This is a mystery without a solution—yet. Perhaps one of you can help me solve it.
Many months ago I received a message on Ancestry from a member named Dale who told me that she had a stamped and certified copy of the death certificate for my great-aunt Frieda Brotman. Frieda was my grandmother’s younger sister, and she had been married to Harry Coopersmith for about a year when she died shortly after giving birth to their son Max. Max had died as well.
Dale had been going through her parents’ papers and found not only Frieda’s death certificate, but military records for Frieda’s husband Harry Coopersmith and two photographs that Dale thought might be of Harry. She had seen that I had Frieda and Harry on my Ancestry tree and wondered if I was interested in the papers.
Well, of course, I was more than interested. Dale kindly offered to send me the documents and photographs. And since then we have been trying to figure out why these papers would have been among her parents’ belongings. Since both of Dale’s parents have passed away, she had no one to ask.
Dale believed that these papers had belonged at one time to her great-aunt Anna Yurdin Haas. Anna was her father’s mother’s sister. She was born in New York City to Russian immigrant parents in about 1895 and had lived in upper Manhattan as a child; in 1920 when she was 25, she was living with several of her younger siblings in the Bronx, working as a clerk in an office.
On the 1930 census, Anna reported that she was married to Burton Haas, and they were living at 7035 Broadway in Queens. Burton Haas came from a whole different class—he grew up on Central Park West in Manhattan; his parents were American born from German and Austrian backgrounds. He went to Dartmouth. He served overseas during World War I, enlisting on June 14, 1917 and being honorably discharged on May 6, 1919.
According to the 1930 census, Anna and Burton had been married about eight years in 1930, meaning they had married in about 1922. There were no children living with them. Burton was a real estate broker, Anna a cashier for a theater. In 1940 they were still living in Queens at 35-30 73rd Street and had been in the same place in 1935. There were still no children. Burton was still a real estate broker, and Anna was the assistant treasurer of a theater.
Then things get a little odd. On August 9, 1940, Burton Haas and Anna Yurdin were married in Norfolk, Virginia. At that point they had in fact been living together and holding themselves out as husband and wife for almost twenty years. But perhaps they had never really married until 1940.
On his World War II draft card in 1942, Burton reported that he had his own business at 62 West 45th Street in Manhattan; they were still living at the same address in Queens. Burton died a year later on July 21, 1943, in Queens. Anna died in 1983; they are both buried at Linden Hill Jewish cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens. Anna never remarried.
Comparing this to Harry and Frieda’s timeline, I see no overlap. While Anna grew up in upper Manhattan and then lived in the Bronx and finally Queens and Burton also grew up in upper Manhattan and went to college, Harry and Frieda were both born and raised in the Lower East Side. Harry had served in the US Army from August 31, 1919, until his honorable discharge on September 6, 1922, so he did not overlap in the service at all with Burton Haas.
Harry married Frieda in 1923. Frieda had worked in a sweatshop as a finisher with feathers until she married Harry. They were still living on the Lower East Side in a tenement when she died on May 10, 1924, just days after giving birth to their son Max.
After Frieda died, Harry quickly married again. He married Nettie Lichtenstein sometime in 1924, presumably outside of New York City as no marriage records were located for them. Nettie was a recent immigrant; according to the 1930 census, she had arrived in 1920. Their first son David was born on June 16, 1925 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Two more sons followed— Lawrence in 1926 and Samuel in 1928, both born in New York. In 1930 Harry and his family were still living in the Lower East Side. Harry was working as a taxi driver.
By 1940, Harry’s family was in pieces. Nettie was institutionalized at Kings Park State Hospital in Smithtown, Long Island, and the three boys were living in Island Park, Hempstead, Long Island, as boarders (I assume as foster children) with the family of Jacob and Pauline Davis and their sons. I have not found any familial connection between the Davis family and Harry or Nettie. Jacob was in the printing business, and he and Pauline had been living in Island Park since at least 1930. Before that, they had lived in the Bronx and upper Manhattan, nowhere near Harry or Nettie. I have no idea how they ended up with the three Coopersmith boys. Neither one ever lived on the Lower East Side.
