How Did My Great-Aunt Frieda’s Death Certificate End Up There?

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.

Frieda Brotman Coopersmith death cert

 

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.

Anna Yurdin and family 1920 census
Year: 1920; Census Place: Bronx Assembly District 5, Bronx, New York; Roll: T625_1137; Page: 7B; Enumeration District: 286

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.

Anna Yurdin and Burton Haas on the 1930 census
Year: 1930; Census Place: Queens, Queens, New York; Roll: 1590; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0197; FHL microfilm: 2341325

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.

Anna Yurdin and Burton Haas marriage record
Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Marriages, 1936-2014; Roll: 101166979

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.

Harry Coopersmith and family 1930 census
Year: 1930; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Roll: 1550; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 0148; FHL microfilm: 2341285

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.

Coopersmith sons boarding with David family 1940
Year: 1940; Census Place: Hempstead, Nassau, New York; Roll: T627_2685; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 30-82

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.

Harry Coopersmith New York Guard record
New York State Archives; Albany, New York; Collection: New York, New York Guard Service Cards and Enlistment Records, 1906-1918, 1940-1948; Series: B2000; Film Number: 45

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.

Harrys grandson

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.

Halpern family 1940
Year: 1940; Census Place: Long Beach, Nassau, New York; Roll: T627_2690; Page: 61B; Enumeration District: 30-209

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.

 

Rosenzweig Update: Who Signed that Death Certificate?

One of the biggest mysteries I encountered in researching my Rosenzweig cousins was the mystery of Lilly Rosenzweig, the first child of Gustave and Gussie Rosenzweig.  Lilly was my grandfather Isadore Goldschlager’s first cousin.  Lilly had married Toscano Bartolino in 1901 and had had a child William with him, born March 9, 1902.  Then just two years later on April 27, 1904, Toscano had died from kidney disease at age 27, leaving Lilly a twenty year old widow with a two year old child.

Bartolini Rosenzweig marriage certificate

Bartolini Rosenzweig marriage certificate

 

William Bartolini birth certificate

William Bartolini birth certificate

Toscano Bartolini death certificate

Toscano Bartolini death certificate

 

Lilly and her son William were living with Gustave and Gussie in 1905, but by 1910, William was no longer living with his mother and grandparents, but was in St. John’s Home for Boys in Brooklyn.

Gustave Rosenzweig family on the 1905 NYS census

Gustave Rosenzweig family on the 1905 NYS census

William Bartolini 1910 at St John's Home, Brooklyn

William Bartolini 1910 at St John’s Home, Brooklyn

 

Lilly was still living with her parents in 1910 and working as a nurse.  In 1915, William was at a different residential home, but I could not find Lilly at all on the 1915 NYS census nor could I find her anywhere after that.  None of the great-grandchildren of Gustave and Gussie knew what had happened to her, except that they thought she had remarried and moved to New Jersey at some point.  No one knew her married name or whether she had more children.  I was stuck and could not get any further.

I thought I had a new clue when I obtained Gustave’s 1944 death certificate.  It was signed by an informant I thought might be Lilly.  I posted the signature on the blog, hoping someone would be able to decipher it more clearly than I could, but every possible reading of the signature led me nowhere, even using wildcard searches and as many variations as I could.  I put Lilly aside and figured it was a lost cause.

Gustav Rosenzweig death cert 1

And then? Well, this past weekend I received a call from Harriet, one of Lilly’s nieces.  She not only remembered Lilly well—she remembered the first name of her second husband—Carmen. And she said they had lived in Jersey City. She remembered Lilly fondly and described her as funny and fun-loving, like all the Rosenzweig siblings.

So I now had two more clues.  Lilly had married someone named Carmen, and they had lived in Jersey City, New Jersey.  Armed with just those additional pieces of information, I was able to design a search on FamilySearch using the two first names and the location.  The first result on the results list was a Lilly and Carmen Dorme living in Rutherford, New Jersey in 1940.

Carmen and Lillian Dorme 1940 US census

Carmen and Lillian Dorme 1940 US census

 

Rutherford was not Jersey City, but it was close by, so I decided to try that surname.  Using Dorme, I was able to search more thoroughly and found that Lilly and Carmen Dorme were already married by 1918 when Carmen  (using Carmine Dormes then) registered for the World War I draft and that they were living in Jersey City.  This had to be my long-missing cousin Lilly.

Carmine Dormes World War I draft registration

Carmine Dormes World War I draft registration

 

After that, I was also able to find Lilly and Carmen in several Jersey City directories and in the 1930 US census, which revealed that Lilly and Carmen had a child, Louis, who was then sixteen years old.

Dorme family on the 1930 US census

Dorme family on the 1930 US census

Further searching uncovered a Louis Dorme’s entry on the Social Security Death Index, indicating that he was born in New York on May 13, 1913, and had died in 1977.  This was consistent with the age and birthplace for Louis on the 1930 census, so I am reasonably certain that this is the correct person.

I still cannot find the family on the 1920 census, and since they were living in Jersey City both before and after 1920, I assumed that they would have been there then as well.  But although Carmen is listed in both the 1918 and the 1925 Jersey City directories, he is not in the 1922 directory (the intermediate years are not available online).  Harriet thought that Lilly had served as a nurse overseas during World War I, so perhaps that is where the family was located during that period.  I cannot, however, find a military record for Carmen, so I have no way to know for sure where they were during that period.

And although I do know when Louis died (1977) and when Carmen died (1962) from the SSDI, I cannot find Lilly on the SSDI nor can I find any other record of her death.  Harriet does remember Lilly’s death (in fact, Harriet’s mother reported that Lilly’s last words was a request for a corned beef sandwich!), but not the specific year or place.

But I do have one clue, and it goes back to Gustave’s death certificate.  As soon as I saw that Lilly’s married name was Dorme, something clicked in my head.  I went back to look at Gustave’s death certificate, and now it seemed strikingly clear that the informant’s name was L. Dorme.

Lilly as informant

How could I not have seen that or found her before?  I just don’t know.  But now I knew that it was in fact Lilly who signed her father’s death certificate.  And so I know that she was still alive as of October 16, 1944, when Gustave died.  I am sure with a few more clues I will be able to narrow down the year and perhaps find her death record as well.

