Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Beyond the Basics - 19th Century Business Trade Cards at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

How odd it seems to me that some amateur genealogists declare that their family's genealogy is 'done'.   While birth, marriage and death certificates as well as records related to military service, land transactions and immigration all document important events and relationships in an individual's life,  there is so much more to the family story.  Collections maintained by historical societies are some of my favorite places to search when looking for unusual documents which add color, details and dimension to an ancestor's life story. 

The special collections library and archives of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (www.hsp.org) should be high on the list of repositories to visit for genealogists researching Pennsylvania ancestors.

With 21 million manuscripts and graphic items in their collections on Locust Street in Philadelphia, finding items related to your Pennsylvania ancestor can seem like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.  However, there is ample assistance on-site for help in starting the search, as well as online catalogs to explore prior to your arrival.

I visited the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) in April 2018.  Upon entering, I told the reference librarian that my great grandfather, Simon Zweighaft (b. 1845, Gostynin, Poland) and his wife, Sophia Hirschberg (b. 1844, Pilica, Poland) were Jewish immigrants from Poland, arriving in Philadelphia around 1867.  Simon was a real estate speculator (another blog post needed for that), but on this visit to HSP I was primarily interested in learning what I could about his other business venture, his jewelry business.  The evidence of his business dealings I had to date was pretty meager:

1) I knew from an 1875 Philadelphia city directory that Simon identified himself as a jeweler. 

2) The 1880 U.S. federal census adds the detail that the couple had a physical shop, with both Simon and Sophia's occupation listed as 'jewelry store'. 

 3) In 1883, Simon and a collaborator were issued patent #280345 for a "jeweler's show-window". 

The text of the patent states that the patent owners "have invented a certain new and useful improvement to prevent burglars from smashing or breaking show-windows of stores or other places where valuable articles are on exhibition and stealing the contents or part thereof before the occupants of the place can prevent it."

4) The final piece of evidence I had documenting Simon's career in the jewelry business was a mention on page 22 of the August 9, 1891 issue of the New York Herald.  The social column "Crowds in the Catskills" identified Simon as a 'diamond broker'.  

The HSP reference librarian suggested that I start my search looking for the surname, street address and 'jeweler' in the old-school physical index to the manuscript collection, 3x5 index cards in the wooden card catalog files (labelled PC1).  While I came up empty on the first two searches, the 3rd for 'jeweler' yielded an interesting find.  The index card pointed me to the business trade card collection where there were four cards for S. Hirschberg on North 8th Street, the address of the Zweighaft home.  

These cards were fascinating to me for several reasons:  
  • this is the first time I've seen any sort of a description of the physical shop plus it confirms that the shop was at the same address as the family home
  • Sophia was running the shop (just as she had stated on the 1880 census, although until I saw these cards,  I hadn't really considered her as the principal before) 
  • Sophia used her maiden name on the cards.  I have no idea why...more research needed!
  • and last but not least, the cards themselves are truly lovely, with beautiful artwork and still-vibrant colors despite being around 140 years old

I hope this discovery of mine will inspire others to seek out unusual collections in archives, libraries and other repositories located in the places where your ancestors conducted business, attended school and joined religious and community organizations.   You too may be richly rewarded!

Sophia Hirschberg Zweighaft

Simon Zweighaft

Monday, December 12, 2016

Finding Theresa Helburn: Strategies for Finding Those Elusive Passenger Ship Records

Frequently it can be difficult to find passenger ship records for people who emigrated to the U.S. in the 19th century.  Name misspellings on the manifest or a misspelled transcription of the manifest passenger name make discovery less likely when searching using a name index, e.g., with an Ancestry.com passenger ship record search. You can bypass the use of an index by browsing a record collection, but immigrants often specified a variety of dates for their arrival to the U.S. making browsing ship manifests by dates a very time-consuming effort.  Also, many passenger lists from this time period have been lost.  For example, most of the 19th century passenger lists of ships departing from Bremen were destroyed due to lack of space in the Bremen Archives.

But we continue to search, because finding these ship records can be positively riveting, even for those of us who have discovered and saved thousands of records for our ancestors.  The manifest may show not only the family group but sometimes the place of birth as well as final destination.  Something about seeing your ancestor's name on a ship manifest brings the emigrant's story to life in a palpable way that few other record types do.

After decades of research, the only passenger ship manifest I had found to date for my nine ancestors who emigrated to New York in the 1800's was the one for my 21-year-old Norwegian grandmother, Anna Anundsen (aka Anna Olette Olsen).  She arrived from Kragerø, Norway in 1897 to visit her uncle Andreas Roberg (A. Roberg) in Brooklyn. (see line 1).  My grandmother's record had eluded me as Anna Olette variously used the surname Olsen, Anundsen, Olavsen or Anundsdatter.  The transcriber of the passenger manifest below recorded her name as Anne Amundsen.

 Anna Olette left behind her parents and four sisters in Norway.  We believe that she intended to return, but she met my Swedish grandfather, Axel Strom, in New York. They fell in love, married and raised their seven children in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.

Eluding me still were the passenger ship records for eight additional ancestors arriving in the 19th century:
  • my Swedish grandfather, Axel Strom (b. Hjalmar Axel Oscar Ström, 1 Jan 1867, Stockholm, Sweden)
  • my Jewish great grandfather, Simon Zweighaft (b. 15 Dec 1845, Gostynin, Poland), his wife Sofia Hirschberg (b. Zysia Hirszberg, abt. 1844, Pilica, Poland) and their infant son Bernard Zweighaft (b. 23 Dec 1865, Pilica, Poland)
  • my Jewish great grandfather Fabian Sachs Kaliske (b. Fabian Sax, 15 Mar 1833, Kalisz, Poland)
  • my Jewish great grandmother Theresa Helburn (b. Therese Hellborn, 14 Aug 1855, Dettelbach, Germany) and her parents, Isaac Helburn (b. Isaac Hellborn, 1813, Germany) and his wife, Nanette Feldheim (b. Brünette Feldheim, 9 Aug 1819, Dettelbach, Germany)
A couple of weeks ago I finally had the opportunity to spend several hours with the genealogy and local history collections at the Milstein Division of the NY Public Library (NYPL) in Manhattan.  Frustrated when my research turned up nothing, I used the last bit of time strolling the Milstein Division stacks.  One set of books I've looked at many times before is Germans to America. (Ira a. Glazier and P. William Filby, editors, Germans to America (Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, Inc., 1991)  But this time, rather than focusing on the name index, I browsed the ship arrivals by date, honing in on the emigration date of March 1, 1864.  I had recently seen this date of emigration stated on an 1899 passport application made by Theresa Helburn's older brother, Julius Helburn.

It only took a few minutes browsing the ship arrivals by date in Germans to America, and there on page 176 was my great great grandmother and her six children:


TO:       NEW YORK

HALLEBON, NANETTE           44
    EMILIE                              17
    JULIUS                              14
    BERTHA                              9
    THERESA                            8
    HUGO                                  5
    SELMA                                6

Seeing the entry with the spelling of the family name as HALLEBON rather than HELBURN or HELLBORN makes it clear why I never found this record on Ancestry.com using a name index search.  The Ancestry.com index is only as good as the spelling used when the index was created. Going back to Ancestry.com and browsing the ship passenger records using the exact date and the ship name of Bremen turned up the original manifest:

Among our family papers was a copy of a handwritten record of Helburn family births.  This section was clearly written by my great great grandmother Nanette Feldheim Helburn.  She listed her six living childrens' names along with two sons who had died.  (Youngest son Hugo's name is under the dark strip which was probably a piece of tape.)   A perfect match to the ship manifest.

Nine years after arriving in the U.S. at age eight, my great grandmother Theresa Helburn married 40-year-old Fabian Sachs Kaliske, a widower. Theresa gave birth to five children:
    • Martin Saxe (b. Martin Kaliske, 28 Aug 1874, N.Y.)
    • Blanche Sachs (b. Flora Kaliske, 15 Mar 1876, N.Y.)
    • Julian Terris Saxe (b. Julian Terris Kaliske, 17 Jul 1877, N.Y.)
    • Arthur Cutting Saxe (b. Arthur Cutting Kaliske, 28 Feb 1879, N.Y.)
    • Belle Saxe (b. Bella Kaliske, 14 Jul 1882, N.Y.)

Theresa lived to be 91.  Here she is presiding over a 'Family Dinner at the St. Moritz Hotel in New York' as depicted by my father, James Fabian Bernard Zweighaft in 1944.

