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, 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 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 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 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
 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
Ukraine SSR
Soviet Union
Russian Empire
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.


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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Vivian’s Genealogy: The Basics

My ancestors were Ashkenazi Jews; all four grandparents came to the U.S. between 1893 and 1914, as part of the mass immigration of Jews fleeing the Russian Empire. Below I list the families I’m researching, ancestral homes, and DNA haplogroups.

Branches I’m Researching


  • From Mogilev (Mahilyow) on the Dnieper River, now in Belarus
  • Also lived in Ekaterinoslav (Dnipropetrovsk), now in Ukraine
  • Surnames associated in the Old Country include (that I know of):

  • In the US, lived mainly in Cincinnati, New York City, Louisville


  • The elder Kaminskys were born in Bobrynets’, Kirovohrads’ka oblast, Ukraine in the 1840s
  • John and Jenny Grinker Left Odessa ca. 1890
  • Some later, 2nd-hand documents list Chune (John) Grinker, b. ca. 1858, as from Germany
  • Briefly lived in Maurico, Argentina, one of the Baron Hirsch agricultural colonies
  • Immigrated to the port of Baltimore in 1893, going to a “cousin” named Itzig COHN
  • Settled in Cincinnati
  • Possible surnames associated with Kaminsky in the old country:  ILSKY, OURISKY


  • From Kiev area, possibly including towns of Ruhzin, Belilovka
  • Surnames associated in the Old Country include (that I know of):
  • Immigrated to US in 1890s and 1900s (1st decade) to ? port, then to Cincinnati.  Most branches moved to San Francisco, Stockton, Berkeley, and Sacramento in the 1910s and later


  • From Moletai, now in Lithuania; SKLARs also in Svedasai, Kovno, Lithuania
  • Almost all my info about the BERLIN branch comes from an Israeli researcher who has done extensive work but will not release his sources
  • Surnames associated in the Old Country – and these are all BERLIN related – include (that I know of):
  • SKLARs immigrated to Worcester, MA; Baltimore, then Philadelphia; and Cincinnati
  • BERLIN branches immigrated to Israel and to New York and New Jersey
  • Surnames of cousins and descendents and in-laws on the SKLAR side include: SCLAR,BERMAN, BECKER, SIMON, DEUTSCH, JACOBS, WILSON, LEVENSOHN

DNA Haplogroups

mtDNA (mitochondrial)

female line SKLAR/SIMON—> mother GERTZMAN—>mother SHIK—>mother ?  :  K1a1b1a

female line JENTELSON—>mother LEVENSOHN—>mother GRINKER—>mother KAMINSKY—>mother ILSKY :  N1b2


male line LEVENSOHN J1 J-M267; negative for J1a and J1b; have not tested for J1c but negative for J1c1, J1c2, J1c3

male line SKLAR  J1; J-M172

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Why Can’t I Find My Levensohn Immigration Records?

My great-grandfather, Joseph Levensohn, and eight of his nine offspring immigrated to the US between 1892 and 1912.  I haven’t been able to find the immigration record for a single one of them.  Some of them may have come in pairs or in groups; some individually.  I think they would have immigrated using the surname LEVENSOHN, because that is the name that each used in the US (except for the youngest, who went by the name of Joe Levenson – he dropped the ‘h’).

One of the first lessons of family history research is that spelling of a name doesn’t matter.  When I was younger, we would always dismiss the possibility of being related to someone named “Levenson” or “Levinson” as not possible, “because we spell it with an ‘h’.”  But the spelling of a surname is not immutable, isn’t sacrosanct, and, when researching Jewish families (or, for that matter, any families that immigrated from a country using a different language and a different alphabet).  The family was from Kiev, either the city or a town in the gubernia.  Family lore has it that they were learned, so they they could possibly write their names in Yiddish, Russian, and Hebrew.  But it is less likely that they would be able to spell or write an Anglicized version of their names using the Latin alphabet.

The ship they finally boarded to the US might have been German or British or a steamship line based in some other European country.  It isn’t likely that the purser, or whomever wrote the manifest, would have spoke Russian or Yiddish or Hebrew, much less be able to translate and transliterate from one of those languages.

So when I search for their immigration records I try soundex and phonetic searches; I try variant spellings, such as LOEWENSOHN or LEVISON or. . . I have tried a multiplicity of possibilities.  I use Steve Morse’s one-step search engines; and I try other search engines, such as at  I try wildcard searches, when possible.  I try searching very specifically and very broadly.

