Tag Archives: Jewish genealogy

Name Changes: Was GRINKER originally GRUNFELD?

Review of John Grinker Mysteries

I have written a couple posts already about my father’s paternal grandfather:  my great-grandfather, John Grinker. (See posts:  http://wp.me/p35vsQ-y and http://wp.me/p35vsQ-5c). I know he was married to Jennie Kaminsky, of Odessa; that his first two daughters – my grandma Bessie and her sister Fannie – were born in Odessa; and that this small family were settlers in the Mauricio Colony of Argentina, prior to coming to the U.S. I know they arrived in Baltimore in 1893, sailing from Mauricio via Hamburg. I know also that their first son, Joe, was born in Argentina.

But there is more that I don’t know. Particularly germane to this post is the fact that I don’t know the names of his parents (other than names provided by his second wife on a marriage license; these are questionable) nor where he was originally from. I can find no record of him in Odessa. The name “GRINKER” is not common. A number of Grinkers seem to have come from Lithuania. On a couple of documents his daughters wrote that he was from “Germany.” This was well after he had left the family in the early 1900s. Other documents list his birthplace as “Russia,” referring to the Russian Empire of the late nineteenth century.

Name Variations and Changes

Those of us doing Ashkenazi family history know how fluid were names – surnames and given names. Our ancestors changed their names frequently and were free with their spelling variations. Because their surnames in the old country were written – at the rare times they were written – in Cyrillic and/or Hebrew characters, not with our Latin alphabet, there was no “correct” English spelling when they came to the U.S.

Their names written on ship manifests did not necessarily accurately reflect the names they had before emigrating from the Russian Empire. I have some relatives, through marriage, whose name in the old country, was pronounced roughly as “Belinky.” It was a variation of the Russian word for “white.” On their ship manifest as they moved to the U.S. their name was listed as “White,” and that is the name the family used in the U.S.

Many of these immigrants were illiterate in any language or, perhaps, were literate in Yiddish and Hebrew; maybe literate in Russian. But when they traveled to the U.S., they may often traveled on a German or Dutch steamship. In that case, their name on the manifest might be written as the ticket issuer or ship purser heard the name spoken. Language differences and accents, as well as the different ways sounds were written in other languages also affected the way a name might be written. For instance, in German “w” has the same sound as “v” in English.

Not only surnames show variations and changes. A Jew coming from Odessa in the late 1800s might have had a double name in Hebrew, a double name in Yiddish, perhaps a nickname, too.

I write about this, in a very cursory way, as background to what seems to be a possible name change. It may be that, before coming to the U.S., GRINKER was not the family name. It may have been GRÜNFELD, or something similar.

Immigration to Mauricio

Although I have the record of their arrival in Baltimore from Argentina, via Hamburg, I never have found record of the earlier journey – the travel from the old country to the agricultural colony, Mauricio.

Years ago I had hit a dead end on this. My correspondence with a Jewish genealogy society in Argentina led me to believe such records didn’t exist. Yesterday I decided to revisit this search.

Looking for information about the Jewish agricultural colonies in Argentina, it’s not surprising that the internet revealed articles I had not seen before. First, I found the full text of an article from the 1906 edition of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/905-agricultural-colonies-in-the-argentine-republic-argentina), an article that told me “locusts, which were very numerous, destroyed the growing crops, and water was scarce. Although the colonies received constant accessions, it was necessary to deport so many discontented colonists to the United States.”

My Aunt Dorothy, when I was a kid, had alluded to unlivable, primitive conditions that the Grinkers endured in Argentina. Perhaps the Grinkers were among the “deported.”

My Google search yesterday brought me more and more recent information about this in an academic publication from April 2013:  “Colonia Mauricio: Two Complementary Visions,” by Edgardo Zablotsky (http://www.ucema.edu.ar/u/eez/Publicaciones/Serie_Documentos_de_Trabajo/doc485.pdf).

It turns out that conditions for the early settlers were even worse than depicted by the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, and discontent among the colonists ran high.

