The Seligmans: My New Mexican Ancestors—An Introduction

State flag of New Mexico copyright friendly picture

Flag of New Mexico

Although my parents did not talk very much about their ancestors or families when I was a child, one of the claims my father often made with pride was that his great-uncle had been the governor of New Mexico.  I used to find this both amusing and irrelevant.  A seemingly distant relative who died 20 years before I was born?  Why would I care about that? And New Mexico? How could we possibly have a relative—a Jewish relative—who came from New Mexico? We were from New York and Philadelphia—we were not from the Southwest; we were not cowboys.  Who was this relative, and how in the world did he get to be a governor?  It all seemed rather preposterous—like saying we were descended from Napoleon or George Washington.

Not that I doubted that my father was telling the truth. It just seemed unimportant to me—until I started to delve into my family’s history.  As I started to research and read about this side of my family, I realized how remarkable and interesting a story it is and what a uniquely American story it is.  But before I get to that story, I need to begin at the end and explain how the story of the New Mexican Seligmans is part of my family’s story.

I have written quite a bit about my great-grandparents, Emanuel and Eva M. Cohen, and in particular about my great-grandmother Eva.  You may recall that it was Emanuel and Eva who took in Emanuel’s brother Isaac and his teenage son when Isaac’s wife died.  It was Emanuel and Eva who opened their home for Emanuel’s uncle Jonas’ funeral.  And it was Eva who took care of my father and his sister for almost ten years when my grandparents were both unable to do so.  Both my father and his cousin Marjorie have described Eva as the sweetest, most loving, and kindest woman.

Eva was a Seligman, the daughter of Bernard Seligman and Frances Nusbaum.  She was born in 1866 in Philadelphia, but moved with her parents to Santa Fe, New Mexico when she was a young girl.  She returned east to go to Swarthmore College outside of Philadelphia, and while there, she met Emanuel Cohen and married him in 1886 when she was only twenty years old.

Eva Cohen in the Swarthmore Bulletin

Eva Cohen in the Swarthmore Bulletin 1885-1886


Marriage announcement of Emanuel Cohen and Eva Seligman

Marriage announcement of Emanuel Cohen and Eva Seligman

(Matrimony Notice,  Friday, February 5, 1886, Jewish Messenger (New York, NY)   Volume: 59   Issue: 6   Page: 6)

Together she and Emanuel had four sons, one of whom, Herbert, died as a toddler.  Their son Maurice ended his own life after suffering from cancer, and their son John, my grandfather, was disabled by multiple sclerosis as a young man when my father was just a little boy.  So Eva endured more than her fair share of tragedy, yet somehow she remained a positive and loving person who seemed to have an incredible ability to care for others.

One of my great disappointments was not having a photograph of Eva.  She wrote inscriptions on many of the photographs I have of my father and his sister, but she must have been taking many of the pictures and thus is not in any of those in my family’s collection.  I suppose that is consistent with what I know about her—someone who was focused on others and not on herself.

My father and his cousin Marjorie are the only surviving grandchildren of Eva and Emanuel Cohen, and my siblings and I are the only great-grandchildren.  In the last few weeks, I’ve been very fortunate to receive from Marjorie’s maternal cousin Lou a number of photographs of Marjorie and others, and I was thrilled to be able to see the face of the woman with whom I’d had such wonderful conversations this summer.  Below are several photographs of Marjorie as a child and as a young woman, including some with and of  her parents Stanley and Bess Cohen.

Stanley Cohen World War I

Stanley Cohen World War I


Marjorie and her mother Bess Craig Cohen

Marjorie and her mother Bess




Set Marjorie and Stan

Marjorie and her father Stanley

Stanley Cohen 1928

Stanley Cohen 1928

Marjorie 1933

Marjorie 1933

Marjorie and Bess 1933

Marjorie and Bess 1933

Marjorie Cohen

Marjorie Cohen with Pete-page-001

Marjorie with Pete from Our Gang

Marjorie and her parents Stanley and Bess Cohen at her graduation from Trinity (DC), c. 1947

Marjorie and her parents at her graduation from Trinity (DC), c. 1947

Marjorie as a student at NY Dramatic Arts Academy

Marjorie as a student at NY Dramatic Arts Academy

Marjorie model 2-page-001


Marjorie and her father Stanley 1981

Marjorie and her father Stanley 1981

Included in that group of photographs was a photograph that Lou had labeled as Bess and Stanley 1923, but when I showed it to my father, he said that it was his parents, John and Eva (Schoenthal) Cohen.  When I compared it to the only other photograph I have of my grandparents together, it was obvious that this was John and Eva, not Stanley and Bess.  I was delighted to have another picture of my grandparents.

