The Surviving Children of Reuben and Sallie Cohen, Part I: Minnie, Rae, Reuben, Jr., Lewis and Violet Mae

As I wrote last week, Reuben and Sallie Cohen had seventeen children, but ten of them predeceased their parents. Eight of the children died before they were four years old of various illnesses or, in the case of one child, as a result of a horrific accident.  Two of the children survived to adulthood, but then succumbed to illnesses in the early years of their adult lives.

That meant that Reuben and Sallie had only seven of their seventeen children alive when they died.  All but one of those children lived relatively full lives, living at least into their sixties if not beyond.  I will try and capture those lives, going in birth order.

The fourth child born after Sallie R., Jacob, and Hart, all of whom had died before their parents, was Minnie.  Minnie was born on September 25, 1882, and lived with her family in Philadelphia and Cape May.  On August 5, 1900, the Philadelphia Inquirer made this comment about Minnie in an article about summer visitors to Cape May:  “Miss Minnie Cohen is one of the prettiest girls at the resort.  Her bathing costume is always the picture of neatness.”  (“Cape May’s August Days,” Sunday, August 5, 1900, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA)   Volume: 143   Issue: 36)

It was not until eighteen years later when she was almost 36 that Minnie married Harry Frechie in February, 1918.  The Philadelphia Inquirer had this to say about her wedding:

Minnie wedding

(“Matrimony Notice,” Friday, February 15, 1918, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA)   Volume: 178   Issue: 46   Page: 10)  Mrs. S. Rosenblatt was her sister Rae, discussed below.  Violet Mae was her youngest sister, also discussed below.

Minnie and Harry were married for many years, but did not have any children. Like his father-in-law and many other family members, Harry was a pawnbroker. They appear to have traveled quite a bit, including a Caribbean cruise in 1939.  I have not yet been able to find a death record for Harry, but the 1950 Philadelphia city directory has a listing for Mrs. Harry Frechie alone, suggesting that Harry may have died sometime between the 1940 census and 1950. I also could not find a World War II draft registration for Harry, which could suggest he died before 1942.

UPDATE: With the release of the Pennsylvania death certificates through 1944, I am now able to update this post and the information regarding Harry Frechie.  Harry did die before 1942; he died on September 27, 1940.  No cause of death was given as there was a pending coroner’s inquest.  I will have to see if I can learn more about that.

Harry Frechie death certificate 1940

Harry Frechie death certificate 1940

At any rate, Minnie appears to have lived a life without much controversy as I cannot find any newspaper references to either Harry or Minnie aside from the wedding notice.  Minnie died in Philadelphia in 1977 when she was 95 years old.

Minnie’s sister and matron of honor, Rae, was the next child who survived.  She was born in 1886.  Rae married Samuel Rosenblatt in 1910.[1]  Sam was in the business of dress manufacturing according to the 1920 census, more specifically children’s dresses according to both the 1930 and 1940 census reports. They had one son, Samuel Rosenblatt, Jr., born in 1913, who died in July, 1933.  I have not found anything yet to explain why Samuel, Jr., died at such a young age.  The Philadelphia death certificates through 1944 are supposed to be online soon, so I am hoping to find out eventually what happened to Rae and Samuel’s only child.  Rae died in 1959 at age 73.  Her husband Samuel died in 1973.

UPDATE:  As noted above, I now have access to the Pennsylvania death certificates through 1944, including that of Samuel Rosenblatt, Jr.  Sadly, Samuel died from leukemia.

Samuel Rosenblatt, Jr. death certificate 1933

Samuel Rosenblatt, Jr. death certificate 1933


The next child of Sallie and Reuben Cohen to survive his parents was Reuben Cohen, Jr., born November 5, 1888.  Although at age 21 he was working as a clerk in a loan office according to the 1910 census, he appears not to have stayed in the pawnbroker business for his entire career.  In 1914, he married Leona Mayer, and according to the 1915 Philadelphia directory, he was a notary public by occupation at that time.  I don’t know how that would be a full time occupation, so perhaps he was still working in the “loan office” at that time as well.  In fact, on his World War I draft registration he listed his employer as his father, Reuben Cohen, Sr., so he must have still been working the pawnshop at that time.  In 1920, his occupation on the census is described as manager of a brokerage house, presumably a pawn brokerage, not a stock brokerage.  But in 1930 Reuben’s occupation was listed as a textile designer, and then in 1940 he is described as a salesman in textile manufacturing.  On his 1942 World War II draft registration, he listed his employment as “own business.”  Thus, it appears that Reuben, Jr., went out on his own and left the Cohen family pawnbroker business.