So in the space of one afternoon with the help of a new cousin, I was able to resolve one of the biggest questions I had remaining about my grandfather’s Rosenzweig first cousins.  Thank you, Harriet!

 

Boy, Is My Face Red. The Real Story of Milton Josephs’ Death and a Few Important Research Lessons

In my earlier post this morning, I wrote about little Milton Josephs, not yet two years old, whose cause of death was listed as marasmus on the Federal Census Mortality Schedule for 1880.  I was horrified that a child living in Philadelphia in a middle class home in 1880 could have died from starvation.

My medical consultant, whose expertise is in pediatrics and anesthesia (and who is also my brother, for those of you who haven’t figured it out), also thought that it seemed strange that a child would have died from severe malnutrition without there being some other underlying cause such as cancer or some syndrome that prevented him from being able to absorb nutrients.

His questions made me go back to see if I could find the actual death certificate for Milton on line.  My initial searches on both ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org had failed to pick up Milton’s death certificate no matter how I tried searching or spelling his name.  But this time I realized there was another way to search.  Ancestry.com had a record for Milton in the index of Philadelphia death certificates, but no image of that actual certificate.  But the record included the FHL film number, that is, the catalog number for the microfilm in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

For some reason, I’d never before tried searching by the FHL number on FamilySearch.   I know to those out there who are experienced genealogists this must seem like a terrible rookie mistake, and I am quite embarrassed that I’d never thought to do that before.

But it worked. Plugging the film number into the FamilySearch search engine resulted in the retrieval of this document:

Milton Joseph's death certificate  "Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915," index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-11063-42231-79?cc=1320976 : accessed 14 December 2014), 004058647 > image 406 of 969; Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Milton Joseph’s death certificate
“Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-11063-42231-79?cc=1320976 : accessed 14 December 2014), 004058647 > image 406 of 969; Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

It is a bit hard to read, but if you look carefully you can see that on the certificate it says Milton died from bronchial pneumonia, not marasmus.  My brother agreed that this was a much more likely cause of death for a boy living at home with his family in Philadelphia than starvation, and he thought it was unlikely that somehow marasmus led to pneumonia or vice versa.

Then why would the 1880 Federal Census Mortality Schedule have said the cause of death was marasmus? Well, once again I am embarrassed.  I looked more closely at the mortality schedule, and sure, it says M. Josephs, and sure, ancestry.com retrieved it as relating to Milton Josephs, but I should have looked more closely.  Because now that I have looked again, I realize that the schedule says that M. Josephs was 5/12, that is, five months old.

Milton Joseph on the Federal Mortality Schedule 1880

Milton Joseph on the Federal Mortality Schedule 1880

And a little more research uncovered the death of a child name Mike Josephs who died of marasmus in December 1879 at five months of age.  So stupid mistake number two:  I too quickly assumed that M. Josephs was Milton without reading the document carefully and without even stopping to think that Milton had died in November, 1880, too late to have been listed on the Federal Census Mortality Schedule for 1880, which was dated May 31, 1880.

So I apologize for my carelesness and for maligning the reputation of my ancestors whose son died from pneumonia, not starvation.

Do I feel any better about Milton, knowing that he did not die from starvation?  I suppose that I better understand how a toddler can die from pneumonia than starvation, especially in the era before antibiotics.  But no, I don’t feel better.  A little boy died what still must have been a painful death, and his family still lost a beloved child.

And another family, that of Mike Josephs, did lose a five month old baby to starvation.

There is no good news here, but I did learn a few important lessons.  Thanks to my brother, I was able to find my mistakes and set the record straight.

Solomon Monroe Cohen/Cole: Post Script

Yesterday I received a copy of the death certificate of Sol Cole, who died on June 11, 1938.

I learned a number of things from this document.  First, Sol died of heart disease when he was only 58 years old.  He had had hypertension and arteriosclerosis for fifteen years and myocarditis for over a year, and then for a week before he died, he suffered from coronary thrombosis and finally acute cardiac failure.  He had been under the same doctor’s care for close to a year and had been living in New York City for about the same period of time.

sol cole death cert page 1

He had been living at 12 West 72nd Street in what was then a hotel, located less than a block from Central Park.  The certificate indicates that he was working up until a month before he died as a manager in the furniture business, the same industry he had been working in for 35 years, starting in Detroit, then in Columbus, and ultimately in New York City.

sol cole death cert page 2

The certificate also corroborated the fact that Estelle had predeceased him, as he was a widower at the time of his death.  Sol’s remains were cremated by Ferncliff Crematory, and both of his sons, Ralph and Robert, signed a sworn statement to the New York City Department of Health that it had been their father’s wish to be cremated.  I called Ferncliff to see if they had any records for Estelle, but they did not; they only had records for Sol.  Although I cannot be certain, my hunch is that Sol moved to New York after Estelle died since there is no record of her death in New York City nor were her remains handled by the same institution.  I still do not know when or where Estelle died, but I will focus on Ohio as that is where I know she was living as of 1935.

Number Thirteen, the Caboose: Abraham Cohen 1866-1944

Caboose 995 at the Transportation Museum.

Caboose 995 at the Transportation Museum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of the thirteen children born to my great-great-grandparents Jacob and Sarah Cohen, only one was still alive in 1928.  He was also the only one to live through not only the 1930s, but into the 1940s as well.  He was one of only three to live into his seventies and the only one to live past 75 years old.  He was also the last born, the baby of the family, Abraham.  Like all his siblings, he had a life that had plenty of heartbreak.

Abraham was born on March 29, 1866.  His oldest sibling, Fanny, was twenty years old when he was born and was married that same year.  Joseph, his oldest brother, was married two years later.  But in 1870 Abraham had ten older siblings still living in his household at 136 South Street.  His first real heartbreak occurred when he was thirteen and his mother Sarah died in 1879.  Fortunately he still had six siblings living at home as well as his father. By the time he was fourteen in 1880, he was already working in his father Jacob’s store.

