It Takes A Village: Mystery Solved!

Immigrant children, Ellis Island, New York.

Immigrant children, Ellis Island, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I received a lot of exciting documents today, but I cannot write about them all at once.  I want to write first about the one that resolved a longstanding mystery I had almost despaired of ever solving.

Just to refresh your recollection (or to tell you the story for the first time), my great-great aunt Tillie Strulowitz arrived at Ellis Island with her husband Jankel and three of her seven children, the older four having already emigrated.  They were detained at Ellis Island because of questions about Jankel’s health, and I was able to obtain, with the help of the generous people at JewishGen, the file for the immigration hearing. From that I knew that he had been admitted to the United States and had not been deported or died before arriving in the US, as some of his descendants believed.

But I still could find no evidence of what happened to him after January, 1908, when he was admitted.  He was not on the 1910 census with Tillie and the children. Tillie was listed as a widow, but I could not find a death certificate or a cemetery burial that proved he had died. I began to wonder whether Jankel had abandoned them or been institutionalized or returned to Romania.

I wrote to the JewishGen discussion group for a second time to ask for help, and I received many very helpful and creative suggestions.  I pursued each one of them, but with no success.  The only one that I had still not been able to put closure on was a suggestion from a man named Barry Chernick who had found a death recorded for a Jankof Israelwitch in April 1908.  Barry hypothesized that this might be Jankel because Israelwitch could be an Americanization of Strulowitz or Srulovici.  Since Srul is Yiddish for Israel, perhaps the family had switched their name after leaving Ellis Island.  It seemed like a long shot, but I figured it was worth a try and wrote away for the death certificate.

Well, today I received the death certificate for Jankof Israelwitch, and I am certain that it is the death certificate for Jankel Srulovici.  My conclusion is based on the following clues: his birth place (Romania), length of time in the US (4 months—he died in April 1908 and arrived in the US at the very end of December 1907), his father’s name (Israel—Jankel’s first born son was named Israel or Srul in Romania), his residence (East Harlem, where his family was living from 1910 and afterwards), and his age (57).

Jankel Srulovici death certificate

Jankel Srulovici death certificate

The death certificate also revealed on the reverse side that he was buried at Mt Zion cemetery, so I went to their website and searched for Jankof Israelwitch, and there I was now able to find that he is in fact buried there under that name.  The fact that Tillie and Isidor and Pincus are also buried at Mt Zion (though not in the same sections) is further corroboration that this is the right person.

reverse side

reverse side

And so now, thanks to the assistance of so many people at JewishGen and especially Renee and Barry, I can put closure on the life of Jankel Srulovici.  He did not abandon his family, he was not deported, he was not institutionalized, he did not divorce Tillie.  No, he died what must have been a painful death from a metastatic growth in his ribs.

Like my great-grandfather Moritz, Jankel’s brother-in-law, Jankel died soon after arriving in America.  How awful it must have been for the two sisters, Tillie and Ghitla, to lose their husbands after making the brave and difficult decision to leave home and start anew in this country.  Yet somehow they both continued on, they raised their children, and they made a life for themselves as widows in the United States.  I continue to be amazed by the resilience of the immigrant generation.

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