Sophie was born in December 1909 in SyracuseLevine, Sophie - 1926 - HS picture in yearbook-crop-crop to Chaneh (Harry) Levine and his wife Rachel (Rose) Katz Levine.  I have written briefly about this family earlier (here).  Although they had started out in Syracuse, where Harry’s siblings had settled, they moved to Detroit sometime in the early 1910s.  The family was still enumerated in Syracuse for the 1910 census, but there are city directory listings for Detroit showing a Harry Levine boarding with others from 1909.  He may have traveled back and forth for some period of time, figuring out where to move the family to and gaining work.  Of course, there was more than one Harry Levine in the Detroit directories for that time period, so he may have stayed in Syracuse until the whole family moved.

By the 1920 census the family was all together in Detroit and stayed there for the rest of Harry’s life and through Sophie’s education.  She graduated from high school in 1926 and then worked for several years to earn enough money to go to college.  She told me that she went to the University of Michigan and graduated with a degree in biochemistry.  The 1930 census shows her as a 19 year old, living at home and working as a lab technician at a “sanatorium”.  It is possible that this was a TB sanatorium.  Although she talked disparagingly about her father in her late years, her interest in the sciences may well have come from him.  She described him as liking to read a lot and much of it about science.  By 1940 she had graduated from college (I haven’t yet found a record for her college career), was again living at home and was reported to be working in a clinic as a bacteriologist.

I think she told me that she had met her future husband, Eduardo Mayea, at the University at some point.  He was a Cuban diplomat from before Castro’s time, and must have been the consul in Detroit during those years.  They married in 1946, and sometime shortly thereafter were posted to San Francisco.  They lived in San Francisco, then Spain, and finally Paris.  I was interested to discover that Sophie traveled on her husband’s passport and citizenship.  Since he was a citizen of Cuba, and in the U.S. as a diplomat, there would have been no question of his naturalizing.  I have not yet discovered whether she was required to give up her citizenship legally or whether she did/had to because of his diplomatic status.

In the Fall of 1961, they decided that they could no longer support the Castro regime and defected.  Eduardo was dishonorably discharged by the Cuban government for his relations with the U.S.  Sophie and Eduardo returned to the U.S, and spent some time in Detroit, probably to see Sophie’s siblings and mother.  They then moved to Miami in the mid 1960s and Eduardo became a U.S. citizen in 1967.  He then prepared to take on a role for the United Nations in Ecuador.  The sad end to their marriage was that he suffered a stroke while they were flying to his new post, and he died in June 1968.

Eduardo was buried in Michigan and Sophie moved back to the Detroit area, to live with her older sister who was also a widow.  They lived together for the rest of Mary’s life.  Sophie lived another 31 years remaining active socially and politically until just before her death in December 2012 after her 103d birthday.


Marion no date

Marion, ca 1945-1949

Although it was the second weekend in December and, like everyone else we had plenty of holiday tasks to be doing, Judy and I decided it was time for another trip to the Connecticut State Library in Hartford. We hadn’t done a trip in a long time, and we always enjoy the excuse to get together. We don’t have as much opportunity as we’d like to catch up in person on all the happenings in our lives, especially the genealogy ones. Then, I thought, since I would already be as far as Hartford I should see if it would be convenient for me to go on down to visit my husband’s cousin Marion who lives very near New York city but still in Connecticut. So I got in touch with her and invited myself.

The time with Judy in Hartford and at the Library was, as usual, fun and refreshing. There is something about spending time with a friend who has known you for so long that is renewing. We acquired some new information on the projects we were working on and learned about another resource available in the Library. We have gotten into a bit of a rut about how we use the Library, but learned that there is a large newspaper collection on microfilm that we hadn’t known about. I wonder what else they have that we don’t know about?

