Etta Raiza Berlin Sklar of Moletai

My Great-Grandmother

My Great-Grandmother

The Death of Etta Raiza Berlin Sklar

Recently I found the death record of my great-grandmother, Etta Raiza Berlin SKLAR. She died in late 1933, a widow aged 74, in her hometown of Moletai. Her cause of death was listed as “psychic disease.” I wonder if it was Alzheimer’s?

Finding out that she died in 1933 shook me up.  As far as I know, her grandchildren did not know about it. My mother was almost 13 years old on the day of Etta Raiza’s death. Did her father, my Zeyda, Alex, know about his mother’s death? or did he just not tell his children?

My mother was born in 1920. She seems to have paid attention to whatever her parents had told her about their families in the old country, and she passed that information along to me. I have the impression that she did not know when her grandmother died. She just had a general notion that her father’s family had perished in Treblinka.

Looking at the names of my mother and her siblings – all born in the 1920s – perhaps I might guess that my Zeyda, Alex, knew or suspected that his mother was still alive. None of Zeyda’s children was given a name in honor of Etta Raiza. Had she been dead  by any time in the 1920s – and had that been known by my Zeyda – surely he would have named one of his children after her.

On the other hand, each of Zeyda’s brothers had a daughter named Esther, born in the early 1920s. Etta Raiza was still alive. Were these girls named for their grandmother? Did their parents have the mistaken belief that she had passed? They would not name a child after someone still alive. Then, in 1931 (ca.), Ethel Sklar was born, daughter of Zeyda’s brother, Abraham. That name sounds so much as if it re-echoes the name “Etta.”  In 1935 (ca.), Abraham’s last daughter was born, and he named her Eleanor Sheila.

When asked in the U.S. to give the name of their mother, the SKLAR brothers’ documents gave names such as “Ida” or “Ida Rose” or “Rosa.” So it does seem as if they associated these “American” names with Etta Raiza.  Perhaps Esther, Ethel, and Eleanor did not evoke their mother’s Yiddish name in the minds of her sons.

This musing on names cannot settle the question of whether Etta Rayza’s sons in the U.S. knew of her death in 1933. It seems so sad that they may not have had any definite information about her later life and her death.

The Life of Etta Raiza Berlin Sklar

Beyond contemplating how her grandchildren apparently didn’t know about her death, more poignant is the thought that they knew almost nothing about her life. I’ve been mulling over how little I have been able to learn about my great-grandmother.

The Records, Skeletal Though They Are

Itte Reyza [you will note that I vary the spellings of her name, because there are various transliterations] was born in 1859 or 1860, the daughter of Abram Osher BERLIN and Beile Berlin (nee SHILER). She had two siblings that I am aware of:  Jankel, who was just slightly older (or, less likely, her twin) and Itzko, born in 1871. Given the gap in birth dates between Reiza [in some records only this second part of her double name is listed] and her younger brother, Itzko, I wonder if there might have been more siblings.

I know nothing about Etta’s childhood, have not yet found any records to tell me what was her father’s occupation, nor what sort of home she grew up in. Nor have I found a record of her birth or of her marriage to Chaim Zalman SKLAR. I don’t know if she grew up in poverty or if her childhood was economically comfortable. I do not know if she went to school.

All the records that I have so far found – translations of records found in Lithuanian archives – give her residence as Moletai. Going all the way back to 1798, I can find records indicating her ancestors were living in Moletai. Her paternal grandfather, Eliyash Yankel Berlin, son of Gilel Berlin, was born in the 1790s in Moletai. [Eliyash Yankel is my third great-grandfather and Gilel is my 4th great-grandfather.] Moletai, about 40 miles north of the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, was in the Russian Empire through most of Etta Raiza’s life, but was in Lithuania at the time of her death.

Although she was born around 1860, the first record I can find for her is a sad one, in September 1891, when she was in her early 30s and married to Chaim Zalman Sklar. The record is about the death of a son, Nachman Sklar, one year old. Cause of death is “fever.”

Because I know the approximate date of birth of another of her sons, Morris (Moshe, Jacob Moshe) – in the mid 1880s, I can speculate that Etta Reyza was married in her early 20s, or earlier.

The other record I can find for her is the birth of a son, Abel Leyb, 8 February 1896. I have not yet found any other records for this son, but have found others with the name Abel in both the BERLIN and the SKLAR families.

Perhaps he was named for Etta Raiza’s uncle, Abel BERLIN, son of Gilel, born in the first decade of the 1800s. That elder Abel was enumerated in Moletai on a revision list in 1845. But in the 1850 enumeration in Moletai, he was listed as “missing.”

“Aba-Leyb” BERLIN, son of one of Etta’s brother’s, was born in 1907. According to one family tree posted online by a Berlin descendent now living is Israel, this man died in Lithuania in 1941.

Back to Etta Raisa:  Thus I am aware of five sons. Three of them came to the U.S.:  Morris, Abram, and “Alex” (Nachum Yael Sklar, my Zeyda, who went by the name “Alex” in the U.S.). One of them, Nachman, died as an infant. The fifth, Abel Leyb. . . I do not know what happened to him.  Nor do I know if she had any daughters. These sons were born between the mid-1880s and late 1890s, when she was a woman in her 20s and 30s.

The Vast Unknown Beyond the Records

If the records of Etta Reyza’s life are sparse, the stories are practically nonexistent.

