England, Part V: The Final Day

Our last day in England was as action-packed as our first two days in London. We had planned to go to Churchill’s War Rooms. Several friends had recommended it, and after seeing The Darkest Hour, we were both very interested in learning more about Winston Churchill and his role in World War II. We had passed the site the day before and noted the very, very long line of people on the sidewalk and decided that we’d better get there as early as we could.

We showed up at 9:10, knowing that the museum didn’t open until 9:30. There was already a line ahead of us—perhaps about thirty people. What we hadn’t realized was that it would have been possible to buy tickets ahead of time for a set time on the priority line, but now it was too late. As we stood outside waiting, the line behind us grew longer and longer, stretching down the block almost to the corner by the time the doors opened at 9:30. Then we had to wait as the priority ticketholders entered. Every ten minutes or so they would allow in more people, including a few from the regular line.

We finally entered at 10:20, saying to each other, “This had better be worth the wait.” It was. Without question.

We spent two hours underground at the exhibit. The audioguides were excellent, providing clear directions on where to go and lots of information about what we were seeing as well as interviews with some of those who worked in the war rooms with Churchill. It was a fascinating tour. Seeing the spaces that were recreated in the movie and realizing that these men and women had spent days and nights during the long years of the war burrowed beneath the ground, doing intelligence work and collecting information about the war’s progress, made us appreciate even more Churchill’s leadership and commitment to winning the war.

There is one very large gallery devoted to an exhibit about Churchill’s life. For some reason they decided to start with the war years, then the post-war years and his death, and then his early years as a child, a young adult, and a politician. I found that room a bit confusing and overwhelming. Maybe because I am such a linear person and like things to be in chronological order. I most enjoyed hearing some of Churchill’s speeches in his own voice and also seeing pictures of him and his family as a boy and then as a father and husband.

We finally emerged from the dark around noontime and were grateful to see sunlight, although it was a cloudy and gray day. We walked over the Westminster Bridge. Well, we tried to walk. The throngs of people made it as crazy as being in Times Square before theaters open. You could barely move. We were heading to the Tate Modern, which is on the other side of the Thames. When we finally managed to get away from the crowds, it was quite a relief.

After a quick lunch, we continued our walk to the Tate Modern. We enjoyed the walk along the river with the London skyline in view—we could see St Paul’s Cathedral and all the modern skyscrapers that we had seen the day before, but now from a distance with the river in the foreground.

We finally reached the Tate Modern, and it is an imposing structure. Once a power station, it was converted to a museum and opened in 2000. I can’t say that I found it a terribly inviting building—it still looks more like a power station than a museum, although there are glass additions on top of the old building.

Entering the building felt a bit like entering a huge train station—a very large open hall descending down towards the ticket booth and museum itself.

We went to two of the exhibits, the first being Artist and Society, which focused on how artists use their art to comment on society. Some of those works were very provocative—like the collection of firehoses attached to each other to evoke the hoses used to spray African American protesters during the civil rights movement in the US or a series of photographs showing the demolition of buildings in the name of urban renewal. But some just left me cold, like the one of strange large forms just strewn on the floor.

The second exhibit we saw was more traditional and included works of artists who were more familiar, such as Picasso, Dali, and Rothko. It focused on the artistic process itself. I enjoyed that exhibit more than the first because I tend to be more conventional in my idea of what is art and prefer art that is more about aesthetics than politics.

We wanted to take the elevator up to see the observatory on the tenth floor. But the lines were too long, and we gave up. I think we’d just had enough of crowds for the day.

Our last evening in London was much less hectic than the day. We took an Uber to Covent Garden and had a fabulous sushi dinner at Sticks and Sushi. Then we walked from there to St Martin-in-the Fields Church for a concert of Vivaldi, Mozart, and Purcell. The music was soothing and relaxing, and the setting quite beautiful.

For our last morning in England, we had the wonderful treat of meeting two of my cousins—Annette, my fourth cousin, once removed, and Mark, my fifth cousin. Annette and Mark are related to me through my Seligmann family. We are all descended from Jakob Seligmann and Martha Mayer, my four-times great-grandparents. Mark and Annette descend from Jakob and Martha’s daughter Caroline who married Moses Morreau, and I descend from Jakob and Martha’s son Moritz. We had a delightful time together—sharing family history and our own stories. Mark and I have now continued to share and explore our mutual family history.

And after saying goodbye to my cousins, we packed our bags and headed for Heathrow for the flight back to the US. I was quite sad to leave. It had been a perfect vacation with the right mix of relaxation, exercise, gorgeous views, art and culture, history, and friendly people. I was in no way ready for it to end.

But it did, and now I have found great pleasure in recreating and remembering it all through my blog. I hope you have enjoyed my travelogue as well. Thanks for coming along.

Next—a return to the story of the children of Henry Goldsmith.

 

 

England, Part IV: Visiting My Ancestors’ Neighborhood

One of the reasons I wanted to revisit London on this trip to England was that when we first visited London in 1995, I had no idea that I had ancestors who once lived there. I did not start doing family history research until 2012, and sometime thereafter I learned that my three-times great-grandfather Hart Levy Cohen was born in Amsterdam, but had immigrated to England and settled in London by 1799. He married my three-times great-grandmother Rachel Jacobs at the Great Synagogue in London in 1812, and together they had five children born in London, including my great-great-grandfather Jacob Cohen, who was born in 1824. By 1851, however, Hart and all his children had left London and settled in Philadelphia. 1

But from at least 1799 until 1851, I had direct ancestors living in London, and I wanted to know more about where they lived and what their community was like. I’d done some research several years back about the area and about the treatment of Dutch Jews, known as Chuts, so I knew that the neighborhood ranged from poor to middle class in those days and that Dutch Jews like my three-times great-grandparents were often treated as outsiders in the community.2

I was fortunate to find Isabelle Seddons, a historian who does walking tours of London including the former Jewish neighborhoods of Whitechapel and Spitalfields. I knew that the Cohens had lived on New Goulston Street in 1841 and at Number 8, Landers Buildings on Middlesex Street, in 1851, both addresses located in Spitalfields in the Whitechapel district of London. I gave Isabelle the information I had, and we arranged to meet at 2 pm on May 30 at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.

What made the tour even better is that my friend and cousin-by-marriage Shirley and her husband Ron were able to join us. Shirley and I had connected years back when I was trying to sort out the three Selinger brothers who married three of my Cohen relatives and Shirley was trying to learn more about her Selinger ancestors. I was quite excited that we would finally get to meet in person. Shirley kindly brought me a copy of an 1875 map of the neighborhood showing New Goulston and Middlesex Streets.

The four of us on the tour

Shirley and I standing in front of the pub where we and our husbands shared some beers and some stories after the tour

Here’s a current map of the area we visited.

 

Isabelle started the tour with an overview of the Jewish history of the area. She pointed out that during World War II, the neighborhood was heavily bombed by the Nazis because of the ports that were (and are) located nearby. Thus, many if not most of the original buildings are gone, as can be seen from this photograph and from others.

According to Isabelle, the Whitechapel-Spitalfields area was predominantly Jewish from the 18th century until World War II, when the neighborhood was evacuated because of the bombing. After World War II, the Jews did not return to this area of London, and a new wave of immigrants settled in the area. Today it is primarily a Bengali neighborhood where mosques have replaced synagogues.

This building was originally a church, then later a synagogue, and now a mosque. See https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1240697

The area was always poor, though some of the Jewish merchants were better off than most of the residents. As Hart Cohen and his sons were china merchants and living on a street that Charles Booth designated on his historic poverty map of London as less poverty stricken than others, I assume they were among those who were somewhat better off. Nevertheless they left London by 1851.

The largest influx of Jews came in the late 19th century from Eastern Europe, long after my Cohen ancestors had emigrated. They came in huge numbers and lived in terrible conditions, and much of what is left in the area that reflects its Jewish past dates from that era of immigration and afterwards, not from the early 19th century when my family lived there.

Isabelle took us to see the archway built in the late 19th century as part of a housing project supported and promoted by the Rothschild family and other wealthy English Jews to provide the poverty-stricken Jews living in the area with decent housing. It was called the Four Percent Industrial Dwellings Company because the investors were promised a four percent return on their investment.  The housing units were destroyed during the war, but the arch remains as a reminder of this early attempt at urban renewal.

