Here’s a mystery for you to ponder while I take a short break. This is Part I, and I will post Part II within a week. But meanwhile, see if you can solve the mystery.
As I mentioned a few posts back, I was having trouble filling the holes in the story of Fanny Wiler, the daughter of Moses and Caroline (Dreyfuss) Wiler. I still am. Let me tell you what I know and what I think I know, and see if you can add your insights.
What I know for sure: My cousin Fanny Wiler was born in Pennsylvania, probably Harrisburg, in either 1845 or 1846. She is listed as four years old on the 1850 census, living with her parents in Harrisburg, and as fourteen on the 1860 census, living with her parents in Philadelphia.
That is all I know for certain.
Fanny does not appear on the 1870 census with the rest of her family. Her siblings Simon and Clara are listed (Eliza was married by this time), but Fanny is not. Fanny would have been 24 in 1870 and thus possibly married, but I have yet to find a marriage record for her between 1860 and 1870.
I did find a marriage record for a Fanny WYLER to Max Michaelis, dated 1874. I was not sure that this was the same Fanny, not only because the name was spelled differently, but also the record says Fanny was born in Switzerland and that her age was 22. My Fanny was born in Pennsylvania. If Fanny was in fact born in 1846, she would have been 28 in 1874, not 22. But I thought Fanny might have lied about her age; I have seen that many times on marriage records. And I thought maybe she put her father’s birthplace, which was Switzerland, by mistake. So I decided to assume tentatively that this was my Fanny and chase down what I could find about Fanny and Max Michaelis.
But I could not find Fanny and Max on the 1880 census anywhere. What I did find was a census entry for a Fanny Wiler (correct spelling), aged 24, whose parents were born in Switzerland and Germany. This certainly matches my Fanny except for the age, which is off by ten years. But this Fanny was working as a servant in someone’s home. Could this really be my Fanny? I was not sure.
So I started to search for Max Michaelis. The first thing that came up was a second Philadelphia marriage record for a man with that name to a woman named Donice Coyne in 1876. This was a church record, and it was not at all legible to me. Could Max and Fanny have divorced already, thus explaining Fanny’s return to her birth name? Did women do that back then? It seemed possible. But I could not find any other documentation of Max Michaelis with a Donice Coyne or with anyone with a name even close to resembling Donice. So I put that aside.
When I could not find Max on the 1880, 1900, 1910, etc., census reports in Philadelphia, I started to wonder if he had died. And so I looked for death certificates. And I found this one:
I was horrified. Could this be the Max who married my cousin? I looked for news articles to learn more and found this one:
Although there were many hits for news articles about this horrific event, they all were essentially the same article. The story was picked up by Associated Press and published in many papers. But none gave more than these bare facts: Max Michael was 40 years old, so the same age as the Max who married Fanny Wyler in 1874. He had been a patient at Norristown State Hospital for the Insane (as it was called then). His wife and three children were living at 945 Leithgow Street in Philadelphia, and one child, Rose, a sixteen month old girl, was killed in the fire. But not one of the articles revealed the name of the wife of Max Michaels or the names of the other two children.
How could I find out if this was the Max who married Fanny Wyler in 1874? I searched for information about the child who died. It did not take long to find the death certificate for the child, Rose. It was heartbreaking to read this certificate. And it did not provide me with the information I needed. There was no indication of the mother’s name, not even her first name, let alone her birth name.
I then searched for a birth record for Rose. I found a Rosa Michaels, born December 21, 1882, in Philadelphia. This had to be the right child. Right name or close anyway, right age. Father’s name: Max Michaels. Mother’s name: Farmer. Farmer?? I did not have the actual document, just the information listed on FamilySearch. The image itself is not available online, so I ordered the microfilm. It meant a long wait.
You see, the Family History Library has discontinued its free photoduplication service. In fact, there is now no photoduplication service even for a fee. You have to order the microfilm and have it sent to your closest Family History Center. The one closest to me is in Bloomfield, Connecticut. It took me an hour to get there the one time I went (yes, I got lost, and yes, I did not take the highway, but it would still take 45 minutes even if I went the fastest way). And it is only open limited hours during the week. So I ordered the microfilm, but then received a notification that another user had it and it was not available. Arggh. It will get there eventually. But I am not a patient person. How long would it take until I knew whether Farmer was really Fanny? Or was it the mother’s birth surname?