As I’ve continued to muse over the extent of what I don’t know about her, I’ve pondered what might be inferred from the little I have.

The facts seem to imply a woman who lost all her children, either to infant death or to emigration. So sad. [Of course, I do not know what happened to Abel Leyb. And if there were any daughters, girls who survived childhood, perhaps she was not so bereft as I am imagining.]

The impression I hold from my mother’s stories is that life was hard. She described her father’s emigration (see my earlier post about the Sklar brothers, http://wp.me/p35vsQ-3Z) as a desperate attempt to escape. Leaving Moletai was an opportunity, worth taking terrifying risks.

So I am left with her one photo. What does that tell me?

Looking at her weathered but only slightly wrinkled face, I must speculate that the photo was carried by one of her sons on his journey to the U.S.  She is probably only in her forties in the photo. Yes, her hair is white. But my mother’s started turning gray when she was only 19, and my sister began graying in her early 20s. It runs in the family.

She has a Mona Lisa smile, doesn’t she? Just slightly upturned at the edges of her mouth; and the crowsfeet of smiling eyes. People so often look stiff and stern and formal in these early photos. Ita Raiza does not. Maybe she carried a positive attitude, despite difficult circumstances.

Finally, she wears three pieces of jewelry. That is another reassuring sign, a sign that she was not so poor that she had to sell her jewelry. The resolution of the photo is not sharp, so I cannot be sure, but the small charm around her neck appears to be a star of David, maybe even with a tiny gem in the center. The second item appears to be a gold or silver rope necklace. Finally, the large piece is, I think, a pocket watch secured to her dress.

Some day I hope to find and meet more of my great-grandmother’s descendents. Maybe there are more picture and more stories to fill in the blanks.

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Sklar Brothers Come to America, or “My Grandfather Was an Illegal Alien”

Prologue:  Why I Cannot Claim That I

Know The Full Story

To understand the history and confusion surrounding the immigration of my grandfather and his brothers, I must begin by telling the story as I remember my mother telling it.  The following is the way that I wrote it down in 1999, in my early days of recording family history.  But, even then, I was working from memories that ranged from 12 years old to several decades old.

When telling old family stories, memories can be false, faulty, confused, or tinged with deliberate untruths.  This story is one I told with my faulty memory, perhaps already tainted by some of my early family history research; and based on my mother’s faulty memory, her father’s faulty memory, and, perhaps, some deliberate untruths.

Zeyda’s Immigration Story, as I Remember my Mother Telling Me

          There’s so much I don’t remember.  Did Mommy tell me how many brothers (sisters?) there were in Zeyda’s family?  At least four brothers.  There was already a brother, presumably the oldest, in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Another brother, Abraham, either was already in Philadelphia, or else he arrived after Zeyda came to the US.  And there was another brother, an older brother, who had an exit visa.  According to my memory of my mother’s tale, this brother was in a “sleigh accident” shortly before his date of departure from the old country.  Pneumonia set in.  The valuable exit visa could not be used.  So “Alex” masqueraded as his brother.  Alex, age 14 as I remember Mommy telling it, began a perilous journey that involved bribing border guards along the way across Europe, and eventually sailed out of Liverpool, England to the US.  So he was 14, maybe 15, when he arrived. 

            According to my mother, Zeyda was always terrified, all his life, that he would be found out as an imposter, an illegal immigrant, and sent back.  If this is the case, it seems to me he might have lied about his age when he arrived, to be consistent with his brother’s visa.  If that is the case, then he was really born in 1900 or 1899.

            But did Mommy have the true story?  Albert [my brother] is sure she told him that Zeyda arrived at Ellis Island, and we know that is not the case.  He landed at Boston.  If she had that wrong, what else did she have wrong?

            So here is what she told me later about his arrival.  She told me this more recently.  She and I sat on the couch in my rented house in Calgary, which would have been in 1987.  I wrote some of it down at the time.

            Like countless other immigrants, he immediately sought out the brother who was already here.  Zeyda went to Worcester.  He stayed with his brother and his wife.  But soon (within a couple weeks?) there was a bitter argument.  Over a shirt, or a shirt collar.  Zeyda was borrowing his brother’s good shirt(s?)(collars?), which brother’s wife resented.  Who knows what really happened?  In any event, the argument resulted in Zeyda leaving and, as far as I know, he did not have any more contact with the Worcester brother. 

           Older memories are vague, something about Zeyda having gone to St. Louis briefly (and maybe New Orleans?  my mind may be inventing this) before moving to Cincinnati.

My Uncle’s Story

In recent years I was able to ask my uncle, LS – the last living child of my zeyda – if he knew anything of his father’s immigration.

He hadn’t known anything about it, he said, until, as a young adult, he was approached by his father, who was terrified by a recent visit from the FBI.  The FBI approached Alex, asking him about his son (my uncle, LS, the one telling the story).

“I had never seen Dad like that,” my uncle told me.  Alex was terribly frightened.

This was when LS was a young man, just starting out, and he was selling insurance door-to-door.  He had a female client, a loan officer, who was doing something illegal.  Her boyfriend was using various aliases.  The couple was on the lam to Chicago.  One of the aliases he used was “LS,” the name of my uncle.

Since my Zeyda had a son with that name, the FBI had come to question him.  But this raised the old nagging fear in Alex, the fear that he would get caught for coming illegally to the U.S., that he would be sent back. Uncle LS had no idea what was causing his father’s panic.