Perhaps more apropos to my search, it became clear to me that 1891 was the year of initial mass settlement of Mauricio. Also, the one departure port mentioned in Zablotsky’s article was Hamburg. That led me to a re-examination of the Hamburg Passenger Lists (in German) online.

Searching the Hamburg Passenger Lists

Ancestry.com has the indexed Hamburg Passenger lists. I tried – as I’m sure I have before – to search GRINKER on that list, and also variations of how it might have been indexed, to no avail. I also tried “Mauricio” and “Maurico” (the way it had been listed on the Grinkers’ passenger list to Baltimore), but could only find at Baltimore manifest.  I also tried using the word “Odessa,” but again couldn’t find another record.

When I left off names but limited the arrival date to “1891 +/- one year” and put in the word “Buenos” (as in Buenos Aires in the “anything” box, I got a huge list (>1,000 records) of Jewish names too many to easily go through. The arrival port for many of these was listed as “La Plata.”

Then I had a brainstorm. I knew that the initial journey would have involved four family members: John, Jennie, Bessie, and Fannie. I had a pretty good idea about the birth years of the two daughters. But I also knew that the given names of these individuals were quite various among the early records. In particular, on the Baltimore manifest they were listed as “Chune,” “Eugenia,” “Paula,” and “Feige,” respectively. Of all of these, “Feige” the one I figured was most likely to be used by a Yiddish-speaking family upon leaving Eastern Europe. “Feige” would also be heard and spelled easily by a German-speaking ticket seller or purser.

I searched within the 1,000+ results I had received by putting in the first name “Feige” and specifying “exact” for that name; I also specified that the result should be a person born in 1890 +/- two years.  Of the 254 results I got, the first five were infant Feiges sailing between 1891 and 1893 and arriving at La Plata. Three of them arrived in 1891:  Feige Goldschmeid, Feige Grünfeld, and Feige Gutrad. No Grinker.

But looking more closely at the records of each of these, I found that Feige Grünfeld’s was suspiciously familiar.

Maybe Fannie and her family; maybe not

Here was the transcribed record for Feige Grünfeld:

Name: Feige Grünfeld
Departure Date: 12 Aug 1891
Destination: Buenos Aires
Birth Date: abt 1890
Age: 1
Gender: weiblich (Female)
Residence: Libau (Liepaja)
Ship Name: Petropolis
Captain: Albert, Th.
Shipping Clerk: Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft
Shipping line: Hamburg-Südamerikanische Dampfschifffahrt-Gesellschaft
Ship Type: Dampfschiff
Accommodation: Zwischendeck
Ship Flag: Deutschland
Port of Departure: Hamburg
Port of Arrival: La Plata
Volume: 373-7 I, VIII A 1 Band 075 A
Household Members:
Name Age
Chaim Grünfeld 38
Schone Grünfeld 20
Pesse Grünfeld 3
Feige Grünfeld 1

A number of things on this record make me think of my Grinker family.

The number of people, their relative ages and genders, fit very closely. (Ages of the parents varied quite a bit on records I have found, but this seems pretty close.)

Feige is the right name and age for Fannie. And “Pesse” seems very similar to “Bessie,” the name my grandma always used in the U.S. Grandma Bessie’s birth date, on most records, is 5 August 1888. so the age of three on 12 August 1891 would be exactly right for her.

But the last residence is shown as “Libau.” The names “Chaim” and “Schone” are ones I never saw recorded for John and Jennie. And, at least at first glance, “Grünfeld” is pretty far from “Grinker.”

 Back to the Issue of Names

Grünfeld, with the umlaut over the “u,” would be pronounced in German something similar to “GRINfeld” in English. So, although the name is still quite different from GRINKER, the sound of the first four letters is about the same.

What about “Chaim” for “John/Chune”? I really can’t explain this. Based on the Hebrew on the headstones of some of his offspring, I think his Hebrew name was Elchanen, for which “Chone” might have been a kinnui. But “Chaim,” as far as I know, is not connected with any of these names. I suppose, in a stretch, I might argue it has a similar sound.

