Henry and Isidore:  The Schoenthal Brothers in Little Washington 1890-1910

Now that I have a better feel for my great-great-uncle Henry Schoenthal and the man he was, I will return to telling his story and that of the extended Schoenthal family with a fresh perspective.  In this post, I will cover the 1890s and the first decade of the 20th century in Washington, Pennsylvania.

Old Fairgrounds Washington, PA 1897 http://www.washingtonpa.us/washingtons-past/

Old Fairgrounds Washington, PA 1897

My great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal had arrived in Washington, Pennsylvania in 1881, twenty-five years after his older brother Henry.  By 1890, Isidore had married my great-grandmother Hilda Katzenstein, and they were settled in Washington, Pennsylvania, with their first son Lester.   Their second child, Gerson, was born in 1892.  Although there were several family members just 30 miles away in Pittsburgh, the only other Schoenthal family member in Washington was Henry and his family.  Henry and his wife Helen nee Lilienfeld had three children; in 1890, Hilda was sixteen; Lionel, thirteen, and Meyer, seven.

Henry continued to own a book and stationery store in Washington, as this ad from the 1892 yearbook for Washington and Jefferson College indicates:

Ancestry.com. U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

Ancestry.com. U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

In October 1895, Henry’s store suffered $10,000 worth of damage from a fire that also damaged two adjoining stores.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, October 29, 1895, p.4

Pittsburgh Daily Post, October 29, 1895, p.4


Two years later Henry sold his store:

Daily Republican (Monongahela, PA), January 6, 1897, p.1

Daily Republican (Monongahela, PA), January 6, 1897, p.1


As the news article reveals, Henry was by then involved in the Washington Glass Company, which had been chartered in September 1896 with Henry as one of the founding directors.

Henry Schoenthal Washington Glass Company

Henry is listed in the 1897 Washington city directory as the secretary and treasurer of the Washington Glass Company.

Along with steel and coal mining, glass manufacturing apparently was one of the principal industries in Washington County and in western Pennsylvania generally.  Among the major glass manufacturing companies that existed in the area while my family was living in Washington County were Duncan & Miller Glass Company, founded in 1865 and operating in some capacity until 1980, and Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, founded in 1883 and still in existence today.  Here are an illustration of a product made by Duncan & Miller and also a photograph of its factory in Washington, PA.

Duncan and Miller ruby pitcher By Nomoreforme at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Duncan and Miller ruby pitcher
By Nomoreforme at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

According to Glass & Pottery World, Volume 4, (January 1, 1896, Trade Magazine Assocation), Washington Glass Manufacturing Company “was a new company, just commencing the manufacture of lamp shades, globes, chimneys, and specialties.  A. W. Pollack is president, Henry Schoenthal, secretary, and C.N.L Brudenwald, general manager.  They occupy the plant of the old Washington factory, and are all prominent men and have the prospect of success before them.”

1897 was a big year for Henry in other ways.  He and Helen celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary that year.

Pittsburgh Daily Post May 16, 1897 p. 10

Pittsburgh Daily Post May 16, 1897 p. 10

Thanks to Carly at the Heinz History Center at the University of Pittsburgh, I now finally have a photograph of Henry Schoenthal and of his family.  The photo was taken in 1897 on the occasion of Henry and Helen’s 25th anniversary and was used again in 1922 when they celebrated their 50th anniversary.  It is on file with the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center.

Henry certainly was a prominent man.  He was described this way in the Beers biography written in 1893: “Henry Schoenthal … by a life of plodding industry and judicious economy, coupled with keen foresight and characteristic prudence, has risen to no small degree of prominence as one of the well-to-do and progressive citizens of Washington borough.”  He was a member of four secret societies: A. F. & A. M., Heptasophs, Royal Arcanum, and Protected Home Circle as well as president of the local B’nai Brith lodge and a founding member of Beth Israel, the synagogue.

Prospect Avenue, Washington, PA 1890 http://www.washingtonpa.us/washingtons-past/

Prospect Avenue, Washington, PA 1890

I am not sure exactly what my great-grandfather Isidore was doing for a living in the early part of the decade, but by 1897 he was listed in several business categories in the Washington directory: cutlery, china, glassware, lamps, and house furnishings.  I assume that his lamps and glassware were at least in part the products of his brother’s company.

Isidore Schoenthal

Isidore Schoenthal

On the 1900 census, Henry described himself as a china merchant.  All three of his children were still single and living at home.  Lionel, 23, was a merchant and a violinist. He had graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in 1899 with a Bachelor of Science and had also participated in the Glee Club and played the violin in the Mandolin Club.

Old Main of Washington & Jefferson Colege, Was...

Old Main of Washington & Jefferson Colege, Washington, Pennsylvania, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the new courthouse was dedicated in Washington in November 1900, Lionel led a twelve piece string orchestra at the festivities.

Washginton County Courthouse By Canadian2006 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Washginton County Courthouse
By Canadian2006 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Henry and Helen’s younger son Meyer was sixteen in 1900 and was working as a china salesman.  Their daughter Hilda and her mother Helen were not employed outside the home.

My great-grandfather also listed himself as a merchant on the 1900 census.  His children Lester and Gerson were now eleven and eight years old, respectively. A third child, their son Harold, was born in Washington on August 28, 1901.  In the 1903 directory for Washington, Pennsylvania, Isadore and Hilda were living at 47 South College Street, and Isadore’s store was at 106 South Main Street; he was selling china, glassware, and house furnishings. He even had a telephone.

Sometime between 1900 and 1903, Henry’s older son Lionel married Irma Silverman; he seemed to be in a business competing to some extent with his uncle Isidore, as he was also selling china as well as books, stationery, toys, and fancy goods. Lionel had phones both in his store and at his residence.

In 1903, his father Henry was living at 203 East Beau Street with his wife Helen and their other two children, Hilda and Meyer, both of whom were working as clerks for their brother Lionel.  Henry was now an agent for New York Life Insurance Company.

Schoenthals 1903 directory 1

1903 directory for Washington, PA Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

1903 directory for Washington, PA
Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

On March 4, 1904, my great-grandparents had their fourth child and first and only daughter, my grandmother Eva.  She was a truly beautiful baby.

My Grandma Eva

My Grandma Eva

In 1905, another child joined the family.  Henry and Helen’s son Lionel and his wife Irma had a baby girl on March 22, whom they named Florence.

Aside from these new babies in the family, nothing much changed between 1903 and 1905, as seen in the Washington directory for 1905.

1905 directory for Washington, PA Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

1905 directory for Washington, PA
Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

My great-grandfather was still selling china and glassware, now at 15 North Main Street, and the family had moved to 196 Allison Avenue; Lester, however, was living at the 47 South College Street.  He would have been seventeen years old; the directory says he was a student, so I assume he was living at and attending Washington and Jefferson College.

Henry was still living at 203 East Beau Street and working for New York Life; Hilda and Meyer were still living at home, and Lionel was living with his wife and child elsewhere in town.  Lionel was still running his store, as described above.

North Main Street, Washington, PA http://www.washingtonpa.us/washingtons-past/

North Main Street, Washington, PA

But things did not stay the same after that.  My great-grandparents may have thought that they were permanently settled in the comfortable surroundings of Washington, Pennsylvania, with Henry and his family close by and other relatives not too far away.  But their son Gerson had developed asthma, and the doctors had recommended that they move to a drier climate.  So by 1907 Isidore and Hilda and their four children had moved all the way to Denver, Colorado.  The 1907 Denver directory only has a listing for Isidore and their residence without an occupation, but in 1908 there is a listing for Lester as a bookkeeper.  Isidore still has no occupation listed.  In 1909, however, he is listed as working as a clerk for the Carson Crockery Company, a well-established distributor of fine china.

Carson Crockery

By 1910, he was the manager of the crockery store, according to the census report and this advertisement I found in the December 15, 1911 edition of the Denver Post (p.2).


isidore schoenthal mgr carsons

My great-uncle Lester, now 21, was a hospital apprentice for the US Navy. His brother Gerson, now 18, had a clerical position in an office.  All four children were still living with their parents.  Harold was nine, and my grandmother was six years old.

Things were also changing back in Pennsylvania for my great-great-uncle Henry Schoenthal and his family.  As Hilda wrote in her biography of her father, her brother Lionel moved to New York where he worked for Gimbels.  On the 1910 census he listed his occupation as a china buyer.  His parents moved to New York City to be near him in March, 1909, according to Hilda, and in 1910 they were living with Lionel, his wife Irma, and their daughter Florence. Henry was still working as an agent for New York Life.
The former New York Life Insurance Company Bui...

