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This is the first in a series of posts I plan to do, writing the stories of my ancestors as I’ve learned about them from various sources.  Some people I have more information about than others, so I’ll be adding to each biography as I learn more.  First is Israel Cowen, my great-great grandfather.

Israel Cowen was born in Houston, Texas on December 12, 1861, the oldest child of Bennett Cowen and Bertha Semmel, both of whom were immigrants to the United States.  From a young age, Israel was exposed to the world as he was educated in California, Texas, New York, and Germany before landing in Chicago in late 1878 or 1879.  He studied at Union College of Law at Northwestern University, graduating in 1881, and he began practicing law in Chicago in 1883.  In 1888, Israel traveled to Europe, where he visited Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, England, and other places.

Though his parents were reform Jews, Israel became more religious and was a practicing Orthodox Jew, at least during his time in Chicago.  In conjunction with his religious beliefs, he was involved in a number of philanthropic organizations, many of which promoted the interests of Jews, but all of which served humanitarian efforts.  He was a member of the Big Brother and Big Sister Federation, for which he acted as a Big Brother; he was a leader within B’nai B’rith, including acting as a president of the early Hillel Foundation; and he was a member of the executive committee of the Russian Aid Society, acting as chairman of the committee on auxiliary associations, during the 1890 immigration wave.  Perhaps his longest-lasting humanitarian legacy, however, was his involvement with the Orthodox Home for Aged Jews (later named the Orthodox Jewish Home for the Aged).  On October 1, 1900, Israel delivered a short speech at the laying of the foundation of this building.  This institution, located at the corner of Albany and Ogden Avenues, was the premier home for elderly Orthodox Jews in Chicago.  These are just a sampling of the charities Israel was involved with.  He was very giving of his time and abilities.

On two passport applications- filled out in May 1888 and July 1893- Israel was 5’9″ tall, with gray eyes and dark/black hair.  He described himself as having a medium forehead and chin, a long face, a large nose, and a dark complexion.  Israel married Alma Desemberg on March 15, 1897, in Kalmazoo, MI, where Alma was from.  They resided in Chicago and had two children, Bayard D (1901) and Elizabeth (1907).  Israel died on April 3, 1922, after a brief illness of about two months.

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In 2 weeks, I’m heading off to Chicago!  It’s a city I’ve always wanted to visit and have heard great things about, so I’m super excited for this trip!  I can’t wait to see all the architecture, museums, and sites and- most importantly- taste all the delicious food I’ve heard about ever since I decided that this was a trip I wanted to take.

How does this at all relate to genealogy?  Let me start by saying, this trip did not originate as a research trip.  (If you’re wondering how it did originate, years ago, I decided that I wanted to go to Chicago to try iCream, which I heard about on the Food Network- you make your own ice cream flavor & freeze it with liquid nitrogen!  But I digress…)

It turns out that I have a lot of family history based in Chicago.  My dad’s father’s parents (Meyer J Weinstein & Helen Schwartzmann) and great-grandparents (Samuel Schwartzmann and Sarah Cohn) are buried there, as are my dad’s mother’s grandparents (Israel Cowen & possibly his wife Alma Desenberg) and their siblings (probably Michael and Carlos K Cowen).  Other family members held important roles in Chicago’s history, including two who were influential Rabbis (Samuel Disraeli (SD) Schwartz and Frederick (Fritzie) C Schwartz).  Yet others went to universities in Chicago.

On my trip, I’m hoping to make it to a bunch of places to gather more genealogy-related information.  I’d like to make it out to the cemeteries where people are buried to do some rubbings.  There’s the Jewish Genealogical Society, which might have some historical gravestone information, as well as the library at the Spertus Institute, which has books and old newspapers that I know my ancestors are mentioned in.  Apparently, the Chicago History Museum’s library has books that mention some of my Chicago ancestors.  (Thanks, Dorr!)  And if I can make it to any of the university libraries, then I’ll go through old school records to find people as well.  A daunting task, since I’m also hoping to see the rest of Chicago! 😉

Anyway, I will update again about this trip, either while I’m there (since I put the WordPress app on my phone!) or once I get home to share the information I found.  I just have to find a way to sit tight until May 6!


I. Bernhart L. Desenberg (b. 1830, Germany)
m. Bertha L. Schuster (7-19-1864) (b. 1839, Germany)
	A. Benno (b. 1866; d. 1-1-1917)
	B. Edward (Eddie) B. (b. 9-8-1867; d. 1-20-1940, Chicago)
	C. Alma M. (b. 12-13-1873, Kalamazoo, MI; d. 12-13-1950)
	m. Israel Cowen (b. 12-12-1861, Houston; d. 4-3-1922, Chicago)
		1. Bayard Desenberg (b. 1901, IL)
		2. Elizabeth (b. 2-28-1907, South Holland, IL; d. 1984)
		m. Joseph Davis (b. 1897)
			a. Joseph Samuel (b. 1930, IL)
			m. Martha Grier
				i. Elizabeth Louise
				ii. Katherine Ann
				iii. Mark Bennett
				iv. James Lincoln
			b. Mirrel (b. 1935)
			m. Laurence Weinstein (b. 1933)
				i. Michael Alan (b. 1960)
				m. Robin Gail Paley (b. 1960)
					A. Aliyah Miel
					B. Spencer Yael
					C. Arin Chava
				ii. Elizabeth
				m. Richard Ross
					A. Alexandra
					B. Anastasia
				iii. David Edward
				m. Donna Katz

