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Cleveland's First Jewish Burial

Alexander Kahnweiler Documents


His record in the Access Jewish Cleveland online burial database is shown below. A correction is in progress that will show his first name as "Alexander". 

For help in learning more about the identity of the man who was the first to be interred in Cleveland's first Jewish burial ground we turned to the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland, which years ago played a major role in identifying Jewish graves. Its president, Debbie Katz, asked JGSC Research Chair Russ Maurer to assist. He soon responded as follows:  

The entry from the Access Jewish Cleveland database appears to have scrambled the first name. The stone was inventoried by Paul Klein years ago, based on walking Willet Cemetery and reading the inscriptions. Things were considerably less weathered then. He transliterated the Hebrew first name as "Elachsandor" (i.e.  Alexander), which makes more sense than the published  version. He did not find any patronymic (son of).

Having confirmed that the deceased's given name was Alexander, let's turn our attention to the surname Kanweiler. Web searches for "kanweiler" find many hits on the phonetically-equivalent  "kahnweiler" and few on "kanweiler". Further, Kahn is a Germanized form of Cohen, and we know the headstone indicates that he was a Cohen, a member of the priestly class. Weiler is German for small village. Thus, Kahnweiler means a Cohen from a small village. The first time the deceased's surname appeared in print was in 1858 when Isaac Mayer Wise reported what Simson Thorman had told him. But, as the two surnames sound the same and Kahnweiler is the prevailing spelling, we believe it was Kahnweiler, not Kanweiler as published.

Documents related to the deceased's immigration might provide a definitive answer.


The official census day was Monday June 1, 1840. Much "fuzzy" searching for all Ohio and all Cuyahoga County, reviewing perhaps 2,000 entries, found no record for Kanweiler. As he would have been on the road on weekdays, he may have been overlooked by the census.


The city of Cleveland maintained a death register in 1840. It was a compilation of what was submitted by the cemeteries in the city. Willet Street Cemetery was not one of those cemeteries, as it was in Ohio City which did not join Cleveland until 1854.

As Kanweiler died in a rural area outside the city, as expected, his death is not recorded in this register. Cuyahoga County did not maintain death records in 1840. Adjacent counties are not likely, for with travel on a horse at four miles per hour walking and 8 - 12 miles per hour trotting, a trip of about 15 miles would be a practical limit for the area he would work. That would be Bay Village to the west and Warrensville Heights to the southeast -- all within the county. Inquiries to the historical societies of the counties adjacent to Cuyahoga County (Geauga, Portage, Medina and Lorain) have yielded no information.

In "This Tempting Freedom" Allan Peskin wrote that the first Jews of Cleveland saw a Jewish cemetery as an urgent need because of infant mortality. The small segment of the Register shown below confirms that grim aspect of pioneer life. Most of the deaths were of infants and stillborn babies.

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With the help of Jeffrey Morris, a review on July 14, 2023 of the old cards and registry books of Willet Street cemetery  found no card or page with his name.


Ancestry's immigration data base found no Kanweiler or Kahnweiler arriving in 1839 or 1840. We then looked at every Alexander or Alex for those years and found no male immigrant of the appropriate age whose last name was even remotely similar. Further searching, relaxing what we were looking for to just close to Alexander, a surname starting with "Kan", and in 1839 we found six "suspects". Only one had left from Hamburg, Germany, the port other Bavarians had used. He was the age we expected and had arrived in New York a month after the Alsbacher group. The surname Kohn, like Kahn, is a German form of Cohen. An interesting "find" but no assurance that it is our man.

Arnold Berger   July 14, 2023

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