National Library Week: Free access to ProQuest’s obituary database

National Library Week is celebrated across the country from April 13 through 19, 2014, and ProQuest has been providing free access to several of their popular databases. I still have access to ProQuest through my former graduate program’s website, but I found ProQuest’s own tools to be much more successful.

In particular, ProQuest’s obituary database, which includes more than 10.5 million obituaries and death notices, has helped me quickly find information about my relatives without searching through thousands of pages on microfilm. The search facility seems to be much better than what I’ve previously used, as the results for similar searchers were much more plentiful and relevant through ProQuest’s own interface.

Herbert Landes Obituary [New York Times]
Herbert Landes Obituary [New York Times]

Most notably, I found obituaries for my grandfather, Herbert Landes, and great grandfather, Joseph Landes. Although these notices appeared in the easily-searchable New York Times, I hadn’t come across them until now.

Note that the New York Times obituary for Joseph Landes includes yet another, different, mistake regarding the name of the landsmanschaft with which he was involved. The Practical Druggist and Pharmaceutical Review of Reviews called the organization “First Berauer, K. N. V.” in its announcement of Joseph’s death; the New York Times gets farther from accuracy with “First Berzuer K. N. V.” The organization should be listed as “First Bacauer K.N.V.” I imagine type typesetters and typists were not very familiar with these organizations.

In order to access the free ProQuest obituaries database, visit ProQuest’s National Library Week feature, scroll to the bottom, and activate the link says, “Access ProQuest Obituaries.”

These newspapers are included in the free search:

  • Atlanta Constitution (1868-1922)
  • Boston Globe (1872-1922)
  • Chicago Defender (1921-1975)
  • Chicago Tribune (1852-1984)
  • Los Angeles Times (1881-1984)
  • New York Times (1851-1994)
  • Washington Post (1877-1950)
Joseph Landes Obituary [New York Times]
Joseph Landes Obituary [New York Times]

If you try to visit this link directly, without viewing the National Library Week page first, you will be required to log-in using your ProQuest access credentials. The only way to view the database for free this week is through the National Library Week page.

So far, I have found more than 25 death notices and obituaries using this free database, many of which I wasn’t able to find using my regular ProQuest account. The obituaries that I’ve found for potential relatives have been helpful in identifying more of their family members, and might someday be helpful in connecting the dots between my confirmed relatives and others who I suspect are closely related.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives are available for free

With so much of my family history throughout the last century and a half having taken place in Brooklyn, New York, the Brooklyn Eagle, the borough’s hometown newspaper, has been a valuable source for me as I try to piece history together.

And technology has made research so much easier. If I were taking on this project a decade ago, I’m sure it would require long nights at a library, shuffling the pages of newspapers, or scrolling through microfilm. Luckily, I’ve been aided in my research through the Fulton History website, a collection of New York newspapers. The collection includes the Brooklyn Eagle and other newspapers that would be relevant to New York researchers. The pages of the newspapers have been scanned and run through optical recognition software, and that makes the text of the paper searchable.

The search functions on the Fulton History website are fairly robust, but the interface isn’t the easiest to use. It does, however, provide close match results, and that’s important when dealing with scanned and machine-interpreted text. That means I can use “Sturmwald” as a search term, and the Fulton History website will provide results that are almost Sturmwald.

I prefer using Google to search the Fulton History website. This makes the results easier to view, but because this method of searching will provide different results than the search form on the site itself, I usually do both.

Now, however, there is a new collection of old Brooklyn Daily Eagle issues. The Brooklyn Public Library has teamed up with Newspapers.com to offer the archives of the Brooklyn Eagle for free. The library’s scans seem to be much cleaner than those on the Fulton History website, making the searchable index somewhat more accurate, and the Newspapers.com website is a lot faster and more responsive than the other.

This doesn’t replace the Fulton History website. First of all, Fulton History has more newspapers in the website’s database than he Brooklyn Daily Eagle, including other newspapers that cover issues in Brooklyn. The Newspapers.com search form does not allow close matches, so if I were looking for “Sturmwald,” I’d also have to construct queries that include “Sturnwald,” “Strumwald,” Strunwald,” “Sturmwalt,” and an infinite number of varieties just to try to ensure I’m getting everything I’d like to see.

Herbert Landes [Brooklyn Daily Eagle]

Herbert Landes [Brooklyn Daily Eagle]

The Daily Eagle archives from the Brooklyn Public Library seem to be more complete. I was able to find this photograph of my grandfather, Herbert Landes, using the new, free site.

In the photo, readers get a view of part of Herbert’s face, and not much else. But the caption says those in the picture are signing a petition in a drug store at the corner of 41st St. and 5th Ave., and in 1931, that would just happen to be the location of the Landes Pharmacy, operated by Herbert’s widowed mother at that time.

While an item like this is interesting, it doesn’t add much to my family tree. But the Brooklyn Daily Eagle has still been very helpful in identifying vital records, with death notices, as well as birth and marriage announcements.