Although New York was the port most frequently entered by Eastern European Jewish immigrants during the 1890s and 1900s, there were several other ports of entry:  Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore; land entry after initially sailing into Canada; more minor ports, such as Charleston; less likely, Galveston or San Francisco.  I’ve searched them all.

Here are the family members, their approximate dates of birth, and their approximate dates of immigration.  As far as I know, only Joseph Levensohn was not single – he was widowed.  I’m listing them in the order they arrived, according to records I’ve been able to find.

  • Max Levensohn, 1872, 1892 (age 20)
  • Morris Levensohn, 1881, arr. ca 1894 (age 13) (maybe up to 3 years later; must have lied about his age)
  • Clara Levensohn, b 1876 – 1879, arr.1896,7 (age about 21+/-2)
  • Fannie Levensohn, 1889, arr. 1898 or 1902 or 1904 or 1908 (age 9 – 19)
  • Hannah (Annie) Levensohn, 1879, 1900 (age 21)
  • Joseph Levensohn, 1854, 1906 (age 52)
  • Jenny Levensohn, 1894, 1906 (age 22)
  • Sarah Levensohn, 1885, 1906 (age 21)
  • Joe Levenson,, 1906-1912 (age 10 – 21)

(Some of these may seem strange, but wild variations in birth dates and immigration dates are common among people researching their Jewish families.  People lied about their ages (still do, from time to time); a person responding to a census could have mis-remembered or simply guessed about another household member’s immigration date; someone might know his birth date on the Jewish calendar but never was particular about when he noted it on a document.  Many other reasons are possible.  I have found birth dates and immigration dates on documents such as marriage license applications, census records, and death certificates.  The dates can vary widely.)

Here’s what I postulate:  Max arrived first, alone.  Morris arrived next, alone and lying about his youth.  Although it seems plausible that Morris and Clara may may have arrived together  (my first record of Morris in the US is in the 1897 Cincinnati City Directory, and Clara, as a woman traveling alone, is less plausible than arriving with a brother) the 1900 census seems pretty clear.  The 1900 census shows the three siblings  – Max, Morris, and Clara – living together on Western Avenue in Cincinnati and each has a different immigration date (Max 1892, Morris 1894, Clara 1896).  To reinforce that, the census explicitly notes that Max had been in the US  8 years; Morris 6 years; and Clara 4 years.

So there should be three separate immigration records for these three siblings.  Any ones I have located so far just don’t fit closely enough with any of these three ancestors.  Of course “Max,” “Morris,” and “Clara” are names used in the US.  In the Old Country their names would have been different.  Knowing that, I have searched variants and researched common name changes among Jews at the time.  I have been flexible when looking for first names.  [I don’t know the Yiddish or Hebrew names for any of these people.  Morris’s grave is the only one I have found, and it does not carry any Hebrew on it.  My working hypothesis is Moshe, but that is by no means certain.]

What about Annie?  Although it seems more likely that she and her sister, Clara, might have immigrated together, rather than two single women traveling alone, why would she not have been living with Clara and Morris and Max in 1900?  I haven’t found Annie on the 1900 census.  Her marriage took place in 1903 in Cincinnati.  And the 1910 census in Cincinnati says she immigrated in 1901.  A later census puts the date earlier.

So, so far it seems that each of these siblings:  Max, Morris, Clara, and Hannah/Annie immigrated separately, perhaps each one as the money became available.  So there should be four separate immigration records.

Fannie appears to have traveled alone, too. In one scenario she was a young child when she came to the US.  Her first appearance in the US – in my research, that is – is in 1910, in Cincinnati, married.  On that census she is listed as having come to the US in 1898, and it gives her age as 21 in April, 1910.  If that is correct, she would have been a child of about nine years old when she came to the US.  I can’t imagine that she came alone, if that is the case.

Imagine that the 1910 census information is more or less true.  That would seem to imply that she traveled with an adult; but I do not see any of her older family members who immigrated at that time.  It would also seem to imply that I should be able to find her on the 1900 census.  She is not with family members in Cincinnati on the 1900 census.  Could there be unknown relatives who lived elsewhere (the odds would say New York or one of the other large East Coast port cities), with whom she immigrated and with whom she was living in 1900?  That is a possibility I haven’t investigated carefully, one that I plan to follow up on.

