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

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

19th century etching of a peddler by Granger found at

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 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 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)

Follow up on Schopfloch: Who Replaced My 4x-Great-Grandfather Amson Nussbaum

In my last post, I wrote about the Jews Edict of 1813 in Bavaria and the impact it had on Jewish families.  To recap, since the law prohibited the increase in the number of Jewish families in a particular town, children would have to leave town to start their own families.

Yesterday I was very fortunate to receive the following document from a very generous fellow researcher named Ralph Baer.

1827 Matrikel part 1 for Amson Nussbaum

1826 Matrikel left side of page

1827 Matrikel part 2 for Amson Nussbaum

1826 Matrikel right side of page


This is from the census or Matrikel of 1826 for the town of Schopfloch, and the second name listed is the entry for my 4x-great-grandfather, Amson Meier Nussbaum, father of John Nusbaum.  It reports that he was born 1777 and matriculated on September 26, 1809. His occupation was “Handel mit alten Kleidern” or trade with old clothes. [Thank you, Ralph, for sending me this and for the translation.]

I was curious about the name under Amson’s name, Hayum Kronheimer, and Ralph explained to me that he was Amson’s replacement on the Matrikel.  In other words, after Amson died, Hayum Kronheimer replaced him in the count of permitted Jewish families in Schopfloch.

I’ve not yet had a chance to research Hayum Kronheimer.  Perhaps he was an in-law, or maybe just a stranger to the family. [UPDATE: Further research led me to a family tree for Hayum Kronheimer; it does not appear that he married anyone in the Nussbaum family.]   Either way, I found it rather chilling to see the actual name of the person who replaced my ancestor on the list of Jews allowed in the town.

A Town with A Secret Language: Schopfloch and the Nusbaums

I thought I should outline my connection to the Nusbaums before I began writing about them.   The chain between Amson Nusbaum  and me is as follows, with the Nusbaum descendants all on the left side of each couple:

Amson Nusbaum—Voegele Welsch  (my 4x-great-grandparents)

John (Josua) Nusbaum—Jeannette (Shamet) Dreyfuss  (my 3x-great-grandparents)

Frances Nusbaum—-Bernard Seligman  (my great-great-grandparents)

Eva May Seligman—-Emanuel Cohen (my great-grandparents)

John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr. — Eva Schoenthal  (my grandparents)

John Nusbaum Cohen, Jr. —-  Florence Goldschlager  (my parents)

Amy Cohen (me)

(Although the Nusbaums spelled their name with two S’s in Germany as in NUSSBAUM, the family dropped the second S once they got to the US, just as the Seligmanns dropped the second N when they immigrated.)

So where do I start telling this Nusbaum story? I have already talked about my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen’s life and his mother Eva Seligman Cohen’s life in telling the stories of the Cohens and the Seligmans.  So I could start with my great-great-grandmother, Frances Nusbaum, who married Bernard Seligman.  I’ve also written a little about her.  But I prefer to start at the earliest point and move forward in time.   Right now the earliest Nusbaum ancestors I have found date back to the 18th century with Amson Nusbaum and Voegele Welsch.

This is the first branch that I have been able to take back as far as my 4x-great-grandparents.  Although I know very little about Amson Nusbaum and Voegele Welsch, I am hoping that I can learn more if I can obtain more records from Schopfloch.  But for now, here is what I know.

Amson Meier Nusbaum was born around 1777 possibly in Schopfloch, a small town in the Ansbach region of Bavaria.  He married Voegele Welsch, who was born March 7, 1782, somewhere in Germany.  They were married around 1804, and they had eight children born between 1805 and 1819, all born in Schopfloch.  Amson was a peddler.



Although I do not have much specific information about Amson and Voegele, I was interested in learning more about the town where they lived and raised their children in order to glean something about what their lives might have been like.

First, I read a little bit about Bavaria.  I really know almost nothing about Germany’s history, but I do know that it was not a unified country until 1871.  Before that, there were a number of separate duchys and kingdoms controlled by various aristocrats and noblemen, fighting over their borders for many hundreds of years. From the tenth century until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the land that we know as Germany was part of the Holy Roman Empire.   The Thirty Years War from 1618 to 1648, which started as a conflict between Protestants and Catholics and grew to a much larger regional conflict, was perhaps the most destructive of the wars that occurred during this pre-unification era in the area we now call Germany.

Map of the Imperial Circles of the Holy Roman ...

Map of the Imperial Circles of the Holy Roman Empire (c. 1512) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bavaria was one of those regions within what is now Germany.  It is located in the southeastern part of the country, bordering the Czech Republic and Austria to the east and south.  The official website for what is now the state of Bavaria within the Federated Republic of Germany said this about the history of Bavaria:

Bavaria is one of the oldest states in Europe. Its origins go back to the 6th century AD. In the Middle Ages, Bavaria (until the start of the 19th century Old Bavaria) was a powerful dukedom, first under the Guelphs and then under the Wittelsbachs. … Cities like Regensburg developed into cultural and economic centres of European rank. After the Thirty Years War, the Electorate of Bavaria played an important role in the political deliberations of the major powers. In the 19th century Bavaria became a constitutional monarchy and the scene of a great cultural blossoming and of political and social reforms.

Schopfloch is a small town of three thousand people located near the western boundary of Bavaria.  It is about sixty miles west of Nuremberg, about one hundred miles northwest of Munich, and about eighty miles northeast of Stuttgart.

Schopfloch in AN

Schopfloch in AN (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to the official town website, the earliest mention of the town dates from March 11, 1260, on a land deed witnessed by someone named Ulricis de Schopfloch.  (Schopf loch apparently means “ crested hole” or “tuft hole,” and perhaps this is a reference to the fact that the town is located in a small valley).  During the Thirty Years War, many Protestants moved from Salzburg to Schopfloch.  They were primarily tradesman in the building trades—masons and bricklayers– and the town was known for its many families in the construction business.

The history of the Jews in Bavaria is, like the history of Jews in most countries in Europe, one of oppression, discrimination, unfair taxation, and frequent pogroms with occasional periods of greater tolerance and civil rights.  There is evidence of Jews living in Bavaria as early as the 900s, and numerous towns and cities in Bavaria had Jewish communities by the 12th century.  Jews were limited in their livelihoods in many locations; in many places, they were prohibited from most trades other than moneylending.  Beginning in the 14th century and continuing through the 17th century, the Jews were subjected to widespread orders of expulsion and deportation from many Bavarian communities.  A good summary of the history of Jews in Bavaria can be found here at H. Peter Sinclair’s “Chronology of the History of the Jews in Bavaria 906-1945,” .

