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

Milton Goldsmith’s Family Album, Part VI: His Parents, Abraham and Cecelia

This is Part VI of an ongoing series of posts based on the family album of Milton Goldsmith, so generously shared with me by his granddaughter Sue. See Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V at the links.

Now that we have seen the pages Milton devoted to his maternal and paternal grandparents, we can turn our attention to those devoted to his parents, Abraham Goldsmith and Cecelia Adler.

First, there is this page:Although they are not labeled, the paired photographs at the bottom must be Cecelia Adler and Abraham Goldsmith. I know this because the photograph on the upper right is one I’ve seen before—I received it from my cousin Julian Reinheimer over a year ago,  labeled as Julian’s great-grandfather, Abraham Goldsmith. So I know that the upper photograph is Abraham, and he is certainly the same man as the man in the photograph at the lower right.

Abraham Goldsmith, courtesy of Julian Reinheimer

I also know that the woman on the left is Cecelia because Julian also sent me this photograph of his great-grandmother Cecelia, and she is the same woman as the woman on the left in the photograph above:

Cecelia Adler, courtesy of Julian Reinheimer

Could the two framed photographs be their wedding photographs?

Cecelia was only nineteen in 1858 when they married, Abraham was six years older or twenty-five. Somehow they look older than that in these photographs, but I am terrible at determining age in these old photographs when people dressed so formally and posed so stiffly without smiling. It’s obvious, however, that these two photographs were taken at the same studio and likely at the same time, given that the same table appears in both. I wonder if there was a date on the reverse, but it is not worth trying to remove the photograph from the album to check.

According to Milton, his grandfather Samuel Adler was not successful in business, but Cecelia certainly is dressed very well in this photograph and is wearing what appears to be a large cameo pendant, similar or perhaps the same as the one in the photograph I received from Julian, seen above. Was this taken after she married Abraham, who was in fact very successful in business? Which photograph appears to be earlier?

Cecelia Adler Goldsmith, courtesy of Sue Jacobson

Finally, there is the photograph labeled “The Homestead in Oberlistingen.” This must have been the house where Abraham and his family lived before he and almost all his siblings immigrated to the United States beginning in the 1840s. So who is the woman standing on the stairs in front of the house? My first hope was that this was Hinka Alexander Goldschmidt, my three-times great-grandmother and Abraham Goldsmith’s mother, Milton’s paternal grandmother.

But then I realized this could not be Hinka. She died in 1860. This looks like a casual snapshop, and thus not something that could have been taken in those early days of photography. In fact, according to the Smithsonian:

Photography emerged in the early 19th century, but well into the 1880s it was a difficult, ponderous thing to do. The reigning forms of photography recorded onto chemically treated plates and paper. Taking a picture required the subjects to sit still for a half minute or more—“torture,” as the social critic Walter Benjamin recalled. Families trooped into studios to get portraits taken, but they were a study in stiffness: everyone sitting ramrod straight, afraid to move—or even to change their expression—for fear of blurring the photo.….Things changed dramatically in 1888 when George Eastman introduced the Kodak camera. A small hand-held box, it cost only $25—about the price of a higher-end iPad in today’s money, which put it in the range of the well-off middle class. And it offered simplicity…

So much to my disappointment, I concluded that this was not Hinka, but some other woman posing on the front steps of what had been the Goldschmidt home in Oberlistingen.

Milton did not write much about Hinka, mentioning her only to say that several girls in the family were named for her (including my great-grandmother Hilda Katzenstein Schoenthal, who was the daughter of Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein and granddaughter of Hinka Alexander Goldschmidt). Milton obviously never met his grandmother Hinka, who never left Germany and died a year before Milton was born. And unlike the heroic war stories passed down about his grandfather Seligmann Goldschmidt, there were likely no such stories shared about his grandmother. Like women of those times, her life was not in the public sphere, but in the home. So all we know about her is when she was born, who she married, what children were born to her and raised by her, and when she died.

It’s thus not surprising that my heart wanted that to be a photograph of Hinka standing in front of her home, but alas, my brain knew otherwise. I do, however, have this photograph or drawing of Hinka, provided by David Baron and Roger Cibella, who is also her descendant:

Hinka Alexander Goldschmidt. Courtesy of David Baron and Roger Cibella

Cohen and Company Photograph: Is That My Grandfather?

Hello, everyone! I have returned from my break and am ready to dive back into my exploration of my Goldschmidt/Goldsmith relatives. But before I do, I want to share my second experience working with “Sherlock Cohn, the Photo Genealogist” aka Ava Cohn.

In the course of my genealogy research, many cousins have shared photographs with me, and fortunately almost all the time they can identify the people in the photographs. But occasionally I have received photographs with unidentified people in them, and sometimes those photographs just stay in my head and bother me. Who are those people? How can I figure out who they are?