Reuben, Jr., and Leona had one child, Elinor Cohen, born in April, 1915, who married Melvin Beard.  I am now trying to contact their descendants.  Reuben Cohen, Jr. died January 28, 1958, when he was 69 years old.  His wife Leona died in 1970 at age 78.  Their daughter Elinor died thirteen years ago in 2001.

Reuben Jr.’s younger brother Arthur was the next sibling to survive their parents, but I am going to defer telling his story until I get a little more information from one of his descendants.

Of the seven surviving children, the one I have had the hardest time tracking is Lewis Cohen, who was born in September, 1892, the thirteenth child of Reuben and Sallie.  According to his World War I draft registration in 1917, he suffered from “nervous trouble.”

Lewis Cohen World War I draft registration

Lewis Cohen World War I draft registration


He was working as a real estate broker, and I was able to find a number of his real estate broker’s advertisements in the Philadelphia Inquirer as well as a news story about a large real estate transaction he brokered for a client in 1922.  On the 1920 census he was still living at his parents’ home at age 28, and as far as I can tell, he never married or had children.

It’s very odd, but I cannot find Lewis on either the 1930 census or the 1940 census, and at first I thought that perhaps he had died.  Then I found his 1942 World War II registration, in which he described himself as self-employed.  He was then living at the Roosevelt Hotel in Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, and his emergency contact person was a woman named Hilda Eskin, also at that location.

Lewis Cohen World War II draft registration

Lewis Cohen World War II draft registration

Where was he between 1920 and 1942?    I just cannot seem to find him. Is there any significance to the scar on his left wrist? To the fact that he was cross-eyed?  And who was Hilda Eskin? The only Hilda Eskin I could find in 1940 in Philadelphia was a divorced 45 year old woman, living with her parents; she owned a millinery shop.  She and her parents were living in 1940 at 329 South 63rd Street, about four miles west and across the Schuylkill River from the Roosevelt Hotel.  Since Hilda was not an employee of the hotel in 1940 and owned her own business, my hunch is that she was Lewis’ girlfriend in 1942, living with him at the Roosevelt Hotel.  I could not find Lewis living at that address in 1940.  I did find one Lewis Cohen as a prisoner at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia whose age, birth place, and parents’ birth places all fit my Lewis Cohen, but then there were many Lewis Cohens living in Philadelphia who could have been the one in prison.  Maybe I can find something more about the person in prison?

The only other records I found for Lewis related to his death in November, 1964.  He is buried at Beverly National Cemetery in Burlington, NJ, as a veteran who served in the US Navy during World War I. So despite whatever the reference to “nervous trouble” meant on his draft registration for that war, he did serve in the Navy and was buried as a veteran of that war.  I will continue to look to see if I can fill the gaps in Lewis’ life and military service.

The youngest daughter of Sallie and Reuben Cohen was Violet Mae.  She was born May 7, 1895, and was living at home until 1921 when she married Abram E. Stern, who was born and lived in Washinton, DC.  Violet and Abram lived in Washington, DC, where Abram worked in the store fixture manufacturing business. They had two children in the years after they first married.  By 1940, they had divorced, and Abram was remarried.  Violet Mae died in December, 1974, in Silver Spring, MD, at the age of 79.  I am hoping I can track down her descendants and learn more about her.

Simon, the youngest child of Sallie and Reuben Cohen, did not live as long a life as the other six siblings who survived their parents. His story is another I will tell in a subsequent post once I get more information from one of Reuben’s descendants.

These five children of Reuben and Sallie Cohen all lived relatively long lives for those times and, in the case of Minnie, a very long life.    They all also lived lives that were, at least as far as I can tell, relatively trauma and drama free.  Yes, Violet was divorced, Rae lost her son when he was only 20, and certainly Lewis, Reuben, Jr., and Minnie must have also had some difficult times in their lives.  But given the family tragedies their parents endured, losing so many children, it is somewhat remarkable that these five led fairly quiet and, at least outwardly, regular lives.  But who knows what happened beneath the cold hard facts of census reports and city directories? Certainly losing ten siblings must have had some impact on these people.  Did Minnie not have children for fear of losing them as her parents had? Is that also why Rae and Reuben, Jr., each had just one child?  Did Lewis suffer from “nervous trouble” as a result of experiencing so many deaths?  I don’t know, but I have to believe that growing up as they did, seeing death occur over and over again, had to have affected all of them.



