Monday, April 23, 2018

Finding My Great-Grandmother's Real Maiden Name

My family loved to tell stories and I loved hearing them. I remember listening to my grandmother Emma Cohen Gilbert talk about her mother, Sophie Kaplan Cohen's family. She said Sophie's father was Joseph Kaplan, who owned a tavern in Shafarnia, Russia (perhaps Sviryany, Novogrudok uyezd, Minsk gubernia, Russia). Joseph had been married twice and his second wife was Sarah. Sophie was his first daughter after six sons. He was so delighted to have a daughter at last that he insisted on naming her Shanaleba which means beautiful love. My mom wanted me to have the Hebrew name Shanaleba after my great-grandmother Sophie but a rabbi insisted it wasn't a proper Hebrew name. I ended up named Zeitel for another great-grandmother, Sophie Feldman Schwartzberg. Ironically Zeitel is apparently Yiddish for Sophie. Still grumbling about that! Here's a picture of Sophie taken about 1903 in Philadelphia.


So, Sophie's much older half brothers were Lipelaid, Menachem and Zwanya and perhaps one other unknown brother, since Sarah had David and Harry before Sophie was finally born, the first girl after six boys. After her were Celia, Boris, Elke, Lil, and Becky. I actually met Becky who lived to be 96 years old! My grandmother didn't know much about her uncles, the half-brothers, but Lipelaid and Menachem supposedly came to the US as did most of their siblings. Zwanya was a red-haired inventor whose inventions never worked and stayed in Russia. [There has been at least one red-haired male in every generation of this family]. Granny Emma said the last name was Kaplan so that was what I had in my records. We kept in touch with great-great-aunt Becky Kaplan Miller and her husband Nathan (Turetzky) Miller and their descendants, and great-great-uncle David Kaplan married my great-great-aunt Bella Kantorowitz, sister to Sophie's husband Joseph J. Cohen, so I knew their descendants.


In 1983 I was in New Jersey looking at colleges with my parents, and we visited Atlantic City so I could meet my great-great-aunt Becky and great-great-uncle Nathan. Here we are from left to right: Ethel Miller Fortess, Joe Miller, Nathan Miller, Joanne Gilbert Schwartzberg, Jenny Schwartzberg, Florence Miller Drossin Bellans, and Becky Miller. Thanks to cousin Janet Fortess, I was able to identify which was which since Ethel and Florence were identical twins. The twins and their brother Joe shared a house in Atlantic City and visited their parents in the nursing home nearly every day. Becky and Nathan were very sweet and loving, like cooing turtle doves and I treasure the memory of meeting them. Nathan died on their 73rd wedding anniversary (21 October 1984) and Becky died four days later.

I've spent years tracking down Harry and Boris Kaplan's descendants, as well as other cousins on that side. The people I could not ever find were Lipelaid and Menachem even though they had come to the US and Lipelaid's son Louis Kaplan had been the family dentist for the NYC cousins as had his son Ben Kaplan. Supposedly Lipelaid was very religious and his half-sister Becky had dishes just for him when he visited (meaning he kept Kosher).

Finally some folks on the JewishGen listserv pointed out that Lipelaid was probably a mistake for the double name Lipe Leib. I hunted online databases for more years yet and finally found on FamilySearch the newly indexed database, the New York City Municipal Deaths Index, 1795-1949, which had the indexed death record for Lipo Lieb Kaplan.