For saving these articles as newspaper clippings to my personal finance tree, I generally copy the screenshot of the article. With Newspapers.com, I can continue to do this, but the site also offers a “save to Ancestry.com” option, which saves a link to the newspaper page as a genealogical source.

Thanks to the Brooklyn Public Library and Newspapers.com for providing this feature for free; I’m hoping it remains free for the foreseeable future.

Obituary for Moses Landes, 1926

On December 3, the Canadian Jewish Review published a death notice or obituary for my second great grandfather, Moses Landes. Moses found his way from Iași, Romania to Montréal, Canada to New York City. And although he was living in New York City when he died in 1926, he still had family ties to Montréal, where his son Martin was working as a salesperson. A month after Moses’s death, Martin was naturalized in the United States.

The Canadian Jewish Review often shared the social comings and goings of the community. It was the Facebook of its day, where everyone in society would let the rest of the community know about their travels, their parties, and their major life events. Here is the death notice published about Moses Landes.

The death occurred Wednesday, November 24, of Moses Landes, of New York City, after an illness of several years. Besides his wife, he is survived by two sons, Martin of Detroit, Mich.; Charlie, of New York; nine grandchildren, one great grand-child, and his one daughter, Mrs. Adolphe Goldenberg, of New York City; and one sister, Mrs. Cohen, of St. Louis, Mo.

My great grandfather, Joseph Landes, died in 1925; Bertha Brauna Yeruslavitz Landes, my second great grandmother and wife of Moses, died in 1927. I still have not been able to determine the identity of the sister of Moses Landes. I’ve searched through all of the publicly-available St. Louis city and county death certificates after 1926 for women with the last name Cohen, and I haven’t found one that is definitively a daughter of Joseph Hersh Landes and Perla Leah.

Moses Landes Obituary [Canadian Jewish Review]
Moses Landes Obituary [Canadian Jewish Review]

My fourth great grandfather, Israel Loew Sturmwald, and his descendants

Not long ago, a distant potential cousin who has been researching his own family history contacted me. This has been my intent from the beginning. By having my family tree information on as many different genealogy and family tree websites as possible, as well as this website, I’m increasing the visibility of my family names with the hope that other researches may either gain some help from the research I’ve performed so far or will be able to help me break through some brick walls.

I haven’t verified how I’m related to this potential cousin, but we may share my fourth great grandfather or my fifth great grandfather. My fourth great grandfather is Israel Sturmwald from Bayern (Bavaria). I’ve been able to trace my history to this individual through mostly census records and vital statistics. Although we haven’t bridged the gap between his Sturmwald ancestors and mine, there’s a great chance his progenitor, Raphael Sturmwald, was a son or nephew of Israel.

The Sturmwalds who traveled to the United States settled in Manhattan, and later Brooklyn and New Jersey. With many brothers and cousins, some owned or co-owned a family business making paper boxes, while others worked as tailors, bar tenders, and salespeople.

As a result of my new contact, I looked into the Sturmwald history much more closely. I discovered some new resources that have helped me shape the history of this family.

Fulton History has an index of OCR’d local newspapers in Brooklyn and all around New York State. Searching this site has presented me with many obituaries which were not printed in local newspapers rather than the New York Times. The obituaries contain valuable information about the lives and relatives of the deceased, and this has allowed me to piece together disparate pieces of the Sturmwald family. It helped me determine, for example, that my third great grandfather, David Sturmwald, was the brother of Benjamin Sturmwald, another immigrant from Bayern.

The obituaries also allowed me place two of Benjamin’s children, Benno and Bertha Sturmwald, both immigrants from Bayern.

The Brooklyn Public Library also offers a searchable index of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, another newspaper, also archived on the Fulton History site, that contains not only news items but the social goings-on of the families living in Brooklyn.

A website dedicated to Jewish history in Germany has information about the Synagogue in Forth (Fort), the town in Bayern where Israel lived and whence his sons Daniel, Michael, and Benjamin traveled to the United States, shares a document that describes the Sturmwald family’s status within the community:

Inhaber der Matrikelstellen (1813-1861) waren (mit Zahl der Matrikel und Jahr des Schutzbriefes bzw. der Übernahme der Stelle): 1 Samuel Jacob Brandeis 1812, Jacob Ehrlich 1781; 2 Abraham Hirsch Freitag 1763; 3 Meier Eißig Levi Hirsch Eismann 1804; 4 Abraham Joseph Kümmelstiel 1758, 4 Meier Kümmelstiel; 5 Salomon Arons Wittib Ehrlicher 1774, 5 Henoch Ehrlich 1807; 6 Scholum Hirsch Friedenreich 1762, 6 Israel Joseph Sturmwald 1800, 6 Michael Sturmwald 1830; 7 Meier Joseph Kieselmann 1778, 7 Schmai Freitag 1807; […] 22 Joseph Israel Hirsch Sturmwald 1772 […]

My five years studying German throughout middle school and high school couldn’t help much with the transation, nor could Google Translate, mostly because of the term Matrikelstelle, which has no English counterpart. It appears to be a position in the synagogue or the awarding of something akin to a degree, and this is a powerful social position. As far as I can tell from further research online, being or holding a Matrikelstelle was necessary in order to have financial success. The position was an asset, and one family would arrange a marriage into another in order to share in the benefits of having a Matrikelstelle in the family.