[1] There was also an entry on the Philadelphia marriage index for a Rae W. Cohen who married Isador Landau in 1913, but since I cannot find any other evidence of Mr. Landau and since Rae and Samuel Rosenblatt were together on the 1920, 1930, and 1940 census reports, I have to assume this was an error in indexing.

A Little More on Reuben and Sallie Cohen

Reuben Cohen

Reuben Cohen

Since was still not fully functional and I thus could not get access to many of the documents I need to complete the story of the children of Reuben and Sallie Cohen, I spent time  looking for news articles about the family on, a site that has remained untouched by the attack on ancestry.  Here are a few interesting additional little peeks into their lives.

First, I was excited to find the picture above of Reuben Cohen published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on April 1, 1917, in honor of his birthday. (Sunday, April 1, 1917, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA)   Volume: 176   Issue: 91   Section: News   Page: 2)  It’s always good to be able to visualize what someone looked like, and since I have not been able to locate many photographs of any of these relatives, this was an exciting find.

Reuben and Sallie were also at least twice the victims of crimes.  In 1885 Reuben was the victim of an assault and battery while trying to stop a thief.  He was commended by the judge for his conduct. The accused was sentenced to eighteen months in prison for stealing a $7 roll of cloth.  It’s not clear whether he stole it from Reuben’s store or whether Reuben was just trying to aid in his arrest. I also found it disturbing that the defendant’s race was mentioned for no possible relevant reason other than the blatant racism of those times. (” Civil and Criminal. Suits and Prosecutions from the Court Reports,”  Wednesday, November 11, 1885 Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA) Volume: CXIII Page: 3 )

reuben assault story


Then in 1903 Reuben and Sallie were themselves the victims of theft when a household employee of theirs stole a diamond ring in a “grip” belonging to Sallie when she asked him to carry it for her when she returned to Philadelphia from Cape May.  The accused admitted the theft and also admitted that he had been stealing from the Cohens for some time.  (“Says He Stole Jewelry,” Sunday, August 30, 1903, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA)   Volume: 149   Issue: 61   Section: First   Page: 6)

jewelry stolen


Finally, I was puzzled by this news item, describing a donation by Reuben to the Episcopal Church in Cape May of a silver plate to be used for communion.

church donation

Why was Reuben making a gift to the church?  Although Sallie may not have been Jewish, it does seem that they raised their children as Jews for here is an article announcing the confirmation of their son Arthur at Mickve Israel synagogue. (“A Minute’s Chat,” Wednesday, February 25, 1903, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA) Volume: 148 Issue: 56 Page: 8 )

arthur confirmation

In addition, Reuben, Sallie, and all of the ten children who predeceased them are all buried in Mickve Israel cemetery.  Was this just a generous gift to an important institution in Cape May? Or were the Cohens also church members? Perhaps I can do some research of the church records to find out more.

There were also other articles about anniversary parties, trips to Cape May, and other family events and celebrations. This series of news stories reveals a little more of Reuben’s character and of his social and financial standing in the Philadelphia and Cape May communities.  It also reveals that despite all the heartbreak his family endured, they also continued to prosper socially and economically and apparently to enjoy life.

An Important Clue Buried in A Wedding Announcement

As I was finishing up my research on Sallie R. Cohen and her life, I found this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about her wedding:

Sallie R. Cohen and Ellis Abrams wedding story

Sallie R. Cohen and Ellis Abrams wedding story

(“Matrimony Notice,”  Tuesday, May 22, 1900,Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA) Volume: 142 Issue: 142 Page: 2)

Not only does this provide further evidence of the social and economic success of Reuben and Sallie Cohen, it also provides a very important clue to one of my biggest questions about the Cohen clan.  Remember the two Hart Cohens that had me confused a few weeks ago—one in Philadelphia and one in Washington, DC? After much searching and thinking I had developed a strong hunch that they were first cousins and that Jacob Cohen of Philadelphia and Moses Cohen, Sr., of Washington were brothers, both sons of my great-great-great grandparents Hart Levy Cohen and Rachel Jacobs.  I am in touch with Moses Cohen’s descendant Scott, and we are awaiting DNA test results to see whether he and my brother share enough DNA to conclude that we are all in fact descended from Hart Levy Cohen.

