“A garden of roses”

Nathan Rosenau
Nathan Rosenau (1835-1920)

My genealogical journey started sometime between elementary school and junior high school with a crude, hand drawn chart of “the family” going back three or four generations. While my mother, Ellen Harris Solomon, had some interest in the history of our family, it was her sister, Jean Harris Sterne Steinhart, who, with their parents, Alice Selig Harris and Harold Rosenau Harris, was the keeper of the Harris family flame. The one line we’ve been able to follow back to 1750 is the Rosenau family in Bad Kissingen, Bavaria.

The chart remained rolled up and yellowing on the top shelf of my closet for many years, until in 1995 I got a call from a distant cousin, Ellen Ilfeld, whose name I knew but whom I had never met. Ellen asked if I knew we had relatives in France,[1] adding that they (my third cousin once removed Ariane Rosenau Levery and her husband Francis) were making an around-the-world tour following Francis’s retirement from IBM. They would be coming to Boston and would like to meet me. I said I had heard of them and that the only contact with them that I knew of had been in the early 1950s, when my Harris grandparents met them in Paris.

So they arrived and with them brought a family tree they had made and sure enough, on it we found a familiar name, Dr. Milton J. Rosenau. It turns out he was probably the best known Rosenau of his generation, having started the Schools of Public Health at Harvard and the University of South Carolina.

With this discovery, all sorts of doors began to open with various exchanges of French and American cousins culminating in a four-day Rosenau Family Reunion (Ein Familientreffen) in Bad Kissingen in June of 2007. With the help of John Cahn, a German-speaking cousin one generation senior to me, the gathering took place with four generations coming from the United States, Canada, Israel, and France. The town welcomed us with open arms, planning various tours and meetings with local dignitaries, with the Bad Kissingen Historical Society and other townsfolk interested in us and the history of their town.

The town has beautiful nineteenth-century hotels along the Saale River and contains, as the name Bad indicates, several sulphur mineral springs, the most famous being the Rakoczi Spring. The town’s Kurhaus is home to a well-known summer classical music series and Bad Kissingen is still known today for its spectacular rose gardens. Over the years it has hosted several well-known celebrities such as Austrian Empress Elisabeth (a/k/a Empress Sissi), the Italian composer Giaochino Rossini, Leo Tolstoy, King Ludwig I, and German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Of the 19th century Rosenau family in Bad Kissingen, its most celebrated member was a jeweler who designed the elaborate gold ceremonial necklace of the Office of the Mayor. It is said that Henry Kissinger’s great-great-grandfather, Meyer Loeb, derived his name from the town in 1817.

So how did the name Rosenau come into being? The story goes that Nathan, the son of my earliest known ancestor Samuel (c. 1750), chose to marry a young lady by the name of Jendlein. At that time in Europe, people were asked to take on a last name.  When Nathan and his fiancée appeared before the judge asking to be married, he said to her, “You are so beautiful you remind me of a garden of roses.” Hence the name Rosenau.

My genealogical journey has been life-changing, with wonderful family relationships continuing throughout the United States, Europe, and Israel. The French connection (and my very bad French) has evolved in several areas including my daughter, Rachael, who is now in the process of applying for French citizenship and who with her husband, Andrew François Silard, plans to spend considerable time living in France.


[1] At some point during the 1880s my great-grandmother’s first cousin Selmar Rosenau left Bad Kissingen for France to open an antiques shop, most likely in Paris.

About Steve Solomon

Steve’s development career in Boston has focused primarily in the cultural, conservation, and academic communities, as chief development officer for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Museum of Fine Arts, Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Mass Audubon, Peabody Essex Museum, Museum of Science, and Boston Ballet.

17 thoughts on ““A garden of roses”

  1. In German, Aue doesn’t mean “garden”. It means “meadow/water-meadow. It’s the same as the first part of my own surname, Aurand. So maybe he meant that she reminded him of a “meadow of roses”.

    BTW, while the adoption of surnames was required by many countries about this time especially in Scandinavia, in the German states it was aimed especially at Jewish families. In both cases, it was intended to replace the X son of Y son of Z system. It was more compatible with government record-keeping. For Jews, there were restrictions about what words that be used as elements in a new surname. Nature words were especially favored.

    1. Thanks for the clarification: I think the ” garden of roses” story was passed down because of the large number of beautiful rose gardens in Bad Kissingen.