As for Schopfloch specifically, the first Jews settled there in the fourteenth century.  According to The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust: K-Sered (Shmuel Spector, Geoffrey Wigoder, eds., 2001, NYU Press), p.1151, Jews moved to Schopfloch after being expelled from the nearby town of Dinkelsbuehl.   Another source suggests that Jews were welcomed to Schopfloch by rival nobles who took in Jews to increase their strength.     Jews were able to do well, engaging in cattle trade in Schopfloch and in several communities near Schopfloch.

A Jewish cemetery was created around 1612 and served not only the Jewish residents of Schopfloch but also those of surrounding towns.

A synagogue was built in 1679, and there was also a ritual bath and a school.   According to the website “Destroyed German Synagogues and Communities” :

The Jews of Schopfloch established a synagogue in 1679 and enlarged it in 1712 and again in 1715. Rabbis served the community during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and the village was home to a regional rabbinate during the years 1841 to 1872. In 1877, a new synagogue was built on the Judengasse, or “Jews’ alley” (later renamed Bahnhofstrasse).

According to the town website, the Jewish residents played an important role in the social history of the town, and the long history of co-existence between the Christians and Jews in Schopfloch made it less susceptible to anti-Semitism even in the Nazi period.  Perhaps there were no pogroms or expulsion orders in Schopfloch.  None were mentioned in H. Peter Sinclair’s “Chronology of the History of the Jews in Bavaria 906-1945,” cited above and found here.

Overall, it would seem that Schopfloch would have been a relatively comfortable place for Jews to live when my ancestors Amson and Voegele Nussbaum were having children between 1805 and 1819 and the years following when their children were growing up.  Amson died June 7, 1836, and Voegele died October 2, 1842.  From what I can find in immigration records, my three-times great grandfather John (Josua) Nusbaum emigrated in 1843, the year after his mother died.  It appears that at least some of his siblings emigrated around the same time.  What would have motivated them to leave once their parents had died if in fact conditions for Jews were relatively good in Schopfloch?

The Nussbaum family was growing up in an era of significant change in Bavaria and in Europe generally.  Napoleon had risen to power in France as the 18th century ended, and the Holy Roman Empire crumbled. His armies invaded the lands in what is now Germany, and eventually he defeated the Austrian army and took over much of German land. His emancipation of the Jews in France in 1806 had an impact on those in Bavaria, and in 1813 Bavaria adopted the Jews Edict of 1813.  Although Napoleon was defeated shortly after, the Jews Edict of 1813 remained the law in Bavaria.

The Jews Edict was a mixed blessing.  As described by one source, “Jews now could acquire land and participate in trade but they were forced to adopt German surnames and to list the head of the household’s name and occupation as shown in the Matrikellisten (census) of 1817.”   This registry (while a good thing for genealogy research), which may seem benign, had a negative impact on Jews because it forced many Jews to leave their homeland.  Section 12 of the Edict provided that the number of Jewish families in any community could not increase.  That meant that a child in a Jewish family could not establish his or her own family, but had to leave the community.  Section 13 provided some exceptions, but they were quite restrictive.  In addition, Section 14 prohibited the issuance of a marriage permit even if the marriage would not result in an overall increase in Jewish families unless the man could demonstrate that he was going to engage in a legal occupation other than being a peddler.

Thus, not all of Amson and Voegele’s children could stay in Schopfloch.   To do so would have created eight new Jewish families in the town.  Moreover, since Amson had been a peddler, chances are at least some of his sons had planned to engage in a similar trade.  So they had to leave Schopfloch, and since the neighboring towns were under the same restrictions, they could not even settle nearby.  They had to emigrate, and I am sure that America, a new country with a democratic form of government, must have been very appealing to these young people who were being denied the right to stay in the town where they were born.

The Jewish population in Schopfloch hit its peak in 1867 with 393 Jewish residents out of a total population of 1,788.  Although a new synagogue was built in 1877, by 1880 the Jewish population had dropped to 147 people.  It continued to drop so that by the early 1930s there were fewer than forty Jews in the town.  Nevertheless, the synagogue was renovated in 1932, and there was a large celebration rededicating the synagogue, attended by many Jews and non-Jews, including members of the Christian clergy, the mayor, and other town officials and residents.  One pastor spoke about the good relations between the Christian and Jewish residents of Schopfloch.

Schopfloch synagogue 1910 Source: Wallersteiner Kalendar, 1983 found at

Schopfloch synagogue 1910 Source: Wallersteiner Kalendar, 1983 found at

Tragically, just five years later on November 9, 1938, the Night of Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht, this newly renovated synagogue was destroyed by fire.  As described on the “Destroyed German Synagogues and Communities” website:

In 1938, in the wake of virulent anti-Jewish incitement, Schopfloch’s mayor advised the Jews to leave. All of them did so within months, and the synagogue was eventually sold (its ritual objects were transferred to Munich). Schopfloch’s last Jews left in October 1938. Although the synagogue was set on fire on Pogrom Night, the blaze was extinguished by the fire brigade. The building’s interior was completely destroyed, as were the ritual objects in Munich. Three Schopfloch Jews emigrated; the others relocated within Germany. Forty-eight perished in the Shoah. The synagogue building was demolished in 1939.

The cemetery, however, still exists, and a woman named Angelika Brosig began a project to restore the cemetery and to record all the names of those buried in the cemetery.  Sadly, Ms. Brosig died in 2013, and not all of the headstones have yet been translated and recorded, but the work is supposed to be continuing by others.  Thus far, I have not found any Nussbaums on the list, but I have to believe that my four-times great-grandparents Amson and Voegele are buried there.

Although Schopfloch is and was a small town without any particular historical significance of its own, it has been recognized for an interesting reason.  The Jews of Schopfloch developed a dialect of their own to be used in the course of cattle trade as a way of communicating without being understood.  It was a dialect combining Hebrew terms with German, and eventually it was used not only by the Jewish residents of Schopfloch but also by the non-Jewish residents.  In fact, the dialect, called Lachoudish, a shortened version of Lachon Kodesh, or “holy language” in Hebrew, continued to be used by the residents of Schopfloch long after all the Jews left the town in the 1930s.  The New York Times published an article about this secret language on February 10, 1984, giving some examples of the use of Hebrew terms in the dialect:

Lachoudisch is replete with words that bespeak the Jews’ wary relationship to Christian authority. The word for ”church” in Lachoudisch is ”tum” – from the Hebrew word for ”religiously unclean.” The word ”police” is ”sinem”- from the Hebrew for ”hated.” A priest is a ”gallach” or, in Hebrew, ”one who shaves.”

(James M. Markham, “Dialect of Lost Jews Lingers in a Bavarian Town,” The New York Times (February 10, 1984) found at  The article also provides historical and current information about the town.)

