as it is stated in the death-register of the comunity Erbes-Buedesheim, 2. Rosina Schoenfeld, nee Goldmann , 56 years old, in Erbes-Buedesheim residing, last named here present and consenting to the marriage. ….

Due to the case, that no objections against this marriage appeared, and after reading the sixth chapter of the civil-rights-lawbook which is titled ‘about the marriage,“ I asked them whether they want to marry each other. Both confirmed this question and I declared that Moritz Seligmann, merchant in Gau Algesheim residing and Babete Schoenfeld, without profession in Erbes-Buedesheim residing, are from now on legally connected by the matrimony.

About this act I made this certificate in the presence of the following witnesses: [Witnesses and signatures]

This marriage record answered a question that I had had about the two sisters both marrying Moritz Seligmann.  According to this record, Eva Schoenfeld had died on May 12, 1835.  Eva died in the aftermath of giving birth to her fourth child, Benjamin, who was born on May 10, 1835.

Her sister Babetta (as it was later spelled) became the instant mother of Eva’s four children, who then ranged in age from Benjamin, not yet two years old, to eight year old Sigmund, who would be the first to come to the US and settle in Santa Fe.  Babetta not only had these four children to care for; she must also have become  pregnant almost immediately after the wedding because my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman, obviously named for Babetta’s father Bernard Schoenfeld who had died the year before, was born on November 23, 1837, just nine months and nine days after the marriage.

The last record I received from Erbes-Budesheim was the death record for Rosina Goldmann Schoenfeld, dated July 19, 1862.  She was 84 years old.  She was my 4-x great-grandmother.  All I know about her is where she was born, her father’s name, her husband’s name, and the names of her children and some of her grandchildren.  I know that she lost one child at eight months old, an adult daughter in the aftermath of childbirth, and her husband almost thirty years before she died.  It’s not a lot, but it is remarkable to me that I know even that much about a woman who was born in the 18th century in Germany.

Death record of Rosina Goldmann Schoenfeld 1862

Death record of Rosina Goldmann Schoenfeld 1862

So what have I learned about my Schoenfeld ancestors and their lives in Erbes-Budesheim from all these documents?  First, they must have been one of only a very few Jewish families in Erbes-Budesheim if the total Jewish population was just 23 people.  Second, they must have been fairly comfortable living in that small town, living as merchants and manor owners.   But there was no future for their family in the town.  Bernard Schoenfeld and Rosina Goldmann had only daughters who survived to adulthood.   To find marriage partners for their daughters, Bernard and Rosina had to look outside of Erbes-Budesheim.  Their 20 year old daughter Rebeka Schoenfeld married a 44 year old widower from a town in Bavaria, about ten miles from Erbes-Budesheim.  Their daughter Eva married Moritz Seligmann and moved to Gau-Algesheim.  Then their daughter Babetta,  my 3-x great-grandmother, married Moritz after her sister died.  These young women must have had no choice but to marry and move away from Erbes-Budesheim.  No wonder the town’s Jewish population never grew and eventually declined and disappeared.

But the cemetery still exists, and Erbes-Budesheim is one more town to add to my list of ancestral towns I’d like to visit one day.

 

 

[1] Gerd Braun did not use the Hebrew terms “ben” or “bat” for son or daughter of, but simply referred to them as, for example, Baehr Salomon.  I am assuming, however, based on Jewish practice, that the second name would have been the father’s first name.  Thus, Baehr Salomon is really Baehr son of (ben) Salomon.

[2] According to Wikipedia,  Frimaire “was the third month in the French Republican Calendar. The month was named after the French word frimas, which means frost. Frimaire was the third month of the autumn quarter (mois d’automne). It started between November 21 and November 23. It ended between December 20 and December 22. It follows the Brumaire and precedes the Nivôse.”  Benedict was thus born about December 6.

[3] Messidor in the French Republic Calendar was equivalent to June 19 to July 18.  The 17th would be equivalent to July 6.

The First Chapter: The Dreyfuss Family

Yeah, I know.  My last post said it was the FINAL chapter of the Dreyfuss family.  How could this one be the first?

