Tag Archives: Grinker

Grinker Mysteries: What Happened to John Grinker?

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Grinker had left the family by 1910

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

Exactly When and Why Did John Grinker Leave His Family?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who were those mean women?

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

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

Revelations about family dysfunction and marital turmoil

Newspapers for Genealogy

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

The Bare Bones of the Skeletons in the Family Closet

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

GRINKER Celia news item 1908

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

    John Grinker Domestic Assault 1908

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

Marriage of John Grinker and Rosa Rabenstein, 1908

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

John Grinker divorces Rosa 1910

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

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

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

A Digression on Rosa Rabenstein, AKA Rose Raben Grinker

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

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

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

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

John Grinker “went missing” after his divorce from Rosa

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

John Grinker the “Soda Boy”?

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

GRINKER John Cinti Post p.1 Oct 1915

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

Post-1910 City Directories

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

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

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

An inmate at a mental institution

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

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

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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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