The years in the above passage appear to be years that this position was awarded to each individual, not birth years — but with no knowledge about how these positions were assigned, they could have been awarded at birth. I noted the appearance of the name Freitag in this list; Israel Lowe Sturmwald’s granddaughter Bertha married Karl Freitag, who I’ve identified as originating in Germany. He could be the descendant of someone mentioned in this passage, though I expect Freitag might have been a more common name than Sturmwald.

If the dates in the passage are in fact dates of awarding of some position as an adult, this Israel Joseph Sturmwald would need to be Israel Loeb Sturmwald’s father, and perhaps Joseph Israel Hirsch Sturmwald is his father in turn.

Caroline Mellon suicide
Caroline Mellon suicide
Sturmwalds in Brooklyn seemed to cause occasional trouble. A Henry Sturmwald, which I haven’t confirmed is one of the two Henry Sturmwalds I’ve already identified in my family tree, was arrested and questioned by police in connection to a murder in 1886. His age in the newspaper report doesn’t match the age of the Henry Sturmwalds, but it’s hard to believe there are more than two Henry Sturmwalds in the area. The last name is not very common throughout the world.

In another news report, the apartment where the Sturmwald family lived was on fire. The rescue team from the fire department had to move the family away from danger twice, and they had difficulty evacuating the elder Sturmwald from his bedroom due to his size. The reporters in the nineteenth century were not very subtle.

In yet another story, a young girl poisoned herself, leaving a suicide note pining for the apparent player Daniel Sturmwald, with whom she had some kind of one-night stand and was lost in unrequited love. In a time before reality television and soap operas, gossip in the newspapers played an important role for entertainment; yet, if true, this is a sad story. Again, the only evidence that this story pertains to the Daniel Sturmwald who is the son of my third great grandfather is the proximity of the story to the family’s confirmed address.

I am able to reproduce the story here as it appeared in The Brooklyn Union, a newspaper that ran from 1867 through 1870. To the best of my understanding, the contents of this paper are now public domain.

There are many unanswered questions about identities, but the biggest question in my mind pertains to my direct ancestors.

It’s clear my third great grandfather, David Sturmwald, married Rosa Newman. Another Rosa Newman married David’s cousin, Henry Sturmwald. This Henry’s father, Benjamin Sturmwald, also married a Newman (or Neumann), Celia (or Cecilia or Zillie). Eliza Sturmwald’s marriage certificate lists her mother’s name as Janetta Shyck (though I might not be reading the handwriting correctly). Meanwhile, Eliza Sturmwald Lustig’s death certificate gives her mother’s name as Charlotte Newman. There is a death record held by New York City for Charlotte Newman, but she died in 1857, about the same time Eliza was born. Perhaps Charlotte gave birth to Eliza, passed away, and David later married Rosa Newman. Without marriage records for David, all I can do is guess.

I plan to order Charlotte’s death certificate — perhaps that will offer a new clue, though I’m not counting on it.

Below this article is the full Israel Loew Sturmwald tree. The Raphael Sturmwald branch will remain separate until I can find some kind of evidence supporting how Raphael is related to Israel. I don’t think that all public records have been exhausted; there might be more in Bayern that could help, though they’re not available online. Uncovering personal documents like letters to and from family or New York corporation documents might lend some more clues.

Israel Loew Sturmwald's Family Tree [Ancestry.com]
Israel Loew Sturmwald’s Family Tree [Ancestry.com]

Pearl Kerstman Rosenberg and her descendants

Pearl Kerstman [via Goodie Rosenberg Kaplan, Jon Derow]
About ten years ago, maybe longer, my father sent me an email containing a graphic depicting the family tree of Pearl Kerstman Rosenberg, his mother’s father’s mother. It contained a wealth of information about her branch. When I started building my own family tree last year, I remembered receiving this email. I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping all of my personal email I’ve received since about 2002 or 2003 thanks to the virtually unlimited storage provided by Gmail. I searched through all my old messages, but the Kerstman family tree was nowhere in these vast archives.

Only a few months ago, a chance search on Google uncovered not only the family tree I had seen years ago, but accompanying photographs and stories as well. Most of the information on this tree, as I’ve been able to see now, pertains only indirectly to the Kerstmans. Pearl had only one son and no daughters with the Kerstman progenitor, but went on after her first husband’s death to become part of the Rosenberg family. The Rosenbergs comprise the majority of this family tree, but thanks to the work of the Derow family, who organized this information as far as I can determine, I now have starting points with which finding information about the Kerstmans will be easier.

Continue reading “Pearl Kerstman Rosenberg and her descendants”