Way back on November 18, 2014, I wrote, “More on the Dreyfuss family in a later post.”  Then I proceeded to write about the Nusbaum family and the Dreyfuss family together.  Since two Dreyfuss sisters (Jeanette and Mathilde) had married two Nusbaum brothers (John and Maxwell), it just made sense to follow the stories of the three Dreyfuss sisters (Jeanette, Mathilde and Caroline) along with the stories of the Nusbaum siblings.  But what I never got back to doing was what I had promised back on November 18.  I never got back to the beginning of the Dreyfuss story as I moved forward from the 1840s in America through to the 20th century.  So although my last post was called the “Final Chapter” of the Dreyfuss family, I need to go back and write the first chapter before I can complete the story (as far as I currently know it).

So I need to step backwards in time—both in my time and in the times of the Dreyfuss family before 1840.  Back in the fall when I was researching the family of John Nusbaum, I had a wonderful resource in the family bible owned by my father.  My father had photocopied several pages of handwritten entries for births, deaths, and marriages from the bible , and most of those entries related to the Nusbaum family.  From studying the page for marriages, I learned that John Nusbaum, my three-times great-grandfather, had married Jeanette Dreyfus (as it was spelled there).  And that was the first time I knew the birth name of my three-times great-grandmother.  On the page for births, the second entry after the one for John Nusbaum was one for Jeanette Nusbaum, giving her birth date and her place of birth.  It took me a while to figure out what it said because of the handwriting, but eventually I was able to decipher it and learned that Jeanette was born in “Hechingen in Wurttemberg, Prussia,” as it is inscribed in the bible.

But there was no other Dreyfus(s) on any of the pages in the bible, and I was at that point in time focused on the Nusbaum line.  It wasn’t until weeks later that I realized that the bible’s death entry for Mathilde Pollock was not an entry for a sister of John Nusbaum, but an entry for a sister of Jeanette Dreyfuss (who happened to marry a brother of John Nusbaum) and that the entry for Caroline Wiler was also not a sister of John Nusbaum but another Dreyfuss sister. The big clue was finding 65 year old Mary Dreyfuss  on the 1850 census living with Caroline and Moses Wiler: a head-slapping moment when it occurred to me that it was Jeanette who was keeping the family bible and that, of course, she would record her sisters as well as her husband’s siblings in the family bible.

And then in mid-November I went on JewishGen’s Family Finder page and found Ralph Baer, who was also researching the Dreyfuss family from Hechingen.  I have mentioned Ralph before in the context of the Nusbaum/Dreyfuss family and his generous help with research and translation, but what I had forgotten to write about in my telling of the story of the Nusbaum/Dreyfuss family in the US was what Ralph had helped me learn about my Dreyfuss roots in Hechingen, Germany.

Hechingen, Germany

Hechingen, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, a little about Hechingen.  Today it is in the German state of Baden-Wurttemburg, located about 56 miles north of the Swiss border in southern Germany.  It is about 40 miles from Stuttgart, the state capital.  Although inhabited long before, the city was founded as the capital city of the Counts of Hohenzollern in 1255.  It remained during the Middle Ages a provincial and agricultural community.  During the 16th century, it became a center for art, architecture and music.  Even after the Reformation, it remained a largely Catholic community.  Throughout its pre-19th century history, Hechingen was subjected to many sieges and attacks by other German states as well as by Sweden.

de: Burg Hohenzollern bei Hechingen, Baden-Wür...

de: Burg Hohenzollern bei Hechingen, Baden-Württemberg, Deutschland en:Castle Hohenzollern near Hechingen, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, “There was a small Jewish settlement in Hechingen in the early 16th century, and a house was bought for use as a synagogue by the community of 10 families in 1546. In 1592 the burghers refused to conduct any commercial or financial transactions with Jews, who therefore left the town. There is no trace of Jewish settlement in the town during the next century. In 1701 Prince Frederick William I gave letters of protection lasting 10 years to six Jewish families in the neighboring villages; soon there were Jews living in the city as well. By 1737 there were 30 households, and a synagogue was built in 1761 which existed until 1870.”