Name: Lipo Lieb Kaplan
Event Type: Death
Event Date: 13 Dec 1934
Event Place: Bronx, New York, New York, United States
Address: 550 Barley St
Residence Place: Bronx, New York
Gender: Male
Age: 79
Marital Status: Widowed
Race: White
Occupation: Business Man
Birth Date: 1855
Birthplace: Russia
Burial Date: 13 Dec 1934
Burial Place: Bronx, New York
Cemetery: Beth David Cemetery
Father's Name: Joseph Kaplan
Father's Birthplace: Russia
Mother's Name: Sishe Kolpenitzky
Mother's Birthplace: Russia
Frame Number: 1135

This had to be great-great-uncle Lipelaid! I now had a name for his mother, Joseph's first wife. Yay! I ordered a copy of the death certificate and it stated he died in the Home of Daughters of Jacob, Bronx, NY. I think one of his sons gave the information but I can't lay my hands on it to show here. I started hunting to see if I could find more records for Lipe Leib and when he came to the US. FamilySearch's New York City Marriage Records, 1829-1940, listed his son Louis Kaplan's marriage to Eva Weinstein.

Name: Louis Kaplan
Event Type: Marriage
Event Date: 06 Jun 1918
Event Place: Manhattan, New York, New York, United States
Event Place (Original): Manhattan, New York
Gender: Male
Age: 25
Marital Status: Single
Race: White
Birth Year (Estimated): 1893
Birthplace: Russia
Father's Name: Leon
Mother's Name: Mina Galensky
Spouse's Name: Eva Weinstein
Spouse's Gender: Female
Spouse's Age: 23
Spouse's Marital Status: Single
Spouse's Race: White
Spouse's Birth Year (Estimated): 1895
Spouse's Birthplace: Russia
Spouse's Father's Name: Simon
Spouse's Mother's Name: Ruth Glucoselsky

This gave me the English version of Lipe Leib's name as Leon Kaplan and his wife as Mina Galensky.

There was a Lippe Kaplan in the 1915 New York State Census, age 55, born in Russia, boarding with a Max Kaplan and his family in New York City. I knew Lipe Leib had a son Max but I didn't know his wife's name or descendants so I was dubious about this record but this Lippe was listed as having been in the US 2 years, i.e. arriving around 1913. I turned my attention to searching passenger lists with no success. Finally I thought to search for Kolpenitzkys. In Russia, Jews were married by their rabbis, but for their marriages to be recognized as legal by the Czarist government, they had to be registered civilly and the fee was so large many did not bother. Only if there were issues of inheritance might they register, often many years afterwards. That meant the children were legally considered bastards and carried their mothers' names not their fathers' names in the official records. I've seen quite a number of passenger manifests with people coming in under their mothers' family names and switching to the fathers' family name when they settled in America.

I searched Ancestry.com for Leib* Kolp*ky b. 1855, plus/minus 10 years and found Leibu Kolpenitxky, age 50, a merchant from Baranowitz (a family town), going to his daughter Miss I. Kaplan in Philadelphia. He arrived on 8 October 1912 on the SS Finland into the port of New York. I knew Lipe Leib's daughter Ida lived in Philadelphia at this point and other family members had gone to her.


I found other Kolpenitzkys that were Lipe Leib's descendants on other manifests, and played around with wildcard searching to see what I could find since the name keeps getting misspelled and misindexed and so many appeared to be related to me. I found a Tore Kolpinicky, and took a closer look. It actually read Sore Kolpanicky (c can be s in Russian and Polish), age 55, from Baranowicze (Baranavichy, Novogrudok uyezd, Minsk gubernia, Russia), and she was going to her son Harry Kaplan in Philadelphia, at an address I knew my great-great-uncle Harry had lived at in that same year, 1910. Wait a minute, this had to be my own great-great-grandmother Sarah Kaplan, Joseph's second wife. What was she doing, using Joseph's first wife's maiden name?


I had already found Sarah's death certificate in Ancestry's Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966:


So I knew her parents' names and I didn't think she could be a Kolpenitzky by birth. Now I started to wonder if great-great-grandfather Joseph Kaplan had actually been Joseph Kolpenitzky? That would mean that Sarah's married name was actually Kolpenitzky not Kaplan. The name change might have started taking place in Russia since I had some of Sarah's children's passenger manifests under the name Kaplan. I still wasn't sure....

I hunted for more information and found a Kolpenitzky family tree at Ancestry.com. It was private but it appeared to show Leibe Kolpenitzky so I messaged the owner through Ancestry.com on December 11, 2016.