This is one of those photographs, a photograph that belonged to my late cousin Marjorie Cohen, my father’s first cousin, the daughter of Stanley Cohen, my grandfather’s brother. The only person I was fairly confident I could identify in the photograph was Marjorie’s father Stanley, the man on the far left in the photograph.

Cohen & Company photograph

Here is a photograph on Stanley taken just a few years later when he was serving in World War I. You can see the resemblance to the man on the left.

Stanley Cohen World War I

The group photograph was taken in Philadelphia in front of the Cohen & Company Money Loan store, which was part of the pawnshop business started by my great-great-grandfather Jacob Cohen in Philadelphia in the 1850s and then carried on by many of his sons, including my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen, who ran this particular store. I wondered whether these five men were also grandsons of Jacob Cohen. I was particularly curious about whether my grandfather John Cohen was one of the men standing in front of the store.

When I connected this summer with my second cousin Marcy, the granddaughter of my grandfather’s other brother, Maurice Cohen, she sent me some photographs of Maurice and of Maurice’s sons, Buddy and Maurice, Jr.

Emanuel (Buddy), Maurice Sr., and Maurice, Jr.

My great-uncle Maurice Cohen, Sr.

I also had photographs of my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen, my great-uncle Stanley, and my grandfather John. Having had fabulous success with Ava Cohn, aka Sherlock Cohn, the Photo Genealogist, in the past, I decided to have Ava analyze these photographs to see if she could identify the people in the Cohen & Company photograph.

Emanuel Cohen, my great-grandfather

Eva Schoenthal and John Cohen, 1923

John and Eva Cohen
c. 1930

John Nusbaum Cohen c. 1894

Ava’s work is remarkable. Her attention to detail and the research she did to try and answer my questions is incredibly professional and thorough. Although she could not definitively identify all the people in the photograph, she certainly narrowed down the possibilities and made some very helpful and persuasive comments and suggestions. With her permission, I am going to summarize and excerpt from her report.

First, Ava analyzed whether the date that I’d been told was on the back of the photograph—April 1913—was accurate.  She based her analysis in part on the type and content of the photograph:

…the scan appears to me to be a brown color, indicating a platinum print (sepia color) used generally from 1880-1930. Platinum prints often fade and there is some fading of this photograph. However, after 1920 most photographs were gelatin silver prints that had crisper black and whites than the platinum prints, another indication that this photograph was taken before 1920. … The photograph was taken outside. Since one of the men is wearing a sweater, it is appropriate to say that the photograph was taken in a cooler month, but obviously not winter. This is consistent with the presumed date of April, 1913. 

Ava then analyzed the clothing worn by the people in the photograph, labeling them A through E from left to right:

  1. Person A is wearing a coat sweater with V-neckline, knit cuffs, two patch pockets and six buttons. This dates from the 1911-1912 period.
  2. All the men are wearing shirts with detached collars from around 1908 and skinny ties that were popular in 1912.
  3. Person B is wearing a high cut vest also with 6 buttons, a style found in ads from 1912.
  4. Persons C and E are wearing jackets that are slightly fitted at the waistline. Person D is wearing an older jacket that is less fitted.  The slightly fitted waist style of men’s jackets was popular from 1912-1915. Also in that time period men’s jackets had 1, 2 or 3 buttons as can be seen on the men’s jackets in the photograph.
  5. Person D is holding a soft felt Optimo shape Panama hat from about 1912.
  6. Persons A, B, D and E have their hair combed back in a pompadour style with no part. Men wore their hair in this manner in the 1912-1913 period. Person C has a variation of this style with a side part.

From these observations, Ava concluded that the date of April 1913 on the photograph was likely accurate.

Then using that date and her estimation of the age of the five individuals in the photograph, Ava deduced the likely birth year of each of the five:

A: 24 years old. Born circa 1889.

B: 15 years old. Born circa 1898.

C: 24-26 years old. Born circa 1887-1889.

D: 18-19 years old. Born circa 1894-1895

E: 25 years old. Born circa 1888.

As noted above, I was already reasonably certain based on other photographs that Person A was my great-uncle Stanley Cohen, Marjorie’s father, who was in fact born in 1889. Ava’s analysis further confirmed that conclusion by relying on the physical descriptions of Stanley in his draft registrations for World War I and World War II. The World War II registration indicated that Stanley was 5’9” tall, and from that fact Ava was able to compare him to the other men in the photograph to reach some conclusions about their heights.

Using this information as well as information from draft registrations, census records, directories, and other sources, Ava reached the following hypotheses about the other four people in the photograph:

B: Simon LB Cohen, born 1898.

C: Samuel S. Cohen, born 1887.

D: John Nusbaum Cohen, born 1895.

E: Morris N. Cohen, born 1887.

For person B, Ava noted that Simon LB Cohen was the only grandson of my great-great-grandfather Jacob Cohen who would have been that young (roughly 15) in 1913. I would love for that to be Simon because I know so much about what happened to him just a few years after this photograph was taken. Simon served valiantly in World War I, was seriously injured and presumed (mistakenly) killed in action, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his bravery. He died as a young man in 1934, perhaps as a consequence of his time in the war.