The Jewish community blossomed in Hechingen in the late 18th and early 19th century through the efforts of a woman named Chaile Raphael Kaulla.  Her father was a successful entrepreneur and banker, and he provided Chaile with a good education.   She even learned German, not something girls were usually taught in those times.   When her father died, Chaile, being much older than her oldest brother, took over her father’s business; she managed the business very successfully while also raising six children.  Her husband, a Talmudic scholar, did not work.  Chaile and her brother Jacob developed a very good relationship with the authorities in Hechingen and became the leaders of the Jewish community there.  Here is more about Chaile from the Jewish Women’s Archive:

Chaile developed an aristocratic lifestyle, owning an elegant house and a horse-drawn carriage, but she continued to live according to Jewish law. She never forgot the mitzvot and cared for the Jewish community together with her brother, using her connections to the prince. The Kaulla family had their own private synagogue and rabbi. Both sister and brother gave generously to the Jewish as well as to the Christian poor and founded a hostel for needy and migrating Jews in Hechingen. In 1803, they donated a Bet Midrash, a Talmud school, with three rabbinical scholars whom they supported, together with their students and an important library.

 

The 19th century was a time of economic and industrial growth for the town of Hechingen and for its Jewish residents.  Wikipedia states that “By 1850, Hechingen had started to industrialize, primarily with Jewish enterprises. By 1871 the city had become one of the most important economic centres in the region, with textiles and machine shops among the major industries.”  According to the Jewish Virtual Library, the Jewish community in Hechingen was “prosperous and owned most of the local industries.” The Jewish population reached 809 people in 1842, which was about a quarter of the total population of the town.  This was also around the time that my three-times great-grandmother Jeanette and her sisters and mother would have left, which might seem strange, given how favorable the conditions there seemed to have been.

The Alemannia-Judaica, however, reports that there were some anti-Semitic “disturbances” in the 1840s, and the Dreyfuss sisters were not the only ones to leave.  By 1880, the Jewish population had dropped to 340; by the 1930s it had dropped to only 101.  Like so many other Europeans, Jews and non-Jews, the lure of opportunities elsewhere must have been irresistible.  The Dreyfuss sisters were wise to leave Hechingen because it was no more immune to the destruction and genocide of the Nazis than any other place during the Holocaust.  The synagogue was heavily damaged on Kristallnacht in November, 1938, and most of the Jewish men were sent to Dachau.  In the aftermath, 53 Jews emigrated successfully; the remaining 32 Jewish residents of Hechingen were sent to concentration camps where all but one were murdered by the Nazis.

According to another source, “In 1991, the synagogue building was rebuilt as a cultural center, housing an exhibition on Hechingen’s Jewish history. A new Jewish community was founded in Hechingen in 2003.”  More pictures can be found here.

 

Where did my ancestors fit into this story of Hechingen? I was very, very lucky to find Ralph Baer on the JewishGen Family Finder because Ralph had already done extensive research on all the Hechingen Dreyfuss families years before I stumbled onto the name in the old family bible.  Even though he had not been able to find a connection between his Dreyfuss ancestors and mine, he had included my line in his tree when he’d done his research years ago.  Thus, my first email from Ralph in response to my inquiry as to his Hechingen Dreyfuss family included the following names:

A)3. Samuel (Sanwil) DREYFUß (ZELLER) 25 May 1776 Hechingen – 3 July 1859
Hechingen, married about 1805 to Miriam (Marianna) Samson BERNHEIM 17 May
1787 – 1841

A)31. Jeanette DREYFUß 20 May 1817 Hechingen, married to … NUßBAUM

A)32. Moses DREYFUß 10 February 1819 Hechingen

A)33. Goldel (Golde, Auguste) DREYFUß 16 October 1822 Hechingen,
married to … WEILER

A)34. Mathilde (Magdalena) DREYFUß 30 March 1825 Hechingen, married
to … POLLAK

A)35. Samson DREYFUß about 1827 Hechingen

A)36. Auguste DREYFUß about 1829 Hechingen[1]

There were my 3x-great-grandparents right at line 31, and there at line 33 was Caroline (born Golde) “Weiler” and at line 34 Mathilde “Pollak.”  I knew immediately that Ralph had found the three Dreyfuss sisters listed in my family bible.  Not only did the names line up, but so did the birth dates.  Thus, I now also knew that Jeanette, Caroline, and Mathilde were the daughters of Samuel Dreyfuss Zeller (later documents, as I found, indicated he had changed his surname to Zeller) and Miriam (Marianna) Samson Bernheim, that is, the Mary Dreyfuss I had found on the 1850 census living with her daughter Caroline in Pennsylvania.  (The death date of 1841 given for Miriam Ralph and I later discovered was not correct. I have not, however, found a death record for Miriam, though with two grandchildren named Miriam, one (Miriam Nusbaum, daughter of John Nusbaum and Jeanette Dreyfuss) in 1858, and one in 1859 (Miriam Pollock, daughter of Mathilde Dreyfuss and Moses Pollock, it would appear that Miriam died before 1858.)  In addition, I now had evidence of three other siblings: Moses, Samson, and Auguste.