But now I have another fairly persuasive bit of evidence linking the Moses Cohen family in DC to my Philadelphia Cohens.  If you can read the announcement, you will see that one of the bridesmaids is Grace Cohen of Washington, DC.  Grace Cohen was the daughter of Moses Cohen, Jr., and his wife Henrietta.  She was born in 1877, two years before Sallie R. Cohen, daughter of Reuben Cohen, and was  thus her second cousin, assuming that Jacob and Moses were brothers and thus their respective sons, Reuben and Moses, Jr., were first cousins.

This is the kind of almost accidental discovery that just makes my day.  It’s the kind of thing that I could easily have missed or read and not thought about carefully.  Although the DNA test results may provide more scientific evidence that DC Moses and my great-great grandfather Jacob were brothers, this little tidbit in a wedding announcement is certainly fairly persuasive evidence on its own.

Reuben Cohen 1854-1926: You Really Do Not Want to Read This

As I wrote in an earlier post, I skipped over Reuben Cohen, my great-great-grandparents’ sixth child and fifth son, in order to wait for some information from one of Reuben’s direct descendants.  I have to admit that I had other reasons as well.  My initial research indicated that Reuben and his wife Sallie Livingston had twelve children.  The thought of researching another huge family was a bit overwhelming.  In addition, my preliminary research had uncovered a number of very sad stories about those children, and I just did not have the heart to research, write, or even think about them after researching the story of Reuben’s older brother Hart.  Little did I know that his sisters, whose lives I’d not previously researched very far, also had more than their fair share of heartbreak as well.

Once I returned to the story of Reuben and did more research, I learned that his story was worse than I had even originally thought. His life started out well.  He was born in April, 1854, and grew up at 136 South Street with his parents and siblings. By the time he was sixteen he was working as a clerk in a store, presumably his father’s pawnshop.  In 1878 when he was 24, he married Sallie Livingston, and in 1880 they were living at 1725 Bainbridge Street and already had two children, Sallie R., who was a year old, and Jacob, who was a month old.  Reuben was working as a pawnbroker at 635 South 17th Street in 1881.

Reuben Cohen 1880 census

Reuben Cohen 1880 census

Originally I thought that the 1880s must have been fairly happy years for Reuben and Sallie, as Reuben continued to work as a pawnbroker and their family continued to grow.  In addition to Sallie R. and Jacob, I originally found that five more children were born between 1881 and 1890:  Minnie (1882), Hortense (1887), Rae (1887), Reuben, Jr. (1888), and Arthur (1890). The family continued to live at 1725 Bainbridge Street.

Then in 1891, tragedy struck.  Little Hortense, only three years old, was run over and killed by a cable car owned by the Philadelphia Traction Company.

Hortense Cohen death certificate

Hortense Cohen death certificate

The company had only been in business since 1883. I found this gruesome description of the accident in the June 14, 1891 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

[According to a witness who saw the accident], the child, who was with two other children, started across the street to reach the house of her grandmother, Mrs. Livingstone, at 607 South Ninth Street, with whom she had been living. When she had crossed the tracks she saw a carriage coming, and she made an attempt to run back.  The child got bewildered, and as she reached the middle of the track the car struck her. The front wheel jammed the head against the track. It required the united efforts of [three police officers] to lift the car off the child’s head.

(“Killed by a Cable Car Little Hortense Cohen Becomes Bewildered and is Run Down,” Sunday, June 14, 1891, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA),  Volume: 124   Issue: 165   Page: 5) The conductor and gripman were arrested.  Little Hortense was taken to the hospital where she died.

This story raises so many hard questions.  What was a three year old child doing alone without an adult? Who were the other two children, and how old were they? Were they her siblings? What a terrible impact this must have had on them as well as the rest of the family.  And why was Hortense living with her grandmother?  Were any of the other children living with Mrs. Livingston?  I don’t have any answers to these questions.

Obviously, times were different.  There were no helicopter parents, and children were much more likely to be left to their own devices than children are allowed to be today.  Also, cable cars were a recent addition to the city streets, and perhaps parents and children were not yet aware of the dangers they presented, nor were these companies likely regulated to any degree to prevent such accidents from occurring.  But one thing must have been true even in those days: the absolute horror the family must have endured after losing a child in such a terrible way.

Somehow the family went on.  My original research found that two more children were born in the next few years:  Lewis in 1892 and Penrose in 1894.  The family moved from their Bainbridge Street home sometime after Hortense’s death. In 1893 Reuben’s store was at 625 South 17th Street, and he and his family were residing at 623 South 17th Street.  They remained in that residence for many years.  In 1895 Violet was born, and in 1896 Irene was born, bringing the number of children living in the family to eleven.

