Since Christmas I have been spending some time revisiting the Tobin Family Genealogy research. One of my biggest challenges to date has been finding information about my mother’s side of the family (Klein), in particular my great grandfather Jacob Klein. We knew that he died sometime between 1900 and 1910, either just before or not too long after his son Jules (my grandfather) was born in 1903. While I knew that he was born in January 1868 in Hungary (via 1900 census), nobody alive today recalls exactly when or how he died. In fact, there has been confusion over whether he died as the result of a subway accident or as the result of cancer. We knew nothing of his Hungarian roots other than the fact that he had immigrated to the United States in about 1882 (according to the 1900 census). Our missing information was bounded by the 1900 census which shows him living with his family in Manhattan, and the 1910 census which reflects his widowed wife (Great Grandmother Jessie Klein) and her children living with her parents in Manhattan. This narrowed his death to about a 7-year period between which his last son was born (1903) and the 1910 census.
The word-of-mouth information I had about my Great Grandfather was confusing and conflicting. My father recalls that his wife (Jessie Klein) had told him once that Jacob Klein was a foreman on a work crew that was constructing the New York Subway, and that he died in a construction accident before his son Jules was born in 1903. This information, however, conflicts with what his grandson (my Uncle Paul) recalls being told by his father Jules. Paul recalls that his father Jules said that Jacob had died of cancer when he was about 4 years old. This would have put his death in about 1907. These conflicting recollections have made the research both interesting and difficult. I have extensively searched the New York City obituaries and come up empty for a match between 1903 and 1910. I have also tried researching early 1900 NY city subway construction accidents and have come up with several fatal accidents, but none that listed Jacob Klein name amongst the victims. I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I had likely reached a dead end in my research of my Great Grandfather.
Over the Christmas break, however, I stumbled onto a free genealogical resource that I was heretofore unaware of that has provided a tremendous breakthrough in my research of my New York City dwelling ancestors. The site (a German Genealogy Group website) includes links to a searchable database of New York City deaths between 1891 and 1948. It also includes a searchable database of New York City Grooms and Brides. The results of these searches provide the associated death certificate numbers and the marriage certificate numbers, all of which can be ordered from the New York City Department of Health Bureau of Records for $12 a copy. I conducted a search of ALL “Jacob Kleins” that died between 1900 and 1910, and found only one (of about 20) in which the date of death and age of the deceased matched the birth year of my Great Grandfather. I ordered the death certificate, and it came this past week.
With a death certificate now in my possession, the mystery continued as it listed a bunch of great information but lacked enough detail to positively confirm that it was our Jacob Klein. The clincher would have been if it had listed his wife’s name (Jessie Klein), but unfortunately it only stated that he was married. It did list his age right down to the day (40 years, 4 months and 13 days) and place of birth (Austria/Hungary) which matched what we knew from the 1900 Census that his birth was in January 1868. It also listed that his occupation was a jeweler, which was also the family trade and appeared to match the 1900 Census info (Diamond Cutter/Setter). The cause of death was listed as “sarcoma of the right kidney following extirpation of the left kidney for the same disease, chronic endocarditis”. This matched one of the word of mouth recollections that he had died of cancer. It also listed where he was buried (Mount Zion cemetary in New York City), although we had no confirming knowledge of where he was buried. Lastly it listed the address at which he died, a tenement address that did NOT match the last known address as reported in the 1900 census. However, the death certificate address was just a couple of blocks from his wife’s parents with whom she lived after his death. It was also entirely possible that they had moved since the Census was taken 8 years prior. So, while a lot of circumstantial evidence matched, there was nothing there to positively confirm we had the right Jacob Klein. If I could make a positive match, not only could I solve the mystery of when and how he died, I would also now know his parent’s names as they were listed on the death certificate (Pincus Klein and Wilma (Moskowitz) Klein)! This was a real treasure trove of information if I could just confirm I was looking at the right death certificate.
I then got a hunch that perhaps I could find a New York City directory from 1907 or 1908 that listed both Jacob and Jessie Klein living at the residential address listed in the death certificate. That would be enough to convince me that I had the right death certificate. So, I searched the massive archives at Ancestry.com but came up empty. I continued to search the internet to see if such a directory even existed, and much to my amazement I found that the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, kept these directories on microfilm! So, yesterday morning I drove down to the Library of Congress, got a library card, and pulled the microfilm for the New York City Directory of 1907/08 and 1908/09. To my dismay, the first directory (1907/08) listed about 40 Jacob Kleins, their occupations and addresses…..but no spouse’s name. This meant that I would be unable to confirm that I had the right Jacob Klein, even if I found him listed at the address on the death certificate. I printed the page to bring home and then decided to check the 1908/1909 directory just for good measure before leaving. Again, a long list of Jacob’s with no accompanying wife’s name. Then I looked a little further down the list, and there it was….the missing peice of the puzzle! It listed “Klein, Jessie wid Jacob, 50 W 139th”, which I took to mean Jessie (my Great Grandmother’s name), widow of Jacob Klein…..and the address….which matched the tenement address listed as the place of death on the death certificate! I still can’t believe that this little obscure clue in the annals of the Library of Congress held the one peice of evidence that I needed to confirm the date and details of my Great Grandfather’s death. It also opened up another generatation of genealogical research by exposing his parent’s names, including his mother’s maiden name.
The only unsolved mystery that remains is who my Great Grandmother was talking about when she told my father about the man that had died in a New York City subway accident. The information I was able to find above has led my father to reconsider whether she may have been talking about another relative. I have postulated that it may have even been Jacob’s father, although we have no evidence that he ever left Hungary and came to the United States. Chances are, we may never know.