But, of course, I wanted to see the actual records where Ralph had long ago found my relatives while researching his own.  With his patient assistance, I was able to locate a number of records relating to my Dreyfuss ancestors.  Fortunately, many of the Jewish vital records from the Baden-Wurttemburg region are digitized and available on line, and Ralph walked me step by step through the process of researching those archives and then helped me translate what I had found.  Once again, I struggled with the German script, but with Ralph’s help, I was able to find a number of relevant records.

I am now including the links to them here with a transcription of what is on each record so that I have a record later when I once again have trouble reading the script.  If you are interested in seeing the underlying documents, just click on the links.  The JPG versions were too blurry to read, so I am only posting links to the PDF versions, with two exceptions that were more legible.

Dreyfuss births (1)  Birth Registry for Hechingen 1800-1905

Line 132 Moses Dreyfuss                             Father Samuel                  Mother Miriam geb Bernheim

Line 186 Golde (Augusta) Dreyfuss           Father Samuel                 Mother Miriam geb Bernheim

Line 223 Mathilde Dreyfuss                                                 SAME

 

Dreyfuss Family on Archives film 240 bild 31  (Census 1831)

Dreyfuss family on archives film 240 film 31

#192 Samuel Dreyfuss 56 and Marianna 44. Six children: Jeanette 14, Magdalena 6, Golde 10, Moses 12, Samson 4, and Auguste 2.

 

Golde Auguste Caroline Dreyfuss birth record

First line:    October 16, 1822      Golde (Augusta)         Samuel Dreyfuss               Miriam geb Bernheim

 

Mathilde Dreyfuss birth record

Sixth line:  March 30 1825          Mathilde                       Samuel Dreyfuss                  Miriam geb Bernheim

 

Meier Dreyfuss brother of Samuel  Death Record

Parents               Samson Dreyfuss and Jeanette

 

Moses Dreyfuss birth record

Seventh line:  February 10, 1819    Moses Dreyfuss          Samuel Dreyfuss               Miriam geb Bernheim

 

Moses Zeller ne Dreyfuss death record Hechingen

Son of Samuel Zeller and Marie geb Bernheimer

 

Samuel Dreyfuss and family on Hechingen Family Records

Ralph helped me decipher this; otherwise, it would have meant nothing to me:  The name DREYFUSS is underlined with Samuel next to it. Below Samuel is written Zeller.  Below that it says Eltern (parents) Samson, and below that Jeanette(Scheile). To the right is geb. (born) and below that get. (married). The birth date for Samuel is on the right 1776 25 Mai. Between that is written “63 alt geworden” (became 63 years old, his age at the time of the compilation). For marriage it says angebl. (apparently) 1805 with also something in Hebrew. Samuel’s wife is on the right: Miriam, daughter of Samson Bern…and Golde. It also mentions a sister name Sussen right below that. The birth date for Miriam is listed as 17 Merz (March) 1787.  On the bottom are the children. The first one on the left is r Jeanette. In parentheses after her name is NUSSBAUM and below that 20 years old. To the left it states ca. 1817 20 Mai. Also listed are Moses, Mathilde Madel (Pollak), and Auguste (Golde) Weiler with birthdates.  (This was obviously compiled after 1851 since all three sisters are married and Mathilde is already married to Moses Pollock, whom she did not marry until after Maxwell Nusbaum died in 1851.)

Samuel Dreyfuss death record bild 143  (second on page)

 

Samuel Zeller death p 1 Samuel Zeller death p 2

Bottom of both pages: Samuel Zeller  Hechingen      Samson Dreyfuss and Jeanette    Alterschwaeche (old age)

 

There are some missing records.  I do not have a separate birth record for Jeanette.  Nor can I find a death record for her mother, my 4x-great-grandmother Miriam Bernheim.  I cannot find any records for the two youngest of the siblings, Samson and Auguste.  I also do not understand why there are two children with the name Auguste.  Perhaps one was a child of a family member who died? There is also a huge gap between the recorded marriage date for Samuel Dreyfuss and Miriam Bernheim of 1806 and the birth date of their oldest child, Jeanette, in 1817.  Did Samuel and Miriam have other children who died, or is their marriage date incorrect?  Samuel would have been 41 in 1817, Miriam would have been 30.  Both Samuel and Miriam had fathers named Samson.  Were both alive in 1819 when Moses was born? If not, it seems odd that their first son would not have been named Samson, unless there had been an earlier born son named Samson who had died.

