Abraham Rothschild was born 28 December 1829 in Vöhl, Hesse, Germany, the 7th child and 4th son of Ascher Rothschild and Sprinza Sternberg. Abraham was not quite 4 when his mother Sprinza passed away in 1833, and he most certainly would have gone to live with his guardians, Ruben Rothschild and Helene Sternberg.
Abraham appeared in the militray records of 1849 with the comment, “Economist, rich, can handle horses.” Whether or not he was able to pay for someone to take his place is unknown. For me, it was interesting to learn he was good with horses, as I’ve loved them all my life. Two years later, in 1851, Abraham purchased a home certificate for the city of Offenbach, which was valid for two years. It is a reasonable assumption that he was living with his oldest brother, Siegmund, who had settled there with his wife, Betti, and their two children, Sophie and Justus. In 1854, he received a home certificate, for an indefinite duration, for the Electorate of Hesse. I believe that means he could live anywhere within the Hessian boundaries. And on 7 May 1858, he received a concession for an Inn. If he had the intentions of opening an Inn, he never followed through.
Abraham’s father, Asher, passed away 13 January 1859. I believe this was a turning point for Abraham, because 18 months later, he converted to Christianity, changed his name with the city registrar in Vöhl, and 2 months after that he married a Gentile. How and why did this happen?
Family Lore on this point is the same in both the EO Roth and the Augusta Rothschild Calman families, even though these two branches of the family didn’t communicate with each other for the better part of 100 years: Abraham the Merchant met Kathinka the Barmaid when he was 24 and she was 14, probably in her hometown of Hanau. Part of me, of course, was initially shocked at the idea of a mere child working in a tavern and serving beer at the age of 14. But then I reminded myself people were considered adults at 16, and expected to earn a living. This story about the tavern continued to be shared and retold within the family — we even included it in our pageant at the last family reunion in July of 2019! But in August of 2019, that story changed.
I had written to the city archive office in Hanau, asking for information about the marriage of Adolph and Kathinka. Frau Rademacher turned out to be incredibly helpful, and over the course of just a couple of weeks, flooded my email inbox with countless documents and pieces of information. And when I told her how Adolph and Kathinka had met, she did some more digging, and found this great newspaper article from 1852, announcing that Christiane Luja, nee Heyl, had taken over the local Tobacconist shop, and had added other locally sourced items and colonialware. That one newspaper article changes the story. I’m still 100% certain they met in Hanau, and that it’s extremely likely Adolph was there in association with his father’s merchant business. I am now 100% convinced they met at her mother’s shop, where Kathinka was doing her bit to help the family business. We know he smoked, likely cigars, so it makes sense that he would enter the shop. And with a beautiful young woman waiting on him, I’m sure he made it a point to visit every time he was in town.
Regardless of how or where they met, they waited a long time to get married. Once we figured out Kathinka was Lutheran (again, I can’t believe how long it took me to realize that), it made sense that her parents wouldn’t want her to marry a Jewish boy, no matter how nice he was. And after finding his baptismal record, Camille and I came up with a new supposition: following the death of his father in January 1859, Abraham mourned his father for 12 months, as was customary for a good Jewish boy. And following that 12 months, he sought out a parish and a pastor where he could begin his conversion. On a map, the church of Burg Gemünden is about halfway between Vöhl and Hanau. Perhaps he chose it because it was on his way to and from Hanau on family business, and away from his siblings, who must surely disapprove of his conversion.
I know what you’re thinking: why would they disapprove when sister Friedericke had already married a Lutheran minister? Well, they probably wouldn’t. But when we learned about the time and date of his conversion, we hadn’t learned about that family connection. Again, it took awhile to piece everything together. And before my email conversation with Frau Rademacher in Hanau, our theory was this: Abraham was baptized on 1 June 1860 (fact), had traveled to Hanau, married his One True Love, returned to Vöhl, and 2 weeks after his baptism went to the city registrar’s office and changed his legal name from Abraham to Adolph. It’s close, but the amazing Frau Rademacher provided us with enough documentation to give us a definitive timeline on the marriage, and the civic record of Vöhl filled in the rest.