"Can we exchange information? The Leibe Kolpenitzky who arrived on the SS Finland on 8 Oct 1912 into the port of New York from Baranowitz, Russia was my half great-great-uncle Lipelaid/Lipe Labe/Leon Kaplan, and I am tracing the Kolpenitzky/Kaplan family. Lipelaid's parents were Joseph Kaplan and Shoshe Kolpenitzky. Joseph married twice and I descend from the second marriage. I'm trying to find all Joseph's descendants. I found your tree with a lot of names that echo my family names."

A few days later I sent the following message:

"I've found various relatives coming to the US under the Kolpenitzky name and now think my great-great-grandfather Joseph Kaplan was originally Joseph Kolpenitzky. I can provide a fair amount of information about his descendants. Please contact me."

Jack Kolpen replied promptly:

"Jenny, nice to hear from you. I will give you access to my tree. Moe Kolpen told me his uncle Joe returned to Europe in 1939 and was feared murdered. Did you do a DNA test?"

I replied:

"I think the connection is earlier than that.
My great-great-grandfather Joseph Kaplan or Kolpenitzky was born about 1835 and died before 1890 in Russia probably in Sviryany, Novogrudok uyezd, Minsk gubernia. His parents were Mutke and Etke. He was married twice first to Soshe Kolpenitzky and had five sons, Lipe Labe b. 1885, Menachem b. ca. 1858, Unknown male, Zwanya b. Ca. 1864, and David Kaplan, b. 1868. His wife died and he remarried to a younger woman, Sarah Karofsky or Turetetsky, and had Harry Kaplan b. 1874, Sophie b. 1881, Celia b. 1882, Boris b. 1884, Elke and Lil who died young, and Becky b. 1888. All of the children except the unknown male and Zwanya came to the US. I've found passenger manifests for them and their families under both Kolpenitzky and variant spellings and Kaplan.
I'm hoping some of this will sound familiar to you.
I can send a Gedcom and family tree of what I have."

After looking at his family tree, much of which was based on research a Russian researcher had done for him which Jack warned was unreliable and incomplete, I saw a Iosel Kolpenitzky with two sons, Leibe and Tsfaniya. Tsfaniya was so close phonetically to Zwanya which was the name my grandmother had remembered for my great-great-uncle Zwanya, that this had to be the same person. Zwanya/Tsfaniya is a very unusual Jewish name and is probably a Yiddishized version of a Russian name.

I wrote back:

"Groan. I just lost a long reply but to make a long explanation short, I think Iosel Kolpenitzky b. 1849 is my great-great-grandfather Joseph Kaplan/Kolpenitzky. His sons, Leibe and Tsfaniya match with my great-great-uncles Lipa Labe and Zwanya. Can I have an email address where I can send a detailed descendancy narrative and family tree chart? I can link some of your floating Kolpenitzkys into my family tree.
I will finish downloading my Mom's and brother's DNA into Gedmatch and send you the codes.
So according to my calculations we are 4th cousins. Welcome to the family!"

Jack Kolpen and I ran our DNA and my mother's and brother's DNA and it showed that we matched at the 3rd-4th cousin level, as the family tree had indicated. Jack's Russian researchers had worked out our ancestors back through the 1816 census and JewishGen added records from the 1806 census. I can now go back in a direct line from my great-great-grandfather Joseph Kolpenitzky to my 7x grandfather, Movsha Kolpenitzky, born in the 1720s. All of a sudden I had seven additional generations to add to my family tree along with many new cousins.

Jack's great-great-grandfather was Osher, brother to my great-great-grandfather Joseph, and Osher's son Jacob L. Kolpen and his family settled in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where they were dairy farmers.

We shake our head at this because the distance between Elizabeth, NJ and Stelton, NJ, is 16 miles. My great-grandparents Joseph J. and Sophie (Kolpenitzky) Cohen lived at the Ferrer Colony in Stelton, NJ from 1914 to the 1930s, and we don't think Sophie ever knew her first cousins lived so close by!