Croix de Guerre awarded to Simon LB Cohen in 1918

But we can’t be sure that this boy was even related to the Cohens (or that anyone in the photograph other than Stanley was). Perhaps they are just a bunch of friends. But if we assume that they are all Cohens and all grandsons of Jacob Cohen, then Simon LB Cohen is a likely candidate to be person B. Since there are no draft registration descriptions of Simon nor any photographs, it is impossible to know for sure whether this is Simon in the photograph.

I was also very intrigued by Ava’s hypothesis that persons C and E  could be the twin brothers, Morris and Samuel Cohen, sons of my great-grandfather’s older brother Joseph Cohen and grandsons of my great-great-grandfather Jacob Cohen. Morris and Samuel were born on August 22, 1887, in Cape May, New Jersey, but in 1910 they were living with their parents in Philadelphia, both working as salesmen in a department store, according to the 1910 census. Ava thought that although they were not identical, they did look like brothers and appeared to be about the same age—24 to 26 years old.

Ava’s analysis seemed very convincing, so I was motivated to search for descendants of Morris Cohen and Samuel Cohen to see if they had any photographs of the twin brothers. With the help of a good friend who knew one of Samuel’s grandchildren, I was able to make a connection. Unfortunately the grandchildren’s memory and photographs of their grandfather Samuel (displayed below) did not confirm that he was either Person C nor Person E in the photograph so I am back to square one in identifying those two men.

Samuel Cohen. Courtesy of his grandchildren

Samuel Cohen, courtesy of his grandchildren

But it was Person D I was most interested in, as I hoped he was my grandfather John Cohen, who would have been almost seventeen and a half in April 1913 and thus close to the age of Ava’s estimated age of Person D. Also, Ava pointed out that on his 1921 passport application, my grandfather’s height was reported to be 5’6” and that his World War I draft registration described him as short; certainly Person D is a shorter man than Persons A, C and E. Those two factors pointed to Person D being my grandfather.

John Cohen Sr. World War I draft registration

John N Cohen passport application page 2

But comparing Person D to the photographs of my grandfather created doubts for Ava (and myself) as to whether Person D was my grandfather. My grandfather had very distinctive eyes—very deep set and slanted down; Person D is squinting, making it hard to see his eyes, so it is hard to tell if they are the same as my grandfather’s eyes. Ava also pointed out that Person D has a widow’s peak whereas there does not appear to be a widow’s peak in the photographs of my grandfather.

Here is a closeup of Person D and then several of my grandfather—in 1921,1923 and 1930. In addition, Ava believes (and I agree) that the man holding a baby in the fifth photograph is probably my grandfather.  I know we see what we want to see, but the more I study these, the more I think Person D might be my grandfather. The loss of the widow’s peak could be from his obviously receding hairline. Look at the difference between 1921 and 1923. In 1930 he is wearing a hat—perhaps to hide his balding?

One other thing I noticed in the photographs of my grandfather—he had attached earlobes. Unfortunately when I zoom into the Cohen & Company photo, it’s hard to tell whether Person D also has attached earlobes.

 

 

John Cohen in 1921

John Cohen in 1923

John Cohen, 1930

Could this be my grandfather John Cohen? And who is the baby?

I now believe that Person D is my grandfather, but I know that that’s what I am hoping for so I don’t trust my judgement. Ava was not certain, but thought it was possible.

What do you think?

Although it was not possible for Ava to identify all of the people in the group photograph, she certainly narrowed the field and provided solid and convincing reasons for her conclusions. Thank you, Ava, for a wonderful job on this extremely difficult project!

 

 

The Life of Frieda Bensew Loewenherz, Part I: 1885-1912

In the last post I published before Thanksgiving, I wrote about the two daughters of Breine Mansbach and Jacob Bensew, Roschen and Frieda. They were my grandmother’s second cousins, my second cousins, twice removed. They were the great-granddaughters of Seligmann Goldschmidt and Hinka Alexander, my three-times great-grandparents.

After publishing that post on November 16, I received a wonderful treasure trove of pictures and documents and information from Frieda Bensew’s great-grandson, Franz Loewenherz, my fourth cousin, once removed. Among those shared items was an almost 60 page memoir written by Frieda in 1970 when she was in her eighties (with an addendum written in 1972).

Reading that memoir moved me to tears—not because Frieda had a hard or sad life. To the contrary. She wrote about a life filled primarily with love and happiness—parents who adored her, a marriage filled with deep love, an adoring son and his family, and an extended family that she cared for and about and who cared for and about her. Of course, there were heartbreaking losses and difficult challenges, but throughout her memoir, Frieda’s love of live and her gratitude for all she was given came shining through.