Saturday morning I headed on south and west in Connecticut. I had called cousin Marion and had her good directions for getting to her house, and so managed to get there with no problems. We had just enough time when I got there for her to start showing me her most recent pottery and sculptures (she does amazing work!) and to start talking. Then we headed for the train station to pick up cousin Jean who was coming to join us. These two represent two different Levine family lines: Marion a branch that stayed in the New York City area and Jean one of the Syracuse branches.

I had two general genealogy goals for the visit: to get Marion to talk about her parents and grandparents and to try to record some of this; and, to look at some of her pictures and get her stories from them. I took my digital recorder and my new present to myself, my Flip-Pal scanner, and intended to make use of both of them. Which I did. I’m still a rank novice using the recorder and have trouble getting the volume right, but I did get some of her memories captured. And the Flip-Pal worked like a charm.

Marion is the daughter of Esther Bialke Pintel and Samuel

Bella Pintel

Bella Pintel

Malin. Her mother, known in the US as Bella, was the daughter of Myriam Levine and Alter Pintel. Myriam died in Poland/Russia, leaving young several children (either two or three, this isn’t clear yet). Grandfather Alter remarried and they had two more children. He emigrated from Poland/Russia in 1909 and the plan was for his wife and children to follow as soon as he could get settled. Bella was able to join him in 1913. Unfortunately though, World War I intervened and the rest of the family was not able to migrate until 1921.

Sam Malin in factory-marked

Sam Malin in a sewing room

Bella worked as a seamstress in New York City until she married and had children. She then stayed home for several years. She probably met her husband, Sam Malin, as a function of living and working in the same area in Manhattan. Sam had signed as a witness on her father, Alter Pintel’s Petition for Naturalization attesting to knowing Alter since 1917. They were married in 1922.

Marion’s father was a man of few words and one who didn’t show his feelings easily or often. Bella on the other hand was known for yelling, particularly at him, and for letting you know exactly where she stood on an issue. One time they came to visit Marion and her husband Al and before they arrived Al asked Marion to tell her mother not to yell at Sam because it made him uncomfortable. So Marion talked to Bella while they were out in the car, going shopping in another town. She said, “Ma, please don’t yell at Pa while you’re here. Al doesn’t like it.” To which Bella responded: “I don’t yell at him.” Marion laughed about this and allowed that her mother did yell, and that she had discovered the same habit in herself as a young mother.

At the end of his life, Sam fell and broke his hip and was hospitalized. Marion and Bella went to the hospital to visit him, and the nurse was in his room when they got there. So Sam introduced them: “This is my family. This is my daughter, Marion. And this is my wife, Bella. God gave her to me.”

In a variation on the theme, this post is about three sisters who came to America and went in different directions.  There actually were more than 3 Yellin sisters and there was a brother too.  And some of them did eventually go in different directions.  But before they did, all of them migrated to Syracuse New York.  Somehow Syracuse had become the hub for the family and most of them lived there for some period of time.

The Yellins I’m interested in were the children of  Abraham David Yellin and Chaya Fage Singer, who met and married and lived in or near Jalowka, Gubernya Grodno, Volkovysk District, Russian Empire (an area that has been in Russia or Poland depending on the year and the politics).  This is the same area that the Levin family came from, and it was Abraham David’s aunt Dvora Yellin who married Itzhak Levin, parents of Lena and Harry Levine and Sam Levin.

According to Cousin Nancy the family story was that Abraham David Yellin wanted to send his children to the United States and had planned to send his oldest daughter, Esther, first.  A ticket was probably purchased in her name, and then it seems he may have decided that he needed her to stay and help him in his tailor shop.

Ester Jelin 1899

Ester Jelin arrival 1899

So we think a younger sister, Ida, was sent in her place, to an uncle (Chaya’s brother, also named Abraham David) in New York. This was in 1899 and Ida would have been just a young girl (about 10-14).  She apparently traveled with another young woman from Jalowka. Three years later, Esther did migrate, probably going to her aunt (father’s sister)  in New York.