I also now know the name of the Kolpenitzky home town was Stolovichi, Novogrudok uyezd, Minsk gubernia, Russia. According to the Russian researchers, all Kolpenitzkys in the Minsk gubernia descended from the family in Stolovichi. This picture shown above is from Jack's family and is of a house that belonged to his relatives, maybe in Stolovichi (or maybe it's from another side of the family). It does look like other houses that still exist in that region. This all led to my finally finding the passenger manifest for my great-great-uncle David Kaplan, Sophie's older brother, under the name David Kopontzky/Koponicky from Stolovichi, arriving in New York City, 1 April 1901 on the SS Bulgaria. I've now come to the conclusion based on his birthdate of 11 April 1868, that he was actually Sophie's half-brother, not full brother. Another assumption upended!

I'm still looking for great-great-uncle Menachem who supposedly died while visiting his stepmother Sarah. Becky Kaplan Miller's twin daughters Ethel and Florence remembered seeing him laid out in preparation for burial. Pennsylvania's death certificate database is not showing a Menachem Kaplan of any spelling so I suspect he changed his name here too. Still digging away. Plus I haven't traced all of Lipe Leib's descendants or proved that the Max Kaplan and his family on the 1915 NY census belong to my family.

One final note. In June 2017, I was in New York City, and arranged to meet up with Jack Kolpen, his sister Jana Kolpen, and Jack's daughter, Lindsey and her husband, Jack Long for dinner. We sat and talked for hours, sharing stories and laughter. Here is a picture of us after dinner.


This screenshot shows how we are related, all descendants of Leiba Kolpenitzky and his wife Ita.


Jack and Jana are my generation age-wise, due to their grandfather Benjamin Harry Kolpen being the youngest child in his family (born 1921) and closer in age to my own parents (born 1933). However, tree-wise, they are my mother's third cousins, and my third cousins once removed. Jack's daughter Lindsay is my fourth cousin.

Another note: I emailed some of my cousins about my discoveries and Becky Kaplan Miller's granddaughter, June Fortess, wrote back that she remembered hearing from Becky that the family name had originally been something like Kaplanitsky. If only my grandmother or another relative had told me that when I first started asking questions, I might have been saved a lot of frustration!!!

So as the title of this blog says, after 40+ years of listening to family stories, asking questions of many relatives, and so many brick walls, I finally know my great-grandmother, Sophie Cohen's real maiden name was Kolpenitzky.






Friday, December 15, 2017

From Gniewoszow to Negaunee

One of my family treasures is this emigration passport from the Russian Empire for my great-grandparents, Harris and Sophie Schwartzberg and their eldest children, Sam and Sara in 1892. It always hung on my grandpa Ralph M. Schwartzberg's law office walls, and later on my Dad, Hugh J. Schwartzberg's law office walls. Currently it is stored in my closet away from the light to prevent fading.


Here's a close up of the front of the certificate.


It is printed in Russian and French, with manuscript information about my family added. It states that in virtue of the law of 28 March 1891, the holder of this passport, the inhabitant of the town Granica in the jurisdiction or bailiwick of Gniewoszow (which was a nearby, larger village), district of Kozenec (Kozienice), Radom gubernia (province), the merchant Jew, Gerszek Tankhow Szwarzberg with his family, noted on the reverse of this page, are released from the subjection of the Russian Empire in order to emigrate abroad. The certificate is signed, sealed and dated 24 March 1892 and stamped 14 April 1892.

Here's the back, which my grandfather had carefully framed so it would be legible.


The back is also in Russian and French. Those were the legal languages of the Russian Empire, lucky for me, since I don't read Russian but I do read French. It gives the names of my great-grandparents and their two children and their description as follows.

1. Gerszek Szwarzberg, merchant Jew, age 25, middle height, gray eyes, dark blond hair, a round face, medium nose, and no particular marks.