One Jewish entrepreneur had what today would seem like an excellent business idea.  He wanted to create an indoor market where various vendors could sell their wares—food, clothing, household goods—all in one covered space. In today’s world where places like Covent Garden Market and Faneuil Hall Marketplace thrive as well as all the shopping malls that exist throughout the US, such an idea would seem to be a no-brainer and an instant success. But in those times people—vendors and shoppers—rejected the idea, and the owner converted his building into a textile factory. Today it houses graduate departments of Glasgow Caledonian University offering advanced degrees in, among many other areas, in International Fashion Marketing and Luxury Brand Marketing.

Most of the Jews made their living in the late nineteenth century as tailors or working at a nearby matchstick factory, and working conditions were terrible. In 1888 the matchstick workers went on strike after organizing themselves at Hanbury Hall, a building originally built as a Huguenot chapel in 1719. The hall became a center for union and radical activity during the late 19th century. Today it operates as a café and venue for social events.

Hanbury Hall

The poverty of the Jewish residents of the area was also reflected in this building, which was built as a soup kitchen for poor Jews, as the engraved inscription indicates, and still operates as a soup kitchen today for the newer poor immigrants in the area.

Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor

But there are still some signs that this was once a Jewish neighborhood, such as these old store signs:

And this Star of David at the top of a drainpipe. This is the Christ Church primary school on Brick Lane, one of the major thoroughfares in the area. It was founded in 1708 as a parish school, but when the building on Brick Lane was built in 1874, most of the children in the neighborhood who attended the school were Jewish. According to Isabelle, the Star of David was added to reflect the school’s tolerance and openness to students of all backgrounds.

Christ Church Primary School with Star of David on the drain pipe

We saw another Star of David with what appears to be the scales of justice inside it so perhaps this was once a lawyer’s office.

UPDATE: A member of the Tracing The Tribe group on Facebook provided me with this information about the Star of David below: “The interesting Magen David at 88 Whitehall is not on scales but is actually shown as supported by two lions of Judah wielding sabres. Beneath is a pair of medallions, decorated with Menorahs. It was designed by Arthur Szyk in the mid 1930s. It is a staple of every Jewish London tour and there is actually a more ornate but similar design also by Szyk located inside.”

And we found an old mezuzah painted over a doorway at this house:

The relief sculptures above the windows and door on this building reflect that this was at one time a Jewish bakery:

Once a Jewish bakery

There is also still one active synagogue in the neighborhood, the Sandy’s Row Synagogue. Although the synagogue was not housed in this building until 1867 after my ancestors had left the area, this could be the congregation that my ancestors joined as it was founded by Dutch Jewish immigrants to the area.

But Hart Cohen and Rachel Jacobs were married at the Great Synagogue in 1812, and their son Jacob, my great-great-grandfather, and my great-great-grandmother Sarah Jacobs were also married at the Great Synagogue in 1844. Unfortunately, the Great Synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis and no longer exists though Isabelle did show us where it once stood.

Where the Great Synagogue once stood

I asked Isabelle how a synagogue could survive today in this community, and she explained that there are a number of Orthodox Jews who work in downtown London who come to the synagogue for daily minyans before and after work.

We also heard the story of Jacob Adler, an actor and violinist who played in the Yiddish theater. His former home was marked with a plaque of a violin in the sidewalk. Adler had immigrated to London from Odessa where he had already had a career in theater. After Yiddish theater was banned in Russia in the 1880s, he came to London and within a short time had established his own theatrical club on what was then Prince Street in the Spitalfields neighborhood. His theater was quite popular until a fire broke out and the audience panicked. In the stampede to exit the building, seventeen people were killed. After that Adler lost his audience and so immigrated to the US, where he became a well-known actor on the Yiddish stage in New York.

The last few stops on our tour were of the streets near and where my three-times great-grandparents lived between 1841 and 1851, according to the census records and other records: New Goulston Street and Middlesex Street. The Landers Buildings identified  on Rachel Jacobs’ death certificate in 1851 no longer exist, and Isabelle had no luck finding where they were located or what they were, though we do know they were somewhere on Middlesex Street. Both streets are located in the area where Dutch Jews once lived and where the principal market for the neighborhood was located on Petticoat Lane. As you can see in the photograph below, it still is the setting for an open air market.

Petticoat Lane

These other photographs are my attempts to capture a sense of where my ancestors once lived. I don’t know whether any of these buildings were even there in 1841. But 180 years ago or so, my Cohen ancestors walked, lived, and worked on these streets:

And like so many neighborhoods in cities in the United States, this once poor neighborhood is today being gentrified by young people who want to live close to where they work in downtown London. In many of the photographs you can see the skyscrapers of the financial district looming behind the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields. Isabelle told us that this house is now worth four million pounds:

So this neighborhood that was for almost two hundred years a Jewish neighborhood and then a Bengali neighborhood is now becoming a chic place for millennials and others looking to live close to work.

Signs of gentrification

Will they tear down what remains of the evidence that the area was once Jewish? Will the Stars of David and Jewish signs and other reminders disappear as yet another upscale community of coffee shops and expensive restaurants takes over? I hope not, and if so, I am glad I got to see this area before that happens.

 

 

 

 


  1. My three-times great-grandmother Rachel died in London on January 9, 1851, and Hart and the two children still living with him in England came to the US shortly after her death. I still haven’t found out where she was buried. 
  2. See my earlier blog posts here and here

England, Part III: London and Come from Away

The final three days of our trip to England were spent in London. We’d visited London for a week back in 1995 and had seen most of the major attractions then—the British Museum, Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guards, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, the Tower of London, Hampstead Heath, and so on. So we decided to focus our three days on some sites we had not seen in 1995.

We stayed at the St Ermin’s Marriott hotel in the Westminster section of London. It is a gracious old hotel built in 1899 that Marriott took over and renovated. It was originally built as residential apartments and later used during World War II as a base for British espionage and intelligence operations. Churchill is said to have frequented its bar when meeting with officials there.

You enter the hotel after passing through a beautiful passageway lined with flowers, and the lobby is also quite magnificent with a white double staircase and reliefs on the ceilings and walls. We took a tiny, narrow elevator to our sixth floor room. The room itself was very small. The bed was perhaps eight inches from the outer wall, and there were no dressers for our clothes or space to tuck away our suitcases. But the room was clean and the bed comfortable, and the staff at the hotel was very friendly and helpful.

We spent our first day mostly strolling through the neighborhood near the hotel. We stopped at Westminster Cathedral and then passed Buckingham Palace where the queen was apparently hosting a garden party and there was a line of people dressed to the nines waiting to enter the palace grounds. The men were in morning coats and the women in bright dresses with elaborate hats. I wanted to take a picture, but it seemed a bit tacky, so I resisted.

Westminster Cathedral

Buckingham Palace

We weren’t sure this guard was real until we saw him move.

The Mall, the street that runs from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square

We admired the monument dedicated to Queen Victoria that stands right in front of the palace. I kept hearing the theme song from Victoria as we studied the monument from all angles and read about the significance of the various sculptural features.

From there we took a lovely walk through St. James Park. The gardens and the birds and ducks and geese and pelicans make it a true oasis in the middle of a city where there are far too many cars, taxis, tourist buses, and people.

We then walked over towards Westminster Abbey and Big Ben (which is currently being renovated and is wrapped in scaffolding as is much of the Parliament building) and noticed that the Supreme Court was having an educational open house for the public that day. So we spent some time there, looking at the court rooms. No court sessions were being held, so we did not get to see any judges in wigs and robs.

St Margaret’s at Westminster Abbey

The London Eye (and no, we did not ride it)

Harvey at Westminster Bridge with Parliament behind him

Poor Big Ben

Supreme Court library

We also passed the Royal Horse Guards and avoided being kicked or bitten by the horses as we made our way to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, where we spent an hour or so enjoying the galleries devoted to 19th and 20th century paintings.

By then it was time to head back to the hotel because we had theater tickets that night in the West End. After a short rest, we walked from the hotel to Sartori, a very good Italian restaurant in the West End just a block or so from the theater.

