Digging In To The Collections: Dora Buckstein

A blog post by Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

Exhibit research can be an opportunity to look more closely at some of the lesser-viewed pieces in our collections. Sometimes, this is an immediately fruitful process, with “aha” moments of connections to other materials and convenient stories just waiting to be discovered… more often, though, it’s less satisfying and more frustrating. When those new connections can’t be made, however, even the simple addition of some biographical facts from civic records can add context, provide new layers, and rediscover stories that might otherwise be forgotten.  

Take, for example, this reproduced photograph in our image collection. Though the people are identified, and the era can be guessed at, there are still questions. 

Moses P. and Charne Silberman, with their niece Dora Silberman Buckstein Levy, circa 1900. Gift of Ida and Sol Levy. JMM 1976.14.2

The photo shows an older couple seated in front of an elaborately painted studio backdrop, meant to resemble a castle; standing above them, in a ‘window’ cut out of the backdrop, is a younger woman.  All three are well-dressed, befitting the occasion of having their likenesses preserved in a photographic portrait.  

The donors provided this description: “Mr. and Mrs. Morris (Moshe Pinchas Silverman) and their niece (subsequently adopted daughter), Dora (Devorah) Levy (earlier – first marriage – Buckstein).”  This information gives us enough of the picture that finding new pieces – that is, making sure that we were finding the right pieces – was relatively simple, thanks to the Wonders of the Internet™. Census records, marriage license applications, City directories, and a few articles in the Baltimore Sun help to flesh out the Silbermans’ story. 

 The info in our files names the elder gentleman as Morris P. Silverman, but evidence in the written record eventually piled up and told me that he was Moses P. Silberman (d. 1908), a commercial printer with a shop at 908 E. Baltimore Street.  (Because we have a well-reproduced photographic copy, not the original photo, we don’t know where this image was taken, but there were many photography studios in East Baltimore at the time… including one at 906 E. Baltimore, right next door.) 

Once I’d confirmed that this was the same gentleman (thanks to this article in the Sun about whether Dora would inherit his life insurance), other pieces began to fall into place.

In the 1900 census, widowed Dora Buckstein is living at 908 E. Baltimore with Moses and Charne; in the 1910 census, she is alone at 908, listed as “manager, printing shop.”  The City directory for that year shows that the shop was still listed under Mr. Silberman’s name, however. 

“Printers – Book & Job” listings in the 1909-1910 Baltimore Business Directory, published by R.L. Polk & Co. of Baltimore. Gift of Peppy Zulver. JMM 1990.168.2

Dora came to the United States from Poland in 1891, five years after her aunt and uncle. Marriage license records at the State Archives show that she married Max Buckstein in 1894; he died before 1900, and the census that year tells us that though Dora had given birth to one child, she had no children living.  Charne died in 1906, and Moses two years later, leaving Dora – at least as far as the civic records go – alone in the world. (She did have a cousin, Abraham Silberman, but since he’s the one who tried to prevent her from receiving Moses’s life insurance money, it’s not clear how much good that relationship did her.)   

Looking back to the marriage records, we see that Dora married widower Max Levy on February 12, 1914; they were married by Rabbi Schwartz, of Shomrei Mishmeres.  Max was the father of two children, Sol and Ida – the donors of this photo – who shared their stepmother’s photo and story with us in the mid-1970s. Dora died in 1963, and is buried at Mikro Kodesh, along with her aunt and uncle. 

We have no other photos of Dora, and I’ve found, so far, no photos of the print shop on E. Baltimore.  (Today, that block is taken up by a building that now houses the new National Aquarium Animal Care and Rescue Center; the original storefronts are long gone.)  More digging is required to learn more about Dora’s life, and some elements – such as how she handled taking over her uncle’s printing business – may never be known. But even these few extra facts give the photo just a little more depth. 


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