Eva Schoenthal and John Cohen, Jr. 1923

Eva (Schoenthal) and John Cohen, Jr. 1923


John and Eva Cohen  c. 1930

John and Eva Cohen
c. 1930

Also mixed into the group of photos from Marjorie’s cousin Lou were a few taken in Atlantic City during the summer of 1932 that finally allow me to see the face of my great-grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen.  I will post those in a later post.

Looking back:  The Cohen Family from Amsterdam to England to Philadelphia and Washington and beyond


Amsterdam coat of arms

Two months ago I wrote a summary of my perspective on the descendants of Jacob and Sarah Jacobs Cohen and their thirteen children, including my great-grandfather Emanuel Cohen.  I wrote about the way they managed to create a large network of pawnshops that provided support for the generations to come.  Many of the Philadelphia Cohens stayed in the pawnshop business into the 20th century.  The generation that followed, those born in the 20th century, began to move away from the pawn business and from Philadelphia.  Descendants began to go to college and to become professionals.  Today the great-great-grandchildren of Jacob and Sarah live all over the country and are engaged in many, many different fields.  Few of us today can imagine living with twelve siblings over a pawnshop in South Philadelphia.  We can’t fathom the idea of losing child after child to diseases that are now controlled by vaccinations and medicine.  We take for granted the relative luxurious conditions in which we live today.

File:Flag of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.svg

Philadelphia flag


The story of the Cohen family in Washington is much the same in some ways, different in other ways.  Jacob’s brother Moses and his wife Adeline also started out as immigrants in the pawnshop business , first in Baltimore and then Washington.  But unlike Jacob who lived to see his children become adults, Moses Cohen died at age 40 when his younger children were still under ten years old.  Adeline was left to raise those young children on her own as she had likely raised her first born son, Moses Himmel Cohen, on her own until she married Moses Cohen, Sr.  When I look at what those children accomplished and what their children then accomplished, I am in awe of what Adeline was able to do.   For me, the story of the DC Cohens is primarily the story of Adeline Himmel Cohen for it was she, not Moses, who raised the five children who thrived here in the US.  She somehow instilled in those children a drive to overcome the loss of their father, to take risks, to get an education, and to make a living.

Her son Moses, Jr., an immigrant himself, had nine children; his son, Myer, became a lawyer.  To me it is quite remarkable that a first generation American, the son of a Jewish immigrant, was able to go to law school in the late 19th century.  Myer himself went on to raise a large family, including two sons who became doctors and one who became a high ranking official at the United Nations in its early years after World War II.  Moses, Jr.’s other children also lived comfortable lives, working in their own businesses and raising families.  These were first generation Americans who truly worked to find the American dream.

Adeline and Moses, Sr.’s other three children who survived to adulthood, Hart, JM, and Rachel Cohen, all took a big risk and moved, for varying periods of time, to Sioux City, Iowa.  Even their mother Adeline lived out on the prairie for some years.  JM stayed out west, eventually moving to Kansas City; he was able to send his two daughters to college, again something that struck me as remarkable for those times.  His grandchildren were very successful professionally.  Hart, who lost a son to an awful accident, had a more challenging life.  His sister Rachel also had some heartbreak—losing one young child and a granddaughter Adelyn, but she had two grandsons who both appear to have been successful.

Three of the DC Cohen women married three Selinger brothers or cousins.  Their children included doctors, a popular singer, and a daughter who returned to England several generations after her ancestors had left.  The family tree gets quite convoluted when I try to sort out how their descendants are related, both as Cohens and as Selingers.

