Elkhanon Leib Fingerbren, a.k.a. John Smith (1870-1958), and family

To the best of my knowledge, the first branch of my paternal side to arrive in the United States was that of Elkhanon Leib FINGERBREN, who took the very generic name of John Smith in this country. It’s impossible to know if this name was chosen simply to “fit in” in his new land, or if it was a play on words, given that the FINGERBRENs had been blacksmiths for several generations prior.


“John Smith”, outside of his Lancaster, PA grocery store at 352 Green Street, c. 1946.

Elkhanon was the sixth and last known child of Sholom and Rivka FINGERBREN, born in Jonava, Lithuania on 3 Feb 1870 (Julian calendar; 15 Feb on the Gregorian). He was a good decade younger than his next sibling, and born only a few months before the first-born of his eldest sibling.

It is not known why he chose to come to the US, or why he selected Lancaster, PA as his destination. Nevertheless, by 1890 he had arrived. His nephew Movsha (Morris) PROLER, son of his eldest sister Brina Leah, arrived in Lancaster a few years later, followed by Brina and her husband, Iudel.

Elkhanon married three times, and outlived them all. In 1893, he initially married another immigrant, Lena (or Dina… both named were used) MILLER, who died of unknown causes around 1905. About 1908, he remarried Rosie SINGER, a divorcee, who died in 1919 of an enlarged heart and cirrhosis of the liver. Sometime between 1920 and 1930, he married for final time to Rebecca COHN, who died in 1949.

Elkhanon initially took work as a peddler and a junk dealer, but by 1910 he opened a grocery store, which became his business until he retired. After that, the business was taken over by his stepson, Emanuel (Manny) Fleishman, Rosie SINGER’s son by her first marriage to Isaac FLEISHMAN.

Elkhanon died on 6 Nov 1958 in his home, of heart disease and “senility”. Looking at his death certificate, informed by one of his children, it is clear he spoke little of his origins: he is listed as a “lifetime” resident of Lancaster, and his father’s surname is given as SMITH.

The SMITHs had five children, only one of which had children themselves.

Myer SMITH (1893 – 1983)

The first child was Myer, sometimes called “Mike” or “Michael” in his youth, was born in Lancaster on 29 Sep 1893. As his Elkhanon and Lena had been married in May, clearly the first child had arrived very quickly indeed. As a young man, he had worked as a junk man, and then served in the US Army during WWI and shortly thereafter (1917-1919). He seemed to have returned from the war a changed man, and bounced around in jobs including a dock worker in 1930 (Lancaster) and 1940 (Buffalo, NY), and a lumber yard worker in Detroit (1942). At some point, he returned to Lancaster, and died in 1983 of being quite elderly. Myer never married.

Julius Robert SMITH (1895 – 1965)

Second child Julius, who sometimes used the name James, was born in Sep 1895. Julius seems to have gotten into a bit of a situation, as his Sep 1917 WWI draft card lists a “dependent wife”. The 1920 US Census indicates that this wife was named Florence, and the two have a two year old daughter, Lorraine. Florence’s age is listed as 19, suggesting she was born in 1900, and was likely 16 when the two married.

Julius owned a grocery store in 1920, but disappears from Lancaster after 1922. I haven’t been able to locate him on the 1930 or 1940 census, but shows up in Cleveland in 1942, and he died in 1965 in Boulder City, NV, where he had been working as a waiter at age 69. His death certificate from Nevada lists his marital status as “divorced”. What happened to Florence and Lorraine, and if they had any other children, is unknown.

Sarah SMITH (1898-1985)


Manny FLEISHMAN and Sarah SMITH FLEISHMAN, outside of Elkhanon’s store, c. 1946

The third child, and first daughter,
was Sarah.

Sarah married her step-brother, Manny FLEISHMAN, in 1920, not long after his mother Rosie had died. The couple ran a grocery store until Manny died in 1955. The couple had no children. Sarah was the last of Elkhanon’s children to pass on.

Small world department: The informant on Sarah’s death certificate was Mrs. Ruth ZIMMERMAN BERGEL, who was a volunteer driver and caregiver for seniors. Ruth’s sister was Rose ZIMMERMAN SOLSKY, whose mother-in-law (Sarah PROLER SOLSKY) was Sarah FLEISHMAN’s first cousin.

Samuel SMITH (1902-1959)

The fourth and final child of Lena SMITH was Samuel, Hebrew name Sholom, likely named after his grandfather (Elkhanon’s father) Sholom, who died in 1901. My own grandfather was named after him as well in 1914.

I don’t know much about Samuel. He was working for his father in the junk business in 1920, but I haven’t found him on the 1930 or 1940 censuses. He served during WWII (1942-1943), and was stationed in Loredo, Texas, but never went overseas before being honorably discharged. He was living in Lancaster in 1950, and died in 1959, although I’m not sure he died IN Lancaster, as I am unable to find a Pennsylvania death certificate.


Standing: Manny FLEISHMAN and Sol ADELSON (my grandfather). Kneeling: Andrew Naine SMITH

Andrew Naine SMITH (1909-1960)

Andrew was the son of Elkhanon and second wife Rosie SINGER, half-brother to Manny FLEISHMAN. No idea where the middle name came from. Andrew worked with his father in his grocery store, but died young of congestive heart failure. Andrew married Nellie BROOKS sometime between 1930 and 1939, but the couple had no children.

Ida SMITH (1917-1919)

Elkhanon’s last child was daughter Ida, born a good eight years after Andrew. She died at less than two years of age, of diphtheria. The diphtheria vaccine, which might have saved her life, was not developed until 1923.

Perhaps someday I will locate descendants of Lorraine, Julius’s daughter, and maybe other children of his as well.


4 thoughts on “Elkhanon Leib Fingerbren, a.k.a. John Smith (1870-1958), and family

  1. robin steinmetz says:

    Regarding Rose(not Rosie) Singer, I am wondering if this could be the same person as the Rose Singer whose daughter or grandaughter started a women’s clothing store in Lebanon , Pa. The store was called Rose Singer. I am interested as I am related to the husband of the person who owned it, Ben Roseman.
    Now, it is particularly interesting since I am related to Roseman on my mother’s side of the family, not my father’s , whose grandparents are the link to the people on the Fingerbren website.
    Ben Roseman was the brother of my grandmother Gertrude Roseman, mother of my mother, Ruth (Barish.)
    This becomes more and more involved and hard for me to keep up.
    On the other hand, Rose, or Rosie, may not be the one I am related to but it does seem interesting, given that Lancaster was not that large a place.


  2. robin steinmetz says:

    Just want to say, once again, my goodness, what a wonder you are to keep all of this in your head or even to understand it all . Good for you and thank you, thank you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: