Thanksgiving in a Pandemic

I’ve been in a bit of a funk the last week or so. It’s COVID, it’s politics, it’s the weather. November is  hard for me. I hate when the trees lose their leaves, the grass turns brown, the sky turns gray, the temperature drops.

So I am going to take the advice of an old friend and list the top ten things that fill me with gratitude—in no particular order. I find when I focus on the things for which I am grateful, it makes me feel better. So here goes.

  1. I am thankful for my husband and my children and my grandchildren. They are the rocks in my life, the ones who get me from spot to spot, no matter how roiling is the water beneath our feet.
  2. I am thankful for my parents. My father is gone, and my mother is struggling. But they were a constant source of love and support in my life, and I hold all the memories close to my heart.
  3. I am thankful for the rest of my family, including all the cousins I’ve found on this genealogy journey. They all remind me how connected we all are—all humans—regardless of where we grew up or when or how.
  4. I am thankful for my three cats, whose ability to live in the moment and to provide constant companionship, affection, and comfort has been so very important during the last nine months.
  5. I am thankful for my friends—my friends from high school, from college, from law school, and from the community where I have lived since 1983. So many times in the last nine months I have turned to my friends—by Zoom, text, telephone, email. They have made me laugh, they have given me perspective, they have given me strength. I hope I’ve done the same for them.
  6. I am thankful for the genealogy village—those who read my blog, those who help me with my research and with translations, those in the Facebook groups who comment and help answer my questions. Family history research has been one way I’ve escaped from the anxiety of the pandemic. It has given me focus and a distraction and continues to keep my brain working.
  7. I am thankful for the good fortune I have to live in a comfortable house in a wonderful community of neighbors. In the course of our daily walks we’ve gotten to know our neighbors and their dogs and feel so fortunate to live where we live.
  8. I am thankful that I don’t have to worry about where my next meal will come from or whether I will be able to get adequate medical care or whether I will be harassed or injured because of my race. In a time when so much feels dangerous, I’ve learned more than ever to appreciate just how privileged I am.
  9. I am thankful for the beautiful world we live in. We’ve taken walks and hikes in places we never knew about before and in places that we’ve always loved—the beach and the woods, the mountains and the lakes. I learned early on that getting into a quiet place surrounded by nature was often the best thing to do to find solace and calm the noise in my head.
  10. I am thankful for science and for doctors and nurses and all the frontline workers in hospitals and grocery stores and elsewhere who are putting their lives on the line to do everything possible to keep us safe.

That’s my top ten. There are probably hundreds if not thousands more. What are yours?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I will be taking a break this week from my regular blog posts to celebrate Thanksgiving. I am as always thankful for so many things—especially my family and friends, including all my genealogy friends and readers.  This year I especially want to thank all the many Goldschmidt/Goldsmith cousins who have so generously shared with me their photographs, stories, and documents.  The list is long, and rather than risk forgetting someone, let me just say—to all who are descended from Seligmann Goldschmidt and Hinka Alexander, thank you so, so much for sharing and for connecting with me.

See you all in the blogosphere next week!

The American Civil War: Brother against Brother

One of the most puzzling things to me about that 1856 passenger ship manifest for the ship that brought my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein and his family to America was the entry for a sixteen year old boy named Heinemann Mansbach.  I am quite sure that this was Gerson’s nephew, son of Hannchen Katzenstein and Marum Mansbach, since the age matches the age Heinemann would have been in 1856 and the residence (Maden) matches the place where Marum and Hannchen Mansbach and their family lived.

Ship manifest close up Year: 1856; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 164; Line: 1; List Number: 589

Ship manifest close up
Year: 1856; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 164; Line: 1; List Number: 589

But why was Heinemann going to “Libanon,” which I assume referred to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, a town about 90 miles west of Philadelphia? In 1850, Lebanon had a population of 2,184.  By 1860, the population had more than doubled—to 4,449. Thus, if Heinemann was headed there in 1856, he was headed to a place that was in a period of remarkable growth.

It is in Lebanon County, and according to the county website, “The original German settlers tilled the valley’s fertile soil, creating an economic base that continues today and blends with the residential, commercial and industrial development presently occurring.  Also reflective of Lebanon County’s “Pennsylvania Dutch” heritage are its pastoral landscape, attractive farms and outstanding dairy and pork products, especially Lebanon Bologna.” Even today Lebanon County is thus not an urban area. I can’t find any explanation for the huge population growth between 1850 and 1860 except that it was a place where German immigrants settled.

Farmstead, Heidelberg Township, Lebanon County.

Farmstead, Heidelberg Township, Lebanon County. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I searched the 1860 census records for Lebanon for anyone in the Mansbach or Katzenstein family, but did not find anyone, so Heinemann obviously did not settle there for long.  But according to a profile written about him in the Piedmont Herald (West Virginia) newspaper in April 1893 (when he was known as H.H. Mansbach), Heinemann did spend some time in Lebanon to learn English.  I’ve no idea why he had to go to Lebanon to learn English, as opposed to living with his brother Abraham and the Katzensteins in Philadelphia.  The same profile, however, did say that he had early in his years in the US also lived in Philadelphia and Baltimore as well in Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia.[1]

When the Civil War came, Heinemann enlisted in the Confederate Army in Macon, Georgia, in March, 1861, using the name Henry H. Mansbach.

harry-h-mansbach_s-confederate-page-001 harry-h-mansbach_s-confederate-page-002

According to the 1893 Piedmont Herald profile, Henry served four years in the Confederate Army.  His obituary in the Norfolk-Ledger Dispatch (April 1, 1912) reported that he had been wounded twice during the war, first in the Battle of Shiloh (Tennessee) and then in the Battle of Murfreesboro (Tennessee).

The Battle of Shiloh occurred in April, 1862, in western Tennessee. described the battle as follows:

Also known as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, the Battle of Shiloh took place from April 6 to April 7, 1862, and was one of the major early engagements of the American Civil War (1861-65). The battle began when the Confederates launched a surprise attack on Union forces under General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-85) in southwestern Tennessee. After initial successes, the Confederates were unable to hold their positions and were forced back,resulting in a Union victory. Both sides suffered heavy losses, with more than 23,000 total casualties, and the level of violence shocked North and South alike.

Chromolithograph of the Battle of Shiloh, Amer...

Chromolithograph of the Battle of Shiloh, American Civil War (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whatever injuries Henry Mansbach suffered in this battle did not keep him from continuing to serve in the Confederate Army.  Not too long after the Battle of Shiloh, he was injured in the battle at Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

There were actually two battles at Murfreesboro, the first in July, 1862. The National Park Service website provides more insight into the battle:

The major objective was to strike Murfreesboro, an important Union supply center on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, at dawn on July 13. The Murfreesboro garrison was camped in three locations around town and included detachments from four units comprising infantry, cavalry, and artillery, under the command of Brig. Gen. Thomas T. Crittenden who had just arrived on July 12.  Between 4:15 and 4:30 am on the morning of July 13, Forrest’s cavalry surprised the Union pickets on the Woodbury Pike, east of Murfreesboro, and quickly overran a Federal hospital and the camp of the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment detachment.  Additional Rebel troops attacked the camps of the other Union commands and the jail and courthouse. By late afternoon all of the Union units had surrendered to Forrest’s force. The Confederates destroyed much of the Union supplies and tore up railroad track in the area, but the main result of the raid was the diversion of Union forces from a drive on Chattanooga.

The second battle at Murfreesboro, also known as the Battle of Stones River, was in December, 1862. It has been described as one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.  The website described it as follows:

On December 31, Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s 35,000 troops successfully attacked the 42,000-strong Union force commanded by Major General William Rosecrans. Union troops withstood the assault, but retreated to a defensive position, which they would hold against repeated attacks over the next two days. On January 2, 1863, another Confederate assault was repelled by overwhelming Union artillery fire, forcing Bragg to order a Southern retreat. With approximately 23,000 total casualties, Stones River was one of the deadliest battles of the war. Rosecrans claimed victory and the battle provided a much-needed boost to Union morale following their defeat at Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Illustration of the Battle of Stones River, wh...