There were a number of heart-breaking stories to tell about the lives of some of these people, but overall like the Philadelphia Cohens, these were people who endured and survived and generally succeeded in having a good life, at least as far as I can tell.  The DC Cohens, like the Philadelphia Cohens, have descendants living all over the United States and elsewhere and are working in many professions and careers of all types.

flag of Washington, DC

Looking back now at the story of all the Cohens,  all the descendants of Hart Levy Cohen and Rachel Jacobs, I feel immense respect for my great-great-great grandparents.  They left Amsterdam for England, presumably for better economic opportunities than Amsterdam offered at that time.  In England Hart established himself as a merchant, but perhaps being a Dutch Jew in London was not easy, and so all five of Hart and Rachel’s children came to the US, Lewis, Moses, Jacob, Elizabeth, and Jonas, again presumably for even better opportunities than London had offered them.  Eventually Hart himself came to the US, uprooting himself for a second time to cross the Atlantic as a man already in his seventies so that he could be with his children and his grandchildren.  Rachel unfortunately did not survive to make that last move.

Flag of the City of London.svg

The flag of the City of London

Arriving in the US by 1850 in that early wave of Jewish immigration gave my Cohen ancestors a leg up over the Jewish immigrants who arrived thirty to sixty years later, like my Brotman, Goldschlager, and Rosenzweig ancestors.  Of course, the Cohens had the advantage of already speaking English, unlike my Yiddish speaking relatives on my mother’s side.  They also had the advantage of arriving at a time when there wre fewer overall immigrants, Jewish immigrants in particular and thus faced less general hostility than the masses of Jewish, Italian, and other immigrants who arrived in the 1890s and early 20th century.  Also, my Cohen relatives may not have been wealthy when they arrived, but Hart and his children already had experience as merchants and were able to establish their own businesses fairly quickly.  Thus, by the time my mother’s ancestors started arriving and settling in the Lower East Side of NYC or in East Harlem, working in sweatshops and struggling to make ends meet, my father’s ancestors were solidly in the middle and upper classes in Philadelphia, Washington, Sioux City, Kansas City, Detroit, and Baltimore.

When I look at these stories together, I see the story of Jewish immigration in America.  I see a first wave of Jews, speaking English, looking American, and living comfortably, facing a second wave who spoke Yiddish, looked old-fashioned, and lived in poverty.  No wonder there was some tension between the two groups.  No wonder they established different synagogues, different communities, different traditions.

A recent study suggests that all Ashkenazi Jews were descended from a small group of about 350 ancestors.  We all must share some DNA to some extent.  We are really all one family.  But we have always divided ourselves and defined our subgroups differently—Orthodox, Conservative, Reform; Galitizianer or Litvak; Sephardic or Ashkenazi; Israeli or American; so on and so forth.  We really cannot afford to do that in today’s world; we never really could.  Today very few of us make distinctions based on whether our ancestors came in 1850 or 1900 because we are all a mix of both and because we have blurred the economic and cultural distinctions that once were so obvious.  But we still have a long way to go to eradicate the divisions among us and to overcome the prejudices that continue to exist regarding those who are different, whether Jewish or non-Jewish.



Update: Adelyn Selinger’s Death Certificate

Today I received the death certificate for Adelyn Selinger, the nine year old daughter of Monroe and Estelle Selinger, granddaughter of Frederick Selinger and Rachel Cohen.  I have updated the appropriate post, but will include it here as well.

Adelyn Singer death certificate May 30, 1923

Adelyn Singer death certificate May 30, 1923

Adelyn died of meningitis and mastoiditis, a bacterial infection of the mastoid bone, which is located behind the ear.  According to WebMD, these infections are usually caused by a middle ear infection that has not been successfully treated.  Once again, I am grateful for modern medicine and all that pink amoxycillin my kids took for ear infections.

Notice also that the informant on the death certificate was Aaron Hartstall, Adelyn’s uncle, her father’s brother-in-law.  I assume that her parents. grandparents, and aunt were too distraught to provide the details for the death certificate.

The Cohens: Questions Left to Answer

Now that I have gone through all the lines descending from Hart Levy Cohen and Rachel Jacobs through their children and grandchildren up to current descendants, I have to look back and see what I missed.  What are the big questions and small questions that remain unanswered?  Otherwise, I may leave some things unsolved and accept gaps in my research.  So this blog post is my attempt to outline those unanswered questions as a way to remind myself not to be too self-satisfied with what I have done.



