Like many members of my family, I have been rather uncertain about the early life and background of my mother’s father, Isadore Epstein, who was evidently born 17 April 1886 or 1887 and who died 30 July 1952 in Philadelphia, PA.
To begin with, we have been uncertain of his parentage or the location of his birth. His headstone in Mount Sharon Cemetery (Springfield, Delaware county, Pennsylvania), references him in Hebrew as “Israel bar Elijah,” that it so say Israel son of Elijah. My mother Ruth Epstein Auslander believed Isadore’s father’s name was “Alex” and his mother’s name was Ann (and that her younger sister Ann Epstein Bruckner had been named for her). Ruth thought that like her mother Yetta, Isadore had come from Ukraine, but she was not confident of this. Ruth’s older brother Lou Epstein was under the impression his father Isadore came from “Bryansk” in Russia, which held a Jewish community that was closely related to Ukrainian Jewish communities.
There is some uncertainty about Isadore’s year of birth. His headstone lists his age at death as 66 years, which would imply a birth year of 1886. His death certificate, however, lists his birth year as 17 Apr 1887.
There are not entirely clear records of Isadore’s immigration or his marriage to his wife Yetta, whose gave as her her maiden name “Anderson,” a name which her children did not believe to be her original maiden name. (As I discuss in another post, I have not succeeded in locating any immigration records for Yetta, and remain uncertain as to her natal surname.) It is quite possible that Isadore and Yetta were never legally married but rather only lived in a common law marriage, within which they raised seven children. starting with Morris Epstein, born in Reading on 26 Dec 1924.
Immigration Record for Isador?
The most likely passenger list manifest for Isador is of an “Itzchok Epstein”, age 21 (so born about 1890), occupation tailor, arriving in New York City on 22 May 1911 of the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, from Hamburg (p. 1, line 24). He indicates that his most recent residence in the Old World was with his mother “Hanna Epstein” in Bobruisk (often termed the “second city” of Belarus), and that he was born in Bobruisk. “Hanna” would be consistent with the family’s recollection that Isadore’s mother was named Anna. Isador indicates he is intending to stay with his cousin Joe Epstein, at 372 Cherry Street, on the Lower East Side.
Listed on line 23 of the passenger manifest, evidently traveling with Isadore is Eli Levin, age 19, also a tailor from Bobruisk, who most recently stayed with his father Reuben Levin in Bobruisk. He will be staying with his brother Abraham Levin at 58 Montgomery Street in New York, an address immediately adjacent to where Joe Epstein was living. It seem likely that Isador and Eli were cousins of some sort. (It may be significant that on April 7, 1886, a marriage took place in Bobruysk between Shmul’ Shaya Levin, son of Rakhmiel’ Levin, and Sora Gitlia Epshtein, daughter of Shlioma Epshtein. )
in the 1910 census, a Joe Epstein, occupation painter in a shop, resided on Monroe Street, adjacent to Cherry Street. He lived with his wife Bessie (Esther nee Zugman) and their four daughters Rose, Millie, Tillie and Rachel. His 13 June 1925 Naturalization petition indicates he was born in Vitebsk, Russia. (By 1920, the family had moved up to 112th street.)
Where was Isadore in 1920?
Isadore appears in the 1920 city directory for Reading, Pennsylvania, where Isadore, Yetta, and their children would reside through the 1920s and the 1930s. The 1920 directory lists him as a tailor residing at 500 S. 15th Street in Reading. Isadore is also listed in the Reading city directory in other years, including 1927, 1929, 1934, 1940, and 1941. A newspaper notice from 2 May 1929 notes that the court has authorized the sale of a house belonging to Isadore and Yetta Epstein, perhaps as the result of a foreclosure. We know from family stories that Isadore, who struggled with alcoholism through his life, had frequent financial challenges. The children recalled nights in Reading at which, due to eviction, they had to sleep on cutting tables in a tailor’s shop.
Isadore’s soon-to-be wife, Yetta Anderson, is listed in the 1920 census as residing in Baltimore Ward 6, Maryland on Jackson Square, adjacent to her sister Bessie (born Massie) and brother in law Abraham Labb (born Lebed). I had thought that perhaps Isadore lived in Yetta’s environs, and that is how they met prior to moving to Reading, PA. However, there is no Isador Epstein listed in the 1920 census residing in the Baltimore area in the 1920 census. There are over 100 Isador or Isidor Epstein’s, born in Russia, nationwide listed in the 1920 census. Of these around 25 were born in the 1880s , whom I thought at first might be “our” Isadore, residing in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Mount Vernon NY, New London CT, Chicago, and St. Louis Missouri.
