If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that one of my most challenging mysteries involves my cousin Fanny Wiler, the daughter of Caroline Dreyfuss and Moses Wiler and first cousin of my great-great-grandmother Frances Nusbaum. Caroline was my three-times great-grandaunt, the sister of Jeanette Dreyfuss, my three-times great-grandmother. Her daughter Fanny had simply vanished after the 1860 census, and I was determined to find her. As I wrote here and here and here, it was a long and twisting path involving a different Fanny who married a man who killed himself and a daughter in a fire, a mishandled estate of Fanny’s mother Caroline and ensuing litigation, and finally the discovery of Fanny and her three sons with her husband Joseph Levy.
I know now that Fanny had married Joseph in 1866 and had had three sons with him. I know that Joseph had remarried sometime before 1879 because he had a daughter Miriam with his second wife Bella Strouse. And there was a NYC birth record for a Bertha Levi, daughter of Joseph Levi and Fanny Wieler, dated November 30, 1866, but I had not been able to trace her to my Fanny.
I assumed that Fanny had died, but when and where? I had no death record for her, no burial record, no obituary. Once again she had disappeared. All I could find was an entry on FindAGrave for a Fannie Levy with the dates 1846-1877, buried at Troy Hill Jewish cemetery in Pittsburgh. There was no photo or any other information on the FindAGrave page, but something told me that this could be my Fanny. The dates and the name seemed right, and Miriam Levy, the child of Joseph and Bella, was born in Pittsburgh in November, 1879. Thus, at some point Joseph had lived in Pittsburgh, so it was not out of the question to think that Fanny had also lived and then died there.
But how could I prove that the Fanny buried at Troy Hill was my Fanny? There was no statewide requirement for the filing of death certificates before 1906 in Pennsylvania, and unlike Philadelphia, there is no readily accessible database for all deaths in Pittsburgh. I searched directories for a Joseph Levy in Pittsburgh, and although there were one or two, there was no way to tell from the directory whether those were the correct men.
I decided first to look where Fanny’s sons and her husband were buried, and almost all were buried at Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia. The remains of those buried at Rodeph Shalom had been moved to Roosevelt Cemetery after Rodeph Shalom closed, and I emailed that cemetery, but they had no remains for a Fanny Levy. I also emailed the Special Collections Research Center at Temple University in Philadelphia, where the archives of Rodeph Shalom synagogue are now kept, to ask if they had any records for Fanny Wiler Levy, and an archivist there did a search but did not find anything. I also concluded after much searching that Fanny was not buried at Mt. Sinai cemetery in Philadelphia, where her parents and many of her relatives were buried. At that point I began to think that Fanny was not buried in Philadelphia at all if she was neither where her children nor where her parents were buried.
Pittsburgh thus became a realistic alternative location for her burial. I searched online for sources about Jewish records in Pittsburgh and found a link to Martha Berg, who is the archivist for Rodeph Shalom synagogue in Pittsburgh (I do not believe there is an affiliation between the two synagogues). Martha did an exhaustive search for me of records, newspapers, and cemeteries, and did not turn up any identifying information that would help me establish whether the Fannie Levy buried at Troy Hill was my Fanny Wiler Levy. She did, however, find the precise burial date for the Fannie Levy buried at Troy Hill—April 17, 1877. That proved to be very helpful.
From there, I got advice from the Pennsylvania genealogy group on Facebook, suggesting I contact the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh where they have death records for Pittsburgh dating back to 1875. I called the Carnegie Library and requested a search for a death record for Fanny Levy who died around April 17, 1877. I then sat and waited to see if they could uncover something.
Finally, a package arrived in the mail the other day, and this was inside:
This has to be my elusive cousin Fanny. She was born in Harrisburg in 1846, so would have been 31 in 1877. Her prior residence had been in Philadelphia. She was married. I am quite certain I have finally found Fanny.
So now I know that Fanny Wiler Levy died on April 16, 1877, in Pittsburgh, from phythisis pulmonalis, or the wasting form of tuberculosis. I also know now that she had only lived in Pittsburgh for a year at the time of her death, which explains why all three of her sons were born in Philadelphia. Fanny was 31 years old and left at least three very young children behind and her husband. She was one more member of my family killed by tuberculosis. It is very sad that she lies buried so far from all of her family, all of whom are buried in Philadelphia.
Finally, I have some closure on Fanny Wiler. The remaining questions? Was Bertha Levi, the child born to a Joseph Levi and a Fanny Wieler in 1866 in NYC, my Fanny’s daughter? And what happened to her? Why can’t I find Joseph and his family on either the 1870 or the 1880 census?
There are always more questions.