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I have answers to so many more questions than I ever expected, thanks to Ralph.  I know the names of my 4x-great-grandparents, Samuel Dreyfuss Zeller and Miriam Bernheim, and the names of my 5x-great-grandparents, Samson and Jeanette Dreyfuss and Samson and Golde Bernheim.  I have the names of the three other siblings of my 3-x great-grandmother Jeanette: Moses, Samson, and Auguste.  And I am not yet done looking for more about my Dreyfuss ancestors and now, my Bernheim ancestors as well.

Once again, I am deeply grateful to Ralph Baer.  Without him, none of this would have been possible.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Together Ralph and I filled in many of the blanks here, enabling both of us to have a more complete record.

Caps for Sale: Peddlers and Merchants

As I wrote in my last post, by 1852 or before, five of the eight children of Amson and Voegele Nusbaum had settled in Pennsylvania.  Two of the siblings had settled in Harrisburg, one in Lewistown, one in Blythe, and one in Philadelphia.  According to the 1850 census, John Nusbaum was a merchant in Harrisburg, and his brother-in-law Isaac Dinkelspiel was a peddler there, married to John’s sister Mathilde.  Leopold Nusbaum was a butcher in Blythe, Maxwell was a merchant in Lewistown, and Ernst was a merchant in Philadelphia.

It is not surprising to me that Ernst would have settled in Philadelphia, which, as I have written about in the context of my Cohen ancestors, had a fairly large German Jewish community by the mid 1800s.  But why were John Nusbaum and Isaac Dinkelspiel and their families in Harrisburg?  Even more surprising, what were Leopold and Maxwell doing in relatively small towns like Lewistown and Blythe?  What would have taken these new German Jewish immigrants away from the big cities and to smaller towns and cities in Pennsylvania?

The choice of Harrisburg is not really that surprising.  By the time John Nusbaum arrived in the US, perhaps as early as 1840 or even before but certainly by 1850, Harrisburg had been the Pennsylvania state capital for many years already, i.e., since 1812.  It had been settled in the early 18th century and because of its location on the Susquehanna River where there was an opening between the mountains, it had developed into an important trading post for trade and expansion to the west.  By the 1830s the railroad and the Pennsylvania Canal passed through Harrisburg, further increasing its economic importance for westward expansion.  By 1840 the population of Harrisburg was almost six thousand people.  By comparison, the population of Philadelphia in 1840 was over 93,000 people.


Capitol. (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.), by A. G....

Capitol. (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.), by A. G. Keet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jewish immigrants began to arrive in Harrisburg in the 1840s, primarily from Germany and England.  The first synagogue, Ohev Sholom, was begun in 1853, first as an Orthodox congregation, and then in 1867 it became a Reform congregation.   The Jewish population, however, was not very large.  There were sixteen members of the congregation in 1853, and even as late as 1900 there were only 35 members.

So how would my three-times great-grandfather John Nusbaum have ended up here?  I do not know for sure, but I can speculate that like many German Jewish immigrants, he arrived in Harrisburg as a peddler and, once finding a strong and stable economic base there, eventually opened his own store.  Harrisburg was obviously an important location for trade not only for its residents but also for those who stopped there as they moved westward in the United States.  It was likely an ideal location for a merchant.  Unlike his three-times great-granddaughter (and her immediate relatives), he must have been a very able entrepreneur.

This pathway to economic success—from peddler to merchant—was quite common among German Jewish immigrants.  According to Hasia Diner in “German Jews and Peddling in America,” (hereinafter “Peddling”) located here:

In Nashville, 23 percent of the adult male Jews in 1860 peddled, as did 25 percent of those in Boston between 1845 and 1861. In Easton, Pennsylvania, a town which occupied the strategic meeting point of the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers, 46 percent peddled in 1840, but just five years later, the number jumped to 70 percent. By 1850 the number had dropped to 55 percent, still a significant figure for any one occupation among a relatively small number of people. Of the 125 Jewish residents in Iowa in the 1850s, 100 peddled around the state, as did two-thirds of all the Jews in Syracuse, New York in that same decade before the Civil War.