This website provides further examples of Hebrew terms used in Lachoudish.   Although Lachoudish is disappearing as there are fewer Schopfloch residents who remember it, there has been some effort to remember and revive the dialect.  This video, which unfortunately for me is in German, is about Lachoudish and also provides some images of Schopfloch today.  If anyone wishes to translate this for me, please let me know.

Coat of arms of Schopfloch

Coat of arms of Schopfloch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)













A Life of Service and Success: Arthur Seligman, Part III

Arthur Seligman, c. 1925 from Twitchell, p. 479

Arthur Seligman, c. 1925 from Twitchell, p. 479

On September 25, 1933, less than a year into his second term as governor of New Mexico, my great-great-uncle Arthur Seligman died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack.  After lying in state in the state capitol, he was buried on September 27, 1933, in the Fairview Cemetery in Santa Fe.  My great-grandmother Eva, his sister, traveled from Philadelphia to attend his funeral as she had done in January, 1931, for his first inauguration.  (“Late Governor Lies in State at the Capitol,” Las Vegas Daily Optic (September 27, 1933), pp. 1, 5)

Although certainly Arthur Seligman had his political enemies, the opinions expressed about him in numerous sources recognized that he was an effective leader, an able businessperson, and a successful politician.

The Clovis New-Journal wrote on September 26, 1933, p.2:

Deming headlight obit-page-001

To select just a few highlights from this editorial (which is hard to read, but I thought worth reproducing for those who want to try), the Clovis opined:

No man has ever had a more comprehensive understanding of the politics of this state than he, nor has any man ever attained the leadership that linked more completely the eastern and western sides.  This he accomplished through what often brought him criticism as a Democrat—a guiding hand in both democratic and progressive republican ranks….

He was a tireless man; one who drove himself at a terrific pace, and to this very fact may be charged his death….He worked until midnight nearly every night, and was at his office again by 10 o’clock in the morning, ever driving himself to the utmost of his strength.

The Deming Headlight also praised him, writing on September 29, 1933, p. 2:

deming obit

In the Dictionary of American Biography, he is described as follows:

Suave, fastidious in dress, aristocratic in taste but democratic in policy, always prominent in social life, he sought and attained a large measure of power through business and political channels. Intensely loyal to his numerous friends and an enemy to be feared, for more than a quarter of a century he had few peers in Democratic circles of the Southwest. The strong position of the Democratic party in New Mexico at the time of his death was largely due to his long, shrewd, and able leadership.

Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography (Charles Scribner & Sons 1935), located at

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency provided a deeper and more personal look at the life of Arthur Seligman:

A mild manner man was Arthur Seligman, pioneer builder of his native state, New Mexico, one-time Mayor of one of its leading cities, Santa Fe, and since 1931 its Governor. His sudden and untimely death last Monday came as a shock to all who knew him.

Stately in appearance, democratic in demeanor, firm in his convictions, determined in his action, Seligman was not only New Mexico’s favorite son, but also an exemplary figure in American civic and political life. His rise to the highest position of honor and responsibility in the State where he lived virtually all his life, the state to which he contributed so many lasting monuments, was reflective of the esteem in which he was held by his fellow citizens. Though always gentle, he invariably dealt emphatically with those who would practice abuse in public office. In the government of his state he had no time for those who would see in political activity an opportunity for personal gain. He viewed public service as a privilege coming with American citizenship and felt that every one should accept this service in the spirit of a sacred trust. ….

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Jewish Telegraphic Agency (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The JTA also commented on Arthur’s religious identity:

Though distant from Jewish communal life. Seligman always evinced a deep interest in the affairs of his people. He kept in touch with Jewish activity and cooperated in many causes. There are only a handful of Jews in New Mexico, yet when he was candidate for the office of governor he had the Ku-Klux-Klan to deal with. These conducted a whispering campaign against him. This was his first encounter with anti-Semitism and upset him quite a bit. However, his standing in the community and his splendid record of achievement were too much for the Kluxers. His election as the first Jew to hold that office in New Mexico also helped to crush the Kluxers in the State. His sudden death last Monday is a distinct loss for he was a credit to his country and his people.

I had wondered whether there was any anti-Semitism underlying the attacks against him, and although I certainly did not find anything in the newspaper articles that expressly suggested that as a motivation behind those who criticized him, given the times and the location, there undoubtedly must have been many in New Mexico who were uncomfortable at best with the idea of a Jewish governor.  Despite that, Seligman was twice elected to the office.

Addressing the question of Arthur’s religious affiliation, Henry J. Tobias wrote in A History of the Jews in New Mexico (University of New Mexico Press 1990), pp. 160-161:

Though clearly of Jewish parentage, Governor Seligman’s religion at the time of his death is a matter of some debate.  Frankie Lacker Seligman, the governor’s wife, belonged to the Episcopal church, and the son born to them in 1898 [Otis] was christened there. … Upon his death, an Episcopal service for the dead was read at the House of Representatives.  At the Fairview Cemetery, however, the Masonic ritual was performed.  Given the uncertainty of the governor’s religious identity, it would be presumptuous to define it for him.  His family background and early life, however, place his career clearly within the framework of the history of the Jews of New Mexico.

Cover of "A History of the Jews in New Me...

Cover of A History of the Jews in New Mexico

Although he was not an observant Jew and did not marry a Jewish woman or raise his children as Jews, he is still always identified as Jewish on various lists and other sources.  (E.g., City of Albuquerque website  here ; Wikipedia article on Arthur Seligman at ; list of Jewish governors in Jews in American Politics (Louis Sandy Maisel, Ira N. Forman, Donald Altschiller, Charles Walker Bassett, editors) (2001), p. 465.  As is often the case, it doesn’t matter what you do or believe or who you marry.  Once a Jew, always a Jew in the eyes of the much of the world.

Flag of City of Santa Fe

Flag of City of Santa Fe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Having now read so much about him after years of only knowing that I had some distant relative who had once been the governor of New Mexico, I now have great admiration for what he accomplished in his life.  He had the benefit of growing up as the son of a very successful merchant, his father Bernard, who also was his role model for public service.  His mother Frances Nusbaum Seligman was known as a gentle, kind and good woman.  He had three older siblings who must have doted on him; clearly his older sister Eva and he were very devoted to each other, traveling across the country to be with each other.  He had the benefit of a Swarthmore education and a business education.  There is no question that Arthur Seligman’s story is one that started with many advantages; it’s not a rags to riches story or the story of an immigrant achieving the American dream.