The former New York Life Insurance Company Building, also known as the Clock Tower Building, at 346 Broadway between Catherine and Leonard, was expanded from the original building by Stephen Decatur Hatch and McKim, Mead & White, between 1894 and 1899. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I found a detailed biography of Henry and Helen’s other son Meyer written in 1922, which reported on Meyer’s early life as well as his adult life:

The public schools of his native city afforded Meyer L. Schoenthal his early education, and after leaving school he gained most valuable experience through his association with his father and older brother in the china and glass business and the manufacturing of glassware. With these lines of enterprise he continued his active connection at Washington, Pennsylvania, until 1907, when he was called to Belleville, Illinois, to assume charge of the promotion of a theater enterprise. He remained there one year, and met with success in effecting the erection and equipment of a modern theater, and for the ensuing two years he represented New York manufacturers in .the Middle West. In 1910 he married, and in the same year he and his wife established their home at Los Angeles, California…

(John Brown, Jr. and James Boyd, History of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, Volume III, the Western Historical Association, 1922, The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, ILL. Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011)

In 1910, Meyer married the former Mary McKinnie, as seen in this news clipping from The Daily Post (Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, January 10, 1910), p. 1:

The Daily Notes (Canonsburg, PA, January 10, 1910). p. 1

The Daily Notes (Canonsburg, PA, January 10, 1910). p. 1

The Washington Seminary was a Presbyterian seminary for women.  I wonder what Henry Schoenthal thought of his son Meyer marrying a young woman who was not Jewish and from so far away.  The 1910 census reports that Meyer and Mary Schoenthal were living in Los Angeles, and Meyer was working as a manager for an investment company.

I could not locate Hilda Schoenthal, Henry and Helen’s daughter, on the 1910 census, but she appears in the 1911 directory for Washington, DC, working as a stenographer.

Thus, by 1910 all of Henry Schoenthal’s family had left Little Washington as had the family of my great-grandfather Isidore.   In both cases it was their children who had provided the reason for the move.  Isidore and Hilda moved to find a better place for their son Gerson.  Henry and Helen moved to be closer to their son Lionel.  Little Washington must have been too small to provide sufficient opportunities for the next generation.

They all had left before the big centennial celebration in Washington, commemorating its founding in 1810.

There were, however, representatives of the extended family still there: the sons of Jacob Schoenthal, the Schoenthal brother who never left Germany.  More on them in a later post. First, I need to catch up with the members of the family who were living in Pittsburgh as the 19th century moved into the 20th.












A Brief History of Jews in Western Pennsylvania: 1840-1900

Pittsburgh 1874 By Otto Krebs [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pittsburgh 1874
By Otto Krebs [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the questions I had when I started researching my Schoenthal relatives and their lives in western Pennsylvania was what kind of Jewish community existed in that region during the second half of the 19th century.  Learning more about my great-great-uncle Henry Schoenthal made me even more curious about that community.   I now have found two resources that help answer that question.

Susan Melnick, who is doing a project on the history of Jews in western Pennsylvania, told me about Jacob Feldman’s The Jewish Experience in Western Pennsylvania: A History 1755-1945 (1986, The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania), and I ordered a copy.  According to Feldman, although there were a number of Jews who traveled to the Pittsburgh area to transact trade and a few who even briefly settled in the region or purchased land there for investment in the mid-1700s, there was no established Jewish community in the region until the 19th century.  In fact, Jews were slow to move to Pittsburgh even in the first half of the 19th century even though the Jewish population of the US was growing as many more Jewish immigrants arrived from Europe.  Jews were settling in places like Cleveland, Cincinnati, and New Orleans, but not in Pittsburgh because it was at that point less accessible.  Although Pittsburgh was itself growing as the coal industry and manufacturing developed, there was no real Jewish community in western Pennsylvania’s largest city or elsewhere in the region as of 1840.  (Feldman, pp. 3-12)

Slowly in the early 1840s, Jewish peddlers and merchants began to arrive in Pittsburgh, and some settled there.  But as Feldman wrote, “Certainly, this tiny group of Jews could not muster a minyan, a quorum of ten men aged thirteen and over, for the religious services they held in private homes unless a few itinerant peddlers or visitors also were stopping off in town.” (Feldman, p. 16)

As transportation to and from Pittsburgh improved after 1845, the Jewish population grew, with most of the men engaged in sales of dry goods.  By 1848 Jews had organized a cemetery (Troy Hill), a mourner’s society, and a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Shaare Shamayim. Feldman estimated that by 1850 there were 35 Jewish men in Pittsburgh, three times the number of Jews that had been there just three years earlier—before the cemetery and synagogue had been founded.   These were predominantly immigrants from Germany, Lithuania, and Russia.  They were engaged primarily in making and selling clothing as well as sales of dry goods. (Feldman, 17-20)

Photo courtesy of Lisa Albanese

Troy HIll cemetery Photo courtesy of Lisa Albanese

The arrival of the railroad in the 1850s led to another substantial increase in Pittsburgh’s overall population and economy, and poor economic conditions in Germany also led to an increase in the number of Jewish immigrants leaving Germany and arriving in western Pennsylvania, including my cousins Marcus and Mina (Schoenthal) Rosenberg and Simon and Fanny (Schoenthal) Goldschmidt (later Goldsmith).  Pittsburgh was also experiencing some significant industrial development, including the beginnings of a glass manufacturing industry.  Jews expanded beyond the dry goods and clothing fields to sales of liquor and of livestock.  Many were drovers, like Amalie Schoenthal’s husband, Elias Wolfe. (Feldman, 21-23)

As the Jewish population grew, so did the number of Jewish institutions in Pittsburgh, including a benevolent society to help new arrivals, a burial society, a kosher butcher, and a new synagogue.  A  number of members split from the first synagogue, Shaare Shamayim, and formed Rodef Shalom in 1855.  The population could not support two separate congregations, however, and as more and more members joined Rodef Shalom, Shaare Shamayim suffered and in 1860 merged with Rodef Shalom, which became the name of the surviving synagogue.  In 1861, the cornerstone was laid for a synagogue building, which would be the first building owned by a Jewish congregation not only in Pittsburgh, but anywhere in western Pennsylvania.  It opened to great fanfare in 1862.  (Feldman, 23-31.)

Rodef Shalom Temple, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,...

Rodef Shalom Temple, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (Current building, not the original)

During the 1860s and 1870s, the Jewish population of Pittsburgh continued to grow.  Rodef Shalom faced challenges as it moved from an Orthodox practice to Reform under the influence of its German-American leaders.  Those who wanted to continue an Orthodox practice left to form Tree of Life congregation.  Because services at Rodef Shalom were conducted in German,  other members left a few years later and formed another new congregation, Emanuel, also Reform but with services in English. Now the Jewish population in the city was large enough to support three congregations.  Thus, by the time some of my Schoenthal ancestors were moving to Pittsburgh in the 1870s and 1880s, there was a well-established Jewish community in Pittsburgh. (Feldman, 33-54)

But what about “Little Washington,” a much smaller town 30 miles from Pittsburgh? What kind of Jewish community existed there when Henry Schoenthal arrived in 1866 and when my great-grandfather arrived fifteen years later in 1881? Feldman reported that in 1853 my cousin Jacob Goldsmith may have been the first Jew in Washington, Pennsylvania,  followed by four more Jews within the next five or six years.  According to Feldman, when one of them, David Wolfe (possibly a relative of Amalie’s husband Elias Wolfe?) was killed accidentally by some rowdy soldiers in 1863, all the other Jews left Little Washington. (Feldman, p. 57)

According to my records, Jacob Goldsmith is listed as living in Washington, PA, even before 1853. The 1850 US census has him listed as living there and working as a tailor.  He was still there for the 1860 census and also registered for the Civil War draft in Washington in 1863. His father Simon, widow of Fanny Schoenthal, was also living in Washington by 1860. And Jacob Goldsmith was still there when his cousin Henry Schoenthal arrived there in 1866, according to Henry’s diary and the Beers biography of Henry, which says that Henry clerked in Jacob’s store for three years after he arrived in Washington.

But Jacob Goldsmith had moved to Philadelphia by 1870 and Simon Goldsmith had returned to Pittsburgh by then as well, so Henry Schoenthal and his family must have been among a very small number of Jewish residents of Washington in 1870.   Feldman noted that in 1860 there were only 250 Jews, “mostly of German origin,” living in western Pennsylvania in places other than Pittsburgh, spread out over an area of about 15,000 square miles, meaning that there were not too many Jews in any one locality.  (Feldman, p. 58)  In places like Washington, the few Jews who lived there would meet in private homes for prayer services. My great-great-uncle Henry was one of those who hosted and led such services. As of 1880, only Pittsburgh and two other towns in western Pennsylvania, Altoona and Erie, had actual synagogues. (Feldman, p. 63)

By 1890, things began to change in Little Washington.  In that year the very small Jewish community established a synagogue, Beth Israel, a congregation which exists to this day.  I was very fortunate to connect with Marilyn A. Posner, a past president of Beth Israel as well as the author of the centennial history of the synagogue, The House of Israel, A Home in Washington: 100 Years of Beth Israel Congregation, 1891-1991 / 5652-5752 (1991, Congregation Beth Israel, Washington, Pennsylvania).  As Posner’s book describes, in 1890 the congregation hired a young rabbi named Jacob Goldfarb as its first spiritual leader.  Rabbi Goldfarb was a recent immigrant from Lithuania.  As described by Posner, “He was fluent in the Lithuanian, Russian, German, Hebrew and Yiddish languages.  He was a mohel, able to perform ritual circumcisions; a shochet, or ritual butcher; a chazzan or cantor; and he studied Talmud and Torah.” (Posner, p. 1.)  If that’s not killing multiple birds with one stone, I don’t know what is!

