Samuel Lester Abelson (1878-1967)

That’s A-B-ELSON, not A-D-ELSON….

When my great-grandfather, Elias Schnitz (later Alex Block) arrived in New York in December, 1904, he listed as a relative in the US a cousin, Samuel Abelson, at a particular address:


Actually, it says “Simon” but the address works out for Samuel

I’ve spent some time tracking him, and I still don’t know exactly how he’s related, but he must have led an interesting life.

I suspect Lester was not a middle name he was born with, and it’s possible he wasn’t a Samuel either, but that’s the name he used. Samuel was born on 15 June 1878 in “Russia”; probably in the area near Rietavas, Lithuania, given his relatives. In early November, 1899, he arrived in Portsmouth, England, from Capetown, South Africa, aboard the SS Arundel Castle. Also on this ship was a “B. Abelson”, a merchant four years Sam’s senior. Possibly a brother.

Only a few days after his arrival in the UK, Sam boarded the SS St. Louis in Southampton, and arrived in New York on 20 December 1899. A Mr. “K. Abelson” – same age and profession as “B. Abelson” – is listed on the outgoing manifest for the St. Louis, but he does not appear on the arrival manifest. I have checked through both by name, and by trying to match the ticket number. No good. Perhaps he changed his mind at the last moment?

When Sam arrived in New York, his arrival manifest states that he is meeting no one in the US, but then another hand – probably added somewhat later – lists “Bro. 47 Eldridge Street”. Is this B./K.? Perhaps, but the (June) 1900 US Census lists no one with the right name or age at that address.

On the 1900 Census, Sam is living in the household of Tobias SIMON and Sophia COHN (or COHEN) SIMON, and listed as Cousin. His profession is “cutter”, presumably cutting cloth for the clothing industry.

On the 1905 NY Census, Sam – still a “cutter” – is a Cousin living with the family of Louis TERR and Pearl WEISSMAN TERR. This is at 178 East 101st Street, the address from Alex BLOCK’s arrival manifest.

By January 1910, Sam has moved clear out to Fairbanks, Alaska (!), a “partner” (clerk) to brothers Ed and Morris FRIEDMAN, selling clothing.


Exciting downtown Fairbanks, circa 1910

Understand that Fairbanks wasn’t exactly New York City. The town had been founded only in 1901 with the encouragement of gold prospectors, and by 1910 had over 3000 people, but the town was already declining. It would be another 30 years before Fairbanks broke over 3000 again. With more people leaving than arriving, perhaps business wasn’t that great. Plus, it’s COLD. One has to wonder how he got talked into the relocation in the first place.

Shortly thereafter, Sam fell into business with a Louis LUND, who had moved up from Seattle, and opened a clothing store in Ruby, Alaska.


Men standing in front of Sam’s Clothing Store, “The Home of Hart Schaffner & Marx Clothing” (Abelson & Lund clothing store) in Ruby, AK, owned by Sam Abelson – Washington State Jewish Archives Photograph Collection.

Ruby was even more of a boom/bust town than Fairbanks. Founded in 1911, it quickly grew to over 3000 souls, but by 1920 it had under 200 residents, where it remains to this day. By 1918, Sam and LUND had moved to Seattle (hey, a smart relative after all!). Sam’s WWI draft registration card lists his closest relative as L.B. ABELSON of Bloemfontein, South Africa. Is this brother “B” from 1899?

It appears from roughly 1918 through 1938, Sam boarded with the LUND family, where he worked as a private contractor and grocer at various points.

The Diamond Heist

On 23 September 1929, two masked men robbed a courier of $60,000 worth of diamonds – about $850,000 in 2015 dollars – from the Liggett Building in downtown Seattle. Several months later, former professional fighter Johnny JORDAN was arrested in New York City and brought back to Seattle. In an alleged confession, JORDAN named ABELSON and LUND as organizers, as well as a third man he knew only as “ROTHSTEIN”, promising him and two other (unnamed) accomplices $8000 each. Sam and LUND were arrested and released on $5000 bond each.

This does not appear to have been LUND’s first brush with the law. In 1928, he and fellow jewelry salesman Sam ROTHSTEIN were charged with knowingly selling stolen jewelry to a prominent Seattle businessman. The newspaper does not record what happened in that case.

In this 1929 heist, the state expected LUND and ABELSON to request separate trials. But on the first day of trial (29 September 1930), JORDAN surprised the court by pleading guilty and refusing to testify against anyone else. The two other men were released for lack of evidence.


Move to California

In 1938, Sam ABELSON relocated to Los Angeles. His 1942 WWII draft registration lists “person who will always know your address” as Mrs. Fred FLEISHMAN of Seattle. I traced through who that was, and she was Madeline LUND, youngest child of the family he had boarded with for twenty years.

After 1942, Sam pretty much drops out of the available online records. He died in Los Angeles in 1967, and the California death record states that his mother’s maiden name was FALK.

There are a number of outstanding questions….

Who was B./L.B. ABELSON?

There is a Bernard (a.k.a. Barney) ABELSON from South Africa who appears to be the same man who was on that 1899 ship from Capetown. From available records, Bernard was from Žemaičių Naumiestis, Lithuania – which is the right place if a relative of Alex BLOCK. He arrived in South Africa in 1895, but according to a 1938 ship arrival manifest in NYC, he had spent three years in New York, ending in 1902. That matches with the time that Sam arrived in the USA. I need to investigate his family closer.

Who were the SIMONs?

The SIMONs, with whom Sam boarded in 1900, moved to New Jersey around 1902. I’ve traced the family a bit, but not enough to know where they were from originally. It is possible that the cousinhood of ABELSON-SIMON is from a different side of his family than ABELSON-BLOCK.

Who were the TERRs?

I have a little more information on the TERRs, who were definitely from the same area of Lithuania as the ABELSONs and BLOCKs. More interestingly, the original name of the TERRs was ABRAMOWITZ, and they had taken the shorter name for political reasons (according to TERR family lore). Why is that interesting? Because Alex BLOCK’s sister married a cousin, Isadore MARCUS, whose original name was… Israel ABRAMOWITZ. That doesn’t prove anything, but it’s suggestive.

Who informed the California Death Certificate?

Someone knew enough about Sam that they were familiar with his mother’s maiden name. Who was that??? $25 to the State of California could get me the answer.

One final twist….

When Alex BLOCK died in 1939, his son, David, gave information on the death certificate that Alex’s mother’s maiden name was ABELSON. I don’t think that’s right; Sara BLOCK MARCUS’s death certificate says their mother’s name was JACOBS, and other research strongly suggests it was actually JACOBSON. But the fact David seemed to know that name gives further credence that the ABELSONs were cousins, as listed on Alex’s ship manifest.


2 thoughts on “Samuel Lester Abelson (1878-1967)

  1. Jeffrey Levy says:

    12 Eldridge Street is the famous NYC synagogue.


  2. […] Elias SCHNITZ (a.k.a. Alex BLOCK) as well as the man listed as his cousin in the U.S., Samuel ABELSON.  I may have made a breakthrough regarding how these families are […]


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