Family legends abound, passed down from one generation to the next, morphing, changing, just like the DNA that is also passed down. Often the gist of the story is correct, but perhaps the names or locations are a bit off. Such is the case with a recent bit of research I did.
I presented “Bagging a Live One: Connecting with Cousins You Never Knew You Had” recently to the Bothell branch of the King County Library. One of my attendees, “Fred”[1, had several questions during the presentation as well as during the Q&A, and even as I packed up my computer at the end, he came up to ask a few more. He’s struggling a bit on both sides of his family, with a father who was adopted from an orphanage and a Cohen family on the other side, a relatively common Jewish surname that he felt would be daunting to trace. One bit he told me about particularly intrigued me. It seems his grandfather, George Cohen, was an artist who painted some of the gubernatorial portraits hanging in the Texas state capitol in Austin. Apparently George was also “disowned” by his family for marrying outside the Jewish faith. As I was heading to Austin the following week I thought it might be fun to see what I could dig up. Fred emailed later with a few more details including his mother’s name and birth date and her sisters’ names. I was off and running!
Right away I found a Texas birth index record for Fred’s mom, Dorothy Savanna Cohen, correct birth date, and a complete father’s name, George Powell Cohen. Gotta love a unique middle name! Mom was Evelyn Pauline Wright. I struggled a bit searching the 1920 census. But then I found Fred’s aunt’s 1919 birth index record, Marybell, daughter of George P. Cohen and Evelia Pauline Connelly. Dad’s details match with a birthplace of Waco on both, and though Mom’s name is not exactly spot on, her birthplace of Atlanta, Georgia matched on both records. Connelly definitely points to an Irish background, likely a Christian one, lending credence to the part of the story that religion might have been a divisive issue between George and his parents. But with this new information, I was able to zero in on a 1920 census record for George P and Pauline with a daughter Mary. The reason it was so hard to find? It was indexed as Cohers, but I blame sloppy penmanship and an unfamiliar indexer. Birth places match. However George is a furniture salesman, not an artist. OK, maybe a starving artist needs to make a living to support his wife and growing family, so the art could have been a part time gig. The World War I draft registration card dated three years earlier for George Powell Cohn also shows him as a furniture salesman in Port Arthur, Texas, born in Waco on 28 July 1887. I can’t really explain, the Cohn/Cohen connection – the signature even says “Geo. P. Cohn,” quite clearly no “e,” but the middle name, occupation and birth location all match so I believe this is the same man.
There aren’t a lot of George Cohen’s in Texas on the 1900 census, and even fewer born in July 1887, but in Houston, Texas, I found George, son of Lawrence L. Cohen and his wife, Savannah. (Another question answered – where did Dorothy’s middle name come from?) Lawrence’s occupation? You guessed it, portrait painter. Houston and Galveston newspapers reported extensively on Lawrence’s artistic endeavors. In 1874 he was commissioned to renovate three paintings from the State Capital – a portrait of Stephen F. Austin, another of General Sam Houston, and a third of George Washington. In 1898 he “received orders from Austin for large oil portraits of Generals R. E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Albert Sydney Johnston, also an order for a portrait of Governor Frank Lubbock.” The portrait of Governor Lubbock hanging in the gubernatorial gallery at the Capitol in Austin is an 1888 portrait by Hubble, so perhaps Cohen’s portrait of Lubbock was commissioned by someone else in Austin. My trip to the visitor’s center at the Capitol could not turn up any evidence of Cohen works in the building.
As for the story of religious dissention in the Cohen marriage, Lawrence and Savannah’s eldest son, Lawrence L Cohen, Jr. became a Methodist minister, so it’s unlikely that Christianity would have been unfavorably regarded in the Cohen household. A 1913 newspaper article about Rev. Cohen says, “His name, distinctively Hebraic, is a heritage from his paternal forebears, where a mild strain of the Hebrew race has existed for many generations. On his mother’s side of the house, Rev. Mr. Cohen is of pure Scotch-Irish descent.” Maybe a rift occurred a generation or two prior with an earlier marriage.
Yes, there are kernels of truth in most family stories. The task for a genealogist is to pick apart the tales and match the right details to the right people.
 In the interest of privacy, I have changed the name of the living person.
 US Federal census, Year: 1920; Census Place: Beaumont Ward 2, Jefferson, Texas; Roll: T625_1823; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 91; Image: 427
 "United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KZXJ-NBB : accessed 29 May 2016), George Powell Cohn, 1917-1918; citing Jefferson County no 2, Texas, United States, NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,953,881.
 US Federal Census, Year: 1900; Census Place: Houston Ward 4, Harris, Texas; Roll: 1642; Page: 15A; Enumeration District: 0068; FHL microfilm: 1241642
 Galveston Daily News, 18 July 1874, page 5
 The Houston Post, 2 October 1898, page 10
 Dallas Morning News, 14 December 1913, section one, page 13
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.