Photo courtesy of Marilyn Posner from her book, "The House of Israel, A Home in Washington: 100 Years of Beth Israel Congregation, 1891-1991 / 5652-5752

Photo courtesy of Marilyn A. Posner from her book,
“The House of Israel, A Home in Washington: 100 Years of Beth Israel Congregation, 1891-1991 / 5652-5752


Beth Israel’s services were at first held in the home of one of its members, Nathan Samuels.  Then the congregation met in rented facilities for some years.

House of Nathan Samuels in Washiington PA where Beth Israel congregants first met Photo courtesy of Marily Posner from her book, "The House of Israel, A Home in Washington: 100 Years of Beth Israel Congregation, 1891-1991 / 5652-5752

House of Nathan Samuels in Washiington PA where Beth Israel congregants first met
Photo courtesy of Marilyn A. Posner from her book, “The House of Israel, A Home in Washington: 100 Years of Beth Israel Congregation, 1891-1991 / 5652-5752

Among the nine original members of the congregation were four of my relatives, my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal and two of his brothers, Henry and Nathan[1], and S.J. Katzenstein, my great-grandmother Hilda’s brother.  (Posner, p. 2).  Henry also became the president of the local branch of B’nai Brith, the Jewish fraternal organization.  (Feldman, p. 231)  My relatives were not, however, on the list of those who signed the original synagogue charter in 1901.  Feldman explained it as follows:

Beth Israel, unlike some nearby synagogues, was not Hungarian or Galician.  When its charter was taken out in 1901, twenty-four of its twenty-seven subscribers were Lithuanian …. The few Germans in Washington, Henry Schoenthal among them, were absent from the charter.

(Feldman, p. 199)

With the synagogue officially chartered, ground was broken for building a permanent home for the congregation and a cornerstone was laid on June 29, 1902.  By that time the Washington Jewish community had become one of the leading Jewish communities in western Pennsylvania outside of Pittsburgh.

Sketch of the original Beth Israel synagogue building. Courtesy of Marilyn Posner from her book, "The House of Israel, A Home in Washington: 100 Years of Beth Israel Congregation, 1891-1991 / 5652-5752

Sketch of the original Beth Israel synagogue building.
Courtesy of Marilyn A. Posner from her book,
“The House of Israel, A Home in Washington: 100 Years of Beth Israel Congregation, 1891-1991 / 5652-5752

With this history in mind, I better understand why my relatives settled in western Pennsylvania and specifically in Washington and why they felt comfortable living there.   Many of the Schoenthal descendants continued to live there for many years, and there are still quite a few living in Pittsburgh to this day.


[1] My research indicates that Nathan was no longer living in western Pennsylvania, let alone Washington, in 1890, but that he had moved to Washington, DC, ten years before and was living in either Richmond, VA, or Philadelphia by 1890.

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


Amsterdam coat of arms

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

File:Flag of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.svg

Philadelphia flag


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

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

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

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

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

flag of Washington, DC

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

Flag of the City of London.svg

The flag of the City of London

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

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

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



Hart Cohen of DC: The Rest of the Story

It’s been a week since I last posted anything new about the DC Cohen family.  I had last written about Solomon Monroe Cohen and his family, the son of Moses, Jr., and Henrietta Cohen.  Although I will continue to try and fill the gaps left in the research of the children of Moses, Jr. and Henrietta Cohen, I am now going to move on to the other children of Moses, Sr., and Adeline Cohen, first focusing on their son Hart, who was born in 1851 in Maryland.

It was this Hart (whom I’ve referred to as Hart DC) who had me confused because of the similarities between some of his biographical facts and those of his first cousin, my great-grandfather Emanuel’s brother, Hart Cohen of Philadelphia.  They had the same name, were born the same year, and were both married to women named Henrietta. It was this Hart who led me to the discovery of the DC branch of the Cohen family. Hart and his wife Henrietta Baer had four children: Frances, Munroe, Isadore, and Jacob.   Their son Munroe was killed in an awful accident while working as a brakeman on the railroad in Kingston, New York, in 1903.  Isadore had married Frances David in 1907, so in 1910, Hart and Henrietta had two children living at home, Frances (32) and Jacob (25). Jacob was working as a chauffeur, and Hart was working in a jewelry store. On August 8, 1914, Hart’s wife Henrietta Baer Cohen died; she was only 62.

Isadore and Frances had had a son Monroe born in 1910, presumably named for Isadore’s brother. In 1916, they had another son, Burton.  In 1917, Isadore was working as a department manager for a hotel according to his World War I draft registration.

Isadore Baer Cohen World War I draft registration

Isadore Baer Cohen World War I draft registration

I found two World War I draft registrations for Jacob.  The earlier one, dated June, 1917, listed Jacob’s business as the concessions business and said he suffered from heart trouble.  His marital status was single, and he was living with his father and his sister Frances at 1802 7th Street NW in Washington.  The second one, dated September 1918, had a number of changes:  he was working in the restaurant business and was self-employed, he was married, and there was no mention of heart trouble.

Jacob M. Cohen World War I registration (first)

Jacob M. Cohen World War I registration (first)

Jacob M. Cohen World War I registration (second)

Jacob M. Cohen World War I registration (second)

According to the Philadelphia marriage index, Jacob had married Rose Serge in Philadelphia in 1918.  He was 33, and she was thirty when they married.   In 1918, they were living at 1802 7th Street with Jacob’s father and sister Frances.

In 1920, Hart and his daughter Frances were still living at 1802 7th Street, but Jacob and Rose had moved to their own place in Washington.  Jacob was still in the restaurant business.  Isadore and his family were also still living in Washington, and Isadore was still in the hotel business.

On August 10, 1926, Hart died at the age of 75.  His daughter Frances continued to live in the same residence at 1802 7th Street, now living alone and working as a retail merchant in the dry goods business, a business she had been working in since at least 1915.  She would continue to work in that business until her death in February, 1941, at age 62, the same age her mother had been when she died.  Frances’ death notice said that she had died suddenly. She was buried at Washington Hebrew Cemetery.  There is no mention of her brother Jacob in her death notice, only mention of her brother Isadore.  Frances never married or had children.

Ancestry.com. Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.

Ancestry.com. Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.

In 1930 Jacob and Rose were living in Philadelphia, where Jacob was the manager of a restaurant.  I could not find Jacob or Rose on the 1940 census, nor can I find a death record for Jacob, but given that he was not listed in his sister’s obituary and that he had had a history of heart trouble, my guess is that he had died before the 1940 census. He would have been younger than 55 years old when he died.  He and Rose did not have any children.

Although I could not find Rose on the 1940 census, she was still alive in 1949, as I found her on a ship manifest traveling to Hawaii. According to the ship manifest Rose was living at 41 Emory Street in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1949. Rose had lived in Jersey City as a child, and 41 Emory Street is where her mother had been living in 1925 and where two of her sisters were living in 1930. Obviously, Rose had returned to her hometown after Jacob died.  She was still alive in 1952 when her sister Minnie died, but after that I cannot find any mention or record for her.  I tried contacting the funeral home that had handled other deaths in the Serge family, Wien and Wien in New Jersey, but sadly their records for the Jersey City funeral home were burned in a fire fifteen years ago.  I also called the cemetery where Minnie is buried to see if they have any records for Jacob or Rose Cohen, but have not heard back from them.

As for Isadore, in 1930, he and his family were living in Chicago, where Isadore was working as a salesman in the paper industry.  His son Monroe was a clerk in the weather bureau there.  I wonder what prompted the move to Chicago and the career change for Isadore.

Isadore Baer Cohen and family 1930 census

Isadore Baer Cohen and family 1930 census

In 1940, the family was still living together in Chicago, and Isadore was a book salesman. Both Monroe and Burton had changed their surname from Cohen to Coulter, though their parents were still using Cohen.   Although Monroe was now 30 and Burton 24, there is no occupation listed for either of them on the 1940 census.

Isadore Baer Cohen and family 1940 census

Isadore Baer Cohen and family 1940 census

By 1942, Isadore had retired, according to his draft registration.  He gave Burton’s name as his contact person, which I found interesting since his wife Frances was still alive at that time.

Isadore Baer Cohen World War II draft registration

Isadore Baer Cohen World War II draft registration

Sometime between 1942 and 1949, Isadore and Frances moved to California, where Frances died in 1949.  Isadore died in 1958 when he was 77 years old.  He lived a much longer life than any of his siblings or his mother.  His father Hart was the only other one to live past seventy.

According to his obituary in the Chicago Tribune of September 8, 1996, Isadore’s son Monroe Coulter had enlisted in the Army Air Corps before World War II and was an electrical engineer.  He married Fannie Simon on November 25, 1942, in Chicago and appears to have settled in Illinois. They had two children.   Monroe worked on the Air Force missile program and retired from the military in 1970 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.  He was living in Itasca, Illinois, when he died on September 6, 1996, and is buried at Shalom Memorial Park in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

His brother Burton moved to California in the 1950s.  He was married and had two children.  In 1952 he was working as the deputy county assessor in Alhambra, California, according to a directory for that city. Then, according to Sacramento city directories,  from at least 1959 through 1966 he lived in Sacramento and worked as an appraiser for the California Department of Equalization, a state agency responsible for administering the state tax laws.   Burton died in Los Angeles, California in 1978.  He was only 61 years old and thus was another family member who did not live to see seventy.

