A Brickwall: Where Were Sam and Katie Born? Help Wanted!

You know how I’ve always belittled DNA results as a genealogy tool for people like me—an Ashkenazi Jew whose results show literally thousands of matches, most of whom are not possibly traceable as an actual relative? Well, I am eating my words, though just a little, because recently I found an actual Brotman match on Ancestry. And since my Brotman line presents the biggest brick walls, any new Brotman connection is exciting.

My new cousin is the great-grandson of Moses Brotman’s daughter Kate. Moses Brotman was my great-grandfather Joseph Brotman’s brother, making my new cousin my third cousin, once removed. He connected me to his brother, and we have been working together to research more about the family.

Moses Brotman, courtesy of the Brotman family

Kate’s great-grandsons were interested in knowing when and where Kate was born, and that led us down a very convoluted and confusing path. To state it very briefly and then to delve into the details, every US record for Kate indicated she was born in the US—either New York or New Jersey or Pennsylvania. The earliest three census records for her all say New York with later ones reporting her birthplace as New Jersey and then the 1940 census reporting it as Pennsylvania. That’s confusing enough, but that’s not the big mystery.

What really is puzzling is that Kate’s younger brother Samuel (consistently recorded as a year or two younger than Kate) is generally reported in US records to have been born in Europe—sometimes listed as Austria, sometimes as Russia—but is occasionally reported to have been born in the US—New Jersey twice and once in Pennsylvania. That raised an interesting question: how could Moses have had a child in New York (Kate) and then a later-born child (Samuel) back in Europe? Had Moses returned to Europe after Kate was born? Did Kate and Samuel have different mothers? Different fathers?

That sent me back to search again for anything that might help answer these questions. I also want to acknowledge all the kind people at Tracing the Tribe who tried to sort all this out for me.

First, I looked at any ship manifests I could find for Moses Brotman. I found one barely legible one indexed as Maritz Breidmann, 34 years old, coming from Austria in 1882. He would have been roughly the right age (I have no reliable birth information for Moses—every record differs, but generally show he was born sometime between 1840 and 1860.). He was sailing without any other family member. Could this be Moses? I can’t be sure.

Maritz Breidmann ship manifest, Year: 1882; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 456; Line: 1; List Number: 1220
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957

Moses’ naturalization papers state that he immigrated to the US in 1885. But note that Moses could not sign his name. Was he able to read the form in English? Could it really have been 1882? Did he even remember exactly what year it was when he immigrated?

Moses Brotman, naturalization papers, New Jersey, County Naturalization Records, 1749-1986,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1971-29863-26750-98?cc=2057433&wc=M73R-4NL:351145001,351187001 : accessed 30 April 2015), Salem Petitions for naturalization 1888-1895

On the 1900 census, Moses reported that he arrived in the US in 1886. The 1920 census states he came in 1887. The 1930 census says 1898! But he was naturalized in 1894, so it had to be earlier than 1898 for certain. All this points to Moses’ inability to report dates consistently.

The only other ship manifests I could locate for someone with a name close to Moses Brotman were these two. First, a manifest for the ship leaving from Rotterdam on July 20, 1891:

Moses Brodman and family, 1891 ship manifest, Staatsarchiv Hamburg; Hamburg, Deutschland; Hamburger Passagierlisten; Volume: 373-7 I, VIII B 1 Band 091; Page: 1626; Microfilm No.: S_13162, Staatsarchiv Hamburg. Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934

On this manifest, Moses Brodman of Grembow is sailing with five family members: Chane (48?), Mosche (28), Chane (10), Gitel (8), and Abraham (half a year old). There is something puzzling here—would a mother and daughter have had the same name?

One factor supporting that this Moses Brodman was my great-grandfather’s brother is that Grembow is a small town in what is today Poland (at that time part of Austria-Hungary known as Galicia) neighboring Tarnobrzeg where Joseph Brotman lived; it is also the town that two of my grandmother’s brothers, Abraham and David, listed as their home on the ship manifests when they immigrated (see the last two entries on the manifest below, above Goldfarb). So I feel fairly certain that this probably is the right Moses Brotman.

