26 January 2010

The Heller Brothers of San Francisco - Part 2

I left off yesterday with the discovery that before Martin and Moses Heller came to California, they had been living in Montgomery County, Alabama where Martin was naturalized in 1852 and his brother Moses in 1853. I found this information in the California Great Register of Voters for 1867. I decided to let this sit for the time being and move on to San Francisco County history books.

A search for Martin Heller in the
San Francisco County Golden Nugget Library gave me "The Bay of San Francisco: The Metropolis of the Pacific Coast and its Suburban Cities; A History." In it I found a bio for Martin Heller. This had to be one of the most detailed biographies I have ever come across. At the time of publication all of the Heller brothers had passed away except for Martin. Two pages of information about Martin's life but these snippets were the most important to me at this point in my research:

"Mr. Heller married, in 1850, Miss Babeth Kupfer, a native of Germany. Six children have been born to them, the first two in Alabama and the others in San Francisco. Their names are Carrie, Sarah, Emanuel, Moses, Clara and Sigi. Two of the sons and one of the daughters are married and reside in San Francisco, and the others live with their parents at their beautiful home."

". . . came to the United States in 1844. For three years he was a peddler in New Jersey. He then opened a store in that State on his own account, and remained there three years longer. From there he removed to Montgomery, Alabama, and continued in business at that place till 1856, when his brothers and himself came to the Pacific coast . . ."

Aha! Another reference to residence in Alabama, plus when he came to the U.S. and where he lived. For brother Moses Heller, I found a biography of his grandson in “The History of San Francisco” :

"The grandfather of Edward H. was Moses Heller, a native of Bavaria, who emigrated to the United States in 1848, and first settled in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1850, he came to San Francisco by way of the Isthmus of Panama, and here became one of the pioneer wholesale merchants. He was also a member of the famous vigilance committee, one of the most effective law-enforcement bodies in America pioneer history, and he was very active in all civic movements and in Masonic work. His wife, who was Amelia Nickelsburg prior to their marriage, was also born in Bavaria, Germany, and came to the United States about 1860. They were married in San Francisco, and became the parents of three sons and two daughters."

If your research leads you to the San Francisco Bay area, there are two websites that should be on your list. The Golden Nugget Library has oodles of online, searchable databases that include: Social Registries, Articles, Directories, Argonaut Passenger's Lists, Government Rosters, Organization's Members lists, Church lists, 1906 San Francisco Earthquake Photos, 1870 Petitions and Links to Biographies.

The other site is
San Francisco Genealogy. This site has online databases that contain records for the city and county of San Francisco. Here you'll find birth, marriage, and death records. Also land records, probate records, tax lists, census records, ship passenger lists and unique obscure databases like the coroner's reports and funeral home records.

Before I went on the hunt for passenger lists and naturalization records, I wanted one more source to back up the information I had just found. Where to look when you want a life story other than a biography? Why yes, that is correct - OBITUARIES!

I found the obit for Moses Heller first. Moses died 13 October 1885 and his obit in the “Daily Alta California” the following day was an entire half page!

“Deceased was born in Pretsfeld, Bavaria, in October, 1816, and early in youth came to this country in company with his three brothers, Jonas, Martin and William, the last-named being the eldest. Moses went to the South, traveling through the country with a peddler's wagon, . finally locating in Montgomery, Ala. He opened a dry goods store and lived there several years. From there he came to this city. His brothers William and Martin soon followed him. Then was established the firm of M. Heller &, Bros., Martin, Moses and Jonas being associated together, the last named being the resident partner in New York. “

The news of Martin Heller’s death on 22 September 1894 made headlines in the “San Francisco Morning Call”

“Martin Heller was born in Bavaria, where he was educated and received his first training in the dry-goods business which he followed through the remainder of his life. He came to the United States in 1844 and began his career as a peddler, making New Jersey his first field of labor. From the modest beginning of a peddler he opened a store, but soon after went to Montgomery, Ala., where he engaged in his favorite pursuit for some years. In 1858 he and one of his three brothers came to the Pacific Coast and very soon opened a dry-goods establishment in San Francisco under the firm name of Heller & Brothers.”

and the “San Francisco Chronicle”

“Martin Heller was born at Pretzfeld in Bavaria and was therefore 73 years of age at the time of his death. He came to the United States in 1844. Lived and did business in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and finally settled in 1847 in Montgomery Alabama with his brother Moses who was his lifelong companion.
There is a story that while living in Montgomery during the yellow fever epidemic of 1849-1850, he sacrificed his business for his interest in humanity and went to the aid of the sick without fear of catching it himself.
The Heller brothers remained in Montgomery until 1856 when they came to San Francisco and founded the firm of M. Heller & Brother . . .”

For online historic California newspapers there are 3 places I go. Each site is unique in their holdings:

The California Digital Newspaper Collection

Chronicling America at the Library of Congress


Tomorrow join me as I track down passenger lists and naturalization records.


  1. Awesome! Can't wait for tomorrow's installment! You tell the story, I'll bring the popcorn and chocolate :-)


  2. Thanks for sharing your research as the story unfolds... I was not aware of two of the three links you posted, so I'll be checking those out for my own research. :)

  3. Thanks for this post, it is great