But it is nevertheless a remarkable life.  He could have taken the easy way—lived on the family’s wealth and remained a merchant or a banker and had a very comfortable life.  But he chose instead to serve his city as mayor, his party as chair, and his state as governor.  He faced some hostile opposition and apparently attacks by the KKK; he was referred to as Little Arthur in some news reports, mocking his small stature.  He was accused of being a greedy banker, undoubtedly a disguised anti-Semitic remark.  Yet he defeated his well-known Republican opponents, including one former governor, twice in races for the governor’s seat despite being a Jewish man from a state with almost no Jewish population.

As governor he somehow both cut the size of government and the tax rate while also instituting some important social reforms like vocational education and unemployment relief.  He faced a potentially violent strike by miners and a personal threat of kidnapping his granddaughter.  If he had not died in September, 1933, he might have been named a US Senator from New Mexico.  Who knows how far he could have gone or what else he might have accomplished?

Flag of New Mexico

Flag of New Mexico (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Arthur Seligman’s story is the story of a man whose father came from a tiny town in Germany to a frontier town in New Mexico and became a successful American merchant.  It is the story of a boy who must have been grateful for the opportunities that America, New Mexico, and Santa Fe had afforded his family.  He took those opportunities and returned the gifts by working hard for the city, state, and country that had given so much to him and his family.





The Twentieth Century for the Descendants of Moses and Adeline Cohen 1900-1910

The first decade of the twentieth century must have been a very difficult one for the extended Cohen family in Washington, DC.  First, on March 21, 1903, Hart’s son Munroe was killed in Kingston, New York, in a gruesome accident while working as a brakeman for the West Shore railroad. He was trying to couple two railcars when he slipped and fell between the cars.  He sustained serious injuries and died of shock resulting from those injuries, according to the Kingston Daily Freeman.  He was only 22 years old.  His body was returned to Washington, DC, where he was buried on March 24, 1903.

The Kingston Daily Freeman, Volume 01, March 23 1903, Page 3, found at

The Kingston Daily Freeman, Volume 01, March 23 1903, Page 3 found at——-20-PubMetakingstondaily-1—-monroe+cohen-all

Monroe Cohen body 1903

It appears that at or around or perhaps right after the time of Munroe’s accident and subsequent death, his younger brother Jacob, then seventeen years old, stole about $700 worth of jewelry from his father’s store and pawned it to another pawnbroker.  As the article below indicates, the police were hoping he would return for his brother’s funeral, so it would seem that Jacob’s theft occurred close to the time of his brother’s death.

Jacob Cohen son of Hart 1903 arrested

(“Son’s Alleged Dishonesty” Date: Friday, March 27, 1903, Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 15)

It took six months for the police to track Jacob down, and when they did, they found him in St. Louis.  He was arrested and admitted to the crime and was then returned to Washington.

Jacob son of Hart arrested in St Louis

(“Charged with Grand Larceny,” October 20, 1903, Washington Evening Star, p. 11)

I have not found anything to indicate what happened next, but in 1910, Jacob was living with his parents in Washington, and working as a chauffeur.  I don’t know what could have motivated Jacob to steal the jewelry, but the fact that this occurred at the time his brother died makes me believe that it was related in some way to the grief he felt from his brother’s death.  It seems that Jacob had no further run-ins with the law and that his parents took him back into their home since he was living there as a 24 year old in 1910.

Unfortunately, that was not the end of the tragedies for the extended DC Cohen family in that first decade of the twentieth century.  Just a few months later, on January 24, 1904, Ella Cohen Greenberg, the daughter of Moses, Jr. and Henrietta Baer Cohen, died at age 29, leaving behind her husband Jacob and their eight year old daughter, Marjorie.  I do not have a death certificate (yet) for Ella, so I do not know why she died.  Jacob was remarried by 1909 to a woman named Hattie with whom he had a son, Theodore.

And then just nine months after Ella’s death, Moses, Jr. himself died on November 24, 1904.  He was 63 years old.  According to his obituary, his death was sudden, the result of a heart attack.  The obituary paints a portrait of a successful business man who was very active in his synagogue and in various other Jewish communal and charitable organizations.  It described him as a “pioneer Hebrew citizen” of Washington, DC, and as “highly esteemed” and “highly regarded.”  One interesting error in the obituary is that it says that he was the father of eight children, all of whom survived him.  Moses and Henrietta had had nine children, and Ella had predeceased him.  Had the newspaper just made an error, or had there been some falling out between Ella and her family?  I will assume the first since I have no basis for concluding otherwise, and Ella was included with an insert into the family portrait, which obviously was taken some time between her death and the death of her father nine months later.

Moses Jr obit part 1

moses jr obit part 2

(“Moses Cohen Dead,”  November 25, 1904, Washington Evening Star, p.3)

It’s ironic that despite emphasizing Moses’ Jewish identity in several places, the obituary’s subtitle describes him as a strong supporter of his “church.”

The other thing that I found interesting was Moses, Jr.’s headstone.  Unlike his father Moses, Sr.’s headstone, which was a very traditional Jewish headstone engraved mostly in Hebrew and with the symbol for the Cohanim, Moses, Jr’s headstone has no Hebrew at all. Given how involved he was in the Washington Hebrew Congregation as both an employee and a congregant, I found this surprising.  Perhaps it is a sign of assimilation that the family chose a headstone in English and not Hebrew.

Moses Cohen, Sr. headstone

Moses Cohen, Sr. headstone

Moses Cohen, Jr. headstone

Moses Cohen, Jr. headstone

But the decade was not completely sad.  The eight surviving children of Moses, Jr. and Henrietta were doing well, and the next generation was growing up.

  1. Augusta and Julius’s five children were young adults and teenagers, the three oldest all working as jewelers like their father.
  2. Myer Cohen and his wife Helen had one more child, Myer, Jr., born in 1907, and their children were also teenagers. Myer continued to practice law.
  3. Jacob and Ida Cohen and their two children, Aimee and Gerson, moved from New York City to Yonkers, New York. In 1905 and in 1910, Jacob was working as the manager of a dry goods store.
  4. Alfred Selinger, Fannie Cohen’s husband, was a tailor. Their daughter Selma was also a teenager in 1910.
  5. Florence and Harry Panitz were still living in Baltimore, and Harry was still a salesman. Their daughter Aline was still a young child.
  6. Grace Cohen married William Katz on January 20, 1901, and they had two children in the next decade: Hilda (1901) and Morton (1907). William was a manager in a furniture store, and the family was living in Washington, DC.
  7. Solomon, the youngest son of Moses, Jr., and Henrietta, married Estelle Spater in 1906, where the couple then resided. Solomon was employed as a manager of a mail order business.  Solomon and Estelle had a son Ralph born in 1908 and a son Theodore, born in 1910.  Sadly, Theodore died on November 21, 1912 when he was only two years old.
    Theodore P. Cohen death certificate

    Theodore P. Cohen death certificate

    When I found the death certificate for Theodore, I was confused by a number of things.  First, he died in Seneca, Lenawee County, Michigan, not Detroit, where his family lived.  I thought perhaps he had died in an accident, but the cause of death was indigestion.  I found that very puzzling, but then saw that a contributory cause was Little’s Disease.  I looked up Little’s Disease and learned that it was a form of cerebral palsy.  I am not sure how indigestion caused his death, but obviously it was related to his underlying condition.  I also found it very strange that his birth date was unknown, that there was no information about the birth place of either of his parents or his mother’s maiden name, and that the informant was neither of his parents.  My guess is that Theodore was in a hospital or home for children with similar conditions since it appears that he was not living with family.

