Friday, June 28, 2019
Aunt Rose Redux
I've told this story before, but it bears revisiting while I'm on this quest to discover my paternal grandfather's roots. John T. McCann—or, as we discovered, Theodore J. Puhalski—was a man hesitant to reveal his origin. That, at least, was what my older siblings and cousins told me; I never had the opportunity to meet him, myself. Anything we discovered about our paternal roots was information which belonged to my grandfather's wife's side of the family. The only hint of a blood relationship for this man was a woman my father and his sister knew as Aunt Rose.
I have only two mementos of this Aunt Rose. One is the photograph copied below, preserved by my cousin, which included my grandmother Sophie Laskowska, my father as a young boy, my cousin's mother, and this woman whom the family called Aunt Rose. The other item is a recording made in the 1980s on the occasion of my aunt's birthday, in which my brother walked her down memory lane and captured her reminiscences on tape.
One of the stops my aunt made as she wandered among those family memories was to recall Aunt Rose. My brother gently tried to press for Rose's identity, or at least a full name, but my aunt's failing memory was able to only provide the sparsest of details. One point was that Rose was married three times. The other detail was that she had been married to a man named Kober.
As disappointing as it was to realize that that tape was the last significant opportunity to gain an understanding of the previous generation—my aunt died not long afterwards, the last in her generation—in retrospect, it wasn't hard to reconstruct the details of her Aunt Rose's life. Indeed, the first step was locating Rose's link to George Kober, from which point I could glean not only her current residence in census records, but also her previous married name (Miller) and that of her third marriage (Hassinger).
That address, as it turned out, was key to another discovery: that of Rose's mother. I had found them together as early as the 1915 New York State census, when Rose Miller was listed in the household of Anna "Krausse" on Knickerbocker Street in Brooklyn, and from that point through the 1920 census, she remained in the Kober household on 96th Street in the Queens community of Woodhaven.
Anna was there in the Kober residence, in fact, on the evening when, becoming unbearably despondent, she decided to end her own life—the event precipitating the tiny insertion in the local newspaper that alerted me to the date of her death.
If it weren't for that date, in fact, I would never have been able to obtain Anna's death certificate. The reason I couldn't find it under her name was that it wasn't filed under her name—not, at least, by the name we knew her.
This, of course, rather than solving my research quandary, only introduces more questions. Keep in mind, I had already long since sent for my grandfather's own death certificate. He had died in 1952. For mother's maiden name, someone had provided the information that she was Anna and that her maiden name was Zegar.
That, of course, would not be the first time I had discovered disagreements over names entered on death records, but I had figured it would be safe to assume Anna, Rose's mother—and, by association of Rose as my father's "aunt"—was married to someone named Krauss. Still, finding any documentation to support that was not successful—and any hope of concluding that as a tidy family arrangement was blown to bits by the name provided on Anna's own death certificate.
Why the Anna who died on the same date and at the same address as Anna Krauss would be entered under a different surname for her death certificate, I can't say, but that document now revealed that her name—at least at the point of her tragic demise—was Anna Kusharvska.
Not only was that the lone Anna who died on that date—28 September 1921—but the only one whose place of death was listed as the Kober residence. Since then, I have yet to find any other entry with that surname—or its masculine equivalent, Kusharvski. Until, that is, I began looking at the surnames in my paternally-linked DNA matches. While I haven't found any Puhalskis in those matches—nor any of its spelling variations—I did notice one thing as I looked through the Michalski trees in the Milwaukee families of my six paternal DNA matches: one of the Michalski brides had a surname with unusual spelling which kept getting mangled. While the name sometimes ended with the typical Polish -owski (or the female version, -owska, for those who knew the Polish naming custom), the name was just as likely to have an "r" inserted where the "w" should have been. Add to that the fact that "w" was often pronounced as a "v" and you have a combination rendering the same tongue-twisting ending as I found in the revelation about Anna's surname, Kusharvska.
Could that have been a regional variation? A phonetic twist only fluently rolling off Polish tongues, but not American ones? I couldn't help myself: the thought was tempting. I had to keep exploring what new details could be found since I last revisited this research problem four years ago. A lot has been added to the digitized records available online. My hope is that there may be enough new material to grant me a break-through, between these little clues and the trees of my newfound DNA matches.
Perhaps this is the perfect opportunity for me to learn a little bit more about Polish phonics.
Above: Photograph of "Aunt Rose" (top left), Sophie Laskowska McCann (top right) and Sophie's children (left to right), Anna Mae and Valentine. The photograph was likely taken before Rose married George Kober in 1915; photograph in private collection of family.