I. Bennett Cowen (1836, Poland or Plerian, Germany)
m. Bertha Semmel (b. 4-5-1844, Plerian, Germany; d. 3-3-1929)
	A. Israel (b. 12-12-1861, Houston; d. 4-3-1922, Chicago)
	m. Alma M. Desenberg
		1. Bayard Desenberg (b. 1901, IL)
		2. Elizabeth (b. 2-28-1907, South Holland, IL; d. 1984)
		m. Joseph Davis (b. 1897)
			a. Joseph Samuel (b. 1930, IL)
			m. Martha Grier
				i. Elizabeth Louise
				ii. Katherine Ann
				iii. Mark Bennett
				iv. James Lincoln
			b. Mirrel (b. 1935)
			m. Laurence Weinstein (b. 1933)
				i. Michael Alan (b. 1960)
				m. Robin Gail Paley (b. 1960)
					A. Aliyah Miel
					B. Spencer Yael
					C. Arin Chava
				ii. Elizabeth
				m. Richard Ross
					A. Alexandra
					B. Anastasia
				iii. David Edward
				m. Donna Katz
	B. Michael H. (Enil) (b. 1863, Monyash, Derbyshire, England; d. 9-11-1940, Chicago)
	m. Rose Greenwald (b. 10-18-1868; d. 1-22-1946, Chicago)
		1. Roey (b. 1893, IL)
		m. Samuel Disraeli Schwartz (b. 1892, NY)
			a. Margorie (b. 1926, IL; d. 2010)
			m. Elmer S. Eppstein, Jr. (b. 3-1-1926; d. 3-2-2008)
				i. David (b. 1950)
				m. Vivian Roseby (1975), div. (10-12-1980)
				m. Deborah Foster
				ii. Deborah (b. 1952)
				m. Sane Retyk
				iii. Joseph (b. 1954)
				m. Reggi Marder
				iv. Beth (b. 1956)
				m. Udi Brayer
				v. Tamar (Tammy) (b. 1960)
				m. Amnon Karmi
			b. Frederick (Fritzie) (b. 1928, IL)
			m. Roberta Hanfling (1955)
				i. Ethan (b. 1959)
				m. Roberta
				ii. Jeremy (b. 1961)
				m. Robins
				iii. Seth (b. 1964)
		2. Amy Bernice (b. 1900, IL)
		m. Sanford Joseph Herzog (4-20-1921) (b. 2-5-1895)
			a. Sanford Cowen Herzog, Jr. (b. 7-24-1924; d. 2-5-2005)
			m. Nancy Jane Sugarman (9-29-1950, Cook City, IL) (b. 6-5-1927, Cook City, IL)
				i. Melanie Ann
				m. Norman Stockwell
					A. Marian Esther
				ii. Andrew John
				m. Dorothy (Dorr) Marie St. Clair
					A. Kaitlyn Marie
	C. Carlos K. (b. 6-7-1867, Sacramento, CA; d. 11-23-1925, Chicago)
	D. Roey (b. 12-12-1867, CA; d. 4-27-1889)
	m. Solomon Davidson (11-15-1888, Milwaukee) (b. Germany)
	E. Abraham B. (b. 12-5-1872, TX; d. 9-16-1951)
	F. Millie (b. 9-14-1876, TX; d. 10-7-1927)

I’ve been researching my family’s genealogy on and off for years.  Recently, I got more serious about it and in the process, was able to quickly find out a lot of information thanks to both Ancestry.com (free access at my public library- yea!) and some papers that my dad found, which had been passed on to him from his grandmother.

The lines I am currently researching are the following:

  • COWEN (Bennett m. Bertha Semmel)
  • DESENBERG (Bernard/Bernhart L. m. Bertha L. Schuster)

These are the generations that immigrated to the United States.  They are my great-great-great grandparents, born in the 1830-40s.  Bennett and Bertha COWEN had 6 children.  Bernard and Bertha DESENBERG had 3.

Further back, I am also researching:

  • DESENBERG (Bernard m. Ester Katzensten and their sons Jacob, Hertz (m. Marinne Rosenstein) and Levy (m. Adeline aka Adel))

Bernard and Ester were the grandparents of Bernard and Bertha DESENBERG whom I listed above.  All three brothers- Jacob, Hertz, and Levy- had many children, so that part of the family is huge & I would love to get in touch with anyone who can trace their lineage back to them.

Over the next few days & weeks I will be entering a lot of the information I have on my genealogy and with that will come a list of all the surnames on my tree.  That will eventually be searchable, as well.

If you have any information related to any of the people on my family tree, please reach out to me using the information on the Contact Aliyah page.