What about “Schone” for Jennie/Eugenia? According to her headstone, her Hebrew name was “Scheindel (Shayndl),” meaning “beautiful.” “Jennie” was apparently a common English cognate for this. The Argentinian name for it might be “Sonia.” (My source for this information is the “Jewish Given Names Database” on JewishGen.org.).  There certainly are possibilities here.

But the names that most make me think this could be the GRINKER family are the names of the girls, combined with their ages.  My grandma Bessie was so secular that she did not have her Hebrew name inscribed on her gravestone. According to the Jewish Given Names Database, Basya / Bisya / Pesha / Peshka would be a Hebrew name that would translate to Base / Basha / Bashe / Basi / Basye / Pesa / Pese / Peshe in the Yiddish of Ukraine and a Yiddish nickname of Peshl / Pesi / Pesil / Pesl / Pesle / Pesye. These sound to me as if they could easily be sounded as “Pesse.” And the US name, according to the Database, would be Bessie, Beverly, or Pauline.

What blows me away here is the “Pauline.” I’ve always been so puzzled by the name “Paula” for my grandmother on the passenger list showing her arrival in the U.S. in 1893. This ties it all together.

The Evidence is Circumstantial and Not Strong

I cannot say with any certainty that the family listed as “Grünfeld” on the 1891 La Plata arrival manifest is my Grinker family. It is way far from reaching any genealogical proof standard. It’s, at best, a guess.

But, to me, it is a guess worth pursuing, and I will be searching for evidence of the Grünfelds in the old country as another avenue to trace my lineage. Also, when I look at my autosomal DNA results (and those of my brother and my paternal first cousin), I will be on the lookout for ancestral names such as “Greenfield,” names I never would have noticed before.

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Clerk of Courts Research, Cincinnati, OH

Recounting My Experience

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

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

Starting Online

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

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

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

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

Old Records Not Digitized

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

The Example of My Great-Grandparents’ Divorce

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The case number that you entered was not found.

Pretty discouraging.

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

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

Go To the “Paper Room”

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

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

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

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

Not All Staff Are Equally Adept

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

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

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

The one he found was on microfiche.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the Service is Great, and Inexpensive

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

I Think I Was Lucky

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

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

Courthouse Fires

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

 

 

 

 

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Sonia Gertzman Einhorn: A Family Hero, A Childless Woman

The Forgotten Ancestors – Childless Women and Men

When I research my ancestors, I wonder who will remember those who left no descendents.  The trails backward to female ancestors, especially, are often lost because they took their husbands’ surnames, and their birth surnames can’t be found in the records. But, when working the trails forward, finding cousins, there are no cousins descending from them. Who remains to remember them? I guess that will be me. As much as possible, I want to preserve the memories of these childless family members.  I’ve already devoted a post to my paternal Aunt Dorothy Levensohn (http://wp.me/p35vsQ-3i). I hope to add others, both men and women. Today I want to devote a post to Sonia Einhorn, who was truly a family hero whose memory should be preserved.

Who She Was

I know little about who she was – even the bare bones of her biography. Gertzman Women 1946_2 Sonia Einhorn was born Sarah Gertzman, in 1872, 1873 or 1874. Or maybe it was another year. She was born either in the town of Mogilev (now in Belarus) in the Russian Empire, or in the town of Senno (now Syanno) in the Mogilev Gubernia. Or, maybe – but probably not – she was born in Ekaterinoslav (now in Ukraine and called Dnipropetrovsk). Her father was Schlomo Gertzman, and her mother’s name is unknown to me. A guess is that her mother’s name was Liba, a name given as the wife of a Schlomo Gertzman, but not necessarily the same Schlomo Gertzman. Sonia had two brothers that I know about:  Harry Gertzman and Nathan Gertzman. Nathan was one of my four great-grandfathers. (Of course, “Harry” and “Nathan” are Americanizations of their names. Their Yiddish and Hebrew names are variously transliterated.) Sonia married Nachum (Nathan) Einhorn, from Ekaterinoslav. She was already married and living in Ekaterinoslav in 1903 when she emigrated to the U.S. to meet her husband. So she was married some time before the age of 30.