See also  Rudolf Glanz, “Notes on Early Jewish Peddling in America,” Jewish Social Studies ( Indiana University Press, Vol. 7, No. 2, April,  1945)  located here.

In a different article, “German Immigrant Period in the United States,” (hereinafter “German Immigrant”) located here in the Jewish Women’s Archive, Hasia Diner explained why peddling was so widespread among German Jewish immigrants.

Americans in the hinterlands had little access to finished goods of all sorts, since few retail establishments existed outside the large cities. Jewish men overwhelmingly came to these remote areas as peddlers, an occupation that required little capital for start-up and that fit the life of the single man. In the large regional cities, Jewish immigrant men would load themselves up with a pack of goods, weighing sometimes as much as one hundred pounds, and then embark on a journey by foot, or eventually, if a peddler succeeded, by horse and wagon.

In “German Immigrant,” Diner opined that because many of these German Jewish immigrants came as single men, they were not tied down to families in a particular location when they first arrived and could thus take on the itinerant life of the peddler.  In her “Peddling” article, Diner further explained the popularity of peddling, pointing out that many of these German Jewish men came from families in Germany where their fathers had been peddlers.  That was certainly true for John Nusbaum and his brothers; their father Amson had been a peddler.  This was an occupation with which they were familiar.  Diner also stated that the Jewish German immigrants had networks of families and friends who could extend credit and help them get started on a peddling business.

19th century etching of a peddler by Granger found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-peddler-19th-century-granger.html

19th century etching of a peddler by Granger found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-peddler-19th-century-granger.html

In “Peddling,” Diner provided this vivid description of the life of the peddler:

The peddlers operated on a weekly cycle. They left their base on Sunday or Monday, depending on how far they had to go. They would, if necessary, take the railroad or canal barges to get to their territories.  They peddled all week and on Friday headed back to the town from which they had gotten their goods. Here on the Jewish Sabbath and, depending on geography, on Sundays as well, they rested, experiencing fellowship with the other immigrant Jewish peddlers who also operated out of this town. The peddlers engaged with the settled Jewish families, some of whom either operated boarding houses for peddlers or merely extended home hospitality to the men during their brief respites off the road. On the weekends the peddlers could partake of Sabbath religious services and consume some of the good food associated with Jewish holy time, food prepared in the distinctive manners of the various central European regions. Saturday night, after sundown, when the restrictions of the Sabbath lifted, the peddlers came to the shopkeepers and or other creditors to whom they owed money, paid up from the goods they had sold that week, and then filled up their bags, ready for another week on the road.

Rudolf Glanz wrote in “Notes on Early Jewish Peddling in America,” Jewish Social Studies ( Indiana University Press, Vol. 7, No. 2, April,  1945) located here, that these that peddlers played a crucial role in the economic growth and population growth in the unsettled parts of the United States in the 19th century because they provided the pioneers with access to goods that they otherwise would not have had.  This freed the pioneers from having to carry or manufacture these products themselves as they migrated west, thus enabling them to survive and adapt to the frontier conditions.  Glanz, pp. 121-122.  Diner described in “Peddling” the types of goods these peddlers generally sold:

The peddlers did not sell food or fuel. Rather they sold a jumble of goods that might be considered quasi-luxuries. In their bags they carried needles, threads, lace, ribbons, mirrors, pictures and picture frames, watches, jewelry, eye glasses, linens, bedding, and other sundry goods, sometimes called “Yankee notions.” They carried some clothing and cloth, as well as patterns for women to sew their own clothes, and other items to be worn. At times they carried samples of clothes and shoes, measured their customers, and then on return visits brought the finished products with them. When the peddlers graduated from selling from packs on their backs to selling from horse and wagon, they offered more in the way of heavy items, such as stoves and sewing machines.

As Diner points out, often these peddlers were the first Jews in a particular town or village.  Once a peddler had saved enough money to start a permanent store and become a merchant, they would often pick one of these towns where they had had success as peddlers, gotten to know the residents, and established a rapport and a reputation.  Both Diner and Glanz discuss this evolution from peddler to merchant.   According to Diner in “Peddling,” most peddlers did not peddle for long periods, but were able to become storeowners, marry, and start families within a reasonably short period of time. Most became at least moderately successful, and some became the owners of some of the biggest department stores in the US, such as Gimbel’s and Macy’s.

My hypothesis is that John Nusbaum also started out as a peddler.  He must have started from Philadelphia or perhaps New York as a single man and peddled goods through Pennsylvania until he accumulated enough capital and was able to settle in Harrisburg, a prime location for a merchant for the reasons stated above.  Perhaps it was only once he had done so that he married Jeanette and started a family in the 1840s.

When his brother-in-law Isaac Dinkelspiel arrived with his wife Mathilde Nusbaum Dinkelspiel sometime later, it would have made sense for them to settle in Harrisburg.  Since Isaac also started out as a peddler, as seen on the 1850 census, as a married peddler with children, it is not surprising that they would have moved to a place where Mathilde would have had family nearby while her husband Isaac was on the road.  In addition, it is very likely that John was supplying Isaac with the products he was peddling.  According to Diner, it was Jewish merchants who supplied the peddlers with the goods that they then carried out to the less settled regions to sell to those who lived there.  Jewish peddlers needed Jewish merchants for their inventory, and Jewish merchants benefited from the increased market they could reach through the peddlers.

Maxwell, John’s youngest brother, was also a merchant by 1850, but he was in Lewistown, sixty miles from Harrisburg and about 160 miles from Philadelphia.  What was he doing there? Unlike Harrisburg, it was not the state capital, and unlike Philadelphia, it was not a major seaport city.  But it was by 1850 itself an important trading center based on its location near the Pennsylvania Canal and the railroads.  Mifflin County, where Lewistown is located, had a population of close to 15,000 people in 1850 so it was not an insignificant location.  I assume that Maxwell, arriving after his brother John, had also started as a peddler, selling the wares he obtained from his brother, and traveling around the state, until he was able to save enough money and establish a store in his own territory, close enough to his brothers, but not so close as to compete for business.

According to the JewishGen KehillaLinks page for Lewistown, Pennsylvania, found here , the Mifflin County Historical Society had no records of Jews before 1862, but obviously Maxwell was already there. In fact, there was a street named for him:

A map of Lewistown in 1870 shows that Nathan Frank had a store at Brown and Market Streets, listed in a business directory of the time as Franks — Dry Goods, Carpets, Clothing, Furnishings, Goods, Etc.”  Spruce Street was at that time listed as Nusbaum Street and in April, 1880 M. Nusbaum — Clothing & Gents Furnishings was advertised. By 1907 however Nusbaum & Co. was no longer listed in the directory.

The biggest mystery to me is why Leopold Nusbaum ended up in Blythe as a butcher. Blythe is sixty miles from Harrisburg and a hundred miles from Philadelphia.  Like Lewistown, it was also located near railroads and the canals.  I cannot find anything about its population in 1850, but even today its population is under a thousand.  Schuykill County, where Blythe is located, however, had an overall population of over sixty thousand in 1850, which was a doubling of its 1840 population.  Something must have been happening there, but I’ve not yet been able to figure out why its population exploded in that ten year period.  Perhaps that explains why Leopold was living there with his wife Rosa and two young sons in 1850.  But why was he a butcher? Certainly he could not have been a kosher butcher; even today the Jewish population of Blythe is 0%.  At any rate, by 1860, as we will see, Leopold and his family had left Blythe and moved to Harrisburg, where Leopold also followed in his brother’s footsteps and became a merchant.

Thus, the Nusbaum story is not unlike the story of many of those German Jewish immigrants who came to the US, started off as peddlers, and then became merchants, owning stores all over the United States. It must have taken a lot of hard work and a courageous spirit to move to this new country, carrying a heavy pack hundreds of miles through undeveloped territory, dealing with strangers who spoke a strange language, on your own and alone for most of the week.  It must have taken much determination and persistence to do this week after week, maybe for a few years or more, until you had made enough money to find one town to settle in and establish a store.  And then it must have been a hard life, living as perhaps the only Jewish family in that town far away from other family members and other Jews.  In my posts to follow, I will trace the lives of my Nusbaum peddler and merchant relatives and how they progressed in America.

