Three Brothers Came to America…

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.

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2 comments on “Three Brothers Came to America…
  1. Pat says:

    Thanks Joan. I’m looking forward to more from Sophie too! And hope to put more of this family together to make sense of their paths.

  2. Joan says:

    Good job of seeking out and connecting — to say nothing of putting together the pieces of the story. I am looking forward to more tidbits from Sophie.

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