“I talked to my mom.  She explained that Dad had used his brother’s papers to get to the U.S.”

Uncle LS talked to the FBI and the misuse of his name was cleared up.

A Couple Other Details From Early Memories

In 1987 when I wrote down some of what my mother told me, I asked her what shtetl Zeyda was from.  Very carefully she pronounced what sounded like “Muh-laht.”  This was, she explained, a Yiddish pronunciation, but she didn’t know what the real name was.  I wrote it down as “Malat.”

Another piece of background information is that, according to what I remember hearing from my mother, when Zeyda was naturalized he changed the family name from SKLAROFF to SIMON, “because ‘Sklaroff’ was so hard to pronounce in the U.S.”  However, his brother in Philadelphia, Abraham, adopted the name SKLAR.

Later my family shared copies of a document that had been in my deceased Uncle Norman’s possession.  It was a two-sided card issued by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1933, saying that my Zeyda, “Alex [or Alexander] Sklarof,” had come from “Wilno, Poland” and had arrived in Boston on June 25, 1914.

SKLAROF, Alex Immig and Nat Card 1933

The Card Was A Red Herring

In retrospect this was a red herring in my search to learn about Zeyda’s immigration to the U.S.  My brother, in Washington, D.C. on business, searched in the National Archives and could find no such record of Zeyda’s arrival.  Then, in 2004, I systematically searched again in the National Archives.  The “Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Boston, Massachusetts, July 1, 1906 – December 31, 1920” listed no ship arriving on June 25, 1914.  No ship arrived in Boston that day.  In fact, in 1913, 1914, and 1915 no ship arrived in Boston on June 25.  The closest I could find was the S.S. Cincinnati, arriving on July 5, 1914.  I checked every steerage passenger, but there was no one with anything like Zeyda’s name.  On June 25, 1913 the S.S. Cymric arrived in Boston.   I reviewed the passenger list on microfilm three times, to convince myself that he didn’t arrive then.  I wrote on my research notes, “utter failure.”

I do not know what evidence, if any, was provided to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to allow them to issue that card to Zeyda.  And, I confess, I have not yet searched the District Court files in Cincinnati to find his Naturalization papers.  When I do, perhaps I’ll gain more understanding.

The other red herring here, I now believe, is the name “Alex Sklarof[f].”  I don’t think this was the name Zeyda was born with at all.  Though I have no birth record, I now think that he was born “Nachum SKLAR.”  I think that he began using the name “Alex Sklarof” (the second “f” being optional) arbitrarily, in hopes of distancing himself from illegal emigration from Lithuania and entering the U.S. using the name of a brother.

Wilno is Vilnius and Malat is Moletai

By the way, “Wilno, Poland” is “Vilna,” or “Vilnius,” Lithuania.  “Malat” was a Yiddish name for Moletai, about 60 km from Vilnius and, at the time Alex and his brothers left, part of the Russian gubernia of  Vilnius.  But I digress.

Morris Sclar of Worcester

Turns out there was a third name – SCLAR –  used by one of the brothers, the elder brother my mother had referred to in Worcester.  He appeared with his wife and young son in the 1910 Census; it says that he arrived in 1907, his wife, Ida, in 1908, and their baby Harry I.  He was one year one month old, hence born – in Massachusetts –  in February, March, or April, 1909.  [An index of Massachusetts births lists his birth date as April 13, 1909.].

The 1920 Census says Morris arrived in 1906.

Repeated searches have not turned up – with any certainty – his arrival record.  One possibility is a 19-year-old tailor, Moische Sklar, arriving at Ellis Island on June 3, 1906.  The profession is right, the age within the correct range, the name is right.  But the last residence was Kovno (Kaunus), not Moletai or Vilnius.  He is listed as going to a cousin, Jankel Wolfowicz in New York.  At this point in my research I am unaware of any family members named Wolfowitz.  I do, however, have some tantalizing evidence hinting at family in the Kaunas Gubernia (not the actual city of Kaunas).  So this may or may not be Zeyda’s older brother, Morris.

Morris Sclar, the tailor, appears in a Worcester City Directory for the first time in the 1910 edition.  According to the birth record of his oldest son, Harry, he lived in Worcester as early as April, 1909.  But I have not yet found a trace of him anywhere in the US. before that.

Abram [Abraham] Sklar Arrives, Twice

For The First Time

Abram Sklar Sails from Hamburg to Liverpool to Boston in 1911

On March 11, 1911, Abram Sklar, age 18, a tailor from “Wilna,” boarded the S.S. Dewsbury in Hamburg, Germany and sailed to Liverpool.  Here is the German passenger list:

SKLAR, Abram Hamburg to Liverp 1911

Then, on March 28, 1911 Abram boarded the S.S. Cymric in Liverpool and landed in Boston on April 6th.  The passenger list covered two pages, as follows:

Sklar Abram Boston 1911 p 1

Sklar Abram Boston 1911 p 2

This passenger list, which was completed as required by the U.S. immigration authorities of the time, has more and different information than the German list.  Here is my transcription:

Sklar, Abram. [after his last name is a parenthetical remark scrawled in a different hand; I am unable to read it]
18 years, male, single, tailor, able to read & write; citizen or subject of Russia; Hebrew race;
last permanent residence:  Malat Russia
nearest relative in country from whence came:  father Salman Sklar, Malat, Russia
final destination:  Mass, Worcester; has ticket to final destination
passage paid by brother
has $23
going to join:  brother, Morris Sklar, Worcester, Mass, Brown St. 16
“no” 
to questions about whether have been in prison, dependent on a charity, an anarchist, a polygamist, enemy of U.S.
health questions:  good mental & physical health, no deformities, not crippled; “slight conjunctivitis”
5’7″; fair complexion; black hair; blue eyes, no marks of identification
place of birth:  Malat Russia

In 1913 Abram Sklar Arrives in Grimsby; Sails from Glasgow to Boston

In 1913 Abram Sklar was a transmigrant in the United Kingdom.  He had arrived at the port of Grimsby, Lincolnshire, England on a ship of the Sutcliffe & Son steamship line, probably in the first half of 1913.  He would have traveled north to Glasgow, where he boarded a ship to Boston.