The 1930 census in Reading PA does clearly list “Ischdol” Epstein and his wife “Jennie, who must be Yetta, living with their four sons, Maurice, Harry, Charles, Louis. Isador’s immigration year from Russia is given as 1913. He is working as a tailor in the pressing industry, and the family lives at 309 Belvedere Street in Reading. He is still an alien. Isadore and Yetta are listed in the 1940 census in Reading with all seven of their children; the 1940 census, however, does not list year of immigration.
Knowing Isador’s likely immigration year and the fact that as late as 1930 he remained an “alien,” narrows the candidates in the 1920 census. Considering only unnaturalized tailors or workers in the clothing industry, born around 1886-87 in 1920 who immigrated around 1913, and who do not appear in the 1930 census, the most promising candidate is an “Isaac” Epstein, birth year illegible. He immigrated in 1913, is still an alien, and is working as a clothing presser. Residing in Manhattan Assembly District 2, at 114 Chrystie Street, the heart of the Lower East Side (one block from the present day Tenement Museum) in the home of his niece Bella Lipschitz, with her cousin Elizabeth Epstein. “Isaac” is listed as married, but the identity of his wife is unclear. (The 114 Chrystie street address is one mile northwest of Joe Epstein’s location in 1911 at 372 Cherry Street.)
NOTE: There are two other 1920 candidates who can be safely eliminated:
A, Isadore Epstein, born 1891, immigrated 1911, living in Leonia, Bergen County, NY, married to Rebecca Epstein, with daughters Lily age 8, and Ida, age 5. A tailor in his own shop. Claims that immigration papers are submitted. By 1930, he is naturalized and the family is still living in Bergen County, so he can be removed from consideration
B. Isador “Estein” (sic), born 1887, immigrated 1912, married to an Annie, working as a tailor in a tailor shop in St. Louis, with two young daughter, Fannie, age 4, and Ida, aged 10 months. However, this couple and their daughter appear in St Louis in the 1930 census, so this cannot be “our” Isador.
It is also possible that Isador was evasive with the 1930 census enumerator, and that he actually immigrated earlier than 1913 or thereabouts, in which case many other Isador Epsteins would need to be considered.
Dora and Samuel Epstein
Isador’s son Lou Epstein recalled that his borhter Mo was under the impression that Isador had two brothers, Jacob Epstein and Yuri Epstein, and one sister, Dahle Epstein. Through DNA searches, I have recently made contact with Mark Evans, my “new” second cousin. who is clearly the grandson of Dora Epstein, who must have been Isadore’s sister “Dahle.” Dora (b. 1899) married Samuel Epstein (b. 20 November 1899). According to family stories, Sam adopted Dora’s surname, to assist with his immigration. The family recollection is that Dora immigrated one year prior to Samuel.
Samuel Epstein’s Naturalization Declaration (23 May 1927) is consistent with this story. It indicates he was born in Bobruysk, Belarus., and lived a 2851 West 24th street, Brooklyn. He states he arrived in New York on the the ship “Seitan” from Bremen, Germany in April 1910.
Consulting the passenger manifest lists for 1910, Sam appears to have been the “Gerschon Epstein,” age 22, (so born around 1888) a tailor, on the ship “Zieten” which arrived in New York on 21 April 1910. He lists as his destination Moische Rosenblum, 279 (Prince?) street, NY, NY. “Gershon” states he had been living most recently with his mother, “Masele” (?) (perhaps Mazal?) Epstein, in Bobruisk. (If the family story is correct, Samuel may have misrepresented his natal name, so perhaps his mother in fact had a different surname in Bobruisk.)
Moische Rosenblum may be the same person as Moses M Rosenblum, age 52 (b. 1858), widowed, tailor listed in the 1910 census, residing in Manhattan Ward 7, in the home of his son Abraham Rosenblum. Moses had immigrated about 1887. (Moses may also appears in the 1900 census. married to Eve, at 69 Norfolk Street Street, Manhattan. Ward 7, also in the heart of the the Lower East Side, about three blocks east of the present day Tenement Museum. )
Dora Epstein, in turn, appears to have been established in New York City by this time. The 1910 Federal census, enumerated on 19 April, records Dora Epstein, residing in the home of her sister in law Beckie Epstein on Essex Street, in the Lower East side. Beckie’s son Joe, age 7 lives with them, Beckie is married but it is not clear where her husband is living.
Presumably, within days of the census enumeration, Dora and Samuel wee reunited, following his arrival on the Zieten on or about 21 April. I am not sure if the couple had already been married in Belarus, or if they were formally married in the United States. Dora’s 1910 census entry lists her as single, but I have not found a US marriage record for Dora and Sam. (They may never have undergone a US legal marriage process, just as Isadore and Yetta don’t appear to have been legally Nor havmaried.) e I found a passenger manifest or any naturalization papers for Dora Epstein.