Sonia Einhorn arrives Ellis Island, 1903

Sonia Einhorn arrives Ellis Island, 1903

If you are unable to decipher the manifest, here are the highlights: The sheet was for steerage passengers. The SS Statendam sailed from Rotterdam 13 June 1903, arrived NY on June 23. Sonia is on line 7, listed as “Sonie Einhor,” age 30 married, no occupation, able to read and write; country of last permanent residence – Russia; Hebrew race or people; last residence Yekaterinaslaw; final destination NY, passage paid by husband; carrying no money. She was to join her husband, “N Einhor ℅ A Finkelstein 105 Stanton St, NY.

Mogilev Woman, Ekaterinoslav Man

How did it happen that a Mogilev woman would marry an Ekaterinoslav man? Both towns were on the Dnieper River. The map below is one I found online, from an environmental project proposal (http://projects.inweh.unu.edu/inweh/display.php?ID=654), and it is the best I can find that shows the route from Mogilev to Ekaterinoslav (Dnipropetrovsk). I have not found out yet if the travel between the two places was via river or whether there was road or rail travel. Dnieper River Basin I believe both families, the Einhorns and the Gertzmans, were related. On passenger lists, both Einhorn and Gertzman men listed the same cousin – either a Finkelstein or a Shaffer – as their final destination upon arriving in New York. I still haven’t figured out how these Finkelsteins and Shaffers are our relatives, but they were apparently shared relatives with the Einhorns and Finkelsteins. Several Gertzman relatives gave Ekaterinolav as their hometown, or last residence; or told their descendents that it was their home town.

Lil’s story of the match

Lil Gertzman (her maiden name), my mother’s first cousin, was born in 1915 in Cincinnati. I was fortunate enough to make contact with her and speak with her, both on the phone (in 2001) and in person (in California in 2002). Lil knew her Great-Aunt Sonia well, visited her often in Lil’s childhood. Lil admired and was fond of Sonia. Although when I asked Lil about Sonia, Lil was showing some signs of occasional confusion, those old memories from Lil are the closest thing I have to a first-person account. According to Lil, Nachum (Nathan) Einhorn was the last boy left in his family and needed a match. The Einhorn family was unable to obtain a match with a dowry. Sonia’s family was poor, and there was no dowry, but she was bright and capable and literate. Lil did not know how the two families got together or were related.

A Quick Note About Names

Throughout this post I will use some names interchangeably:  Nachum Einhorn = Nathan Einhorn; Sonia Einhorn = Sarah Einhorn. These names were used variously on records and in people’s conversations with me.

From Ellis Island to Cincinnati: 1903 – 1904

Women and children arriving at Ellis Island were routinely detained until they were fetched by a responsible man. In Sonia’s case she was gathered up almost immediately upon arrival by her husband, “Nathan Einhor” of 194 Allen St, NY City. The immigration service on Ellis Island needed only to feed her one meal, her evening dinner, before Nachum picked her up. The record is on line 15, below:

Record of Sonia Einhorn's brief detention at Ellis Island

Record of Sonia Einhorn’s brief detention at Ellis Island

Sonia lived with Nachum in the Lower East Side of Manhattan for less than a year before they moved to Cincinnati.

