Category Archives: Levensohn

Levensohn Kigel Immigration: Sara and Frume (Fannie?) – Pt. 3 in Levensohn Immigration Series

Kigel Sisters Arrive in 1903

Two young women, Sara and Frume KIGEL, arrived July 23, 1903 in Baltimore on the SS Frankfurt, sailing from Bremen. These two young women clearly are my great-aunts, as they were going to my great-uncle,  their brother, Max Levensohn, in Cincinnati. Here is the excerpt from their arrival record indicating where they were going:

LEVENSOHN KIGEL Sara and Frume detail arr 1903

Who were Sara and Frume?

The ages of these two women, 19 and 18, imply that Sara was born in 1884 and Frume was born in 1885. So, which of my great-aunts were these?

Sara

Six-and-a-half years later, when “Sarah Levenson” was listed on the 1910 U.S. Census, her age was shown as 19. So she had aged by zero years? That census also said that she arrived in 1905, not 1903. Does this mean this is not Sarah Levenson (Levensohn), the one who married Sam Meyers?

To add to the confusion, here is a summary of information from all the subsequent censuses:

July 1903: Sara Kigel arrives at age 19—->born 1884
Apr. 1910: Sarah Levenson age 19———>born 1891, arrived 1905
Jan. 1920: Sarah Meyers age 35———–>born 1884, arrived 1906
Apr. 1930: Sarah Meyers age 44———–>born 1885 or 1886, arrived 1906
Apr. 1930: Sarah Meyers age 56———–>born 1884 or 1885, no arrival date listed

So is this or is this not Sarah? It really must be – who else could it be? But there must be some doubt. First of all, people immigrating did lie about their age, but it would be more likely a single woman would say she was older than she was (in Sarah’s case, implying a birth date before 1884), so that she would be viewed as an adult.

Census data are a different story. The person answering the census taker might be someone else in the household who did not have accurate information. In the 1910 Census, Sarah was a lodger in the flat of Mollie Freedman, in San Francisco. The landlady might not have known Sarah’s actual age. Even a neighbor can be an informant on a census.

What about the consistent date discrepancy between the arrival of Sara Kigel in 1903 and Sarah’s listings in the 1910, 1920, and 1930 censuses? This, to me, throws the most doubt on saying that the two Sara(h)s are the same person. I’ve often encountered discrepancies between dates of arrival on a census and the date of actual immigration. People just forget exactly what year it was.

Frume – Fannie? Or not?

I believe that the person listed as Frume Kigel was there person who later was known as Fannie Levenso(h)n, and then married Nathan Bogner. I have been told by a relative that Fannie’s Hebrew (Yiddish) name was Feige, which is different. Names are funny things, especially when people changed them as freely as Jews did when moving from Eastern Europe to the U.S. around the turn of the twentieth century.

The JewishGen.org website has an authoritative database of given names and how they changed. Here is Frume:

However, there is  another reasons to doubt that this is Fannie. The 1910 Census says the she arrived in 1898. However, it gives that same date for her husband, Nathan Bogner. Perhaps someone assumed that both arrived the same year. Furthermore, Fannie does not seem to appear in the 1900 Census.

Then, in the 1920 Census, it is unclear which date is given for her arrival. Here are Nathan’s and Fannie’s dates of arrival excerpted from the 1920 Census:

So it appears to be a date in the early 1900s, but I cannot read it.

The implied birth dates also do not work for Fannie. Frume Kigel was born, according to her arrival record, in 1885, give or take a year. However, in July 1908, when she married Nathan, Fannie was listed as 20 years old, implying an 1888 birth. Then, in the 1910 Census Fannie Bogner was 21, having barely aged since her marriage, and implying 1889 birth. In the 1930 Census she was 31, consistent with 1899 birth year.

But who else might Frume be? I’m pondering.

A New Hometown:  Dzinnkow, now Dzyun’kov, Ukraine

The earlier Levensohn/Kigel siblings arriving in the U.S. (see also) listed a last residence or birthplace as Ruhzin, the name of a place within the Kiev area that I had previously thought to be connected with the family. But here is the last residence of Sara and Frume on the passenger list:

Last residence of Sara and Frume Kigel

According to JewishGen.org, Dzinnkow is now known as Dzyun’kov Ukraine, 83 miles south of Kiev. Ruhzin is 21 miles away from Dzyun’kov. Both are now within the Kiev region.

HOW I FOUND MY LEVENSOHN IMMIGRATION RECORDS, Part 2 – Annie Levensohn Rubin not yet found

Frustration with records still unfound and confusing names

There are several Levensohn (Kigels?) whose arrival records still elude me. And, still to discuss, are records with names that confuse me – Frume Kigel, who arrived with Sara in 1903; and Sprina Kigel, who arrived with her father, the patriarch of the family Joseph Levensohn. When he arrived with “Sprina” (I think this is Jennie) in 1906, his given name, as written on the manifest, is indecipherable (more about this in a later post).

Annie’s missing manifest

After the arrivals of Max and Morris and Clara, the next I expect to find is Annie (Hannah) Levensohn or Kigel (or variation). I expect her arrival next for several reasons. As far as I can tell, she is the next oldest of the siblings. (I cannot be sure of her birth date, nor actually of the birth dates of her siblings, but records I have show her as being born between 1878 and 1884.) She married in 1903, had her first child in 1904, and gave her U.S. arrival date to the census as 1901.

Hannah Levensohn married Morris Rubin in 1903

In late November, 1903, in Cincinnati, Rabbi Lifschitz officiated at the wedding of Hannah, daughter of Joseph, and Morris Rubin. The license put her age at 25, implying a birth year of 1878. Most other sources put her birth date several years later.