And then we saw what I believe is the best theater I have ever seen. If you haven’t seen Come From Away yet, you are missing a true masterpiece. The music, the staging, the acting are all excellent, and the writing and the story are so moving and effective. I rarely cry at live theater (though often at movies and television) because I am usually too aware that what I am watching is “just” theater and thus I am somewhat emotionally removed from it. But this play grabbed me from the beginning and kept me emotionally engaged throughout. I cried, I laughed, I was there with them all in Gander, Newfoundland. Will the play stand the test of time when those who lived through 9/11 are no longer in the audience? I would think that its universal themes of human decency, kindness, and the need for hope and love will sustain it.

Our second day in London started with a walk from the hotel to Covent Garden, a neighborhood of lots of upscale shops and restaurants and a big market that resembles Fanueil Hall Market in Boston—aisles and aisles of food and stores and restaurants and street performers. And St Paul’s Church (not to be confused with St Paul’s Cathedral discussed below).

St Paul’s Church

Street performers in front of St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden

Our walk continued along the Strand and Fleet Street where the Royal Courts of Justice are located as well as many law firms and publishing companies. The streets were crowded with young men in suits and women dressed in business clothing—presumably many of them lawyers or business people. We went into the court building, but it was lunch hour so no courts were in session. We did pass a number of lawyers sitting with clients, so there were likely hearings scheduled for the afternoon.

Somerset House

Royal Courts of Justice

After a quick lunch, we reached St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Christopher Wren landmark that is still one of the tallest buildings in London.  You can see its dome from many vantage points in the city. When we saw what they were charging to enter the cathedral (twenty pounds each or about $26 each), we opted not to go inside.

St Paul’s in the distance on Fleet Street

Facade of St Paul’s Cathedral

The Dome of St Paul’s

Temple Bar, also designed by Christopher Wren

Here’s a map showing all the places we saw on the first day and a half in London. Our hotel is the circle at the lower left on Caxton Street and St Paul’s is at the upper right.

We decided to take “the Tube” or the Underground the rest of the way to Whitechapel, where we had arranged for a guided walking tour of London’s Whitechapel and Spitalfields neighborhoods, the neighborhood where my Cohen ancestors lived between about 1800 and 1851 before immigrating to the US. More on that in my next post.

The Oyster Card—London’s public transport pass

 

 

The Benefits of Teamwork: Part I

In my recent post, I mentioned that I had been working with two other researchers on the mystery of the three Selinger men who married my Cohen cousins.  Frederick Selinger had married my cousin Rachel Cohen in 1880 in Washington, DC.  Rachel was the daughter of Moses Cohen, my three times great-uncle (brother of my great-great-grandfather Jacob).  Julius Selinger had married Augusta Cohen in 1884 in Washington, DC; Augusta was the daughter of Moses Cohen, Jr. and niece of Rachel Cohen.  Finally, Alfred Selinger had married Fannie Cohen in Washington, DC, in 1893.  Fannie was also a daughter of Moses Cohen, Jr., also a niece of Rachel Cohen, and a sister of Augusta Cohen.

Julius and Augusta Cohen Selinger passport photos 1922

Julius and Augusta Cohen Selinger passport photos 1922

 

Way back on July 22, 2014, when I first posted about the three Selinger men, I had speculated that they all had to be related.  Both Julius and Frederick had documents indicating that they had been born in Hurben, Germany.  Alfred and Julius had lived together in DC before they’d married, and Alfred had traveled with Julius and Augusta to Europe before he married Augusta’s sister Fannie.  But I had nothing to support that speculation besides that circumstantial evidence.

Then a month later on August 5, 2014, I wrote about the marriage of Eleanor Selinger to Henry Abbot.  Eleanor was the daughter of Julius Selinger and Augusta Cohen; Henry was the son of Hyams Auerbach (Abbot) and Helena Selinger (some records say Ellen or Helen).  I was curious as to whether Helena Selinger was somehow related to Julius and the other Selinger men, Alfred and Frederick.  I thought that she might be since how else would an American woman have met an Englishman? And the shared name seemed too uncommon to be pure coincidence.

 

Eleanor Selinger Abbot and Abbot family-page-001

Eleanor Selinger Abbot (center) with the Abbot family Courtesy of Val Collinson

 

As I wrote then, I had contacted the owner of an Ancestry family tree who turned out to be Eleanor Selinger and Henry Abbot’s great-niece: Val Collinson.  Val and I exchanged a lot of information, but we could not at that time find any definitive evidence linking Helena Selinger, her great-grandmother, to Frederick or Julius or Alfred.  All were born in Germany, but it seemed from the records in different locations.  Helena’s marriage record indicated that her father’s name was Abraham Selinger, whereas Julius had indicated on his passport application that his father was Sigmund Selinger.  We were stumped.  And that was that.  Or so I thought.

Fast forward a full year to August, 2015, when I received a comment on my earlier blog post about Eleanor Selinger and Henry Abbot from someone named Shirley Allen, whose grandparents were Jacob Rosenthal and Fanny Selinger:

Fanny Selinger Rosenthal and her husband Jacob Rosenthal and children Gladys, Daniel, and Alfred Courtesy of Shirley Allen

Fanny Selinger Rosenthal and her husband Jacob Rosenthal and their children Gladys, Daniel, and Alfred
Courtesy of Shirley Allen

I’ve been delving into my paternal (Rosenthal) family history. I’ve found that my grandfather Jacob Rosenthal was married to Fanny Selinger. Unfortunately I haven’t found anything further about Fanny other than she was born in Germany, probably in 1857. However, I’ve recently come upon a wonderful paper lace invitation to the 1873 wedding of Hyams Auerbach and Helena Selinger that you referred to. What I don’t know is why Fanny would have been invited. Clearly she and Helena were related – but how ?

Needless to say, I was intrigued.  Maybe Fanny Selinger was related to Helena and/or maybe she was related to Julius, Frederick, and Alfred.  Shirley and I communicated by email, and we both started digging.

Invitation to the wedding of Helena Selinger and Hyms Auerbach Courtesy of Shirley Allen

Invitation to the wedding of Helena Selinger and Hyms Auerbach
Courtesy of Shirley Allen

 

I found a website called Jewish Genealogy of Bavarian Swabia (JGBS) that had records for Hurben and located 25 Selingers in their database, including those for Alfred and for Julius, who were the sons of Seligman Selinger and Breinle Hofstadter and thus were brothers, as I had suspected. Shirley and I both thought that Seligman Selinger had been Americanized to Sigmund by Julius on his passport application and that the birth records for Julius and Alfred confirmed that they were in fact brothers.

I also found a birth record for Helena Selinger, whose father was Abraham Selinger, not Seligman Selinger.  Abraham and his wife Rosalia Wilhelmsdoerfer had six children listed: Seligman (1842), Raphael (1843), Pauline (1845), Karolina (1847), Heinrich (1848), and Helena (1849). Pauline, Karolina, and Heinrich had all died as young children, leaving Seligman, Raphael, and Helena as the surviving children of Abraham.  Here is Helena’s birth record from Hurben in August 1849.

Helena Selinger birth record from Hurben http://jgbs.org/SuperSearch.php?Sp=3&Book=birth&Com=11

Helena Selinger birth record from Hurben (third from bottom)
http://jgbs.org/SuperSearch.php?Sp=3&Book=birth&Com=11

 

But what about Frederick?  And Fanny? And was there a connection between Helena’s father Abraham and the father of Julius and Alfred, Seligman Selinger?

A little more digging on the JGBS site revealed that both Abraham Selinger and Seligman Selinger were the sons of Joachim Selinger, thus confirming that they were brothers and thus that Helena was a first cousin to Julius and Alfred.

Marriage record from Hurben for Abraham Selinger, son of Joachim, and Rosalia Wilhelmsdoerfer http://jgbs.org/detail.php?book=marriage&id=%206671&mode=

Marriage record from Hurben for Abraham Selinger, son of Joachim, and Rosalia Wilhelmsdoerfer (second in page)
http://jgbs.org/detail.php?book=marriage&id=%206671&mode=

 

Seligmann Selinger, son of Joachim, marriage to Breinle Hoftsadter

Seligmann Selinger, son of Joachim, marriage to Breinle Hoftsadter (second from bottom) 1848 http://jgbs.org/detail.php?book=marriage&id=%206695&mode=

 

That meant that Eleanor Selinger, daughter of Julius Selinger, had married her second cousin, Henry Abbot, son of Helena Selinger.