Abraham Rothschild was, on 1 June 1860, after months of study, and going before the board to prove his understanding of Christianity, and his acceptance of the Lutheran faith, was baptized by his brother-in-law, Pastor Wilhelm Eberwein, and given the Christian name of Adolph. On June 17th, Abraham Rothschild went to the city registrar’s office, changed his given name to Adolph, and the denomination of religion “Mosaic” was crossed and replaced with “Lutherisch”. Less than a month later, on the 10th of July 1860, the banns were read announcing the intended marriage of Adolph Rothschild, a farmer and miller, to Maria Elisabethe Katherine Luja. They were repeated two other times, and the marriage was formalized on 8 August 1860.
Like most young couples, they wasted no time starting a family, and their daughter Wilhelmina “Minnie” was born sometime in 1861. I have to wonder if she was named after her uncle, Pastor Wilhelm Eberwein. Given that all of Adolph and Kathinka’s children seem to be named after various family members, this make sense to me. This is the only photo we have of Minnie, and was almost certainly taken in St. Louis, where she lived most of her life.
The civic records of Vöhl are full of interesting snippets of information on all sorts of topics, and 1862 finds our Adolph in their records.
“On October 22, and 8 o’clock, the Rothschild’s maid, Elisabeth Jekel from Freihagen, complained that her employer had hit her with a stick and scolded her. She demands that he be reported, but has to admit that no one witnessed the incident. On the morning of October 23rd, Rothschild reports the maid because she “during the night secretly removed [herself] from his house and took some pieces with her.” He demands that “the escaped person be brought back to service.” The official handling the matter advised the district office that [several] servants had often complained about Adolph Rothschild, “and didn’t stay long in his services.”
Given the timing of this, Kathinka must have been quite distressed, and I hope they were able to hire a new maid soon (and that Adolph was nicer to her!) because on 8 November of that year, their daughter Augusta Mathilda was born. I believe she was named for her fathers two half-sisters, Auguste and Mathilda, who both converted to Christianity when they got married.
This is the nicest picture we have of Augusta, but not the only. I promise you’ll see them in a later post. From her grandson we’ve learned she was a force to be reckoned with!
Things were pretty quiet for the next few years. Well, at least there were no more reports of servant abuse! On 1 December 1864, Adolph and Kathinka welcomed their 3rd child and first son. And I think they were trying to cover ALL the family bases, because they named him Georg Reinhardt Heinrich Adolph Rothschild. His baptismal record, dated 4 December, tells us he was named for his maternal grandfather, Georg Carl Christoph Reinhardt Luja, for his paternal uncle, Heinrich Calman (married to Adolph’s half-sister, Auguste Rothschild), and for his father, Adolph. I love that the first witness signature is that of his mother: Maria Rothschild (aka Kathinka), then Adolph, then Kathinka’s brother Friedrich Luja. If anyone can make out that last signature, please let me know!
We’ll never know what prompted Adolph to move his family from Germany to America, but in June 1866, the family traveled to Bremen and boarded the SS Bremen. The traveled as First Cabin Passengers of the Lower Salon. So, not quite the very best the ship had to offer, but it’s safe to say they traveled in style. They arrived in New York on 3 July 1866, processing through Castle Garden (the predecessor of Ellis Island). For decades, the family believed Adolph and Kathinka were all alone. But we now know his brother Isaac was living in New York, while brother James Otto and sister Bertha were living just across the river in New Jersey. Was there a big party to welcome the weary travelers? Were they put up for a few days – or weeks – until Adolph could establish himself and find some work? I honestly don’t know. I’d like to think so, because I believe family was important to him. I know that leaving home must have been bittersweet. On the one hand, the horizon was filled with adventure and limitless possibilities. On the other, they almost certainly wouldn’t ever see again the loved ones they were leaving behind. My mom talked to me once about our English ancestors, standing by the rail, waving, long after they could no longer see the faces of their loved ones, no longer see the buildings, until finally even that last slip of land had vanished from view.
Coming to America was definitely a turning point for Adolph, Kathinka, and their children. But this entry in a ship’s manifest was a turning point for mom’s research. Finding it, and then talking with her father, was the realization that the family name wasn’t Roth, as mom had been raised and always been told, but Rothschild.
My next blog post will be about their life in America, and should conclude the posts about Adolph. Let’s hope I don’t wait as long for that post as I did to write this one. Until then, stay safe, let your loved ones know how you feel about them, and enjoy life!