Sam Silver

Sam Silver was my grandfather’s brother, my great-uncle. Unless he is the oldest man in the world, in which case he probably would have been in the newspapers and I would know where he is, he is long deceased by now.  I’m fairly certain that he is buried in either Colorado or California, more about that later.

Why am I looking for Sam?  Yes, there’s the usual stuff about finding the relatives, especially the close ones, but that’s not really it.  Sam fascinates me because he seems to have been absolutely different from the rest of my family.

Look at this picture. 

He is so dapper, so debonaire, so Fred Astaire. No one in my sober, nose-to-the grindstone family ever looked like this.  Honestly, how could any family lose track of this man?

When Sam was a young man my father remembers a visit to my grandparents home in Philadelphia.  Sam and his wife Gertie were stopping by on their way to Colorado.  Here’s another thing my family didn’t do–move.  They made the long journey from Russia, got off the boat and rooted themselves firmly in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. My grandparents did move around a bit, but they had the good sense to come back and nest among family.  Not Sam.  Sam was on his way to Colorado.

My father told me that Uncle Sam went to Colorado to be a cowboy.  If you’ve read any of my blogs about my family you will know that we are completely urban people.  When I moved eight miles outside of New Haven, a city of 100,000, my mother declared that I was living in the middle of nowhere.  There were no cowboys in our family.

As it turns out Sam wasn’t a cowboy either. The 1920 census finds the family living in Denver.  Sam was the owner of a soft drink parlor. He and Gertie had two children, Joseph and Lillian. What I can’t figure out is if my father was having a joke with me when he told me the cowboy story or if his Uncle Sam had the joke on my Dad, who was 8 or 9 at the time of the visit.

I have no other census information for Sam, not 1900, when he was about 20 years old, not 1910, about the time he got married.  In 1900 my grandfather and his wife and one year old daughter were living with Sam’s parents. Where was Sam?  He may have been in the army.  This is another thing my family didn’t do.  After a narrow escape from 25 years in the Russian army military life was not so appealing. Family lore says Sam fought in the Spanish-American War.  It is virtually impossible for me to picture one of my very urban family, the man who owned the soft drink parlor, charging up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt.  There is, however, a picture of Sam in uniform.  The picture was taken in Chattanooga.  I don’t have any details about his service.

So, I guess that Sam came home from the army, got married and struck out for the west.  That same 1920 census says that Sam’s wife and daughter were born in Louisiana.  Did they go there before Colorado, after Colorado? I don’t know.

Here is another photo of Sam.  A tourist photo from Arkansas.

I know that Sam and Gertie’s daughter, Lillian, died in Denver at the age of 11.  I don’t know what became of their son Joseph. If he is alive he would be 99 by now. My mother said that Sam retired to California.  Perhaps his son was living there.

In the final analysis I think Sam and his family in Colorado were not really lost to my East Coast family.  I don’t remember letters or phone calls, but I was probably young when Sam died and not interested in letters from people I didn’t know.  Visits were too expensive for families with little money, so I think no one on my side of the family saw him after he moved to Colorado. I expect there are grandchildren around my age.  I would love to find them and learn  what they know about Uncle Sam, the cowboy.


I have two pictures of my great-grandparents, Mendel and Lena Silverman with my grandfather and his brother dressed in Russian Cossack outfits.

These are not two different pictures; they are the same picture pasted on different card stock from different studios.

Here is the photo I showed in The Silvermans Come to America.













Decreasing the quality of the image shows that this photo was taken by George H Rosenblatt, 202 Broadway, New York.


Here is the second copy.














The back of this photo is in Russian.  A friend translated it for me.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              










It says photograpgic studio of Josef Wasilewski, Stavropol, Kavkaz.  Stavropol is the city where my great-grandparents lived.  Kavkaz is the area like a state or province.  Tiny letters at the bottom of the back of the photo say Trapp and Munch.Wien



I have figured this much of the mystery out .  Trapp and Munch were the papermakers, located in Vienna.

This photo was taken at about the time the family emigrated, so it is possible that it was taken in either country, although I do find it hard to believe that they brought the Cossack outfits with them.

There is one more interesting bit. At the bottom of the front side of the photo with the Russian studio information in very small red letters it says  J.Wasilewski–in English.