 

But that still left us wondering about Frederick Selinger and Shirley’s great-grandmother Fanny Selinger.  How did they fit into this picture?

I contacted Ralph Bloch, the webmaster for the JGBS website, and he was extremely helpful.  More helpful than I realized at the time, but more on that later.  Ralph also could not find any evidence that Fanny was born in Hurben, and he reassured me that the birth records for Hurben were quite complete.  He even searched through the original pages to be sure that Fanny hadn’t somehow been missed when the records were indexed. (There was a Fany Selinger born in the 1830s, but that would have been far too early for Shirley’s ancestor.) Ralph also sent a photograph of Seligman Selinger’s headstone, which confirmed that his father’s name was Joachim or Chaim, his Hebrew name.

Seligman Selinger gravestone

 

So once again we hit the brick wall.  We still had not found either Frederick or Fanny.  Shirley said she would pursue it on her end, and I turned back to the other research I’d been doing when I received Shirley’s comment.

Not much happened again until late November when I heard again from Shirley, telling me that she had received a copy of Fanny Selinger’s marriage certificate, which revealed that Fanny was the daughter of Abraham Selinger.  Now we could link Fanny to Helena, also the daughter of Abraham, as well as to Julius and Alfred, Abraham’s nephews. But we didn’t know if Fanny and Helena were both the daughters of Rosalia Wilhelmsdoerfer.

Shirley’s research of UK records showed that by 1871 Abraham was married to a woman named Gali, and we assumed that Abraham had left Hurben at some point, that his first wife Rosalia had died, and that he had had several children with Gali.  That is what the UK census records from 1871 seemed to reflect. Abraham and Gali were living with Sigfried (28), Helena (20), Cornelia (18), and Oskar (4).  But there was neither a Fanny nor a Frederick.

 

Abraham Selinger and family 1881 UK census Class: RG10; Piece: 555; Folio: 86; Page: 3; GSU roll: 823397 Description Enumeration District : 10 Source Information Ancestry.com. 1871 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1871. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1871.

Abraham Selinger and family 1881 UK census
Class: RG10; Piece: 555; Folio: 86; Page: 3; GSU roll: 823397
Description
Enumeration District : 10
Source Information
Ancestry.com. 1871 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.
Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1871. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1871.

Abraham died in 1880, and in 1881, Gali was living with four children, but aside from Oskar (13), they were all different from those on the 1871 census: Morris (28), Flora (surname Wallach) (25), and Sidney (23).  Now I was really confused.  Who were these people, and where had they been in 1871?  Flora was presumably married to someone named Wallach and now a widow, but Morris would have been eighteen in 1871 and Sidney only thirteen. Where were they living?  Who were they? None of those children were listed on the Hurben birth register on the JGBS site; in fact, there were no children listed for Abraham Selinger and any wife in Hurben after Helena’s birth in 1849.

Gali Selinger and family 1881 UK census Class: RG11; Piece: 472; Folio: 118; Page: 55; GSU roll: 1341103 Description Enumeration District : 9 Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1881

Gali Selinger and family 1881 UK census
Class: RG11; Piece: 472; Folio: 118; Page: 55; GSU roll: 1341103
Description
Enumeration District : 9 Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1881

I assumed that Morris, Flora, Sidney, and Oscar, all born after 1850, were born in a different place and perhaps to a different mother.  Certainly Oskar had to be Gali’s child since he was so much younger than all the rest and only four on the 1871 census.

Searching again on Ancestry, I found a new record:  an entry for Abraham, Rosalia, Seligman, and Raphael Selinger on the Mannheim, Germany, family register dated November 26, 1848.  What were they doing in Mannheim? By that time the three younger children, Pauline, Karolina, and Heinrich, had died.  Perhaps they needed a change of scenery.  But what about Helena? She was born in Hurben in 1849.

Then I found a second Mannheim family register that included Helena, the final entry on the page:

 

Abraham Selinger and family, Mannheim register Ancestry.com. Mannheim, Germany, Family Registers, 1760-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Polizeipräsidium Mannheim Familienbögen, 1800-1900. Digital images. Stadtarchiv Mannheim — Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Mannheim, Germany.

Abraham Selinger and family, Mannheim register
Ancestry.com. Mannheim, Germany, Family Registers, 1760-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Polizeipräsidium Mannheim Familienbögen, 1800-1900. Digital images. Stadtarchiv Mannheim — Institut für Stadtgeschichte, Mannheim, Germany.

My friends in the German Genealogy group,  Heike Keohane, Matthias Steinke, and Bradley Hernlem, came to my rescue and translated it to read, “Helene, his daughter, here born the 22 August 1849.”  So Helena’s birth is entered on the Hurben birth records (on the same date) and on the Mannheim records.  I’ve no idea which is the correct birthplace; maybe Rosalia went home to Hurben to give birth and returned to Mannheim afterwards where the family was living.

But perhaps now I could find out where Frederick was born, not to mention Morris, Flora, Sidney, and Oscar. Maybe they were born in Mannheim.  I checked the Mannheim birth records from 1853 through 1866 and found not one person named Selinger.  I checked over and over, looking at each page until my eyes were blurry.  There were no Selingers born in Mannheim during that period that I could find.

Then I discovered that Oskar Selinger had listed Ansbach as his birth place on his UK naturalization papers and thought that perhaps the family had moved from Mannheim to Ansbach.

Oscar Selinger UK naturalization papers The National Archives; Kew, Surrey, England; Duplicate Certificates of Naturalisation, Declarations of British Nationality, and Declarations of Alienage; Class: HO 334; Piece: 54 Description Description : Piece 054: Certificate Numbers A20701 - A21000

Oscar Selinger UK naturalization papers
The National Archives; Kew, Surrey, England; Duplicate Certificates of Naturalisation, Declarations of British Nationality, and Declarations of Alienage; Class: HO 334; Piece: 54
Description
Description : Piece 054: Certificate Numbers A20701 – A21000

I had no luck locating Ansbach birth records for that period, and by then it was Thanksgiving, and other matters distracted me, and I put the Selinger mystery on the back burner.

To be continued…..

Looking back:  The Cohen Family from Amsterdam to England to Philadelphia and Washington and beyond

 

Amsterdam coat of arms

Two months ago I wrote a summary of my perspective on the descendants of Jacob and Sarah Jacobs Cohen and their thirteen children, including my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen.  I wrote about the way they managed to create a large network of pawnshops that provided support for the generations to come.  Many of the Philadelphia Cohens stayed in the pawnshop business into the 20th century.  The generation that followed, those born in the 20th century, began to move away from the pawn business and from Philadelphia.  Descendants began to go to college and to become professionals.  Today the great-great-grandchildren of Jacob and Sarah live all over the country and are engaged in many, many different fields.  Few of us today can imagine living with twelve siblings over a pawnshop in South Philadelphia.  We can’t fathom the idea of losing child after child to diseases that are now controlled by vaccinations and medicine.  We take for granted the relative luxurious conditions in which we live today.

File:Flag of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.svg

Philadelphia flag

 

The story of the Cohen family in Washington is much the same in some ways, different in other ways.  Jacob’s brother Moses and his wife Adeline also started out as immigrants in the pawnshop business , first in Baltimore and then Washington.  But unlike Jacob who lived to see his children become adults, Moses Cohen died at age 40 when his younger children were still under ten years old.  Adeline was left to raise those young children on her own as she had likely raised her first born son, Moses Himmel Cohen, on her own until she married Moses Cohen, Sr.  When I look at what those children accomplished and what their children then accomplished, I am in awe of what Adeline was able to do.   For me, the story of the DC Cohens is primarily the story of Adeline Himmel Cohen for it was she, not Moses, who raised the five children who thrived here in the US.  She somehow instilled in those children a drive to overcome the loss of their father, to take risks, to get an education, and to make a living.

