Two (at least) Samuel Schmucklers: a cautionary tale

In a recent post, I described the metaphoric journey my maternal grandfather took from being Yisrael HaCohen, born in the small town of Shpola (in what is now Ukraine) in November 1905, to being Samuel Joseph Kohn, born in Cleveland, OH in December 1904. His literal journey included crossing the Atlantic with his parents, Joseph and Bessie (Koslenko) Cohen, and six (seven?) siblings from Liverpool to Philadelphia on the Haverford (in steerage, buffeted by a violent storm) in December 1912.

One sibling was named Sofia, later Sophie; what little information I have about my great-aunt Sophie (other than a passing reference in a single-page report I wrote about the Cohen family in 8th grade[1]) comes from official records available on the invaluable Ancestry.com.

As I lamented here, it can be very difficult to pin down dates of birth for immigrants who arrived around the turn of the last century. Sophie Cohen was no exception. Her father gave February 2, 1903 as the date on his naturalization petition, while her death certificate lists it as February 15, 1902. Meanwhile, the 1920 United States Federal Census (“Census”) records her age as of January 14 as 18, putting her date of birth somewhere between January 15, 1901 and January 14, 1902.

In other words, three different official documents put her date of birth anywhere from January 15, 1901 to February 2, 1903—a window of more than two years. This is actually one of the more benign “occupational hazards” of meticulous genealogical research.

Far more troublesome is the presence of two or more persons with the same name living in the same community at the same time, as I have come to learn.

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This meticulous genealogical research is part of what I anticipate will be Chapter 3 of the book I am writing (working title: Interrogating Memory: Film Noir and My Search for Identity). For this chapter, one of a series which trace the movement of my Jewish ancestors from the Pale of Settlement to West Philadelphia, so that David Louis Berger could marry Elaine Kohn in January 1960, I have spent hundreds of hours painstakingly collating information from such Ancestry records as Censuses, death certificates, marriage records, city directories, naturalization petitions and other online family trees. Where possible, I supplement these data with information published in contemporary newspapers.

It is from the 1920 Census, for example, that I know that Joseph and Bessie Cohen were living with their five youngest children at 729 Morris Street in South Philadelphia as of January 14, 1920. Examining Google Maps Street View and a typical real estate website tells me their home, a three-story red brick row house built around 1915, still stands on narrow Morris Street.

That record also informs me that the unmarried, teenaged Sophie was making cigars in a factory, having either quit or graduated from high school, depending on her actual age.

Official marriage records[2] reveal that later that year (I cannot pinpoint the exact date, despite the Philadelphia Inquirer publishing daily lists of marriage licenses issued), Sophie Cohen married a man with the euphonious name of Samuel Schmuckler (sometimes written “Shmukler”). Jumping ahead a bit, the 1930 Census lists an 8-year-old “Evelyn Schmuckler” living with her grandparents (Joseph and Bessie Cohen), two uncles (including my grandfather) and an aunt in their new home at 1842 N. 32nd Street, in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of Philadelphia, just east of Fairmount Park.

In fact, Sophie Cohen Schumckler had given birth to a daughter named Evelyn in her Morris Street home on January 13, 1922[3]. However, something went horribly awry during the birth, because within a few days she almost certainly started to suffer from flu-like symptoms (fever, pain, chills, loss of appetite) accompanied by a swollen abdomen and a foul-smelling vaginal discharge; she may also have had pale skin and an increased heart rate. These are the typical signs and symptoms of puerperal sepsis, a post-partum infection caused by bacteria in the uterus[4]. The risk for puerperal sepsis is highest (as of 2016, at any rate) with a Caesarean section, especially if the operation occurs after labor has begun. Today the infection could be easily treated with antibiotics—or even prevented by using antiseptics—but these were not available in 1922.