2. Cirklia Szwarzberg, born Lewin, his wife, age 29, petite, gray eyes, blond hair, a round face, medium nose, and no particular marks.

3. Szaja Szwarzberg, his son, age 4.

4. Khaja Sora Szwarzberg, his daughter, age 1.

Thus I always knew that the Ginivasheff that my family always referred to was Gniewoszow and was able to distinguish it from a different Gniewoszow elsewhere in Poland. Reportedly my great-grandmother got letters from Poland, presumably from Gniewoszow and Warsaw up to her death in 1941. A cousin remembered getting the stamps for his stamp collection. Sadly no one remembers the names of her correspondents.

I know my great-grandfather's name in Hebrew was Tzvi Hirsch aka Tzvi Yehuda, which became Gersh or Gerszek in Yiddish and Polish. Tankhow is an abbreviation for Tankhovich, which was his patronymic, since his father's name was Tanchum. My great-grandmother's maiden name of Lewin or Levin is interesting since her brother took the name Wolf Feldman in America.

I will discuss Gniewoszow itself in another blog. This blog is about the journey to America and settling there. The family story was that my family travelled with two other families from Gniewoszow. One was Sophie's brother Wolf Feldman with his wife Raisel and his family and the other was the Altman family, whose daughter Beckie later married my grandfather's first cousin, Samuel Joseph Schwartzberg, son of my great-great-uncle Charles Schwartzberg.

Years ago on EllisIsland.org and more recently on Ancestry.com, I found my family's passenger manifest which confirmed this story. All three families are listed on this page of the passenger manifest for the SS Italia which arrived on 28 June 1892 into the port of New York. They would have disembarked at Ellis Island, which opened on 1 January 1892 and looked with awe at the Statue of Liberty.


As you can read, the three families are traveling from Gniwessow to New York. They were listed as follows:

Wolff Feldmann [my great-great-uncle], age 29, male, a baker.
Rosa Feldmann, age 31, female, wife.
Sara Feldmann, age 8, female.
Cheie Feldmann, age 6, female.
Chaje Feldmann, age 5, female.
Taube Feldmann, age 1, female.
The latter four were listed as their children and Sara became Fannie (Freida Sara) Feldman Soldinger, Cheie Feldmann was actually a boy, and was George Feldman, the only son of my uncle Wolf, Chaje Feldmann became Eva Feldman Joffa, and Taube Feldmann became Ester (Bessie) Feldman Goodman. I think Chaje might have been Khava which often became Eva here, but I do not know why Taube changed her name so drastically. Perhaps she was ill as a child and they changed it to avert the Angel of Death?

Then there was the Altmann family:

Pinchos Altmann, age 27, male, a shoemaker.
Schindel Altmann, age 28, female, wife.
Maria Altmann, age 6, female.
Dwasche Altmann, age 2, female.
Semma Altmann, age 1/2, female.

They became Philip and Jennie Altman, and their daughters became Sarah Miriam Altman Samuels, Dorothy (Dora) Altman Klapper, and Fannie (Frances) Altman Magida.

And finally my great-grandparents:

Hersch Schwarzberg, age 25, male, a tailor.
Zottel Schwarzberg, age 29, female, wife.
Cheie Schwartzberg, age 4, female [!] (this is my great-uncle Sam).
Sara Schwarzberg, age 1, female.

The family story goes that my great-grandfather was supposed to go on with his family to Argentina and had been sponsored by the Baron Hirsch Fund. However when they arrived in New York, they gave him a medical exam and decided he was not healthy enough to be a cowboy on the pampas. There were Jewish colonies in Argentina where the men served as cowboys on the local ranches. My family remembers that my great-aunts got letters from relatives in Argentina, but again no one remembers names... Therefore the Fund or HIAS gave my great-grandfather a choice of towns to go settle in. They were dealing with a flood of Jews into New York City and were trying to move people out into the rest of the United States. Now remember, my great-grandfather knew nothing at all of American geography and climate. So, when he was told the choice was between St. Augustine, Florida or Negaunee, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, all my great-grandfather asked was if either town had a shochet or kosher butcher. They weren't sure but they thought Negaunee had one. So my family ended up there. Our history would have been very different if we had gone to Florida!

