Why the Rothschilds and other Jews of Vöhl? What’s the fascination?
In my mind it made perfect sense to start this blog, and to start with the furthest back known family member, then work my way forward. But a fellow blogger pointed out THEY didn’t know, and thought others might be interested as well, so here goes.
My g-g-grandfather was Adolph Rothschild. Along with his wife Kathinka Luja and their three oldest children Wilhelmina, Augusta, and Reinhardt, he came to the States in 1866 and eventually settled in St. Louis, Missouri. My g-grandfather, Edward Otto Roth, was born in Illinois. Adolph stated on census records and the ship’s manifest that he was from Vöhl.
In 1977, my mother, Jeannette, began researching the tree, believing the family name was Roth. She was three years into it before she found the ship’s mainfest for Adolph Rothschild and family. All the information matched what she had for the family, except the last name. When she called her father to ask him about it, he said, “Yes, the family name was Rothschild. My father changed it, claiming to be anti-Semitic.” My mom pointed out she’d been researching for three years, and wanted to know why he didn’t tell her about the name sooner. “I didn’t think it was important.”
It was not the most auspicious beginning, but mom kept at it diligently for about 10 years, then began researching another line, periodically coming back to the Rothschilds. Around 2003 or so, she officially handed it over to me. Her detailed notes, meticulous research logs, and family group sheets filled a handful of folders, each so thin as to appear almost empty.
Sometime around 2005, I stumbled across http://www.synagoge-voehl.de. I found information about the synagogue in Vöhl, family trees for about twenty different families, including one for Ascher Rothschild. So much information, and nothing there to connect my Adolph to them. So I switched gears and began doing descendancy research, and focused my attention on finding what happened with Wilhelmina, Augusta, and Reinhardt. My branch of the family didn’t know anything about them, except that Aunt “Gustie” came to visit from time to time. And, of course, we had the paintings.
Edward Otto Roth (aka EO Roth) was an incredibly gifted artist, working primarily in oils, creating primarily landscapes. He painted these of his parents around 1904. They are currently in the possession of my second cousin, Frank.
Genealogy online was a new thing, and I took to it like a fish to water. I created trees on numerous websites, finally settling at ancestry.com. I made sure to include my contact information, just in case. And it worked! Because one night I got a phone call from a woman named Becky Rousseau, asking if I was the Elizabeth Foote descended from EO Roth. Becky, it turns out, is descended from EO’s sister, Augusta. A few months later, Becky and her husband Tony were coming through Utah. My mom, stepdad, and I met them in Salt Lake City and went to dinner. It was very surreal to sit at dinner with mom and Becky, seeing them with their heads together, pouring over the family tree, seeing how they’re connected. And seeing how much the three of us resembled each other! Sadly, when it came to knowing about our origins, Becky was as much in the dark as we were, so the digging continued.
Through the next few years, I was able to trace a few living descendants here and there. But the next big break came when I got an email from Camille Calman, asking if her Adolph and mine were the same people. And was the family name Roth or Rothschild? Camille is also descended from Augusta Rothschild. She had started her genealogical journey the day before, had found the info I’d put online. This was around 2015, and since then we’ve formed a very close bond as cousins, research partners, and friends. We have a unique comradeship which I have come to treasure.
Ancestry is an odd duck. Two people with near identical family trees can get completely different hints. In July 2016, she emailed me a link to the hint she’d gotten about a baptismal record for Adolph. I so wanted to say this was our guy, but the hint was a transcription, not a record image. And I wanted to see the record. The transcription said Adolph, son of Abraham and Iris Spring Rothschild, had been baptized in Burg Gemünden on 1 June 1860. We emailed the church, received a response that it was the wrong church. We emailed the correct church. And waited.
And celebrated Christmas.
In January of 2017, I was going through mom’s folder on Adolph Rothschild, and found an article about Jewish genealogical research. The last paragraph stated that the largest collection of Jewish genealogical records was at the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City. I just stared at that and read it a few times, then wondered why it had never occurred to me to make the 20 minute drive to the FHL.
As soon as my shift at work ended, I gave my husband a quick kiss, and headed out the door. It was a Monday, I know, because I didn’t get there until 3:30 and they closed at 5:00 on Mondays. I stopped at the desk and asked for baptismal records for Burg Gemünden. I was handed a reel of microfilm, sat down at the reader, and started turning the crank. Hadn’t gotten far before I remembered something important: I was no longer fluent in German, and couldn’t read the old handwriting. BUT! I could read dates. When I was getting close, I gave the wheel one last spin, and the image froze on the screen. A perfectly centered document, and in the margin, in large scrawl, was the name “Adolph Rothschild.” I had goosebumps.
I went to the desk, and a nice man came over to help me out. He scanned through the document, exclaimed, “He was Jewish?!?” I started to sob. I knew, in the very center of my soul that this was it. He left, came back with tissues, then began to read. “On 1 June 1860, Abraham Rothschild, son of Ascher Rothschild, a merchant of Vöhl, deceased, and his first wife, Sprinza Sternberg, after months of study, and having gone before a board and proven his understanding of Christianity and his acceptance of the Lutheran faith, was baptized, and given by the Priest the Christian name of Adolph.”
That was it. That was the missing piece to tie my family back to the Rothschilds of Vöhl. And our research exploded! Instead of being an only child with no known parents, Adolph was one of 12 children, with parents, grandparents, nieces, nephews, and cousins galore. It was not lost on me that we wandered 40 years in a genealogical desert to find our way home.
My correspondence with Karl-Heinz increased exponentially, and I know he was almost as excited as Camille and I and the rest of our family were. In May of 2019, the Föderkreis celebrated their 20th anniversary, and invited me to come. The invitation was graciously extended to include Camille. We spent a handful of glorious days in Vöhl. We walked where our ancestors had walked, worshipped where they worshipped, touched where they had touched, toured the famous Rothschild house, and visited their grave. We connected with parts of our soul we hadn’t known existed.
A year and a bit later, and the research has slowed a bit, but the determination to find all my missing relatives hasn’t faded a bit. I am more determined than ever to publish and share what I know about this family. I’m hopeful, as I continue to find more relatives, that this can become a resource for them, a place to have questions answered. I don’t want anyone researching this family tree to have to struggle the way my family has to find every bit of information.
My brother Thomas once gave me a book on the history of the Jews. He inscribed it with an Irish proverb that has always stuck with me, and which I have ever since associated with my Rothschild family:
If ye would know yerself, ye must first know yer people.