Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Implausible Case of my Third Great Grandfather in Philadelphia

Just to get this straight, my father's side is completely German. And, they didn't come to America until the 1930s. So, while I do have some early roots in America from my mother's side, I have to do all my paternal genealogy in old German records in places like Berlin, Heidelberg, Posen, Lissa, Waibstadt, and other German places. German Germany. The greater German empire. Prussia, and all that.

So, when I found an online family tree with my second great grandfather Robert Gottfried Levy in it, I was very excited. That is, until I saw that his father, Bernard Levy was buried in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Well, that's certainly not him. I know that Robert was born in Lissa and died in Berlin, so his father wouldn't have been anywhere near Philly. If this really was correct, Bernard would be my third great grandfather, and I'm certain I would know if my third great grandfather had come to America.

Robert Gottfried Levy
The tree had a wonderfully handsome picture of Robert, and I'd never seen a photo of him, but it couldn't be him.  He was also sitting there all alone in the tree, without his wife, two children, and all his descendants. And the dates were so close. And just how many Robert Gottfried Levy's could there be in the world. And, did I mention I've never seen a photo of him and I really really wanted this to be him! And, the person who created the tree never responded to any inquires.

Well, I moved on and kept looking.  And a while later, I finally found Robert's brother's 1886 marriage certificate in the Berlin archives and it listed his parents. Well, they were the very close to the same names as that "obviously wrong" online tree: Bernhard Levy and Joanna Korach vs the tree's Bernard Levy and Joanna Korach-Davidson. Good grief. That's a remarkable coincidence.

There is a time-tested rule among genealogists that online trees are full of errors and are not to be trusted. You are allowed to look at them as "vague clues", but you certainly can not rely on them. So, I took another look at the online tree again. It was full of beautiful photos, and I wished they were my family, but all the other children of Bernard lived and died in Philadelphia.  They had many children, and there was quite a large tree to look at.  Bernard had apparently been married twice, and had lots of children.  There's no way this is my family.

During the Thanksgiving break I was at my father's cousin's house. He's a Levy. One of our Levy's. His great grandfather is Robert Gottfried Levy. As a last resort, I asked him if he had any photos of Robert or Bernhard, as I'd never seen any.  He dug up a few things, including the exact same photo of Bernhard as the one in the family tree. And, I do mean exact same. There was a tear over the right eye, and the photo on the online site had the same tear!

Bernard Levy from online tree
Bernhard Levy from cousin's photo album

Someone has some explaining to do!

It turns out that his father, my great uncle, was indeed in contact with his cousins in Philadelphia!  They are family! I reached out to a couple of them, and one took an AncestryDNA test for me and she is indeed my father's third cousin!   Another had some old papers, including a short family history written by my great great grandfather and translated by my great uncle!  Her mother was a genealogist, and the well-informed source of the online tree I had been bent on disbelieving, even as I kept returning to it with suspicious glances.

So what does all this mean? Well, it means my third great grandfather is indeed buried in Philadelphia! He came over in 1875 with his three youngest children after the death of his second wife. He was living at 2024 Brandywine when he died on 5 March 1882. He is buried at the Federal Street Cemetery.

Two of his sons, Adoph and Berthold, were already in Philadelphia, and they are the ones who convinced him to make the trip. His oldest daughter died young, and his two oldest sons, Robert and Johann stayed behind in Germany. Robert married about 1879 in Posen, and as I mentioned earlier, Johann married in 1886 in Berlin.  Both brothers had children. Robert was blessed with a son and daughter, while Johann had three daughters and two sons.  These seven German grandchildren of Bernhard Levy's were all born in Berlin.  Four of them died in the holocaust, while three of them escaped with their lives. Robert and Johann both died in Berlin before the Nazi's came to power, and they are both buried in the famous Weissensee cemetery there.

It all seems very curious and nonsensical, but it is true. Bernhard's father, grandfather,  and two sons are buried in Germany, but Bernhard himself is right here in the United States.

Case closed.


  1. Wow,what were the odds? Great story!

  2. Enjoyed reading your remarkable story! I love those kind of surprises.