  8. In 1910, Moses, Jr., and Henrietta’s youngest child, Mabel, was residing at the Maryland Asylum and Training School for the Feeble Minded in Baltimore; she was 27 and unable to read or write.

In June 1909, there was a large family celebration of the 25th anniversary of Augusta and Julius Selinger at their home.  From this description in the Washington Evening Star, one can get a sense of the lifestyle of the family during this decade.

Augusta and Julius 25th anniversary party

Augusta and Julius 25th anniversary party

(Sunday, June 20, 1909, Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC),   Page: 61)


As for Moses, Sr., and Adeline’s other children, JM and Belle Cohen were still living in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1905, but by 1910, they had moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where their daughter Fannie Sybil had moved sometime after marrying Sigmund Stern, a German-born immigrant who had arrived in the United States in 1892 as a fourteen year old and who was living in Sioux City in 1900, where he was residing as a lodger along with his two brothers, Henry and Morris, in what appears to be a boarding house.  Sigmund and his older brother Morris were both working as clothing merchants.   Sometime before 1906 Sigmund and Sybil, as she was known, had moved to Kansas City, as their daughter Judith was born there in 1906.  Although I cannot find a 1910 census report for Sigmund and Sybil Stern, Sybil’s parents JM and Belle and her sister Ruth were listed as living in Kansas City that year; JM was retired at age 57.

The other two children of Hart and Henrietta (aside from Munroe and Jacob M. II, discussed above) were Frances and Isadore.  In 1910, Frances was single and living with her parents and had no occupation.  Isadore had married Frances David in about 1907, according to the 1910 census, and their first child, Monroe, was born April 14, 1910.  Isadore was working as a clerk for the post office at that time.

As for Rachel and Frederick Selinger, they were still living in Washington with their son Monroe in 1910, and Frederick was still working in a furniture store.  Their daughter Fannie had married Aaron Hartstall sometime before 1910, and their son Morton was born January 20, 1910.  Aaron was employed as a paper hanger, and they also were living in Washington, DC.

So the family had grown in numbers and the children were growing to be adults in the first ten years of the twentieth century.  There had been some big losses and a fair number of births.  The next ten years would see additional growth and additional challenges as the family and the world faced World War I and the younger generation began to reach adulthood and have families of their own.



Jews in Iowa? Cohens on the Prairie 1880-1900

“Sioux Falls panorama 1908 1” by G.W. Fox – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID pan.6a09880. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Although the descendants of Moses and Adeline Cohen stayed close to Washington until 1880, in the next two decades many of them ventured further away.  I’ve already written about the children of Moses, Jr., four of whom left DC, three for NYC, and one for Baltimore.  But his siblings and their children ventured even further away, although for some it was just a temporary move.

The real adventurer seems to have been Jacob M. Cohen, apparently known as JM.  JM married a woman from Cuyahoga, Ohio, named Belle Lehman, on August 19, 1877.  Their first daughter, Fannie Sybil, was born in Washington, DC, in 1879, but sometime after 1880, JM and his wife and young daughter left town and moved west to the Dakota Territory where the second child, Seba Maude, was born in 1882.  I wish I knew what drew JM away from Washington and off to the prairie and how he met a woman from Ohio in the first place.  Was it a desire to be a pioneer or a desire to strike out on his own away from his family?  I don’t know, but I was certainly surprised to see “Dakota” as the birthplace of his second child.

Not long after Seba’s birth, the family must have moved again because a third daughter, Ruth Josephine, was born on June 8, 1883, in Sioux City, Iowa.  Sioux City seems to be where JM and Belle established deeper roots. They lived there until at least 1905, and their fourth child and only son Arthur was born there in 1885.  According to the 1885 Iowa state census, JM was working as a pawnbroker; in the 1888 directory for Sioux City, he is listed as being in real estate, but in 1900 his occupation on the census is a ticket broker.  Perhaps the census taker heard that incorrectly; perhaps he was still a pawnbroker.  Or maybe a real estate broker.

JM Cohen and family 1885 Iowa census

JM Cohen and family 1885 Iowa census

JM Cohen and family 1900 US census

JM Cohen and family 1900 US census

JM and Belle suffered a terrible loss when their daughter Seba died on January 2, 1886; she was not even four years old.

Seba Maude Cohen headstone

I fear that their son Arthur, born in 1885, also died young.   He does not appear on the 1895 census or the 1900 census when one would assume he would have been only ten and then fifteen years old and presumably living with his family.  On the other hand, I cannot find a death record for him in Iowa or elsewhere, nor is he buried where Seba and his parents were buried in Sioux City.

I wondered whether there were any other Jews in Sioux City at that time and was able to locate a book by Simon Glazer entitled The Jews in Iowa: A Complete History and Accurate Account of Their Religious, Social, Economical and Educational Progress in this State; a History of the Jews of Europe, North and South America in Modern Times, and a Brief History of Iowa, published in 1904 by Koch Brothers Printing Company and now available as a free e-book on Google.  According to Glazer, there were only 25 Jews in Sioux City in 1869, but by 1904 there were over two thousand, including my relatives. In fact, when the Jewish community decided to form a cemetery association, the Mt Sinai Cemetery Association, in 1884, JM Cohen, my cousin, was one of the founding members.  (Glazer, p. 295)  Moreover, that same year JM’s wife Belle was the leader of a movement among the Jewish women to create a fund-raising organization to help the poor and to raise money to build a house of worship. (Glazer, p. 296)  Despite this burst of energy in 1884, there was no formal congregation until 1898.  As described by Glazer:

“The Jewish spirit which kept them together was a mere ghost of little more consequence than a shadow. Everything they had gained during their childhood, everything their parents had imbued within them vanished form [sic] their memories, and nothing new could come and knock at their gates since no effort was endeavored prior to 1898, to form a congregation and engage the services of a minister.” (p. 297)

According to Glazer, “Their temple was built largely through the efforts of the ladies, and the man [sic] frankly admit that had it not been for the heroic efforts of the Jewish women no such place for Judaism in Sioux City would as yet have been made a matter of fact. Their first services were conducted at the Masonic Temple, which is, indeed, very complimentary to both, the Masons and the Jews.” (p. 300)

JM Cohen was listed by Glazer as one of the ten officers and leaders of Mt Sinai Congregation in those early days.