The family line of Hart and Henrietta Cohen thus is somewhat limited.  Of the four children of Hart and Henrietta, only Isadore lived past seventy, and only Isadore had children. Frances never married, and Jacob married, but did not have children. Munroe, Jacob, and Frances all died at relatively young ages, as did their mother Henrietta.  Although Munroe died in an accident, I do not know what led to the early deaths of Henrietta, Frances and Jacob, but will see if I can find out.

I am hoping that one of Isadore’s descendants will be able to provide a Y-DNA test to provide evidence of the genetic link between Moses Cohen, Sr., and my great-great-grandfather Jacob Cohen, but I am having some trouble making contact with them.  They are the only direct male genetic descendants of Moses Cohen, Sr. and thus my only option for finding that genetic connection between Moses and Jacob.  Maybe one of them will find this blog post and find me.


Fact versus Fiction

The story of Jacob M. Cohen II who allegedly stole jewelry from his father’s store, pawned it, and ran away to St. Louis generated some discussion among some of my readers.  I had speculated that he did it in the aftermath of the death of  his brother Munroe (or Monroe, as it is sometimes spelled in various accounts).  The discussions have caused me to go back and try to piece together the facts and to create a timeline.

The first news story about Munroe’s death was published on March 23, 1903, a Monday.  It said that Monroe died on Saturday, which would have been March 21, but that the accident that led to his death occurred on Thursday, which would have been March 19.  The second news story, dated March 24, said his body was returned to Washington for the funeral, which was to take place the next day, March 25, 1903.

The Kingston Daily Freeman, Volume 01, March 23 1903, Page 3

The Kingston Daily Freeman, Volume 01, March 23 1903, Page 3

The first news story I found about Jacob’s alleged crime was dated March 27, 1903, and said that “several days ago” Jacob had disappeared from his home and that his father thereafter discovered that jewelry was missing from his store.  The police had thought that Jacob would return for Monroe’s funeral, but he had not done so.  I inferred from this that Jacob had disappeared sometime after his brother died or at least after his accident on March 19, since “several” ordinarily means more than two but not more than seven.  If it had been more than a week, I would think that the newspaper would have said “over a week,” not “several days.”  Also, if the police thought Jacob would return for his brother’s funeral, they must have had reason to think that Jacob knew that his brother had died. Thus, I do not think that Monroe’s accident was precipitated by Jacob’s disappearance, as one skeptical reader suggested.  It seems possible, however, that Jacob’s disappearance was precipitated by his brother’s accident and death, as I speculated.

Jacob Cohen son of Hart 1903 arrested


(“Son’s Alleged Dishonesty” Date: Friday, March 27, 1903, Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 15)

I had forgotten to post one other article about the Jacob story in my post yesterday.  In this article, dated October 5, 1903, a few more details of Jacob’s activities were provided.  Jacob admitted stealing the jewelry, pawning it in Washington, spending the money in Baltimore, and then traveling to St. Louis, New Orleans, and Indian Territory before returning to St. Louis, where he was arrested.  He had gotten a job in a dairy in St. Louis and was there a week when he was arrested.  There had been a hearing in St. Louis, and Jacob was unable to provide the security needed for his release and thus was in the custody of a marshal to be returned to Washington.  One reader speculated that he had never actually stolen the jewelry, but had simply run away; the reader wondered whether his parents had created the story of the stolen jewelry to get the assistance of the police in locating their son.  It seems that Jacob’s admission is inconsistent with that speculation, but anything is possible.

Jacob confession pt 1

Jacob confession pt 2

(“Admits the Crime,” Monday, October 5, 1903, Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC), page: 11)


The final story, posted yesterday and dated October 20, 1903, detailed Jacob’s arrest and the items allegedly stolen.  One reader pointed out that in the final sentence of that article it states “it is thought” that Jacob’s parents would not press charges against him when he was returned to the city.  That would explain why I could not find any further reports of a trial or sentence in the case.  To me, this is also consistent with my speculation that Jacob acted out of grief or upset in the aftermath of his brother’s death.

Jacob son of Hart arrested in St Louis


(“Charged with Grand Larceny,” October 20, 1903, Washington Evening Star, p. 11)

Do I know for sure? Of course not.  Certainly most people do not engage in criminal behavior while grieving.  Maybe Jacob just wanted to run away and needed the money to do so.  Maybe he was angry with his parents for reasons completely unrelated to Monroe’s death.  Maybe he just was being a rebellious teenager.  Maybe he was crying out for attention.  Who knows?  The facts suggest he reconciled with and lived with his parents for years after this incident and was not in any other trouble.  I find it unlikely that these two incidents—Monroe’s death and Jacob’s disappearance—were not related.

What do you think?



The Twentieth Century for the Descendants of Moses and Adeline Cohen 1900-1910

The first decade of the twentieth century must have been a very difficult one for the extended Cohen family in Washington, DC.  First, on March 21, 1903, Hart’s son Munroe was killed in Kingston, New York, in a gruesome accident while working as a brakeman for the West Shore railroad. He was trying to couple two railcars when he slipped and fell between the cars.  He sustained serious injuries and died of shock resulting from those injuries, according to the Kingston Daily Freeman.  He was only 22 years old.  His body was returned to Washington, DC, where he was buried on March 24, 1903.

The Kingston Daily Freeman, Volume 01, March 23 1903, Page 3, found athttp://news.hrvh.org/cgi-bin/newshrvh?a=d&cl=search&d=kingstondaily19030323.2.32&srpos=1&e=-------20-PubMetakingstondaily-1----monroe+cohen-all

The Kingston Daily Freeman, Volume 01, March 23 1903, Page 3 found at http://news.hrvh.org/cgi-bin/newshrvh?a=d&cl=search&d=kingstondaily19030323.2.32&srpos=1&e=——-20-PubMetakingstondaily-1—-monroe+cohen-all

Monroe Cohen body 1903

It appears that at or around or perhaps right after the time of Munroe’s accident and subsequent death, his younger brother Jacob, then seventeen years old, stole about $700 worth of jewelry from his father’s store and pawned it to another pawnbroker.  As the article below indicates, the police were hoping he would return for his brother’s funeral, so it would seem that Jacob’s theft occurred close to the time of his brother’s death.

Jacob Cohen son of Hart 1903 arrested

(“Son’s Alleged Dishonesty” Date: Friday, March 27, 1903, Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 15)

It took six months for the police to track Jacob down, and when they did, they found him in St. Louis.  He was arrested and admitted to the crime and was then returned to Washington.

Jacob son of Hart arrested in St Louis

(“Charged with Grand Larceny,” October 20, 1903, Washington Evening Star, p. 11)

I have not found anything to indicate what happened next, but in 1910, Jacob was living with his parents in Washington, and working as a chauffeur.  I don’t know what could have motivated Jacob to steal the jewelry, but the fact that this occurred at the time his brother died makes me believe that it was related in some way to the grief he felt from his brother’s death.  It seems that Jacob had no further run-ins with the law and that his parents took him back into their home since he was living there as a 24 year old in 1910.

Unfortunately, that was not the end of the tragedies for the extended DC Cohen family in that first decade of the twentieth century.  Just a few months later, on January 24, 1904, Ella Cohen Greenberg, the daughter of Moses, Jr. and Henrietta Baer Cohen, died at age 29, leaving behind her husband Jacob and their eight year old daughter, Marjorie.  I do not have a death certificate (yet) for Ella, so I do not know why she died.  Jacob was remarried by 1909 to a woman named Hattie with whom he had a son, Theodore.

And then just nine months after Ella’s death, Moses, Jr. himself died on November 24, 1904.  He was 63 years old.  According to his obituary, his death was sudden, the result of a heart attack.  The obituary paints a portrait of a successful business man who was very active in his synagogue and in various other Jewish communal and charitable organizations.  It described him as a “pioneer Hebrew citizen” of Washington, DC, and as “highly esteemed” and “highly regarded.”  One interesting error in the obituary is that it says that he was the father of eight children, all of whom survived him.  Moses and Henrietta had had nine children, and Ella had predeceased him.  Had the newspaper just made an error, or had there been some falling out between Ella and her family?  I will assume the first since I have no basis for concluding otherwise, and Ella was included with an insert into the family portrait, which obviously was taken some time between her death and the death of her father nine months later.

Moses Jr obit part 1

moses jr obit part 2

(“Moses Cohen Dead,”  November 25, 1904, Washington Evening Star, p.3)

It’s ironic that despite emphasizing Moses’ Jewish identity in several places, the obituary’s subtitle describes him as a strong supporter of his “church.”

The other thing that I found interesting was Moses, Jr.’s headstone.  Unlike his father Moses, Sr.’s headstone, which was a very traditional Jewish headstone engraved mostly in Hebrew and with the symbol for the Cohanim, Moses, Jr’s headstone has no Hebrew at all. Given how involved he was in the Washington Hebrew Congregation as both an employee and a congregant, I found this surprising.  Perhaps it is a sign of assimilation that the family chose a headstone in English and not Hebrew.

Moses Cohen, Sr. headstone

Moses Cohen, Sr. headstone

Moses Cohen, Jr. headstone

Moses Cohen, Jr. headstone

But the decade was not completely sad.  The eight surviving children of Moses, Jr. and Henrietta were doing well, and the next generation was growing up.

