Sepia Saturday: Finding Lost Treasure, Pt. 9

Continuing with excerpts from my great-grandfather David Blumenfeld's diary, which I discovered two years ago.

While David gets rolling with his new family in Minneapolis, his father, who has abandoned Davd's mother and siblings in Michigan, continues to search for success.

In 1888, the United States government threw open western land for settlement, offering 120 acres of virgin soil free to anyone who would settle thereon. Ben-Zion Blumenfeld was attracted by the possibilities, went to Oregon, and took up a claim with the earnest intention of working it. He found it hard, however, to be alone in his struggle for a new start in life, and hard to adapt himself to the country. [His wife] Leah had no inclination for pioneering so late in life and no desire to be away from the children and civilization in the wild and woolly west.


Leah took her youngest boy, Joseph, with some of her belongings and went to Oregon to look things over. She was very much disappointed, finding Ben-Zion and his enterprise contrary to her liking. He had a two-room shack, one old horse and wagon, a cow, some chickens and barren soil. These constituted “the farm.” Leah lost heart at the sight of such an outfit and taking the boy she went on to San Francisco, to make her home with her daughter Rose who was working in a hospital.

Telegraph Hill, San Fancisco, 1890s

After Leah departed Ben-Zion was heartbroken and embittered, imagining that his wife lost courage and desire to be with him. He sold out his interest and left for an unknown destination.

Meanwhile, influenza sweeps across the Atlantic from Western Europe in 1891 and 1892.

Influenza "remedy"

David came home one day from his shop, complaining of a tremulous beating throughout his brain. He said it was as if a small engine were at work in his head and that the piston and boiler were banging, fizzing and vibrating amid his fevered senses. His senses seemed drugged and his mind dimmed. A doctor was called and he ordered David to bed. [David] was in a state of coma for five weeks, hovering between life and death. A trained nurse was engaged to watch over him.

During these critical weeks Lena [David's wife] gave birth to a girl. It lived only two weeks and was carried out of the house to its final resting place before David was able to see the child. This tragedy left its indelible mark on the young mother, and weakened by physical and mental suffering, she too became very ill.

Only after a confinement of ten weeks was David able to go out. Those weeks with doctors, nurses, medicines and other expenses had taken all the ready savings of the family. The business, in the meantime, had run to ruin and the shop had been pilfered by the dishonest employees who had been left in charge.

Soon, in 1893, the World's Fair opens in Chicago and brings with it the promise of easy money.

1893 Columbian Exposition

David determined to go to Chicago and moved his family, Lena and their little daughter Belle, then about five years old, and opened a little shop. He did fairly well for a man without capital. In November, Lena gave birth to a boy whom they named Albert.

...In 1894, after the Chicago World’s Fair had closed, there were thousands of stranded people from many parts of the world without means of subsistence. The Pullman Car Company strike, as well as many other strikes throughout the steel industry, caused great disturbance in American financial circles. Work of any kind was hard to get at a premium. This was [one] reason why David decided to move back to Minneapolis.

David had not saved any money for traveling expenses. No wonder, considering the amount of sickness. He sold his house furniture and left Chicago barehanded. Coming to Minneapolis, he rented one of the Carr houses on Seventh and Washington Avenue North.

Washington Ave. between 7th and 8th, 50 years later

...They moved to Second Avenue south, corner of 9th Street, where David opened a dressmaking parlor, but he was handicapped financially in pushing his new enterprise.

...But troubles and want had completely conquered David. They had washed him out and left him colorless for the time being. Nevertheless he stubbornly refused to deliver up his lively spirit, though he could not develop any philosophical humor himself and the hard times seemed to leave little humor in anything.

...David shortly after moved to St. Paul, where he found a job. He rented rooms on Chestnut Street. Work in those days was at a premium and only low wages were paid, hardly enough to hold the family’s soul and body together. And the expensive medicines for [Albert] added a strain to their meager income.

Dayton's Bluff, St. Paul 1880

The confusion in David’s mind was sometimes intense. Even when he sat quietly at the table he floundered within himself helplessly, with all the impotent strength of a harpooned whale. “You are a caution, David,” said his friend Abe Calmenson to him one day. “You have the pluck of a lion and the strength of a bull and the pride of the devil to fight misery that is more than I could ever withstand. Oh, you are not beaten yet.”

To be continued…

And find more fascinating posts at Sepia Saturday blog

Some of these photos were borrowed from the following sites:








  1. Looking forward to the next instalment :-)

  2. I just want to keep turning the pages.

    The Carbolic Smoke Ball was at the centre of a famous legal action, I believe. The same poster hangs on the wall of my solicitor's office. He did explain the case in detail, years ago, but it escapes me now.

  3. What hard,sad, frightening times they have back then. Things seemed to go from bad to worse. Oh I do hope they improve in the next instalment.

  4. Hard times strengthens spirits. Can't wait to see what happens next.

  5. This is great! and without the diary so much would have remained unknown. Pretty sad right now but i'm looking forward to improvements down the road.

  6. Few of us could continue on in such hardship - or perhaps we could - we just haven't had the opportunity (thank goodness) to prove ourselves.

  7. Great story and wonderful pictures too. Trying times...

  8. Very interesting - and it's almost like we're getting a mini history lesson besides. I really enjoy how you find photographs to illustrate the entries of the diary.

  9. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "Back to the Homeplace"
    and "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"

  10. What a marvelous post. The story of struggle is hard and it is amazing that they survived it all.