Harry does not appear anywhere on the 1940 census and does not resurface on any records until 1945 when military records report that he was still living on the Lower East Side and had enlisted in the New York Guard on April 23, 1945 and had been discharged on June 26, 1946.
The last records I have for Harry are his veteran’s burial records, showing that he died on January 14, 1956 and was buried at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York. Interestingly, a plot next to Harry was to be reserved for his widow Nettie, who was then residing in Bohemia, New York, also on Long Island. I don’t know if Harry had been living with her at the time of his death.
Given the absence of any overlap in places lived or worked between Harry and Anna Yurdin Haas or Harry and Burton Haas, I have no idea how or why Anna would have come into possession of Harry’s military papers or Frieda’s death certificate.
As for the two photographs, I am not even sure that they are pictures of Harry. I sent them to Harry’s grandson, but he had never met his grandfather and did not have any pictures of him. He sent me a picture of himself, and perhaps there is some slight resemblance, but not enough to determine if the photographs are of Harry Coopersmith.
Assuming they are photographs of Harry, they were likely taken in the 1940s, according to Ava Cohn, the expert in photography analysis. That would mean that the person who somehow came to possess these documents knew Harry in the 1940s. He is in his military uniform in one of the photographs, so that means the photograph was probably taken some time in 1945 to 1946 since that was when Harry was in the New York Guard. At that point Anna Yurdin Haas was a widow, living in Queens, New York. Perhaps she and Harry somehow became friends or lovers. After all, Harry’s wife Nettie was institutionalized, his sons were in foster care of some kind, and Harry was on his own. That seems like one possible explanation for how these papers ended up in Anna Yurdin’s possession.
The other possibility is that the papers never belonged to Anna Yurdin, but perhaps to Dale’s father Howard Halpern. Dale is not entirely certain that they had belonged to Anna. If they belonged instead to her father, how would he have known Harry?
Howard Halpern was the son of David Halpern and Anna Yurdin’s sister May Yurdin (sometimes identified as Mary). He was born in 1919 in New York and lived in the Bronx in 1920, but by 1925 had moved to Queens, living in the same Jackson Heights neighborhood where his aunt Anna and her husband Burton were living in 1930 and thereafter. By 1930, however, Howard and his parents and brother had moved to Long Beach, Long Island, and were no longer in Queens. They were still living there in 1940.
Maybe Howard knew one of Harry’s sons. They were a bit younger than Howard, but Howard lived in Long Beach starting in 1930, and Harry’s sons were in Island Park in Hempstead by 1940. The two towns are about a mile apart, as seen on this map.
Howard had a younger brother Alvin, born in 1925, who would have been the same age as David Coopersmith and only a year older than Lawrence and three years older than Samuel. According to the current Island Park School District webpage, today students in Island Park have a choice of attending two high schools in the area, one of them being Long Beach High School. That might also have been true in the 1940s when the Coopersmith boys and Howard and Alvin Halpern were in high school.
So my second hunch is that Alvin and his brother Howard knew the Coopersmith sons from Long Beach High School or from Hebrew school or some other community sports or activity.
But that doesn’t solve the mystery of why Howard Halpern had Frieda Brotman Coopersmith’s death certificate or Harry’s discharge papers. That the Coopersmith boys had their father’s military discharge papers is somewhat understandable—but why would they have had the death certificate for their father’s first wife, a woman with whom they had no connection at all? And why would Dale’s father Howard have ended up with those papers?
I don’t know. But David Coopersmith named his son Lee Howard Coopersmith—perhaps for his childhood friend Howard Halpern? If he was such a close friend, wouldn’t Dale have heard of him?
As I mentioned above, I have been in touch with one of Harry’s grandsons, but he had no information that shed light on this mystery. I am now trying to contact Harry’s great-granddaughter, who has a tree on Ancestry. Perhaps she will know. At the very least, she might be able to tell me if the photographs are indeed of Harry Coopersmith. But it’s been almost two months, and she has not responded to me.
Let me know your thoughts.