Her son Moses, Jr., an immigrant himself, had nine children; his son, Myer, became a lawyer.  To me it is quite remarkable that a first generation American, the son of a Jewish immigrant, was able to go to law school in the late 19th century.  Myer himself went on to raise a large family, including two sons who became doctors and one who became a high ranking official at the United Nations in its early years after World War II.  Moses, Jr.’s other children also lived comfortable lives, working in their own businesses and raising families.  These were first generation Americans who truly worked to find the American dream.

Adeline and Moses, Sr.’s other three children who survived to adulthood, Hart, JM, and Rachel Cohen, all took a big risk and moved, for varying periods of time, to Sioux City, Iowa.  Even their mother Adeline lived out on the prairie for some years.  JM stayed out west, eventually moving to Kansas City; he was able to send his two daughters to college, again something that struck me as remarkable for those times.  His grandchildren were very successful professionally.  Hart, who lost a son to an awful accident, had a more challenging life.  His sister Rachel also had some heartbreak—losing one young child and a granddaughter Adelyn, but she had two grandsons who both appear to have been successful.

Three of the DC Cohen women married three Selinger brothers or cousins.  Their children included doctors, a popular singer, and a daughter who returned to England several generations after her ancestors had left.  The family tree gets quite convoluted when I try to sort out how their descendants are related, both as Cohens and as Selingers.

There were a number of heart-breaking stories to tell about the lives of some of these people, but overall like the Philadelphia Cohens, these were people who endured and survived and generally succeeded in having a good life, at least as far as I can tell.  The DC Cohens, like the Philadelphia Cohens, have descendants living all over the United States and elsewhere and are working in many professions and careers of all types.

flag of Washington, DC

Looking back now at the story of all the Cohens,  all the descendants of Hart Levy Cohen and Rachel Jacobs, I feel immense respect for my great-great-great grandparents.  They left Amsterdam for England, presumably for better economic opportunities than Amsterdam offered at that time.  In England Hart established himself as a merchant, but perhaps being a Dutch Jew in London was not easy, and so all five of Hart and Rachel’s children came to the US, Lewis, Moses, Jacob, Elizabeth, and Jonas, again presumably for even better opportunities than London had offered them.  Eventually Hart himself came to the US, uprooting himself for a second time to cross the Atlantic as a man already in his seventies so that he could be with his children and his grandchildren.  Rachel unfortunately did not survive to make that last move.

Flag of the City of London.svg

The flag of the City of London

Arriving in the US by 1850 in that early wave of Jewish immigration gave my Cohen ancestors a leg up over the Jewish immigrants who arrived thirty to sixty years later, like my Brotman, Goldschlager, and Rosenzweig ancestors.  Of course, the Cohens had the advantage of already speaking English, unlike my Yiddish speaking relatives on my mother’s side.  They also had the advantage of arriving at a time when there wre fewer overall immigrants, Jewish immigrants in particular and thus faced less general hostility than the masses of Jewish, Italian, and other immigrants who arrived in the 1890s and early 20th century.  Also, my Cohen relatives may not have been wealthy when they arrived, but Hart and his children already had experience as merchants and were able to establish their own businesses fairly quickly.  Thus, by the time my mother’s ancestors started arriving and settling in the Lower East Side of NYC or in East Harlem, working in sweatshops and struggling to make ends meet, my father’s ancestors were solidly in the middle and upper classes in Philadelphia, Washington, Sioux City, Kansas City, Detroit, and Baltimore.

When I look at these stories together, I see the story of Jewish immigration in America.  I see a first wave of Jews, speaking English, looking American, and living comfortably, facing a second wave who spoke Yiddish, looked old-fashioned, and lived in poverty.  No wonder there was some tension between the two groups.  No wonder they established different synagogues, different communities, different traditions.

A recent study suggests that all Ashkenazi Jews were descended from a small group of about 350 ancestors.  We all must share some DNA to some extent.  We are really all one family.  But we have always divided ourselves and defined our subgroups differently—Orthodox, Conservative, Reform; Galitizianer or Litvak; Sephardic or Ashkenazi; Israeli or American; so on and so forth.  We really cannot afford to do that in today’s world; we never really could.  Today very few of us make distinctions based on whether our ancestors came in 1850 or 1900 because we are all a mix of both and because we have blurred the economic and cultural distinctions that once were so obvious.  But we still have a long way to go to eradicate the divisions among us and to overcome the prejudices that continue to exist regarding those who are different, whether Jewish or non-Jewish.

 

 

My Great-Great Grandmother Rachel Jacobs Cohen: Her Death Certificate

I have received a certified copy of my great-great grandmother’s death certificate from the General Register Office in London.  This is my first English vital record, and I was quite excited to receive it.  It amazes me that I can obtain a record that is over 150 years old from a foreign country just by clicking on the keys of a computer.  Below is a scan of the document and also a cropped version to highlight the actual text on the certificate.

Rachel Jacobs Cohen  death certificate

Rachel Jacobs Cohen death certificate

rachel jacobs cohen death cert 1851 cropped

There are a number of things that interest me about the information on this document.  First is Rachel’s date of death, January 9, 1851.  When I had searched through the BMD Index for this certificate, there were a number of Rachel Cohens who might have been the right person.  I guessed that it was this one based on the date.  Although Lewis and Jacob, Rachel’s sons, had left for the US in 1846 and 1848, respectively, Rachel’s husband and other children, Elizabeth and Jonas, did not leave until 1851.  I had a hunch that they did not leave because Rachel was ill and not able to make the journey, so they waited until after she died.

As the certificate shows, Rachel’s cause of death was “scirehus paylonis” and exhaustion, and it seems she had been ill for a year.  As best I can tell, scrirehus paylonis would be translated to schirrous pylonis or cancer of the stomach.  (My medical expert should feel free to correct this.)  I found some English writings on line in which that term was used to refer to what we would call stomach cancer.

The certificate also indicates where the family was living—in Landers Buildings in Christchurch, Spitalfields, in the Registration District of Whitechapel, County of Middlesex.  It also confirms that Hart Levy Cohen was a clothes dealer.

Perhaps most interesting and surprising to me is that Hart signed the certificate with a mark, an X, not with a signature.  Was he not able to sign his name? Was he illiterate? It’s so hard for me to imagine not being able to read and write that I found this shocking and disturbing.

 

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Hart Cohen and family 1841-1851: Before the Move to America

be

By 1851, the time of the second English census, my great-great grandfather Jacob Cohen had already moved with his family to Philadelphia.  Much of the rest of his family of origin, however, was still in London.  According to the 1851 census, Hart, my three-times great grandfather, was now a widower and 75 years old, living with two of his children, Elizabeth, now listed as 28 despite having been listed as 20 ten years earlier, and Jonas, who was 22.  Jonas was not even listed as living with the family in 1841 when he would have been only 12 years old.   All three were listed as general dealers and living at 55 Landers Buildings in Spitalfields parish in Tower Hamlets.

Hart, Elizabeth and Jonas Cohen 1851 England Census

Hart, Elizabeth and Jonas Cohen 1851 England Census

Although I thought this might indicate a move to a new neighborhood, my research revealed that Landers Buildings were on Middlesex Street, which was just one blog from New Goulston Street where the family had been living in 1841.  The English genealogy site Genuki indicates that Spitalfields was a district within the parish of Whitechapel for at least some point in London’s history.

I do not know when Rachel, my three-times great grandmother died.  My search of the BMDIndex, the English index of births, marriages and deaths that began to be registered in 1837, revealed quite a few Rachel Cohens who died between 1841 and 1851.  I have ordered one certificate on a hunch that it might be the right one, but I need to do more investigating before I know for certain when she died.

Hart’s son, Moses, now 30 years old, had married Clara Michaels in the fall of 1843, according to the BMDIndex.  I need to obtain a copy of the actual record to be sure, but on the 1851 census, Moses Cohen was married to a woman named Clara and had three daughters, Judith (6), Hannah (2), and Sophia (six months).  He was employed as a general dealer and living at 35 Cobbs Yard in the parish of Christchurch in Tower Hamlets.

UPDATE:  I now know that Moses in fact had left England with Jacob in 1848.  This is not the correct Moses.