With the permission of her great-grandson Franz, I want to share some of this memoir and also photographs of Frieda, her husband Emanuel Loewenherz, and their son Walter.  Not only is this a touching life story, it has value not only for what it reveals of family history but for its insights into the times in which Frieda lived.

As noted in my earlier post, Frieda was the youngest child of Breine Mansbach and Jacob Bensew, born February 21, 1886, in Melsungen, Germany.1 Here are two photographs of Frieda as a young child, one with her brothers Max and Heine and one alone:

Heine, Frieda, and Max Bensew, c. 1890. Courtesy of Franz Loewenherz

Frieda Bensew c. 1890. Courtesy of Franz Loewenherz

Her memoir gives a sense of her happy childhood in Melsungen:

[Melsungen] was situated in a valley on the river Fulda, surrounded by beautiful woods. A climb of 15 minutes from my home would take me into the thick of them. Oak, Linden and Pine exuded that spicy fragrance remembered for all time. Of course in the summer when school was out this was my favorite outing. But I had also some duties to perform, not just picnic, and that was berry picking! With my friends I would start out in the morning, provided with sandwiches and a pail. It was blueberry time and our ambition was to come home with a full pail. Sitting under trees in a blueberry patch, with the sun filtering down, bees humming around us, we often had a very extended lunch hour! Our dessert were berries eaten right from the bushes. We had to hurry to finish our work as we had to be home before sundown, picking wild flowers on the way. My mother would be pleased with the crop to be used for cake, preserves and jelly. She was not so pleased with the condition of my white undies, full of squashed blueberry stains!!

Winter’s great recreation was ice skating on the river. The ice was so clear, it looked green and one could see the plant life beneath it, moving according to the current. The surface was like glass and I took many tumbles! In those days there were no snow or skating outfits. I wore woolen petticoats, long knitted black wool stockings, flannel pants. When I got home my petticoats and dress usually would stand out like a ballerina’s lampshade – frozen stiff! My mother would receive me with a warm drink and a piece of black bread after getting into dry clothes and warming myself at the stove. There were many simple pleasures, another sledding down a hill or when my father would take me along in the sleigh drawn by our horse, with hot bricks at our feet. The floor of the sleigh covered thick with straw. When we stopped at a village inn, my father would let me take a sip of his grag!

Frieda Bensew c. 1898
Courtesy of Franz Loewenherz

Frieda seemed to have a special relationship with her uncle, Julius Mansbach, her mother Breine’s brother who had, like all of Breine’s siblings, immigrated to the United States. But Julius returned to Germany and visited Frieda when she was fourteen years old or in about 1900.

My happiest recollections are, from the time I was 14 when my Uncle Julius, my mother’s youngest brother, came to visit us from America. He took me along on so many day trips to historical places, one of them the famous Wartburg, where Martin Luther was imprisoned and where he translated the Bible. And, of course, it is the setting of Wagner’s opera “Tannhaeuser.” I learned history on authentic grounds. With my uncle I saw my first American circus! Barnum and Bailey, with Buffalo Bill and his wild-west show were touring Germany then and we saw the performance in Kassel. The clowns told their jokes in English, naturally, and my uncle would translate them to me. The three ring performances left me breathless, as did the riding skill of the Indians. This was an unforgettable summer. I was so grateful to my uncle, not alone for providing so many pleasures of various kinds for me but he also was the one who taught me quite a few English expressions and the first rudiments of the language.

Frieda’s ongoing relationship with Julius as well as her uncle Louis Mansbach and grandmother Sarah Goldschmidt Mansbach as well as her use of English can be seen in the postcard she sent on September 21, 1902. The photograph is of Frieda and, I believe, her uncle Julius, probably taken while he was visiting the family in Melsungen.

Courtesy of Franz Loewenherz

Some wonderful people in the Jekkes Engaged Worldwide in Social Networking group on Facebook helped me transcribe and translate the German parts of the card:

On the right side: Dated 21-9-02 (September 21, 1902) from Melsungen:

Dearest Grandmama [Sarah Goldschmidt Mansbach] and Uncle Julius [Mansbach],

Unsere Karte von Cassel aus habt Ihr bei dieser Zeit hoffentlich erhalten, morgen ist es wieder ein heisser+ nasser Tag, wo Willi + Heine uns verlassen. Was denkt Ihr vom nebenstehendem Bild? Ist es nicht beautiful? Ende dieser Woche erwarte ich sicher einen grossen Brief von dir, sowie die Ansichtskarte.

(Translated: I hope you have received our card from Cassel by this time. Tomorrow will again be a hot and wet day when Willi + Heine leave us. What do you think of the picture on the other side? Isn’t it beautiful? At the end of the week I expect a long letter from you as well as the picture postcard.)

With best love and kisses, your Fritz

I believe Fritz was Frieda’s nickname.

Underneath Frieda’s message in a different handwriting is this note from her brothers Willi and Heine:

Meine Lieben haltet den Jontef Cholent warm.

Translation: My dears, keep the holiday Cholent warm.