The Feldmans and Altmans went to Chicago, but by 1899, the Feldmans had moved on to Toledo, Ohio, where Wolf would found and run Feldman's Bakery, which by itself is worth a separate blog. The Altmans stayed in Chicago and founded and ran Altman's Shoes, the last version of which store finally closed in 2014 (I shopped there and liked knowing the family connection).

All the families had more children, and I ended up researching all of them, since they were all from Gniewoszow and even the Altmans were probably related to me in some way in earlier generations as well as the later marriage I mentioned above.

Now back to my great-grandfather and his family. My great-grandpa became Harris J. Schwartzberg here though I note that on documents from Negaunee he never spelled his name the same way twice! His wife, whose Yiddish name Zeitel, I inherited as my Hebrew name, became Sophie, which is also cognate with Zeitel. Great-grandpa Harris was very religious and had brought two torah scrolls with him from Russia! The family must have been relatively well off there because torah scrolls were not inexpensive to say the least. He was disappointed to find out that Negaunee did not have a kosher butcher or synagogue. He went down to Chicago and learned how to kasher meat so he could provide it for his family. He built a mikveh (a ritual bath) in the basement of his house for the women of his family to observe traditional cleanliness rituals and organized the few Jewish families in the town so they could have regular minyans. Minyans needed 10 Jewish men at a minimum, but he managed to get enough men together to have regular services in his home. He also provided housing and food to traveling Hebrew teachers so his children and other local Jewish children could get a Hebrew education. One of those teachers was Moshe Menuhin, the father of the famous violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, probably in the 1920s.

Many years later a rabbi, perhaps in Detroit or Toledo, used the story of my great-grandfather and his efforts to establish Jewish life in a small Upper Peninsula town in his sermons. Again, I do not know his name. The two torah scrolls were later given to synagogues, but I'm not sure which ones. I suspect they may have gone to a synagogue in Toledo since most of the family later moved there.

Here is a photograph of one of the houses they lived in while in Negaunee.


It's faded and the people are difficult to see but they have been identified as: Sarah Schwartzberg Stephens Mozen, Harris J. Schwartzberg, Sophie Feldman Schwartzberg, Bess Schwartzberg Sabel, William Howard (Husky) Schwartzberg, Ralph M. Schwartzberg, and Frances Schwartzberg Rose (the other children Sam Swartzberg and Rose Schwartzberg Eichner are not in this picture). Since my Grandpa Ralph looks about 3 or 4 years old and he was born in 1906, this picture was probably taken about 1910. At that point the Schwartzbergs were living at 526 Jackson Street in Negaunee.

In a future blog, I will tell about life in Negaunee.



Saturday, December 9, 2017

My Great-Grandfather the Anarchist, part 1

Catchy title, huh? It's quite true too. I grew up on stories of my mother's grandfather, JJ Cohen, told by my mom, my Granny Emma, his daughter, and my great-uncle Red Conason, his son.

Yosef Yakov Kantorowitz was born on 31 August 1878, probably in the city of Baranovici, Novogrudok uyezd, Minsk gubernia, Russia. He was the third child and second son of an eventual total of ten children of Leib Kantorowitz and Sarah Leah (Movshovsky) Moskowitz. His father was a forester who worked for wealthy landowners and the family moved around a lot, following their father on his jobs. Leib Kantorowitz's parents lived in the big "city" of Baranovici (according to Izzy Cohen, JJ's youngest brother). Sarah Leah's parents, Avremel Naftalies and Hanelle Moskowitz/Movshovsky, lived in the small town of Turets, also in Novogrudok uyezd and JJ and his siblings often lived with them.

