Tuesday, May 5, 2015

From Woodhaven to Woodlawn

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.


  1. Oh man, Jacqi, it gets curiouser and curiouser.

    I've been indexing some death certificates for FamilySearch, and there are plenty of standard certs for suicide and murder -- and they all look alike. So even if there is an inquest, there should still be a certificate.

    1. That's good to know, Wendy. It's just that New York City sometimes seems to be a law unto itself. It was puzzling that no record showed up for Anna in the index, and I was desperate to determine the reason why. Once I send for the certificate, I guess we'll know whether those two were one and the same.

      And I thought puzzling over Theodore Puhalski and John T. McCann couldn't be topped! Perhaps this name-change tendency was genetic!

  2. So it is possible Rose's maiden name is some permutation of Kusharvska?

    Goodness... I don't envy you at all - such a headache!

    1. It would seem logical, Iggy...but that certainly hasn't been the mode so far in this project, has it?!

  3. Anna K is sure troublesome...yet another K name:(

    1. If the two surnames had seemed more similar, I'd certainly understand--like Laskowski to Lasko. You know--logical. I'm not sure how they came up with Krauss from Kusharvska, but that's a stretch in my book.

  4. I'm curious how you managed to find Annas who died on a specific date. Is there a website that lets you search by the date of death? I'm curious because I haven't be able to find a Manhattan death certificate for my g-g-grandmother who died in 1925. I have a cremation date, so I'd love to know how you managed it!

    1. Joan, thanks for asking! Actually, I wasn't the one who found that tidbit on my Anna; someone had replied to a query I had posted on a genealogy forum.

      Still, that got me to wondering. Often, I do try to force results on a search at FamilySearch.org by leaving the name blank, but filling in information in the other fields in the search box. But I went to FamilySearch just now and tried to do this for date plus "Anna" only and it allowed year, but not month or day. With a name like Anna, you can imagine how many hits I got for that search query!

      I thought I'd examine the options at Ancestry.com, and that's where I think you will have the best outcome. First, if you go to the main page on Ancestry, then select "Search" from the tabs across the top of the home page, then click "Search All Records" from the drop-down window there, it will bring you to a second page.

      On that second page, scroll to the bottom of the page. There, you'll see a map of the U.S. Click on New York on the map, and it will bring you to the databases available for the state.

      The lists on that third page are organized by categories. The second category, "New York Birth, Marriage and Death," is where you want to look at the holdings. The second clickable item on that list is the one you want--"New York, New York, Death Index, 1862-1948."

      Notice, that list should be freely accessible to anyone online, regardless of whether you have a current subscription to Ancestry.com. It is listed as "Free." You can try clicking through to it directly by using this link here.

      On that page, you can see boxes to enter your ancestor's name. In case your ancestor had a different name than what you are aware of, you can enter the complete date, even though the month and day are shaded in. I believe, once you enter those details into the dialog box, you can also click "Exact" to narrow the search to these details alone. Or you can specify other parameters.

      I just tested it out for my Anna with no surname entered, and was able to replicate the results.

      Sometimes, it just comes in handy to search backwards--from the known detail you have (that everyone assumes you would be looking for) to get the part you don't know (but everyone assumes you should know)!

      Hopefully, Joan, this will help you locate your second great grandmother!


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