Update: Baby Rose Schoenthal—Did She Ever Exist? Do I Stop Looking for Her?

I need your advice.  I’ve hit a brick wall, and this time, I am not sure I should try and go further.  Please let me know what you think.

Some of you may recall the mystery of Baby Rose Schoenthal, the daughter of Jacob Schoenthal and his wife Florence who appeared on the 1930 census in Atlantic City as their fifteen month old child, but then disappeared.  She was not on the 1940 census; there was no death record for her in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, and she was not buried with Jacob and Florence or with her grandparents.  She was not named as a survivor in Jacob’s will.

Atlantic City Press February 18, 1976 p 16

Atlantic City Press February 18, 1976 p 16

I was left concluding that either she had been adopted and thus had taken on a new name or had never even existed.  I haven’t yet tried searching for adoption records because it does not appear that I have legal standing to do that, given that I am not Rose, her child, her parents, or any other close relative. I also am not sure where I should search: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or any of the other states in the country where a child might have been adopted. And even more to the point, petitions to unseal adoption records are intended to reveal the birth name of an adoptee.  I can’t find any way to search for records of a birth child who was adopted if I don’t know the adoptive name.

I did, however, request a search of New Jersey’s birth records for 1928 and 1929, hoping that a birth certificate for a Rose Schoenthal would appear.  I now have received the report back from New Jersey, and they had no birth certificate for a Rose Schoenthal born between January 1, 1928, and December 31, 1929.  What does that mean? Well, it means either Rose was never born and the census report is just wrong.  Or it means she was adopted and the birth certificate was changed to her adoptive name.

Which seems more likely? Since the census record is so specific—says she was 1 and 3/12, born in New Jersey, and gives her full name, Rose Maxine Schoenthal—I am inclined to think it was accurate (unless Jacob and Florence had an imaginary child a la Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?).

Jacob Schoenthal and family 1930 US census Year: 1930; Census Place: Atlantic City, Atlantic, New Jersey; Roll: 1308; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 0003; Image: 129.0; FHL microfilm: 2341043

Jacob Schoenthal and family 1930 US census
Year: 1930; Census Place: Atlantic City, Atlantic, New Jersey; Roll: 1308; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 0003; Image: 129.0; FHL microfilm: 2341043

So that brings me back to the adoption possibility.  Now I need to figure out how to search for an adoption when you know the birth name but not the adoptive name.  I also have to consider whether I should try to find an adoption record. Rose could very well still be alive; she’d only be 86 or so.  It feels inappropriate for me to invade her privacy, if she is in fact alive.  I am inclined to let this one go.

What do you think? Should I leave well enough alone? Or should I pursue this further?

53 thoughts on “Update: Baby Rose Schoenthal—Did She Ever Exist? Do I Stop Looking for Her?

  1. They might not have bothered to register the birth if she was born at home. I have a very similar problem regarding a baby born to my great-grandparents in 1900 in Mississippi. She’s in the 1900 Census as a 3 month old but disappears in the 1910 Census. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to pursue this with her. The worst you’ll get is no response or a “leave me alone”. You’re a family historian. This isn’t being nosy!

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  2. Amy, don’t remember if you said originally, but did you check directly with the city/county for the birth record? I know early years there were some patchy reporting and I’ve had to rely on church records for some of my family research. Don’t know if the synagogues kept records like some of the churches, but have you explored those possibilities? The adoption route seems a little far fetched to me since this family seemed to be together a lot in different circumstances (going to Arizona together, and following one another to Florida if I recall correctly) and I think trying to find adoption records with almost no information will drive you crazy. I just tried to find records for a sister of my grandfather in an orphanage and was told only the resident could authorize that information and she was born in 1907 and would be 109 years old. When I pointed that out I was told that it doesn’t matter, they can’t provide any information then. Either way I wish you good luck and if there is anything I can help you with here in New Jersey, please don’t hesitate to ask. – Marilyn Sliva

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    • I believe I asked Atlantic County and was directed to the state records. And, of course, you searched the death records for me. I am just stumped! Thanks again for all your help.

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  3. Many children were born at home in the 1920s and some families didn’t have their births registered. Since you last found her in 1930, at the beginning of the Great Depression, I think it is more likely that she died young and was buried, again with no death certificate. Every penny counted in the 1930s and the family may have figured that they knew Rose had died and didn’t see any reason to record the death with the city or state. I think she died as a young child.

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  4. Looking at the census Jacob was 47 and Florence was 35. Not impossible to have a daughter that is 1 at those ages, but usually you see older children before. Is it possible that they took in a relatives daughter and Rose was just listed as their daughter on that census? Then Rose later went to live with her parents? You definitely have a mystery going here. I would check to see if there were any older children born to Jacob and Florence along with any nieces that were around the ages of 15 – 20 that the name of Rose shows up later with. I wish you luck in tracking Miss Rose down.

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  5. I think it is worth pursuing. Every person matters to a family historian. I think it’s premature to think adoption without any other clues. It seems more likely she died. Keep looking for a death record. Do you know where the family went to synagogue? Look for cemeteries in the area. Have you looked for records the synagogue may have kept? I don’t know anything about how the Jews recorded births or deaths, but you may find a record there. Are there any ethnic newspapers? Often you get more details than a typical newspaper. Locate all the aunts, uncles, and grandparents to be sure she wasn’t sent to live with another family member during the depression. Good luck!

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    • Thanks for your thoughts. I’ve exhausted resources for death records and newspapers. And I’ve searched all other family members as possible parents or foster parents. I just don’t see where else to turn. Thank you!

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  6. This is a slippery slope, but feel I can chime in as both a birth and adoptive mother who completely changed her tune through the years. You very well may be opening a can of worms best left sealed. With domestic adoptions, the rules are different; with international, it varies. You must also consider that Rose may not know she is adopted (or her descendants) and you will be responsible for that possible mess. Our daughter was born in another country and as her mother, at first I wanted nothing to do with her birth family (was insecure they would take her away). By the time our daughter was 10, I had done a 180 and since then would love to know her blood relatives. But, that is just me. Her birth family lives with different rules which, in fact, rule their lives. It’s complicated. I would say just tread very carefully, keep in mind that some may not know what you know. Best of luck.

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  7. She could have been missed in the 1940 census as several of my relatives were. Also she may have started to use her middle name. I also would search and search again using different key words any online newspapers for that area. I would use all possible combination of names and addresses. Also social security records may help if she did live pass 1940. If you have a clue where they worshipped I would go there and see if they have any records. I would also keep an eye on Find A Grave this helped me break a brick wall, after years of checking this site about every four months. Also if she lived she may be in a school yearbook which is getting easier to find online. Also I would check people who would be her cousins to see if she is mentioned in things like their wedding announcements. Also check all living relatives in the census at that time to see if she is living with them. I found a cousin this way by looking at the nearby neighbors and found him now living with a family friend, he was less than 18 months old. His mother died and the father faced with a large family to care for gave up his baby. This adoption was “informal” with no government records and I was told common for that time in Penn.. It was 1919 during the flu epidemic. I also had an uncle placed the same way in Penn. in 1923. With records coming online all the time I would never give up. There is a story here waiting to be told. If nothing else put it away for a year or six months and re-work every thing from start. That is what I do with my hard cases. I have had some successes doing this. I am sure you have done most or all of the above but just wanted to try and help and to say don’t give up.

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    • Thanks! All great suggestions, and yes, I have tried them to the best of my ability. I think you’re right. Take time away from this one. Come back with fresh eyes.

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  8. The lack of a birth certificate could also mean that they intended to adopt a child they named Rose Maxine, and she was living in their home at the time of the census, and, for whatever reason they didn’t keep the child, whether it was their decision, the orphanage decision, the court, the mother of the child.

    Please note, back then, religion was a primary decision maker in adoption cases, you were adopted into a family of your birth the majority of the time. And, the era you are searching in – they didn’t amend the birth certificate – that didn’t start till after the war. Records weren’t sealed either like they are now.

    You could search old orphanage records in the area for a baby who fits the age if you want to explore this thought.

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  9. I remember reading your original post on Rose. I didn’t comment at the time as most of my suggestions were already mentioned. There is something about this child which will not give you peace until you find out more. New records may come to light. Take a break from her. Put a reminder up (on your calendar or whatever you use) to do a quick check on her every so often.