Moses Cohen and family 1851 census

Moses Cohen and family 1851 census

This neighborhood is about three miles west of where Moses had been living with his parents in 1841. Moses must have been fairly comfortable as they also had a servant living with them, although the Charles Booth Poverty Map depicted this area as poor in 1898.

The oldest son, Lewis, has been more difficult to track.  He was not living with the family in 1841 nor was he living with his father and younger siblings in 1851.  I would not even have known that he existed except for the fact that he appears on the 1860 US census reports living with his siblings Elizabeth and Jonas and his father Hart and on the 1880 census living with Elizabeth and Jonas.  So where was he in 1841? 1851?  According to those two US census reports, he was born in 1820, so would have been Hart and Rachel’s second child after Elizabeth.  He might have been living independently in 1841, married, or perhaps just not home.  The FamilySearch website indicates that the 1841 census had many holes; if someone was not staying at a home that night, they were not included in the census for that household.  I found three Lewis Cohens on the 1841 Census, but none of them was a good fit.  One was too old, one was living with different parents, and one was not born in England.  But since the 1841 was the first true census taken in England, I assumed that perhaps Lewis was just not among those counted.

The 1851 English census did not provide any greater information on Lewis.   There were several Lewis Cohens again, but only one who was a possible fit: he was born in Middlesex County in Spitalfields, Christchurch, around 1821 and was married to a woman named Sarah.  They were living with Sarah’s mother, Ann Solomon.

Lewis Cohen 1851 census (not sure this is the correct Lewis)

Lewis Cohen 1851 census (not sure this is the correct Lewis)

I have found a marriage for this Lewis and Sarah in 1848 on the BMD Index and will write away for the record, but since Lewis was single in 1860 according to the US census, if this is the right Lewis, either Sarah had died or divorced him between 1851 and 1860.  I searched for a death record for a Sarah Cohen who died between 1851 and 1860, and there were several on the BMD Index.  I am not sure how to determine which ones might be relevant, but will order any that appear to be possibilities once I know that this was the correct Lewis.

UPDATE:  I know now that Lewis had in fact emigrated from England to the US in 1846.  This is not the correct Lewis.

The other possibility is that Lewis had immigrated to the US before the 1851 census or even the 1841 census.  I cannot find him on either the 1840 or 1850 US census, but I did find some immigration records for a Lewis H. Cohen who was naturalized in Philadelphia in 1848.

Lewis H Cohen naturalization ED PA 1848

Lewis H Cohen naturalization ED PA 1848

Since Lewis is listed on the 1860 US census as Lewis H. Cohen, I am inclined to think that this is the right person.  If so, then I also may have found a passenger ship manifest for Lewis, arriving in the US in 1846, which would have made him the first Cohen to immigrate to the US, not my great-great grandfather Jacob.  I need to check further into this, but it seems quite possible that the reason Lewis is not on the 1851 census in England is that he was already in the US.  But then why can’t I find him on the 1850 US census either?

The other mystery child of Hart and Rachel Cohen is the son identified on the 1841 census as John, the youngest child on that census whose age was given as 14, giving him a birth year of 1827.  In my initial research on the family, I thought that John had become Alfred J. Cohen, who was also born in 1827.  Alfred married Mary A. Cohen and remained in England where eventually they had seven children.

In reviewing my earlier work from last year, however, I am now doubtful that this was in fact the child of Hart and Rachel. Although I will order a marriage record for Alfred to be sure, I now think that the John in the 1841 census was actually Jonas, the youngest son of Hart and Rachel and the son who was living with Hart in 1851 in London and in 1860 in Philadelphia.  My reasoning is that Jonas was not listed on the 1841 census when he would have been only twelve years old.  Where else would he have been if not living with his parents? Also, since Jacob’s age was off by a few years on the 1841 census, it seems quite possible that there was an error in “John’s” age and also his name.  Jonas is close enough to John, at least the first syllable, so a census taker might have just recorded it or heard it incorrectly.  On the US census reports, Jonas’ age jumps around, making it difficult to pinpoint a correct year of birth.  Although I am going to order whatever vital records I can for Alfred and for Jonas, right now my hunch is that Jonas and John were the same person, the youngest son of Hart and Rachel Cohen, born sometime between 1825 and 1830.

UPDATE:  It seems quite clear to me now that “John” was Jonas.

So I have a lot of unanswered questions about my Cohen ancestors between 1841 and 1851. When did Rachel, my three-times great grandmother die?  Where was Lewis in 1841? Did he marry in England?  Did he in fact immigrate to the US in 1846? If so, why isn’t he on the 1850 US census? Are John and Jonas the same person, or were there in fact two sons younger than Jacob?

It will take some time to get the records that may help to answer these questions, so while I am waiting for those documents,  I will move on to the next decade and the story of my Cohen ancestors in the United States.

 

Hart Cohen and Family Between 1841 and 1851: My Great-Great Grandfather Jacob Cohen

English: Liberty Bell

English: Liberty Bell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As reported previously, in 1841 Hart Cohen and his wife Rachel were living with four of their children, Elizabeth, Moses, Jacob and John, on New Goulston Street in the Whitechapel section of London, presumably part of the Chut community and living fairly comfortably with the two older sons working as china dealers.  There was also at least one other son, an older son Lewis, and possibly another younger son, Jonas, although I am now thinking that John was in fact Jonas, but more on that later.  By 1860, only Moses (and John if there was in fact a son named John) was living in England; all the rest were in Philadelphia. I will try to trace in chronological order the major events and moves made by these family members.

In order to get a complete picture of the family and their lives in England, I will need to get copies of the vital records, including their birth certificates and marriage certificates.  I am now trying to learn how to do that.  I have received some extremely helpful tips and information from another of my favorite genealogy bloggers, Alex Cleverley of the blog Root to Tip.  Alex is a very experienced English genealogist, and with the help she has given me, I will now order the records I need.  Unfortunately it appears that there is no fast and easy access to these documents so for now I will have to rely on the 1851 census, a few other secondary sources, and later census reports and infer a number of facts from those documents.  As I receive other documentation, I will report what I find.

I will start with Hart and Rachel’s son Jacob because he is my direct ancestor, my great-great grandfather, and thus the one I have the greatest interest in tracking.  According to the 1841 census, Jacob was 15 that year, giving him a birth year of 1826.

Hart Cohen and family 1841 English census

Hart Cohen and family 1841 English census

This appears, however, to be inaccurate based on later census reports from the United States and from a passenger manifest, all of which indicate a birth year of 1824 or 1825.  That would have made Jacob 16 or 17 in 1841.

This also seems more consistent with the fact that Jacob may have married his wife Rachel Jacobs (possibly a relative of his mother, whose birth name was also Jacobs) on October 24, 1844.  Without an actual marriage certificate I cannot be completely sure, but I found a marriage record on SynagogueScribes for Jacob Cohen, son of Naphtali Hirts HaCohen, to Sarah Jacobs, at the Great Synagogue of London on that date.  The Hebrew name is not identical to what I had earlier found for Hart, Jacob’s father, but it is very close.  I know that Sarah’s maiden name was Jacobs based on the death certificates of two of their children, Isaac and Frances.  Thus, I feel fairly confident that this is in fact their marriage record as transcribed by SynagogueScribes.

COHEN
Forenames Jacob
Hebrew Name Jacob
Event Marriage
Date 1844 [29 Oct]
Occupation
Address
Father
Father’s Hebrew Name Naphtali Hirts HaCohen
Mother’s Family Name
Mother’s Forename
Mother’s Hebrew Name
Spouse JACOBS Sarah

Frances, or Fanny, was Jacob and Sarah’s first child, born around 1847, as inferred from later US census reports.   Within a year of Fanny’s birth, Jacob and Sarah left London and moved to Philadelphia.  On July 7, 1848, Jacob, Sarah and Fanny, an infant, arrived in New York aboard the ship New York Packing.  Jacob’s age was given as 24, consistent with a birth year of 1824, and Sarah was 20, giving her a birth year of 1828.  Jacob’s occupation was given as “General dealer,” as were many other men on the manifest.

