Sunday, May 20, 2018

52 Ancestors: Another Language – Joseph Steen

This week’s prompt for the challenge is Another Language.  Not sure where to start or what to write, my brain churned for an inspiration.  While I assumed that many of my ancestors spoke another language since they came from Poland, Germany, and other countries in Europe, I don’t know that any of them spoke or understood another language.

But wait – being 50% Ashkenazi Jew meant there was sure to be some Hebrew or Yiddish, right?  And then I remembered that my 3x great grandfather, Joseph Steen, was buried with a beautiful Hebrew inscription on his headstone.

And, fortunately, I have a transcription.
Moshe Yosef 
A noble and a faithful devoted man to God
Died on the eve of Shabat on 15 Av and was buried on 17 Av.
A man of integrity and honesty,
Hard worker and with clean hands and heart.
Never gossip nor lying.

From this world you departed but peace with God you found.

While I don’t know specifically that Joseph or his family spoke Hebrew, it was obviously important enough for them to inscribe his headstone with the words in Hebrew.

Joseph was born in Poland in about 1826 or 1827 and emigrated from Posen to England in about 1850.  With him when he emigrated were his wife, Hannah Plotzky, and his daughter, Rebecca (my 2x great grandmother).  Another child was born before they found their way to New York where son Samuel was born in 1855.  Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Santa Cruz where Joseph opened a bath house and five more children were born.

I don’t know much about Joseph’s short life.  He was enumerated in 1860 in Santa Cruz where he lived next door to Louis Schwartz, Rebecca’s future husband and my 2x great grandfather.  And next door to Louis and his business partner, Solomon Fisher, was the Barnet family.  I have a lot of research to do on this family but I do know that daughter Grace graduated from Santa Cruz High School with my great grandmother, Bertha Schwartz, and served as a bridesmaid in Bertha’s wedding to Abraham Gunzendorfer.  As I’ve started to research them, I found someone with a family tree on Ancestry that also shows up as a DNA match for me.  So maybe, just maybe, I’ll find that the Barnet family is in some way related to my family.

1860 Census Joseph Steen Family
Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.Original data - 1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records

In 1863, Joseph was listed on the IRS Tax Assessment List.  I have zero experience with this type of list so it’s all Greek to me.

Joseph Steen Tax Assessment May 1863
Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008.Original data - National Archives (NARA) microfilm series: M603, M754-M771, M773-M777, M779-M780, M782, M784, M787-M789, M791-M793, M795, M1631, M1775-M1776, T227, T1208-T1209.

Uh-oh, he’s back on the list in October, 1864.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Joseph Steen Tax Assessment Oct 1864
Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008.Original data - National Archives (NARA) microfilm series: M603, M754-M771, M773-M777, M779-M780, M782, M784, M787-M789, M791-M793, M795, M1631, M1775-M1776, T227, T1208-T1209.

In 1864, Joseph lost a stock certificate of 10 shares of stock.  I sure wish I knew if this was ever found.

Joseph Steen Lost Stock Certificate Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel 12 Nov 1864 Sat page 3
Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, 12 Nov 1864, Sat, page 3

And then his life was cut short.

Joseph Steen Obituary Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel 4 Aug 1866 Sat Page 2
Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, 4 Aug 1866, Sat, page 2

Consumption is an old term for wasting away of the body, particularly from pulmonary tuberculosis.  It has been said that tuberculosis was known as a “good death” as the slow progress of the disease allowed the patient to arrange their affairs.  I can’t imagine a 39 year old man with a young family facing the task of arranging his affairs.

To read the story of how I found Joseph’s grave (the same cemetery as my father!), click HERE for my #2 genealogical find of 2012. 

מנוחה בשלום, יוסף
Rest in peace, Joseph.


  1. Glad you were able to get that transcribed. It is a nice inscription.

    1. I love how it called out that he was a hard worker and never gossiped or lied.

  2. Wonderful inscription. Glad you found it!

    1. I love the detail. And so glad I was able to see the stone (in real life, no less) and know that he's in the same cemetery as my father.

  3. A bath house - now that’s an interesting profession.

    1. I wonder what that entailed 150 years ago.

  4. What a wonderful tombstone & inscription! He sounds like a wonderful man.