Illustration of the Battle of Stones River, which occurred on December 31, 1862 and January 2-3, 1863. Commanding the forces were General Rosecrans for the Union and General Bragg for the Confederacy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t know in which of these two battles Henry H. Mansbach participated and was injured, perhaps both.

Although it was surprising to me that I had a cousin who fought for the Confederacy, what made it particularly disturbing was knowing that Henry’s brother, Abraham, had enlisted on September 11, 1862, in Company E of the Pennsylvania 3rd Infantry Regiment and thus was serving on the Union side just a few months after his brother was injured in battle for the Confederacy in Tennessee.

Although Abraham’s unit was discharged two weeks later, and I’ve no idea whether he joined another unit, just the idea that two brothers had enlisted on opposite sides of the war is mind-boggling.  I’ve read that this happened in many families—especially where families lived in border states like Maryland or Kentucky.  But here we have two young men who had only recently come to the US and who voluntarily joined opposing sides of the war.

I wondered what the long term implications of that were for them and for their families. I decided to search a little more deeply into the post-Civil War lives of Henry Mansbach and Abraham Mansbach. What I learned will be discussed in my next post, after Thanksgiving.

May all of you who celebrate have a wonderful Thanksgiving! Let’s all hope for and work for better things to come in this country and this world. And let’s hope we can find a way to understand each other better so that we never have brothers fighting for opposing sides in a war ever again.


[1] I thank John Fazenbaker from FindAGrave for publishing images from the Piedmont Herald and the Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch about H.H. Mansbach as well as the many headstone photographs he took and posted on FindAGrave.

Thanksgiving: More Gifts, More Gratitude

cemetery sign for Mikveh Israel

It’s been a week or so of amazing gifts.  First there was the package from Gau-Algesheim with the records and book relating to my Seligmann ancestors and the amazing help I received from Ralph Baer and Matthias Steinke with translation of these items.

Then a day or so after the Gau-Algesheim package arrived, I received a gift from my third cousin once removed Todd Graham.  Todd is the great-great-great-grandson of Jacob Cohen, my great-great-grandfather.  Todd wrote to tell me that he had been to the Federal Street cemetery in Philadelphia where many of our mutual Cohen ancestors are buried and that he had taken photographs.  He asked if I wanted to see the photos, and I said of course.  So here are the photographs I received from Todd.

First is a photograph of where our ancestor Hart Levy Cohen is buried.  There is no stone visible, and the rabbi at the cemetery explained to Todd that they believed that the stone had sunk beneath the surface and was buried underground.  I have written to the rabbi and asked whether there is anything we can do to uncover the stone or to mark the gravesite in some other way.

Burial Site of Hart Levy Cohen

Burial Site of Hart Levy Cohen

This photo shows where Hart’s children Lewis and Elizabeth are buried.  Again, the stones are not visible, but this is the location of their graves.


Burial sites for Elizabeth Cohen and Lewis Cohen (Hart's children)

Burial sites for Elizabeth Cohen and Lewis Cohen (Hart’s children)

Todd also took photographs of the stone for Jacob and Sarah Cohen.  Although I had a photo of this stone before from Rabbi Albert Gabbai, I am hoping that these will be easier to read so that I can learn what the Hebrew inscription says.

Jacob and Sarah Cohen monument Jacob Cohen headstone by Todd Jacob Cohen monument by Todd jacob headstone edit 1


Todd also found the stones for three of Jacob’s children.  First, a new photograph of the headstone for my great-grandparents Emanuel and Eva (Seligman) Cohen and my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr.

Headstone for Emanuel, Eva and John Cohen

Headstone for Emanuel, Eva and John Cohen

Side of Emanuel Eva and John by Todd

Next are photographs of the headstones for Emanuel’s brother Reuben and his wife Sallie Livingston Cohen and of their son Jacob Livingston Cohen.