So keep looking for those passenger ship records!  You will eventually be rewarded.  Some strategies to use while searching:  
  • Review stated emigration dates and ships on multiple records for not only your ancestor, but also collateral relatives - parents, aunts, uncles, cousins
  • Browse book and digital collections by ship arrival dates in addition to searching using an index
  • Browse ship manifests for ports of departure as well as arrival ports
  • If it's unclear when and where your ancestor's ship arrived, review passenger ship arrival statements in the local newspapers for several likely inbound ports.  For example, if you are not certain what into what port your New York ancestor arrived, search local newspapers in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore for ship arrival notices
  • Look for unusual spelling of the family names.  Sometimes searching on a given name using wildcards for the surname may be the breakthrough if the surname is badly mangled.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

What's in a Name? The Many and Varied Spellings of the Sachs-Saxe-Sax-Kaliske Family Name

The constancy of names in the late 1800's, both given and surnames, was not what it is today.  I've come across numerous examples of relatives given one name at birth and then called another for most of their lives.  My paternal grandmother's family, generally known to us as the Saxe family, provides a wealth of examples of name variations.

  Fabian Saxe with his second wife, Theresa Helburn Saxe and their five children.
 In the back row are the three sons by Fabian's first wife, Minna Rochotsh. 

By 1894, most of the family members were using the 'Saxe' spelling.  For reasons unknown to me, Henry retained the 'Sachs' spelling.  (The names of the people in photo were recorded by my father, James Fabian Bernard Zweighaft.)

My father's maternal grandfather was known in the United States alternatively as Fabian Sachs, Fabian Kaliske or Fabian Sachs Kaliske but in fact was born Fabian Sax in Kalisz, Poland in 1833.  Stranger still, while his father's name was recorded in the birth record as  Szaie Hersz Sax, he signed his name as S.H. Sachs, thereby establishing two variants of the last name.  

                                   Kalisz, Russian Poland, birth record of Fabian Sax, 15 Mar 1833; citing Family History Library microfilm No. 743143, birth record no. 79. 

Another surprising discovery of a name variant in this family was the birth name for Fabian's daughter, my paternal grandmother, whom I assumed  was born Blanche Sachs or Blanche Kaliske. In fact, her name is recorded as Flora Kaliske on her 1876 birth certficate.  My guess is that her paternal grandmother, Blanche (aka Blimcha) Brockman (b. 1802, Kalisz, Poland) died shortly after Flora's birth and the baby was renamed Blanche in the custom of Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe who frequently named their children after deceased relatives.

A tintype, about 1884.  From left, Theresa Helburn Sachs Kaliske, Belle [Bella], Martin, Artie [Arthur], Julie [Julian] and Blanche [Flora]. Note: The birth names are in brackets. 
Blanche Saxe Kaliske, about the time of her 1894 marriage to my grandfather, Bernard Zweighaft

The elegant elderly relative living at 336 West End Avenue in the 1960's, my grandmother's sister, was always known by us as 'Aunt Belle'.  But she was actually born Bella Kaliske and indeed used the name 'Bella' in official records until late in life as is shown on the 1948 passenger ship manifest below.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Queen Mary Redux

Some family members are scheduled to travel on the beautiful Queen Mary II this summer.

"Queen Mary 2 outbound from Southampton 2 Sept 2013".  Image by Brian Burnell.  

 Knowing those travel plans made this passenger ship record jump out at me when working on   genealogy last night.  Sigmond and Alexander Saxe made the crossing on the original Queen Mary from Southampton to New York in August, 1936 just three months after the Queen Mary's maiden voyage on May 27, 1936.


  This is how the original Queen Mary looks today, docked in Long Beach, CA and living a second life as a floating hotel and glamorous event venue.

"RMS Queen Mary Long Beach January 2011 view". Image by David Jones from Isle of Wight, United Kingdom.

The seventy-five year old passenger, Sigmond Saxe (aka Sigmond Sachs Kaliske) was my half grand uncle, one of the sons of my great grandfather Fabian Sachs Kaliske and his first wife, Minna Rochotsh.   (Coincidentally, my older daughter was born 120 years exactly to the day after Sigmond.)   Sigmond married Constance Isaacs and had two children - Alexander and Marguerite.

Sigmond's mother, Minna, died in childbirth at age 29, leaving her husband and small sons - Sigmond, Henry, Eugene.  (There may have been another son, Hugo, but that has not been confirmed.)

The 1870 US Federal Census image below shows the widower Fabian (F.S. Kaliske), a 'leather merchant',  living in Manhattan with two of his young sons, Sigmond and Henry in the home of his brother, Alexander Kaliske (A.S. Kaliske) who listed his occupation as 'shoes and boots'.   It must have been busy household, with Fabian's children added to the four young children of Alexander and his wife, Sarah.  The first two people listed in the household are domestic servants.  



Friday, April 17, 2015

A Visit to Skeppsholmen

Skeppsholmen (literally, ship island) is one of the 14 islands upon which Stockholm was built.  The island today looks much as it did hundreds of years ago, a peaceful, urban oasis in the center of Stockholm.  

