Tag Archives: Levensohn

Clerk of Courts Research, Cincinnati, OH

Recounting My Experience

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

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

Starting Online

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

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

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

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

Old Records Not Digitized

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

The Example of My Great-Grandparents’ Divorce

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The case number that you entered was not found.

Pretty discouraging.

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

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

Go To the “Paper Room”

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

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

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

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

Not All Staff Are Equally Adept

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

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

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

The one he found was on microfiche.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the Service is Great, and Inexpensive

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

I Think I Was Lucky

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

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

Courthouse Fires

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

 

 

 

 

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Nicknames: Lewis was Bobby and Bud

Lewis L young man portrait

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

Here’s what I remember my mother telling me:

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

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

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

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

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Grinker Mysteries: What Happened to John Grinker?

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Grinker had left the family by 1910

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

Exactly When and Why Did John Grinker Leave His Family?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who were those mean women?

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

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

Revelations about family dysfunction and marital turmoil

Newspapers for Genealogy

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

The Bare Bones of the Skeletons in the Family Closet

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

GRINKER Celia news item 1908

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

    John Grinker Domestic Assault 1908

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

Marriage of John Grinker and Rosa Rabenstein, 1908

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

John Grinker divorces Rosa 1910

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

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

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

A Digression on Rosa Rabenstein, AKA Rose Raben Grinker

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

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

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

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

John Grinker “went missing” after his divorce from Rosa

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

John Grinker the “Soda Boy”?

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

GRINKER John Cinti Post p.1 Oct 1915

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

Post-1910 City Directories

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

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

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

An inmate at a mental institution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And my grandpa and grandma were living on Gest Street.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dodging the Czar’s Draft and Confusing My Levensohn Research

Avoiding Conscription:  Our Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LEVENSOHN HECHT Connection

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

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

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

Belilowski, Clara and Charles, 1901

Going to cousin Max Levensohn in Cincinnati

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Can’t I Find My Levensohn Immigration Records?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Max Levensohn, b.ca 1872, arr.ca 1892 (age 20)
  • Morris Levensohn, b.ca 1881, arr. ca 1894 (age 13) (maybe up to 3 years later; must have lied about his age)
  • Clara Levensohn, b 1876 – 1879, arr.1896,7 (age about 21+/-2)
  • Fannie Levensohn, b.ca 1889, arr. 1898 or 1902 or 1904 or 1908 (age 9 – 19)
  • Hannah (Annie) Levensohn, b.ca 1879, arr.ca 1900 (age 21)
  • Joseph Levensohn, b.ca 1854, arr.ca 1906 (age 52)
  • Jenny Levensohn, b.ca 1894, arr.ca 1906 (age 22)
  • Sarah Levensohn, b.ca 1885, arr.ca 1906 (age 21)
  • Joe Levenson, b.ca.1891-1896, arr.ca 1906-1912 (age 10 – 21)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued, when I find something.  .

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