Reuben and Sallie Livingston Cohen

Reuben and Sallie Livingston Cohen

Jacob Livingston Cohen

Jacob Livingston Cohen


And finally, this is a photograph of the headstone for Todd’s great-great-grandparents Lewis and Carrie (Dannenbaum) Cohen and his grandparents William and Helen (Cohen) Bacharach.  Lewis Cohen was also the brother of my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen.

Bacharach and Cohen headstone

Bacharach and Cohen headstone

Thank you so much, Todd, for these photographs, and I hope that we can do something to honor the graves of Hart, Lewis, and Elizabeth Cohen.

There is one more gift I want to acknowledge, and it came totally unsolicited and from a total stranger.  About two weeks ago I received a comment on the blog from someone who had found a set of matches on a website selling vintage items.  The matches were for a business called Selinger Associates at an address in Washington, DC.  Kimberly Crosson, the woman who commented on the blog, had purchased these matches and was now asking me whether this business was connected to the Selingers on my blog.  I was skeptical at first, I must admit.  I thought it was some kind of scam or spam.  But I emailed Kim and found out that not only was she not looking to make money, she was incredibly kind-hearted and generous and just wanted to get the matches to someone in the family—for no charge.

I checked the address and found that this was Eliot Selinger’s business.  Then I tracked down a descendant of Eliot Selinger and asked him if he was interested in the matches, and he was, so I put him in touch with Kim so that she could send him the matches.  I asked only for some pictures of the matches, so here is what Kim sent to me.  You can tell these are from a different era once you see the picture on the matches.

Selinger matches cover Selinger matches reverse


So once again, let me express my thanks to all these generous people, especially Todd and Kim for these photos, but to all who have helped and continue to help me with my research. I could never have done all this on my own.

And now I will be taking a short break from blogging for Thanksgiving.  May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and thank you all for supporting me and providing me with so much help as I continue to learn about the lives of my ancestors.






There has been more than enough media attention paid to the fact that Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving this year.  There have been menu suggestions, historical comparisons, mathematical calendar explanations, and rabbinic messages regarding the coincidence.  It’s all been fun and interesting, but in the end nothing too serious since it only will happen this year for any of us living today and for hundreds of generations to come.  (Apparently the next time it happens will be almost 80,000 years from now.)  It’s a once in many lifetimes coincidence with no deeper hidden meaning.  And yet here I am, looking for meaning.

Aside from planning to have latkes with the turkey, I hadn’t given this whole thing much thought myself, but now that the two events are about to occur, I have been thinking about what this means to me.  Both holidays celebrate freedom and specifically freedom of religion.  The Pilgrims left England and came to the New World to be able to practice their own form of Christianity; the Maccabees fought the Syrian army in order to be able to practice Judaism. When we light the menorah, we not only celebrate the miracle of the oil lasting eight days. we also celebrate the miracle that we have survived—not only then, but every time before and after that time when some army, some nation, some maniac tried to exterminate the Jewish people.  It is indeed a miracle that we, the Jewish people, are here.

Although Thanksgiving has no particular miracle associated with it (aside from the miracle that at least for a short time, the settlers were not trying to kill the natives who lived here first), we celebrate the miracle of America—its bounty, its beauty, and its identity as a place of refuge not only for the Pilgrims, but for all the immigrants who came later to escape religious, political or economic oppression.  This year when we eat the turkey and light the candles, I will be grateful not only for what I have now, but for all those who came before me.  I will think of Joseph and Bessie and be grateful for their courage and determination.  It is in many ways a miracle that they were able to come here with their children and survive with few resources or skills other than hard work, determination, hope, and love.  I am so thankful for all they did and for everything their descendants—my grandparents and my parents —have done to provide me with the life I live today.  It is indeed a miracle that we, all of our family members, all of the descendants, are here.

Of course, this year I am also grateful to have found all of you, my long-lost cousins, and for all my relatives everywhere.  Enjoy this crazy coincidence of Thanksgivukah in whatever way you celebrate it, and let’s hope for continuing miracles in our lives and the lives of all people everywhere.  It is indeed a miracle that we are here.