Then another tragedy occurred in 1896.  Two year old Penrose died from some form of capillary bronchitis.  Perhaps someone can help me decipher and interpret the rest of the description of his cause of death.  As if the family had not suffered enough, a year and a half later baby Irene, only a year old, died also from capillary bronchitis.  The family had lost three young children between 1891 and 1897.  The last child, Simon, was born in 1898, bringing the number of children to nine out of the twelve that I first thought had been born to Reuben and Sallie.

Penrose Cohen death certificate

Penrose Cohen death certificate

Irene Cohen death certificate

Irene Cohen death certificate

I wish I could say that that was the end of Reuben and Sallie’s heartbreak, but I cannot.  There was a period of relative calm.  In 1900 the family was living in Cape May, New Jersey, at the time of the census.

Reuben Cohen and family at 208 Ocean Street 1900 US census

Reuben Cohen and family at 208 Ocean Street 1900 US census

They were living back in Philadelphia by 1902, so I do not know whether the time in Cape May was a long stay or perhaps just a shorter stay for the summer.  I do know from one of Reuben’s descendants that Reuben owned a home in Cape May built in 1864 at 208 Ocean Street that eventually became the home of his son Arthur and his descendants.  It seems that during Reuben’s life this was not the year-round home, but perhaps just a summer home.  Reuben must have been quite successful to have two residences.  I found the house currently listed for sale on,with a description of the house and many exterior and interior pictures, such as this one.

208 Ocean Street, Cape May, NJ

208 Ocean Street, Cape May, NJ

1900 also was a good year for the family in other ways.  Their daughter Sallie R. was married that year to Ellis Samuel Abrams in what appears to have been quite a society event. There had been a large engagement party the year before at Reuben and Sallie’s home where an orchestra played throughout the evening “behind a bower of palm trees.”  The guest list was very long and included many of the aunts, uncles, and cousins I have written about on the blog: the Wolfs, the Sluizers, the Hambergs, and, of course, many Cohens.(“Melange of Events,”  Sunday, December 31, 1899, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA) Volume: 141 Issue: 184 Page: 14)   Before the wedding took place on May 21, 1900, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a drawing of Sallie R., announcing the upcoming nuptials.  Clearly the Cohen family was part of the elite of Philadelphia Jewish society.

Sallie Cohen

Sallie Cohen

But all the business success in the world was not worth the personal losses that the family suffered. In 1907, Sallie R.’s young husband Ellis died from acute appendicitis.  He was 30 years old, and they had only been married for seven years.  They had had two children, Dorothy, born around 1905, and Simon, born around 1907.

Ellis Abrams death certificate

Ellis Abrams death certificate

Then, two years later, in 1909, Reuben and Sallie’s son Jacob died of cardiac failure secondary to tabes dorsalis, or late stage syphilis.  He was only 29 years old when he died.  From his death certificate it appears that he had been sick and under a doctor’s care for five months before he died in December, 1909.

Jacob Livingston Cohen death certificate

Jacob Livingston Cohen death certificate

And then, just four years later in 1913, Jacob’s older sister Sallie R., Ellis’ widow, Reuben and Sallie Livingston’s oldest child, died at age 34 from nephritis, kidney disease.  That left Sallie R. and Ellis’ two children, Dorothy and Simon, orphaned at ages eight and six, respectively.

Sallie J. Cohen death certificate

Sallie J. Cohen death certificate

On the 1920 census, both children were living with their grandparents, Reuben and Sallie.  So far, I have had no luck finding out what happened to them next.

Reuben Cohen and family 1920 census

Reuben Cohen and family 1920 census

But what I did find was even more disturbing.  In doing some last minute checks for additional documents on Sallie J. and Jacob, I found their headstones on FindAGrave.  And to the left behind Jacob’s headstone, I spotted a headstone with eight names on it.  Some were familiar:  Hortense, Penrose, Irene.  But five were new to me: Maria, Fanny, Joseph, Hart, and Edith.  Who were they? When I saw it, I sighed so loudly that my husband wondered what was wrong.  I took a deep breath and then started looking for these other five children.

Since none of these names had appeared on either the 1880 census or the 1900 census (and since the 1890 census was destroyed by fire), I assumed that they were born after the 1880 census and died before 1900 census.  Eventually I found all five of these children, all of whom died before they were four years old.