  1. Augusta and Julius’s five children were young adults and teenagers, the three oldest all working as jewelers like their father.
  2. Myer Cohen and his wife Helen had one more child, Myer, Jr., born in 1907, and their children were also teenagers. Myer continued to practice law.
  3. Jacob and Ida Cohen and their two children, Aimee and Gerson, moved from New York City to Yonkers, New York. In 1905 and in 1910, Jacob was working as the manager of a dry goods store.
  4. Alfred Selinger, Fannie Cohen’s husband, was a tailor. Their daughter Selma was also a teenager in 1910.
  5. Florence and Harry Panitz were still living in Baltimore, and Harry was still a salesman. Their daughter Aline was still a young child.
  6. Grace Cohen married William Katz on January 20, 1901, and they had two children in the next decade: Hilda (1901) and Morton (1907). William was a manager in a furniture store, and the family was living in Washington, DC.
  7. Solomon, the youngest son of Moses, Jr., and Henrietta, married Estelle Spater in 1906, where the couple then resided. Solomon was employed as a manager of a mail order business.  Solomon and Estelle had a son Ralph born in 1908 and a son Theodore, born in 1910.  Sadly, Theodore died on November 21, 1912 when he was only two years old.
    Theodore P. Cohen death certificate

    Theodore P. Cohen death certificate

    When I found the death certificate for Theodore, I was confused by a number of things.  First, he died in Seneca, Lenawee County, Michigan, not Detroit, where his family lived.  I thought perhaps he had died in an accident, but the cause of death was indigestion.  I found that very puzzling, but then saw that a contributory cause was Little’s Disease.  I looked up Little’s Disease and learned that it was a form of cerebral palsy.  I am not sure how indigestion caused his death, but obviously it was related to his underlying condition.  I also found it very strange that his birth date was unknown, that there was no information about the birth place of either of his parents or his mother’s maiden name, and that the informant was neither of his parents.  My guess is that Theodore was in a hospital or home for children with similar conditions since it appears that he was not living with family.

  8. In 1910, Moses, Jr., and Henrietta’s youngest child, Mabel, was residing at the Maryland Asylum and Training School for the Feeble Minded in Baltimore; she was 27 and unable to read or write.

In June 1909, there was a large family celebration of the 25th anniversary of Augusta and Julius Selinger at their home.  From this description in the Washington Evening Star, one can get a sense of the lifestyle of the family during this decade.

Augusta and Julius 25th anniversary party

Augusta and Julius 25th anniversary party

(Sunday, June 20, 1909, Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC),   Page: 61)


As for Moses, Sr., and Adeline’s other children, JM and Belle Cohen were still living in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1905, but by 1910, they had moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where their daughter Fannie Sybil had moved sometime after marrying Sigmund Stern, a German-born immigrant who had arrived in the United States in 1892 as a fourteen year old and who was living in Sioux City in 1900, where he was residing as a lodger along with his two brothers, Henry and Morris, in what appears to be a boarding house.  Sigmund and his older brother Morris were both working as clothing merchants.   Sometime before 1906 Sigmund and Sybil, as she was known, had moved to Kansas City, as their daughter Judith was born there in 1906.  Although I cannot find a 1910 census report for Sigmund and Sybil Stern, Sybil’s parents JM and Belle and her sister Ruth were listed as living in Kansas City that year; JM was retired at age 57.

The other two children of Hart and Henrietta (aside from Munroe and Jacob M. II, discussed above) were Frances and Isadore.  In 1910, Frances was single and living with her parents and had no occupation.  Isadore had married Frances David in about 1907, according to the 1910 census, and their first child, Monroe, was born April 14, 1910.  Isadore was working as a clerk for the post office at that time.

As for Rachel and Frederick Selinger, they were still living in Washington with their son Monroe in 1910, and Frederick was still working in a furniture store.  Their daughter Fannie had married Aaron Hartstall sometime before 1910, and their son Morton was born January 20, 1910.  Aaron was employed as a paper hanger, and they also were living in Washington, DC.

So the family had grown in numbers and the children were growing to be adults in the first ten years of the twentieth century.  There had been some big losses and a fair number of births.  The next ten years would see additional growth and additional challenges as the family and the world faced World War I and the younger generation began to reach adulthood and have families of their own.



Jews in Iowa? Cohens on the Prairie 1880-1900

“Sioux Falls panorama 1908 1” by G.W. Fox – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID pan.6a09880. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sioux_Falls_panorama_1908_1.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sioux_Falls_panorama_1908_1.jpg

Although the descendants of Moses and Adeline Cohen stayed close to Washington until 1880, in the next two decades many of them ventured further away.  I’ve already written about the children of Moses, Jr., four of whom left DC, three for NYC, and one for Baltimore.  But his siblings and their children ventured even further away, although for some it was just a temporary move.

The real adventurer seems to have been Jacob M. Cohen, apparently known as JM.  JM married a woman from Cuyahoga, Ohio, named Belle Lehman, on August 19, 1877.  Their first daughter, Fannie Sybil, was born in Washington, DC, in 1879, but sometime after 1880, JM and his wife and young daughter left town and moved west to the Dakota Territory where the second child, Seba Maude, was born in 1882.  I wish I knew what drew JM away from Washington and off to the prairie and how he met a woman from Ohio in the first place.  Was it a desire to be a pioneer or a desire to strike out on his own away from his family?  I don’t know, but I was certainly surprised to see “Dakota” as the birthplace of his second child.

Not long after Seba’s birth, the family must have moved again because a third daughter, Ruth Josephine, was born on June 8, 1883, in Sioux City, Iowa.  Sioux City seems to be where JM and Belle established deeper roots. They lived there until at least 1905, and their fourth child and only son Arthur was born there in 1885.  According to the 1885 Iowa state census, JM was working as a pawnbroker; in the 1888 directory for Sioux City, he is listed as being in real estate, but in 1900 his occupation on the census is a ticket broker.  Perhaps the census taker heard that incorrectly; perhaps he was still a pawnbroker.  Or maybe a real estate broker.

JM Cohen and family 1885 Iowa census

JM Cohen and family 1885 Iowa census

JM Cohen and family 1900 US census

JM Cohen and family 1900 US census

JM and Belle suffered a terrible loss when their daughter Seba died on January 2, 1886; she was not even four years old.

Seba Maude Cohen headstone

I fear that their son Arthur, born in 1885, also died young.   He does not appear on the 1895 census or the 1900 census when one would assume he would have been only ten and then fifteen years old and presumably living with his family.  On the other hand, I cannot find a death record for him in Iowa or elsewhere, nor is he buried where Seba and his parents were buried in Sioux City.

I wondered whether there were any other Jews in Sioux City at that time and was able to locate a book by Simon Glazer entitled The Jews in Iowa: A Complete History and Accurate Account of Their Religious, Social, Economical and Educational Progress in this State; a History of the Jews of Europe, North and South America in Modern Times, and a Brief History of Iowa, published in 1904 by Koch Brothers Printing Company and now available as a free e-book on Google.  According to Glazer, there were only 25 Jews in Sioux City in 1869, but by 1904 there were over two thousand, including my relatives. In fact, when the Jewish community decided to form a cemetery association, the Mt Sinai Cemetery Association, in 1884, JM Cohen, my cousin, was one of the founding members.  (Glazer, p. 295)  Moreover, that same year JM’s wife Belle was the leader of a movement among the Jewish women to create a fund-raising organization to help the poor and to raise money to build a house of worship. (Glazer, p. 296)  Despite this burst of energy in 1884, there was no formal congregation until 1898.  As described by Glazer:

“The Jewish spirit which kept them together was a mere ghost of little more consequence than a shadow. Everything they had gained during their childhood, everything their parents had imbued within them vanished form [sic] their memories, and nothing new could come and knock at their gates since no effort was endeavored prior to 1898, to form a congregation and engage the services of a minister.” (p. 297)

According to Glazer, “Their temple was built largely through the efforts of the ladies, and the man [sic] frankly admit that had it not been for the heroic efforts of the Jewish women no such place for Judaism in Sioux City would as yet have been made a matter of fact. Their first services were conducted at the Masonic Temple, which is, indeed, very complimentary to both, the Masons and the Jews.” (p. 300)

JM Cohen was listed by Glazer as one of the ten officers and leaders of Mt Sinai Congregation in those early days.

Mt Sinai Synagogue, Sioux CIty, Iowa From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Glazer then described the influx of Russian and Eastern European Jews in the late 1880s and thereafter and the divisions between the older assimilated population which had established Mt Sinai, the Reform congregation, and the newcomers who were more Orthodox.  He concluded his chapter on Sioux City by saying, “The Jewry of Sioux City is as yet in its infancy, but it has plenty of mettle to make itself a stronghold of both Orthodox and Reform Judaism in the northwest.” (p. 302)

So my cousin Jacob M. Cohen was a pioneer.  He left the comforts of a well-established Jewish community in Washington, DC, where his older brother Moses, Jr., was a leader in the Washington Hebrew Congregation, a well-established synagogue, and went out to the prairie lands of the Midwest (the northwest in 1904 when Glazer was writing) to become a Jewish leader there.

