Friday, January 17, 2014

52 Ancestors- #3 Will the Real John Bennem Please Stand Up?

I’m cheating with this week’s post just a little. I discovered that an author had mixed up generations of John Bennems in her book. So in order to talk about one I feel the need to talk about the others. I’m not tearing down this author’s work because she did a detailed job on other branches of the family which was correct and a fantastic resource for Benham researchers. My goal is to show the process that led to the true identities of the numerous Johns in my family. I am using the spelling I have seen more often with this family. Although, the name was originally Benham the family leaned more towards Bennem or Bennum in later generations.

It does not help anyone that there were four generations of John Bennem living in the same area of New York. Add to that other sons in the family naming their sons John and you have a difficult time distinguishing who is who. The easiest way is to start at the beginning. When I first started researching this family I had the help of my grandfather who knew a lot about his family’s history. His maternal grandmother, Amanda Malvina Bennem, died in 1937 when my grandfather was 12 years old. He lived in the same area as she did so he knew her quite well and remembered a lot of the stories she would tell him about her family. I wrote down what he told me and then started to prove or disprove it. I contacted the church that the family attended since the 1830s and was quickly contacted by a member that asked me some questions and then sent me everything he could find about who I was looking for. If only every church was like that!

I quickly found proof that my grandfather’s memory was incredible. Amanda was the daughter of John Bennem and Sarah Elizabeth Cornell. Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston, Queens, New York sent me family files they had put together for the members of the church. I was in genealogy Heaven! I had a detailed paper with all the births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages, deaths, and burials that occurred in the church. I eagerly entered all the information on my Family Group Records (this was before FTM was my genealogy program drug of choice.) I made note of the few things that stood out and then I dug back in to find out more. I found “The Cornell Genealogy” which talked about this family and even gave another book to check out. I was drooling by this point for all the information I was gathering! I ordered a copy of “The Benham Family In America” by Georgiana Hathaway Randall. I turned to the pages I was supposed to and came to a screeching halt. It had John Bennem Jr., #4, (marrying Sarah Cornell) as the son of John Bennem and Catherine R. Cornell, check. It had John Bennem #4 as being born posthumously August of 1837, check on birthdate but posthumously? Something was setting off bells in my head. She listed a family bible record as a source she used so I ordered that, went home and pulled out all my notes. The bells were driving me crazy.

This was the family as Randall had it (Note: She hadn’t linked the families together):

It turned out that what was bugging me were some entries on the form from Zion. Which, put together with the fact that Randall said John Bennem # 3 died in December of 1836 raised more questions than answers.

Question 1- A birth year of 1803 crossed out? Sounds more like his father’s date than his.
Question 2- I know John Bennem #4 died in 1891 so who was the John Bennem who died in 1874?
Question 3- Vestryman in a church at 6 years old???? Has to be another John Bennem
Question 4- It’s hard to read on the scanned image but it says “Must be father of John” in the special interests, talents, activities. Could this be explaining the other entries I had questions about?

So, I contacted the church yet again and asked about the burial in 1874. They responded that they did indeed have a John Bennem being buried in the Zion Church Yard in 1874 but no idea where. After walking around the church for hours on a later trip to New York I was not able to locate a tombstone for John Bennem or his wife. Logically the next step would be determining who this “other” John Bennem is. I Ordered a copy of the will for the John Bennem who died in 1836 and the 1850-1870 censuses. I also got a copy of the will of Catherine Cornell-Bennem’s sister, Elizabeth in 1843. She mentions her sister “wife of John Bennem”. This is 7 years after Catherine supposedly became a widow. Why have her as wife and not widow? He was living with his wife and family in the 1850-1860 censuses and even with his son, John #4, in the 1870. Needless to say after receiving everything I ordered I realized that John Bennem #3 was not the John Bennem who died in 1836 but the one who died in 1874. So who was the John Bennem who died in December of 1836? Well, it was the father of John Bennem #3.