Willi & Heine

I believe that Willi and Heine were sailing to the US, Willi to return having lived in the US since 1885 and Heine coming for the first time: his naturalization card states that he arrived on September 30, 1902.2;I had to smile when I checked and saw that Rosh Hashanah that year started on the next night, October 1. So Willi and Heine must have spent the holidays with the family in Philadelphia. (For those who do not know, cholent is traditional Jewish dish—a stew that usually has meat and vegetables. Here is a typical recipe.)

Along the margin of the right side of the card, Frieda wrote:

Hast du die K. abgeliefert? Wenn nicht, bekommst du keine wieder von mir.

Translation: Did you deliver the K? [card, I assume] If not, you won’t get another from me.

The left side is mostly in English; at the top it says “Best regards to Uncle Louis, Aunt Cora, and Rebecca.” This would be referring to her mother’s brother Louis Mansbach and his family.

Under the picture it says: “Im “Fidelio” war es grossartig [“Fidelio was fabulous]. If you, dear uncle, come again, I will sing the “Arien” [arias] for you. Don’t stay long! Otherwise you are well.” I assume this was directed to her dear uncle Julius Mansbach.

Frieda received a good education at a school in Kassel and had a passion for music and art. And, as she wrote, she wanted to see the world, in particular, America. By the time she was 21 in 1907, all her brothers had immigrated to America, and she also decided to move across the world from her birth place:

It was only natural that I wanted to go to America. Most of our family lived here, from three generations back. My grandparents [Sarah Goldschmidt and Abraham Mansbach] had come to Philadelphia where most of their children lived and some in the west, in Colorado. My mother [Breine] was the only one who remained in Germany as she had a family and my father refused to leave. When the time came for me to investigate, I did so with the promise of my parents that they would follow after I had familiarized myself with my new surroundings. My disappointment was great when my father declared he changed his mind. They did not wish me to return, however, insisting that I had a right to my own life. That is how loving and understanding and unselfish they were.

This paragraph touched me deeply— thinking of Frieda’s courage and determination and her parents’ respect for it. And yet I also could feel how torn both she and they must have been about this separation.

And so, as I wrote before, Frieda left home in 1907 when she was 21 and joined her brothers and other family in the US. First, she settled in Denver where some of her brothers as well other Mansbach cousins were living, and once again she demonstrated her determination and independence:

After a few months of visits with my family in Denver I had acquired quite a vocabulary and felt able to enter an American School of business. There I studied besides English, correspondence, shorthand and light bookkeeping and typing. I knew German shorthand, and the switch was not easy. It required extreme concentration as, in addition, I did not know business language and form either. Well, I made it and kept step with my class, all American born. I finished even ahead of time and got my first job shortly after. And what was the requirement? German shorthand! The irony of it all! 90% of the dictation was in German and 10% in English.

From what I gathered in the memoir and from what I know from the 1910 census, this job was in Chicago, and as we saw, in 1910, Frieda’s brothers Julius, Max, and Heine were also living in Chicago. Frieda wrote about these days as a single young woman in Chicago with great joy—describing activities and trips she took with her friends and also a trip to Philadelphia to see her relatives. This trip probably took place in 1912 because Frieda notes that her cousin Reta Dannenberg was engaged, and Reta was married in December 1912:3

My Aunt Hannah [Mansbach Dannenberg] and Uncle and their three children made our visit of a few days most enjoyable, Rita the oldest was engaged, Arthur a medical student at the U. of Penn. And Katrinka, the youngest, showed us the sights. We had a lot of fun! Then on to New York. My uncle Julius-who was in this country on business from Germany (he had returned there a few years before with his wife, my cousin Frieda on account of her parents’ wishes) entertained us royally.

In this one paragraph I learned three things. First, that Frieda and presumably the other Bensews were very much in touch with their mother’s Mansbach relatives in the US. Secondly, that the Frieda Bensew who married Julius Mansbach was in fact related to this Frieda Bensew and her family (though I still don’t know how). And thirdly, I learned why Julius Mansbach had returned to live in Germany—to satisfy the wishes of his in-laws.

Frieda Bensew as a young woman. Date unknown. Courtesy of Franz Loewenherz

From New York, Frieda and a friend named Rose sailed to Germany where they spent the summer of 1912. Frieda was delighted to be with her parents and sister Roschen, but the separation at the end of that visit was difficult. Frieda wrote:

And then came the time to say good bye again. It was not easy – My parents were so kind and understanding.They realized that I had outgrown my old environment and that my opportunities for a fuller life were so much better in America, the land which I loved and do to this day. Perhaps, being foreign born, gave me even a deeper appreciation of the freedom and privileges so many seem to take for granted. My parents and I were grateful for the time we spent together and kept up a brave front at parting.

She stopped in Philadelphia on her way home and was invited to stay for her cousin Reta’s wedding that coming December. She had a wonderful long visit there, and then after the wedding she received a letter from her brother Julius about a new job opportunity in Chicago, so she left to start her new job. That decision was life-changing, as we will see in the next post.