As I mentioned above, I had originally thought that the 1880s were a happy decade for Reuben and his family, but this additional research revealed the opposite.  After Sallie R. and Jacob were born, the third child, Hart, was born in 1881.  He died February 27, 1883, when he was seventeen months old from uremia.  In between Minnie was born in 1882.

Hart Cohen death certificate

Hart Cohen death certificate

The next child, Maria, was born in September, 1883, meaning Sallie was pregnant with Maria when Hart died.  Maria died in Cape May, New Jersey on August 2, 1886, just shy of three years old, from paralysis caused by diphtheria (also evidence that the family had been spending summers in Cape May for quite some time before 1900).

Maria Cohen death certificate

Maria Cohen death certificate

But in between Minnie and Maria, Reuben and Sallie had had two other children, both of whom died before they were a year old.  In January, 1884, Fanny was born, and six months later in July, 1884, she died from enterocolitis.  On April 17, 1885, Joseph was born, and he died on August 9, 1885, not yet four months old.  Thus, in each year from 1883 through 1886, Reuben and Sallie buried one of their children. Perhaps that is why some of the children were living with Sallie’s mother?

Fanny Cohen death certificate

Fanny Cohen death certificate

Then came the tragic accident involving three year old Hortense in June, 1891.  What I had not known before I found the additional names on the headstone is that in July, 1891, the very next month, Sallie had given birth to Edith.  Perhaps that was some relief, but only for a very brief time because Edith died less than a year later on April 24, 1892, from “Diptheritic Laryngitis.”  I am not sure what that means, but it seems like it must be some complication from diphtheria. And then, as described above, Penrose died in 1896 and Irene in 1897.

Finally, there were the untimely deaths of Jacob L. and Sallie R. as adults.  So between 1883 and 1913, Reuben and Sallie had lost ten of their seventeen children and also had two young grandchildren who were left without either a mother or a father. Aside from Hortense, who died from an accident, all the other young children died from an illness that today would likely have been either prevented by a vaccine (diphtheria) or treated with antibiotics or somehow otherwise controlled by medicine.  Reading about all these babies’ deaths made me aware once again of how grateful we all should be for the developments of 20th century medicine.

How did Reuben and Sallie go on? It is unfathomable.  But they did. Did they find strength in the seven children who survived? Or did these deaths leave them bitter, angry, depressed? How does a marriage survive all that stress? Did they find strength in religion? In their large extended family? I do not know; I only know that in the last few days as I researched this family’s saga, I also was spending time with my newborn grandson and my four year old grandson, both of whom are so precious to me, not to mention their parents and other grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and great-grandparents.  Seeing either grandson cry over even the smallest pain or disappointment breaks my heart.  I found myself so disturbed by reading about Reuben and Sallie’s children that I was not sure that I could bear to write this story down. But then I had to do it, if only so that those little children could be perhaps more than just names on a headstone.  Someone should know that they lived and were loved.

Reuben and Sallie had seventeen children (at least—perhaps others lived who have not been recorded somewhere).  They were married for many years.  Somehow there was enough love to keep them together so that they could continue to raise the children who survived, including their two grandchildren from Sallie R.

Reuben died on December 31, 1926; he was 72 years old.  His wife Sallie died four years later in 1930 when she also was 72.  There were seven children left who survived them, and almost all of them lived long lives, but I will leave their stories for a later post.

Maria Cohen 1856-?: A Hard Story to Find, A Harder One to Tell

It took me a long time to find the story of Maria Cohen, the seventh[1] child of my great-grandparents, Jacob and Sarah, and once I did, I wished I hadn’t. Things started easily enough, as I was able to find a record in the Philadelphia marriage index identifying her husband as William Levi. They married on December 15, 1875.  I was able to find them on both the 1880 and 1900 census reports with their sons Lewis, Jacob, and Isaac, but on both there were entries that were inconsistent with the facts I know about Maria.  On the 1880 census, it says her parents were born in Germany, and in 1900 it says her parents were born in Russia, when I know that her parents were in fact both born in England.

Had the census taker received erroneous information or did I have the wrong Maria?  Certainly her sons’ names, Lewis, Jacob and Isaac, were all names that ran in the Cohen family.  The age given for Maria on the census reports seemed close enough.  In 1880 Maria would have been 24; the census says she was 21 with two sons ages two and one.  If she really married in 1875, that means she would have been only 16 when she married, which seems unlikely.  In 1900, Maria would have been 44; the 1900 census reports it as 40.  I am accustomed to census errors, and these were not any worse than others I’ve seen.