With the Family Bible in hand I went in search of more wills and church records. For the earlier generations I was going to have to go to Kings County since that is where I had located the families in census records. Since the bible did not list relationships I had to use baptismal and death records to do that. I quickly found a baptismal record that proved the John Bennem (#2) who married Johanna Stoothoff could not have died in 1799 like Randall said. He had children born and baptized after 1800, never had a son named Daniel, and none of his children would have been old enough to be married in 1799. I knew John #2 was alive in 1830 since he was in the census but was dead by the time Johanna died in 1843. He has to be the John Bennem who died in 1836. There is an entry in the Family Bible deaths for John Bennem, 31 December 1836. So, there is a connection and since I proved everyone else he seems to be the only likely candidate. So the 1799 will for John Bennem that was previously linked to this John is who?

Surprise! His father, John Bennem #1. Since he will be another blog post eventually I will not go into a lot of detail. The Bible lists the death of Lena Bennem in September of 1781 and the death of John Bennem, 29 January 1799. The 1790 census household for John Bennem #1 is fully accounted for with no room for a wife and in the 1799 will his wife was already deceased. I found an entry for a John Bennem marrying Helena Lake in 1759. John #1 had a son Daniel, not previously found in the family but is the name of Helena Lake’s father. Daniel’s death (15 February 1813) is also mentioned in the Bible belonging to the John Bennem family. The names, dates, etc. all seem to match the parents of John #2. A note: Daniel married Nellie Johnson and they also had a son John who is represented heavily in records of Kings county.

I did not go into detail about the children of these men because they each had quite a few children and this post would have turned into a book. I thought this would be confusing enough for people without adding more names, dates, and places to the equation. That being said below is my determination of the John Bennems of Kings and Queens county.

Monday, January 13, 2014

52 Ancestors- #2 The Drama of Abraham Popkin

I am sitting here tonight sourcing the numerous newspaper articles about Abraham Popkin and the marriage records for his daughters. There is a lot of information to go through with just the articles alone. Is he a man to be pitied or is he a crook? Newspapers add a whole new dimension to the life of Abraham Popkin.

I will briefly mention the basics of his life until his immigration. He was born In Lida, Vilna, Russia (now Belarus), 1846 to Wulf/Vulf Pupko/Popkin and his wife Leia.  He married Lenah/Leia Herman in Vilijampole, Kaunas, Russia (now Lithuania) in 1871. They immigrated to New York shortly after their marriage. Once in the U.S. they had the following children that I know of: Louis Harold, married Anne Eva Opferkuch, my second great-grandparents; Bertha, married Max Steuer (yes the famous or infamous NYC lawyer); Michael, died in 1903, never married; Emma, married Harry Michaelson; Rose “Rosie”, married Howard J. Rothschild; and Augusta “Gussie, married Vincent M. Plonsky. There were quite a few other children who didn’t survive as Lenah said Michael was her 10th child when he was born in 1880.

The first mention of Abraham in newspapers is in May of 1878 when Abraham Popkin claimed he was mugged. Not very interesting you say? Well, he stated that he was approached by two men who offered him $1,000 worth of counterfeit money for $300. He was to meet them at a saloon to make the exchange. Popkin brought his brother-in-law, Louis Kram, with him. Kram was married to Lenah Herman’s sister Rose. The men said that they refused to do the transfer in a public place so took Abraham into a hallway with Kram keeping watch. Once there they beat up Popkin and stole his money. My guess since Abraham never actually came into possession of the money he couldn’t be charged. 

In April 1884 he was in the news again when two men robbed his store in a very odd way. The men came in and while one distracted Popkin by asking about a cloak the other shoved $116 worth of fabric into his coat. Abraham said he barely recognized the man the girth of his waist had increased so much. He ended up grabbing the man but was struck in the stomach by the other robber. They ran and were caught by a policeman due to the weight of what they had stolen.

1890 his employees refuse to work and sign with union. Abraham was also applauded for a speech he gave about the strike.

Joseph Barondess was found guilty of trying to extort money from the firm of Popkin and Marks in February of 1891.

In October of 1894 his company was expelled from the cloak manufacturers’ Association for violating an agreement when he acceded to the demands of the strikers.