Here is their marriage license.

Marriage of Hannah Levensohn and Morris Rubin, 1903

 The Rubin’s first son, Paul, was born in 1904

In October, 1904, almost a year after they wed, Annie and Morris had their first child, Paul Rubin.

The 1910 Census showed the growing family still in Cincinnati and housing Annie’s sister Jennie

Below is an excerpt from the census sheet showing the Rubin family. Aside from from the common mangling of spelled names, it appears clear and straightforward. The implied birth date for Annie is 1881 or 1882, and it indicates she arrived in the U.S. in 1901.

1910 Rubin family in Cincinnati, with Jennie Levensohn

My fruitless search for Annie’s arrival

I’ve cast a wide net, using every name spelling variations I can conceive of, in my search for an arrival record for Annie. Knowing that the cursive capital K sometimes resembles and H, I tried all the Kigel variations using an initial H, too. I also tried leaving out any name, just looking for a single Jewish woman from Russia in the approximate age range, arriving in Baltimore or New York between 1900 and 1903. I tried searching with Cincinnati as a key word; also with Ruzin, Dzinkow, and other nearby places, trying various spellings and wildcard searches. Hours and hours and hours I have spent, to no avail!

 

HOW I FOUND MY LEVENSOHN IMMIGRATION RECORDS, Part 1 (HINT: THEY WEREN’T LEVENSOHN)

The Long Story Short

Several years ago I wrote about my total lack of success in finding any immigration records for my Levensohn family (Why Can’t I Find My Levensohn Immigration Records?). I summarized my long, complicated, thorough search and hypothesized various reasons for my failure. All of my hypotheses were wrong.

The real reason I couldn’t find them is that they did not travel using the name “LEVENSOHN,” not any spelling variation, nor any other family name I tried. Instead, they arrived under some variation of the name “KEGEL.” I began to find this out – and started telling the story – in another, more recent post (Levensohn Hecht Kigel Kegal).

The Immigration Records I’ve Found So Far

Max was first, arriving in 1893, as Marcus KIGEL

In the post I’ve just cited, I summarized Max’s arrival on the  and his eventual naturalization as Max Levensohn. He arrived at Ellis Island, with New York listed as his ultimate destination.  Where and when he lived in New York is something I have not been able to find (yet?).

In the Cincinnati City Directory, published June 1895, Max Levensohn, cigar maker, was listed as boarding at “504 9th Street, near Freeman Ave.” That is the first record I have found for him after his arrival in New York.

Why he came to Cincinnati is still a mystery to me. (A mystery to solve!)

Three Levensohn Siblings Lived in Cincinnati in 1900: Max, Morris, and Clara

The Census lists the three siblings in Cincinnati at 1916 Western Avenue in January, 1900. My working assumption is that these three were the only ones who arrived in the 1890s.

Max, Morris, and Clara Levensohn, Cincinnati, 1900

Here is a detailed excerpt:

Detail of the 1900 Census Entry

As often happened, the census taker wrote the name wrong, Anglicized to  “Livingston.” (And the indexer for this census entry read it as “Sivingston.”  They were living at 1716 Western Avenue in Cincinnati. The letter that looks like a cursive “m” is a “W,” indicating white. The dates are dates of birth. Max and Morris are shown as Single. Clara is shown with both an “S” and an “M” written in the marital status column, and I cannot tell which was meant to be the actual status.

All of these details fit with what I know, including the confusion about Clara’s marital status (and that’s another story).

And here are more details, including the dates of arrival:

After the dates are the number of years in the U.S. “Al” stands for “alien.” Women did not get designations like that. The 0 refers to number of years unemployed in the past year. The three columns of Yes and No are whether the person reads English, writes English, and speaks English.

Given the details here, plus the KIGEL name listed on Max’s arrival record, I was – after more than a decade of searching – able to find the arrival records for Morris and Clara.

Morris arrived as Mosche KEIGEL in 1895 and Clara arrived as Chaja KIGEL in 1897

The arrival years for all three of the siblings were one year later than the years listed on the census.

Morris arrived at the Port of Baltimore in May, 1895 on the SS Oldenburg, sailing from Bremen, Germany. Here is the record, excerpted from the arrival manifest:

KEIGEL (?) Mosche (Morris Levensohn) arrival record

It looks like he was 16 years old, implying a birth year in about 1879. His list residence is listed as “Ruzin,” consistent with what I have suspected. He is going to his brother, in Cincinnati, with $5.

Clara arrived two years later, in June, 1897 also landing in Baltimore. She sailed on the SS Willefidd from Bremen

Clara Kigel (Levensohn) arrival in 1897

Her name was right under another person who was going to Cincinnati, so I included both on the excerpt. It sits her as Chaja Kigel, a 21 year old female, no occupation, able to read and write, from Ruzin in Russia, going to her brother in Cincinnati, Ohio.

 

Levensohn Hecht Kigel Kegal

  • Max Levensohn came to the U.S. as “Marcus Kigel”

I’ve already written about the possibility that “the Levensohns were Hechts (Dodging the Czar’s Draft and Confusing My Levensohn Research.”). Now I’ve discovered a new name. Here is an excerpt from Max Levensohn’s arrival record (ship manifest) on September 26, 1893.

KIGEL manifest excerpt

“Marcus Kigel” manifest excerpt 1893

How do I know that Max arrived as Marcus? Because his naturalization papers say so. If you note that number  – “22×6313-12/2/35” – it is an addition made to the original manifest as part of Max’s naturalization process in 1935. As an older man, in his early 60s, Max became a citizen.