Jacob and Sarah Cohen ship manifest 1848

Jacob and Sarah Cohen ship manifest 1848

Jacob was the first of Hart and Rachel’s children to leave London and move to the US.  His siblings and eventually his father began arriving several years later.  I found this interesting, given that Jacob was not the oldest son, but the fourth child and third son.  Why did he go first?  What drew him away from his family and to America with his young wife and baby?  I also found it revealing about my direct line that both Hart and Jacob were the sons who left their families behind and moved to a foreign country.  As far as I can tell, Hart arrived alone and without his family when he immigrated to England, just as his son Jacob did fifty years later when he left England and moved to the US.  I can’t say I inherited this willingness to take risks and move far from home, having never lived more than four hours from where I was born, but I like the idea that my ancestors were such risk-takers and so independent.

I don’t know whether Jacob and his family stayed very long in New York after arrival, but by 1850, Jacob and Sarah were living in Philadelphia.  It was not easy finding Jacob and Sarah on the 1850 US census.  I tried searching for all Jacob Cohens, Sarah Cohens, Fanny Cohens, and variations on each name and wild card searches on each name, but came up empty for a family that fit my relatives.  Then I decided to search just by first names for a Jacob with a wife named Sarah and a daughter Fanny and found them listed as “Coyle,” not “Cohen,” another instance of a mistaken name on a census report.  I am quite certain that these are my relatives despite the Irish surname because all the other facts fit closely enough—names, ages, places of birth for Jacob, Sarah and Francis.  Jacob’s occupation is described as “Dealer in 2d HG,” which I interpret to mean a dealer in second hand goods.  The only inconsistency is that Francis is listed as male, not female, but later census reports correct that mistake and list her as female.

 

Jacob Cohen and family 1850 US census

Jacob Cohen and family 1850 US census

By 1850, Jacob and Sarah had two additional children born in Pennsylvania.  Joseph was two years old, so presumably born shortly after Jacob and Sarah had arrived in the US in 1848, meaning Sarah was pregnant when they left England.  Isaac was six months old, so presumably born in January, 1850, since the 1850 census was dated July 25, 1850.

There were also two other men living in the household, both twenty years old: Mordecia (Mordecai?) Coyle (Cohen?) and Alexander Kelly.  Unfortunately, the1850 census did not identify the relationship of each individual to the head of household as later census reports did, so I do not know who these two men were.  Mordecai might very well have been a relative since he shared the same surname with the family.  But how might he have been related? None of Jacob’s siblings were old enough to have had a twenty year old son, and Jacob did not have a younger brother named Mordecai.  Also, the census indicates that Mordecai was born in Pennsylvania, meaning that his parents would have been in the US in 1830.  Perhaps Hart had a brother who had emigrated from Holland or Amsterdam or England that early? Or was Mordecai not even related to Jacob?  I have done some preliminary searching for other records for Mordecai, but so far have not had any success.

Thus, by 1850 my great-great grandfather was settled in Philadelphia, a young man with a young wife and three little children, working as a dealer in second hand goods.  His parents and his siblings were all still back in London, but between 1850 and 1860, that would change, and Jacob’s family both in his household and in Philadelphia would expandd many times over.

My next post will describe what the rest of Hart’s family was doing between 1841 and 1860, by which time most of the Cohens had arrived in Philadelphia.

 

 

 

 

 

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My Ancestor was a Chut: More on Dutch and English Jews

The Chuts” Synagogue Sandy’s Row London

After I wrote my last post saying I was going to put aside for now any attempt to find my four times great-grandfather’s family in Holland, I decided to look more generally into the question of why a Dutch Jew would have emigrated from Holland to England in the late 18th century.  After all, life seemed to be pretty good for the Jews in Amsterdam at that point.  They had acquired full legal rights as citizens, many were comfortable both socially and economically, and England was in fact still forty years away from giving Jews the same legal rights as Christian residents.  Why would someone have left Amsterdam to move to London?

Su Leslie of Shaking the Tree mentioned in a comment that she had seen some episodes of the British version of Who Do You Think You Are involving famous British Jews and recalled that there had been discussion of an immigration of Jews from Holland to England in the late 18th century.  I decided to search on line for more information and learned that there was in fact a whole community of Dutch Jews who settled in London during that time.  My research led me to several websites discussing this community, including the Bishopsgate Institute website describing a recent oral history project about this community being sponsored by the Institute and created under the direction of Rachel Lichtenstein, a well-known writer and artist.  According to this site:

The oldest Ashkenazi synagogue in London, Sandys Row in Spitalfields, was established by Dutch Jewish immigrants in 1854, who began arriving in the city from the 1840s onwards. They came in search of a better life, rather than fleeing persecution like the thousands of Ashkenazi Jews who came after them in the 1880s from the Pale of Settlements.  Mostly from Amsterdam, many settled in a small quarter of narrow streets in Spitalfields known as the Tenterground. Here they continued to practise the trades they had bought with them from Holland, which were predominately cigar making, diamond cutting and polishing, and slipper and cap making. Many small workshops were established in the area and businesses were passed on within generations of families.

With their own practises and customs, many of which were different from other Ashkenazi Jewish groups, they became a distinctive, tight knit community of about a thousand people. To the frustration of the more established Anglo-Jewish population living in the area at the time, ‘the Chuts’ (as they were known locally) refused to join any of the existing synagogues…

Sandys Row Synagogue

Sandys Row Synagogue (Photo credit: FarzanaL)

So my four times great grandfather Hart Levy Cohen was a Chut—a term I’d never heard before and a community I’d never known about before.  Other sites confirmed this information and also provided some other details.  Wikipedia provided this explanation for the name “Chuts.”

The origin of the name Chuts is uncertain. A popular assumption is that it derives from the Dutch word goed (meaning “good”) and is imitative of the foreign-language chatter that others heard. It is also Hebrew חוץ for “outside” or “in the street” and may have been applied to the Dutch Jews of London either because they were socially isolated or because many were street vendors. Another possibility is that the Hebrew word would have appeared increasingly in Amsterdam synagogue records as more and more emigrated to London, and others who followed would have “gone chuts” (i.e., emigrated).

Sandys Row Synagogue, London

Sandys Row Synagogue, London (Photo credit: nicksarebi)

The About Jewishness website revealed where in London the Chuts lived:

They settled mostly in a small system of streets in Spitalfields known as the Tenterground, formerly an enclosed area where Flemish weavers stretched and dried cloth on machines called tenters (hence the expression “on tenterhooks”). By the 19th century, the site had been built upon with housing, but remained an enclave where the Dutch immigrants lived as a close-knit and generally separate community. Demolished and rebuilt during the twentieth century, the area is now bounded by White’s Row, Wentworth Street, Bell Lane and Toynbee Street (formerly Shepherd Street).

I looked up these streets on the map of London and was not surprised that this area is very close to New Goulston Street where my ancestors were living in 1841.

The About Jewishness site also provided some insight into what happened to this community and perhaps why my ancestors left London and moved to the US.  According to this site, “the successful introduction of machinery for the mass-production of cigarettes ultimately led to the collapse of the cigar-making economy on which the Chuts community depended. Many Chuts returned to improved conditions in Amsterdam, some emigrated further afield to places such as Australia and the USA, some assimilated into other Jewish families, and some eventually lost their Jewish identity altogether.”

In addition, the huge influx of Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the late 19th century caused tensions between the older established Chuts community and the newer immigrants, most of whom were poor, not as well skilled, and not used to living in a big city.  Interestingly, the Chuts community had traditions and practices that made them different both from the older Sephardic community and from the newer Eastern European Ashkenazi community.  Again, from the About Jewishness site:

[T]he Chuts were treated with suspicion by other Jews because the former had developed specific customs and practices, many of their families having lived in Amsterdam since the first synagogues were established there in the early years of the 17th century. Uniquely in Amsterdam, Ashkenazim (so-called “German Jews”) and Sephardim (so-called “Spanish Jews”) lived in close proximity for centuries, resulting in a cultural blend not found elsewhere. Most remarkably, the Dutch Jews were well accustomed to the sea, and ate seafoods considered not kosher by other Jewish communities.