In November 1894 Abraham sued for $750,000 in damages. He said he was the victim of a conspiracy by the Cloak and Suits Manufacturers’ Association. He signed articles with the association but 4 days later went with the union over the cloak manufacturers. The association claimed that Popkin said to two men that his word and signature were not worth a damn. Abraham said that he meant only in regards to his agreement with the association. The remark ruined his business since he could not purchase the goods to make the product. He also said he was asked to leave a restaurant he had dined in for years. 

Popkin and Co. in 1895 locked out workers who demanded higher wages.

September 1898 Popkin & Marks Bankrupt.

1,500 workers at A. Popkin and Co. walk out in August 1899.

November 1899 he was in bankruptcy court with his business A. Popkin and Co.. He was also arrested for grand larceny. He was apparently buying products in NY and sending it to St. Louis to be sold at auction while he was going through insolvency.

In July of 1901 Abraham and his son Michael were both arrested for trying to bribe a customs official. Apparently Abraham offered an inspector $100 to let his son Michael’s bags go through customs without being searched. The person representing Abraham was actually Senator Grady.

Yet again a petition of bankruptcy was filed in regards to Abraham Popkin and Co. in August of 1901.

If you thought his life was interesting enough…

Abraham couldn’t even die without some drama surrounding it. He died 1 April 1903 and was buried on the third of April. His death certificate, obituary and cemetery records all confirm the first. Not dramatic yet as you have guessed. Well, he was yet again in bankruptcy proceedings. He had a life insurance policy for $24,000. The money was to go to his widow if he died after April 7th but to his creditors if he died before. So Lenah shouldn’t have gotten the money but she did. Max Steuer, their son-in-law, went to court and somehow proved that Abraham did not die until April 8th. I am curious how he managed to do that since Abraham had already been buried for 5 days before he supposedly died.

Whether he was a crook or not is up to you. Even though he was living on the upper east side of NYC with a maid and a cook was he doing what he could to survive in the lifestyle he had grown accustomed to?  The decision he made to break his agreement with the association may have been the start of the end for his business dealings. Did he think the workers were being treated unfairly and went with them or was he just trying to keep his company afloat? Was he afraid he would end up with nothing again? This was a man who left Russia at a time when it was dangerous to be Jewish. He came to the United States with a young bride and a pair of scissors and made something of himself for a time. He was in the same shoes as the people who were striking so I like to imagine that there was some good in him. But the fact a few years later he locked workers out for demanding more money......

52 Ancestors- Mary Burton Shick(s) Frank Primavera #1

I am starting late since I just discovered the challenge the other day. Then it took me several days to decide who to start with. Mary's father would have been an awesome choice but I already wrote a blog post about him. So I've decided to start with his daughter. It will include quite a bit of rambling but the post is a research problem I am facing. How to prove Samuel is her father.....

I remember handing my great-grandmother (Mary) a record with her father's name on it in 1993 give or take a year. Sadly, she didn't know his name until that moment. The record was a marriage license for her parents. But how do I prove that her parents are her parents? Well, you would think since she was born in 1905 that there is a good chance a birth certificate exists. You would be wrong. The state of Delaware, where she was supposedly born, did not require birth records until Mary was 6 years old. What did she use as proof of birth? A letter from her aunt saying she was who she was. Baptism record? None found so far but it is my only hope and I am still searching.

What she said after she saw his name led me on a wild goose chase that lasted several years. She told me she remembered meeting a man by the name of Sam Shick once. Her mother, Edna Deputy, had taken her to Trenton, Mercer, NJ on the train. She remembered the sign on the bridge ("Trenton Makes the World Takes"), a bus ride, and a man she couldn't physically describe. She couldn't tell me how old she was but thought she may have been 12 at the time so it would have been about 1917. That was the last time she saw her father. He would die 8 years later. Only a month before his daughter's marriage.

So, I have no papers specifically naming Samuel as Mary's father. The only record of the family together was the 1910 census. But since there are no records saying my great-grandmother was even a Shick I'm at a dead end. I do have the marriage license though and Samuel's death record saying he was married to Edna Deputy (a story all on it's own and maybe a future post.) I have records saying Edna Deputy is Mary's mother. However, the same records say her father was Gus Frank, her step-father.