I have been unable to find the record of his arrival in the UK.  The evidence I have is this record of the “transmigration.”

Sklar, Abram leaves Glasgow 1913

I’ve done searches of arrivals of ships in the UK, and searches based on the shipping company name, but have had no success in finding Abram’s arrival.  However, I do have his passenger list on the S.S. Parisian, leaving Glasgow on 12 June 1913, arriving in Boston on June 22nd.  A transcription follows:

Sklar, Abram Boston 1913 p 2

Sklar Abram Boston 1913 p 1

Sklar, Abram.
19 years, male, single, tailor, able to read & write; citizen or subject of Russia; Hebrew race;
last permanent residence:  Malatis Russia
nearest relative in country from whence came:  father Uheim Sklar, Malatis, Russia
final destination:  Mass, Worcester; has ticket to final destination
passage paid by brother
has $16
No, never before in the U.S.
going to join:  brother, Morris Sklar, Worcester, Mass, Brown St. 16
“no” 
to questions about whether have been in prison, dependent on a charity, an anarchist, a polygamist, enemy of U.S.
health questions:  good mental & physical health, no deformities, not crippled; “slight conjunctivitis”
5’6″; fair complexion; brown hair; brown eyes, no marks of identification
place of birth:  Malatis Russia

The Two Arrivals of Abram Sklar, Brother of Morris:  Is One Alex?

I think that one of these two arrivals was Zeyda’s older brother, Abraham [Abram], who eventually became a furrier in Philadelphia.

No, I do not think they are both the same person, arriving twice and lying, the second time, saying that he had never been in the U.S. before.  These were impoverished young men.  They would not have taken the journey twice for no apparent reason (a reason might be, for example, to bring a wife or other family member).

The descriptions from the two arrivals are strikingly similar.  “Malatis” is another Yiddish pronunciation of Moletai.

Here are the differences.  The first Abram was 18 years old in March, 1911; the second Abram was 19 years old in June, 1913.  I believe that the first Abram was Alex, and he was lying about his age.  If my memory of my mother’s story is correct, he was just in his middle teens, 14 or 15.

The first Abram had a father’s name listed as “Salman.”  The second had his father’s name listed as “Uheim.” The transcription “Uheim” is not entirely certain. In neither case would the young man have written the name himself.  Most likely he would have been used to writing Yiddish (Hebrew characters).  He would have spoken the name of his father, and a purser would have written the word the way he had heard it pronounced.

Looking at a variety of documents that I won’t post or list here, I have seen that the Sklar father’s name was probably “Chaim Zalman,” or, in English, Hyman Solomon or Hyman Sigmund (with other name variations possible).  So I see nothing in the passenger lists that would make me think these two Abrams had different fathers.

Finally, their descriptions are slightly different, with the first Abram measured at 5’7″ with black hair and blue eyes and the second at 5’6″ with brown hair and brown eyes.  The eye color is the one thing that seems distinctly different.

In fact, my Zeyda had “light” eyes.  My mother described them as “hazel.”  His WWI draft card described them as “gray” and his hair as “black.”  Abraham’s draft card listed him as having “blue” eyes and “brown” hair.  This is all very confusing, but I am not terribly troubled by it.  Perhaps they both really had “hazel” eyes, the kind that can look different in different lighting conditions.

Otherwise, the two descriptions are the same.  Of course it is possible that neither is my Zeyda, “Alex Sklarof,” later to be known as “Alex Simon.”

Repeated searches haven’t revealed his arrival using anything like the name “Alex.”  In addition, I have searched repeatedly under the name “Nachum” (and variations, including the US cognate, “Nathan”).  It appears as if two different SKLAR brothers arrived about two years apart, both using the name “Abram Sklar” and both going to their brother, Morris, in Worcester.  Given that my Zeyda was said to have come to the U.S. impersonating a brother, I think that one of these two Abram Sklars was my Zeyda.  I think that the first one, the one arriving in 1911, was my Zeyda.

Why I Think Abraham Sklar Arrived in

1913 and “Alex” Was An “Abram Sklar”

Impostor in 1911

First of all, and most obviously, my Zeyda told my mother that he used his brother’s exit visa.  I always thought – and I think my mother thought – that there was a fourth brother, perhaps one who never emigrated.  My mother had met her Uncle Abraham (as he came to be known), and she never implied that it was his papers that her father used to leave the old country.

But since “Abram Sklar” is the person who arrived twice, it must be the imposter, my Zeyda, who came to the US first.  The only reason he had an older brother’s papers is because that brother was unable to use them himself.  Therefore, the 1911 Abram Sklar must have been my Zeyda.  This fits with the story.