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  10. Time out sounds like a good idea. Sometimes these ancestors we are tracking are like the guy we had a crush on in junior high. They paid no attention to us until we moved on and weren’t thinking of them any more. 🙂

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  11. I agree with Cathy. There is probably a reason you haven’t been able to let it go so far. I experienced a failed adoption. That really isn’t so far fetched. I don’t know how you would ever find documents to prove that was the case because they would not be made public. I think a break and coming back to it sound just right. Maybe in a year or two some record will be available and you’ll solve it lickity split. 🙂

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  12. I don’t think I would go to the trouble of adoption records. The 1950 census will be out in a few years, that will give you new clues. But I wouldn’t count on the census to be 100% accurate as far as name, She may have been born Maxine, or legally had a Jewish name like Rivka. It’s not uncommon in the Jewish tradition to not use the “real” name for superstitious reasons. I found one child who “disappeared” named Esther on a death certificate for “Bertha” it’s sometimes hard to track folks down. If she had a different “official name”, a birth record search or death record search by clerks who aren’t going to be creative, would not have been helpful. Another way to search on various databases is just to use the first name of her parents and her name (and variations) with no last names. The last names can get muddled – like it is on the 1940 census. I found this record, I have no idea if it is the same person or even related, but it is in New Jersey… Another thing I have discovered with missing family, is that they had a disability and were institutionalized as she got older; she may show up in the 1950’s census at a care facility.
    https://familysearch.org/search/record/results?count=20&query=%2Bgivenname%3Am~%20%2Bsurname%3ASchoenthal~%20%2Bbirth_place%3A%22new%20jersey%22~%20%2Bfather_givenname%3Ajacob~%20%2Bmother_givenname%3Aflorence~
    Best of luck

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  13. Hi Amy — I’d let it go. If Rose is still alive, she probably is unaware that she’s adopted (or, perhaps, illegitimate). In either event, the possibility of upsetting Rose’s life cannot, in my opinion, be justified by the need to have genealogical “closure”. On the other hand, however, if you think synagogue records may be helpful, the place where Rose and her family lived is only a few blocks from the Community Synagogue, an orthodox congregation which I believe was in existence at the time in question (it still is, but I believe now in a different location.) I’ve been following your blogs/diaries. Thanks. I’ll be in touch soon. — Larry Brotman

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  14. Fascinating comments above! I agree it would be wise to take a break. A clue might surface (or not) at some time in the future. Best regards.

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  15. Hi Amy. I wish I had something useful to add, but I think there are already lots of very good suggestions. My inclination would be to take a break. I can’t imagine totally letting go of such a mystery, but time out is probably a good idea.

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  16. It must be difficult for someone with so deep an interest in their subject to leave an end untied; nevertheless I think this is one that must be left hanging loose. Adoption does sound the most likely conclusion to draw, and at that juncture it becomes like looking for a very small needle in a very large hayrick. 86 would be a little late to discover you had a hidden life!

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  17. Hi Amy,
    I’ve been reading your post and the responses. I live with many seemingly insoluable mysteries in my Jewish family history, even here in the U.S. For instance, two of my uncles simply don’t appear with their family on the 1940 census (or anywhere else in that year – with another family? no. in another city? no.). One of these uncles is still alive, and insists he was living at home (age 11 at the time). I’ve had family members who seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. I had a great grandfather who was living in the U.S. from 1893 onward, was in the 1930 or 1940 census as an inmate at a state psychiatric institution, and there doesn’t seem to be a death certificate. He isn’t listed as being buried in the psychiatric institution’s graveyard, and he is not in any of the Jewish cemeteries. Whenever I have this kind of a mystery, I just keep it in the back of my mind, in hopes that something will turn up. Once in a while a new source gives me information and I have a new clue; sometimes I have even solved a mystery. You won’t forget her. Keep her in the back of your mind and maybe you will figure out who this little girl was.

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    • Thank you, Viv. We all need these pep talks now and then. And yes, I’ve had my share of disappearing relatives! I really wonder how much we can trust the census for determining much of anything after noticing how many of my family members somehow evaded the census takers!

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  18. Pingback: My Crazy Twisted Tree and My Hessian Cousins | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  19. Pingback: One Mystery Laid to Rest: Baby Rose Schoenthal | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

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