In any event, a decade later, the 1920 census clearly records Samuel and Dora Epstein residing on Prince Street, Ward 4, Newark NJ, with their five year old son Harry Epstein, who was born 11 January 1915. This is the same name that eleven years later Isadore and Yetta would give to their second son, Harry Epstein, born 26 Aug 1926 in Reading PA. Is this coincidence, or were the two couples perhaps naming their sons (who were first cousins) after a common ancestor in the Old Country? (JewishGen’s list of Duma Voters in Belarus does have a 1907 listing for “Girsh Epshsteyn,” son of Lipin, living in Bobruysk, who might a relevant kinsman.)
The 1930 census shows Sam and Dora, with 15 year old son Harry, living at 2859 W. 24th street in Brooklyn, Apt. 241, more or less consistent with Sam’s 1927 Naturalization Declaration form. His World War II registration in 1941 shows Harry working at Rosenbaum Bakery in Brooklyn.
Henry Epstein served in the US Army during World War II, perhaps, his sons think, in the Motor Pool, and was evidently stationed on Okinawa late in the war. (Just before he time he went into the service, he and Gloria Orans (daughter of Morris Orans and Gertude Langer) were married in Elkton, MD in 1941). After discharge, it appears, Harry Epstein began to call himself “Hank Evans,” and his three sons took the surname Evans as well. The 1950 census records Hank Evans, with his wife Gloria, living with their sons Mark and Tedd on Long Island, Hempstead, in Nassau County. NY. Hank is working as a photoengraver. Hank died 14 OCT 1988, and Gloria passed away 25 JUN 1994.
I am not sure how much contact there was during this period between siblings Isadore and Dora. Mark Evans, Dora and Sam’s grandson, recalls family stories about Dora’s brother, ”Uncle Itshka.” I don’t know if the two Harry Epstein’s ever met. By an interesting coincidence, Mark Evans and his family lived for years in Cleveland Park in Washington DC. near where my sister Bonnie and I grew up near Chevy Chase Circle. My late mother Ruth would have been thrilled to know that Dora’s family was so close.
Sam and Dora’s grandsons recall that Sam, like his son Harry (Hank) Evans (Epstein), was active in the ILGWU (the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union), and were of a progressive, pro-labor bent. I do find this an intriguing coincidence: my father’s mother’s family, the Zeltzer and the Weinstein lines, were also from the Bobruisk area and certainly were involved in Yiddish pro-labor progressive social movements, in Belarus and in the United States. Nathan Shaviro, the husband of Sema Weinstein (sister to my great grandmother Chava Weinstein Zeltzer) regularly wrote for the Gerechtigkeit (Justice), the ILGWU newspaper and helped edit it.
My mother Ruth Epstein Auslander often said she felt right at home in my father’s Zeltzer extended family network, and it may be that part of this sense of familiarity was a shared political and cultural orientation, with roots in Bobruysk!
What became of Isadore and Dora’s brothers Yuri and Jacob Epstein?
A possible candidate: Yeer (?) Oscher Epstein, born 1889, arrives on 19 April 1913 in New York from Bremen on the SS Wittekind, line 16, occupation dyer. Most recently staying with his father Isle (?) Epstein in Bobruisk. Intends on staying with cousin Rubin Nafels (?) at 41 Canal Street, New York. Born Bobruisk, Minsk.
This individual’s naturalization declaration of 19 April 1933 gives his occupation as a painter, born 25 October 1888 in Minsk, residing at 321 E. 121st street New York, residing with his wife Nettie, b, 1901. Three children: Murray 9b 22 Sept 1919) , Rose (b. 25 Aug 1921) , and Eve (b. 27 May 1924). The family in 1930 resided at 243 E. 182st in the Bronx, and in 1940 at East 178th Street in the Bronx.
Of these children, Murray (Mortimer, Morton) Epstein in 1950 was residing in Manhattan, married to Ann, working as a clerk in a finance department.
Rose Epstein appears to have kept her surname, and to have died in September 1994; buried at Springfield Gardens, in Queens.
Possible candidate 1: Jacob Epstein , born 1886, arrives on 2 May 1910 on the Carmania, sailing from Liverpool to New York. He is from Minsk, occupation tailor; his most recent residence was with Simel (?) Epstein, his father in Minsk. He is intending to say with his cousin Selden Slits (?) on 84th street in Brooklyn.
Possible candidate 2: 26 December 1908 Naturalization Declaration of Jacob Esptein, (sic) born in Minsk, 10 April 1884, immigrated through Quebec, Canada, arriving via the Boston and Maine railroad 10 October 1894. Resides at 157 Lexington Ave., NY.
A World War II draft registration card records a Jacob Epstein living at 112 Baruch Place, near the East River, giving his birth at December 1884 in Minsk, and employer as Bernstein and Gummer.
However, Sharon reports Lou recalled a family story that Jacob was a sheep farmer who had stayed behind in the Old Country.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Linda Kelly for assistance to putting together many pieces of this puzzle, and to Sharon Hann for her years of work reconstructing Epstein family history.