JM also succeeded in getting two of his siblings and his mother Adeline to move to Iowa, if for only a short time. Adeline, who was born in Baden, Germany, had immigrated to Baltimore, raised four children on her own when her husband Moses died in 1860, and supported them herself in Washington, DC.  Adeline again uprooted herself and left a safe, settled urban world to live in Iowa.   In 1888 she was living with JM in Sioux City, according to the city directory.  I don’t know how long she lived there, but she did return to Washington, DC, by 1894.

Title : Sioux City, Iowa, City Directory, 1888 Source Information Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989

Title : Sioux City, Iowa, City Directory, 1888
Source Information
Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989

In that same 1888 Sioux City directory is a listing for Hart Cohen as well, JM’s older brother.  The first half of the 1880s for Hart and his wife Henrietta brought two more children to their family, Isadore Baer, born in 1883, and Jacob M. II, born in 1885, in addition to Frances, who was born in 1878, and Munroe, born in 1880.  Hart, like his brother JM, was a pawnbroker, and like his first cousin Hart in Philadelphia, he was charged in 1885 with receipt of stolen goods in the course of his business; he was acquitted of the charges in 1886.


Hart DC Cohen arrested 1885 snip

(“A Pawnbroker Arrested,” Wednesday, March 25, 1885, Critic-Record (Washington (DC), DC),Issue: 5,187, Page: 3)

Letter from Washington. A Pawnbroker Acquitted - Measures to Avert a Flood in the Potomac Date: Friday, February 12, 1886  Paper: Sun (Baltimore, MD)   Volume: XCVIII   Issue: 76   Page: 4

Letter from Washington. A Pawnbroker Acquitted – Measures to Avert a Flood in the Potomac
Date: Friday, February 12, 1886 Paper: Sun (Baltimore, MD) Volume: XCVIII Issue: 76 Page: 4

It might have been in the aftermath of these criminal proceedings that Hart decided to join his brother JM in Sioux City.  He was there at least until 1895, as on the 1895 Iowa census he and his entire family are included.  His occupation at that time was described as a jeweler.

Hart Cohen and family 1895 Iowa census

Hart Cohen and family 1895 Iowa census

By 1900, however, Hart and his family had returned to Washington, DC, where he was still working as a jeweler.  His children were now all at least teenagers, ranging in age from 14 (Jacob) to Frances (21), and perhaps he felt like he had gotten his life in order and could return to his hometown.  They were living at 1424 Seventh Street, NW, in 1900.

Hart Cohen and family 1900 census

Hart Cohen and family 1900 census

JM even lured his sister Rachel to come to Iowa for some time.  Rachel had been newly married to Frederick Selinger in 1880, and in 1882 they had their first child, Fannie Selinger, in Washington, DC.  Their second child, Monroe, was born in 1888 in Washington as well, but in 1891 when Frederick applied for a passport, they were living in Sioux City, Iowa.  (Interestingly, the witness on the application was Myer Cohen of Washington, DC, his wife’s nephew, son of her brother Moses, Jr.)

Frederick Selinger passport application 1891

Frederick Selinger passport application 1891

Frederick is also listed in directories for Sioux City from 1890 through 1892.  Like Hart and Adeline, however, Rachel and Frederick returned to Washington, DC, where in 1900 the family was living at 1502 Seventh Street, NW.

Frederick and Rachel Selinger and family 1900 census

Frederick and Rachel Selinger and family 1900 census

Thus, by 1900, the great experiment of living out in Sioux City had ended for all of the DC Cohens except for JM and his family, who would never return to Washington, DC.  All the rest of the Moses Cohen family—from Adeline (until her death in 1895) to Moses, Jr., to Hart, to Rachel– were living within five or six blocks of each other in the Northwest section of Washington, DC, in 1900.

The twentieth century was about to begin, and with it came new challenges and new family members.  The story will continue…






The Family of Moses, Jr. and Henrietta Cohen 1880-1900: Years of Growth and Change

Moses Jr and Henrietta Cohen and children c. 1900

Moses Jr and Henrietta Cohen and children c. 1904 Seated left to right: Myer, Mabel, Henrietta, Moses, Jr., and Augusta; standing left to right: Fannie, Solomon, Grace, Jacob, and Florence. Insert: Ella Photo courtesy of Jane and Scott Cohen

The years from 1880 through 1900 were years of continued growth for the children of Moses and Adeline Cohen, as their children had more children and as their grandchildren grew and had families of their own as well.  It was also a time of change, as some of the family members left the Washington, DC, area for other parts of the country.

I will focus first on the family of Moses, Jr. and Henrietta (Loeb) Cohen since he was the oldest of Moses and Adeline’s children by more than ten years. As I wrote last time, by 1880 he and Henrietta already had a large family of eight children, the oldest being Augusta who was already a teenager and the youngest being Solomon, who was just born in 1879. (There also were apparently two other children who died in infancy, but I have no documentation of their births, names, or deaths.)  They would have one more child, Mabel, who was born in 1883 when Henrietta was already 41 years old.  As reported to me by a direct descendant of Moses, Jr. and Henrietta, Mabel had Down’s syndrome, perhaps not all that surprising given the age of her mother when she was born. Sometime after 1880, Moses had switched from selling clothing to being a sexton for his synagogue and also a collector (a bill collector, I assume), according to city directories for Washington, DC, during that period.

The year after their last child Mabel was born, Moses and Henrietta saw their first child get married.  Augusta married Julius Selinger on June 10, 1884, when she was only eighteen years old.  Although I do not yet have any record to prove it, my hunch is that Julius was a brother or cousin of Frederick Selinger, the husband of Augusta’s aunt Rachel, her father’s sister.  Like Frederick, Julius was born in Hubern, Germany, according to his passport application. Julius had emigrated only a year or so before marrying Augusta. The two Selinger men were only three years apart in age.    By 1900, Augusta and Julius had five children: Sidney (1885), Harry (1888), Jerome (1889), Maurice (1893), and Eleanor (1894).  Julius was working as a jeweler, and his oldest son Sidney was an apprentice watchmaker.  The family was living in DC at 1157 8th Street, NW. [All addresses in this post are in the NW section of DC.]

Augusta and Julius Selinger 1900 census

Augusta and Julius Selinger 1900 census

During this same time period, Moses and Henrietta’s second child, Myer, was obtaining an education and building his career as well as his family.  Myer might be the very first Cohen to get a law degree (or the first I’ve found so far).  According to a 1917 alumni directory for George Washington University, Myer Cohen received an LL.B. in 1886 as well as an LL. M. in 1887, and was a lawyer in Washington, DC.

Ancestry.com. U.S., College Student Lists, 1763-1924 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: College Student Lists. Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society.

Ancestry.com. U.S., College Student Lists, 1763-1924 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
Original data: College Student Lists. Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society.

Myer married Helen Wolf on January 14, 1890.  Helen was also a DC native, and her father Simon Wolf  had been president of Washington Hebrew congregation where Moses Cohen was a member and the shammes for many years.  Helen and Myer must have known each other for years before marrying.

Simon Wolf was a very well-known and well-regarded lawyer known for advocating for Jews and Jewish causes; one source described him as “a friend of Presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Woodrow Wilson.”[1] Myer joined his father-in-law’s practice, which became known as Wolf and Cohen; Simon Wolf had also started an insurance business in 1878, which also became known as Wolf and Cohen.[2]  It was the first insurance brokerage business in the Washington, DC, area.

Between 1890 and 1900, Myer and Helen had four children: Ruth (1891), Edith (1893), Marjorie (1896), and Roger (1898).  Another son, Myer, Jr., would be born in 1907.  The family was living at 1711 S Street in DC in 1900.

Myer Cohen Sr. 1900 census

Myer Cohen Sr. 1900 census

The third child of Moses and Henrietta was Jacob G. Cohen.  He married Ida Slegh in 1894; she was also a DC native. They had a daughter, Aimee, born in 1895, perhaps the first ever “Amy Cohen” in the family (although they spelled it the French way).  In 1900, their son Gerson was born. The family was living at 1 West 115th Street in New York City, and Jacob was employed as a bookkeeper.

Jacob G. Cohen and family 1900 census

Jacob G. Cohen and family 1900 census

A third Selinger joined the family in 1893 when Fannie Cohen, the fourth child, married Alfred Selinger.  Like Julius and Frederick, Alfred was born in Germany.  He immigrated to the US in October, 1888, and in 1891, he and Julius were both living at the same address, 810 I Street, according to a DC directory for that year, certainly an indication that the two were related and probably brothers.  In 1892, Julius and his family traveled abroad along with Alfred, according to a society item in the Washington Evening Star on June 17, 1892.  (Friday, June 17, 1892, Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page 3)  Fannie Cohen married Alfred a year later on June 10, 1893. Alfred and Fannie had one child, Selma, who was born in March, 1894.  According to the 1900 census, Alfred was a tailor, and the family was living at 711 I Street in DC.

Fannie and Alfred Selinger 1900 census

Fannie and Alfred Selinger 1900 census

Moses, Jr. and Henrietta must have had quite a wedding budget because in 1895 their fifth child, Ella, married Jacob Bernard Greenberg.  Ella and Jacob had a daughter Marjorie Ruth the following year, and in 1900 they were living in New York City at 140 West 100th Street, not too far from Ella’s brother Jacob G. Cohen. Her husband Jacob was employed as a freight clerk.