From this information, it seems reasonable to infer a couple of things.  First, it seems that despite the fact that the Amsterdam Jewish community was fairly well-established, there must have been those, my ancestor Hart among them, who believed that there was greater opportunity for financial success in London.  These Dutch Jews decided to emigrate in order to achieve greater economic security.  Secondly, it seems that at some point many of those Dutch Jews either left or assimilated into the greater Jewish or non-Jewish society.  Some may have left because economic conditions were not as good as they had hoped; others may have left because as a “Chut,” they were not well integrated into the world of London’s Jews.  With different traditions, different practices, different synagogues, they may have felt isolated and disrespected.  I don’t know specifically what motivated my ancestors first to leave Amsterdam and then to leave London, but I’d imagine it was a combination of these factors.

Once again I am finding out new things about my own history and about Jewish history by doing genealogy.  I never knew about the Chuts, and I certainly never knew I was descended from one.  I have written to Rachel Lichtenstein to learn more about her project and will report back with whatever else I learn.

Also, in researching more about the Dutch Jews in general, I came across a genealogy blog I’d not seen before written by Kerry Farmer called Family History Research.  Kerry had a post from two years ago about searching for a Dutch Jewish ancestor using information she was able to obtain from a book compiling information about marriages performed at the Great Synagogue in London, Harold and Miriam Lewin’s Marriage Records of the Great Synagogue- London 1791-1885.  I was very excited when I read this post and contacted Kerry, who generously looked up Hart Levy Cohen and Rachel Jacobs’ wedding for me in the Lewin book.  She was able to provide me with the information she found there:

(Groom) Cohen Hart Levy

(Groom’s father) Leib Katz

(Groom’s patronymic) Hertz b. Leib Katz

(Groom’s address) Not listed

(Bride) Jacobs Rachel

(Bride’s father) Yaakov

(Bride’s patronymic) Rechel b. Yaakov

She also suggested that I contact the owners of the Akevoth site to see if this additional information would help in locating the records of my ancestors, and I have done that.  Now I will wait to see if they can provide any further assistance.

So yesterday I was ready to put aside the search for my Dutch ancestors, and then, with the help of Su Leslie and Kerry Farmer, I was able to make some progress in understanding who they were and why they left Amsterdam and why they left London.  Once again I am humbled by and grateful for the generosity of the genealogy community.  Su and Kerry are from New Zealand and Australia, respectively, and they have helped me in my search to find a Dutch Jew who lived in England and moved to America.  What a small world it is when you find such wonderful, helpful and knowledgeable people.

 

 

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Hart Levy Cohen and A Very Brief History of Jews in London

In my research so far, Hart Levy Cohen is the earliest verified ancestor I have found.  There are some others on other lines on my father’s side that are earlier, but not yet verified.  But I am quite certain that Hart was my three-times great grandfather based on the census reports I have been able to locate in both English and American records.

The earliest reference I have to Hart is a transcription of his wedding record from the Great Synagogue of London. I found this on a website called Synagogue Scribes, which provides a free, searchable database of transcriptions of the information from marriage and other records from the Ashkenazi synagogues in London.  According to this site, Hart Levy Cohen, whose Hebrew name was Hirts and whose father’s Hebrew name was Leib, married Rachel Jacobs on January 29, 1812.  I was thrilled when I first found this record because it provided me with not only my three-times great grandmother’s name, but also because it revealed my four-times great-grandfather’s first name.  It also revealed that by 1812 Hart was living in England.[1]

The Great Synagogue of London: This engraving ...

The Great Synagogue of London

The earliest actual record I have for Hart is the 1841 English census, which lists Hart, his wife Rachael (sp?), and four of his children, Elizabeth, Moses, John and Jacob.[2]  Jacob was my great-great grandfather. According to the census, Hart was then 65 years old, giving him a birth year of 1776.  Rachel was 55, giving her a birth year of 1786.  Elizabeth and Moses were both listed as twenty years old, Jacob was 15, and John was 14.  All of the children were listed as born in England, but Rachel and Hart were listed as foreign born.  Hart’s occupation was described as “Ind’t,” meaning he was of independent means, and Moses and Jacob were both described as china dealers.

Hart Cohen and family 1841 English census

Hart Cohen and family 1841 English census

The family was residing on New Goulston Street in the St. Mary Whitechapel parish of Middlesex County in East London.  Scanning through the names and occupations of other residents of that street and nearby streets, I noticed that many of the names were Jewish and that many of the residents were merchants of some sort or tradespeople.  I knew nothing about the history of Jews in London, and thus studying this census led me to research that history in order to learn more about the neighborhood where my ancestors lived in the early 19th century.  That, in turn, led me to read more about the history of Jews in England overall and specifically in London.

Although I cannot do justice to the long and complicated history of the Jews in England here, a very brief overview may suffice.  According to a number of sources, Jews had first settled in England during the reign of William I in the 11th century, but were expelled from England in 1290 by an edict of King Edward I, and there was no Jewish community thereafter until the 17th century when a community of Sephardic Jews from Spain arrived, although many of these Jews hid their religious identities.  Eventually for political and economic reasons, the English acquiesced in the growth of the Jewish community, although there was still a great deal of anti-Semitism.  Jews were not allowed to be citizens and were denied many of the legal rights of non-Jewish English citizens.

In the 18th century, the Sephardic community grew both in size and in wealth and became quite successful, but Jews were still denied full legal rights.  There was a short lived naturalization law passed in 1754 to enable Jewish men to become citizens, but it was repealed one year later due to widespread popular opposition.  It was not until 1833 that Jewish men were emancipated and given full legal rights as English citizens.

Meanwhile, there was also a growing Ashkenazi community during the 18th and 19th centuries, referred to as “Dutch Jews.”  My three-times great grandfather Hart Levy Cohen would have been one of those Dutch Jews, probably arriving at the end of the 18th century.   According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, “the bulk of the Ashkenazic community consisted of petty traders and hawkers, not to speak of the followers of more disreputable occupations.”  They settled in East London in the parish of Whitechapel, as did my ancestor Hart.  Whitechapel in the 1840s was described in Wikipedia as “classic “Dickensian” London, with problems of poverty and overcrowding.”

It would appear from the 1841 census listing, however, that Hart and his family were not among those poor.  Hart appears to have been retired, and his two sons were china dealers.  Perhaps their particular section of Whitechapel was not as poor as other sections.  For example, their street was very close to the Petticoat Market, a clothing manufacturing center that catered to the well-to-do of London.

File:Thomas Rowlandson - Rag Fair or Rosemary Lane - Google Art Project.jpg

Petticoat Market in the early 19th century

UPDATE:  Thanks to the help of my fellow blogger Su Leslie from Shaking the Tree, another of my very favorite genealogy blogs, I was able to find a map prepared by Charles Booth in the late 19th century that shows street by street the economic standing of the residents.  He rated each street on a seven level scale from poorest to upper class.  New Goulston Street appears to be purple on his map, meaning it was a mixed neighborhood with some poor residents and some comfortable residents.  That also seems consistent with my scan of the census of their street.

Charles Booth poverty map of London, New Goulston Street marked in center
https://booth.lse.ac.uk/map/18/-0.0757/51.5160/100/0?marker=533621.0,181427.0

In the later part of the 19th century, there was a tremendous influx of poor European Jewish immigrants to London, just as there was in New York and other American cities, coming to escape the oppression, violence and poverty in East Europe. There was also a large immigration of poor people from Ireland during this same period. The Whitechapel neighborhood became even more poverty-stricken, and crime became rampant, including widespread prostitution.  It was also during this period that Jack the Ripper, the serial killer, committed a string of murders and caused widespread terror.

By this time, however, most of my Cohen relatives had left England and come to the United States.  Only two of Hart’s six children remained in England by 1860.  Why did they leave? And why did Hart come to England from Holland in the first place? Those are questions that I want to answer if I can as I dig more deeply into my Cohen ancestors.

 

 

 

[1] I also thought I had found earlier records for Hart in tax records from 1798, but I now think that those records were for a different person because I found a record dated 1768 at the same address, also for a man named Hart Cohen.  These records require deeper investigation.

 

[2] There were six children altogether.  Lewis and Jonah are not accounted for on this census.  Lewis would have been 21, so perhaps was not living at home, but I have not yet found him elsewhere.  Jonah would have been 12, so I cannot account for the fact that he is not listed, except to note that this was the first English attempt for a comprehensive census and undoubtedly mistakes were made.

 

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