Why would a Russian photographer have his name in English on the front of a photo?

So, I am left with a mystery.  Where was this picture taken?

Any ideas?


Photography has been a vital element of family history since its earliest days.  We cherish the oldest photographs taken when photography was an art practiced by a knowledgeable few.  Now we live in an age where every moment of our children’s lives is recorded, photographed, videotaped.

The photos I have been looking at lately were taken by a bygone class of photographers, itinerant street photographers.  These photographers would come to the neighborhood and take pictures of the children.  The pictures could then be sold to the proud parents.  In the neighborhood where my family lived  when I was young the photographer came with a prop, a pony and sometimes cowboy or girl costumes.  No urban kid could resist climbing on the pony and it was a hardhearted parent who wouldn’t scrape together the money for a photo.

I believe I must have some of the earliest of these “pony” photos.

The first photo I have of our neighborhood pony is one of my mother’s cousins taken around 1906.

Ida and Belle


Here is my father about 1916.

My Father 1916

My mother’s twin brothers were not far behind in 1924 and my cousin Danny in 1928

Herb and Syd

Danny 1928















The later era of pony photography included costumes.

My brother about 1947

Two of my cousin Hank.


Cousin Hank

Cousin Hank

















There is a picture of me on that pony, but I cannot lay my hands on it.  So, here is a picture of me at the age of three.

Me--No Pony

Please imagine me sitting on that pony in full cowgirl regalia imagining a life in the wide open spaces.

Finally, any of you who have looked at these pictures can plainly see that there is more than one pony involved between 1906 an 1954.  Yet in my mind and my heart there was one pony and I loved that pony in the way that only a small girl can love a pony.  I love him to this day.  In my mind’s eye I see him romping in pony heaven, munching on whatever ponies like to munch on, perhaps accompanied by a lovely female pony and surrounded by adoring little ponies.  That’s the way I see it.  Please don’t mess it up with reality, there’s way more than enough reality to go around.


This is the final part of four of the story of my grandfather, Alexander Silver. Follow the links for Parts I, II, and III.

My grandparents settled in Philadelphia by 1920.

They lived first in the Strawberry Mansion section of Philadlephia where we all lived when I was born.

My grandfather, my brother and me

Later we all moved to West Oak Lane where my grandparents and my father lived until they passed away.

Over their 66 years of marriage there were many births and celebrations.  I am putting up some photos.

My Grandmother Pauline

Sixtieth Anniversary

I will expand on this story at a later date.

This is the third part of a series about my grandfather, Alexander Silver.  You can read Parts I and II by following the links.


Alexander Silver married Pauline Bublick in November of 1896.  He was twenty years old and she was eighteen.  In 1900 the young couple and their first child, Ethel, were living with his parents on the Lower East Side of New York.

Pauline and Alex about 1896

Alex and Ethel



At the turn of the twentieth century the Lower East Side was a neighborhood teeming with newly arrived immigrants, half of them were Jewish, upwards of 350,000 people and they were all crammed into two square miles at the tip of Manhattan.  The Silvermans were living at 31 Forsyth Street, a typical tenement building.


Hester Street 1903


Forsyth Street















Many of the women in the tenements worked in the garment industry.  Conditions in the factories were difficult, long hours, low wages and terribly unsafe working conditions.  Even with the brutal conditions these jobs were sought after.  Many women and children did piecework if they couldn’t get a factory job or needed to be home with young children.   I found an interesting photo of an unknown female relative from this period.  I don’t know who this woman is, but the back of the photo holds a typical list of piece work either to be done or already finished.

Unknown Woman

Piece work list















By 1902 my grandfather was involved in the growing labor union movement in the United States.  He became a recruiter for the Capmaker’s Union and spent at least ten years traveling the country working for the union. Although his citizenship papers say that his second child, Sylvia, was born in New York my grandparents and my aunt always said that she was born in New Orleans while he was working for the union. By 1907 they would be living in Detroit where my father was born in 1909.

Pauline, Alex, Ethel, and Sylvia

Alex, Pauline, and Stanley with family friends






Grandpa and Grandma never spoke much about this period in their life.  By 1920 they would be settled in Philadelphia where Grandma’s family was already established.  They would spend the rest of their lives there.

I’ll say more about their years in Philadelphia in my next post.