Her comfortable life shattered with the death of her husband, Sadie Simmons struggled to raise her 3 young children in early 20th century Manhattan, living in a small apartment, likely working long days as a dressmaker in one of the many garment factories. Her hard work paid off as her oldest son thrived as a famous boxing promoter, her youngest son sailed the world as a merchant seaman, and her daughter worked as a bookkeeper in radio advertising, raising 3 children of her own, including my wife’s grandmother, Ethel.
Sadie was also a devoted episcopalian, attending nearby St. Michael’s Church, where John Punnett Peters would baptize her grandchildren. Besides being rector of the church, Peters was also a scholar, a former professor of Hebrew at the University of Pennsylvania, and an author of several books, including 2 on the Jewish religion. This last fact is interesting because Sadie, despite being a devoted episcopalian, had been born to Jewish parents.
We only discovered this fact a couple years ago when we found a document that described her daughter, Mildred as Jewish. DNA testing then confirmed that both Sadie and her husband were very likely full Ashkenazi Jewish.
My first record of Sadie is the 1900 U.S. Census, along with her husband, William Tabor, and her first 2 children, Frank and Mildred. Her death certificate in 1931 lists her father as John Simons; information likely provided by her daughter, Mildred. Her youngest son’s wedding certificate provides her maiden name as Simmons.
According to that 1900 census, and many other records, Sadie had been born in 1867, Maryland while both her parents had been born in England. What we don’t know is whether her parents were practicing Jews or had they converted. Was Sadie raised Jewish and converted later in life? Perhaps the young widow with her 3 young children found help and counsel from John Peters and converted?
These questions are hard to answer without knowing who her parents were and where they came from. Unfortunately, I’ve been completely unable to discover any documentation anywhere to provide these answers.
Genetic genealogy to the rescue! Or at least it provided an important clue to jumpstart the investigation.
Linda, my mother-in-law, has a 1.2% DNA match with a Jewish gentleman living in London, England. This is her closest match outside of close family and it is well within the range for a 3rd cousin, although I suspect it's at least a 4th cousin match, given the endogamy in Jewish populations.
Happily, our Englishman has a well researched family tree and his family had lived in London for several generations, since the early 19th century or even the late 18th century. If I could trace the descendants of these early 19th century ancestors, perhaps I could find one of Sadie’s parents!
As I develop our Englishman’s family tree back to the early 19th century, I’m excited to see the name Simmonds, or Simmons as it's spelled on some census records. Levy Simmonds and his wife Rachel Cohen lived on Bell Lane, near White Chapel, in early 19th century London, in the heart of the Jewish community.
Levy and Rachel had eight sons and one daughter, most of whom married, lived and died in London, with two exceptions. One of those exceptions was their youngest son, Aaron Simmonds. The last record of Aaron Simmonds living in London was the 1851 census, which has 10 year old Aaron living with his widowed mother and 4 of his older brothers on Bell Lane, which included 16 year-old Abraham, a cigar maker.
I can’t find any other record of Aaron in London after 1851. However, there is a record of 19 year-old Aaron Simmonds, cigar maker, on a ship from London to New York in 1859. There’s also a 1870 U.S. Census from Parkersburg, West Virginia, with a 30 year-old Aaron Simmonds, cigar maker, living with several other craftsman in a servant’s house.
Between New York and Parkersburg, lies Maryland, where Sadie was born.
Aaron’s older brother, Abraham, migrated to America about 8 years before Aaron. He and his, wife Rachel, first arrived in New York but then moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where they lived until at least 1875. They had several children, but the records show that it's very unlikely that any of them were Sadie, unless she lied significantly about her age and place of birth, which is very unlikely.
It’s probable that Aaron was also in Maryland, at least for a time. Considering that he and his older brother shared a profession, it's possible that they even worked together. However, there is no record of Aaron having married or having children, and he was not living with a family in 1870.
Nevertheless, given the lack of records about Sadie and that she had converted from Judaism, it’s possible that she did not have a solid, Jewish family upbringing. Her mother may have died when she was young and her father gave her to her mother’s family to raise, something that happened to other families in our family tree. If this family gave her surname as their own, it would explain why there was no record of her prior to marriage.
So is Aaron her father? Not necessarily. It may have been a cousin. Or perhaps our Englishman is related through Sadie’s mother, whom we do not know. However, given the coincidence of Abraham Simmonds living in Maryland in 1867 and Sadie’s children believing her father’s name was Simmons, it would seem to be a coincidence that our Mystery Englishman would have two sets of unrelated ancestors in this small area, far from home. My bet is there is some relationship here and that Aaron is a possible candidate as Sadie's father.
So far this is just an hypothesis. However, I'm not sure the records to prove or disprove it are even online. Perhaps a trip to Baltimore is in order!