My great-uncle Abraham, or Abram, went through the naturalization process in the 1920s.  I have copies of his Declaration of Intention [for citizenship], filed in the US District of Maryland Court in July, 1923; and his Petition for Naturalization, filed in the US Southern District of Pennsylvania Court in November, 1928.  In both documents he cites his arrival on the Parisian, sailing from Glasgow to Boston in June, 1913.  I can imagine no reason he would cite this arrival if he had really arrived in 1911.  After all, it wasn’t Abraham who had arrived under false pretenses; it was his younger brother, Alex, my Zeyda.

Assuming that Abraham arrived in Boston and went right to his brother, Morris, in Worcester, I would hope to see some evidence that my Zeyda, who was known as “Alex Sklarof” (with various spellings) before he changed his name to Alex Simon, was in Worcester before the real Abram/Abraham.

There seems to be such evidence, although not as I might have expected.

Going through the City Directories of Worcester, Massachusetts, the first Sklar brother, Morris Sclar, appears in the 1910 edition

(1910) SCLAR, Morris, tailor 448 Main, h 16 Brown
(1911) SCLAR, Morris, tailor 187 Front, h 16 Brown
(1912) SCLAR, Morris, tailor 187 Front, h 16 Brown
(1913) SCLAR, Morris, tailor 187 Front, h 16 Brown

Even though Morris arrived a few years earlier, he didn’t appear in the directory until 1910.  Similarly, Abraham doesn’t appear after his first arrival in 1911 or his second coming in 1913. Abraham doesn’t appear until the 1916 edition.  But, in 1914, a different one appears, “Nathan Sklar.”  Here are the 1914 – 1917 entries:

1914
SKLAR, Nathan, tailor, 518 Main, bds 47 Providence
SCLAR, Morris, tailor, 187 Front h 18 Brown

1915
SCLAR, Morris, tailor, 187 Front h 18 Brown
SKLAR, Nathan, tailor, 518 Main, b 49 Aetna

1916
SKLAR, Abraham, tailor, 518 Main, bds 15 Blake
SKLAR, Morris, tailor, h 16 Brown
SKLAR, Nathan remd to New Haven, Conn

1917
SKLAR, Abraham, tailor, h 3 Ingalls
SKLAR, Morris, tailor 257 Main, h 16 Brown

It looks as if there was always a lag between the time the immigrant arrived and the time in which they were listed in the directory.  I think “Nathan” was the Americanization of “Nachum,” Zeyda’s Yiddish name.  I posit that he didn’t assume the name “Alex Sklarof” until after he left Worcester.

In fact, in the 1920 Census, when he was married and living in Cincinnati, he was listed as “Nathan Sklaroff,” who arrived in the U.S. in 1915(!).

[Note that Nathan and Abraham both, at separate times, listed 518 Main in Worcester.  I initially thought that this might mean they both worked at the same tailoring company.  However, searching the 1915 Directory, I do not find any tailors or clothing manufacturers in that building.  Instead, among other things, is a “letter service,” making me wonder if that was a place to use to receive mail.]

The 1916 Worcester City Directory says that Nathan was “remd to New Haven, Conn.”  This was short for “removed to,” which, in current parlance, would be “moved to.”  However, I have been unable to find any evidence of him, with any name, in New Haven in the subsequent years.

Postscript:  Where They Went, Where

They Ended Up

The lives of my Zeyda and his brothers in the U.S. must be part of another post.  But, briefly:

Morris lived his life in Worcester.

Abraham moved to Baltimore in about 1918, but then settled in Philadelphia some time in the early 1920s.

And Alex – my Zeyda –  did leave Worcester.  My vague memories of my mother’s story had him, possibly, in New Orleans and St. Louis, for a time after leaving Worcester.  After years of searching, I did find him in St. Louis, but haven’t found him in New Orleans.

Sklarof, Alex WWI.x

In August of 1918, Alex complied with the law and registered with what was to become, I suppose, the Selective Service.  This is the first use I have found of the name Alex SKLAROF (one “f”).

Only a few months later he was in Cincinnati and was being married.  Like many other things in the documents I have found, the bare facts of his life had changed.  Note that above, in August, 1918 he is listed as 21 years old, with his birth date as July 14, 1897.  Four months later, on December 7, 1918, on his marriage license in Cincinnati, he was two years older.  His birth date was also listed as July 14, but it said he was 23 years old, implying a birth date of 1895.

If Alex arrived in April, 1911, and his birthday was really July 14th, 1897 then he immigrated when he was just short of his 14th birthday, only a few months after his Bar Mitzvah.  If he was born in on July 14, 1895 he was almost 16 in 1911 when he immigrated.  This is more likely, especially as he was passing himself off as age 18.

July 14th is not the only birthday he listed, either.  On his application for a Social Security card in 1936 he listed his birth date as December 15, 1896.

My Zeyda was always trying to obfuscate the facts of his name, his age, and his arrival.  He was an illegal alien, in his own mind, always frightened that the true facts would come out, that the life he had built for himself and his family would fall apart.  Anyone looking at his situation now will see that as absurd.  But, for him, it was very real.

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Pesach in Bond Hill

Zeyda’s House at 5403 Grafton Avenue

Every first-night Seder I can remember in my childhood took place I this house, “Zeyda and Aunt Frieda’s house,” I called it.  It was my favorite holiday that did not involve receiving gifts.  I loved it most because it was the one time of the year that I would be with all my Cincinnati cousins on my mother’s side of the family.