Young JJ was very intelligent and was sent off to live with various relatives to study to be a Rabbi in Vilna. However his memoir, The House Stood Forlorn (1954), recounts his dislike for religious education and his radicalization. He joined the Bund and devoured everything he could find on radical politics even while he served in the Czar's army (not a safe thing to do!). His older brother David Cohen would send pamphlets and other materials from England as well. After he finished his service in the army, he decided to emigrate to America, where David had already gone. His father urged him to marry his sweetheart, Sophie Kaplan, before he left and take her with him. He had met Sophie due to the fact that his older sister Bella Kantorowitz had married Sophie's older half-brother David Kaplan in 1898.



As this passenger manifest from Ancestry.com shows on lines 11 to 15, Josef Kantorowicz was traveling with his sister(-in-law) Mary (Horvitz) Kantorowicz and her children Chaie and Itzak (later known as Clara Cohen Meier and Emil Conason). He was escorting them to his brother, Mary's husband, David Cohen in Trenton, N.J. On the next line is Scheine Kaplan who was going to her brother David Kaplan in Philadelphia. This was actually Sophie (whose Hebrew name was Shanaleba, meaning beautiful love). She might not have been able to change her papers to show that she was now married to JJ.

The story goes that this small group had snuck over the border from Russia at night in secret. Their guide told them they had to be absolutely quiet but young Itzak/Emil was already talking at not quite 1 year old and they had to hold a hand over his mouth to keep him quiet. They also gave him a rag soaked in rum to suck on so he would fall asleep. Then they made their way, probably by train to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. David Cohen had paid for their tickets, while Sophie had paid for her own ticket. They embarked on the SS Statendam in steerage on 4 April 1903 and took 10 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean, arriving at the port of New York on 14 April 1903. According to the passenger manifest, JJ had $5 and Mary had $5 and Sophie had $11. Such sums went a lot further in those days.



The above photograph is the SS Staatendam, source: Ancestry.com.

They may have taken a train to Trenton to drop off Mary and the kids and then JJ and Sophie went on to Philadelphia to start their new life in America. At this point JJ took the Americanized name of Joseph Jacob Cohen, known to family and friends as JJ or Joe Cohen and Scheine Kaplan became Sophie Cohen.

Recently, to my surprise, I found JJ and Sophie's marriage certificate in the Pennsylvania archives even though the story was that they had gotten married in Russia. Perhaps they felt they needed an American certificate, or the story was wrong.





In Philadelphia, through JJ's international contacts, they quickly found fellow radicals. JJ's English teacher was the well-known anarchist, Voltairine de Cleyre. My grandmother, Emma Cohen Gilbert, who was born on 9 August 1904 in Philadelphia, remembered standing up in her crib and piping a Yiddish rhyme but that was the only Yiddish she ever learned. Voltairine was a great English teacher. Emma remembered her father striding around reciting poetry. Neither JJ or Sophie had accents, perhaps because of Voltairine's teaching pronunciation and accent through poetry. She also converted JJ to anarchism from socialism.





The above photographs of JJ and Sophie were taken in Philadelphia very shortly after their arrival in 1903.

My grandmother was named for Emma Goldman who was a family friend as was Alexander Berkman. She remembered not liking Emma who was cold towards the children but everyone loved "Sasha" as Berkman was known. Through Voltairine, JJ became the librarian of the Radical Library of Philadelphia, which was located at 424 Pine Street. The young family lived in an apartment above the library. They would move around a lot to various different apartments, seeking cheaper rent, or perhaps to avoid paying the rent? JJ also became the editor of the Philadelphia anarchist newspaper, Broyt un Frayhayt (Bread and Freedom) which only lasted for one year, 1906. A wonderful chapter outlining these years has been translated from JJ's book, Di Yidish-Anarkhistishe Bavegung in Amerike (The Jewish-Anarchist Movement in America) (Philadelphia: Radical Library, 1945). I do possess a photocopy of a manuscript translation of the book, done by Esther Dolgoff, an anarchist friend of JJ's, but it is handwritten and nowhere as clear as this translation. I hope this new translator may be able to do more of the book.