Mt Sinai Synagogue, Sioux CIty, Iowa From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Glazer then described the influx of Russian and Eastern European Jews in the late 1880s and thereafter and the divisions between the older assimilated population which had established Mt Sinai, the Reform congregation, and the newcomers who were more Orthodox.  He concluded his chapter on Sioux City by saying, “The Jewry of Sioux City is as yet in its infancy, but it has plenty of mettle to make itself a stronghold of both Orthodox and Reform Judaism in the northwest.” (p. 302)

So my cousin Jacob M. Cohen was a pioneer.  He left the comforts of a well-established Jewish community in Washington, DC, where his older brother Moses, Jr., was a leader in the Washington Hebrew Congregation, a well-established synagogue, and went out to the prairie lands of the Midwest (the northwest in 1904 when Glazer was writing) to become a Jewish leader there.

JM also succeeded in getting two of his siblings and his mother Adeline to move to Iowa, if for only a short time. Adeline, who was born in Baden, Germany, had immigrated to Baltimore, raised four children on her own when her husband Moses died in 1860, and supported them herself in Washington, DC.  Adeline again uprooted herself and left a safe, settled urban world to live in Iowa.   In 1888 she was living with JM in Sioux City, according to the city directory.  I don’t know how long she lived there, but she did return to Washington, DC, by 1894.

Title : Sioux City, Iowa, City Directory, 1888 Source Information U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989

Title : Sioux City, Iowa, City Directory, 1888
Source Information U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989

In that same 1888 Sioux City directory is a listing for Hart Cohen as well, JM’s older brother.  The first half of the 1880s for Hart and his wife Henrietta brought two more children to their family, Isadore Baer, born in 1883, and Jacob M. II, born in 1885, in addition to Frances, who was born in 1878, and Munroe, born in 1880.  Hart, like his brother JM, was a pawnbroker, and like his first cousin Hart in Philadelphia, he was charged in 1885 with receipt of stolen goods in the course of his business; he was acquitted of the charges in 1886.


Hart DC Cohen arrested 1885 snip

(“A Pawnbroker Arrested,” Wednesday, March 25, 1885, Critic-Record (Washington (DC), DC),Issue: 5,187, Page: 3)

Letter from Washington. A Pawnbroker Acquitted - Measures to Avert a Flood in the Potomac Date: Friday, February 12, 1886  Paper: Sun (Baltimore, MD)   Volume: XCVIII   Issue: 76   Page: 4

Letter from Washington. A Pawnbroker Acquitted – Measures to Avert a Flood in the Potomac
Date: Friday, February 12, 1886 Paper: Sun (Baltimore, MD) Volume: XCVIII Issue: 76 Page: 4

It might have been in the aftermath of these criminal proceedings that Hart decided to join his brother JM in Sioux City.  He was there at least until 1895, as on the 1895 Iowa census he and his entire family are included.  His occupation at that time was described as a jeweler.

Hart Cohen and family 1895 Iowa census

Hart Cohen and family 1895 Iowa census

By 1900, however, Hart and his family had returned to Washington, DC, where he was still working as a jeweler.  His children were now all at least teenagers, ranging in age from 14 (Jacob) to Frances (21), and perhaps he felt like he had gotten his life in order and could return to his hometown.  They were living at 1424 Seventh Street, NW, in 1900.

Hart Cohen and family 1900 census

Hart Cohen and family 1900 census

JM even lured his sister Rachel to come to Iowa for some time.  Rachel had been newly married to Frederick Selinger in 1880, and in 1882 they had their first child, Fannie Selinger, in Washington, DC.  Their second child, Monroe, was born in 1888 in Washington as well, but in 1891 when Frederick applied for a passport, they were living in Sioux City, Iowa.  (Interestingly, the witness on the application was Myer Cohen of Washington, DC, his wife’s nephew, son of her brother Moses, Jr.)

Frederick Selinger passport application 1891

Frederick Selinger passport application 1891

Frederick is also listed in directories for Sioux City from 1890 through 1892.  Like Hart and Adeline, however, Rachel and Frederick returned to Washington, DC, where in 1900 the family was living at 1502 Seventh Street, NW.

Frederick and Rachel Selinger and family 1900 census

Frederick and Rachel Selinger and family 1900 census

Thus, by 1900, the great experiment of living out in Sioux City had ended for all of the DC Cohens except for JM and his family, who would never return to Washington, DC.  All the rest of the Moses Cohen family—from Adeline (until her death in 1895) to Moses, Jr., to Hart, to Rachel– were living within five or six blocks of each other in the Northwest section of Washington, DC, in 1900.

The twentieth century was about to begin, and with it came new challenges and new family members.  The story will continue…






To Reveal or Not: More Thoughts on the Ethics of Genealogy

My post yesterday prompted a lot of comments both here on the blog and also in two genealogy groups I follow on Facebook, Tracing the Tribe, which is a Jewish genealogy group, and the group.  I am very grateful for all the thoughts and discussion, and I have a better idea of where to draw the line between revealing and not revealing information.   I will try to summarize the viewpoints articulated by those who participated in these discussions.

Generally speaking, there are two different views.  One view is that telling the truth is an important principle in reporting the results of genealogy research.  Genealogy is a form of history, and without all the details, we are distorting history.  If we delete information, we are not giving a full picture of a family’s history.  In fact, we are whitewashing the information and creating a picture that presents people as perfect when in reality people are always flawed, make mistakes, endure hardships, suffer from illnesses, marital problems, financial problems, and so on.  What is the point of history if it is not truthful?

On the other hand, many people argue that there is a need to respect the privacy and feelings of others and thus to keep certain information that may hurt someone or embarrass them from being disclosed, both publicly and to those it might hurt or embarrass.  Several people mentioned the traditional Jewish principles of not doing anything to shame or embarrass another and of  lashon hara—not to say anything about anyone, whether true or false, whether flattering or insulting.  My rabbi and dear friend Rabbi Herbert Schwartz also reminded me that even God did not reveal the truth all the time and that lying is sometimes better than truth-telling when the feelings of others are involved.


