Bertha Rothschild Ballin, 9 November 1823 – 15 January 1882

Ancestry.com, National Archives and Records Administration

Bertha Ballin was the fourth child and first daughter born to Ascher Rothschild and Sprinza Sternberg, and the granddaughter of Salomon Abraham Rothschild. Like the rest of her siblings, she was born in Vöhl, Hesse, Germany.

Bertha was an enigma for quite awhile. We found census records of Jacob James Otto Rothschild living with her and her husband, then living with her after her husband’s death. I assumed he was a border. And then I found a US Passport application for him, and one for her on the next page. The Passport application, dated 10 August 1871, gave me a date of birth, 9 November 1824. It also listed her place of birth as Voehl Prussia. That DEFINITELY caught my attention, and had me questioning their relationship. At this point in my research, I had heard that Ascher and Sprinza had a daughter named Rebecca, to whom he had presumably given 10,000 guilders so she could go off and make her way in the world. Could this be the missing sister? Maybe. I already knew that people in this family can be born with one name and end up with a dozen others. Or could it be another sister? Shortly after finding this, I received an email from Karl-Heinz Stadtler in Vöhl telling me he’d found a record of Bertha Rothschild, daughter of Ascher Rothschild and Sprinza Sternberg, married to Max Ballin in Gießen. Ok. Another sister. Cool!

According to the records from Giessen, she was the wife of Meier Max Ballin, a fabric merchant, and had been accepted as a citizen of Giessen 11 February 1847.  At that time, it indicated that she had been married to Meier at the age of 22, which would have been in 1846.  This corresponds with her birthdate of 1824.

Boston Eagle 7 November 1854

The next mention we have of Bertha’s husband Max is from a news clipping of the Boston Eagle dated 7 November 1854. Apparently Max was involved in a lawsuit where he was accused — and found guilty — of putting fake labels on an inferior product and trying to pass it off as high-quality champagne. I especially like the argument his attorney gives for why he shouldn’t serve time.

Given that both Bertha and James Otto applied for passports on the same day, with the intent of traveling to Germany, I like to think they were going home to visit the family.

The next mention we have of Bertha’s husband, Max, is from a small article in the Boston Eagle, dated 7 November 1854. By this time, Max was a wine merchant, and was involved in a lawsuit where he was charged with putting fake labels on an inferior product and passing them off as high-quality champagne. I love this brief news clipping, especially the reasoning his attorney gives for not sentencing him. So, not the straightest arrow in the quiver, old Max.

The next we hear of Bertha is from a ship’s manifest for the SS Hammonia, which departed Hamburg on 22 February 1862. I’m assuming she was coming back to New York after a visit to family. She traveled first class, listed her age as 36, which puts her birth year at 1826.

Max was born 14 March 1813 in Rotenburg an der Fulda, Hesse, Germany, the son of Nathan Ballin and Betty Wertheim. He declared his intent to become a US Citizen on 29 October 1853, listing his residence as New York and his profession as wine merchant. Max died from Consumption on 29 October. He left a very detailed — and interesting — will. It [1] was filed with the court on 9 November 1869.  In it, he lists Joseph and Samuel Seidenberg as his executors.  He instructed them to invest the sum of $10,000 in whatever manner they saw fit, and that the interest derived was to be given to his wife Bertha.  Additionally, he left her all the furniture, portraits, kitchenware and household goods.  Another $10,000 was to be invested, with the interest to go to his mother, Betty Ballin, living in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.  There were a couple of smaller bequests, but he left the bulk of his estate to be divided equally among his siblings, and/or his nieces and nephews.  Max states that he was 62 at the time he wrote his Will.

The executors, Joseph and Samuel Seidenberg, took their responsibility quite seriously, and I get the feeling they didn’t really like Bertha. On 3 April 1870, they filed a detailed inventory of Max’s estate with the court. To say it was extensive would be an understatement. It listed every article that was in the home from tablecloths to carpets to bedding to furniture. And it was all given a value. A second page lists everyone to whom Max had lent money, with the amount due listed in one of the following three columns: Good, Doubtful, Bad. There were 4 members of the Rothschild family listed:

Isaac Rothschild, New York, $835.96, Doubtful

Justus Rothschild, Wien (Vienna), $39, Good

Jas. O. Rothschild, Hoboken, $330, Doubtful

Ad. Rothschild (no location), $87.86, Doubtful

Justus Rothschild is the son of Bertha’s oldest brother, Siegmund. I believe Ad. Rothschild to be Adolph Rothschild, Bertha’s next youngest brother. That no location is listed for him doesn’t surprise me, as he moved a lot.

On 28 June 1871, Bertha filed a petition with the Chancery Court of New Jersey, contesting her husband’s Will in general, and the accounting practices of the executors in particular. But a ruling dated 21 October 1871 stated the Will would stand, as would the value of the estate as determined by the executors.

The 1880 census shows Bertha living at 127 Garden Street in Hoboken, New Jersey, the same address where she and Max had lived since moving to America. They often had boarders living with them in the large townhouse. While her brother, James Otto, wasn’t living with her in 1880 — at that time he was living with their niece Sophie Rothschild Einstein and her family in St. Louis — she did have Rafael and Lily Palomina of Cuba living with her. Also per the 1880 census, she listed her age as 42. Hey, I get it. We women reach a certain point where we are in denial of how old we really are, and Bertha was no exception.