On February 9, 1886, Abraham married Sallie McGonigal, daughter of James and Sarah McGonigal, in Camden, New Jersey.  Their first child, Sallie, was born in 1886.  I do not have a birth record for her, but sadly, I do have her death certificate.  Sallie died on November 1, 1892, when she was six and a half years old from scarlet fever. She was buried in at Old Cathedral Catholic Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Sallie Cohen death certificate

Sallie Cohen death certificate

Assuming that the child Sallie was born then in April or May, 1886, either she was born very premature or Sallie was already pregnant when they married. Abraham and Sallie would both have been only twenty when they married, although their marriage record listed their birth years as 1864, not 1866.  I am speculating here, but since they were married out of state and under age and since it seems likely that Sallie was pregnant and since Sallie was apparently Catholic and Abraham was Jewish, I am going to venture a guess that their parents did not approve of the relationship.

But Abraham and Sallie’s marriage survived.  They had a second child, Leslie Joseph Cohen, who was born on May 20, 1889.[1] In December, 1891, they had a third child, Ethel, who only lived four weeks.  She died from convulsions on January 27, 1892.

Ethel Cohen death certificate

Ethel Cohen death certificate

Then ten months later, they lost Sallie to scarlet fever. Sometime after those deaths, the family moved from where they had been living at 622 Annapolis Street to 707 Wharton Street, where they remained for many years.

The young couple weathered those terrible tragedies and had a fourth child, Raymond, on February 15, 1894.  He died eight months later from gastroenteritis and was also buried in Old Cathedral Catholic Cemetery with his sisters Sallie and Ethel.

Raymond Cohen death certificate

Raymond Cohen death certificate

In the space of just over two years Abraham and Sallie had lost three young children.  Three years later, Abraham and Sallie lost another male baby to premature birth on October 11, 1897; he was stillborn.  Interestingly, that baby was buried at Mt Zion cemetery.  Would a Catholic cemetery not accept a stillborn baby?

Stillborn baby Cohen death certificate

Stillborn baby Cohen death certificate

In 1900, Abraham, Sallie and their one surviving child, Leslie, were still living at 707 Wharton Street, and Abraham was working as …. a pawnbroker, of course.

Abraham Cohen and family 1900 census

Abraham Cohen and family 1900 census

Unless I missed the birth and death of other children, it seems that after not having any children for over ten years, Abraham and Sallie had one more baby.  Arthur was born on December 9, 1907, according to the Pennsylvania birth index. Assuming that Sallie was born in 1866, she was over 40 years old when he was born.  In the 1910 census, Abraham, Sallie, Leslie, and Arthur were all living at 2433 North 17th Street; in addition, Sallie’s sister, Mary McGonigal, was living with them as well as a servant whose duties were described as “nurse girl.”  I assume she was taking care of Arthur.  Abraham was still working as a pawnbroker.  Leslie was nineteen and an apprentice machinist.  Arthur was two years old.

Abraham Cohen 1910 census

Abraham Cohen 1910 census

In 1917 Leslie registered for the draft.  He was working as a machinist at Remington Arms in Eddystone, Pennsylvania, where his Aunt Hannah’s husband, Martin Wolf, was also employed during that period.

Leslie Cohen World War I draft registration

Leslie Cohen World War I draft registration

 

Leslie served in the military from 1917 to 1919, according to one record.[2]  He served in Aero Squadron 490, as seen on his headstone below.  I was able to track down a detailed five page document from Gorrell’s History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, 1917-1919,  describing the service of  Leslie’s squadron during World War I by using the Fold3.com website.

490 Squadron report, p. 1

490 Squadron report, p. 1

I cannot capture all the details of his squadron’s service, but in brief, the squadron trained in San Antonio, Texas; they then traveled by train and boat from there to Long Island City in New York to await their orders to ship overseas.   They received those orders and shipped out of New York to England on November 22, 1917.

leslie service partial quote

The report details the rather uncomfortable conditions the men encountered while traveling from New York to Halifax to Liverpool, England over a sixteen day period, although they did not face any danger from enemy forces while traveling.  They arrived in Liverpool on December 8, 1917, and then left for France on December 13, 1917, where they were first stationed at Saint Maixent and then at Romorantin.  In both locations, the squadron was engaged in building barracks and other buildings for the soldiers.  They also built over sixteen miles of railroad.  The report described in detail the facilities at their second location and the work that was done.  It ends after the Armistice was signed, saying that the squadron was awaiting their orders to return to the United States.  Leslie J. Cohen is listed three times in the course of the report on the roster of men who served with the 490 Squadron, including on the final page shown below.

Leslie J. Cohen on roster

Leslie J. Cohen on roster

(M990;Publication Title: Gorrell’s History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, 1917-1919
Publisher: NARA
National Archives Catalog ID: 631392
National Archives Catalog Title: Gorrell’s History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, compiled 07/05/1917 – 08/31/1919, documenting the period 05/26/1917 – 03/31/1919
Record Group: 120
Short Description: NARA M990. Historical narratives, reports, photographs, and other records that document administrative, technical, and tactical activities of the Air Service in the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I.
Roll: 0021
Series: E
Series Description: Squadron Histories)

Back home in Philadelphia, Abraham’s wife  Sallie died on March 14, 1919, and surprisingly was buried not with her children at Old Cathedral Catholic Cemetery, but at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pennsylvania. The family was residing at 5926 Cobbs Creek Parkway when she died, which was only a mile from Holy Cross Cemetery; nevertheless, Cathedral Cemetery, where so many of her children were buried, was only three miles away.  I wonder why she was not buried with her children.  Sallie died from influenza, pneumonia and bronchitis.  This was the time of the deady Spanish flu epidemic that killed millions of people worldwide.  Sally was about  fifty years old when she died, and her son Arthur was only eleven years old.

Sallie McGonigal Cohen death certificate 1919

Sallie McGonigal Cohen death certificate 1919

As of January 10, 1920, when the next census was taken, Abraham, now a widower, was still living at 5926 Cobbs Creek Parkway with his sons Leslie and Arthur, his sister-in-law Mary McGonigal, and a servant.  Abraham was still a pawnbroker; Leslie was a machinist in the shipyard, having returned from military service.  Arthur was in school.

