Documenting the Steinway Family

print this page

The Steinway family is quite remarkable in a number of ways, including the ways in which its business and familial relationships have been closely tied. As such, it has been a family conscious of its place in American life, eager to preserve evidence of that involvement. William’s diary is the centerpiece of that consciousness, recording the expansion of the Steinway family and its successful rise in many arenas, most notably the family pianomaking business. Over several generations—the first four of which we present on this site—the family has found itself in circumstances that fostered the creation of a paper trail of genealogical and biographical evidence of kin connections, contributions, and movements within American and German society.

Those of us interested in the Steinway story are fortunate that several family members have helped define and preserve the family record. John H. Steinway and later Henry Z. Steinway worked to name, date, and connect individual descendants of Henry and Julianne Steinway (originally Steinweg). In turn, Richard J. Riley, my collaborator on this genealogy, has assumed this role. Consequently, there were early efforts to track down family members in the New York City family “heartland" and beyond, including C. F. Theodore's German descendants. One of the legacies of that effort is a large card file that details each descendant’s dates, spouses, children and parents, probably originally compiled by John and maintained later by Henry. A side motivation for attention to the location and notation of Henry Sr.'s descendants might have been their right to be interred in the Steinway Mausoleum in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery. Effort was made at one point to determine who might show interest in such a burial. The Diary itself has been an invaluable resource, its notation of family members and life events called out in blue pencil throughout the volumes by Theodore E. Steinway, William's son. While working with the Diary Project, Henry Z. Steinway used the Diary to create reports on individual family members, extracting relevant passages and writing summations. (Copies of these reports are part of the William Steinway Diary Project archives.)

As for this compilation, the basic work of naming, connecting, and dating Steinway descendants and their spouses is based first on the card files of the family as described above. Every effort has been made, however, to verify with an external source all such relationships and dates. There is a great deal of such evidence in New York City and federal archives, but the family also is fortunate that The New York Times documented so much of the lives of the Steinways and their collateral relatives, especially marriages and deaths. The New York Times is thus a major resource for the external documentation of Steinway genealogy. The family business was, of course, also prominent in the music business world, and much of its history is chronicled in those publications. In addition several early German sources in the form of parish registers and marriage documents exist for some of the first and second generation Steinways; these were sought after and preserved in family papers. Several family events were described with excruciating and sometimes poignant detail in court cases (e.g., disputes over wills and divorces). In a word, sources for the study of Steinway descendants are abundant and fairly readily accessible, with the family collection itself as a guide for proceeding.

As careful as a compiler can be, errors are always a possibility, and it is hoped that family members will come forward with corrections if this be the case.

Ken Maniha, PhD, C.G.