Tenements on the Lower East Side

Jewish immigrants to New York in the early 20th century typically moved into tenements on the Lower East Side. Now there is a tenement museum (http://tenement.org), worth at least a day’s visit, including tenements re-created as they were when the immigrants lived there. The museum gives guided tours both of the tenement housing and of the Lower East Side. When Sonia sailed from Rotterdam to New York, the address she had for Nachum was the Finkelstein residence at 105 Stanton St. But when Nachum picked her up at Ellis Island his residence was 194 Allen St. Both of those addresses were tenements in the Lower East Side. The Einhorn address at the time they left, March 1904, was 231 E 10th St, a bit further north, in the East Village. Neither of the Lower East Side tenements exist today. The Stanton St. tenement has been replaced by an 8-apartment rental building built in 1995. The Allen St. address now is the location of the famous Katz Deli. The E 10th St building, however, was built in 1900 and is still standing: beautifully updated, it appears, and expensive to live in. The website Zillow.com estimates a one bedroom apartment here is valued at $1.6 million. Not too shabby.

Sonia & Nachum's last address, on E. 10th St., today.

Sonia & Nachum’s last address, on E. 10th St., today.

I found this building in the 1910 Census.  Then 87 people were living in this 5-storey building, or a little more than four people per 1-bedroom apartment.

Help from the Industrial Removal Office

The IRO was started in 1901 by the Jewish Agricultural Society, one of the Baron de Hirsch Fund projects. It attempted to resettle Jewish immigrants into interior U.S. communities, outside the New York City area. According to what I have read, it tried to find work for immigrants, then arrange for and finance transportation to those job opportunities. It looks to me as if Nachum and Sonia were not the first members of the extended family to be sent to Cincinnati by the IRO. In 1903 “Sal” (probably”Schmerl,” as the family knew him) Hertzman, a cabinetmaker, was sent to Cincinnati; and in January 1904 Abram Gertzman, a tailor, was sent. Both Schmerl and Abram (known to my mother’s generation as “Uncle Schmerl” and “Uncle Avrum”) were related to Sonia, possibly her first cousins. Maybe the existence of family already there was one reason Nachum and Sonia went to Cincinnati. Here is the record of the IRO sending Nachum and Sonia from NY City to Cincinnati, OH:

Nathan and Sonia Einhorn sent to Cincinnati March 1904 by the IRO

Nathan and Sonia Einhorn sent to Cincinnati March 1904 by the IRO

The IRO spent $18 on their tickets and $10.85 on their freight. Most people on the page received only 35 cents for freight, so the couple must have had considerable possessions, relatively speaking. Mr. Rosen was the IRO agent in Cincinnati. In May 1904 he sent a report that included the initial outcome of Nachum’s relocation to Cincinnati.

Report from the Cincinnati IRO agent on Nathan Einhorn's relocation

Report from the Cincinnati IRO agent on Nathan Einhorn’s relocation

Nathan and Sonia Einhorn Opened Their Home

Without their Tante Sonia and “Uncle Einhorn,” as they called him, my Bubba and much of her family might never have come to Cincinnati. Having a place to go was essential to their immigration. Nachum and Sonia provided that place. Here are are some of the records I have found:

  • Idel Einhorn, age 29, male, married, tailor, arrived at Ellis Island on the SS Main on 24 Feb 1906. His destination:  brother N Einhorn, 1515 John St, Cincinnati, OH. (This would be Adolph (Eidel) Einhorn.)
  • Minnie Einhorn/”Eingorn,” age 29, arrived at Baltimore in August, 1906, with three young children (Jankel, age 4, Schmuel, age 3, and an infant girl whose name I can’t read). She was going to her husband, Edel Einhorn, 1515 John St., Cincinnati (Nachum and Sonia’s place).
  • Leie Einhorn, age 20, married, arrived at Ellis Island on the SS Breslau on 7 Apr 1907, going to:  husband, Jakob Einhorn, 1515 John St, Cincinnati, OH (so Jacob, Nachum’s brother, was living with him. Jacob had arrived in October, 1906).
  • Feidel Gertzman (my great-uncle Freddie), age 23, single, a tailor, from Ekaterinolav [not really – he was from Mogilev, but that’s another story], arrived at Ellis Island 25 July 1909. He was going to his cousin, Nachum Einhorn, 1402 John St., Cincinnati (Sonia and Nathan had moved down the street).
  • Avram Schlioma Gerzman (my great-uncle Sam), age 24, single, a tailor, born in Mogilev but last residing in Simferopol, arrived at Ellis Island in August, 1912 on the SS Russia. He was going to his brother at 1402 John St., Cincinnati.
  • 1910 Census (April, 1910) the Einhorn household consisted of Nathan &  Sarah (Sonia) Einhorn (mis-recorded as “Einhart”, and Fred and Eva Gertzman (mis-recorded as “Getzman”) at 1402 John Street. Eva Gertzman was Fred’s sister, my great-aunt.
  • Sora-Rivka and Chasja Gertzman arrived at Ellis Island in June, 1913 on the S.S. Russia. This is my great-grandmother and my grandmother. They were going to Sora-Rivka’s son (Hasha’s brother), F. Gertzman at 1402 John St. in Cincinnati. So Freddie had been living with Sonia and Nachum for almost four years at this point.
  • By the 1920 Census, Sonia and Nachum were  still living at 1402 John Street, but no relatives were living with them.