Overall, I am quite amazed by how much I was able to find.  It really helped that (1) there were generations in the US going back as far as 1848 because US records are much more accessible to me and (2) that most of my Cohen relatives lived in Pennsylvania, a state that has made many of its records available online.  It also helped that both the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Washington Evening Star covered society happenings like parties, engagements, and weddings because it was through those resources that I was able to find a lot of the married names of the Cohen women.

So what is there left to research?  First and foremost, I would love to be able to find the parents and grandparents and other ancestors of Hart Levy Cohen.  I don’t know that I will ever be able to do this, given how little luck I had at the archives in Amsterdam and also given that surnames were not adopted by Jews until the early 1800s.  But new records are uncovered all the time, so I will not give up hope yet.  Related to that, of course, is finding the ancestors for my great-great-great grandmother Rachel Jacobs.

As for the next generation after Hart and Rachel, the big questions left unanswered relate to Hart and Rachel’s son Moses.  Although I do not have DNA proof that the Moses who married Adeline Himmel was their son, I am confident that he was based on the weight of the circumstantial evidence.  Maybe a descendant of Isadore Baer Cohen will come along, but even without that, I am convinced that this was the right Moses.  Rather, the real unanswered question for me is when and where did Moses meet and marry Adeline Himmel?  When did she come to the United States from Baden?  I have no evidence yet relating to either of these questions.

The remaining questions are not as important to me in terms of the overall story of the family.  They almost all relate to the absence of death records.  Among those for whom I have no death records are: Joseph Cohen’s daughter Fannie; Abraham’s son Arthur; Harry Selinger, Augusta and Julius Selinger’s son; Rachel Cohen Selinger; Aaron Hartstall; Monroe Selinger; JM Cohen’s son Arthur; Hart DC’s son Jacob Cohen; Estelle Spater Cole, Sol’s wife; Gary Cole, Jacob G. Cole’s son; and Lewis Cohen, son of Reuben Cohen, Sr.

Then there are a number of people for whom I have a date of death from an index, but no death certificate, like Simon L.B Cohen—why did he die so young?  There are also many for whom I have a marriage record from an index, but no marriage certificate.  I am not sure how important it is to see the actual document where I am otherwise certain of the identity of the individuals who married or died, but eventually if those documents become available, I should obtain them.

And there are also a few cases where I could not determine whether a person had any children—such as Violet Cohen, daughter of Reuben Cohen, Sr.; Jonas Cohen, Jr.; and Morton and Kathryn Selinger. I was unable to find out whether Caroline Hamberg married Robert Daley or anyone else. Finally, there are the two children of Sallie R. Cohen who were orphaned after Sallie and her husband Ellis Abrams died; I do not know what happened to them.

Listing all those names makes me feel like there is so much more to do, but I also have to remind myself of how much I’ve already done.  I realize that this is perhaps not the most exciting blog post for those reading it, but it will serve as an important post for me to return to when I need to remember the questions that I still have to answer.

My next post will be more reflective; I need to step back, look at the story of my Cohen relatives, and think about what I have learned about them and about history and about myself by doing this research.

A wonderful email from a Selinger cousin

Yesterday I received an email from Ann Griffin Selinger, whose husband was John Reynolds Selinger, Sr.  John Selinger was the son of Maurice Selinger, Sr., and the grandson of Julius Selinger and Augusta Cohen, the oldest child of Moses, Jr, and Henrietta Cohen.  I was so touched by the stories that Ann had to share about her husband John and his family that I asked her whether I could quote from her email on the blog and share these memories of her family.  She graciously gave me permission to do so, and so here they are with just a few side comments by me.  Ann’s language is italicized, whereas mine is in regular font.

My husband, was John Reynolds Selinger, 1933-2007, born in Washington, DC as was his brother, Maurice Arthur Selinger, Jr.  For a time we lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland and one day we received a visit from Eliot Selinger who apparently lived around the corner from us with his family. We had exchanged mail a few times without meeting, but never looked into whether we were related.  He told us at the time that he thought we were related and that his father and John’s grandfather were brothers – Frederick and Julius.  We had been under the obviously false impression that Julius had no siblings.  