Frieda wasn’t really my aunt, she was my step-grandmother, the woman who married my zeyda after my bubbah died, in November 1952.  Zeyda didn’t wait very long to remarry.  He needed a wife, someone to keep a kosher house for him, and he married the widow, Frieda (nee Lieberman) Citron.  The match was made, I am told, by Minnie Gertzman, sister-in-law of my bubbah.  She wanted to find a good, kosher, childless woman – childless, so that she would be devoted to Zeyda’s family (this story was told to me by Ida, one of Minnie’s daughters).  The marriage was probably in 1954 or 1955.  My mother didn’t stop me from calling her “Aunt Frieda,” the name I learned from Frieda’s niece, Karen Sue, because the pain of my bubbah’s death was still so fresh in my mother’s heart.  She didn’t correct me and have me call her “Bubbah.”

Aunt Frieda and Zeyda were the perfect grandparents to make a Seder to cherish, year after year.  Frieda was a glorious cook, always working alone to prepare everything, the same every year.  She kept a lovely home.  Zeyda was festive, singing the text from the Maxwell House Haggadah’s Hebrew side.  I think I remember that my mother told me that he sang the words in Yiddish.  Could this really be true, that he looked at the Hebrew and sang in Yiddish?  I remember the sound, the cadence, I never understood a word.  Some years I read along on the English side of the Haggadah.

We drank concord grape kosher wine, never grape juice, poured into pretty shot glasses Frieda had brought to her marriage.  They had gold leaf around the top edge.

Elaine and Frieda 1968

In the left-hand front foreground you can see the glasses, on the tray with the wine decanter.  And the smiling lady in front is “Aunt Frieda.”  She is sitting at the table the grown-ups used, in the dining room.   We kids sat at a table set up in the living room.

Albert, Nancy, Sheila, Jan, Cathy 1968The first part of the Seder, before the supper, was the part full of ritual.  Unlike some other families, we did not drip the wine with our pinkies as we recited each of the plagues visited upon the Egyptians.  We actually spilled a bit of wine from our glasses, into a bowl.  And the “herb” we dipped into salt water (the tears) was onion, unlike other families’ traditions of dipping lettuce or parsley.

Charosis was my favorite of the symbolic foods.  It was the Passover food I learned to make before any other.  And it remains the favorite in my family, to the extent that nowadays we provide enough for each person to have seconds, thirds, and fourths.   My father always performed his trick, his only trick, blowing a hard-boiled egg out of its shell, leaving the shell mostly intact.  I still don’t know how he did that; we all expected it, and watched, amazed.

Dinner was served in courses, with Aunt Frieda in the kitchen, dishing out the servings, and the other women delivering them to the tables.  Frieda made homemade Gefillte fish that she cooked and served with boiled, heavily peppered potatoes.  There was also potato kugel, the least favorite item, I think, because we don’t try to duplicate it these days.  Her knaidlach soup, ahh, it was the best. By the time the main meat course was served, most of us kids weren’t hungry for the chicken.  Sometimes I think there might have been another meat, maybe roasted tongue?  Or am I just imagining that?  In any event, that’s the kind of thing we kids would have ignored.

That’s when the fun continued, because the grown-ups were still eating and we kids retired to elsewhere in the house.  There was a bedroom that wasn’t used, with comfortable chairs and a little cedar chest with fragrant pressed hankies.  We played while the adults eventually settled in for the second half of the Seder.  We were basically excused, and we would wander in and out, returning for Had-gad-yah.

When I was a teenager sometimes I went to the house on Grafton after school – it was on my way, if I took a certain route.  I’d try to help.  But Frieda really didn’t want my help.  It flustered her.  I’d ask what I could do, could I set the table? I wanted to know how she made the delicious gefillte fish and the knaidlach, especially, and I don’t think she ever could have explained it.  “A bisel of this, a bisel of that,” that was about all I could get from her.

Those Seders were a strong glue that pulled the family together and, still, at Pesach we have Seders in Cincinnati.  This year is the first in many years that I have been unable to go, so I wrote this instead.  And I’m going to try to be a virtual attendee, connecting by FaceTime and making my own Pesach food here, myself.

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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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“Odessa Russia at No. 43 Bulgarski St.”

Nathan and Leah Kaminsky, my great-great grandparents, were living at 43 Bulgarski Street in Odessa in 1907, according to the Affidavit of Support sworn by their sons, Abraham and Jake.  With the help of my Russian-speaking son, I have found a picture, above.  I had given Brady just the information of “Bulgarski St.” and a link to two old Odessa maps on JewishGen.org.and asked him if Bulgarski Street was there.  Alas, Brady said the resolution was not fine enough to read any street names.  Then he used a trick on Google that is new to me.  If I understand correctly, you can search for an image by inserting an existing image – rather than text – in the search engine.  He “showed” Google the older (1892) map of Odessa and found a higher resolution version of this German map.  He found “Bulgarskaya Street” in B8 quadrant of the map and circled it in green.

Odessa 1892 with Bulgarski Street

You can go to the link, above, to see the full resolution; who knows why, when it was published, it was flipped so that North isn’t at the top?

Then Brady went to Google Maps to find the present-day street.  The words are in Cyrillic, of course, since Odessa is in Ukraine.  The transliteration is “Bolhars’ka street.”  He sent me a pdf of the satellite view.  So this morning I went to Google Maps and searched for the exact address like this:  bolharska street 43 Odessa.  You can do this, too – just go to maps.google.com and search the same way.  Here is the satellite view:

If you click on the “view larger map” you will get the photo I have put at the top of this post.  Google is careful to state that “the address is approximate.”  But these buildings look really old to me, and not like Soviet architecture.  So maybe one of these was really where my great-great grandparents lived in Odessa.

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Ancestral Home of Kaminsky, Kamin Family Traced to Bobrynets’

Leah and Nathan Kaminsky

Our great-great-grandparents, Nathan and Leah KAMINSKY, immigrated to the US from Odessa. This I had gathered.  What is new is their birthplace.  On their passenger manifest – the earliest document I have with that information – the birthplace for both of them was listed as “Bobrininnec, Gub. Cherson.”   Here is where I found that when I consulted JewishGen.org:

JewishGen Communities Database

Searching for Town BOBRINIAK
in modern country Ukraine
(D-M code 779650)
Run on Sunday 10 February 2013 at 09:21:18

Modern Town & Country Other Names c. 1950
After WWII
Town / Country
c. 1930
Between Wars
Town / District /
Province / Country
c. 1900
Before WWI
Town / District /
Province / Country
# of JGFF
Entries
 Bobrynets, Ukraine
48°03′ N 32°10′ E
181 mi SSE of Kyyiv
Bobrynets’ [Ukr], Bobrinets [Rus], Bobrinitz [Yid], Bobryniec [Pol], Bobrinez [Ger] BobrinetsSoviet Union Bobrinets
Kirovograd
Ukraine SSR
Soviet Union
Bobrinets
Yelizavetgrad
Kherson
Russian Empire
27
Number of matches = 1

Further searching on JewishGen told me that the Jewish population in 1900 was 3,481.  Nathan and Leah arrived in the US in 1908; depending on the source, they were born either in the early 1840s or the mid 1850s (conflicting data you’ll be pleased to know I won’t go into here).

New information about my families is hard to find, especially going back to the Old Country. I experienced what is, in my genealogist mind, a major breakthrough on the weekend. Here’s how it happened.

Searching for “Kaminsky” in Port of Baltimore arrivals (and I’ve done this search many times before), I hit on an extraordinary (again, to my genealogist mind) document, such as I’ve never seen before.  It was indexed under “Abraham Kaminsky” and also under “Jake Kaminsky.”  It was an “Affidavit of Support” and it was actually contained among the pages of a 1908 manifest.

KAMINSKY Ab & Jake for parents

[I hope that you can double-click on the above image to see an enlarged version; supposedly, the above image is 100%, and I am not skilled enough in WordPress to make it larger.]

It appears that Abraham and Jake were savvy enough to ward off the possibility that their aging parents might be detained or sent back as LPC –  “likely to become a public charge.”

Besides giving valuable family history information about Abraham and Jake, this document also gives the street address where “Neheminah” and “Lena” (I’ve lost track of how many different versions I’ve found of their names) were living in Odessa at the time this document was sworn, in September 1907.  They were living at “No. 43 Bulgarski St.”  Brady, my son, fluent in Russian, has found that street on an old map and on Google Earth.  I’ll try to post images later.

So I had the Affidavit, but not the actual manifest of arrival.  Finally found it.  It covered two pages and was quite legible, compared with many other manifests I’ve perused:

KAMINSKY Nathan and Leah 1908 arr p 1

KAMINSKY Nathan and Leah 1908 arr p 2

The Kaminskys are on the top two lines.  Here is an approximate transcription:

It is the SS Main, sailing from Bremen on June 4, 1908 and arriving in Baltimore on June 17.

“Nechemie Kaminski” age 52, married, male, painter, reads and writes.  “Leje Kaminski” age 48, female, marred no occupation, reads and writes.
Both are from Russia; Hebrew “race.”  Last permanent residence:  Russia Odessa.
Name and couple address of nearest relative. . . “son Mojsche Kamenska Odessa Catamychyskaya 24 Gub Cherson Russia.”
Have a ticket to their final destination, paid by son; they have $30; have never been in the US; [“affidavit attached”] going to: son Abram Kaminski 9 15 St Cincinnati, OH.
Both in good health, though Nathan has “defect recorded of kyphosis.” [This is what has been called a “dowager’s hump.”] He is 5’4,” complexion fair, hair dark, eyes brown; no identifying marks.
Leah is 5’4,” fair complexion, black hair, gray eyes, no identifying marks. 
The place of birth for both of them is written to cover both lines, so I can only assume that it was meant to apply to both of them.  Birth:  Russia Bobrinnec Gub Cherson [which would be the Kherson Gubernia, in which Bobrynets and Odessa were located].
The place of birth is the item that made me do my happy dance, jump up and down and squeal.  But there are several other new things here:  Nathan being a painter.  Later documents show him as a tailor.  Both? Truth?  The birth dates are new, and don’t really make sense to me, unless they were young teens when they married and had their first child, my great-grandmother Jenny Kaminsky Grinker.  The kyphosis and other physical descriptions are new.  And, a close second in the happy dance line-up, the son still in Odessa, Mojsche.  My family tree shows some unknown children, and now I can put a name to one of those.
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Do I Have Cousins Named Shaffer and Finkelstein?