For some time, JJ worked as a reader to cigar makers in a factory. This was a practice where the cigar makers would employ a reader with a clear strong voice to read newspapers and books, often on radical subjects, while they worked. He would maintain a membership in the Cigar Makers International Union for the rest of his life, but most of his working career was spent as an activist, journalist, editor, public speaker, educator and commune organizer.

Much more to come in future blogs!

References: Cohen, Joseph J. The House Stood Forlorn: Legacy of Remembrance of a Boyhood in the Russia of the Late Nineteenth Century (Paris: Editions Polyglottes, 1954). The typescript manuscript and illustrations are still in family hands.


Friday, December 8, 2017

My Grandfather's Birth Certificate Found!

Many years ago, when I listened to my maternal grandparents telling stories about their childhoods and their families, my grandfather, Richard V. Gilbert, remarked that he had never been able to find his birth certificate. He had been born when his family was on vacation in Vineland, New Jersey over Labor Day weekend, on 7 September 1902. They normally lived in Philadelphia. Repeated applications to the New Jersey archives had failed to locate his records so he had used affidavits as to his birth from his mother Fanny for passports and other records.

Some weeks ago, I thought to search the New Jersey birth index that the amazing Reclaim the Records had put up at the Internet Archive. I searched the 1902 records for a birth in Cumberland County, where Vineland was located, checking both Gaylburd, the original family name and Goldberg, the name they used in the US until the 1920s when nearly everyone shifted to Gilbert. I found an index for Jerachmiel born to Meyer and Feige Goldberg, certificate number 29200.

My Grandpa Richard had told me that his birth name, which was his Hebrew name, was Rachmiel. Some 20 years ago a cousin took me to Milwaukee's Spring Hill Cemetery where a number of my Goldberg and Gilbert relatives were buried, including my great-great-grandfather, David Goldberg (Richard's grandfather). I startled my cousin when I let out a cheer. His tombstone read David bar Yerachmiel. It was clear to me that this was where Grandpa's Hebrew name was from. Now looking at this index, I recognized that name and was certain it was my grandfather. I immediately ordered the actual birth certificate from the New Jersey State Archives and gave the exact spelling of his and his parents names and the place and the date my grandfather had given me.

Yesterday the certificate arrived and I was delighted to be able to show it to my mother. Here it is!


Some things to note here. Deerfield Township is next to Vineland on the map and probably was the location of the house they were renting. Richard's mother was known as Feigel but the person who filled out the certificate dropped the l (she was known in English as Fanny). Meyer and Feigel were first cousins (their fathers were brothers) so their names were both given as Goldberg. To my puzzlement, Meyer's occupation is given as mechanick although he owned a photographic printing company in Philadelphia, Commercial Photo-Engraving Co. It is noted that Feigel had had 4 children, of whom 3 were living. That would be Molly, Miltchik, Anna, and now Jerachmiel (my grandpa Richard). Miltchik, according to my grandpa, died as a baby. I have yet to find his birth and death records. The final total would be 10 children, of whom Miltchik, Judith, Isabelle, and Mordecai died young, leaving 6 children to grow up. Those were Molly Gilbert Hoffman, Anna Gilbert Houston, my grandpa Richard Vincent Gilbert, Taft Gilbert, Nora Gilbert Willig, and Leonard Gilbert.

Finally, the physician was N.G. Greenwood of Rosenhayn, NJ. This was another town next to Deerfield and Vineland. A check of US Censuses shows that he was a physician, Dr. Nathaniel G. Greenwood. He was Jewish and I have made a note of his name since I wonder if he might have been related to my Gaylburd/Goldberg/Gilbert family.

One final note. Unfortunately I don't have a baby or early childhood photograph of my grandfather so I end this post with a picture of Richard Gilbert aged perhaps seventeen at Stelton, NJ, on his annual summer visit to the Ferrer Colony at Stelton.