As unexpected as the discovery was—finding the news that Anna Kraus had committed suicide—the distance between this unknown (possible) relative’s demise and my research discovery dampened the shock. While Anna may well have been my paternal grandfather’s mother—that, I’m not yet certain of—she was otherwise a woman I never knew personally.
Of course, discovering this news as part of a genealogical quest meant that I already had a next step in mind: find the death certificate. Equipped with the many ways to locate such records as we now have online, I knew it wouldn’t be difficult to uncover records of her own parentage. That, of course, was exactly what I had in mind.
The idea was sound, and I’ve certainly had plenty of practice retrieving such documents from New York City. But I hadn’t bargained for the difficulties I encountered, once I set out to meet this new goal.
For one thing, Anna’s was a surname which had been rendered at least five different ways in past documents I had encountered. I’ve seen Krauss and Kraus. Krause and Krouse. Even Krausse. Without the option to search with wildcard symbols—like the asterisk—the process was a tedious one. Couple that with the possibility of variations on her given name—Ann or Anne instead of Anna—the search permutations started multiplying.
Still, I didn’t expect to find what I found: absolutely no death record, whatsoever. None—not even when I searched in other boroughs in New York City, despite knowing the exact address in the Woodhaven neighborhood in Queens where she spent her last, tragic moments.
I thought: could it be possible that the New York City police considered a suicide a requisite case for an inquest? If so, would some other document be issued in place of a death certificate? Why was there no record available in the index where I was searching?
After all, not only did I know the address where Anna Kraus died, I knew the date—well, at least if the newspaper article published in The Brooklyn Standard Union on Thursday, September 29, 1921, had provided the correct information when it stated, “last night.”
No matter what the reason, there was no evidence of a death certificate for our Anna in the index for the New York City Municipal Deaths during that year.
It’s been a long time since I’ve done so when stumped on a genealogical problem, but it occurred to me that I used to take my research quandaries to online forums like GenForum or Rootsweb. So that’s what I did. I headed straight to the Queens borough forum and asked about any local reasons why a regular death certificate might not be issued—my inquest theory—or whether I should just resign myself to the fate of hand-cranking my way through a microfilmed record of the files, personally.
Thankfully, genealogy forums are not as Early-Nineties as people portray them to be. Online forums are still alive and well. I got several responses to my query, including one late addition (after all who attempted the search came up empty-handed, just as I had) with an unexpected proposition: what about searching, not for name, but for date?
Could there be any other Annas who died on September 28, 1921, in Queens, New York?
As it turns out, there was one. And only one, which was helpful.
Her surname started with a K, but that was one of only a few similarities. Whoever this person was, she was widowed and an immigrant from Germany. Three days after her death, she was to be buried in a cemetery in the Bronx—a beautiful, serene and historic place known as The Woodlawn Cemetery. A place, incidentally, where Rose Kober’s husband George would later be buried. She—this Anna K—was a woman aged seventy one, the same as the newspaper had reported on September 29.
Her name, however, was not Anna Kraus—nor any of the spelling permutations I’ve come to expect.
Her name was Anna Kusharvska.