As a result, at 10:30 in the morning of January 20, 1922—just seven days after giving birth to her only child—Sophie Cohen Schmuckler died in her bed, just a few weeks shy of her 18th, 19th or 20th birthday[5].

The Informant on her death certificate was “Samuel Cohen” of “729 Morris Street.” This was most likely her younger brother (my grandfather), himself only 16 or 17 years old, though it could have been her husband Samuel, with a confusion of surnames.

And this is where the story takes an unusual turn.

**********

In an earlier draft of “Chapter 3,” I wrote something to the effect of “After living with her grandparents, uncles and aunt for a number of years, Sophie Cohen Schmuckler went to live with her father, his new wife Tessye (Dounne) and her half-brother Stanford. She was living with them when she graduated from Gratz High School in 1938.”

I wrote this passage because I had uncovered (through Ancestry’s “hints” and other search methods) an Evelyn Love Schmuckler, born in Philadelphia in 1922, whose father was Samuel Schmuckler (who married Tessye Dounne…at some point).

But here is the thing.

When I was growing up, the enormous extended Cohen family would celebrate the first night of Passover with the ritual Seder meal at a vast kosher banquet hall in northeast Philadelphia called the Doral; those nights rank among the happiest memoires of my childhood. One of the many adults (whose precise relationship to me was often a bit murky) I would look forward to seeing every year “Cousin Evelyn Gable,” along with her husband “Dicky” Gable.

However, I have absolutely no memory of a “Cousin Stanford”—nor does he appear in a handwritten, three-page Cohen family tree written out by a first cousin of my mother in 1979:

sophie cohen

I decided to investigate further—to interrogate my own interrogation, essentially. It did not take long to ascertain the following:

  1. Samuel Schmuckler married Tessye Dounne in Philadelphia…in December 1921.
  2. Their daughter Evelyn Love Schmuckler was born in Philadelphia…on October 9, 1922 (not January 13, 1922).[6]
  3. Evelyn Love Schmuckler later married a man with the surname Goodhart (not Gable).

As a baseball announcer might say after a three-pitch strikeout: good morning, good afternoon, good night.

Unless my great-uncle (by marriage) had rapidly divorced and remarried while his teenaged bride was pregnant with their first child—then quickly impregnated his second wife, who gave birth to a child ALSO named Evelyn…it would appear there were TWO Samuel Schmucklers who fathered a daughter named Evelyn born in Philadelphia in 1922.

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I have had little success tracking down what became of “my” Samuel Schmuckler (and why his daughter was living with her grandparents, uncles and aunt eight years after her birth). This is due in part to the number of men with that name inhabiting Philadelphia in the early 1920s. The Philadelphia City Directory for 1921, for example, lists both a “Schmuckler, Saml,” a dealer in fruit living at 1720 N. Wilton Street, and a “Shmukler, Saml,” of “Shoes Sales Co” living at 2935 Norris Street.

The former address is West Philadelphia, just a few blocks from the western edge of the western edge of Fairmount Park. Because Sophie Cohen Schmuckler’s death certificate clearly states she was still living at 729 Morris Street in January 1922, the fruit merchant living in West Philadelphia is almost certainly a third Samuel Schmuckler, albeit of indeterminate age.

As for the latter (in Strawberry Mansion, only a few blocks north and east of where the Cohen family would move in a few years)—on December 7, 1921, 2935 W. Norris Street was the home of a “Tessye Doum” who had received a marriage license to marry “Samuel Shmukler” of 623 N. Marshall Street (in the southernmost part of North Philadelphia)[7]

Wait, but it gets better.

I have uncovered two World War I registration cards from 1918 for a Samuel Schmuckler (or Shmukler) of Philadelphia.

One, dated September 12, 1918, is for a man of medium height and slender build with blue eyes and brown hair who was born in the United States on January 18, 1898. He was a brakeman for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and he gave 247 Poplar Street as his permanent address, care of a Morris Shmukler. Well, the 1920 Census lists Morris and Jennie Shmukler living with their 22-year-old son Samuel at…you guessed it, 623 N. Marshall Street (just four block west on Poplar Street).  This is the Samuel Schmuckler who married Tessye Dounne, and in 1920 he was an accountant working in an office[8].

