Thursday, November 26, 2015

Finding Pearl Groiskop Shapiro

Pearl and Hyman Shapiro
     One evening, a few days after Mother's Day last year, my husband answered a phone call at the house.  I heard him say "She is my wife." and "Yes, she is trying to contact a Doris Kleiman, who is her cousin."  He had a strange look on his face, and when he handed me the phone said simply, "It's the police!"   That was the climax of my search for Aunt Pearl. 
      When I began my family tree I started with my great-grandparents, Elcon and Jennie Grosser because they were the family that I knew the most about.  I remembered them, their children, and some of their siblings who appeared at every family gathering.  I heard from family stories that Elcon had a sister named Pearl, who had died before I was born.  None of the relatives that I interviewed when I began my tree knew any more about her than that her married name was Shapiro, and her husband was probably named Hyman.  They had come to America, and Jennie's scrapbook that I inherited had a few photos annotated "Pearl's son Abe" or "Pearl's son Max'. 
     My search for Pearl and her family in the records was somewhat successful at first.  I found a record for Hersch Schpaira, from Ostropol Russia, a laborer, age 34 arriving in New York on July 5, 1905 aboard the SS Finland from Antwerp.  He declared that he was going to his brother-in-law, Elkuny Grosser in Philadelphia.[1],  Then I found Chaim Shapira, a 42 year old, married, day laborer from Ostropol Russia, departing Hamburg on Nov 9, 1912 aboard the SS Stockport bound for the port of Grimsby in England and then to Liverpool [2].  He boarded the SS Haverford in Liverpool and arrived in Philadelphia on December 4, 1912, noting on his arrival that he had previously resided in the US for two years.[3].  This second arrival was the one he would use on his petition for naturalization.  The first two of his children followed  him in early 1913, arriving aboard the SS Dominion and stating that their father then living at 1015 S. 2nd St in Philadelphia did not have enough money to bring their mother and siblings from Russia[4].  Pearl and three more children finally arrived on September 10, 1913 in Baltimore aboard the SS Nekar from Bremen.[5]
     The family's naturalization record of 1920 had a wealth of additional information.  Hyman (as he was now known) was born in Ostropol on Feb 10, 1869.  Pearl was born in Lubin (another spelling for Labun where Elcon was born), Dec 18, 1878.  They were married about 1895, and had six children born in Russia between 1896 and 1902 and two more born in 1908 and 1909 after Hyman returned.  Their last child Benjamin, was born in Philadelphia in 1915.[6] 
     Hyman began working as a driver [7] for a bakery company and later was a salesman for the company.  The family moved to Pennsgrove Ave in Philadelphia where they owned their house [8].  Pearl died on June 16, 1940 of pancreatic cancer,[9] and Hyman died a few moths later on Dec 1, 1940 of stomach cancer.  His death certificate gave his parents names as Phillip and Eva Shapiro, but these were probably anglicized versions of their names[10].
     Of course, I didn't find all of this information at first.  In fact, for many years I was unable to find much of anything about Pearl and her husband after their arrival.  I had no luck tracing any of the children or finding any descendants.  Except for the first arrival record, that listed a brother-in-law Elkuny Grosser, I wasn't even sure that the few records I had found were records for the right family.  Every so often I would go back over what I had and see if any new clues had come on-line.  I asked every new cousin that I discovered if any of them knew anything about Aunt Pearl.  No luck for about 15 years.  That's when things went a bit sideways.
     One day I was in my office working on another part of my tree when I went to a bookcase to pull out a reference book.  Fallen behind that book I saw a small white leatherette book that I recognized at once.  It was a prayer book, of the type that is given out at weddings, and I had had it since I was a child.  Someone in the family had given it to me after attending a wedding and I had kept it.  Inside were crayon markings and a note written in the colored fountain pen ink that I favored in about sixth grade. Over the (many) years since then I had opened it many times, but this time my eye was caught by the inscription printed in gold on the cover:  IN HONOR OF THE MARRIAGE OF DORIS SHAPIRO AND JEROME KLEIMAN MARCH 6, 1952.  Doris Shapiro??  I didn't know either of these names, but was it possible that this Doris Shapiro was a descendant of Aunt Pearl?  Some family member had gone to this wedding so maybe she was a relative.  A note handwritten inside indicated that Jerome was a Doctor.  With bated breath I looked for a Dr. Jerome Kleiman in Philadelphia.  I found several listings including one that gave his wife's name as Doris.  I checked the 1940 census in Philadelphia and found a Max Shapiro (Pearl had a son Max) with a daughter Doris who would have been the right age to be married in 1952.  Then I found a recent obituary for Jerome that gave his wife as Doris (nee Shapiro).  I was on the trail!
      My next step was to try to find a current address for Doris.  When I discovered that she had moved to only a few miles from where I now live my excitement was so great that I did something I usually don't do, especially with older folks.  I called her.
     She was very polite, quizzed me about who I was and how I thought we were related but did not confirm that she was a descendant of Pearl or give me any real information about herself.  The questions she asked made me confident that I was on the right trail.  I could sense her caution so I told her that I would write to her and give the information from my tree so that she could look it over and get back in touch when she was satisfied.  I quickly gathered a simple tree and some photos and mailed them off with a cover letter including my contact information.  This was usually my first step when contacting a new relative.  I hoped that since Mother's Day was a few days away that she would share it with her daughters and call me back.  I was so excited that I shared my hopes with my husband who is generally not interested in the details of how I make my discoveries.
     That led to the call from the police.  After questioning me politely for several minutes about my relationship to Doris and my genealogy quest, the officer appeared to be satisfied.  She explained that Doris had recently attended a class about identity theft scams targeting older people.  She had specifically been warned about people calling out of the blue claiming to be relatives and later asking for money.  She and her daughters had decided to have the police check me out. I laughed and told the officer that Doris had been a good student and had not given me any information, but that I hoped she would do so now.
     Two days later I had a call from both of Doris' daughters.  They apologized for calling the police on me (partly my fault for making that quick phone call) and we arranged to meet.  We had a lovely brunch and I enjoyed meeting all of them.  From a genealogy perspective it was a gold mine as Doris had lots of details about Pearl's family, photos of Pearl and Hyman and all of their children, and an audio tape of Doris' father Max telling about their trip from the old country and their early life in the US.  Most of the information cited above was the result of those conversations.  I'm still mining that trove, but that's for another blog post[11].