Interestingly, Mildred Selinger, Dr. Maurice A. Selinger’s wife, having lived in Washington her whole adult life, lived with us just before she died in 1981.  I see that Eliot died a year later.  He must have knocked on our door just before he died.


The comment about Julius and Frederick Selinger being brothers  was a very important revelation for me because it confirmed what I had suspected.  I assume that Alfred Selinger was also, given that he lived with Julius and traveled with Julius and Augusta before marrying Augusta’s sister Fanny.

Here is a bittersweet story about Eleanor Selinger, the daughter of Julius and Augusta  who married Henry Abbot and moved to England as discussed here.

Years earlier, John and I were in England and he said he would like to see if he could find his Aunt Eleanor.  
We were successful and made arrangements to have tea with her in her apartment just before we left London.  When she opened the door, John was astonished to notice she looked exactly like his Dad who had died over ten years before.  We had a lovely visit.  She shared that she loved to play cards, but had a hard time see the cards now.  So the next day we had some “jumbo faced” cards sent over to her from Harrod’s – a fun idea.  She called us to say she was so flustered when the delivery man said he was from Harrod’s that she had a hard time buzzing him in.  Very sweet – a wonderful connection that pleased my husband very much.  We flew home the next day and then received word a day later that she had died.

Ann also told me more about the accomplishments of Dr. Maurice Selinger, her husband’s father, who along with his brother Jerome were probably the first doctors in the extended Cohen family, as discussed here.

Dr. Maurice Selinger, my father-in-law, who died before John and I were married, served in World War I and World War II as a physician.  He was a very dedicated doctor who gave his all to medicine and his patients.  He was very highly regarded in the Washington medical world.  He was instrumental in bringing three hospitals together (Garfield, Emergency, and one other – can’t remember) to form the new Washington Hospital Center. I remember just after we were married going to a diabetes center in Maryland that was dedicated to Dr. Selinger.  I know nothing more about that.  Amazing what you don’t pay attention to when you are young.
They lived in a lovely home on California Street, NW – should look up the number, that is now the Embassy of Venezuela.

Washington Hospital Center   "WHCExtGarden". Via Wikipedia -

Washington Hospital Center
“WHCExtGarden”. Via Wikipedia –

And finally this story about John’s father Maurice and his grandfather Julius and the Selinger’s jewelry store on F Street discussed here.

John always told the story that when his father was a young boy he would earn his allowance by winding the clocks on F Street that were installed by his grandfather, Julius.  They also put the clock in the tower of the old National Savings and Trust Building downtown.  Years later, John became a banker and worked as a Vice President in that same bank.


National Savings and Trust Building, Washington, DC "15th, New York, & Pennsylvania Avenue, NW" by AgnosticPreachersKid - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -,_New_York,_%26_Pennsylvania_Avenue,_NW.jpg#mediaviewer/File:15th,_New_York,_%26_Pennsylvania_Avenue,_NW.jpg

National Savings and Trust Building, Washington, DC
“15th, New York, & Pennsylvania Avenue, NW” by AgnosticPreachersKid – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –,_New_York,_%26_Pennsylvania_Avenue,_NW.jpg#mediaviewer/File:15th,_New_York,_%26_Pennsylvania_Avenue,_NW.jpg


There is nothing better than hearing and preserving these family stories.  They take the facts and inferences I make from government documents come to life and fill them with the love and respect that these people deserve.  Thank you so much, Ann, for sharing these with me.  I can’t tell you how much it meant to me.




Blog Update: Cohen Family Trees

English: Leaves of Utah mountain trees changin...

English: Leaves of Utah mountain trees changing color during autumn. Deutsch: Die Farbe der Blätter ändert während des Herbstes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have added a new page to the blog.  If you look at the top where all the fixed pages are listed, you will see that the last entry is one that says “Cohen Family Trees.”   If you click on it, you will see a page that has a list of links.  Each of those links will lead to a PDF version of a family tree.  You can download and/or print these.

As I explain on the page itself, the first three trees are very large.  There is one for Hart Levy and Rachel Cohen, one of Jacob and Sarah Cohen, and one for Moses and Adeline Cohen, each going to several generations, but not including any living descendants.  To see these, you will probably need to print out the pages and line them up to see the overall family.