My next step was to use the address where the fire occurred, 945 Leithgow Street, and see if I could find out who lived there at the time of the 1880 census. Although I had had no luck finding Max on that census, maybe if I searched by the address, I would find him with some mangled spelling of his name. I went to stevemorse.org and used his Enumeration District tool, and after many hours of scanning numerous EDs, I finally found 945 Leithgow Street. No luck. Someone else was living there in 1880. Not Max or Fanny or anyone with a name anything like Michael.
Now what? I turned to the Philadelphia city directories. Perhaps I could track Max through the years by looking at every Philadelphia city directory available online. Since only a few listings came up by searching under the name “Max Michael” and since I know these directories are indexed by use of an OCR scanner, I knew that the index might not be completely accurate. So I went year by year, looking through the directories for any listing for a name like Max Michael. Here’s what I found:
1875: Maximilian Michaelis, 140 Noble Street
1876: Maximilian Michaelis, hairworker, on Green Street
1877: no listing found
1878: Max Michaels, laborer, at 2133 East Thompson Street
1879: Same as 1878
1880: Max Michel, peddler, at 1072 Leithgow Stret
1881: Max Michaels, laborer, 2133 East Thompson Street
1884 through 1889: no listing found
At first I thought that the Max Michel at 1072 Leithgow might be the right Max, but after searching further, I found that there were two different men with similar names, but the Max Michel who lived at 1072 Leithgow was much older and had a wife named Caroline and several children born in the 1860s. So despite the fact that he was living on Leithgow, I eliminated him from consideration.
That left Max Michaels of 2133 East Thompson Street. So I started searching for that address through stevemorse.org. I searched about ten EDs, but not one of them had house numbers even close to 2133. I was stuck.
I decided to try another approach. The 1884 news articles said that Max and his wife had three children. Who were the other two children? Since I had no census reports that included Max for 1880, I had no idea. I decided to search for all people named Michaels born in the 1870s and 1880s in Philadelphia. Ancestry revealed that there was an Isabella Michaels who died in 1890, whose father’s name was Max, mother’s name was Fannie. Bingo! I thought all my problems were solved. I went to Familysearch.org to get the image of that death certificate and was frustrated to see that Fannie’s maiden name was not included. (I also realized that I was so eager to solve this mystery that I was losing sight of the fact that a sixteen year girl had died.)
So was this MY Fanny? It certainly seemed like it was the Max and Fanny who married in 1874, since Isabella was born in 1874. But was that Fanny Wyler the same as my Fanny Wiler? I still didn’t know.
But now I had another clue. Isabella’s residence at her time of death was 918 Hutchinson Street in Philadelphia. But the 1890 US census was destroyed in a fire, so I would not be able to use a census to learn who was living at 918 Hutchinson in 1890 when Isabella died. My best bet was to use the directory database again. Max Michaels had disappeared from those directories in 1884 (the year of that terrible fire that killed a man named Max Michaels). I had been assuming that the Max who had been a laborer and lived as 2133 East Thompson was the one killed in the fire so had stopped searching for him after 1889.
So I started with the 1890 directory this time, and I found a Fannie Michaels, widow of Max, living at 934 Poplar Street (with a separate listing under Max Michaels as a laborer, living at that address, even though he was dead, presumably). But in 1891 there is a Fannie Michels, widow of Max, living at 918 Hutchinson Street, the address where Isabella Michaels had been living when she died in 1890. There was the same listing for 1892. Certainly this was the same Fannie and Max whose daughter Isabella died in 1890. And Max was dead. I thought I was getting closer. Didn’t it all add up? Fannie Michaels had a husband named Max who had died sometime before 1890, and they’d had a daughter Isabella. That much seemed fairly certain.
But was this MY Fanny? I still wasn’t sure because I had no document that included Fanny’s birth name other than the 1874 marriage record for the Fanny Wyler born in Switzerland. But I was getting more and more convinced that Fanny Wyler was my Fanny Wiler, despite the discrepancies. Wouldn’t you have been?
To be continued…