Sometime later in 1920, Abraham married Elizabeth Beisswagner Grady, whose husband Robert Grady had died in 1918 and, interestingly, is also buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pennsylvania.  Had Abraham met her at the cemetery? At the church? Elizabeth had several children from her first marriage, though all would have been adults by 1920.  Abraham was 54 when they married, Elizabeth was 46.

In 1927, Leslie reenlisted in the army, and on the 1930 census he is listed as a soldier in the US Army, stationed at Fort Hancock in Middletown Township, New Jersey.  He served from August 23, 1927 until August 22, 1930, when he was honorably discharged.

Leslie Cohen 1930 census

Leslie Cohen 1930 census

In the 1931 directory for the city of Richmond, Virginia, Leslie is listed with his wife Emma L. and was employed as a machinist.  Thus, sometime between the date of the 1930 census and the date of the Richmond directory, he had gotten married and moved to Richmond. He was later admitted to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Virginia on October 24, 1932, and released on February 3, 1933.  I cannot tell from the record why he was admitted or why he stayed for over three months in the hospital.  The hospital record also indicated that he was married to an Elizabeth L. Cohen (presumably a mistake; other records corroborate that her name was Emma), living in Washington, DC.

Leslie Cohen VA Hospital record

Leslie Cohen VA Hospital record

Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, Abraham, Elizabeth, and Arthur were living at 5530 Walnut Street according to the 1930 census.  Abraham was still working as a pawnbroker, and Arthur was working as a porter at a gas station.  Abraham, who was now 64 years old, had outlived all his siblings at this point as well as his first wife and several of his children.  I find it interesting that neither of his two sons became pawnbrokers, given the Cohen family’s overall involvement in that industry.

Abraham’s second wife Elizabeth died on August 4, 1939, from heart disease.  They had been living on Spruce Street, where Abraham is listed as living alone on the 1940 census.  He was still working as a pawnbroker at age 74.  Elizabeth was buried with her first husband Robert Grady at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon.

Abraham died on April 29, 1944, when he was 78 years old.  He also was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon with his first wife Sallie.  His death certificate was subject to a coroner’s inquest for some reason, but the inquest found that he died from arteriosclerosis.

Abraham death certificate 1944

Abraham death certificate 1944

abraham cohen amended death cert

 

The only strange thing about his death certificate is the description of his occupation: elevator operator.  After a lifelong career as a pawnbroker, why would Abraham have become an elevator operator?  The informant on his death certificate was Bernard Sluizer, Abraham’s brother-in-law, the widower of Abraham’s sister Elizabeth. Bernard would die just four months later.  Why would Bernard have been the informant? Well, all of Abraham’s siblings had died many years earlier, as had all their spouses except for Bernard and Jonas’ wife Sarah. Leslie was living in Richmond, Virginia.  I don’t know where Arthur was at that time.

Leslie and his wife Emma continued to live in Richmond, Virginia during the 1930s and 1940s.  According to the 1940 census, Emma was almost twenty years older than Leslie.  She is reported to have been 67 in 1940 while he was 48.  Leslie also appears never to have returned to his skilled position as a machinist.  On various Richmond directories throughout this period, his occupation is described as a helper, one time specifying at a Blue Plate Foods.  It is obviously hard to make too many inferences, but given his hospitalization and his low skilled employment afterward, it would seem that Leslie might have been disabled in some way after his second service in the army.   Leslie died on May 13, 1966, and is buried at Fort Harrison National Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

Leslie Joseph Cohen headstone

As for Arthur, I just am not sure.  There were two Arthur Cohens living in the Philadelphia area who were born in Pennsylvania in or about 1907, according to the 1940 census.  Both were married. One was working as a manager in a bottling company, the other as a mechanic in a garage.  Since Arthur was working in a gas station in 1930, I am inclined to think that it is more likely that he was the second Arthur, who was married to a woman named Claire.  They were living in Upper Darby, a Philadelphia suburb in 1940, but had been living in Philadelphia in 1935, according to the 1940 census.  If this is the right Arthur Cohen, it seems that he and Claire moved out to California at some point, living in Burbank in the 1970s and 1980s, and then to Las Vegas thereafter where Claire died on June 11, 1998.  I am still not positive I have the correct Arthur, so will continue to look for more records or documents to corroborate my hunch.

Thus, there are some loose ends here.  I don’t know the full story of Leslie and his wife Emma, but if the ages on the 1940 census are correct, it seems very unlikely that there were any children.  Arthur’s story is even more unfinished.  Without a marriage record or a death certificate, it’s impossible to be sure that I have found the right person.  I also do not have any idea whether Arthur had children.

Looking back over Abraham’s life is painful.  He lost so much—his mother when he was just 13, his father nine years later, and all his siblings between 1911 and 1927.    Three of his children died when they were very young, and he outlived two wives.  One son had moved away to Richmond, Virginia, possibly disabled in some way.  The other one seems to have disappeared or moved out west at some point.  I have this sad image of Abraham as a man in his seventies, living alone, working as an elevator operator, and having only his brother-in-law Bernard Sluizer around as his family (and perhaps many nieces and nephews as well).

I hope I am wrong.

************

That brings to an end, for now, the long story of the thirteen children of Jacob and Sarah Cohen, my great-great-grandparents.  I will reflect on what I’ve learned about them and try and synthesize it all in my next post.

 

 

 

 

 

[1]   Leslie’s birth year changed from record to record.  Sometimes it was 1891, sometimes 1892, sometimes 1893.  The record closest to his birth year was the 1900 census, which indicated that he was then 11 years old, giving him a birth year of 1889.  However, on the 1910 census, his age was 19, meaning he was born in 1891.  His two draft registrations also vary.  His headstone says 1892.  They all say his birthday was May 20, regardless of the year.

[2] Ancestry.com. U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.

Original data: Historical Register of National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1749, 282 rolls); Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

The Genealogy Village: An Update on Maria Cohen and William Levy

Over three weeks ago, I blogged about Maria Cohen, Jacob and Sarah’s seventh child, and her life.  She had married William Levy, and they had had four sons, one of whom committed suicide as a teenager, and two others who predeceased her, Lewis, who died when he was 38 in 1915 only five years after marrying Emma Fogle, and Jacob, who died the following year when he also was only 38.  Only one son, Isaac, survived her.

