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Sonneborn Family Collection

Identifier: AR 4802

Scope and Content Note

The Sonneborn Family Collection focuses on the family history and genealogy of members of the greater Sonneborn family, including various branches of the family, but especially including the Behrend family. The bulk of the collection consists of the writings of Charles Behrend Sonneborn in his books and newsletters; other material includes genealogical and research notes, including various articles, and photographs and other documentation pertaining to the Rodenberg Jewish Cemetery.

Most prominent in this collection are Charles Behrend Sonneborn's writings. These consist of bound volumes that not only document the genealogy of members of the extended Sonneborn and Behrend families, but also include extensive anecdotes and stories of family members, detailing the lives of numerous members of the families. Additionally included among the pages of these writings are copies of photographs or clippings that pertain to family members. These writings comprise the bulk of Series I (Sonneborn family) and Series II (Behrend family). In addition, Series I also holds copies of the Sonneborn Sentinel, produced by Charles Sonnenborn with the assistance of family members, which updated the extended family on news and significant events as well as disseminating interesting facts about the family history.

A small amount of material likely used by Charles Sonnenborn in his research is located in Series III. This includes copies of articles, copies of research from official agencies in the town of Lauenau, and documentation on the Jewish Cemetery of Rodenberg, Germany, a town from which various branches of the Behrend family derived.


  • 1978-2001
  • Majority of material found within 1994-2001


Language of Materials

The collection is primarily in English, with some German and a small amount of Hebrew.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Access Information

Collection is digitized. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011


Biographical Note

The town of Breidenbach in Hessen was apparently settled by the Sonneborn family around the 12th century. Following the decree of Napoleon that insisted all citizens take surnames, some family members took Rosenthal, some Stern, and others took Sonneborn. There appear to be several stories pertaining to how the Sonneborn family received its surname. The first individual recorded to use this name in Breidenbach was Aaron Loew (Arjeh); his children included Feibel and Uri.

Near the end of the 1840s, Henry Sonneborn, the son of Moses in Breidenbach, immigrated to the United States, where he settled in Baltimore, Maryland and founded a men's clothing factory. By the 1880s portions of the family had left Breidenbach for Cologne where they founded a business that eventually became known as the Ölwerke Stern-Sonneborn AG (Ossag), with branch offices in England, Paris and Italy; the firm was eventually bought by Shell Oil in 1925. Several family members moved to Baltimore to join their relatives there, among them Auguste Sonneborn, daughter of Levi Sonneborn of Marburg and his wife Amalie (née Bacherach), and her brothers Siegmund and Ferdinand, who followed in the family tradition by founding L. Sonneborn Sons, Inc., in 1903, a petroleum and oil company.

In 1935 the two Sonneborn brothers living in Baltimore, Siegmund and Ferdinand, pledged to pay for the transportation to Israel (then Palestine) and education of thirty-eight Sonneborn boys and girls from Germany as part of their contribution to Youth Aliyah, thereby saving the children's lives. At that time Youth Aliyah only accepted teenagers and young adults.

Charles Behrend Sonneborn was born March 14, 1931, and had a career in public affairs and communications in Washington, D.C. From the late 1970s onwards he researched and wrote extensively on his family's genealogy, including the production of several books and newsletters. He died September 18, 2010.

Much of the material in this biographical note derived from material in the pamphlet Sonneborn Beginnings.


0.75 Linear Feet


The Sonneborn Family Collection is comprised of the genealogical and biographical research of Charles Behrend Sonneborn on the Sonneborn and related families, especially the Behrend family. Included are copies of his writings, family trees, various research material and photographs of family gravestones.

Related Material

The Stern and Sonneborn Families Collection, AR 6644, holds a family tree related to this family.

Separated Material

Photographs have been removed to the LBI Photo Collection.

A videotape, The Sonneborn Story: A Celebration of Generations, has been removed to the AV Collection. The transcript of this videotape is available in Series I of this collection. A CD-ROM of photographs of gravestones and maps of the Rodenberg Jewish Cemetery have also been removed to the AV Collection.

Two books were removed from the folder "Publications" of Series III during processing to the LBI Library, with copyright information retained in the collection.

Guide to the Papers of the Sonneborn Family 1978-2001 AR 4802
Processed by Dianne Ritchey
© 2010
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from SonnebornFamily.xml

Revision Statements

  • February 07, 2013 : Links to digital objects added in Container List.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States