All excerpts from Frieda Loewenherz’s memoir and all the photographs in this post are published with the permission of Franz Loewenherz, her great-grandson. My deep gratitude to Franz for his generosity.

 

 


  1.  Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; Wiesbaden, Deutschland; Bestand: 920; Laufende Nummer: 4574, Ancestry.com. Hesse, Germany, Births, 1851-1901 
  2.  “Illinois, Northern District Naturalization Index, 1840-1950,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939N-FGS7-2?cc=1838804&wc=M6TM-Q6X%3A165129401 : 20 May 2014), B-524 to B-550 Gustov Joseph > image 983 of 6652; citing NARA microfilm publication M1285 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.). 
  3. Ancestry.com. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marriage Index, 1885-1951, Marriage Year: 1912, Marriage License Number: 289763 

How Did I Lose Track of These Photographs?

I was cleaning up some files on my crowded hard drive, and I “discovered” a whole folder of photographs of the Goldschmidt family that had been sent to me by David Baron and Roger Cibella back in December, 2017.  How had I forgotten these? Some of these photographs are of members of the Goldschmidt family I’ve yet to write about and will be posted when I get to those branches (if I don’t forget about them again).

But those below are of the family of Abraham Goldsmith, about whom I’ve written extensively. Julian Reinheimer, my third cousin, once removed, and a direct descendant of Abraham through his daughter Cecelia, also sent me some photographs of Abraham and Cecelia and of some of the family graves in Philadelphia.  I am going to go back and insert these in the original posts about Abraham and his family, but I want to share them in this new post as well.  Thank you to Julian Reinheimer, David Baron, and Roger Cibella for sharing these wonderful photographs with me.

First, two of Abraham himself.

Abraham Goldsmith

Abraham Goldsmith

Then one of his first wife Cecelia Adler, who died in 1874 at age 38:

Cecelia Adler, Abraham Goldsmith’s first wife

This is Abraham’s son Edwin, the inventor, and his family: his wife Jennie Friedberger, older son Henry, daughter Cecile (named for her grandmother, pictured above), and younger son Edwin, Jr. From the ages of the children, I would guess this was taken in about 1910.

Edwin Goldsmith and family

And this is a photograph of Emily Goldsmith Gerson, Abraham and Cecelia’s daughter, who was an author, and who, like her mother, died too young. She was 49 when she died.

Emily Goldsmith Gerson

Finally, photographs of the gravestone for Abraham Goldsmith and those of his two wives, Frances Spanier on the left and Cecelia Adler on the right, as well as their daughter Hilda to the far right.  Behind their shared gravestone you can see the graves of their other children and grandchildren: Rose Goldsmith Stern and her husband Sidney Stern, Cecile Goldsmith Simsohn, and Estelle Goldsmith.

Now I need to go back and add these to my earlier posts.

Finding Buddy and Junior and a New Second Cousin!

I’ve been on a long break from blogging since July 13, and it was wonderful to be with the extended family on our long-loved beach. And although I was not doing much research during this time, a family research discovery fell in my lap.  I made an amazing connection with a second cousin—yes, a SECOND cousin! Someone I had never known about and not found despite years of research.

Actually, my newly discovered second cousin found me—through the blog, of course. Over three and a half years ago I posted this question: Who Is The Little Boy? with the following photographs:

The man on the left is my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen, and the woman next to him is my great-grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen. But I had no idea until last week who that little boy was. He resembled my father as a little boy, but he is not my father.  Here’s a photograph of my father at a similar age:

Doesn’t my dad resemble that little boy?

The little boy appeared in this photograph as well. I thought the man on the right was Stanley Cohen, my father’s uncle, my grandfather’s brother. But who was the man on the left? And who was the little boy?

And here he is again—same little boy with a man I believed might have been my grandfather or my great-uncle Maurice, but I was not sure.

So who was the little boy? The question had been left unanswered for three and a half years. Until last week.

My new cousin responded all these years later by telling me that the little boy was in fact her father—Maurice L. Cohen, Junior.  Maurice, who my father knew as Junior, was my father’s first cousin. He was born in 1917, making him nine years older than my father. Junior had a younger brother Buddy, born in 1922. They had both gone to camp with my father when he was a boy growing up in Philadelphia.  Junior and Buddy and their mother moved to California in around 1938 after their father Maurice L. Cohen Sr.’s death in 1931. My father never saw or heard from his cousins again.

In researching my Cohen family, I had not found anything more about Maurice, Jr., and my father thought he’d never married or had children. Well, it turned out that “Junior” had married and had a daughter, Marcy, who is my second cousin. And Marcy generously shared with me photographs and stories about her father, her uncle Bud, and even a photograph of her grandfather, who died long before she was born.