Ella and Jacob Greenberg 1900 census

Ella and Jacob Greenberg 1900 census

The weddings did not end there.  In 1898, Florence, the sixth child, married Harry Panitz.  Harry was a salesman from Baltimore, where the couple lived in 1898 and thereafter.  I thought that they did not have a child until 1902 when their daughter Aline was born, but when my brother visited Washington Hebrew Cemetery to look for the headstones for Moses Cohen, Sr., and his family, he saw one overturned headstone in the same area as other Cohen graves and picked it up.  It was very hard to read even in person, but he was able to edit the photo below to highlight the dates.

Headstone for Helen Panitz October 2, 1899 to May 12, 1900

Headstone for Helen Panitz October 2, 1899 to May 12, 1900 Photo courtesy of Ira Cohen

From those dates, I was able to search the death indices and found that Helen Panitz, less than one year old, had died in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on May 12, 1900, and was buried in Washington, DC, on May 14, 1900.  I do not know what they were doing in Fayetteville, nor do I know why Helen died so young. They were not living in Fayetteville as of December 27, 1899, because the Washington Evening Star reported on that day that Grace Cohen, Florence’s sister, had just returned from a visit to Baltimore to see Florence and Harry Panitz perhaps to see the ill-fated baby Helen.  (Wednesday, December 27, 1899, Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC), Page 7)

As of the 1900 census, Grace and her sister Mabel were still living with their parents, Moses, Jr. and Henrietta, at 1130 8th Street, just down the street from Augusta and Julius and their five children, some of whom were not much younger than their two aunts.

Moses Cohen, Jr. and family 1900 census

Moses Cohen, Jr. and family 1900 census

Moses and Henrietta’s youngest son Solomon was living on his own in New York City in 1900; he was 20 years old and working as a clerk.  He was living at 20 West 115th Street and boarding with a family named Pawel.  Solomon’s brother Jacob was living at 1 West 115th Street, the building across the street, and his sister Ella just a mile away, so Solomon had plenty of family to look after him in New York.

Solomon Cohen 1900 census

Solomon Cohen 1900 census

So by 1900, almost all of Moses, Jr’s nine children had married and/or moved out on their own.  Several had left Washington, DC—three to New York City and one to Baltimore.  There were many births and not too many deaths or other tragedies.  Moses and Henrietta had a son who was a lawyer and many grandchildren and more to come.  From the outside, it looks like life was very good for the entire clan.

There was, however, one major loss suffered by the family during this period. On January 15, 1895, the family matriarch, Adeline Himmel Cohen, died.  She had survived the loss of her husband Moses 35 years earlier and had essentially raised the four younger children on her own and perhaps Moses, Jr., as well before she married Moses, Sr. Adeline had worked outside the home to support her children, selling second hand clothing and carrying on the work that her husband Moses, Sr., had been doing before his death.   She must have been a very strong and determined woman to have weathered so many storms in her life.

Adeline Cohen headstone

Adeline Cohen headstone Photo courtesy of Jane and Scott Cohen


[1] Website of the Goethe Institute at http://www.goethe.de/ins/us/lp/kul/mag/deu/ewy/per/en6791595.htm

[2] The insurance business still exists today and was partially acquired by the Meltzer Group. See Related articleshttp://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-meltzer-group-inc-acquires-certain-assets-of-wolf–cohen-life-insurance-inc-55350942.html

Science versus Inference:  Was Moses Cohen the Brother of Jacob Cohen?

The case for concluding that Moses Cohen, Sr., who lived in Baltimore (1850) and Washington, D.C. (1860), was the brother of my great-great-grandfather Jacob Cohen is built almost entirely on inference.  As I’ve described before, I have tentatively concluded that they were brothers based on the following bits of evidence:

  1. The 1841 English census that lists as the children of Hart and Sarah Cohen the following: Elizabeth (20), Moses (20), Jacob (15), and John (14).

    Hart Cohen and family 1841 English census

    Hart Cohen and family 1841 English census

  2. A passenger manifest for the ship New York Packet, dated July 7, 1848, that lists the following passengers: Jacob Cohen, Sarah Cohen, Fanny Cohen, Moses Cohen, and an infant named John Cohen.  Jacob Cohen and family ship manifestMoses Cohen page on ship manifestSource Citation
    Year: 1848
    Ship or Roll Number : Roll 073
    Source InformationAncestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
    Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C.Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives at Washington, D.C.Supplemental Manifests of Alien Passengers and Crew Members Who Arrived on Vessels at New York, New York, Who Were Inspected for Admission, and Related Index, compiled 1887-1952. Microfilm Publication A3461, 21 rolls. ARC ID: 3887372. RG 85, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Index to Alien Crewmen Who Were Discharged or Who Deserted at New York, New York, May 1917-Nov. 1957. Microfilm Publication A3417. ARC ID: 4497925. National Archives at Washington, D.C.Passenger Lists, 1962-1972, and Crew Lists, 1943-1972, of Vessels Arriving at Oswego, New York. Microfilm Publication A3426. ARC ID: 4441521. National Archives at Washington, D.C.
  3. Headstones that identify the Hebrew name of the father of both Jacob and Moses Cohen as Naftali Ha Cohen (Hart being the Dutch and English equivalent of a deer, the tribe symbol for the tribe of Naftali)
    Jacob Cohen headstone cropped and enhanced

    Jacob Cohen’s headstone

    Moses Cohen, Sr. headstone

    Moses Cohen, Sr. headstone

  4. The fact that both Jacob and Moses named a son Hart, the same name as Jacob’s, and presumably Moses,’ father, Hart Levy Cohen.
  5. The fact that Moses had a granddaughter named Grace Cohen and that a bridesmaid of one of Jacob’s granddaughters was a Grace Cohen from Washington, DC.

These five bits of evidence were enough for me to reach the tentative conclusion that Jacob and Moses were brothers and that therefore the descendants of Moses Cohen were also my relatives.  There was also additional “evidence” in my failure to find a Moses Cohen other than the DC Moses who fit as well; there were two Moses Cohens of the right age on the 1851 English census, but neither was the right one.  I sent for marriage certificates for both of them, and they were not the sons of Hart and Rachel. I’ve already dug fairly deeply into the history of Moses Cohen and his children and grandchildren based on that hunch and those bits of evidence.

But I wanted something more scientific and definitive.  I was very fortunate to find someone who was a direct descendant of Moses’ son, Moses, Jr.  He had already done a DNA test with FamilyTreeDNA, so I asked my brother to do the same so that we could compare the results.  That was almost two months ago, and I finally received the results late last week.  I was very disappointed to see that my brother was not in the same haplogroup with the descendant of Moses, Jr., meaning that there was no genetic link between the two.  I was bewildered and discouraged.  I looked at all the hours I had spent researching Moses’ family and felt as if I had wasted a tremendous amount of time.

I am in touch with the wife of the Moses, Jr., descendant who was tested, and she also was disappointed, but not as surprised as I was.  She told me that there was a family story suggesting that Moses, Jr., had been adopted and was not in fact the biological child of Moses, Sr.   Suddenly, other bits of evidence started to make more sense.

The earliest document I have for Moses, Jr. is the 1850 US census. It lists Moses, Sr., living in Baltimore with his wife Adeline and eleven year old son Moses, Jr. Moses, Jr., is reported to have been born in Germany, and since he was eleven, born in 1839.

Moses Cohen and family 1850 census

Moses Cohen and family 1850 census

Other documents record his year of birth as 1840.  But Moses, Sr., was living in London in 1841, as seen on the English census of that year.  I had been confused by that before, but had assumed it was some error.

Also, Moses, Sr. is variously reported to have been born in years ranging from 1820 to 1828, depending on the document. His headstone says he was 32 in 1860 when he died, giving him a birth year of 1828.  Even assuming it was 1820, he would only have been twenty when Moses, Jr., was born.  How would he have met a German woman at such a young age, had a child with her in Germany, but then been living without her in London a year or more after the child was born? And where were Adeline and Moses, Jr.,  in 1848 when Moses emigrated from London to the US on the same ship with his brother Jacob?

I decided I needed to find out more about Adeline, the woman who married Moses and the mother of Moses, Jr.  I know that her birth name was Himmel from a birth record for their son Hart.  I cannot find a passenger list for Adeline or Moses, Jr., nor can I find a birth record or a marriage record linking Moses, Sr. and Adeline with Moses, Jr.  The earliest document I have found for Adeline is the 1850 US census above.

That 1850 census, seen above, show that living in the home next door to Adeline and Moses was a family with the surname Himmel: Jacob, Hannah and Moses Himmel.  Jacob, like Adeline, was born in Germany.  Both Jacob and Adeline Himmel had sons named Moses.  I am going to guess that Adeline was Jacob’s sister, though I’ve yet to find anything to corroborate that.

So this is my new challenge: to find records that will indicate where and when Moses, Jr., was born and where and when Moses, Sr., married his mother Adeline.  I am also going to focus on finding a biological descendant of Moses, Sr., so that perhaps I can find some scientific evidence to back up my inferences.  In the meantime, I am going to continue to assume that Moses, Sr., was the older brother of my great-great-grandfather and thus to tell his story as best I can as well as the story of his children and grandchildren, including Moses, Jr.