Here is his Petition for Naturalization:

LEVENSOHN Max Petition Naturalization

The Petition refers back to his arrival at Ellis Island on the S.S. Elbe, excerpted above. There are some typographical errors on the Petition:  listing him as “Marcus KEGEL” vs. “Marcus KIGEL” on the manifest (or is it HIGEL?). It also says he was married in “Corkington, Kentucky” rather than “Covington,” where he was actually married.

Max Levensohn, briefly

Max was the oldest of three sons in the family, and he had six sisters. Leah, the only one who did not come to the U.S., was possibly older than Max.

According to the Petition, Max was born in 1873 in “Ruzin” – now Ruzhin, Ukraine. His wife, Clara Belilovsky (later, Bell), also from Ukraine, arrived in the U.S. in 1901, when Max was established in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was a cigar maker and owned a small cigar manufacturing company.

In the early 1930s Max and Clara moved to San Francisco, presumably to be closer to more of the Levensohn family. Note that the witnesses on the Petition, above, were Martha Craft and Max Newstat. Both of these were offspring of Clara Levensohn, one of Max Levensohn’s sisters.

Max Levensohn died in 1955 in San Francisco. His wife preceded him in death in 1949.

Max Levensohn and his wife, Clara (gets confusing, doesn’t it? Max Levensohn, Max Newstat; Clara Levensohn, his wife and Clara Levensohn, his sister) left no children. I haven’t found a record of a stillbirth or a birth to indicate that there ever was a child.

I’m always saddened when I research these “forgotten” relatives. I have heard no one living ever refer to them. When I was growing up, I never heard my father ever mention his “Uncle Max,” nor did I hear my grandfather, Morris, mention a brother (even though Morris had worked for Max from time to time, in the cigar making business). I don’t even recall my Aunt Dorothy – the only relative who ever told me about my “California cousins” – ever mentioning Max and Clara.

These records of Max, left behind and dug up in my research, seem to revive his memory, at least a bit. And the mystery of the name, “Marcus Kigel,” adds another clue in my search for the family history.

Here is a photo of Max, from naturalization papers (specifically, from his “Declaration of Intention”).

LEVENSOHN Max pic from declaration

 

 

Clerk of Courts Research, Cincinnati, OH

Recounting My Experience

I’m writing a brief post documenting my experience with an afternoon of research at the Hamilton County Courthouse in downtown Cincinnati. Perhaps it might help or inspire someone else.

For some reason I have avoided courthouse research, but I knew there were things I must get there, things not available elsewhere.

Starting Online

I began at http://www.courtclerk.org/cpciv_namesearch.asp, which is the “Common Pleas Civil Names Search.” It was helpful to copy this chart, from elsewhere on the Clerk of Court’s site, to use as reference:

Help for Case Number Formatting
Case Numbers must be entered in the format of their court of jurisdiction as shown below.
Common Pleas Civil A9707417
Common Pleas Felony B9805800
Court of Appeals C9700980
Domestic Relations DR090001
Domestic Violence Not available online.
Common Pleas Execution EX9800001
Land Registration LR9800001
Common Pleas Misc. M9800002
Common Pleas – Stalking Not available online.
Municipal Civil 98CV04000
Municipal Cert. of Judgment 00CJ28500
Common Pleas Cert. of Judgment CJ99001070
Municipal Criminal C/99/CRB/12362/99/CRB/12362
Municipal Traffic C/99/TRD/12362/99/TRD/12362
NOTE: Municipal Criminal/Traffic case numbers must be entered using the format shown above. The cases begining with a “C” are county cases and the cases beginning with a slash (/) are city cases. The slashes (/) must be included. Do not include the charge code (A, B, C, etc.) at the end of the case number. For felony cases the category will be “CRA”, for traffic it will be “TRD” and DUI’s are listed as “TRC”.

I didn’t use this to enter case numbers, but to help interpret what I found. As it turned out, the very older cases I found (from the first three decades of the 20th century) did not have any letters in front of the case numbers.

The name search worked fine for my purposes. I had a few possibilities in mind, but didn’t necessarily know the years; and I certainly didn’t know the case numbers. The name search form requires a last name and a first initial. If you just put in a last name, it will not perform a search.

Old Records Not Digitized

I did find some digitized records, but they were recent and not of any immediate interest to me. In most cases, when I got a hit in my search, the information provided online was minimal.

The Example of My Great-Grandparents’ Divorce

I knew that my great-grandparents, John and Jennie Grinker, were divorced in about 1908, based on brief articles of court news found through my newspapers.com subscription and my genealogybank.com subscription.

When I entered John Grinker’s name in the name search online form, I got:

Common Pleas Civil Name Search Results
Search results for a party name like: GRINKER/JOHN
Name
GRINKER JOHN

By clicking on John Grinker’s name in this result, I got:

 

Search results for a party name like: GRINKER JOHN
Name Case #  
Party Description Filing Code Case Date Party Info
CJ Indicator Disposition Code Disp Date Image #
GRINKER JOHN 138550
Litigant-2 party/atty info

There were two links to click on here:  the case number and the party/attorney info. Clicking on either of these brought me to a “Case Summary” page, but the only information there – singularly unhelpful – was a message saying:

The case number that you entered was not found.

Pretty discouraging.

I had this experience repeatedly, with the names of several ancestors.

The good news was that when I phoned the Clerk of Courts office and asked if this meant that there was no record of this case, I was told that there was a record, just not a record online.

Go To the “Paper Room”

I was told I needed to go to the Paper Room at the Court House.