1. New York Passenger Lists , 1820-1957(Provo, UT, USA, operations, Inc. 2010) Year 1905; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 0597; Line: 10; Page Number: 29. Record for Hersch Schapira.
2.  Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc. 2008) database online. Record for Chaim Shapira.
3., Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1800-1945 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2006),, database online.  Roll T840_108; Line 22. Record for Chaim Shapira.
4., Philadelphia Passenger LIsts, 1800-1945 (Provo, UT, UA, Operations, Inc., 2006)., Database online.Roll T840_116;Line 4.
5., Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948(Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2006), Database online. Record for Perl Schapiro.
6. Ancestry, com, Pennsylvania, U.S. Naturalization Originals, 1795-1930(Provo, UT. USA., Operations, Inc., 2011) Databse online.
7., 1920 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc., 2009), Database online. Year: 1920; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 24, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: T625_1628; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 742; Image: 122.
8., 1930 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc., 2002), Database online. Year: 1930; Census Place: Philadelphia.
9., Pennsylvania Death Certificates, 1906-1963 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2014), Record for Hyman Shapiro.
10., Pennsylvania Death Certificates, 1906-1963 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2014), Record for Pearl Shapiro.
11. The story of finding Doris Kleiman is adapted from an article I wrote that was published in the Summer 2015 issue of "Mishpacha: the Quarterly Publication of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington."

