I wrote recently about my grandfather’s brother, Sam Silver.  Sam was a handsome man who served in the Spanish-American War and disappeared, both from our family history and from the census and other written documents until reappearing in the 1920 census in Colorado.

During my recent trip to Washington, D.C. I was able to visit the National Archives and have a look at Sam’s pension file.

Sam moved to Los Angeles in early 1925 and died there on December 12, 1925. Shortly before his death he applied for a pension based on his military service.  His wife, Gertrude continued the application after Sam’s death.  There were bureaucratic problems as Sam was enlisted under the name of Silverin and applied for a pension as Silverin, but all of the other documents in his life correctly list him as Sam Silver.

I have many more bits and pieces of Sam and Gertrude’s story, but for now I think it is best to let Gertrude speak for herself.  Here is Gertrude’s affidavit written for the Pension Office of the Veteran’s Administration and received by them on October 25, 1930. I have corrected grammar and sentence structure for ease of reading.  A scan of the original document is on the right..  A fold in the paper obscures one line and I have filled it in as I remember it.

 

” I Gertrude Silverin, age 41 years old.  I am the wife of the late Samuel Silverin or as everybody called us, Mr. and Mrs. Sam L Silver for short. [Sam] passed away Dec. 12, 1925 at the Kasper Kohn Hospital.

In October 1903 Samuel Silverin and I ran away from my home which was in New Orleans and came to San Francisco .  We went to a Jewish rabbi whose name I do not remember now and we went through what I though was a legal Jewish marriage.  The rabbi gave me a Jewish certificate.  At the time of my marriage I was 14 years old.  During the great fire of San Francisco in 1906 we, like countless others, lost everything including my Jewish certificate.  We the moved to Denver Colorado and never thought of the certificate anymore until our children arrived.  Then Mr. Silverin tried for a number of years to locate the rabbi that married us but was unable to find any trace of him.  Then Mr. Silverin tried to find out if our marriage was ever recorded, but to my sorrow it never had.  But as the children were getting older Mr. Silverin and I decided to go through a civil marriage which we did at Golden, Colo on Aug. 27, 1919.  Of our union 4 children were born, 3 died and only one son, Joseph, 19 years old living and is self-supporting to the best of my knowledge.  My Samuel Silverin was never married to anyone before he married me.  My maiden name was Gertrude F Eliach.  I was never married to anyone before or since I married Mr. Silverin or as we were always called Mr. and Mrs. Sam L Silver.  I have tried to get affidavits from  parties that knew Mr. Silverin from the time he became of marriageable age [but both his parents are dead and Alex Silver his] brother died 3 years ago.  The soldiers name is Samuel Silverin.”

 

A few things stand out for me.  Both Sam’s mother and his brother were very much alive in 1925.  Was there a family rift or was it simpler to say that everyone who knew Sam was dead?  Sam’s brother, Alex, and his family were living in New Orleans at the time that Sam and Gertrude eloped.  There must be a connection that brought both the brothers to New Orleans, but I don’t know who got there first or why.

Whatever the complete story is, and I am certainly still trying to track it down, this much appears to be true.  Gertrude Eliach ran away with Sam Silver to a place over 2000 miles away.  They remained together for 22 years until Sam died and left her a widow at the age of 36.

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.

 

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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Part I of this series I listed some of the facts I know about my grandfather’s life.  In this post I have turned those facts into a story

My grandfather’s story is in many ways an ordinary story.  Grandpa’s is the Eastern European Jewish version of the story, but there is an Irish version, an Italian version, a German version, a Japanese version, a version for every ethnicity.  If you are African-American it is a different story.  Lack of choice changes the story, but mine is the ethnic story. You know this story, briefly, oppression in the homeland, leave everything and take a boat to a new country, arrive somewhere where you don’t speak the language, live in harsh, soul-crushing poverty, survive and thrive. These stories are common, yet I find them extraordinary.  A million people or more arrived in this country every year between 1890 and 1910.  These were primarily Eastern Europeans and my grandfather was one of them.

Why did he come?  At the end of the 18th century Catherine the Great, Czar of Russia, created the Pale of Settlement where the Jews of Russia would be forced to live.  The Pale included what is now the Ukraine, Poland and other areas.  The laws became more and more restrictive over time.  Even within the Pale Jews could not own land, paid extra taxes and could not attend university.   Eventually Russian law demanded that large numbers of Jews between the ages of 12 and 25 serve 25 years in the Russian army.  Any community that failed to provide its quota would be punished. The Silvers or Silvermans, as they were known then, left Russia forever when their oldest son was twelve. In light of the alternatives emigration to America looked good, even if the streets weren’t paved with gold.

In August of 1891 the Silverman family arrived in New York on the S.S. La Champagne having left Le Havre, France eight days earlier.

My grandfather traveled with his parents, Mendel and Lina and his brother Sam.  I have no idea how they got to Le Havre, most likely by rail. They may have stayed in France for a while, my father recalls his father speaking of time in France.  My cousin remembers being told they spent time in Ireland. Whatever their route and whatever the delays they came through the Barge Office in New York and started a new life.

The Barge Office New York---- Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

First Photo in America Mendel, Lina, Alex and Sam

 

There is much more to this story and there will be a Part III.

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