The Paper Room is not listed on the building directory at the elevators. When I first came in, I asked the guard stationed before the security checkpoint. He told me it was the Law Library on the 6th floor.

I was doubtful. When I got through security and got to the elevators, I saw that the Clerk of Courts was on the 3rd floor. I went to the 3rd floor and lucked out. The first person I met in the hallway said, “That’s where I work. I work in the Paper Room. Follow me.”

Turns out, if you go to the Clerk of Courts area, someone will direct you to the Paper Room.

Not All Staff Are Equally Adept

When I got to the Paper Room in the early afternoon, the gentleman who helped me was nice but not able to find most of the things I was looking for. I gave him three of the case numbers I had found.

  • One was John Grinker’s, which I assumed was the divorce. When I searched on Jennie Grinker’s name, the same case number had come up, and she had shown up as L-1 (i.e. Litigant One), to his L-2. So it was likely their divorce (it was).
  • One was the case number of another presumed divorce, probably in the 1920s (I didn’t know for sure)
  • The third was a case number in the 1950s.

The staff member was only able to find the third case number for me. It was more recent, and actually had an “A” before the numbers, denoting a “Common Pleas Civil” case, as on my reference table, above. I knew it to be a lawsuit.

The one he found was on microfiche.

He searched mightily for the two older cases, but  he decided the records did not exist.

But all was not lost! He told me that another staff member was “really good” at finding these things, and that she would be back from lunch in 20 minutes.

Don’t Give Up; Work With A Staff Member Who Specializes

I won’t put her name here. But my advice is to ask if there is someone else in the office who might be able to find your records.

This lady knew her stuff. She found both divorce records. She obviously takes pride in her knowledge of the ins and outs of the old records. Both divorce records were on microfilm.

It Doesn’t Go Quickly; It Isn’t Self-Serve

In both cases – the microfiche and the microfilm records, the staff members used both their computers and drawers in a back room to search for the items I needed.

And, in both cases, the staff members loaded the readers, operated those machines, and made the copies. There was a big sign that insisted that only staff could use the machines. But I could pull up a chair and look over their shoulders, no problem.

The process of finding and making printed copies for me was a tedious process. I was there for 2 – ½ hours and ended up with fewer than 50 pieces of paper, covering the three cases.

But the Service is Great, and Inexpensive

I got individual attention from staff members the entire time. The charge to me, ten cents per copy, was less than $5.00. It cost me more than twice that to pay for parking in the area.

I Think I Was Lucky

I was lucky that the very adept staff member was there and that she was not otherwise occupied. I was also lucky that she seemed genuinely interested in providing the service to me. Finally, she gave me her name and phone number at the office, if I needed more assistance. I was impressed!

Next time I come to Cincinnati, I will go for further research, calling in advance.

Courthouse Fires

Before I left, my excellent staff member gave me a handout that began with an article about Hamilton County Courthouse fires. They occurred well before the 20th century, which was my interest. However, if you are interested in records from the 19th century and earlier, I recommend you phone the Clerk of Courts, ask for the Paper Room, and see if they can forward their courthouse fires article to you.

 

 

 

 

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Nicknames: Lewis was Bobby and Bud

Lewis L young man portrait

This was my father, Lewis N. Levensohn, as a young man. Although his name was Lewis, no one in his family called him “Lewis” or “Lew.” They called him “Bobby” or “Bud.”

Here’s what I remember my mother telling me:

Bessie, his mother, wanted to name him Robert and call him Bobby. However, Morris, his father, took him to the shul and named him “Lewis Nathaniel.”

Thinking about it, this doesn’t really make sense. Morris must have completed the paperwork to register my dad’s birth, naming him “Lewis Nathaniel.” At the shul Morris would have given his son his Jewish name, “Leyb Nachem.” And this might well correspond to “Lewis Nathaniel.”

My mother had also told me that Morris, my grandfather, was a learned Jew from an observant family. As such, Morris might have determined to follow Ashkenazic tradition and name his new son after recently deceased family member(s).  Bessie’s own grandparents, Nathan (Nichemn) and Leah Kaminsky had both passed away in the two years previous to Lewis’s birth. I speculate that Morris named his son after the baby’s great-grandparents.

Apparently my grandma Bessie never accepted this as her youngest child’s name. She always called him “Bobby.” So did his sister, Ruth, who was two years older.  The two older siblings, Mitchell and Dorothy, who were about a decade older, chose a middle ground:  they called him “Bud.”

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Grinker Mysteries: What Happened to John Grinker?

I have already posted about some of the Grinker mysteries, including the mostly unknown figure of my paternal great-grandfather, John Grinker (http://wp.me/p35vsQ-y).

John Grinker was my great-grandfather. He arrived in the U.S. in Baltimore in 1893 with his wife, Jennie Grinker (nee Kaminsky) and three children:  my grandmother (the oldest, who came to be called Bessie in the U.S.); Fannie; and Joseph, the baby, who had been born while the family was in Argentina. They had had a brief stint in Maurico, an early agricultural colony established by Baron Hirsch. Before that the family lived in Odessa. Jennie was born in Odessa, or nearby, but John’s place of origin is still a mystery.

In late 1894 they were living in Ohio. Their fourth child, Abraham was born in Cincinnati in November 1894. By 1900 Celia (b. 1898) and Henry (b. 1899) had been born. Two more children, Rose (b. 1903) and Mat (b. 1907) came along in the next decade. [Sidenote: Mat was born in June 1907, while his nephew, Mitchell, was born six months before him, in January 1907. My grandma, Bessie had been married in late 1905 and Mitchell was her first child.]