Two long row houses (långa raden), built in 1699 for King Karl XII's guards, dominated the island waterfront and still do today. 

Those two buildings have been painstakingly restored and transformed into the chic,  eco-friendly Hotel Skeppsholmen. That is where Dick and I spent two nights this month on my first visit to Sweden, and, to the best of my knowledge, the first descendant of  my grandfather, Axel Ström, to return to his birthplace. 

Dick, standing in front of the Hotel Skeppsholmen
The Skeppsholmen ferry landing for the ferry to Gamla Stan (Old Town) and Djurgården, Stockholm's National Park

More about the history of Hotel Skeppsholmen can be found at this web site:


  My first encounter with the word 'Skeppsholmen' was upon reading Axel Ström's exquisite confirmation document, issued by the priest of the Skeppsholmen church in 1882. To participate in parish life as he reached adulthood, he would have been required to demonstrate his knowledge of the Lutheran faith.  At this time, this was the official State religion and had been for over 300 years since the time of the Protestant Reformation when Sweden broke with the Roman Catholic church.  

Axel was 15 at the time of his confirmation.  The priest declared that Axel was 'ganska god' (fairly good) in his knowledge of church doctrine. 

The confirmation document must have been important to Axel as he carried it with him when he emigrated to the U.S. via Sunderland, England in the 1890's. It has survived over 100 years longer among our family papers.

Skeppsholmen Church, secularized in 2001 and now the Eric Ericson International Choral Centre. 

Unfortunately, we were not able to enter the old church as it was locked.  Hopefully I'll be able to get inside on the next visit to Sweden.

Axel Ström as a young man, holding booklet. The other three young men are unidentified.  One may possibly be his half brother, Karl Gustaf Adolf Ström, b. October 27, 1864 in Adolf Fredrik parish, Stockholm.

But why was Axel taking catechism lessons at the Skeppsholmen church in 1882 anyway?   He was born on January 1, 1867 in the Katarina parish in Södermalm, the area of Stockholm to the south of Skeppsholmen. This is the church where he was baptized.

Katarina kyrka (church) in Södermalm

Axel's father was Carl Johan Ström (b. March 24, 1840, Maria Magdalena parish, Stockholm) and his mother was Maria Wilhelmina Olsson (b. June 28, 1842, Lillhult homestead, Älgarås Parish, Västra Götaland, Sweden).  By the late 1870's, Carl Johan had become a master field surgeon in the Swedish Royal Navy.  Between 1878 and 1879 (and possibly longer) he was residing in naval residences on Skeppsholmen with his wife, Maria and his son Hjalmar Axel Oscar, my grandfather.

Maria Wilhelmina (Olsson) and Carl Johan Ström

My mother had told me that her father, Axel, always loved the sound of fog horns and wanted to be near the sea.  Axel arrived in the U.S. sometime in the 1890's.  Here are the addresses of four of his homes in the U.S. All are mere blocks from the water:

              55 Sussex Street, Jersey City, NJ (1898)
              154 Sussex Street, Jersey City, NY (1900)

              666 60th Street, Brooklyn, NY (1920)
              102 72nd Street, Brooklyn, NY (1921-1953)

Stockholm, sometimes called the Nordic Venice, clearly made a lasting impression on young Axel. Now that I've made the trip 'home' to Skeppsholmen, I can see why.

Axel and Anna Strom, probably in Brooklyn, around 1950.
Axel Strom, around 1950.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Salt Lake 2013 Research Trip

Dick and I joined 20 other members of the Fairfax Genealogical Society for a research trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City November 10-15, 2013. It's reputed to be the largest genealogical repository in the world.  

There were several reasons that I was interested in the trip:
  •    The library staff includes records experts who can speak Polish, German, Swedish and Norwegian.  Their assistance in finding and interpreting non-English language records is free.
  •   The library houses images of Polish Jewish birth, marriage and death records  that can be found only here and at their original site in Poland (See jri-poland.org for indexes and more information.)
  •  Many New York City birth, marriage and death record images are here, available for free rather than the $15 vital records fee from the New York City Municipal Archives
  •  It's fun and motivating to pursue one's genealogy goals, share information and research tips with like-minded researchers.   We know that we're a tad bit obsessed; there's comfort in like-minded company!
Days were long - sometimes 9 a.m. until well into the evening for the truly industrious, but we were richly rewarded.  Here are some of my treasures:

1.  2nd great grandfather Isaac Helburn's 1868 naturalization document from New York.  Genealogists always prize an original signature.