So this could be the right Maria Cohen, but I cannot be absolutely sure because after 1900 she and her husband disappear from the records.  I cannot find Maria or William Levi on the 1910, 1920, or 1930 census.  Perhaps they both died between 1900 and 1910, but I also cannot find any death records or burial records for either of them. At first I thought perhaps they all changed their names, but after a lot of looking I was able to find death records for three of their four sons, and that is where this story gets harder to tell.

The first record I found was for their oldest son Lewis, who died on May 4, 1915, from heart disease at age 38.

Lewis C. Levy death certificate

Lewis C. Levy death certificate

His wife Emma Fogle, whom he had only married five years before in 1910, lived another almost 50 years, but was buried beside him at Adath Jeshurun cemetery and apparently never remarried.  Since the headstone is marked “father” and “mother,” there must have been at least one child born during that brief marriage, but so far I have not been able to locate that child.

Lewis and Emma Levy headstone

Lewis and Emma Levy headstone

This morning, after much looking, I found a death certificate for Maria and William’s second son Jacob, who also died at a young age.  He died only a year and half after his brother Lewis on December 22, 1916, from tuberculosis. He also was 38 when he died.  The death certificate reveals that he had been residing at the Norristown State Hospital for the Insane when he died and had been there for just over ten years.  He also was buried at Adath Jeshurun.

Jacob Levy death certificate

Jacob Levy death certificate

I was already feeling sad for Maria and William for losing two sons before either reached forty years of age when the story got even worse.

In searching for records for Maria, William and their sons this morning, I was surprised to see a death record for a Benjamin Levy, son of William Levy.  It was the first time I knew that Maria and William had had a fourth son, Benjamin, born in 1881.  Since he was born in 1881, he was not on the 1880 census.  Since he died in 1897, he was not on the 1990 census.  I had missed him completely in doing my initial research of Maria and her family.  I gasped when I found his death certificate and saw his cause of death: “found drowned.”

Benjamin Levy death certificate

Benjamin Levy death certificate

I looked to see if I could find any other information and found this story, quoted in its entirety from the Philadelphia Inquirer dated March 18, 1897.

The body of the young man which was found on Monday in the Delaware River at the foot of Callowhill street was that of Benjamin Levy, aged 16, who lived at 1580 Fontaine Street, and who has been missing since January 9. It is thought that he committed suicide.

Before going away, he said to his brother: “Good-bye, Jake, forever.  I’m going to jump overboard.”  He was not seen alive afterwards.  It is believed he drowned himself because he had been rebuked for drinking.

(“A Young Suicide,” Thursday, March 18, 1897,Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA)   Volume: 136   Issue: 77   Page: 10 )

Benjamin had been missing for two months when his body was found.  I cannot begin to imagine how his family felt.  Could it possibly be that just getting scolded for drinking led him to commit suicide? Or was there something else behind the story? Was there underlying mental illness, as was the case with his older brother Jacob?

Although the death certificate for Jacob said that he had been hospitalized since October, 1896, ten years, one month and 28 days before his death, this news story about Benjamin seemed to indicate that Jacob was still home when Benjamin committed suicide in March, 1897.  One has to wonder whether Jacob’s mental illness was precipitated or at least exacerbated by his little brother’s death and thus whether Jacob’s death certificate was off by a year in describing his stay at the state hospital.  Did Jacob feel guilty, knowing that his younger brother had talked about suicide but Jacob had not being able to stop him? How did Maria and William cope with these two traumas?

It was less than twenty years later that their son Lewis died in 1915, with Jacob dying a year later in 1916.  Only Isaac remained, their youngest son.  Fortunately, Isaac’s story is not tragic.  In 1909, he had married Rose Hicks, who was a few years older than Isaac and had a son William from a previous marriage. Although marrying an older divorced woman with a child might have been somewhat unusual back then, given what this family had been through, that must have been small potatoes to them.  In 1910, he and Rose were living at 133 Walnut Street in 1910 with several boarders, and Isaac, now using the name Harry, was working at a pawnshop.

Isaac "Harry" Levy and Emma Levy 1910 census

Isaac “Harry” Levy and Emma Levy 1910 census

In fact, it was his uncle Lewis Cohen’s pawnshop, as revealed in Harry’s World War I draft registration (and as confirmed by an address check for Lewis Cohen in 1917).