Birth record of Mat Grinker, from University of Cincinnati rare books website

Birth record of Mat Grinker, from University of Cincinnati rare books website

The story I was always told was that John Grinker “left the family.” No other details emerged from a family who, typically, didn’t discuss unpleasantness.

John Grinker had left the family by 1910

In April 1910, the U.S. Census shows Jennie as the head of the household at 4397 Virginia Avenue (in the Northside neighborhood of Cincinnati) and her marital status is listed as divorced.  Repeated searches  – and I’m a pretty good searcher – have not turned up John Grinker, or anyone that seems to be him, anywhere in the 1910 U.S. Census. There are other John Grinkers, but none of their details come close to matching what I know (or think I know) about my great-grandfather.

Exactly When and Why Did John Grinker Leave His Family?

That is an unanswerable question, I am sure. Even if numerous narratives were available, the reasons would still be in question.  But, up until the past few days, no details about his leaving were available to me at all.

I asked about his leaving, once or twice when I was young, and was completely brushed off.

I can’t remember exactly when it was but, as an adult, I visited my Aunt Dorothy and asked pointedly and persistently about it. Aunt Dorothy was living in a home for the elderly at that point. Her sister, my Aunt Ruth, was also in the room.

John Grinker was the grandfather of Dorothy and Ruth.  Dorothy was born in 1909 and Ruth was born in 1915.  So neither of them knew John Grinker. But Jennie Kaminsky Grinker, their grandmother, lived until 1948, in the same city as they did, so they had the opportunity to know her well.

When I wouldn’t be brushed off, when I continued to insist she tell me why John Grinker left, she exclaimed, “Because the Levensohn women were so mean. All the Levensohn women were mean.” And she was clearly including herself. Now, when I say she exclaimed, I am using an exact word. Dorothy often exclaimed. In a manner indicative of the Debating Team champion that she had been, Dorothy had found another way to brush me off.

And Aunt Ruth, sweet Aunt Ruth, said, “That’s not the way I remember it at all.” Someone, probably Dorothy, then changed the subject. I was defeated for the moment; I didn’t realize that was probably the last time I would be able to get something close to a first-person account.

Who were those mean women?

Jenny Kaminsky Grinker was not a “Levensohn woman.” She was a Grinker woman by marriage, a Kaminsky woman by birth. “Levensohn” was the surname of her first son-in-law, Bessie’s husband, Dorothy and Ruth’s father. Levensohn was the name Dorothy and Ruth had been born with, but not Jennie. Dorothy was old and so I can forgive the slip from the brilliant and generally exact woman. But I know she wouldn’t have said “All the Grinker women were mean,” because everyone in the room knew that was not true. Bessie, her mother, was not mean, nor were her aunts Celia – with whom Dorothy had been close – nor Rose, whom Dorothy considered not so intelligent but couldn’t possibly view as mean. Aunt Rose was so sweet.

Had she said, “All the Kaminsky women were mean,” I would have done a double take because, at that time, I had never even heard the Kaminsky name. I am pretty sure, though, that Dorothy meant that Jennie Kaminsky Grinker was so mean that she had chased her husband away with her meanness. There is a good chance that Dorothy believed her Grandma Jennie was mean, but I think she was also just trying to deflect my question about an uncomfortable family situation.

Revelations about family dysfunction and marital turmoil

Newspapers for Genealogy

In the past few days I have partly broken through this genealogical brick wall. I subscribed to two paid services, newspapers.com and genealogybank.com, another site that specializes in historical newspapers.  Both use OCR (optical character recognition) to allow text searching. [Unfortunately for me, both sites are limited in terms of which newspapers they carry and which years they have in their catalogs. My interest in Cincinnati family history covers the time period from the late 1800s through to the present. Newspapers.com (owned by Ancestry.com) includes the Cincinnati Enquirer through 1923; GenealogyBank.com includes the Cincinnati Post through 1922. I hope that later years will be added, but the years I can now access have given me some startling information.]

The Bare Bones of the Skeletons in the Family Closet

  • In September 1907, about three months after Mat’s birth, Abe Grinker left home. That would have been about two months before Abe’s 13th birthday and probably at the beginning of the school year. I have no information about when Abe returned home, but he was still missing in mid-January 1908.  The Cincinnati Post newspaper published the following article on January 15, 1908.

GRINKER Celia news item 1908

  • In early January 1908 John Grinker separated from his wife, Jennie. Where he went is unclear.
  • On or about February 29, 1908, John went to the family home on Virginia Avenue in order to see his children. Trouble ensued. What actually happened was not stated in the newspaper report, but John was charged with assault and battery. The following newspaper clipping somewhat documents the separation and the ruckus on Virginia Avenue.
  • John Grinker Domestic Assault 1908

    John Grinker Domestic Assault 1908

  • On or about June 26, 1908 Jennie divorced John.Jennie Grinker divorces John
  • On August 22, 1908 John Grinker married Rosa Rabenstein in Cincinnati. Rabbi Deutsch solemnized the marriage.
Marriage of John Grinker and Rosa Rabenstein, 1908

Marriage of John Grinker and Rosa Rabenstein, 1908

  • On March 7th or 8th, 1910, John Grinker divorced Rosa.

John Grinker divorces Rosa 1910

What Was Really Going On With John Grinker Between 1907 and 1910?

How can we ever know? Did he leave Jennie six times in the years up to and including 1908, as the newspaper reported? His last child, Mat, had been born less than a year earlier. Why would he leave so often? Was it because she was the “mean woman,” as Aunt Dorothy had implied? Or did Aunt Dorothy, as a child, misperceive her grandma Jennie as a mean person because Jennie had been embittered by a husband who repeatedly left her, who reportedly assaulted her? Was John the problem? Both John and Jennie?

