Tag Archives: San Francisco

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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