The other trees are for each individual child or grandchild of Hart and Rachel so that you can see each “branch” more clearly.  The bigger trees are rather difficult to use, so I made these smaller trees.  I hope this is helpful.

The Cohen family is very large, and there are so many people with similar or identical names.  I’ve lost track myself of how many Jacob Cohens there are, how many Isaac Cohens, Joseph Cohens, Rachel Cohens, etc.  I hope the trees will help keep these straight.


Whose Clothing Were They Wearing?

I recently posted these two photographs of two of the Strolowitz/Adler sisters, Rebecca (Ray) and Leah.

Leah Strolowitz Adler

Leah Strolowitz Adler

Ray Strolowitz Adler

Ray Strolowitz Adler

A number of people asked me questions about the photographs.  In particular, people were struck by the fact that two poor immigrant young women were dressed so well and were able to sit for a formal portrait.  The photograph was dated 1918, so Ray and Leah had only been in the US for about ten years.  They were both working as dressmakers.  How could they afford these luxuries like furs and hats and fancy shoes and a studio photograph?

I did some research online but did not find anything that indicated that photographers provided clothing for customers to wear, although there are many references to the props photographers kept in their studios to add interest to the photographs.  There is also this quote from a website that addresses the question of how to determine the date of a particular photograph:

“Your ancestor may have only owned one nice dress or suit that was used for all sorts of occasions. Perhaps they did not own a nice suit of clothing and borrowed one from the photographer.”

I also posted a question to the Tracing the Tribe group on Facebook about these issues and received numerous responses that were very helpful.  One commenter pointed out that since Leah and Ray were dressmakers, it was entirely possible that they made these outfits themselves.  The commenter recalled that her own ancestor was able to create fashionable dresses from older clothing and scraps by copying what she had seen in store windows.  Another commenter made the point that furs may not have been that expensive back then.  There was also discussion of the possibility that the furs and hats were props supplied by the photographer to supplement the clothing that belonged to the customers.  And some commenters believed that photographers did have clothing at their studios for the customers to wear.

As to the question of the cost of having a portrait taken, several people pointed out that having portraits done, regardless of your economic status, was very common.  Immigrants wanted to be able to send photographs back to the old country and to mark their own special occasions.  This website points out that with improved photographic techniques, it was in fact not that expensive to have a formal photograph taken even for a family of limited means.  The early 20th century saw the development of postcard photographs in the size used like the ones of Leah and Ray, and the website states that they were a “cheaper, quicker format for producing prints, made photo portraits available to almost everyone.”

I was also able to locate some information about the photographer.  From the photographs I was able to find his name, Rothman, and address, 186 East 116th Street in New York.  By using the tool for finding an address on a census, I was able to find Isadore Rothman, recent Russian immigrant, residing at 186 East 116th Street.  In 1916, Mr. Rothman was working for a different studio, Mantor Photographic Studio, according to the 1916 New York directory.  So perhaps Rothman was just starting out on his own when Ray and Leah came to have their pictures taken.  They also all lived in the East Harlem neighborhood.

Isadore Rothman on the 1920 census

Isadore Rothman on the 1920 census

So I don’t know the answer for sure, but it is possible that Leah and Ray made their outfits or borrowed them from the photographer or from someone else or a combination of both.   I guess we will never know.  And it is also possible that these photographs were not that expensive despite their seeming formality and quality.

UPDATE:  I just received this comment from Ava Cohn, an expert in using photographs in genealogical research.  She said, “Photographers did have props that were used in photos. By this time, however, the clothes were usually not part of what was “borrowed” from the photographer. As many have suggested, our Jewish ancestors were tailors in Europe and quite adept at pattern-making and sewing. There were also many companies that produced patterns and sewing one’s own clothes was both a business and a past-time. Studio photos were relatively inexpensive. …  And btw, if you are certain that your photos were taken in 1918, then Ray’s outfit is not the latest fashion. Her skirt length and shape are more typical of the 1916-1917 period.”  You can learn more about Ava Cohn and her services at her website, Sherlock Cohn.