IAJGS (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One person pointed me to the website for the IAJGS (International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies)  and its statement of ethical principles for genealogists.  Among the guidelines they espouse is one that suggests that information that is more than 75 years old may be disclosed.  Quoting from the IAJGS website:

Regarding the “right to privacy” versus the “freedom of information” area of potential conflict:

  • Data more than 75 years old should be regarded as sufficiently historical to be available, without restriction.
  • More recent data should be evaluated in the light of sensitivities of the living versus the importance of disseminating information.
  • Generally, a request from an individual that certain information about themselves or close relatives be kept private should be respected.
  • It if is decided not to publish any particular piece of information, there should be a clear statement to that effect so that the reader is not misled by the omission.

Ethics statement approved by the IAJGS Board of Directors 2 November 2002

The website also includes the Ten Commandments in Genealogy written by Rabbi Malcolm Stern.  These include the following:

9. The sensitivities of living people must be respected and the memory of the deceased likewise, but for the latter it is permitted to record the objective facts about them.

All parties seem to agree that anything about a living person should not be disclosed.  I agree whole-heartedly with that point of view, and I only provide information about anyone living if they consent first.  I keep the details of my family tree on password-protected pages for that reason, i.e., that they include living descendants.

So where do I come out on this debate?  As I said, my views are more clear now than they were before, but they are not yet truly defined.  I agree with both views.  I honor the principle of truth.  As someone who loves history and who is educated in the law, I believe that knowing the truth is important to each of us personally and to our society as a whole.  But I also embrace the need to avoid harming another person if at all possible.  I would hate to think that something I write causes pain to another, but I also know that that pain is rooted in the truth I’ve revealed, not simply in the fact that I have revealed it.

For me that means that, as we lawyers like to say, it depends.  It depends on the circumstances.  Here are some of the circumstances I will and do consider before writing about something that might be upsetting to another person:

  1. Are these documented facts or just allegations? If the latter, I must indicate that they are only allegations or perhaps not even report them at all.  If it was information from a newspaper article, I will quote that source; if it is something that I was told by a relative, I would not report it unless I could find sufficient corroboration.
  2. How long ago did these events occur? I like the 75 year rule adopted by the IAJGS, meaning anything before 1940 would be considered generally publishable if documented.  For me, I might even use a 100 year rule, meaning anything before 1914 is publishable if documented.  However, even in those circumstances, I might still hesitate to reveal the information if there is some other reason not to do so.  For example, if a living descendant asks me not to do so (see #4 below) or if the facts are relatively insignificant.
  3. If I do reveal those older facts, I may also take steps to protect the identity of any living descendants of that person.  For example, if someone who lived 120 years ago committed a crime, is it necessary to reveal the names of his or her children or grandchildren in a blog post about that person? By making it less obvious who the descendants are, it will be harder for others to make that connection. If a descendant, say, a great-grandchild, looks hard enough, they might find out that their great-grandparent committed a crime, but if they look that hard, they also likely would have found it the same way I did—from publicly available records.
  4. For information that is more recent than 75 years, I would only reveal that information if I am sure that either there are no living direct descendants or if I am in touch with living descendants and am able to discuss the facts with them and get their permission to write about it on the blog.  I do not generally think it is my role to tell someone something that may upset them; I am not a psychologist and am not able to deal with the reactions I might cause.  But if I know that that person already knows the information, then I am more willing to let them know that I have learned about it from some public source and then to talk to them about it.  If I can’t find the living descendants, then I would not reveal information that is more recent than 1940.
  5. If a descendant asks me not to write about something on the blog, I will not do so.  Yes, that may distort history, but this is personal history, family history—not the kind that changes society or reveals the truth about how political decisions are made.  This is not a cover-up that will affect many people, if any, outside of one particular family.

Do these principles/guidelines make sense? I am still struggling with this, and I know that not everyone will agree.  The truth-seekers will not be happy with me for holding back some information; those who do not believe in revealing upsetting information will not be happy that I will reveal that information in certain circumstances.  I know that my thoughts and my practice will evolve over time, and I know that I will continue to struggle and to seek counsel from all of you.

Thank you to everyone who commented, both here and on Facebook, and for helping me think through this difficult issue.



Arthur Lewis Wilde Cohen 1890-1955: Family Lore and The Tricks of Memory

Arthur Lewis Wilde Cohen, Sr.

Arthur Lewis Wilde Cohen, Sr.


When I first started researching my Cohen relatives about a year and a half ago, I was very fortunate to find one branch on that tree already recorded on by one of the direct descendants of Reuben Cohen, my great-granduncle.  The tree was created by the grandchild of Reuben and Sallie’s son Arthur Lewis Wilde Cohen.  I contacted the tree’s owner, and we exchanged a series of emails that established our family connection and that provided me with some wonderful background on Arthur Lewis Wilde’s children and grandchildren as well as some photographs.  This newly found third cousin of mine, Jim, was very helpful when it came to his father’s generation, but said he knew very little about the lives of his grandfather Arthur Lewis Wilde Cohen, Sr.,or his great-grandfather Reuben.

I filed away all the information and the photos my new cousin Jim shared with me, and then began to focus on my Brotman relatives, putting the Cohen research to the side for many months.  When I returned to the Cohens this spring, I dug up the information I’d gotten from Jim. In researching more deeply into the life of Arthur Lewis Wilde Cohen and his family, I experienced what all family researchers experience—that although family stories can almost always be very helpful in providing clues and richness to family history, you have to take into account that details often get blurry as stories are passed down from one generation to the next and that some facts are lost along the way. It took me some doing to untangle the family stories and find the facts, but with more research and more email conversations with Jim, I think I can now piece together the life of Arthur Lewis Wilde Cohen and his family.

Number eleven out of seventeen, Arthur Lewis Wilde was born on February 26, 1890.  In 1910, he was a clerk in a “brokerage.”  At first I thought this referred to the pawnbroker business, but since his two brothers Reuben, Jr. and Lewis II, were listed as clerks in a loan office, not a brokerage, I was not sure.  Apparently he was an insurance broker, as I found out from his draft registrations.

In December 1915, when he was 25, Arthur became engaged to Gertrude Fanny Bowman of Richmond, Virginia, and they were married on March 27, 1916, in Richmond.

arthur engagement

(“Will Hold Reception December 26,” Date: Sunday, December 19, 1915 Paper: Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA) Volume: 173 Issue: 172 Section: News Page: 5)

According to his 1917 World War I draft registration, Arthur was self-employed as an insurance broker, and he and his wife Gertrude were living in Philadelphia at 2250 North 20th Street.

Arthur LW Cohen, Sr. World War I draft registration

Arthur LW Cohen, Sr. World War I draft registration


Arthur enlisted in the Navy in April, 1918, and was honorably discharged in December, 1920.  By 1920, however, Gertrude was back in Richmond, living with her sister and identifying as single and working as a stenographer.