    2. Castle Ruins Rosenau 

      In a document dated February 27, 1222, Dietrich mentions 
      of Dorndorf – a descendant of the house Wied – to the 
      first time “Von Rosenouwe”. Probably he was one 
      Follower of the Archbishop of Cologne. For his castle 
      Rosenau was strikingly well integrated into the castle system 
      with Rolandseck, Godesburg, Drachenfels and Wolkenburg 
      the southern flank of the aristocracy. In a contract 
      from November 1243 Agnes, the widow of Dietrich, sold 
      from Rosenau, the castle to the monastery Heisterbach. this 
      was expressly the right to destroy the castle 
      assured. After a second sale in 1249, 
      was concluded because a lawmaker 
      which Agnes von Rosenau had raised up 
      the castle around 1250 on the heisterbach monastery 
      destroyed. The remains were built in 1990/1991 with the help of the IG Berg- 
      Construction and Energy, the State of North Rhine-Westphalia and 
      the city Königswinter. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burgruine_Rosenau

  2. What a pleasant journey to read about! – Like you, I know all too well about the “yellowing family history charts” left behind by the elders. These charts always fascinated me as a young boy – as they seemed to read more like a (albeit unfinished) treasure map than a chart. It’s interesting also that one comes back to these same charts left behind by previous generations intermittently through the years where and when more clues to our family histories are revealed and discovered. That which appeared unknown, impossible, or at best insignificant on the chart from the perspective of a 16 year old takes on a new light at the age of 35.

    I very much enjoyed hearing from you how Nathan took his name. What a beautiful and poignant “tale of old” to pass on to your daughter Rachel, and indeed the children of the rest of your family. It sounds like yours has been a true path of discovery, spanning many countries, cultures, and languages. You are so very fortunate to have made such great connections with your relatives previously unknown and throughout the world. Kudos to you for this, and for keeping an eye on those old family charts that would eventually help reveal all of these wonderful people and places to you.

    Best regards,

    J. Record

    1. What a lovely story of discovering roots going back generations, and across nations. My family isn’t Jewish, but on both sides the patronymics got in the way of pushing back what we’ve been able to learn. Now that I’ve begun to learn how it works in both Norway and New Netherland, progress is possible, if not always easy!

      When I was a child, we had “huge” family reunions on both sides of the family, between 80 and 100 people, four and sometimes five generations. Somehow when my grandparents and their siblings died, though, it was harder to keep up the interest. Now my generation’s trying to keep it going. Last week was my father’s family, and we thought we were doing well to get 18, four generations! Tomorrow will be my mother’s Norwegian clan, and 22 have signed up. The forecast is for 75, drizzle. We do have tents, so maybe celebrating my mother’s 100th birthday will help. Last week the prize for distance was a first cousin I hadn’t seen since 1992, who came from San Jose to Seattle. The Norwegian group’s mostly local, though one first cousin once removed lives in Norway. She can’t come this time, unfortunately. But her father just visited her, and will bring pictures of her family, and of the town our grandfather was born in.

      Love your Nathan’s facial hair. What do you call that?

  3. Wonderful story, and a delightful reunion from the sounds of it. I miss my family’s reunions, but we’ve scattered in more ways than one. Probably one reason we’ve become so interested in genealogy; that sense of connectedness (I do keep finding cousins I hadn’t known about, so maybe there’s a reunion coming up).

    I think Nathan’s facial hair is what was known as “muttonchops”. I grew up in an odd corner of the west where some of the oldtimers still wore muttonchops when I was young. Come to think of it, last time I visited, I saw some more recent oldtimers wearing muttonchops– they may be part of the regional culture.

  4. What an interesting story of your work into genealogy. My interest dates back to when I was thirteen years old in 1961. My beloved grandmother had kept a notebook of family material and, upon seeing it, my genealogical thinking began. Now, 53 years later that notebook is mine and my files and bookshelves are filled with genealogical and historical materials. My work now is to organize the material and print materials about ancestors and local history. The work that I have done on my ahnentafel has been exciting and the clues that have appeared over the years have been most helpful.

    As the last surviving member of my generation, we gathered all the descendants of my parents at our home last summer. My gift to each member attending was a 157 page book on the lives of my parents, Herschel James and Madaline Dorothy (Gipson) Hawkins. It was such great fun to compile. Next summer we are planning a reunion of the descendants of my grandparents, Ralph Emerson and Gertrude (Gerry) Gipson and a booklet on their lives is in the works.

    Preserving these stories is important work as we grow older. Their lives were important and remembering and investigating their lives is so important to future generations.

  5. I came across your post purely by accident while researching my husband’s family-tree, and it appears you two are distant cousins: Nathan Rosenau (1835-1920) is his maternal 2nd-great grandfather.

    I’ve enjoyed learning about my ancestor-in-laws, but until now I’d not heard the story of how the name Rosenau came into being. Thank you for sharing this!

  6. Good work, Steve! No complaint, but Uncle Milton started the school of public health at U. of NORTH Carolina – Chapel Hill, where according to its site is “Rosenau Hall (Public Health, Maternal & Child Health)”

  7. How interesting! I was always curious what meaning was of the name Rosenau. I’m Dutch/indonesian. The name Rosenau is from my indonesian side of the family!

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