David and Abe Brodmann on the Portia 1889, Staatsarchiv Hamburg; Hamburg, Deutschland; Hamburger Passagierlisten; Volume: 373-7 I, VIII B 1 Band 079; Page: 1373; Microfilm No.: S_13156 Description Month: Indirekt Band 079 (1 Jul 1889 – 30 Sep 1889) Source Information Staatsarchiv Hamburg. Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934

The second manifest I found is that of the family’s arrival in New York on August 6, 1891:

Moses Brotman and family, ship manifest 1891, Year: 1891; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 573; Line: 6; List Number: 1171
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957

The manifest lists Moses (45), Chane (28), Morsche (10), Chane (8), Gitil (3), and Abraham (half a year old), coming from Russia. I should point out that Grembow was at one time very close to the Russian border with what is now Poland.

Note the inconsistencies from the first manifest with respect to the ages of the children. Gitel is now reported to be three, not eight, the younger Chane is now eight, not ten, and Morsche has gone from 28 to ten. Only little Abraham has stayed the same age from one manifest to the next. Mosche/Morsche has also changed from male to female on the later manifest. And Chane, the older one, has lost twenty years—from 48 to 28. I think the best explanation is that the clerk in Rotterdam wrote the ages on the wrong line since the age for Moses is crossed out. So Morsche/Mosche was really ten, Chana eight, Gitel three, and Abraham six months old in August 1891.

I believe, based on several documents,  that Gitel was the girl who grew up to become Kate Brotman. First, my new cousins sent me this document, a wedding contract for their great-grandparents Kate Brotman and Abraham Allen. The names on the contract  in Hebrew/Yiddish are Gitel daughter of Moses and Avraham son of Gedaliahu. That means that Kate’s Hebrew/Yiddish name was Gitel, just like the little girl on the ship manifest. (Thanks again to Tracing the Tribe for translating this document.)

In addition, the first record I have for Moses Brotman and his family in the US after his naturalization paper is the 1895 New Jersey census:

Morris Brotman, 1895 New Jersey census, Ancestry.com. New Jersey, State Census, 1895

It shows them living in Pittsgrove, New Jersey, with the following household members: Morris, Clara (presumably Chane), Bennie (a foreign born male in the 5-20 age group; this was Moses’ son Benjamin from his first marriage, as I wrote about here), and then five younger children: daughters Sadie, Katie, and Lillie, and sons Samuel and Abraham. All five children are listed as native born, I assume incorrectly. Lillie, Samuel, and Abraham are all listed in the under five years old age group while Sadie and Katie are in the 5-20 age group.

How do we make sense of this as compared to the ship manifest from 1891? Not too easily. First, can we assume that Sadie is the younger Chane from the ship manifest? I might be able to find an answer to that question from her gravestone, if her Hebrew name remained Chane. Since the older Chane became Clara (at least in 1895) and Gitel became Kate, it seems likely that the younger Chane’s name was also changed in the US. Sadie’s birth year is almost always reported to be 1884 or at latest 1885 and she is always reported to be born in Austria, so she seems to match the younger Chane on the ship manifest fairly well. Maybe her name on the manifest wasn’t correct in the first place.

And what happened to Mosche/Morsche, the son or daughter who was either 28 or 10? I’ve no idea.

Then there is Katie on the 1895 NJ census. She seems to match the Gitel on the ship manifest, being over five by 1895 if three in 1891. Abraham is also a match—under five in 1895.  Lillie is not on the manifest, but that’s not surprising as she was born in New Jersey on February 2, 1892, just six months after the date of the arrival manifest above.

But what about Samuel? Where does he fit in? He is not on the 1891 manifest. How did he become part of the family? Was he born after they arrived?

Let’s look at the next census record we have for Moses and his family, the 1900 US census.

Moses Brotman and family, 1900 US census, Census Place: Pittsgrove, Salem, New Jersey; Page: 18; Enumeration District: 0179; FHL microfilm: 1240993
Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census

It finds Moses in Pittsgrove, age 55, born November 1844, in Austria. His wife Chay is 35, born in Austria in March 1865, and they report that they have been married sixteen years so since about 1884, the year Sadie is generally reported to have been born. In fact, Sadie’s birth date here is given as April 1884, and her birthplace is Austria.

Then we get to Katie and Samuel. Katie’s birth date is March 1887, which is somewhat consistent with Gitel’s age of three on the second manifest in 1891. But her birthplace is New York, not Austria. And that seems consistent with this birth record for a Gitel Brotman born to Morris Brotman in New York City on March 24, 1888.

