A Case of Mistaken Identity: The Tale of the Two Simons

Have you ever run into someone that has a name similar to yours? Maybe people get you confused with them or think you have an accidental twin? That’s what happened to the Strauss and Strouse families of Titusville in the early 1900s. To make matters even more complicated, they were actually related!

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B’nai Zion today still stands as Bluegill Graphix. Image: Waymarking.com, bpratt.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Titusville was home to many people of the Jewish faith. Titusville featured two congregations, B’nai Zion and B’nai Gemiluth Chesed. I originally wrote about the Jewish community in Titusville in 2018 in this post. In an 1871 newspaper clipping I used in the story, there was mention of Simon Strouse Sr., Simon Strouse Jr., and Jacob Strauss. That caught the attention of the Stern family whose roots trace to Titusville. Over the course of the past few years I have spoken to the Sterns a handful of times, but only upon receiving an email from Harry Stern Jr. did we realize the great mystery that was the Strauss/Strouse family in Titusville!

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The 1871 Titusville Herald newspaper clipping.

At first, we thought maybe there was a misspelling. After all, when you say both names out loud, they sound exactly alike. But, through research into newspaper records, vital records, and residential records, it was uncovered that both families existed and were separate, though the paper did mix up a few details.

Simon Strouse Sr. was not a Sr. and Simon Strouse Jr. was actually Simon Strauss Jr. The 1876 Titusville city directory gave us some insight, showing a listing for a Simon Stauss and a Simon Strouse.

Simon Strauss was the Jr. mentioned in the newspaper. We are unsure why he was given the honorific Jr. because his father’s name was Gustav. Simon Strauss Jr. was the president of the B’nai Zion congregation and owned a popular grocery at 206 South Franklin Street.

Simon Strauss Jr. was born in Germany and moved to the U.S. as a young man. After arriving in Titusville, he married Hanchen Loeb. The family lived above the grocery store and Strauss served on the Titusville School Board. They had four children: Joseph Strauss, Dr. Fletcher Strauss, Fannie Strauss, and Sigmund Strauss.

After being raised in Titusville, son Joseph Strauss (photos below) moved to Chicago to work as a sportswriter for the Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper. He was there during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition where the first Ferris Wheel in the United States was unveiled. Eventually, Joseph opened a printing company and married. His daughter, Hanchen Strauss Stern, is the mother of the Sterns who started our quest!

Simon Strouse was born December 22, 1829 in Bavaria and died January 14, 1906 in Titusville according to his obituary and the Rauh Jewish Archives of Heinz History Center. He came to the United States at 19 years old and became a German teacher. In 1864 he married Regina Loeb (this name should sound familiar!) and the couple settled in Titusville where he was a member of B’nai Zion and a Justice of the Peace.

Throughout his life, Strouse also served terms as coroner for Crawford County and on the Titusville School Board. The couple had three children: Joseph, Samuel, and Jennie. Son Samuel Strouse ran a popular men’s clothing store with his partner, John Benson, called Strouse & Benson at 109 West Spring Street.  When Samuel Strouse died in 1938, he was the last surviving original member of the B’nai Zion congregation.

Sam Strouse
Samuel Strouse. Image courtesy of Jeffrey Stern.

Hanchen Loeb and Regina Loeb were sisters who married two men with the same first name and very similar last names, both with ties to Titusville. Thus, Simon Strauss and Simon Strouse were brothers-in-law. Both families had close ties to Chicago and Simon Strauss died there in 1919.

After uncovering and piecing together the information about how these families were connected, Harry Stern Sr. shared his fond memories of visiting Titusville in 1936 and 1938. He told me that he remembered leaving Sam Strouse’s house to watch baseball games and getting muddy playing in the creek with his brother behind the house more than eighty years ago.

Citizenship for Simon Strauss Jr
Citizenship Certificate for Simon Strauss Jr. signed by William Jennings Bryan in 1913. Provided courtesy of Jeffrey Stern.

Families are complicated. Genealogy is challenging. But when you combine forces to unravel the past, the payoff is always satisfying. Want to know more about your family? Check out our great Ancestry and NewspaperArchive resources that you can use from home during COVID-19 or send me an email at jessica.hilburn@ccfls.org. You never know what you might uncover!

Note: A huge thank you to Harry Stern Sr., Harry Stern Jr., and Jeffrey Stern for providing information, photos, and great conversations in the making of this post. This information was posted with the permission of the family.

Header Image: Hotel deWeil from Rauh Jewish Archives – Weil Family Photographs – Drake Well image, circa 1870.

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