At the time I wrote the blog, I could not find any records for Maria or William after 1900, except as names on their sons’ death certificates.  I did not know when either of them died.  In addition, although I had a death certificate for their son Lewis and was able to find his headstone through FindAGrave, I was confused by the fact that the headstone referred to Lewis and his wife Emma as father and mother, but I had no record of any child born to Lewis and Emma.  I put those questions aside after much searching, figuring I would return.

So I returned to Maria and William after the updates to the Pennsylvania death certificate database earlier this week.   First, I called Adath Jeshurun cemetery in Philadelphia to see if Maria and William were buried there.  Since all three of the sons who had died were buried there, I assumed that Maria and William would have been also, and that hunch paid off.  The very helpful woman at Adath Jeshurun gave me the dates that Maria and William died and were buried.

William had died September 10, 1906 when Maria was only 49 and had already lost her son Benjamin.  She would lose two more sons in the next ten years.  Maria herself died March 24, 1925.  I now had their dates of death, but still no death certificates.  Even with the new update, I could not find a death certificate for either William or Maria even though both had died before 1944.  I was bewildered.

I then searched for all people named Levy who died in 1925 and finally found Maria—spelled Mrriac in the ancestry.com index.  What?? Mrriac?? No wonder I couldn’t find it.  But it was clearly Maria—daughter of Jacob Cohen and “Sallie Jacob.”  She had died from diabetes and myocarditis and had been living at 5035 Funston Street in Philadelphia at the time of her death.  The informant on the certificate was Mr. S. Levy of the same address.  Since her only surviving child was her son Isaac Harry Levy, I had no idea who S. Levy was, unless he was the son of Lewis and Emma Levy.

Maria Cohen death certificate 1925

Maria Cohen death certificate 1925

I still could not find William Levy’s death certificate nor could I figure out how to find Lewis and Emma’s child.  I turned to others for help.  There is a Pennsylvania Genealogy group on Facebook and also a Tracing the Tribe group focused on Jewish genealogy.  I posted my questions on both groups, and within a few minutes, someone on the TTT group suggested I search the Pennsylvania death index by William’s date of death instead of by his name, and tada! There it was.  William also had died from diabetes.

William Levy death certificate 1906

William Levy death certificate 1906

But that still left me without an answer to the next question: who was the child of Emma and Lewis Levy?  Another half hour later I had that answer as well.  Somehow someone else with fresh eyes found Emma Levy, a widow, on the 1920 census, living with an eight year old daughter named Henrietta as well as two relatives named Fogel.  This was obviously the right Emma, and I now knew her daughter’s name.

Emma Levy 1920 census

Emma Levy 1920 census

They also appeared together on the 1930 census, but on the 1940 census, Henrietta was gone.  Now I need to find her married name.  Two kind people from the Pennsylvania group are continuing to help me.

I still do not know who Mr. S. Levy was on Maria’s death certificate, nor do I know what happened to Henrietta. I also have not found Maria on the 1920 census.  But with the help of others, I am able to put some closure on the sad life of Maria and William Levy.

Pennsylvania, I love you!

OK, perhaps a bit of an overstatement, but yesterday morning I woke up to read online that the Pennsylvania death certificates up through 1944 were now available on ancestry.com.  (Previously, only those up through 1924 were available.)  As soon as I’d had my breakfast, I started searching for all my previously researched Cohen relatives who died between 1925 and 1944 to find their death certificates.  Within a half an hour I had found eleven of them.  Although they did not contain any amazing revelations, I was able to learn when and why several of my relatives had died.

I have updated the relevant blog posts for Hannah Cohen, Lewis Weil, Rachel Cohen, Martin A. Wolf and his wife Marie Morgan, Laura Wolf, Harry Frechie, and Samuel Rosenblatt, Jr.  I also have certificates for Reuben Cohen, Sr., Emanuel Cohen, and Abraham Cohen which will be discussed in later posts.  The only one of these that I was particularly interested in was that of Samuel Rosenblatt, Jr., who had died when he was only twenty and was his parents’ only child; he died of leukemia.  Laura and Martin A. Wolf, siblings and the children of Hannah and Martin Wolf, also died at relatively young ages—in their 40s, Laura of diabetes and Martin A. of ulcerative colitis.

If you are interested in seeing the certificates, I have posted them at the relevant blog posts as linked to above.

It was good to put some closure on some of those lives, although sad to be reminded again of how many of my ancestors died so young.  Thank you to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for opening up your records so that family histories can be told.

Reuben Cohen 1854-1926: You Really Do Not Want to Read This

As I wrote in an earlier post, I skipped over Reuben Cohen, my great-great-grandparents’ sixth child and fifth son, in order to wait for some information from one of Reuben’s direct descendants.  I have to admit that I had other reasons as well.  My initial research indicated that Reuben and his wife Sallie Livingston had twelve children.  The thought of researching another huge family was a bit overwhelming.  In addition, my preliminary research had uncovered a number of very sad stories about those children, and I just did not have the heart to research, write, or even think about them after researching the story of Reuben’s older brother Hart.  Little did I know that his sisters, whose lives I’d not previously researched very far, also had more than their fair share of heartbreak as well.

Once I returned to the story of Reuben and did more research, I learned that his story was worse than I had even originally thought. His life started out well.  He was born in April, 1854, and grew up at 136 South Street with his parents and siblings. By the time he was sixteen he was working as a clerk in a store, presumably his father’s pawnshop.  In 1878 when he was 24, he married Sallie Livingston, and in 1880 they were living at 1725 Bainbridge Street and already had two children, Sallie R., who was a year old, and Jacob, who was a month old.  Reuben was working as a pawnbroker at 635 South 17th Street in 1881.

Reuben Cohen 1880 census

Reuben Cohen 1880 census

Originally I thought that the 1880s must have been fairly happy years for Reuben and Sallie, as Reuben continued to work as a pawnbroker and their family continued to grow.  In addition to Sallie R. and Jacob, I originally found that five more children were born between 1881 and 1890:  Minnie (1882), Hortense (1887), Rae (1887), Reuben, Jr. (1888), and Arthur (1890). The family continued to live at 1725 Bainbridge Street.

Then in 1891, tragedy struck.  Little Hortense, only three years old, was run over and killed by a cable car owned by the Philadelphia Traction Company.