Gertrude Fanny Bowman 1920 census

Gertrude Fanny Bowman 1920 census

I cannot find Arthur on the 1920 census as he was serving in the military and perhaps overseas, but presumably the marriage with Gertrude was over.  Gertrude apparently never remarried and died in 1963 in Richmond.

Emilie Wiley Cohen

Emilie WIley Cohen

By 1930 Arthur had married a woman named Emilie Wiley, who had also been previously married.  Emilie had married Frank G. Brown in 1905 and had had two daughters with him, Dorothy, born in 1906, and Jean or Jenette, born in 1908.  Emilie also was divorced or separated by 1920, and sometime after the 1920 census she married Arthur LW Cohen.  They had two children, Arthur, Jr., and Emilie, who were 8 and almost 5, respectively, at the time of the 1930 census.

Living with Arthur and Emilie in 1930 in Philadelphia, in addition to their two own children Arthur, Jr. and Emilie,  were Emilie’s mother, aged 81, Emilie’s daughter Jean Harral, and Jean’s son Richard Harral, Jr.  Emilie’s older daughter, Dorothy (or Dot, according to my cousin) had married Leroy Lewis in 1928 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and was living out that way in 1930.  She and Leroy had one daughter, and Dot lived in Norristown until her death in 1992.

Jean had also married sometime before 1927 when Richard Harral, Jr. was born.  Although she still listed her status as married in 1930, she was apparently no longer living with Richard Harral, Sr., who eventually remarried and lived in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania for the rest of his life with his second wife and their two children.

Sometime after 1930, Arthur and Emilie moved permanently to Cape May, New Jersey, where they lived in the house at 208 Ocean Street that had been in Arthur’s family for many years as the summer home of Reuben and Sallie and their children when Arthur was growing up.  Although I cannot find Arthur on the 1940 census, according to his World War II draft registration, he was still living at 208 Ocean Street in 1942 and was self-employed, working at the Land Title Building in Philadelphia.

ALWC ww2 reg

Arthur Sr’s grandson Jim believed that his grandfather had been a jeweler, but I cannot find any evidence of that in the records as it appears that at least up until 1942, Arthur Sr. was still working in the insurance business in Philadelphia. What Jim did share with me was that his grandfather was well-respected and loved by many people.  He was a very humble and generous man who never wanted recognition for his generosity.

Arthur, Sr, was also someone who fought off death several times.  According to Jim, “He was erroneously pronounced dead four separate times (shades of Simon), all as a result of heart attacks. According to stories told by my father and aunt, on one of the occasions he woke as an orderly was wheeling him to the morgue. When he did, the orderly fainted.  The fifth and final pronouncement was also from heart attack he suffered in the family home on Ocean St. This time, it was permanent.”

He died in 1955 at age 65 and was buried at Presbyterian Cemetery in Cold Spring, New Jersey, less than four miles from the family home at 208 Ocean Street.

His widow Emilie applied for a military headstone for Arthur and requested a Christian, not a Hebrew, symbol to be placed on that headstone.  Although his mother Sallie may not have been Jewish, as noted earlier, Arthur had been confirmed in Mickve Israel Synagogue in Philadelphia when he was fifteen years old.  Then again, his father Reuben had made a donation to the Episcopal Church in Cape May.  I asked Jim about the family’s religious affiliation, and he told me that he was not sure whether his grandmother Emilie was born Jewish, but that both of his grandparents practiced Christianity after they were married. Despite this, Jim said that his father, Arthur LW Cohen, Jr., was Jewish and Jim himself is Jewish.  As Jim described his parents’ approach, I was amazed by how inclusive his parents were in their approach, letting each of their children find a path that worked for them, each parent maintaining their own chosen path but also sharing in and respecting the other’s chosen path.   Apparently his grandparents had done the same.

Arthur L W Cohen, Sr. Military Headstone application

Arthur L W Cohen, Sr.
Military Headstone application

Jim was able to tell me a great deal about Arthur and Emilie’s children, Arthur, Jr., and his sister Emilie.  With his permission, I am quoting directly from his messages to me about his parents:

My father, Arthur, Jr. (“Bud”), was also a jeweler. After he came home from World War II, he opened a repair and retail jewelry store on the first floor of the family home at 208 Ocean St. in Cape May, NJ. It remained open for the next 48 years until his death in 1991.

Arthur Lewis Wilde Cohen, Jr.

Arthur Lewis Wilde Cohen, Jr.

He was very active in the Cape May community and loved the city dearly. He was president of the Mall Merchant’s Association for over 20 years, was instrumental in having the entire city declared a National Historic Landmark (it’s one of the few full towns registered as such) for its standing Victorian-era homes and history; and if there was any event – from silly pet parades to building dedications, Memorial Day ceremonies, Easter, Halloween, Christmas parades, and so on, you name it – he was always the Master of Ceremonies. He had a fatal heart attack in the early-morning hours of February 18, 1991.

My mother, Martha, was a music teacher and opera Soprano who attended the Juilliard School of Music. She retired from her opera career almost as soon as it started so that she could marry my father. She became a music teacher and sang at many events and functions. The Goodyear family always contacted her to sing at their family events – mainly weddings and funerals (which always amused me). She died in 2005 following a series of strokes.

He also told me this about his Aunt Emilie:

Aunt Emily Marion Cohen-Brown (who went by “Marion” or, as a nickname I’ve never understood, “Mitchell”), was a first-class florist and lived here in Cape May until her death from cancer in 2003. She had one son, Gary, who lived in Oregon and made unbelievable fudge. I know he had a wife and kids, but we’ve lost contact. He predeceased her, also from cancer. I never met her husband, Harry, who died before I was born. She made the absolute best Navy bean soup you could ever taste, and I wish I had the recipe.

Although not a genetic relative of the Cohens, the story of Arthur Sr.’s stepdaughter Jean Harral and her son Richard is part of the family lore of Arthur Lewis Wilde Cohen and his descendants, so I will share it here.  Richard was mentally disabled, and at some point he and his mother Jean moved to New York City together.  Richard was working as a messenger for a company in New York, and his favorite pastime was sailing a model sailboat on the pond in Central Park.  In November, 1975, he was stabbed to death, apparently by a friend.  I could find no record of a trial or further development in the case aside from these few news articles from the New York Times.

Richard Harral murder part 1-page-001


Richard Harral murder-page-001

In December, 1975, just a month after Richard’s murder, his mother Jean died; accordingly to family lore, she starved herself to death out of grief over the death of her son.

I am deeply indebted to my cousin Jim for sharing his family’s stories with me as well as the photographs posted here.  There is nothing more meaningful for me in doing this project than hearing about my long-lost relatives from those who knew them best.