2.  Swedish grandfather Axel Strom's 1867 birth register from Stockholm showing 'unknown' parents. (Axel's record is the first birth on the register, "Hjalmar Alfred Oscar".  This is the only document I've seen which lists his name as Alfred rather than Axel.  Another church document recorded "Hjalmar Axel Oscar", just as on his 1882 christening document shown below.)  This birth register corroborates information I've received from a Swedish researcher who maintained that Axel was born out of wedlock. 

3.  2nd great grandmother Nanetta Feldheim Helburn's 1907 NYC death certificate.  Her cause of death was listed as 'chronic diffuse nephritis".  At 87, she was positively ancient, almost 40 years past the average life span for a woman in the early 1900's.  Nanetta's father's name is listed on page 1 - Julius Feldheim, adding another generation to Dad's maternal German Jewish branch.  Page 2 shows a statement made by Nanetta's grandson, Julius Helburn (and the first cousin of our grandmother, Blanche Sachs Zweighaft).   "Do not know the maiden name of my grandmother.".  Sadly, after this loss of her grandmother, Blanche was to lose her husband, Bernard Zweighaft, only 4 months later. 

4.  Polish Records:  Zweighaft and Sachs/Saxe/Sax

Napoleon implemented extensive civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in the Duchy of Warsaw in 1808, after his conquest of this area.  These wonderful narratives, written in Polish, are rich in content often listing occupations in addition to parents' and witness's names.

My initial intent was to locate Polish birth and marriage records for great grandfather Simon Zweighaft.  However, after extensive searching both at Salt Lake and afterwards, the very helpful Polish researcher, Maria, was unable to find anything for Simon from Pilica or Gostynin.  One Zweighaft  record we found was for  Abram Maier Zweighaft, b. 1845 in Kozienice, the same year as Simon's birth, but the relationship to our family is not established.   It's quite interesting as the index record, shown first, lists the Germanic spelling of the name, Zweighaft, whereas the full record uses the Polish spelling, Cwajghaft.

The researcher explained that the father would come to report the birth of the child, bringing the child with him.   She marveled at the detail of the record and provided this translation (11 Nov 2013): 

Abram Maier Cwajghaft, born 1845

It happened in Kozienice on 2nd June 1845 year that a covenant man (i.e., old testament, a Jew) Mosiek Jaskowicz Zweighaft merchant of leather in Kozienice residing, 25 years old, in presence of witnesses, Mendel Borenschtein, merchant, 55 years old, Jankiel Klejner dealing with flour, 48 years old in Kozienice residing; and showed us an infant, gender male, born in Kozienice on 26th May year current.  wife Dobra Majzer Cwajghaftwicz, 26 years; circumcision was given, names Abram Majer Maskowicz Cwajghaft. This record was read to the one appearing and the witness and signed.  

We had more luck with the Sachs/Sax family.  Here is great grandfather Fabian Sachs Kaliske's 1833 birth record from Kalisz, listing both his parents, Szaia Hersz Sachs (aka Sigmund) and Blanche Brockman:

 I was especially excited about this record, not only as it extended the family tree a generation once again, but as it identified Fabian's mother who so tauntingly neglected to give her name on this engraved silver plate in my possesion, a gift to Fabian in 1867.  "An Fabian v. seiner Mutter.  1867"  ("To Fabian from your Mother.  1867").  Now we know where our grandmother Blanche Sachs Zweighaft got her name - from her grandmother Blanche Brockman (aka Blimcha Brokman). 

But even more amazing was the 1826 marriage record for Fabian's parents.  This contained the names of both parents for both the bride and groom, our 3rd great grandparents:  Hersz and Hanella Sax, parents of Szaia Sax and Ayzyk Brokman and Haiya Sora Moyzes, parents of Blanche Brokman.  Wow!  Now we're back to ancestors born in the 1700's.  

5.  Norwegian surnames:  Anunsen or Olsen?

After a couple of days of pouring over records in Polish, a pretty daunting task, I was ready to take a break and get back to English-language records.   The 1930's marriage records below for Aunt Helen and Uncle Mike, as well as Aunt Clara and Uncle Wilbur illustrated the use of the old and newer style of Norwegian surnames.  The old Nordic tradition of patronymic names survived until 1922 when Norway required that children be given inheritable surnames.  Aunt Helen listed our grandmother's name as Annie Olsen.  Aunt Clara listed it as Anna Anunsen.  I remember Mom mentioning that her mother sometimes used Olsen, sometimes Anunsen for her maiden name.   Anunsen literally means 'son of Anun'.