Hortense Cohen death certificate

Hortense Cohen death certificate

The company had only been in business since 1883. I found this gruesome description of the accident in the June 14, 1891 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

[According to a witness who saw the accident], the child, who was with two other children, started across the street to reach the house of her grandmother, Mrs. Livingstone, at 607 South Ninth Street, with whom she had been living. When she had crossed the tracks she saw a carriage coming, and she made an attempt to run back.  The child got bewildered, and as she reached the middle of the track the car struck her. The front wheel jammed the head against the track. It required the united efforts of [three police officers] to lift the car off the child’s head.

(“Killed by a Cable Car Little Hortense Cohen Becomes Bewildered and is Run Down,” Sunday, June 14, 1891, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA),  Volume: 124   Issue: 165   Page: 5) The conductor and gripman were arrested.  Little Hortense was taken to the hospital where she died.

This story raises so many hard questions.  What was a three year old child doing alone without an adult? Who were the other two children, and how old were they? Were they her siblings? What a terrible impact this must have had on them as well as the rest of the family.  And why was Hortense living with her grandmother?  Were any of the other children living with Mrs. Livingston?  I don’t have any answers to these questions.

Obviously, times were different.  There were no helicopter parents, and children were much more likely to be left to their own devices than children are allowed to be today.  Also, cable cars were a recent addition to the city streets, and perhaps parents and children were not yet aware of the dangers they presented, nor were these companies likely regulated to any degree to prevent such accidents from occurring.  But one thing must have been true even in those days: the absolute horror the family must have endured after losing a child in such a terrible way.

Somehow the family went on.  My original research found that two more children were born in the next few years:  Lewis in 1892 and Penrose in 1894.  The family moved from their Bainbridge Street home sometime after Hortense’s death. In 1893 Reuben’s store was at 625 South 17th Street, and he and his family were residing at 623 South 17th Street.  They remained in that residence for many years.  In 1895 Violet was born, and in 1896 Irene was born, bringing the number of children living in the family to eleven.

Then another tragedy occurred in 1896.  Two year old Penrose died from some form of capillary bronchitis.  Perhaps someone can help me decipher and interpret the rest of the description of his cause of death.  As if the family had not suffered enough, a year and a half later baby Irene, only a year old, died also from capillary bronchitis.  The family had lost three young children between 1891 and 1897.  The last child, Simon, was born in 1898, bringing the number of children to nine out of the twelve that I first thought had been born to Reuben and Sallie.

Penrose Cohen death certificate

Penrose Cohen death certificate

Irene Cohen death certificate

Irene Cohen death certificate

I wish I could say that that was the end of Reuben and Sallie’s heartbreak, but I cannot.  There was a period of relative calm.  In 1900 the family was living in Cape May, New Jersey, at the time of the census.

Reuben Cohen and family at 208 Ocean Street 1900 US census

Reuben Cohen and family at 208 Ocean Street 1900 US census

They were living back in Philadelphia by 1902, so I do not know whether the time in Cape May was a long stay or perhaps just a shorter stay for the summer.  I do know from one of Reuben’s descendants that Reuben owned a home in Cape May built in 1864 at 208 Ocean Street that eventually became the home of his son Arthur and his descendants.  It seems that during Reuben’s life this was not the year-round home, but perhaps just a summer home.  Reuben must have been quite successful to have two residences.  I found the house currently listed for sale on Trulia.com,with a description of the house and many exterior and interior pictures, such as this one.

208 Ocean Street, Cape May, NJ

208 Ocean Street, Cape May, NJ

1900 also was a good year for the family in other ways.  Their daughter Sallie R. was married that year to Ellis Samuel Abrams in what appears to have been quite a society event. There had been a large engagement party the year before at Reuben and Sallie’s home where an orchestra played throughout the evening “behind a bower of palm trees.”  The guest list was very long and included many of the aunts, uncles, and cousins I have written about on the blog: the Wolfs, the Sluizers, the Hambergs, and, of course, many Cohens.(“Melange of Events,”  Sunday, December 31, 1899, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA) Volume: 141 Issue: 184 Page: 14)   Before the wedding took place on May 21, 1900, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a drawing of Sallie R., announcing the upcoming nuptials.  Clearly the Cohen family was part of the elite of Philadelphia Jewish society.

Sallie Cohen

Sallie Cohen

But all the business success in the world was not worth the personal losses that the family suffered. In 1907, Sallie R.’s young husband Ellis died from acute appendicitis.  He was 30 years old, and they had only been married for seven years.  They had had two children, Dorothy, born around 1905, and Simon, born around 1907.

Ellis Abrams death certificate

Ellis Abrams death certificate

Then, two years later, in 1909, Reuben and Sallie’s son Jacob died of cardiac failure secondary to tabes dorsalis, or late stage syphilis.  He was only 29 years old when he died.  From his death certificate it appears that he had been sick and under a doctor’s care for five months before he died in December, 1909.

Jacob Livingston Cohen death certificate

Jacob Livingston Cohen death certificate

And then, just four years later in 1913, Jacob’s older sister Sallie R., Ellis’ widow, Reuben and Sallie Livingston’s oldest child, died at age 34 from nephritis, kidney disease.  That left Sallie R. and Ellis’ two children, Dorothy and Simon, orphaned at ages eight and six, respectively.

Sallie J. Cohen death certificate

Sallie J. Cohen death certificate

On the 1920 census, both children were living with their grandparents, Reuben and Sallie.  So far, I have had no luck finding out what happened to them next.

Reuben Cohen and family 1920 census

Reuben Cohen and family 1920 census

But what I did find was even more disturbing.  In doing some last minute checks for additional documents on Sallie J. and Jacob, I found their headstones on FindAGrave.  And to the left behind Jacob’s headstone, I spotted a headstone with eight names on it.  Some were familiar:  Hortense, Penrose, Irene.  But five were new to me: Maria, Fanny, Joseph, Hart, and Edith.  Who were they? When I saw it, I sighed so loudly that my husband wondered what was wrong.  I took a deep breath and then started looking for these other five children.