For one thing, I learned what drew the family to California. Junior had been attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania when he received a full scholarship to attend the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California. He decided to take advantage of the scholarship and moved to California to finish his education.  His mother Edna and younger brother Bud followed him to the West Coast (Bud was still in high school at the time), and none of them ever returned to live in Philadelphia again. Edna and Bud settled in Beverly Hills, and Bud eventually attended UCLA and later married. He and his wife Helga lived in Santa Monica and did not have children.

While at the College of the Pacific, Maurice, Jr., met his wife, Laverne “Nicky” Nicolas, who was from San Francisco. After completing college, Maurice served in World War II and then returned to California where he and Nicky settled in Sacramento. Their first child, Ronald Maurice Cohen, was born on June 2, 1943, and died just two and half months later on August 14, 1943. Marcy was born several years later. Maurice, Jr., was a budget analyst for the State of California until his retirement at age 65; he is reputed to have known more about California finances than anyone. He died on March 30, 1988, and his wife Nicky died five years later on May 1, 1993.

Here are some of the wonderful photographs that Marcy shared with me, bringing to life my father’s first cousins and their father Maurice, Sr., my great-uncle. Fortunately my father was with me when I received these photographs last week, and I had the great pleasure of sharing them with him and seeing his face light up with recognition when he saw the faces of Junior and Buddy, faces he had not seen in over 80 years.

Emanuel Philip “Buddy” Cohen, Maurice Cohen, Sr., and Maurice Cohen “Junior.”

My great-uncle Maurice Cohen, Sr.

Buddy and Junior Cohen, c. 1932, my first cousins, once removed.

Maurice L. Cohen, Jr., during World War II, US Navy

Emanuel Philip “Bud” Cohen

Maurice L Cohen, Jr.

Now that I know what Maurice, Sr., looked like, it’s clear to me that he is the man in the third photo above, standing with his son and namesake, Maurice, Jr.  I often express envy of those who have so many photographs of their ancestors and other relatives. And those people often tell me not to give up hope. This experience renewed my hope.

And I cannot tell you how happy I am to have connected with a second cousin after all these years. Thank you, Marcy, for finding me and for telling me who that little boy was!

Break Time

For the next two weeks I will be busy with family—not the ones I research, but the ones who are still here, eating, breathing, and sleeping. Four generations together.

I will be back by August 1, but in the meantime, I will try and keep up with all the other blogs if I get the chance.  It’s hard to find a quiet moment with this crew around!

I hope all of you are having a wonderful summer.  Here are some photos of my favorite beach. No ancestors lived here, but since 1962, I have spent at least a few days each summer somewhere on this beach. I’ve walked many times along the beach, finding sea glass and shells and heart-shaped stones; I’ve sat on this beach many, many hours with my family—first, as a child, then as a mother, and now as a grandmother. I’ve spent hot days in the warm bay waters, tossed in the waves. I’ve watched storms come in across the horizon, turn the water a dark green, and bring the waves crashing against the sea wall. I’ve watched the tide go in and go out, twice a day, every day. I’ve walked two dogs up and down this beach.  I’ve held my husband’s hand on this beach, my children’s hands, my grandsons’ hands.  I may have more happy family memories from times spent here than I have of any other place on earth.

Through the years….(sadly, I seem to have no pictures on the beach itself before my kids were born).

1983

1985

1987

1988

2010

2016

2016

2016

See you in August!

Earliest Memories

Before I return to the other children of my three-times great-uncle Abraham Goldsmith, one more post inspired indirectly by his son Milton.

My final post about Milton referred to the comment in his 1957 obituary in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent that Milton remembered when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. I noted that Milton was only four years old at that time. One of my readers commented that he also could remember a traumatic event from when he was four, and another reader shared her first memory from when she was two and a half. That made me think about the first specific event that I can remember in my own life. I have earlier vague memories, but this is the first clear memory of an event.

I was almost three years old at the time, and my family was spending the summer near Mahopac, New York, on a pond called Long Pond. My aunt and uncle were also there, as were my grandparents. We went to Long Pond for three summers when I was very young. My father and my uncle would return to New York City during the week for work and then come back to Long Pond on weekends. I learned to swim at Long Pond, and I mostly have very vague sense-memories of the place, reinforced by photographs and my uncle’s old home movies.

My mother, me and and my aunt summer 1953 at Long Pond

My cousin Jeff, my father, and me, Long Pond 1954

summer 1955 at Long Pond

 

But the one specific event that I remember very clearly from that third summer at Long Pond was the evening I followed my cousin Jeffrey into the woods. Jeff, who was nine that summer, was my childhood idol. He was six years older than I was and the oldest of the first cousins, all of whom adored him. I have written about Jeff before, here and here, for example. He was smart and funny and lovable; he could always make us all laugh.  My entire family was heartbroken when Jeff died from cancer fourteen years ago.