The second World War I registration card, also dated September 12, 1918, is for a man of medium height and medium build with hazel eyes and light hair who was born in “Russia” (i.e., somewhere in the Pale of Settlement) on January 5, 1898. He was a “bolter” for the Sun Ship Company of Chester, PA (about 12 miles south of Philadelphia along the Delaware River), and he gave 202 N. 2nd Street as his permanent address, in care of his cousin A.S. Cohen.

Or, at least, that is what it looks like…but on closer inspection the handwritten script upper-case “S” could easily be an upper-case “L.” Which aligns, perhaps, with the fact that as of December 19, 1918, an Aaron L. Kokin was living at that address—and had just gotten a license to wed Anna Cooper of 823 N. 10th Street.[9] Could A.L. Cohen actually be A.L. Kokin?

Just to confuse things further, the 1918 Philadelphia City Directory shows an Aaron L. Koken (“stoves”) living at 220 N. 2nd Street; this could be a simple typographic error in either source. Except that taunting us from the past, the 1916 and 1917 Directories put Aaron L Koken at 213 N. 2nd Street, while the 1919 Directory put him at 237 N. 2nd Street; he is not listed in the 1921 Directory (the 1920 Directory is unavailable). Quite the peripatetic stove-maker was Mr. A. L. Koken, who seems to have had competition from John McConville at 215 N. 2nd Street.[10]

At the same time, on October 30, 1918, 202 N. 2nd Street was the address listed to apply to be a cashier at a retail grocery store in West Philadelphia[11]. Actually, a quick review of the available 1918 Philadelphia newspapers suggests the 200 block of N. 2nd Street (between Race and Vine) was heavily commercial. The occupant of 209 N. 2nd Street even had a two-ton Autocar truck for hire.[12] As of the 1960s, according to photographs on PhillyHistory.org, there was both residential and commercial use; it could easily have been that way four and five decades earlier.

But none of these records place A.S./L. Cohen/Koken/Kokin’s cousin Samuel Schmuckler at 202 N. 2nd Street. Meanwhile, the only Samuel Schmuckler in the 1919 Directory is an “actor” living at 958 North Franklin Street—just three blocks north and east of 623 N. Marshall Street (where the Samuel Schmuckler who married Tessye Dounne lived in December 1921). Were they the same man, with acting what he did after being a railroad brakeman, but before he took up accounting? Curiously, Morris Shmukler of 247 Poplar is nowhere to be found in the 1919 City Directory, though he appears (as a tailor) in 1917 and 1918.

At any rate, his son Samuel Schmuckler died from an acute myocardial infarction (resulting from diabetes mellitus and chronic nephrosclerosis) on February 1, 1963. His death certificate[13] lists his job as “chief clerk-tax department,” meaning he had remained an accountant for more than 40 years; the 1940 Census lists his occupation as “investigator” for “city hall,” suggesting he was worked as a kind of forensic accountant for the city of Philadelphia. His date of birth is listed as February 5, 1898 (in the Pale of Settlement, of course). Which makes him the same Samuel Schmuckler described on a World War II Draft Registration card (1942) as 5’9” tall and weighing 238 pounds (for a body mass index of 35.1, which is “obese”) with a ruddy complexion, hazel eyes and brown hair.

So…three Samuel Schmucklers based in Philadelphia around 1920 were born within a month of each other in early 1898, two of whom had a daughter named Evelyn in 1922.