Since none of these names had appeared on either the 1880 census or the 1900 census (and since the 1890 census was destroyed by fire), I assumed that they were born after the 1880 census and died before 1900 census.  Eventually I found all five of these children, all of whom died before they were four years old.

As I mentioned above, I had originally thought that the 1880s were a happy decade for Reuben and his family, but this additional research revealed the opposite.  After Sallie R. and Jacob were born, the third child, Hart, was born in 1881.  He died February 27, 1883, when he was seventeen months old from uremia.  In between Minnie was born in 1882.

Hart Cohen death certificate

Hart Cohen death certificate

The next child, Maria, was born in September, 1883, meaning Sallie was pregnant with Maria when Hart died.  Maria died in Cape May, New Jersey on August 2, 1886, just shy of three years old, from paralysis caused by diphtheria (also evidence that the family had been spending summers in Cape May for quite some time before 1900).

Maria Cohen death certificate

Maria Cohen death certificate

But in between Minnie and Maria, Reuben and Sallie had had two other children, both of whom died before they were a year old.  In January, 1884, Fanny was born, and six months later in July, 1884, she died from enterocolitis.  On April 17, 1885, Joseph was born, and he died on August 9, 1885, not yet four months old.  Thus, in each year from 1883 through 1886, Reuben and Sallie buried one of their children. Perhaps that is why some of the children were living with Sallie’s mother?

Fanny Cohen death certificate

Fanny Cohen death certificate

Then came the tragic accident involving three year old Hortense in June, 1891.  What I had not known before I found the additional names on the headstone is that in July, 1891, the very next month, Sallie had given birth to Edith.  Perhaps that was some relief, but only for a very brief time because Edith died less than a year later on April 24, 1892, from “Diptheritic Laryngitis.”  I am not sure what that means, but it seems like it must be some complication from diphtheria. And then, as described above, Penrose died in 1896 and Irene in 1897.

Finally, there were the untimely deaths of Jacob L. and Sallie R. as adults.  So between 1883 and 1913, Reuben and Sallie had lost ten of their seventeen children and also had two young grandchildren who were left without either a mother or a father. Aside from Hortense, who died from an accident, all the other young children died from an illness that today would likely have been either prevented by a vaccine (diphtheria) or treated with antibiotics or somehow otherwise controlled by medicine.  Reading about all these babies’ deaths made me aware once again of how grateful we all should be for the developments of 20th century medicine.

How did Reuben and Sallie go on? It is unfathomable.  But they did. Did they find strength in the seven children who survived? Or did these deaths leave them bitter, angry, depressed? How does a marriage survive all that stress? Did they find strength in religion? In their large extended family? I do not know; I only know that in the last few days as I researched this family’s saga, I also was spending time with my newborn grandson and my four year old grandson, both of whom are so precious to me, not to mention their parents and other grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and great-grandparents.  Seeing either grandson cry over even the smallest pain or disappointment breaks my heart.  I found myself so disturbed by reading about Reuben and Sallie’s children that I was not sure that I could bear to write this story down. But then I had to do it, if only so that those little children could be perhaps more than just names on a headstone.  Someone should know that they lived and were loved.

Reuben and Sallie had seventeen children (at least—perhaps others lived who have not been recorded somewhere).  They were married for many years.  Somehow there was enough love to keep them together so that they could continue to raise the children who survived, including their two grandchildren from Sallie R.

Reuben died on December 31, 1926; he was 72 years old.  His wife Sallie died four years later in 1930 when she also was 72.  There were seven children left who survived them, and almost all of them lived long lives, but I will leave their stories for a later post.

Maria Cohen 1856-?: A Hard Story to Find, A Harder One to Tell

It took me a long time to find the story of Maria Cohen, the seventh[1] child of my great-grandparents, Jacob and Sarah, and once I did, I wished I hadn’t. Things started easily enough, as I was able to find a record in the Philadelphia marriage index identifying her husband as William Levi. They married on December 15, 1875.  I was able to find them on both the 1880 and 1900 census reports with their sons Lewis, Jacob, and Isaac, but on both there were entries that were inconsistent with the facts I know about Maria.  On the 1880 census, it says her parents were born in Germany, and in 1900 it says her parents were born in Russia, when I know that her parents were in fact both born in England.

Had the census taker received erroneous information or did I have the wrong Maria?  Certainly her sons’ names, Lewis, Jacob and Isaac, were all names that ran in the Cohen family.  The age given for Maria on the census reports seemed close enough.  In 1880 Maria would have been 24; the census says she was 21 with two sons ages two and one.  If she really married in 1875, that means she would have been only 16 when she married, which seems unlikely.  In 1900, Maria would have been 44; the 1900 census reports it as 40.  I am accustomed to census errors, and these were not any worse than others I’ve seen.

So this could be the right Maria Cohen, but I cannot be absolutely sure because after 1900 she and her husband disappear from the records.  I cannot find Maria or William Levi on the 1910, 1920, or 1930 census.  Perhaps they both died between 1900 and 1910, but I also cannot find any death records or burial records for either of them. At first I thought perhaps they all changed their names, but after a lot of looking I was able to find death records for three of their four sons, and that is where this story gets harder to tell.

The first record I found was for their oldest son Lewis, who died on May 4, 1915, from heart disease at age 38.

Lewis C. Levy death certificate

Lewis C. Levy death certificate

His wife Emma Fogle, whom he had only married five years before in 1910, lived another almost 50 years, but was buried beside him at Adath Jeshurun cemetery and apparently never remarried.  Since the headstone is marked “father” and “mother,” there must have been at least one child born during that brief marriage, but so far I have not been able to locate that child.

Lewis and Emma Levy headstone

Lewis and Emma Levy headstone

This morning, after much looking, I found a death certificate for Maria and William’s second son Jacob, who also died at a young age.  He died only a year and half after his brother Lewis on December 22, 1916, from tuberculosis. He also was 38 when he died.  The death certificate reveals that he had been residing at the Norristown State Hospital for the Insane when he died and had been there for just over ten years.  He also was buried at Adath Jeshurun.

Jacob Levy death certificate

Jacob Levy death certificate

I was already feeling sad for Maria and William for losing two sons before either reached forty years of age when the story got even worse.