Jeff and me, 1955

That summer at Long Pond, Jeff was friendly with another boy his age whose family was also staying at Long Pond. I can’t remember that boy’s name, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s call him Joe. Joe had a younger brother who was about six. Let’s call him Sam. One evening after dinner, Jeff and Joe decided to take a walk in the woods near our cabins. I wanted to go with them. I remember Jeff very pointedly telling me that I was too little and that I could not come with them. I was hurt and sad and probably made a stink, but Jeff and Joe wandered off, leaving me behind with Sam, Joe’s six year old little brother.

Then Sam said that we could follow Jeff and Joe, and so off I went, just three years old, following a six year old after two nine year olds. (This was in the days before helicopter parenting.) Before too long, I tripped over a log and fell on a sharp piece of glass, cutting my wrist very close to the vein.

I have no real memory of what happened next. Did Jeff coming running back and rescue me? Did my parents hear my screams and coming running to see what happened? All I know is that someone took me to a doctor nearby, who put butterfly clamps on my wound. To this day, I still have a very nasty two-inch scar on my right wrist.

I was never really bothered by the scar, In fact, at times when I was growing up, it helped me differentiate right from left. My mother used to tell me that someday my husband would buy me a wide gold bracelet to cover the scar. But I almost never thought about it as a child, and now I rarely notice it; nor does anyone else.

When I do look at it these days, I feel very fortunate that I avoided what could have been a much more serious injury. But mostly I look at it and remember with love my cousin Jeff. He may only have been nine at the time, but he was right. I was too little to go walking in the woods in the dusky light of summer that evening.

Jeff and me

 

What is your earliest memory? How old were you?

 

Two Photos to Identify—Can You Help?

I am back…sort of! Still working on my first Goldschmidt posts, but before I dive into that matter, I have two wonderful new photographs to share, thanks to my cousin by marriage, Ulrike Michel.

Ulrike is married to my fourth cousin, once removed, Torsten Michel. Torsten and I are both descended from Bernard Schoenfeld and Rosina Goldmann, my fourth great-grandparents; Torsten’s great-great-grandmother Ziborah Schoenfeld was the sister of my three-times great-grandmother Babetta Schoenfeld, wife of Moritz Seligmann, my three-times great-grandfather.

 

I’ve not met Torsten, but when we were in Germany, we spent a day with Ulrike in Heidelberg, as I wrote about here. Ulrike is the family historian in their family, and she and I have been in touch for several years now.

Recently Ulrike found and shared with me two photographs. I am particularly excited by this one that Ulrike believes is Babetta Schoenfeld Seligmann:

 

Here is the only confirmed photograph I had of Babetta, and I do see a definite resemblance.  But is it the same woman? Or is it perhaps her sister Ziborah, Torsten’s direct ancestor? What do you think?

The second photo Ulrike sent me is this one.  She believes this could be Franziska Seligmann, granddaughter of Moritz Seligmann and Babetta Schoenfeld and my first cousin, three times removed:

 

Here are the photographs I’d previously found of Franziska:

Franziska Seligmann Michel

 

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

Again, there is a definite resemblance, but is it the same woman? What do you think?

One of the mysteries raised by this photograph is why the Michel family would have had a photograph of Babetta’s granddaughter, who lived from 1875-1933.  Was it simply because she was Ziborah Schoenfeld’s great-niece?

Or was there a second connection to the Michel family? Franziska married Adolf Michel, and I have no information about his background. But Ulrike is now researching to see if Adolf Michel was related to her husband’s Michel relatives. She and Wolfgang are meeting in a few weeks to compare notes and see whether there is an additional overlap between the Seligmanns, Schoenfelds, and Michels.

I’d love your feedback on the photographs. Let me know what you think.

Cousin Jane’s Parents

In my last post I shared the photograph of my second cousin, once removed, Jane Schlesinger Bruner—the woman my father called the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen when he met her the first time when he was a young boy.

Today I received this photograph of Jane’s parents—Sidney and Nan (Levis) Schlesinger.

Sidney and Nan (Levis) Schlesinger

Sidney and Nan (Levis) Schlesinger

I have already written about Sidney and Nan in my earlier posts, but just to recap here. Sidney was the fourth child and third son of Jacob Schlesinger and Brendina Katzenstein, my great-grandmother’s older sister.  He was born in Philadelphia in 1880 and lived his whole life there.  He was a successful furniture salesman.

In 1911, Sidney married Anna Levis, who was known as Nan. Nan was born in Philadelphia in 1886 to William Levis and Caroline Bopp; her father died when she was eleven years old. She had been working as a stenographer in a bolt factory before marrying Sidney.  Sidney and Nan’s daughter Jane was born in 1913.  She was their only child and the only grandchild of Jacob and Brendina Schlesinger.

Sidney died in 1935 when he was 54.  Nan survived him by forty years, dying at age 89 in 1975.  As I wrote earlier, she was the first member of my father’s family to meet my mother after my parents were engaged.

I am once again so grateful to Jane’s granddaughter for sharing this photograph and allowing me to see the faces behind the stories.