But if Kate was born in New York in 1888, why was she on a ship coming to America in 1891? And who is Annie Lebel, the woman listed as her mother?

And what about Samuel? The 1900 census reports that he was born October 1889 in Austria. So he wasn’t born after the family arrived in 1891, but in Europe in 1889. Why isn’t he on that ship manifest?

On that note, notice that the census record shows that Moses, Chay, and Sadie immigrated in 1886, but that Samuel immigrated in 1891. How do we make any sense out of that?

And where is Abraham? He would have been about nine in 1900, but he is missing from the census. I cannot find Abraham at all after the 1895 census. There does not appear to be a death record for him or any other record. He just disappeared. Like Morsche/Mosche.

It doesn’t get better with the 1905 NJ census.

Moses Brotman and family, 1905 New Jersey census, New Jersey State Archive; Trenton, NJ, USA; State Census of New Jersey, 1905; Reference Number: L-14; Film Number: 38
Ancestry.com. New Jersey, State Census, 1905

First of all, Kate isn’t listed at all nor is Sadie. Sadie had married in 1901 and moved to New York, but Kate didn’t marry Abraham Allen until 1907, so she is just missing and doesn’t appear elsewhere on the NJ census. Perhaps she’d gone to live somewhere out of state.  Samuel’s birth date is now August 1890, and his birthplace is still Austria. Moses and Clara’s birth dates have also changed since the 1895 NJ census.

Things continue in this inconsistent way with the 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 US census records as well as with Samuel’s draft records for both World War I and World War II and his 1919 marriage license. Rather than describe each of these documents, I prepared this chart that shows the birthplaces and dates (or ages) for Kate and Samuel on these records. You may have to click on the image to zoom in and read it.

You can see that Kate never reports a European birth and that Samuel sometimes does, sometimes does not.  You also can see that Kate’s birth date jumps around as does Samuel’s birth date, but that Kate is always older than Samuel. Kate is always reported to have been born in the US, though the last two census records report New Jersey and Pennsylvania, not New York. Samuel’s birthplace is even less consistent—Austria, Austria, Russia, New Jersey, Austria, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Russia, New Jersey. Yikes!

What are we to make of all this? I have a couple of theories.

  1. Moses and Chane/Clara/Chay (later Ida) came to the US before 1888, had Katie, and returned to Europe with her, had Samuel and Abraham in Europe, and then returned to the US in 1891. Supporting this theory is this birth certificate for a Gitel Brotman. Problems with this theory: There is no manifest showing Chane or Sadie arriving in the US before 1888. The mother’s name on the NYC birth certificate doesn’t match Chane, though Annie is pretty close. But later records show that Chane/Clara/Ida’s birth surname was Reis, not Lebel.  Could this be a different mother? If so, what happened to her? I cannot find any other records for her. Did Annie Lebel die, leading Moses to return to Europe with Gitel/Kate and bring Chane back with the other children? Also, if Samuel was born in Europe before 1891, why isn’t he on the manifest with his family in 1891?
  2. Kate was born in Europe but for some reason was told and always believed that she was born in the US. Problems with this theory: Why would her parents have done this from 1895 on? And how does that explain the birth certificate seen above? And why lie about Kate’s birthplace, but then have Samuel’s birth taking place in Europe?
  3. Samuel was not the biological child of Moses and Chane Brotman, but a child they adopted into their family after arriving in the US. This would explain why Samuel was not with the family on the 1891 ship manifest. It’s also supported by the fact that the 1900 census records a different date of immigration for Moses, Chay, and Sadie (1885) than for Samuel (1891), even though those dates are not consistent with the ship manifests I found for Moses, Chay, and Sadie. But then when did Samuel immigrate? Or was he actually born in the US?

Where do I go from here? I have located a descendant of Samuel Brotman. I could ask her to do a DNA test to see if she matches me and Kate’s great-grandsons as closely as the records suggest.  Both Kate and Samuel died too recently for me, as a non-descendant, to obtain their death certificates, but perhaps one of the direct descendants can get access to those. I just am skeptical that those certificates will have any information that is any more reliable than all the other US records.

What do you all think? What would you do next?