But that does not count the Samuel “Shumkler” in the 1940 Census listed as 44 (born between April 1895 and April 1896) who worked as a housing contractor specializing in paperhanging and printing. He, his wife Ida and two teenaged children (Shirley and Bernard) lived at 5860 Washington Avenue in southwest Philadelphia. And what about the “salesman” named Samuel L. Schmuckler of Philadelphia who married Mollie Laveson in 1923 and moved across the Delaware River to Camden, NJ (and later Chicago, IL)? Or the Samuel “Smuckler” who married a woman with the surname Cooper in Philadelphia in 1922? Were any of them “my” Samuel Schmuckler?

The truth is, I may never learn what happened to my great-uncle-by marriage following the birth of his daughter Evelyn—and the death of his wife Sophie—in January 1922. The fact that 8-year-old Evelyn Schmuckler was living with her grandparents, aunt and two uncles in 1930 suggests he either died or otherwise split the scene, though I have as yet found no evidence of either. And if he remarried either Ms. Laveson or Mr. Cooper, why not raise his daughter with his new wife?

The search continues.

**********

Happily, I know much of what happened to my first cousin, once removed.

In 1942, the 20-year-old Evelyn married a 21-year-old college senior named Richard Edward “Dicky” Gable (born Philadelphia, December 16, 1921), with whom she would have two daughters. On May 4, 1943, less than one year after marrying, “Dicky” Gable enlisted in the army to fight in World War II; he would leave active service—honorably discharged from nearby Fort Dix, NJ—on April 14, 1946. Four years later, while living at 5407 Chestnut Street (only about nine blocks north and west of where my 14-year-old father was living) in the Jewish enclave of West Philadelphia, “Dicky” Gable received $410 (a little over $4,200 today) as compensation for both domestic and foreign service, the latter totaling 14 months.  As of 1959, the Gables lived at 122 Waldo Street in Holyoke, MA, while Richard taught art some five miles south in Springfield, MA. At some point in the following decade, they returned to Philadelphia, becoming Doral Seder stalwarts—and by 1978 they had settled into Apartment 18D of a luxury apartment building at 3900 Ford Road (photograph from here) in the Wynnefield neighborhood of Philadelphia, just off the eastern edge of the Main Line suburbs. This was where they would spend the rest of their lives. “Dicky” Gable died on July 26, 2004, aged 82, followed by his wife of 60+ years on January 22, 2008, aged 86.

3900 ford road

Just bear with me for a brief postscript.

In 1984, a woman named Irene Kohn moved back to Philadelphia from Lancaster, PA—where she had settled in the mid-1960’s after divorcing her husband of more than 30 years, Samuel Joseph Kohn. She settled into apartment 10M of the apartment complex at 3900 Ford Road. That is, the former wife of the man who, as a teenager, had been the Informant on his sister’s death certificate would live eight floors below that sister’s daughter and her  husband for the next 20+ years. I only wished that on those occasions I visited my grandmother—and then stopped in to see the Gables (usually with another cousin)—I had known more about “Cousin Evelyn’s” life story.

Until next time…

[1] Dated January 20, 1980—I was 13 years old at the time.

[2] Pennsylvania, Marriages, 1852-1968 and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marriage Index, 1885-1951.

[3] Confirmed by U.S. Public Records Index, 1950-1993, Volume 1 and U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014.

[4] This is the cause of death listed on her official death certificate.

[5] Curiously, I wrote in my report that “Sima Bella died in childbirth.” My sources clearly did not remember which one had died.

[6] Stanford was born nine years later.

[7] MARRIAGE LICENSES ISSUED. Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), December 8, 1921, pg. 13.

[8] Despite the discrepancies in occupation, I do not want even to begin to imagine two Morris Schmucklers with a son Samuel of the same age living a few blocks apart.

[9] MARRIAGE LICENSES ISSUED. Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), December 19, 1918, pg. 14.

[10] Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), December 8, 1918, 2nd Section, pg.4.

[11] Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), October 30 , 1918, 2nd Section, pg.4.

[12] Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA), March 7, 1918, pg. 19.

[13] His son Stanford was the Informant.

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