The quick rebound marriage John entered into with Rosa, only a few months after leaving Jennie, doesn’t reflect particularly well on him.  Then, two years later, he divorced Rosa, accusing her of being a tramp, stepping out on him, bragging about her exploits with other men. One possibility is that she really was like that, in which case one needs to question John’s judgment in marrying her in the first place. Or maybe John was lying. In those days one needed a reason such as adultery in order to obtain a divorce. Maybe John was delusional, paranoid. None of those things can be ruled out.

A Digression on Rosa Rabenstein, AKA Rose Raben Grinker

I’ve just begun a bit of research about John’s second wife, Rosa Rabenstein. Her first husband was Benjamin Rabenstein. They had three daughters in the 1890s: Jeanette, Sarah, and Laura. Somewhere along the line all of them – Rosa (aka Rose), Benjamin (aka Ben) and the three girls began using the last name “Raben.”

Rose’s daughters were in their teens when she had her brief marriage to John Grinker. Her oldest daughter, Jeanette, married in 1909.

A little more than a month  after John sued her for divorce, Rosa was recorded in the census as “Rosa Rabenstein,” head of the household, with Sarah and Laura living with her, in an apartment in Newport, Kentucky (across the river from Cincinnati).

Rosa/Rose died in Cincinnati in 1947, almost 80 years old. Her death certificate and her headstone give her name as “Rose Raben Grinker.” Her death certificate says she was the widow of John Grinker.

John Grinker “went missing” after his divorce from Rosa

Countless times I have searched for John Grinker, from 1910 onward. I’ve tried a myriad of name variations, search techniques, and websites. I cannot find him in the 1910 or the 1920 Census. I’ve searched the city directories of Cincinnati, year by year, in microfilm form when I couldn’t find a hard copy or an online version.  So far I have found  few possibilities:

John Grinker the “Soda Boy”?

A front page article in the Cincinnati Post, October 23, 1915, titled “Beneficiary of Miss Dow’s Will” discussed the benevolence of a drug store owner, Cora Dow. Her store was in the Mercantile Library Building, 437 Vine Street. When she died, Miss Dow left numerous bequests to her employees. Here are the last two paragraphs of the article:

GRINKER John Cinti Post p.1 Oct 1915

There are several problems connecting this with my great-grandfather. One is the age. Age 68 in 1915 implies a birth in 1847 or 1848. Most records suggest he was born in the late 1850s. No record suggests he was in the Navy. Perhaps the Russian Navy? I do not have any records for that, but it might explain how he got to Odessa. That is idle speculation. Was he a machinist? The 1907 birth record for Mat Grinker, reproduced above, said he was a harness-maker. But John didn’t seem to have a consistent occupation. His 1893 arrival manifest said he was a farmer. Several Cincinnati Directories listed him as a “porter.” In 1898 the Cincinnati Directory listed him as a clerk, while the 1900 Census gave his occupation as “janitor” at a dry goods store. The 1907 directory called him a “mach hand.” But his 1908 marriage license, posted above, gave his occupation as a machinist. So I think that the John Grinker in this article was, indeed, my great-grandfather.

Post-1910 City Directories

The 1924 City Directory of Cincinnati has a sudden reappearance of John:  Grinker, John h rear 2030 Vine. Oddly, the entry immediately above it lists, “Grinker, Jennie wid John.”

Then, the 1927-28 directory shows him as a resident of the Jewish Home.

There are John Grinkers in other cities listed, but typically there doesn’t seem to be any possible connection with my great-grandfather. Two possibilities, however, are a John Grinker, machinist, boarding at 1148 Fort w in Detroit, 1911; and John Grinker, laborer, living at 1211 Bank Lick in Covington, KY in 1914.

An inmate at a mental institution

The last record I can find for John Grinker is the 1930 Census, where he is listed as an inmate at Longview State Hospital in Cincinnati. He is shown as 81 years old, which would put his birth date around 1850, whereas most records have him born in the late 1850s. It also gives his birthplace as Ohio, with his parents’ birthplace as Russia. Is this a record of my great-grandfather? I think so, but have no definite information.

And after that, nothing. No burial in a Cincinnati Jewish cemetery. No burial at the Longview cemetery. I do not know when or where he died.

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Dorothy Levensohn and Her Academic Brilliance

Dot Senior Photo

Aunt Dorothy was eccentric.  That is a word we used to describe her.  One of the examples I have used to illustrate her eccentricity is that she was a vegetarian from, I heard, the age of 19.  That would have been in 1928.

Now, I think, I would call her a woman born ahead of her time.  Her brilliance, her intellectual fearlessness, her outspoken and informed expressions of her opinions, coming from a woman of her generation, were startling and, probably, off-putting to many. She could be infuriating, a know-it-all, even when she didn’t – although she usually did.   But her senior yearbook ditty has it right: “Her bark’s really worse than her bite.”

And Aunt Dorothy could be loving, endearing, gentle, incredibly generous.  When I was a little girl she would delight me on walks, identifying the trees and other flora as we strolled through a park.  She thrilled me by telling me that I was smarter than some of her students (in college preparatory Latin), when I would pick up one of her textbooks and learn, “Agricola sum.”

My cousin, Johnny, told me recently that in the 1980s, after Dot had moved into a nursing home, herself, she kept her apartment and let Johnny live there for 18 months.

But her outspokenness could come across as mean.  I remember her speaking derisively of people she thought were stupid, even people she knew and cared about.  My sister proudly took Dorothy to her new townhouse and was hurt by Dorothy’s (probably meant as a humorous compliment), “It’s too good for you!”