Ester Jelin #2

Ester Jelin arrives 1902

Esther and Ida lived in a tenement on the Lower East Side and worked long hours in a sewing factory (a true sweatshop).  If you visit the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street, you will get a strong sense of what lives were like in such tenements.  Judy and I did one of their tours a number of years ago and it was amazing.

These two sisters lived and worked in New York City until about 1905-1906 when Sam Levin (a first cousin once removed who was older than the Yellins) moved his family to Syracuse and invited Esther and Ida to join them.  Both sisters met their husbands in Syracuse, and both married in 1909.

Selde Jelin 1921

Selde Jelin arrival 1921

Their younger sister, Zelda, came in 1912 and so she went directly to Syracuse rather than spending any time in New York City first.  And their younger, and only, brother Sam came in 1921 via Boston.   He arrived less than a year before their father Abraham David died.

Szmuel Jelin

Szmuel Jelin arrival 1921

Sister Merke had married in the spring of 1921 and she and her family migrated to Argentina between 1923 and 1926.  The remaining sister, Friedel married Hershel Levin in Jalowka and stayed in Russia.   Perhaps Hershel was a relative of Dvora and Itzhak Levin.

This left their mother Chaya and the youngest sister, Jeanette, still in Russia. Jeanette migrated through Canada after her father died.

Szejna Jelin 1926

Szejna Jelin arrival in Quebec 1926

I have not yet been able to find her entry into the U.S. but Cousin Nancy says that she had to go through Canada because of quotas at the time.  She arrived in Quebec in June 1926. Chaya was apparently able to come directly to the US at that time, because she was the mother of people already here.  I haven’t found her official entry yet either.  In a nutshell, this is what we know about the migration of each of the Yellins.

The tricky part in figuring some of this out has been that the names are not always what I would expect.  For example, in all the emigration records found so far Yellin (as they spelled it in this country) was spelled Jelin. (And the village of Yalowka is also spelled with a J.) The most likely reason that we found two Ester Jelins and no Ida was because one of the Esters was actually probably Ida (who we’re pretty sure came first).  The first Ester was listed as having her passage paid by an uncle and as going to her uncle, A.D. Singer at 57 Norfolk Street in New York City.  This was the address for Abraham David Singer on the 1900 federal census so it was most probably one of the Yellin sisters in our family.  In the case of the second Ester Jelin, her ticket was paid by an uncle Abr. Dewis Singer and the address she was going to was that of an aunt, Anna Singer Schneider, in New York City.  Selde Jelin who arrived in May 1912 was going to her brother-in-law Killian (Esther’s husband) in Syracuse, so it is a reasonable guess that this was Zelda.  And Szmuel Jelin who arrived in Boston in 1921 listed his father as David Jelin of Jalowka and also was going to his brother-in-law Killian in Syracuse.  The combination of father’s name and village as well as the brother-in-law make us sure that this was little brother Sam even though his age given was off by 5 years.

When I look at these names I realize that only one of the 4 children of Abraham David and Chaya Yellin who came to America went a different direction.  The usual genealogical tale is that 3 came to this country and they all went different directions.  This family, and the Levines as well, showed the more common pattern of collecting in a place and mostly not moving too far away from the rest of the family here.  In the Yellin family one exception was one of Ida’s daughters, who left Syracuse and moved West after marrying; Ida and her husband followed.  They did not lose touch with the family though.  Jeanette and her family also moved west as far as Michigan, but did not lose touch with the family. In the Levine family one branch (Harry Levine’s family) moved west to Michigan as well, to be closer to his wife’s siblings.  They lost touch with much of the Levine family for several generations although it was known where they were and there were occasional letters or visits.

