Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday's Faces From the Past: Mystery Man

Today's Face From the Past is linked to last week's guest post by Lorraine Arnold. Her detective work helped answer the question: Where Was This Picture Taken? The picture in question was a photograph of my great-grandfather, William Bloomfield, standing proudly in-front of a building (see photo on the right). The answer: the picture was taken in-front of the Guenard Speed & Clemens building in Houston. This seemingly straightforward reply, leads to many more questions and a second photograph. In this second photo, from my grandmother's boxes was not labeled. In it, William poses next to an unknown man at the same exact spot next to the Guernard building. This mystery man is today's featured Face From the Past.

William and mystery man on Commerce Street
c. 1919
William Bloomfield infront of the 
Guenard, Speed & Clemens building
817 - 819 Commerce Street, Houston c1919 .
Part of my intrigue with the first photo, was the "unknown" man in the second photo. When I initially asked Lorraine to help identify the building, I was also hoping to uncover clues leading to this mysterious man. The men appear dressed and ready for work. Their matching cut off ties, a uniform of sorts, suggesting the photographs were taken near their place of employment.

Our mystery man, must have had an important role in William's life. He appears not only in the Commerce Street photo, but I also recognize him in another important photograph.

William and Minnie Bloomfield with an unknown man.
Jersey City, c1920.

This is the only photograph of my great-grandparents together taken during their brief courtship before or shortly after the tied the knot (see: Love Story 1920s style). The lovers are posing outside cigar shop in Jersey City. William, dressed in his Sunday best, looks almost relieved, if not happy, as opposed to the serious face he often lends to photographers. Minnie, is wearing a hat! If this photo was not taken the day they got married, it certainly was at a special event they were attending. Mystery man, stands proudly beside the happy couple! Like William, he also travelled on the long journey from Houston (not an easy endeavor in 1920).  In this photograph, he is wearing the same striped shirt from the faded Houston photo and notably, a full length tie. Who is he? Did he make the journey up north with William or perhaps he came up for a special occasion? Why did they both abandon their jobs in Texas? According to Minnie's writing, William was only passing through New York. She never mentioned he came with a friend or for a special occasion. He was visiting relatives and friends. His aunt Ida Weiner, offered him a job in Pittsburgh and he left New York. Was the job in Houston no longer available? Maybe he just missed the North East? History is a testament to the fact that meeting Minnie, sidetracked William from his original plan.

Houston City Directory 1919 listing for Bloomfield William 
Back mystery man. My only clue, the Guernard, Speed and Clemens building, helped me locate William in the 1919 City Directory. As, I mentioned last week, I discovered that he indeed work for a produce company, but not the Guernard, Speed & Clemens Company, but a competitor, the Houston Fruit and Produce Company. As a cashier, he must have carted vegetable crates as well and work the cash register, hence the cutoff tie.

Houston Fruit & Produce Co listing from
the Houston City Directory 1919
In the listing to the left, tucked between, the Houston Foundation and the Houston Furniture & Auction Company, is William's employer, the Houston Fruit & Produce Company. Two important pieces of information standout in this listing. The first, The Houston Fruit & Produce company was also on Commerce Street (#906). A few warehouses down from the Guernard Speed & Clemens Co. (#817-819). The second fact, Morris Pomerantz and Morris Birenbaum owned the Company.

This is huge! I know these two names. They are relatives! William was working for family! Morris Pomerantz, aka Morris Aaron Pomerantz, was William's maternal uncle. Morris Birenbaum, was Morris Pomerantz's half brother-in-law (his wife's half brother). The relationship is even more complicated, Morris Pomerantz's wife Fannie Leah Pomerantz (Birenbaum) was also her husband's niece and William Bloomfield's first cousin, making Morris Birenbaum, Williams cousin's half brother. 

Next, I set out to map and create a timeline for the Pomerantz Houstonian clan. Here is a summary of what I learned from the City Directories and additional sources (limited to sources available online, until I make a research trip to Houston):
The Houston Fruit & Produce Company first appears as a company in the 1913 Houston City Directory. In it's early years, it was located even closer to the Guenard building, at #811 Commerce Street. In it's inception the company was owned by three, not two, partners: Morris Birnebaum, Morris Pomerantz and Jake Pomerantz (Morris Pomerantz's younger brother).