It’s so hard to know where to start when writing about Aunt Dorothy.  I suppose the best place is her brilliance.  That’s something everyone would have to agree about.

Dorothy was 17 when she graduated from Walnut Hills High School in 1926.  WHHS, still one of the premier public high schools in the US, is a college preparatory school.  According to Wikipedia, when WHHS was known as a “classical high school” “modeled on eastern college preparatory schools in general, and on Boston Latin School in particular.”  In Dot’s senior year, according to her high school yearbook, she was:

Editor of the Yearbook

  • Remembrancer Staff

President of the Senior Debating ClubSenior Debating Club

Member of the French ClubFrench Club

Member of the winning Tri-State Debate TeamTri-State Debate

University of Cincinnati and Yale University

She attended UC (University of Cincinnati) and was an academic prize winner (source:  The American Israelite, June 23, 1927).  She graduated in 1930, and I have yet to discover which particular degree she won, but I assume it was a B.A. in the Classics.

In 1930 Dorothy apparently joined and her older brother, Mitchell, at Yale University.  The American Israelite reported that Dorothy was recipient of a scholarship in classical languages, while Mitchell won a graduate fellowship in the classics (May 23, 1930, p.2). 

Again in The American Israelite the following year (May 14, 1931, p. 2):

“Miss Dorothy Levensohn, who was graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1930, was among the eight Jewish students who were awarded fellowships at Yale University last week.”

The eight Jewish recipients were among 176 fellowship winners across the country.    Three of the eight were women  (The American Isrealite, May 28, 1931).   Next year, (May  12, 1932) the Israelite  reported that Dorothy had “been awarded a Susan Rhode Cutler fellowship to continue researches in the classics at the Yale University Graduate School” (p. 2).

I do not know if Dorothy completed her advanced degree at Yale.  I remember hearing, as a child, that she had obtained a Library Sciences Master’s degree from Yale, but I have no evidence that my recollection is correct.

She was also B.A. 1937 from the University of Cincinnati.  I know this only because I found a web link that showed a listing from the Cincinnatian Yearbook.  It didn’t state her major.

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Could’ve Been a California Girl (The Levensohns Go West)

All of my grandpa Levensohn’s immediate family, except his mother and one sister, immigrated to the US in the 1890s and 19-oughts.  His mother, Malkah, passed away in the Old Country, and his eldest sister, Leah, stayed behind, married, and passed away, without ever coming to the U.S.Most of them moved to Cincinnati.  Two possible exceptions  are the youngest brother, who was known in the U.S. as Joe Levenson, and his sister, Sarah Levensohn.  This is not to say that they did not come to Cincinnati;  I just have not found any evidence that they did.

The first evidence I’ve found of Joe and of Sarah are in California  and, eventually, their father, Joseph Levensohn and all of their U.S. siblings left Cincinnati and moved to California.

All of them moved to California, that is, except one, my grandpa. Why everyone else left Cincinnati but my grandpa stayed is a mystery probably lost to time.  My guess is that his wife, my grandma, Bessie, wanted to stay in Cincinnati, where she had lived since childhood, and where she was raising her children.

The 1910 Census shows most of the Levensohns living in Cincinnati.  Max, who had been there since the early 1890s, was living here on West Liberty  

with his wife, Clara (not to be confused with his sister, Clara); his father, Joseph Levensohn; his brother-in-law, Charles Bell, and his mother-in-law, Lea Bell.

Annie Levensohn Rubin – Hannah, according to her marriage license – was living with her husband, Morris Rubin, and three children:  Paul, Minnie (Madelynne), and Peter on Laurel Street in Cincinnati.  Her younger sister, Jennie, age 17 also lived with them.

Fannie Levensohn Bogner was also married, living with her husband, Nathan, and their first child, Max, at 1217 Cutter Street.

And my grandpa and grandma were living on Gest Street.

All of the Levensohns in Cincinnati were living in the West End.  That part of town deteriorated, was partly razed for “projects” during the Depression, deteriorated further until the Eisenhower era, and then was torn apart for the building of I-75.  It has been an area of slums for decades, but gentrification has begun there.

There is a new townhouse at 1217 Cutter Street, where Fannie and her family lived.

The Gest Street address of my grandparents and the Laurel Street address where Annie and Jennie lived are long gone.

The first Levensohn I can find in California is Clara Levensohn Newstat (there are several spellings of this last name).  In the 1910 census Clara was living in Stockton, California with her husband, James (Jacob), and their two children, Max, b. 1904 in Cincinnati and Martha.  Martha was listed as “Mercina” and her age, in April, 1910, was three years old, having been born in California.  So I think that Martha Neustat Craft (her married name) has the distinction of being the first Levensohn descendent born in California.  (The address, at 124 West Main Street in Stockton appears to have been obliterated by destruction and construction.)

Sarah Levensohn married Samuel Althers Meyers sometime before 1912.  There are birth records showing twins – Max and Marta Meyers – born to Sarah on the leap year day, February 29, 1912, in San Francisco.  Records show the Meyers family living in San Francisco for several decades.

It looks as if Annie, her husband, Morris Rubin, and their three children followed the Newstats to Stockton.  On October 22, 1913, “Rachael Ruben” was born in San Joaquin county to a mother with the maiden name of Levenson.  In January 1920 the Morris Rubin family was living in Stockton with four children, the youngest being six-year-old “Rosie.”  So Rosie/Rachael Rubin, I think, was the second Levensohn born in California.