Uncle Schmerl Arrives at Ellis Island

“Uncle Schmerl” is not a name known to most of my generation. My mom’s first cousin, Ida – born in 1920 and recently deceased – told me about him.  He was a carpenter, she said.  She didn’t really know how he was related, but thought he was a brother to Uncle Avrum and Uncle Luvach.  We don’t know these people now, either, but their family histories are entwined with mine.  They are from my HERTZMAN and GERTZMAN side in Cincinnati.

Here is Uncle Schmerl’s manifest from his arrival at Ellis Island in October 1902. His name is listed as Schmerl HERZMANN, 24 years old, a married joiner from Mogilev (“Mohilew” on the manifest). His destination is New York, specifically “cousin Benjamin SHAFFER, Stanton St 105.”

HERTZMAN, Schmerl Oct 1902 arrival

But Uncle Schmerl was detained.  He was apparently fed a supper and then a breakfast, awaiting his relative.  But the relationship and the address of that US relative changed during this detention.  Now he was Uncle Benjamin Shaffer of 191 Allen Street.  Here is the record of detention:

HERTZMAN, Schmerl 1902 detained

[ Parenthetically, a couple things to note here:  the Stanton Street and the Allen Street addresses were tenements typically rented by Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century. The other thing – the switch in the relationship between cousin and uncle – is illustrative of the fluidity in the way our ancestors used to label relationships. An older cousin could be called “uncle” as a mark of respect.  Or relatives could just be generally referred to as “cousins” regardless of the exact relationship.  A third possibility – that the person was just a family friend – confuses genealogy research further.]

So, who was Benjamin Shaffer?  No one I have spoken with in the family has heard of him, and I’ve had trouble researching him.

Uncle Avrum Arrives One Year Later

“Abram HERZMANN,” 28 years old, a married tailor from “Russia” arrived on the ship SS Eturia in late December 1903.  He was listed as going to his “Uncle Mr Shaffer, 213 E 10th St, New York.”  Uncle Avrum’s name wasn’t listed on the page of “Passengers Held for Special Inquiry,” but the words “det. pd.” are pencilled in above his name on the manifest.  I assume this means that he was detained and that any meals he was served were paid for.

So, was Uncle Mr Shaffer the same person Schmerl had gone to, at yet a third tenement address?

Uncle Einhorn and Sonia Gertzman Einhorn Arrive

“Uncle Einhorn” – that’s what Ida and her sister, Ann, called him – was their uncle because he was married to Sarah (Sonia) Gertzman.  Nachum Einhorn was, in fact, their uncle by marriage. He actually arrived a month before Uncle Schmerl.  “Nochem Einhorn,” a 32-year-old married tailor, from Ekaterinoslav, arrived at Ellis Island on October 1, 1902.  He was accompanied by a child, Frume Einhorn, his sister, I believe.  They were going to “cousin Benjamin Shaffer” at what might read “Stanton St 105, New York.”  It is difficult to read on the manifest.

My great-aunt, Sonia Einhorn, joined her husband in June 1903.  Her manifest (below) names her “Sonie Einhor,” age 30, from Jekaterinoslaw.  She was listed as going to “Husb. N. Einhor, c/o A Finkelstein, 105 Stanton St, New York.”

GERTZMAN (EINHORN) Sonia arrival 1903

But immigrant women were routinely detained at Ellis Island. Sonia was, long enough to be served lunch.  She was released, so to speak, to her “Husb. Nachum” from “194 Allen St. New York.”

So, a new relative, A. FINKELSTEIN, at the same tenement address as “cousin” Ben Shaffer?  Then another Allen Street address, 194 versus 191.

Leaving NYC and Ben Shaffer and A Finkelstein; Moving to Cincinnati

These Uncles, and Aunt Sonia, didn’t stay in New York for long.  Why Cincinnati?  That still is a mystery to me.

On March 14, 1904, Nachum and Sonia Einhorn, ages 34 and 32 respectively, of 231 E 10th Street, NYC, were “removed” to Cincinnati by the IRO – the Industrial Removal Office, a Jewish agency that relocated Jews from New York City.  Nachum and Sonia were supplied with tickets and a few dollars.  [Note that 231 E 10th St is similar to 213 E 10th St 1903 address of “Uncle Mr. Shaffer,” to whom Uncle Avrum had gone.]

EINHORN, Nathan, Sonia IRO 1904

This relocation was just three months after a man named “Sal Herzman,” a 23-year-old carpenter, was “removed” to Cincinnati.  According to his Record of Removal, he had been in the U.S. for 2-1/2 years, suggesting arrival in June or July of 1900.  I think he was Schmerl, even though Uncle Schmerl had been in the US only a little more than one year at this time.

In the Cincinnati City Directory, published June, 1904, three men – Abram, Samuel, and Solomon GERTZMAN were listed at 1432 Cutter in Cincinnati.  Abram and Solomon were tailors and Samuel (Schmerl) was a carpenter (i.e., a joiner).  This is the first listing of any Gertzmans, Hertzmans, or Einhorns in Cincinnati.  When I showed the listing to cousin Ida, she identified them as Uncles Avrum and Schmerl, though she did not recognize the name “Solomon.”   I have found Solomon’s arruvak record from January, 1904.  He was going directly to his brother Samuel (Schmerl) on Cutter Street in Cincinnati.

So the immigration pipeline began to flow directly into Cincinnati, rather than stopping in New York.  Other relatives trickled into Cincinnati over the next decade.

The Shaffers and Finkelsteins didn’t move to Cincinnati.  They are another story, aboutI have found a bit of spotty information, but very little.  Are they cousins?  I am still searching.

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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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