In searching for records for Maria, William and their sons this morning, I was surprised to see a death record for a Benjamin Levy, son of William Levy.  It was the first time I knew that Maria and William had had a fourth son, Benjamin, born in 1881.  Since he was born in 1881, he was not on the 1880 census.  Since he died in 1897, he was not on the 1990 census.  I had missed him completely in doing my initial research of Maria and her family.  I gasped when I found his death certificate and saw his cause of death: “found drowned.”

Benjamin Levy death certificate

Benjamin Levy death certificate

I looked to see if I could find any other information and found this story, quoted in its entirety from the Philadelphia Inquirer dated March 18, 1897.

The body of the young man which was found on Monday in the Delaware River at the foot of Callowhill street was that of Benjamin Levy, aged 16, who lived at 1580 Fontaine Street, and who has been missing since January 9. It is thought that he committed suicide.

Before going away, he said to his brother: “Good-bye, Jake, forever.  I’m going to jump overboard.”  He was not seen alive afterwards.  It is believed he drowned himself because he had been rebuked for drinking.

(“A Young Suicide,” Thursday, March 18, 1897,Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA)   Volume: 136   Issue: 77   Page: 10 )

Benjamin had been missing for two months when his body was found.  I cannot begin to imagine how his family felt.  Could it possibly be that just getting scolded for drinking led him to commit suicide? Or was there something else behind the story? Was there underlying mental illness, as was the case with his older brother Jacob?

Although the death certificate for Jacob said that he had been hospitalized since October, 1896, ten years, one month and 28 days before his death, this news story about Benjamin seemed to indicate that Jacob was still home when Benjamin committed suicide in March, 1897.  One has to wonder whether Jacob’s mental illness was precipitated or at least exacerbated by his little brother’s death and thus whether Jacob’s death certificate was off by a year in describing his stay at the state hospital.  Did Jacob feel guilty, knowing that his younger brother had talked about suicide but Jacob had not being able to stop him? How did Maria and William cope with these two traumas?

It was less than twenty years later that their son Lewis died in 1915, with Jacob dying a year later in 1916.  Only Isaac remained, their youngest son.  Fortunately, Isaac’s story is not tragic.  In 1909, he had married Rose Hicks, who was a few years older than Isaac and had a son William from a previous marriage. Although marrying an older divorced woman with a child might have been somewhat unusual back then, given what this family had been through, that must have been small potatoes to them.  In 1910, he and Rose were living at 133 Walnut Street in 1910 with several boarders, and Isaac, now using the name Harry, was working at a pawnshop.

Isaac "Harry" Levy and Emma Levy 1910 census

Isaac “Harry” Levy and Emma Levy 1910 census

In fact, it was his uncle Lewis Cohen’s pawnshop, as revealed in Harry’s World War I draft registration (and as confirmed by an address check for Lewis Cohen in 1917).

Isaac "Harry" Levy draft registration World War I

Isaac “Harry” Levy draft registration World War I

Harry, Rose, and Rose’s son William as well as her nephew were living on Reno Street in 1920, and Harry and Rose continued to live in Philadelphia at least until 1942 when Harry’s draft registration for World War II continues to provide a Philadelphia address at 222 North 52nd Street.  Harry was working for the WPA in Philadelphia at that time.

Isaac "Harry" Levy World War 2 draft registration

Isaac “Harry” Levy World War 2 draft registration

It does not appear that Harry and Rose had any biological children of their own.  I cannot yet find any record for Harry or Rose after 1942, nor have I yet had any luck locating any records for Maria or William after the 1900 census.   I plan to contact Adath Jeshurun cemetery in Philadelphia to see if they have records for Harry/Isaac, Rose, Maria or William Levy.  Since the other members of the family were all buried at that cemetery, I am hoping that I will be able to get at least some greater information about the others.

Genealogical research is filled with twists and turns.  I spent many hours this week, focused on Maria Cohen and her family with William Levy, and until this morning I had found almost nothing except their marriage record and  those two census reports.  I went to sleep feeling that I would never know the rest of the story.  Then with just a few lucky keystrokes this morning, I opened the door to a terribly tragic family story.  I almost wish that I hadn’t.  Careful what you wish for, as they say.  I hope I can put some closure on Maria’s life.  Only time, persistence, and lots of good luck will tell.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Reuben was the sixth child, but I am skipping over him for now as I wait to hear from one of his descendants.

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My Great-Great Grandmother Rachel Jacobs Cohen: Her Death Certificate

I have received a certified copy of my great-great grandmother’s death certificate from the General Register Office in London.  This is my first English vital record, and I was quite excited to receive it.  It amazes me that I can obtain a record that is over 150 years old from a foreign country just by clicking on the keys of a computer.  Below is a scan of the document and also a cropped version to highlight the actual text on the certificate.

Rachel Jacobs Cohen  death certificate

Rachel Jacobs Cohen death certificate

rachel jacobs cohen death cert 1851 cropped

There are a number of things that interest me about the information on this document.  First is Rachel’s date of death, January 9, 1851.  When I had searched through the BMD Index for this certificate, there were a number of Rachel Cohens who might have been the right person.  I guessed that it was this one based on the date.  Although Lewis and Jacob, Rachel’s sons, had left for the US in 1846 and 1848, respectively, Rachel’s husband and other children, Elizabeth and Jonas, did not leave until 1851.  I had a hunch that they did not leave because Rachel was ill and not able to make the journey, so they waited until after she died.

As the certificate shows, Rachel’s cause of death was “scirehus paylonis” and exhaustion, and it seems she had been ill for a year.  As best I can tell, scrirehus paylonis would be translated to schirrous pylonis or cancer of the stomach.  (My medical expert should feel free to correct this.)  I found some English writings on line in which that term was used to refer to what we would call stomach cancer.

The certificate also indicates where the family was living—in Landers Buildings in Christchurch, Spitalfields, in the Registration District of Whitechapel, County of Middlesex.  It also confirms that Hart Levy Cohen was a clothes dealer.

Perhaps most interesting and surprising to me is that Hart signed the certificate with a mark, an X, not with a signature.  Was he not able to sign his name? Was he illiterate? It’s so hard for me to imagine not being able to read and write that I found this shocking and disturbing.

 

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