The three business partners not only worked together but also live together at, 1218 Chartres. Jake and Morris Birenbaum were single, while Morris Pomerantz was married but living in America without his family. His family joins him in 1914. By 1915, Jake Pomerantz is no longer listed as a partner in the company and does appear in the Houston City Directory. The produce company relocates a bit further down Commerce Street to #906 where it remains at least until 1920. The two remaining partners, Morris Pomerantz and Morris Birenbaum continue to live together (listed at 1801 Maple Avenue). In December of that year Morris Birenbaum marries Miss Annie Dorensfield. Their son Abe is born in 1916 and by 1917 they have moved out of the Pomerantz home and into, 2007 Summer Street.  In 1918, the Birenbaums are living at 1804 Sherman Street and the Pomerantz family is at 1911 Franklin Ave. 
William Bloomfield, WWI Draft Registration Card Sep 12, 1918
Following William Bloomfield's tracks in Houston is difficult. Though I know he was in Texas from about 1915-1920 (from Minnie's Memoir), I  found little documentation to support this.  His WWI Draft Registration papers, report him as residing at 1804 Sherman Street (with Morris Birenbaum), and employed at the Houston Fruit Company. He is listed with the Birenbaums in the 1919 City directory, but then moves in with the Pomerantzs to Franklin Street (according to the US Census taken on Jan 5-6th, 1920). 

Mapping the family, helps understand the close-knit relationship between these men and leads me back to mystery man. It seems very likely that the man in question is one of the Houston relatives whom William roomed with and was employed by. 

Morris Aaron Pomerantz early 1900.
To prove my theory, I turn to pictures of the three brothers and partners. I doubt our mystery man is Morris Pomerantz whose photo from the early 1900s does not show much resemblance. When I asked Morris Pomerantz's grandson about the picture and the family business, he recalled that his grandfather began his career in the produce sector with a banana stand. He agreed that the man in question, does not look like his grandfather. 

Jake Palmer (Pomerantz)
and family 1937.
Jake Pomerantz is least likely to be the man we are looking for, since he left the company and Houston early on. His photo from 1937 confirms this claim and shows little resemblance to mystery man.

Front (Left to Right) Max Blumenfeld,
William Bloomfield. Back: Morris Birenbaum
Claremont, NH c1905
This leaves Morris Birenbaum as the most likely candidate. Turns out, Mr. Birenbaum  arrived in the US around the same time as William Bloomfield, c1904. The photo I have of Morris Birenbaum was taken with William, in 1905 shortly after they arrived in Claremont, NH. This one hundred and seven year old picture attests to Morris Birenbaum presence in Claremont along with the Bloomfield brothers. I also have reason to suspect that Morris Birenbaum worked at the Maynard Shoe Company and rented a room from William Parents. In the 1910 US Census, three boarders are listed at the Bloomfield's Claremont Residence: Nathan Polen (a cousin), Oscar Friedman (another cousin) and Morris Baum. I'm guessing he must have been related as well. My hunch is, that Baum is short for Birenbaum. Nathan Polen and Morris Baum are both listed as shoemakers.

Here is the question of the day, and one, I may never be able to answer. Is mystery man, Morris Birenbaum?  Does he look like an older Morris Birenbaum, compared to the 1905 picture? To me he does! Same facial features, similar frizzy curls and an identical hairline. My money is on him! What do you think? Take another look at the close ups of Morris Birenbaum and mystery man side by side.

Morris Birenbaum c1905
Closeup mystery man

I look forward to hearing your thoughts! Have a great weekend!

To read more about the Bloomfields visit these earlier posts:


  1. Great conclusion! I was rooting for Morris Birenbaum all through your post, especially once you said Pomerantz was the uncle, because the mystery man looks William's age in the original photo.

    I definitely think that the last two photos are of the same man at different ages. Same nose, same ears, same facial shape -- and definitely the same curly hair on top!

    A great example of persistent research!

    1. Thanks Mariann! I'm glad you see the similarity as well! As far as the age difference, both Morris Aaron Pomerantz the uncle and Morris Birenbaum were born around 1881. William, born in 1887 is only six years younger than both even tough he is from another generation (William's mother was the oldest of 9 siblings, Morris Aaron the 7th and Jake the 8th, only two years older than William his Nephew). It's seems as though they were more like peers, although they owned the business and William worked for them so he wasn't quite at the same level!

  2. When the Houston Fruit and Produce Co. was at 811 Commerce, I would guess it was directly across the street from M. Morales & Sons, which was at 812. Nothing on the odd side of the street today but freeways and open space. I tried to see if the building at 906 is still standing, but I wasn't sure from google maps. There is an Old Spaghetti Warehouse at 901 Commerce and across the street it looks like 1-2 old buildings refurbished into offices and the rest of the block is parking garage. I also looked at the addresses where your people lived in comparison to my husband's. They weren't far from each other, but not close neighbors. My husband's ggrandfather and grandfather lived in the area that was predominantly Italians at that time. Fun to read about William and the others!

    1. It does look like my people and your husband's people did at least early on have businesses literally across the street from each other. I have not been able to locate the buildings either. I did look into the Old Spaghetti building as it spans the whole block and may have occupied more than the 901 lot, but I'm pretty sure it's not the building. They did do a nice job preserving it, so it certainly gives a sense of what it used to look like. I hope to visit the city of Houston's historical society in the future and see if they can help me identify the building and see if there is an existing structure. Do you know what year the Morales Business moved into Commerce Street?

    2. I don't know except that it was by 1929.

    3. Kathy, I spent some time tracing the Morales M & Sons business and the Houston Fruit and Produce Co's history on Commerce street though the city directories. "My people" appeared as a produce business at 811 Commerce in 1913 (Houston City directory) and moved to 906 Commerce in 1915 where they remained at least until 1920. Much earlier Martin Morales has a Beer and Grocery store at 2201 Commerce Av beginning in 1892. The first mention of him in the grocery business, I could find was 1890 at the corner of Congress and Labrance. In 1894 is the first mention of the M Morales Co with Cino Samperri. They seem to remain at this location until 1907 when they move to 311 Buffalo Street and Samperri has his own grocery on 2715 Harrisburg Rd. First mention of Martin retiring is in 1913 and the first mention of the M Morales and Sons is in the 1920 city directory. Here they are listed at the 811 Commerce street location. Non of the locations were far from each other, but I don't believe they overlapped on the 800 block ever. There is good reason to believe they knew each other and had work relations.

  3. Wow - you did a lot of research. what is your source for the city directories? I've been searching on and adding to people as I find them. I haven't worked on my husband's family very much, but I know the Samperi's are related somehow. I'll see my mother-in-law this weekend and see if she can shed any more light on the business - although the Morales' were her husband's family. With the overlapping years and close proximity, it does seem likely that they knew each other. Thank you for looking into this!

    1. I also use for the city directories. I just searched Martin Morales and limited the search to Houston and City Directories and then went year by year. I'm pretty sure Martin's wife Annie (I believe I saw her also listed as Antonia or something like that, don't quote me, I'm writing this form memory), was a Samperri, but I can't remember why I concluded that, so you'll have to go back and look at the sources. I think it might have been an early census.

    2. Yes Antonia Samperi (also known as Anna Morales, Antonia Samperi and Antoinette Samperi) and Martin Joseph Morales were married and immigrated from Mezzojuso, Sicily in the mid-1880's - believe it was 1886 but looking for passenger list to confirm. They are my great grandparents. I have their photos. My family believes they came to the USA through Galveston with 2 kids. The other 8 children were born in Houston, TX, one of which was my grandfather, Joseph Martin Morales. Joseph and one of his brother's ran the produce business together on Commerce Street. My mom sold the building to a law firm in the 1970's.

  4. Julia, I'm so happy you found me. I would love to see a picture of your great grandparents!


Thanks for sharing your comments!