Hart Levy Cohen and Family 1860 to 1870: A Decade of Transition

By 1860, all my Cohen relatives were settled into life in the US, having been here for about ten years.  Hart Levy Cohen, my three-times great grandfather, was living in Philadelphia with his three of his adult children, Elizabeth, Lewis and Jonas, and his son Jacob was living with his wife Sarah and their nine children, three servants, and one of Sarah’s brothers, Lazarus Jacobs.  The other son Moses was living in the Washington, DC, area with his wife Adeline and their five children.  Much would change between 1860 and 1870.

First, the decade started off with two major losses.  Moses Cohen died on October 2, 1860, leaving behind his widow and five young children.  Although the death record I found stated his birth year as 1828, other records would have given him an earlier year of birth, probably around 1823, making him only 37 or so when he died. He was buried in Washington Hebrew Cemetery.

Just three months later, the family suffered another loss when the family patriarch, Hart Levy Cohen, died at the age of 88.  According to his death certificate, he died on December 29, 1860, of old age.  He was buried on December 31, 1860, at Mikveh Israel Cemetery, where many of his descendants would also be buried.

Hart Levy Cohen death certificate

Hart Levy Cohen death certificate

Hart Levy Cohen burial at Mikveh Israel Cemetery December 31, 1860

Hart Levy Cohen burial at Mikveh Israel Cemetery December 31, 1860

One has to wonder whether the death of his son Moses accelerated his demise, although living to 88 in the mid-19th century must have been quite an accomplishment.  Here was a man who had moved from Amsterdam to London as a young man, worked as a dealer in goods, and raised five children before losing his wife and moving to Philadelphia as a man in his 70s.  He had adjusted to two huge migrations and lived a long life.  I wish I knew more about what he was like and who his own (and thus my) ancestors were.  A photograph would also be wonderful.  But I feel fortunate to have found him at all and to have been able to learn something about this man, my great-great-great grandfather.

This was also a tumultuous time in American history.  In February 1861, the Southern states formed the Confederate State of America, and in April 1861, with the attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, the Civil War began and lasted until April, 1865, when the Confederacy surrendered to the Union Army in Appomattox, Virginia.  Although I cannot find a military record I could verify as being for any of Hart’s sons, I found my great-great grandfather Jacob Cohen’s draft registration, depicted below.  Jacob was listed as having been born in London, living at 136 South Street, where he lived for all or almost all of his years in Philadelphia, and working as a storekeeper.

Jacob Cohen Civil War draft registration 1863

Jacob Cohen Civil War draft registration 1863

I also found a record indicating that a Lewis Cohen enlisted in the Union Army on April 23, 1861, just as the war had started, serving as a private in Company H, Pennsylvania 22nd Infantry Regiment.  The record notes that Lewis mustered out on August 7, 1861. There is also a second record for a Lewis Cohen indicating the he served a private in Company F, Regiment 122 of the Pennsylvania Infantry.   I will have to keep searching to see if I can find any further military records to verify that one of these two Lewis Cohens was in fact my ancestor.  I could not locate any military record for the youngest brother, Jonas, which seems a little strange since he would certainly have been of draft age, being only 32 when the war broke out in 1861.

Since both Jonas and Jacob are listed in the Philadelphia directory for 1861 whereas Lewis is not, it may be that Jonas and Jacob never did active duty during the Civil War.  In 1861, Jonas was listed as a salesman, living at 210 South Street.  In that same directory, his brother Jacob is listed as having a clothing store at 150 South Street and residing at 136 South Street, which may be where Jonas worked. The store was called Jacobs and Cohen and was owned by my great-great grandfather Jacob and his partner, Joseph Jacobs. I will write more about Joseph Jacobs in a subsequent post.

Cohens in the 1861 Philadelphia city directory

Cohens in the 1861 Philadelphia city directory

The business must have both changed and grown by 1870.  On the 1870 census, Jacob’s occupation is described as a “broker,” and the city directories from that point forward more specifically describe him as a pawnbroker.  His son Isaac was also described as a broker on the 1870 census, and his sons Hart and Reuben were both described as “clerk in store,” presumably their father’s store.  This was the beginning of a long and extensive family business as pawnbrokers.

Jacob Cohen and family 1870 US census

Jacob Cohen and family 1870 US census

The business was not the only thing that was growing between 1860 and 1870.  Jacob and Sarah’s family had also grown between 1860 and 1870.  In addition to the nine children they had already had by 1860, Jacob and Sarah had four more between 1860 and 1870: Lewis (1862), Emanuel (1863), Jonas (1864), and finally Abraham in 1866.  Sarah Jacobs Cohen had given birth to at least thirteen children between 1846 and 1866; given infant mortality rates, there could have been a few more squeezed into the “off” years.  By the time her last baby was born, Sarah was already a grandmother, but was not yet forty years old.  She’d been having babies for twenty years.  It’s a good thing Jacob’s business was successful.  But much as I empathize with Sarah and all those pregnancies, childbirths, and the exhaustion that comes with every new baby, plus all the work involved in raising thirteen children, I am really glad that she did not stop.  Their child Emanuel, her eleventh child, grew up to be my great-grandfather.

Meanwhile, Jacob and Sarah’s two oldest children, Fanny (Frances) and Joseph, were already on their own by 1870.  Fanny, the only child born in England, had married Ansel Hamberg in 1866, according to the 1870 census, and in 1870, she and Ansel were living with their three daughters, Bertha (1866), Sarah (1867), and Hannah (1869).  Like her father Jacob, Fanny’s husband was employed as a pawnbroker.  Had he and Jacob met in the trade? Did they work together?  It appears from the city directories that Ansel was working at a different address, but perhaps there was some connection between the two stores.

Fanny and Ansel Hamberg and family 1870 census

Fanny and Ansel Hamberg and family 1870 census

Fanny’s younger brother Joseph was still living at home and working in the clothing business at 225 S. 2d Street, not too far from his family’s home in 1868.  By 1870, Joseph was married, and he and his wife Caroline had a one year old son Harry.  Joseph was working as a tailor, according to the 1870 census and he and Caroline were living in the same ward and district as his family and had a domestic servant living with them.

Joseph and Caroline Cohen and family 1870 US census

Joseph and Caroline Cohen and family 1870 US census

Like their brother Jacob, his siblings Lewis, Elizabeth and Jonas were also working in the retail business during the 1860s. In 1862 Lewis and Elizabeth were both listed in the Philadelphia city directory as clothiers living at 210 South Street.

Lewis Cohen and Elizabeth Cohen in the 1862 Philadelphia directory

Lewis Cohen and Elizabeth Cohen in the 1862 Philadelphia directory

In 1863 Jonas and Lewis were listed next to each other in the Pennsylvania Septennial Census as salesmen.  In 1867, 1868, 1870 and 1871, Elizabeth was listed as a clothier in the yearly Philadelphia city directory, and Lewis was listed as a salesman in 1868 and as a pawnbroker in 1871 (Jonas was not listed in either directory).  Both Elizabeth and Lewis were living at 119 South 2d Street, not far from where their nephew Joseph was working.

I could not find Lewis, Jonas or Elizabeth on the 1870 census, but apparently that census was terribly flawed, resulting in a second count in some major cities, including Philadelphia.  Even with a second count, it seems that the census taker missed those three Cohens.

Down in Washington, DC, Moses’ family had to adjust to his untimely death in 1860, leaving behind four children under ten in addition to his twenty year old son Moses, Jr.  Moses, Sr.’s widow Adeline supported the children by working as a merchant, selling second hand clothing, according to Washington, DC, city directories in 1867, 1868 and 1870.  By the time of the 1870 census, Adeline was still living with the four younger children, Hart, Rachael, Jacob, and John, but Hart was employed as a pawnbroker and Jacob as a clerk.  On the census Adeline is described as “keeping house,” so perhaps by that time her sons were supporting her.

Adeline Cohen and family 1870 US census

Adeline Cohen and family 1870 US census

Adeline and Moses’ oldest child, Moses, Jr., married Henrietta (Yetta) Loeb on August 16, 1862.  According to his 1863 Civil War draft registration, he was, like his cousins in Philadelphia, working as a clothier. Tax rolls for 1864 and 1865 list him as a “retail dealer.”  On the 1870 census, he was working as a clothier, and he and Henrietta had three children, Augusta (six), Myer (four), and Jacob (four months).

Moses Cohen, Jr. and family 1870 US census

Moses Cohen, Jr. and family 1870 US census

Thus, by 1870, although Hart and his son Moses had passed away, their families were thriving.  Hart’s four children in Philadelphia were all gainfully employed as merchants, starting in the clothing industry and eventually some of them becoming pawnbrokers.  Similarly, Moses, Sr.’s widow and children were also involved in the clothing and pawnbroker businesses in Washington, DC.  Jacob, my great-great grandfather, was well-established with an ongoing business in Philadelphia, and his children were following in his footsteps.  He and Sarah still had many young children at home in 1870, including my great-grandfather Emanuel.  The family was still living in Ward 4, but that would start to change as the next generation started to go out on their own, as we will see when we follow the family from 1870 to 1880.

That, also, would be a decade of transition for the family as Hart’s grandchildren became adults.  These grandchildren were almost all first-generation Americans, not immigrants.  Their story is an American story from start to finish.


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