 

 

I Am My Own Grandma, or It’s A Small World After All

No, it’s not quite that incestuous or circular, but it’s pretty confusing.

Here’s the story, and I will try to keep this simple.  Or as simple as I can.

Almost two years ago I received a message out of the blue from a fellow ancestry.com member named Nancy Hano.  Attached to her message was a photograph of my grandfather and great-grandparents’ headstone, i.e., John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr., and Emanuel and Eva Cohen.

headstone for emanuel, eva and john n cohen

Courtesy of Nancy Hano

Nancy had seen my tree on ancestry.com and  wanted to know whether these were my relatives, and if so, she thought we might be related because her grandparents, Samuel and Louise Lydia Cohen, were buried nearby.  After some back and forth and some looking at each other’s trees, we concluded that her Cohens and my Cohens were not genetically related.

However, we did find a different connection.  With the help of Nancy’s cousin, Gil Weeder, we found that Samuel Cohen and Louise Lydia Hano had a daughter named Flora.  Flora had married a man named Jacob Weil.  Jacob Weil was the son of Lewis Weil and Rachel Cohen.  Rachel Cohen was the sister of my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen.  So in fact, Nancy and Gil were related to be my marriage—their relative Flora had married my relative Jacob Weil.

Lydia and Samuel Cohen and granddaughter Helen

Louise Lydia Hano and Samuel Cohen with their granddaughter Helen c. 1913 Courtesy of Gil Weeder

We exchanged pictures and information, and we all continued to do our own research.

Fast forward to this past week, almost two years later.  I am now researching my Nusbaum relatives.  As I was putting together lists of the descendants of my Nusbaum ancestors, I saw the name Jacob Hano appear as the husband of one of my relatives, Fanny Nusbaum, the daughter of Ernst Nusbaum, who is my 4x great-uncle, brother of John Nusbaum.

Since the Hanos, like the Cohens and the Nusbaums, were Pennsylvania Jews, I wondered whether there was a connection.  So I did some research on Jacob Hano, and I soon found out that he was the brother of the Louise Lydia Hano who had married Samuel Cohen, Nancy and Gil’s ancestors.  That is, Jacob Hano was Flora Cohen’s uncle, the same Flora Cohen who married Jacob Weil,the son of Rachel Cohen.

Florrie C Weil sitting room as a child

Home of Samuel Cohen and Louisa Lydia Hano
Courtesy of Gil Weeder

Are you still with me? There’s a quiz at the end.  (No, not really.)

Thus, Nancy, Gil and I are related both through my Nusbaum family and through my Cohen family.

Did they all know each other? Jacob Hano married my relative Fanny Nusbaum in 1877.   My great-grandparents Emanuel Cohen and Eva May Seligman (a Nusbaum) were married in 1886. Flora Cohen  wasn’t married to my relative Jacob Weil until 1908, over twenty years later.   So…here’s one possible scenario:

Eva May Seligman Cohen’s sister-in-law Rachel Cohen Weil says to Eva, “Do you know a nice Jewish girl for my son Jacob?”

Eva says, “Well, my mother’s first cousin Fanny is married to a man named Jacob Hano.  His sister Louise Lydia is married to Samuel Cohen.  A very nice family, also happened to be named Cohen.  They have a daughter Flora.  Perhaps Jacob would like to meet her?”

Flora Cohen and Jacob Weil with their daughter Maizie and unknown other

Flora Cohen and Jacob Weil with their daughter Maizie and unknown other Courtesy of Nancy Hano/Gil Weeder

And poof!  My Nusbaum and Cohen relatives are married to each other, and Gil and Nancy and I get all excited about a new connection, and my family tree starts twisting around on its own axis so badly that it just might fall down!

To state it most succinctly, my father’s maternal first cousin three times removed, Fanny Nusbaum, was married to Jacob Hano, who was the uncle of the wife (Flora Cohen) of my father’s paternal first cousin once removed, Jacob Weil.

This is a simple family tree that illustrates ...

This is a simple family tree that illustrates the definitions of various types of cousins (e.g. “second cousin twice removed”). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

English: The usual European kinship system wit...

English: The usual European kinship system with English text. Note that “Thrice-removed” on the chart more commonly occurs as “Three times removed”… Deutsch: Das gebräuchliche europäische Verwandschaftssystem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)