Discovering Aunt Belle

My grandmother, Evelyn Schwartz Thal, used to visit her “Aunt Belle” every time she vacationed in New York City. My father even remembers stopping in to say “hello” to her at Bergdorf’s. But years ago, when I was asking questions, it was unclear to my grandmother whether her Aunt was her mother’s sister or sister-in-law. In fact, I have recorded from that time that Evelyn’s mother, Dora or Dorothy Richman, had a sister named Belle.

Fast forward to this past week, and I’ve been working through my grandfather’s travel diaries from his trips to New York in the late 1940s and early 50s. Norman and Evelyn visited the city seemingly every year for a week of shows, clubs, shopping and more with various friends. The diaries mention these brief visits with Aunt Belle, though without much detail.

Then, completely coincidentally, I got a message through Ancestry from someone asking if the Morris Richman in my database was married to “her” great-great-aunt Bella Haupt. I haven’t researched this particular branch much at all recently, so this prompted me to go back and look at my records again.

According to synagogue records from Bardejov, Slovakia, now available online through FamilySearch, Samuel Reichman and Esther Szobel had at least three children: Chaim, later known as Harold, born in 1876; Dora or Dorothy, born in 1879; and Moses Leiser, later known as Maurice/Morris, born in 1882. Actually, I haven’t found the Slovakian birth record for Dora, but I do have the records for Chaim and Moses. My grandmother recalled an uncle John as well, but I have found no record of him.

By the time Moses/Maurice was born, the family was living about 10 km northwest of Bardejov in Aranypataka (now Zlate), where Esther was born and her parents, Samuel and Laja Safran Zobel, had lived for many years. Maurice’s birth was recorded in Bardejov, then Bartfeld, Hungary. Four years later, in January of 1886, Esther died of a stroke, also in Aranypataka. Her death is recorded as Esther Szobel, so she may not have been officially married, like many other Jews of the time.

In August of 1888, Samuel Reichman boarded the ship, S.S. Gellert in Hamburg, Germany, and sailed for New York, leaving his young children behind. His parents and his mother-in-law was still living, so they could have cared for their grandchildren.

Passenger list from the S.S. Gellert, August 28, 1888, obtained from Ancestry.com. “S. Reichmann” is on line 784, a clerk traveling from Barthfeld, Hungary.

By 1889, Samuel was living in Cleveland, Ohio, and operating a saloon. And by 1892, he had remarried, to Mary Frankel. They had a daughter, Rose Richman, born in Cleveland in October of 1893. A few months before Rose was born, Dora and her brother, Moses, arrived in New York on the S.S. Havel, traveling to Cleveland to join their father and his new wife.

Passenger list from the S.S. Havel, August 23, 1893, obtained from Ancestry.com. Dora and Moses Reichman are on lines 301 and 302.

Although I just now located Samuel’s passenger list, I had this much of the story when I got the message about Bella Haupt. I even had found Morris Richman in a 1910 Census record in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, based, presumably on a hint from my grandmother years back. By 1910, Morris was married to “Bella,” but I also had a “Belle Richman” among Dora’s siblings based on my grandmother’s recollections.

Prompted by the question, I did a bit more digging around. Maurice H. Richman married Bella Haupt in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 9, 1904. I don’t know how or when he ended up in Pittsburgh, but by then he was working as a dry goods merchant. In 1900, he had already left his family in Cleveland, but I haven’t tracked him down in the 1900 census. His new wife, Bella, was born in Hungary in 1882, the daughter of Harry and Rosa Haupt. Maurice and Bella remained in Pittsburgh, where a stillborn infant was born to them in 1913. As far as I know, they had no other children.

By 1918, Maurice and Belle had moved to New York, where he completed his Registration Card for the military draft for World War I. He was apparently trying his hand at the finance industry on Wall Street, and he and Belle were living on West 107th.

World War I Draft Registration Card for Maurice A. Richman, September 1918

One month later, on October 13, 1918, Maurice died, possibly of influenza during the Spanish flu epidemic. He was 36. With all of this information about Maurice Richman, how could I be sure this was the right man? His headstone in the Homestead Hebrew Cemetery outside Pittsburgh confirms his Hebrew name from his birth record, “Moses Leiser son of Samuel.”

It’s no wonder my grandmother was unclear about the relationship of Aunt Belle. She couldn’t have known her uncle much at all, since she was twelve when he died, and she grew up in Cleveland. But Belle apparently remained in touch with the Richman family. By 1920, she was working as a secretary in a corset house in New York, and through the years, she remained connected to the clothing business. In 1930, she’s listed as a “ladies wear executive” in the census records, and by 1940, working in a dress shop. She never remarried, and lived to be 101 years old, passing away in November of 1983.

Thanks to my Ancestry contact, I now have the photo of Belle, above, probably taken around the time she and Maurice were married in 1904. I have no other photographs. If you have photos or any further information about Maurice or Belle, please contact me.

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