Update:  On further communication with Cousin Nancy I have a couple of corrections/additions to make to this story.  The simple correction is that of course, if you add up the Yellin children I talk about, there were 5 who came to America.  I’m not sure who I wasn’t counting when I said 4.  And it was 2 of the 5 Yellins who moved on and away from the rest of the family.  The longer addition is that the shift to California was not the way I described it.  Apparently Ida and Morris were the first to go to California, because Morris had a job painting naval ships; this was about mid-1943.  Their daughter Lillian went with them, and two of Morris’s sisters were already there which may have influenced the decision to go.  Not too long afterward their other daughter went to join them, since her husband was serving in the military overseas.  And finally, I should note that Jeannette’s original name was Shane Toby (or a variation of this spelling) as she was one of the children named after her grandfather, Yoshua Todros Yellin.  So she showed up in migration as Szejna.

Actually, it was two brothers and a sister.  And they didn’t come together but at three different times to two different places.  From about 1899 to 1905.  And there was a friend who became a brother-in-law.  They, like many immigrants from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, first lived in New York City.  And the children of one of their first cousins came.  And a nephew and a niece (two children of a brother who didn’t emigrate) came.  And the brother-in-law and daughter of a sister who died came.  All settled, some for good and some more briefly, in the New York City area.  You can see how tangled these family lines are as I try to figure out who is who and when they were where.

The people I am interested in for this story are the two brothers, Sam and Harry Levine, their sister Lena, and the friend of Harry’s, Nathan Greenberg.  Sam and his wife were in New York City by about 1900-01 and their daughter was born there.  They stayed for several years.  It was here that Harry joined him, and here that Nathan also met up with them again.  Lena is a little harder to find, but she must have also lived there.  For some reason, Sam moved his family to upstate NY, to Syracuse.  And Harry and Nathan both followed.  It was to Syracuse that Harry then brought his wife and 2 children.  It was in Syracuse soon after that Nathan and Lena married.

When I was writing the earlier post about Nathan and his story, I thought that Dan’s cousin Mary might know some more about Harry and Nathan or, better yet, might have a connection with one of the relatives out in Michigan where Harry and his family had ended up.  My husband and his sister have never had a connection with this line of relatives.  I knew that Mary was in touch with Sophie, although I didn’t know if she was still alive; and I thought that Mary is also in touch with some of the next generation out there.  So I left her a message asking.  I should say before going on that Sophie is the younger daughter of Harry Levine and in her 101st year.  But as Mary says, she is “sharp as a tack”.

I wondered if there was any family information from Harry Levine’s side about the two of them meeting in London.  I have always liked the story that Harry told Nathan to come to America and marry his sister Lena.  But it has always been just that, a family story or myth that was at least once removed (heard from father-in-law Izzy who had been told the story by his father much later in life).

Late last Sunday I found a message on my cell phone from cousin Mary.  She has a wonderful ability to tell you 14 things in a single short message.  The item I was most interested in was that she had talked, as promised, with cousin Sophie out in Michigan.  And Sophie would be glad to talk with me, although she doesn’t know much about her father’s family.  Mary warned me that Sophie had not thought much of her father.  So now I have a phone number.  Along with a lot of other family information that doesn’t fit this story.

So on Monday afternoon late, with not a little trepidation (I hate to make cold calls!), I called the number.  When Sophie answered she told me she was just on her way to dinner, and she asked if I could call back later in the evening.  Of course I could.  And did.   And we talked for an hour and a half.  I scribbled as fast as I could, trying to get the important things written, at least enough that I could remember the whole story, hoping I’d be able to read my handwriting and not wanting to miss a word of what Sophie was saying.  Never occurred to me ahead of time to think about whether I could tape it.  Not that I know how to do that over the phone.

