When I order a death certificate, I am hoping it will help me put some matters to rest (OK, pun intended), give me some closure, provide some answers. More often than not, however, these so-called vital records raise more ghosts and mysteries than answers.
Two cases in point: the death certificates of Gustave Rosenzweig and his first wife Gussie Rosenzweig, the parents of my grandfather’s first cousins Abraham, Jack, Joe, Lillie, Sarah, Rebecca, Lizzie, and Rachel, among others.
First, let’s look at Gustave’s death certificate. It confirms a number of things that make me certain that this is the right Gustave. He was born in Romania. At the time of his death, he was married to Selma and living at 49 Wadsworth Avenue in Manhattan. He died on October 16, 1944; his birth date is given as October 7, 1859, which is not exactly the date provided by his Romanian birth record of June 10, 1856, but close enough. He was a retired painter, which is consistent with his occupation both in Romania and in New York. The only clear mistake here is that although it has his father’s name correct (David), it has his mother’s name as Leah, instead of Esther. Again, I’ve seen worse mistakes on death certificates, so I am comfortable dismissing that error. Overall, this is a fairly reliable record of Gustave’s life and death.
But here’s where it opens a new door and a mystery. Here’s where I need some help. At the bottom of the certificate is the signature of Gustave’s daughter as the informant, and I cannot read the last name. The first initial appears to be an L, meaning this could be either Lillie or Lizzie. But what is the surname? Dorsie? Dorne? Dorme? Dorsue? If I could decipher this, it might help me find either Lillie or Lizzie, both of whom I’ve had trouble tracking down. If anyone can help me read this writing, I’d much appreciate it. Remember you can click on the image below to enlarge it.
Now to Gussie Rosenzweig’s death certificate. Again, the information here makes me certain that this is the correct Gussie, the mother of my grandfather’s first cousins and Gustave’s first wife. Gussie was born in Romania to Isadore Sachs (Itzic Zacu) and Muriel Klein (Mirel), which is consistent with her birth record and marriage record from Romania. She was residing at 2112 Dean Street in Brooklyn at the time of her death on December 23, 1935. She was reported to be 75 years old at her death, giving her a birth year of 1860, close to the 1864 given on her Romanian birth record. It looks like Gussie must have died a fairly gruesome death, having been hospitalized since November 5, 1935, suffering from gangrene of her foot, caused by diabetes. Her son John hired the undertaker, as indicated on the reverse of the death certificate.
So what is the mystery here? Gussie is identified as widowed, and her husband’s name is…Benjamin? Who could Benjamin be? Had Gussie had remarried after she and Gustave divorced? (They are not living together on any census after 1910.) In 1915 the children were living with Gussie. (I have yet to find Gustave on the 1915 NYS census.)
The 1920 census is confusing; I have two pages for Gustave—one as a painter living in Manhattan as a boarder in East Harlem, one in Brooklyn with the Rosenzweig children. I have to believe that the Brooklyn Gustave is really Gussie, as she is listed as unemployed and divorced.
The 1925 census shows her living with “Rose,” who I assume by the age (22) is Ray/Rachel. The NYS census does not indicate her marital status, but there is no Benjamin living with them.
The 1930 census has her again living with Ray, but lists her marital status as married. Again, there is no husband, no Benjamin living with her.
I checked the NYC marriage index for any brides named Gussie Rosenzweig who married between 1915 and 1935 and found three. One did marry a man named Ben Rosenberg on January 27, 1935, less than a year before our Gussie died. Could she have gotten married at that point? If so, why wouldn’t she have changed her name to Rosenberg? Or did John, her son, not want her listed as divorced so he made up a husband who predeceased her? I will order the marriage certificate for Ben Rosenberg and Gussie Rosenzweig, but somehow I doubt that that is the same Gussie Rosenzweig. Stranger things have happened, of course.
And here’s the final mystery. Both Gustave and Gussie are buried at Mt Zion Cemetery, not in the same section, but nevertheless in the same cemetery. Neither Selma, Gustave’s widow at the time of his death, nor Benjamin, the alleged widower of Gussie at the time of her death, is buried there. Gustave and Gussie’s son Harry who died as a teenager in 1913 is buried there, however, so perhaps in death Harry brought his parents back together.