Jennie must have gone west around the same time as the Rubins.  According to a transcription of California Marriage Records on FamilySearch.org, Jennie Levensohn married John Althers on January 23, 1913 in San Francisco.  Now, on the 1920 Census in San Francisco his name was listed as John Meyer, but his name, its variations, and his history will have to wait for another post.  Suffice to say that the family –  Jennie, John, and young Frances, were living at 1280 10th Avenue East in SF in January, 1920.

By 1920, all the US Levensohns were living in California except my grandfather, his father (Joseph), and his older brother, Max.  Fannie and Nathan Bogner were living in Sacramento.  Annie Rubin’s family was still in Stockton; I’ve been unable to find the Newstats at all in the 1920 census.  Sarah and Joe were in San Francisco.

Joseph, the elder, was living in San Francisco by 1930.  Max and his wife, Clara, moved there sometime between 1930 and 1935.

So my grandpa, Morris, was the only one of the bunch who stayed in Cincinnati.  Otherwise, I guess I could’ve been a California girl.  Or, maybe, I could’ve not been, at all, since my mother was from Cincinnati and, had my dad lived in California, they would never have met.

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Dodging the Czar’s Draft and Confusing My Levensohn Research

Avoiding Conscription:  Our Story

My grandpa’s father was Joseph Levensohn, b ca 1854 in Kiev or vicinity. Here’s the story the way I remember hearing it:

“Joseph’s father was one of seven brothers, all surnamed HECHT.  The family was well off.  In order to avoid conscription, each one of the brothers purchased the name from a professional soldier, trading names with him.  Joseph’s father purchased the name LEVENSOHN in exchange for HECHT.”

Here is the way my aunt remembered the story, and wrote it down in 1942:

“There was an interesting story connected with how Levensohn became their name.  It seems that Morris Levensohn’s grandfather was the richest brewer in Odessa and paid a man named Levensohn $5000 to take his name and adopt the name of Hecht so that he – the rich brewer – might escape military duty.  So, from that time on the Hechts were Levensohns and the Levensohns were Hechts.”

Clearly some differences:  Kiev vs. Odessa.  Seven brothers vs. no mention of brothers.  And the details about a brewer and a dollar amount (never mind the conversion from kopeks) are intriguing.

The Odessa/Kiev contradiction is easily dealt with, I think.  The only documents I can find list “Kieff” as the Old Country residence of my grandfather and my great-grandfather.  Morris’s wife was from Odessa, and I think my aunt was getting the ancestral cities confused.

Living relatives (cousins and siblings) remember the story, but very hazily.  We all “know” that a paternal ancestor was named Hecht and then his name became Levensohn; and we all “know” that it had to do with draft dodging.

Stories about our Jewish ancestors in the Russian Empire avoiding conscription are commonplace.  My family’s story has the twist of the surname switch; and the possibility of seven men, each with a different surname.  How am I supposed to research my family?  Are we Levensohn or are we Hecht? What might be the other surnames, if there were seven different trades from Hecht?

Or is the story apocryphal?  Well, my research has definitely found at least one link, maybe more, between the Hechts and the Levensohns.

The LEVENSOHN HECHT Connection

Each step along the way to establishing this connection is questionable.

The first questionable connection is this:  Max Levensohn, Joseph’s oldest son, married his cousin, who was the daughter of a woman whose last name was Hecht.

Max married Clara, whose maiden name was Belilowski, changed to Bell.  That is not in dispute.  But were Clara and Max cousins?  The evidence is tenuous.

Belilowski, Clara and Charles, 1901

Going to cousin Max Levensohn in Cincinnati

The 1901 manifest shows Schaie [later “Charles”], age 19, and his sister, Clara, arriving in Baltimore and going to their cousin, Max Levensohn, on Western Avenue in Cincinnati.  The question here is this:  was Max really their cousin?  Or was it a lie to enable him to bring his betrothed to the US?

Max and Clara did not wed for more than a year after her arrival.  Her surname on the marriage license was BELL.

My working hypothesis is that Max and Clara were, in fact, related in some way.  Cousin marriages were common among Jews of their generation.

The 1910 Federal Census shows Max living on Liberty Street in Cincinnati with his wife, Clara; his father, Joseph; his brother-in-law, Charles Bell; and his mother-in-law, Lea Bell.  Joseph and Lea were about the same age, in their mid-50s, consistent with being part of the same generation.  (I haven’t been able to find Lea’s immigration record.

When Charles Bell married in 1911, the marriage license application lists his mother’s maiden name as Leah HECHT.  When Lea/Leah died, in July 1922, her name was listed as “Elizabeth Bell” on the death certificate.  Her father’s name was listed as “Pinkus HECHT” from Ruzin, Russia.

The next questionable connection has to do with Ruhzin, near Kiev, the LITWACK family, and several other families from the Ruhzin area that moved to Cincinnati.

That connection is complicated, and would require a separate post.  Suffice to say that there are several clues that the Levensohns were related to the Litwacks.  The Litwacks were related to the Goldens and to the Mincowskys, all of whom lived in Cincinnati and all of whom came from Ruhzin.  And the Mincowskys and Goldens were related to the Billiloves, probably the same family as Clara and Charles Bililofsky.

Autosomal dna evidence connects me to a Litwack descendent, as a “4th to remote” cousin.  Another Levensohn relative, my first cousin, connects to the same man as a “3rd to 5th” cousin.  At first blush this seems to confirm the paper-trail hints of a relationship.  However, we Ashkenazim seem to be all so interrelated that I can’t see that as strong evidence.  When I look at the specific places on the specific chromosomes where we match, there is nothing striking that seems to connect the three of us.

None of this helps me to verify the family stories about name changes.  And it certainly does confuse my surname research.

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