I do not know if Sonia and Nachum provided any financial help to my family, but it is clear that, in addition to housing many of Nachum’s relatives, they housed my maternal ancestors for many years. My great-grandmother, Sora-Rivka, had four living children, and all of them lived in the apartment on John Street. Yes, it was a rented apartment. The building no longer exists.

Hints that their generosity extended beyond opening their home

I’ve heard a few snippets from relatives that tell me that Sonia and Nachum led a life of generosity to family. The née Gertzman sisters – Lil, Ida, and Ann – Freddie’s daughters, my mother’s first cousins – each spoke of memorable and frequent trips to visit the Einhorns for Shabbos dinner. Sonia was reportedly an excellent challah baker, among other things. Lil waxed ecstatic over Sonia’s many talents, including being a fine seamstress alongside Nathan’s pantsmaking business. When I had a chance to hear stories from Lil, she told me of Sonia’s intelligence, talents, and generosity. One story Lil told me involved Sonia’s rescue of an ill African-American girl. At the time Lil told me the story, she was, as I mentioned above, quite elderly and occasionally a bit confused. Although “sharp as a tack” is the cliche I’d generally use to describe her, Lil told me that this girl was a runaway slave – impossible, given the timing being about 1920. Nonetheless, I believe Lil was remembering an actual event, but just confused some of the circumstances. Lil remembered Sonia taking in this sick child, calling in a doctor to diagnose and treat her, and then nursing the child back to health. One cousin on my Gertzman side, a granddaughter of Harry Gertzman, wrote me the following recollection: “Now I do recall that Harry had a sister named Sarah, and I also recall Uncle Einhorn. I believe that he’s the uncle who gave my dad a gold monogramed ring for his bar mitzvah {which was at age 12 rather than 13 because now he was now the man of the family!} I have the ring and wear it every day. It will eventually go to my grandson, Sam, who was named after my dad.”

“Don’t Bother Mine Pants”

In my family we have a phrase meaning, “Don’t bug me!” It goes, “Don’t bother mine pants!” or, as my mother used to say, “Don’t bodder mine-a pants!”  This is an inadvertent present handed down from Uncle Einhorn. He was a pantsmaker. As I gathered from Lil and Ann and Ida, he had his business in his home. If someone spoke to him or tried to get his attention when he was sewing, he would say, “Don’t bodder mine-a pants!” meaning, don’t bug me when I’m working on pants.

Uncle Einhorn

Uncle Einhorn

 

A Poignant Plea for a Son, 1911

In 1911 Sonia would have been in her upper thirties, having been born in the early 1870s. She and Nathan were childless. I have found no records of births or stillbirths to Sonia (though early records from Cincinnati are spotty). Nathan’s father, a respected patriarch, Moses Einhorn died at shul on Shabbos in February 1911. The Cincinnati Post published two articles after the funeral, one of them on the front page, focusing on Nathan and Sonia. The articles are poignant, crossing the border into the melodramatic, describing Sonia and Nathan’s desperate pleas that they might be blessed with a son.  (The first article is shown in two pieces and has some overlap of text; sorry!)

