25 January 2010

The Heller Brothers of San Francisco - Part 1

Some of you may remember my research adventures with my Sister-In-Law's family. Well I am back on that train again and thought I would share an afternoon research session with you.

Let me introduce you to the Heller Brothers. Four brothers come to America . . . . It is the family tradition story that when heard, every genealogist begins to do some heavy sighing and eye rolling. But not this time. In this story the four brothers DO come to America, just not at the same time. They arrive within a couple of years of each other, become American citizens and become very successful businessmen. I am getting ahead of myself here.

Once upon a time . . . far, far away in Pretzfeld, Bavaria, Emanuel and Caroline Heller had four sons: William (b. 1814), Moses (b. 1816), Jonas (b. 1819) and Martin (b. 1821). The Heller family were Jewish and their life was tightly regulated. Jews in some parts of Bavaria were often forced to live in a particular area of town. They were required to purchase an annual letter of protection from a noble family. Authorities tried to limit the number of Jews living in any particular town. The only way a Jew who came into maturity could stay in a town is if another Jew died. It was because of these restrictions that between 1840 and 1870, more than 20,000 of Bavaria’s 59,000 Jews immigrated to America. The Heller Brothers were among these emigrants who wanted a better life.

I knew that the Hellers came to San Francisco right after the gold rush so I started with the census. Once I located Martin and Moses Heller in the 1860 census living in San Francisco, I turned to the California Great Register of Voters to help me with when the Hellers came to the U.S.

The California Great Register of Voters
California's Registry Act of 1866 established the Great Register. All voters , which were males age 21 and over, were required to register providing their full name, age, state or country of birth, occupation, and address. If they were of foreign birth they were also to give the date of naturalization, the name of the court which granted citizenship and where the court was located. In 1895 a revision added the voter's physical description, including height, complexion, color of eyes and hair, location of visible marks or scars, and ability to read and write English. You can search the 1867 register
here and the 1872 register here. While both of these are free, ancestry.com has California Voter Registration 1900-1968.

In 1867 Martin Heller was living at 5 Mason Street in San Francisco. He was naturalized on 1 December 1852 in the Montgomery County, Alabama Circuit Court. Moses Heller was living at 32 Ellis Street in San Francisco. He was naturalized 15 November 1853 in the Montgomery County, Alabama Circuit Court. ALABAMA? What were they doing in Alabama?


  1. They went to Alabama because they knew it would make life more interesting for some genealogist in the future?