Back: Lena, Nathan, Esther Yellin (cousin) Front: Louis Levine, Harry Levine, Rachel (Rose) Levine, Mary Levine, 1906

What Sophie told me:  That her father and mother had been married in the old country and had 2 children there.  That her mother came from Bialystok and her father from a small village near there.  That it had been an arranged marriage by her mother’s parents because she was in love with a young man they considered unsuitable.  That at some point after the marriage Sophie’s father had left Russia and gone to England for a job, leaving his wife and 2 children in the small village.  Harry was a cabinetmaker and carpenter.  That he spent 5 years in London.  And that he met Nathan there.  Her father apparently never told the story of getting Nathan to come marry his sister Lena, but Sophie certainly heard about that family as she grew up.

Interestingly, Sophie didn’t know much about the rest of her father’s family.  This is becoming the theme of all of the families on my husband’s side.  She didn’t know how many brothers and sisters he had or what happened to them.  It sounds like she knew about the two families who stayed in northern New York but not about the sister’s family who came a little later and stayed in New York City.  There were also two other brothers and one of them had children who migrated to the U.S.

Sophie had been told the story, by her mother, about a brother of her father’s who was very good at carving.  (This story was told with little variation by several branches of the family.)  One day he was sitting by the roadside, working on a piece of stone and a Russian soldier came by.  The soldier was very impressed by the work this brother was doing and told him to come to the city to be trained as an artist.  The Levine parents would not let him go because Jews are not supposed to make graven images.  The brother went crazy and died.

Harry Levine, Detroit, 1915

Sophie’s family had moved to the Detroit area when she was a small girl, to be closer to her mother’s family.  Her mother had 3 sisters there and they were a close family.  Harry doesn’t seem to have kept in very close touch with any of his family, although there were occasional postcards (picture to the left is one he sent).  Harry was described by Sophie as not having any friends in Detroit, although my father-in-law said that Harry and Nathan were good friends as well as brothers-in-law.

Another connection Sophie remembers between the Nathan Greenbergs and her family was that around 1926-27, Lena’s daughter Freda who was a young teen, visited for a week.  Sophie’s memory is that she herself was out of high school (she graduated at 15) and working, not yet in college, when this visit took place.  It may have been around the time that Freda graduated from grammar school.

This was the summary of what Sophie remembered and could tell me.  I may never learn anything more substantial about Harry and Nathan, but I’ve learned more about the Levines and about Sophie’s life.  Now that I’ve told it several times, and thought about it, I have more questions for her.  So I expect that I will be making another call soon.  This one will be a little easier to initiate since I don’t feel like Sophie is a stranger anymore.

This is a work in progress.  My husband’s grandfather, Nathan is a man of mystery in a family of many mysteries.  I have more questions than answers, but here is what I know so far.

Nathan was born June 3, 1882 to Abraham (Alter) Greenberg and Fannie (Feige) Goldring.  There were never any stories about brothers or sisters so he may have been an only child.  Then again, there were very few stories about his life and even fewer about his family.  It seems more likely that he had siblings but for his own reasons just never talked about his family.  He was born in the shetl of Aleksandriya, Rovno province, in Russia.  Rovno was also the nearest large town or city.  As I have written in an early post, he said that he was apprenticed at a young age (about 7-8 years old which would have been about 1889 or 1890) to a cruel master.  It could be that he either lost touch with his family when he moved, or that he was angry enough at them that he never wanted further contact.  It seems likely that he was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker since that is what Nathan worked at as a young adult.  At some point, Nathan ran away from this apprenticeship and made his way to London.

Map showing Ukraine

It is approximately 1140 miles from his birthplace to London.  He never told anyone where he was living when he fled to London or how old he was at the time. An estimate would be that he was between 16-18 years old at the time, which would have been between 1898 and 1900.  [Update: Cousin Jean says that the only story she heard was that Nathan said he walked out of Russia when he was 15.] I can only imagine that it must have been a long and hazardous journey for a runaway youngster.  He probably didn’t have much (if any) money, so it may have taken a very long time for him to get to London.  And it isn’t clear whether that was his original destination or it was happenstance that he ended up there.  There would have been trains and animal-drawn vehicles, but cars were not yet common, and without money he may have had to walk or hitch rides when he could.

In later years, Nathan told his son that he had lived in the Whitechapel area of London, which was a Jewish area,  and worked as a cabinetmaker.  It was while in London that he met Choneh (Harry) Levine, who was also a cabinetmaker.  Both young men were politically radical and probably active, at least to the extent of belonging to groups or attending speeches and rallies.

Nathan and Harry became very good friend over time.  Harry persuaded Nathan that he should plan to go to America with him and meet his sister Lena.  Harry thought the two of them would be a good match.  Since we know that Lena was politically radical later in life, it is likely that she also was as a young woman.  This may have been the reason Harry thought that they’d be a good couple.  For non-religious Jews, in particular, politics and political groups were often a source of friendships and a community.  At any rate, Nathan did sail to New York, on the SS Pennsylvania from Boulogne on June 5 1904.  He arrived in New York on June 16th.

passenger list SS Pensylvania, June 1904

On the passenger list Nathan was said to have last resided in Liverpool, to have paid his own passage, and to have $10.  He could not read or write, and his occupation was given as cabinetmaker.  His last name was spelled Grinberg (rather than the Greenberg used the rest of his life in the US).  It is difficult to decipher his intended final destination; one in Montreal seems to have been erased and another in New York written more clearly.  It may be that the person named as his contact was actually Harry’s brother Sam.

Sometime in late 1905 or early 1906, Harry and his family, and Nathan, and probably Sam and his family all moved to Syracuse in upstate New York.  Lena was either already there or went with them (I haven’t yet found out when she came to America).  How and when Nathan and Lena met is unknown.  Meet they did, however, and on November 4, 1906 they married in Syracuse.

Marriage certificate for Nathan Greenberg and Lena Levine

They lived in a number of places around Syracuse over the next 15 years or so.

In 1907 Nathan filed a Declaration of Intent to naturalize.  In 1907, too, Nathan and Lena’s first child, my father-in-law, was born.  In 1910 the family appeared on the federal population census  living on South State Street in Syracuse and a city directory shows that Nathan had a furniture store at the same address.  Presumably the family lived in an apartment above the store.

Nathan in front of his store

In 1912 their second child, a daughter, was born.  And in 1914 Nathan’s Petition for Naturalization was finalized and he and Lena became naturalized citizens.  So far I have not found any World War I registration for Nathan.  The family continued to live in Syracuse through 1920 (federal population census).  At that point they were living in a multi-family house with Lena’s brother Sam and his family.  Another of Lena’s cousin’s family lived in a little house in the backyard. 

In about 1924 Nathan moved the family to Buffalo for an unknown reason.  Based on my father-in-law’s memory, it was his senior year in high school and after the school year had started.  According to the 1930 federal population census, as well as a city directory listing, Nathan worked (at least briefly) as an auctioneer for the Empire Outfitting company in Buffalo.  This is a little confusing, since he had always worked as a cabinetmaker, carpenter, and furniture store owner, but I don’t yet know what kind of outfitting this company was selling.

The next mysterious fact about Nathan is that he applied for a Social Security number in 1940, giving a Syracuse address and employer, although the family was still living in Buffalo.  Possibly he had found a job in Syracuse when he couldn’t find one in Buffalo.  By this time he was 58 years old, and it is not clear how much longer he worked or at what kind of jobs.

His wife Lena died in 1959.  It is not clear where Nathan was at this time.  My father-in-law told a story about going to a Jewish undertaker and asked about having his mother buried in the Workmen’s Circle Cemetery, and having one of the Arbeiter Ring men speak at her funeral.  Why Nathan didn’t handle this is unclear, but he may thought that my father-in-law,  who was a lawyer would be better able to take care of the formalities.  Shortly after Lena died Nathan moved to Rochester to live with his daughter and her family, and he lived the rest of his life there.  Nathan died in 1964 and his ashes were buried under a forsythia bush in the yard at the family home.