Date: Tuesday, February 21, 1911

Paper: Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, OH)

Page: 1

This entire product and/or portions thereof are copyrighted by NewsBank and/or the American Antiquarian Society. 2004.
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Then again,

Date: Thursday, February 23, 1911

Paper: Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, OH)

Page: 4

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This entire product and/or portions thereof are copyrighted by NewsBank and/or the American Antiquarian Society. 2004.

The Later Years – 1920s – 1940

Although Fred Gertzman’s family often visited the Einhorn home for Shabbos dinner, my own mother’s family, children of Hasha (Gertzman) and Alex Simon, apparently did not go, or did not go often. Ida sometimes told me this, wondering why the Simons did not also attend the Shabbos dinners. She wondered if it was because Alex was a less social, more a “keep to himself” sort of person. She also wondered if he did not give Hasha the money she would need for carfare to travel from Price Hill and, later, the West End. As I muse on this, I can also imagine that the money just wasn’t available, especially as the Depression hit the Simons hard. Another possibility is that Alex and his family avoided taking the streetcar because it was Shabbos. This is little more than idle speculation.

The Alex Simon family lived in Price Hill, while the Einhorns lived downtown until sometime in the 1920s. At some point in the 1920s, probably late in the decade, the Einhorns moved to Avondale. So getting to Shabbos dinner would have required taking the streetcars for my mother’s family.

 

In the 1930 the Census Nathan and Sonia were listed as living in a 4-family building at 332 Rockdale Ave. in Avondale. The 1929 Cincinnati City Directory listed that same address for Nathan. Earlier years in the 1920s, the Directory gave a work address downtown for him, so I’m not sure when they moved there. The Jews of Cincinnati were generally moving away from downtown and Price Hill, and into Avondale. At the time of that 1930 Census, Nathan was listed as the owner of that building, valued at $12,500. However, something is confusing here because another person in the same building is also listed as owner, value $18,000.

The listing gives Sonia’s age as 56 and Nathan’s as 57 years old, occupation Pants Maker in the tailoring industry, but not the owner of his business. The 1930 census also asked if the individual was at work the last working day prior to the census and, for Nathan, the answer was “no.” It then referenced line 9 on the Unemployment Schedule (and I need to find out if that is able to be accessed online or elsewhere).

The Depression hit everyone hard and, one can imagine, an aging, old-fashioned pants maker might lose his work. I don’t know how long Nachum was unemployed. The first indication I have that he eventually found employment was in the 1933/34 Cincinnati Directory that listed him as a “clothes presser 3482 Burnet Av”; no longer tailoring, but still working. The home address was still 332 Rockdale.

In the 1940 Census Nathan and Sonia are shown as still living at 332 Rockdale. This time only Nachum shows as the building’s owner, but the value had dropped to $3,000.  Again Nachum, now age 67, was out of work but was seeking work. The number of weeks out of work was listed as 520 (10 years), which seems unlikely given he was working as a presser in the mid-1930s. His “number of weeks worked” in the previous year was zero. Both Nathan and Sonia were noted to have other source(s) of income. Certainly the rent they were receiving would be one of those. They also had a lodger living in their unit, Sydney Goldman, age 23, a salesclerk in a pawn shop.

So where is that Rockdale Avenue home now? Gone. It is an empty lot. According to a search I just did, it last sold in 2005 for $8,300.

 

332 Rockdale Sonia EINHORN home

More About Sonia in her Later Years

The 1940 Census had a unique feature – it gathered supplementary information for two people on each census sheet. Sarah was selected on hers. However not much additional is revealed. It says that she was from “Russia”; that she was married only once; and that she was age 20 when first married. But there is something really odd here. In the column for number of children ever born, not including stillbirths, the number is “one”. Did Sarah ever have a child, perhaps one that died very young? The 1910 Census, when she was shown as 36 years old, said she had had “zero” children born. Although I have just repeated searches for record of a birth or death of a child of Sonia and Nachum, I’ve not found a trace.