On 15 January 1882, after 6 days of illness, Bertha passed away from Smallpox, with “disease of the heart” as a contributing factor. She was buried in Hoboken Cemetery in North Bergen, New Jersey. Her death certificate lists her age as 57, which lines up with her 1824 birthdate.

I found the following information about the cemetery at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoboken_Cemetery: The Hoboken Cemetery is located at 5700 Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen, New Jersey, in the New Durham section. It was owned by the City of Hoboken. The Flower Hill Cemetery borders it on two sides. Although one may have the sense of a well-groomed and cared for cemetery when first arriving at Hoboken Cemetery, just a short walk in any direction and you will find a different story. The Secaucus Junction was built on land that was partially the Hudson County Burial Grounds. The exhumed bodies were to be re-interred at the Hoboken Cemetery, but that was canceled when the cemetery was found to have been recycling older full graves that did not have tombstones, and selling them as virgin plots. The cemetery said it has no record of any bodies being buried in those plots.

Ordinarily, if the person and their spouse are both dead, then I call the blog post complete and I move on. But Bertha is a different story. It turns out, she held the key to finding out the names of all of her siblings.

When Camille and I went to Vöhl in 2019, she took pictures of all the legible headstones in the old Jewish cemetery, and created a virtual cemetery at findagrave.com. A few months later, she was contacted by a man named Bill in New Jersey. He’s descended from the Jews of Vöhl, had found his ancestor’s headstone, which he didn’t know existed, and had reached out to Camille. Before long, she looped me in on their emails, and the three of us had some great exchanges. One day, Bill sent us an email, stating he’d done a quick search for Bertha, and had found a notice in the newspaper about her estate, listing a number of different people, namely: Isaac Rothschild, James Otto Rothschild, Adolph Rothschild, Sophie Rothschild Einstein, Justus Rothschild, Selig Rothschild, Friedericke Rothschild and Ernst Wilhelm Eberwein, Adolph Rothschild and Kathinka Luja Rothschild, Moritz Rothschild and Karolina Lieber Rothschild, and Rudolph, Otto, Viktor, and Richard Emmanuel. Camille and I were baffled. We knew all the other names by now, figured Friedericke was the elusive Rebecca. But who was the Emmanuel family? We started digging. And finally found the elusive Rebecka Rothschild, who hadn’t run off to seek her fortune, but who had married Rudolph Emanuel and became the mother of 3 sons.

That newspaper article made me curious, and I reached out the Chancery Court of New Jersey, got a copy of all the court papers related to the newspaper article. Apparently, Bertha left her estate to her siblings and, if they were deceased, to her sibling’s children. She listed spouses names for everyone. It was an absolute treasure trove of information! But remember Joseph and Samuel Seidenberg, the executors of her husband’s estate? Well, somehow they made themselves the trustees of Bertha’s estate and were reluctant to hand things over to the rightful heirs. Her brother James Otto Rothschild was supposed to be the primary executor of her estate. Since the Seidenbergs weren’t cooperating, the family banded together and filed a petition to gain possession of the estate. The battle went on for months before the family finally won. When all was said and done, they divided an estate worth about $3000. After all the court fees, I’m not sure there was much left.

I’m sorry the family had to go through this. But I’m grateful the family went through this, because the 80 plus pages turned out to be a genealogist’s dream! A positive well-spring of information. Here is a list of all the family members who are mentioned:

James Otto Rothschild, brother; Isaac Rothschild, brother; Moses Rothschild, brother, and his wife Caroline Rothschild; Adolphus Rothschild, brother, and his wife Kathinka Rothschild; Sophie Einstein, niece, and her husband William Einstein; Justus Rothschild, nephew, and his wife Julia Rothschild; Richard Emanuel, nephew; Otto Emanuel, nephew; Victor Emanuel, nephew; Rudolph Emanuel, husband of deceased sister Rebecca Emanuel; Friederick Eberwein, sister, and her husband Pastor William Eberwein; Sophie Flatau, niece, and her husband Moritz Flatau; Fannie Hirschhorn, niece, and her husband Isaac Hirschhorn.

And that is the story of Bertha Rothschild Ballin. Bless you, Bertha, for all the information you provided us!

Next up is Jacob James Otto Rothschild. Until then, everyone stay safe!

After careful consideration, I’ve changed her year of birth from 1824 to 1823. Please see the Addendum blog post for the explanation.


[1] Author: New Jersey. Surrogate’s Court (Hudson County); Probate Place: Hudson, New Jersey

Published by Elizabeth Foote

I am a wife, step-mother, auntie, daughter, sister, friend. I love family history, restoration projects, counted cross-stitch, quilting, and photography. I am grateful for the blessings that abound in my life.

4 thoughts on “Bertha Rothschild Ballin, 9 November 1823 – 15 January 1882

  1. That will and the litigation it caused were truly a goldmine! It seems Max did pretty well for himself. I wonder why he named the Seidenbergs executors rather than James, the brother. Perhaps your next post will reveal why.

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    1. Honestly, I have no idea why he appointed the Seidenbergs executors of his estate rather than a family member. I suspect he and Bertha didn’t have the best relationship. And it’s possible he didn’t like his brothers-in-law. They did owe him money, after all.

      Liked by 1 person

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