On the other hand, there is contradictory and confusing information on later censuses, giving her immigration date as late as 1908.  So, perhaps the reason I have not been able to locate her until the 1910 Census is that she was not yet in the US.

Might papa Joseph arrived with his daughters, with several of them listed as arriving in 1906?  And possibly with young Joe?  I have not found this group, but I need to try once more, looking for them as a family.  Until I laid it out like this, and wrote the narrative on this blog, I hadn’t done this particular search.  Giving myself a place to discuss my research with myself was one of the reasons I recently began this blog.  It might make sense that the widowed Joseph brought the rest of his family (except eldest daughter, Leah, who never came to the US) as a group, if finances permitted.

However – not to get overly optimistic – I’ve done individual searches for all of these ancestors, and have come up empty.

To be continued, when I find something.  .

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Some of my Grinker Mysteries: Who was Chune Grinker? Who was Itzig Cohn in Baltimore? Whence and Wherefore Cincinnati?

GRINKER, John family outbound HamburgGRINKER family Hamburg to Baltimore 1893

My paternal grandma arrived in the US at the Port of Baltimore in 1893 on the SS Polynesia, sailing from Hamburg on the Hamburg Line.  The upper manifest is the outbound one, in German; the lower is the inbound one, for the US Immigration service of the time.  On the manifests her name seems to be “Paula Grinker,” very puzzling.  In the US she was known as “Bessie.”  Clearly, “Paula” is not a Yiddish or a Hebrew or even a Russian name, either.  I think it must be the way that the German purser heard it.

The outbound manifest says the family was from Maurico, Argentina, but I have been unable to locate a record of the family’s travel from Argentina to Hamburg; nor have I been able to find an earlier record – probably about a year or so earlier – of the family’s travel to Argentina, presumably originating in Odessa.

On these manifests there are five people:  Chune (known in the US as “John”), age 36, a farmer; his wife, Eugenia (“Jennie” in the US); “Paula,” age 8; Feige (“Fannie” in the US), age 5, and Josef (“Joe”), the new baby.  The ages of Paula/Bessie and Fannie/Feige contradict everything else I have found and I believe to be true.  Bessie, by all other accounts, was born in August, 1888 and Fannie was born in 1890.

Aside from the missing records of travel to and from Argentina (they tried farming in one of the earliest Jewish agricultural colonies established by Baron Maurice von Hirsch [hence “Maurico, Argentina”]); aside from the apparently wrong ages of the girls; and aside from the strange appellation “Paula,” there are three bigger mysteries here that I have been unable to solve:

WHO WAS JOHN GRINKER, my great-grandfather?

WHO WAS ITZIG COHN, the “cousin” they were joining in Baltimore?

WHEN AND WHY DID THE FAMILY MOVE TO CINCINNATI, where they were living by 1897?

The first, who was John Grinker, is a multi-part question, because I don’t know where he was really from (Odessa? Germany); do not know the names of his parents or any of his siblings or ancestors; do not know when or where he died; do not know why he left (abandoned?) his family in about 1907, about the time of the birth of his eighth child; and do not know where he went after leaving the family.  There are some tantalizing hints, which I’ll discuss in later posts.

I was in contact with the Jewish Genealogical Society in Buenos Aires many years ago; I was told that the records of immigrants from about the time John and his family were there just don’t exist now, so it seems that is a dead end.  My attempts to discover who Itzig Cohn was, at 130 North Front Street in Baltimore, have been multiple and fruitless.  Was he John’s cousin? Jennie’s cousin?  An uncle or a friend of one of the families?

And I have been unable to locate any record showing that they lived in Baltimore between the time of their arrival, in November, 1893 and the time that I first find a record of them in Cincinnati – in the 1897 Cincinnati City Directory.  Where were they during those years?  Why did they move to Cincinnati?

In tracing my family history, I would like to be able to work backwards – in the case of the Grinkers, find out more about John’s origins; and be able to work horizontally – in the case of John Grinker, find out who his other relatives were, what cousins I might have alive in the world now.  Finding out who was Itzig Cohn might help in this regard, if it turns out that he was a blood relative of John’s.

The question of Cincinnati is more than mere curiosity, because family history is not just names and dates, but is also the stories of people.  Also, answering why they moved could help trace backwards, if it turns out that John took his family to Cincinnati because he had a family member already there.

Here, I’ve only scratched the surface of my Grinker mysteries.

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