In her later years it seems to me that Sonia did not have much interaction with my mother’s family, nor with the Fred Gertzman family. Lil Gertzman spoke of being close with her Aunt Sonia, but she didn’t relate specific stories about her, except in the years Lil was a young girl. In 1930 Lil turned 15. I also heard nothing specific about her, in her later years, from Ida or Ann. They both mentioned Shabbos dinners, but nothing more than that.

It seems to me Sonia and Nachum may have had more connection with another branch of my family, the family of Harry and Sarah Gertzman. I knew almost nothing about this branch until I began researching family history.

Harry Gertzman was Sonia Einhorn’s brother, as was my great-grandfather, Nachum Gertzman. This gets confusing to read about, because it seems that almost everyone was named Sarah or Nachum.

Harry Gertzman died young, at about age 40, in 1913 of tuberculosis. He left his widow, Sarah (nee Billipinsky), with seven children ranging in age from about one year old to about fourteen.

Descendents of Harry and Sarah Gertzman have sent me scans of photos including Sonia (“Aunt Einhorn”) and Nachum (“Uncle Einhorn”). The individual portraits I have above, earlier in this post, are cropped from these scans. Here are others:

Sonia Einhorn & Shirley Gertzman 1932

 

Sonia Einhorn, Sarah Gertzman, Howard Levine - 1934 S McMorris Gertzman Women circa 1940 - Version 2

Deaths in the Early 1940s

Sonia died December 26, 1942 at about 70 years of age. Here is her death certificate.

EINHORN, Sarah 1942 death

 

It looks as if she died of heart disease. She clearly had cardio-pulmonary disease, perhaps chronic heart failure, as my grandmother, Hasha, did. (Hasha was her niece.) Nathan was the informant on the death certificate and he certainly gave little information about his deceased wife.

I note parenthetically that the Einhorn’s address had changed to 650 Rockdale Avenue. That address appears to be non-existent now.

Nachum died less than two years later, on August 10, 1944, age 73 according to Aaron, one of his younger brothers. According to Aaron, Nathan was 73 years old when he died.

EINHORN, Nathan death cert 1944

 

The death certificate indicates that Nathan was living in the Jewish Home for the Aged (on Maple in Avondale) and had been living there for two years. So, probably, he moved there shortly after Sonia’s death.

Here is a photo of their headstone, in the Love Brothers Cemetery in Cincinnati.

Sonya, Nathan Einhorn grave

 

The Hebrew on Nathan’s side says: A Respected and Important Man, Reb (Mr.) Menachem Nachum Son of Moshe, Passed 27th Day of the Hebrew Month of Av in the Hebrew Year 5704. The last line is the usual quotation from Samuel – May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.

The Hebrew on Sarah’s side says:  An Important Woman, Sarah Daughter of Reb Shlomo, Passed: 19th day of the Hebrew Month of Tevet in the Hebrew Year 5703. The last line is also the Samuel quotation.

 

 

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Nicknames: Lewis was Bobby and Bud

Lewis L young man portrait

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

Here’s what I remember my mother telling me:

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

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

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

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

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Grinker Mysteries: What Happened to John Grinker?

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Grinker had left the family by 1910

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

Exactly When and Why Did John Grinker Leave His Family?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who were those mean women?

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

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

Revelations about family dysfunction and marital turmoil

Newspapers for Genealogy

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

The Bare Bones of the Skeletons in the Family Closet

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

GRINKER Celia news item 1908

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

    John Grinker Domestic Assault 1908

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

Marriage of John Grinker and Rosa Rabenstein, 1908

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

John Grinker divorces Rosa 1910

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

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

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

A Digression on Rosa Rabenstein, AKA Rose Raben Grinker

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

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

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

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

John Grinker “went missing” after his divorce from Rosa

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

John Grinker the “Soda Boy”?

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

GRINKER John Cinti Post p.1 Oct 1915

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

Post-1910 City Directories

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

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

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

An inmate at a mental institution

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

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

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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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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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