Isaac "Harry" Levy draft registration World War I

Isaac “Harry” Levy draft registration World War I

Harry, Rose, and Rose’s son William as well as her nephew were living on Reno Street in 1920, and Harry and Rose continued to live in Philadelphia at least until 1942 when Harry’s draft registration for World War II continues to provide a Philadelphia address at 222 North 52nd Street.  Harry was working for the WPA in Philadelphia at that time.

Isaac "Harry" Levy World War 2 draft registration

Isaac “Harry” Levy World War 2 draft registration

It does not appear that Harry and Rose had any biological children of their own.  I cannot yet find any record for Harry or Rose after 1942, nor have I yet had any luck locating any records for Maria or William after the 1900 census.   I plan to contact Adath Jeshurun cemetery in Philadelphia to see if they have records for Harry/Isaac, Rose, Maria or William Levy.  Since the other members of the family were all buried at that cemetery, I am hoping that I will be able to get at least some greater information about the others.

Genealogical research is filled with twists and turns.  I spent many hours this week, focused on Maria Cohen and her family with William Levy, and until this morning I had found almost nothing except their marriage record and  those two census reports.  I went to sleep feeling that I would never know the rest of the story.  Then with just a few lucky keystrokes this morning, I opened the door to a terribly tragic family story.  I almost wish that I hadn’t.  Careful what you wish for, as they say.  I hope I can put some closure on Maria’s life.  Only time, persistence, and lots of good luck will tell.






[1] Reuben was the sixth child, but I am skipping over him for now as I wait to hear from one of his descendants.

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Adding another Dimension to the Story: What Newspapers Can Reveal

Before moving on to the next decade of the Cohen saga, I decided to spend some time searching through old newspapers online, seeing if I could find some birth, marriage or death announcement that might be helpful.  I was surprised to find some real news stories about my ancestors which add some additional dimensions to their life stories.

First, it seems that Jacob, my great-great grandfather, had a couple of interactions with law enforcement—never as the accused (as far as I found), but as a victim and/or witness to crimes.    One time Jacob was able to identify the man who had stolen a watch and chain and had pawned the chain to Jacob.[1]  The second incident involved Jacob purely as a victim of a crime when one of his servants, Eliza, stole a watch and chain worth about $50 from his home. [2]

Jacob’s grandson, also named Jacob Cohen, continued this tradition in 1899 when he also ended up with stolen goods in his possession as a pawnbroker. The thieves had broken into a house and stolen $1000 worth of household items, including some rugs that they had pawned to Jacob.   Jacob was able to identify the men who had pawned the rugs and thus assisted the police in capturing them.[3]

I am not sure what to make of these three stories, except to observe that (1) being a pawnbroker, one runs the risk of receiving stolen property, and (2) both Jacobs were observant witnesses and willing to assist the police in stopping crime.

I was also able to find several articles reporting that Jacob (among others) had obtained a pawnbroker’s license and several ads taken out by his son Isaac regarding the probate of Jacob’s estate.

The other article that I found quite interesting reported on a street argument or fight among several of my relatives, including Reuben Cohen, Lazarus Jacobs, and Reuben Jacobs.  Apparently an argument started at seven in the morning among what the article refers to as “barkers connected with the South Street clothing stores,” which “created considerable excitement in the neighborhood, with their jargon.” Four men were arrested, including my three relatives, who were taken to the alderman to “keep the peace.”  This article was dated Wednesday, July 10, 1867.[4]  In 1860, Joseph Jacobs, the brother of Lazarus and father of Reuben, had been a business partner in a clothing store Jacobs and Cohen with Jacob Cohen, father of Reuben Cohen.  I noticed in the 1868 Philadelphia directory that Jacob’s business was then called Hamberg and Co., presumably for his son-in-law Ansel Hamberg.  Had Jacob and Joseph had a parting of the ways? Were they now competitors? Were the cousins fighting over business at 7 in the morning? Or was this just a quarrel among young men that had nothing to do with the family businesses?

Although none of these articles revealed any significant clues or information about my relatives, they add a human dimension to the facts and data I can find in the census reports and vital records.  These were all real people with real problems.  Times may have changed, but people always have and always will deal with the forces of and the flaws of human nature.




[1] Hearings at the Central, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 4, 1869, p. 2.  Located at

[2] At the Central, Philadelphia Inquirer, February 15, 1873, p.2.  Located at

[3] Rugs Gave the Clue, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 28, 1899, p. 13.  Located at

[4] City Intelligence, Police Affairs, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 10, 1867. p. 2.  Located at