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

William and Catherine Ferguson - Part 2

     In my last post, I introduced William and Catherine Ferguson, my husband's second great grandparents, and the trove of information about William that I found in his Civil War pension files.  Now to continue their story.
Affidavit of William Ferguson for Pension Jan 12, 1891

     William submitted his first pension application on Jan 12, 1891. Prior to 1890 the federal pension system for Union soldiers had evolved from something that provided for disabled soldiers and widows and children of those who died in service.  Pension laws established during the war were modified between 1861 and 1874 to provide for medical screenings and included disability that arose subsequent to the war.  Awards were first made up to $8 per month, and increased up to a maximum of $31.25 per month by 1874.  Partial disability resulted in partial pension payments, sometimes for a little as $1.  In 1890 the Disability Pension Act allowed veterans to make claims for pensions even if their disability was unrelated to military service.  This required the Pension Bureau to establish a system to verify claims for pensions through examination of doctors certificates, affidavits from employers, and neighbors, as well as statements from fellow veterans and service record reviews.  By 1891, the Pension Bureau employed over 2000 men and women in Washington to review and process claims. [1]
     When William submitted his first claim in 1891, he listed a disability due to a tumor on his left leg that he said was the result of an injury received during the Civil War battle at Hatcher's Run, VA[2].  This battle took place from Feb 5 to 7, 1865, and was part of the siege of Petersburg.  Over the next few months of 1891, the Pension Department received confirmation from the War Department that William had indeed been present during that battle[3], and an affidavit from a surgeon that he indeed had a disability due to a tumor on his leg.  The surgeon declared that he was eligible for 6/18 disability under the then existing pension law [4].
     In 1900 William and his family were living at 106 Neilson Street in New Brunswick, near the Raritan River.  William is described as a boatman.  Living with them were their sons Andrew and Charles.  Andrew was not employed and Charles was employed as a carriage painter.  Also living with them were William's nephew Phillip, a fish dealer, his wife Julia, their daughter Lizzie, and Clara Ferguson described as a daughter-in-law, but born in 1845 (making her older than William) and Clara's daughter Bertha May, aged 10[5].
     In 1902 William submitted another application related to  "ruptures" that he claimed were the result of an accident that had occurred in 1895 when he was working on repairs to a trolley line in Milltown, NJ, and a pole fell on him.  This was corroborated by several affidavits from those who were working with him at the time of the accident, as well as James H. Ferguson, his employer, who declared that due to the "ruptures" William was unable fully to perform manual labor[6].  The examining surgeon allowed a $10 pension[7].
     In 1907 Congress passed the Service and Pension Act, which granted pensions to all veterans over the age of 62.  Between 1908 and 1920 the rates were increased based on age and length of service[8]. In March 1907, William applied for the increased pension due to age, but as I explained in the last post, he couldn't prove that he was 62[9].  In May 1908, he was granted a pension of $12 based on his age at enlistment[10].
     By the May 1910 census William, Catherine, Andrew, and Charles were living at 20 Schurerman Street[11].  William is listed as a driver for a street cleaning company.  Andrew had not married and worked as a tire maker in a tire factory.  Charles worked as a coal shoveler in a coal yard.  Charles had married Julia McCann in about 1904, and fathered a daughter Sadie.  He listed himself as married for the past five years in the 1910 census, but had only lived with his wife and family for a short time.
     Catherine died on February 25, 1913 [12]  and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in New Brunswick.  William's pension action record indicates that his pension was increased from $19 to $22.50 per month in May 1916, when he reached age 70, and again to $32 from June 10, 1918[13].  
     William died on March 21, 1919 of chronic nephritis and cardiac problems.  According to the statement for reimbursement provided to the Pension Bureau by his son Charles and his doctor, he was hospitalized at St Peters hospital for a week in early March, and after that he was cared for at home by his daughter, Mrs. Anne Vorhees.  He had no estate except for some clothes. He left two insurance policies, one for Charles in the amount of $72.72, and one for Anne in the amount of $36.60, which had cost $0.35 and $0.15 per week respectively[14].  He was buried at Elmwood Cemetery on March 27.  His funeral expenses were $248.00, to include the casket, embalming, the hearse with horses, and five limousines[15]. The Pension Bureau approved reimbursement of $57.60.[16]

1.  Peter David Blanck and Michael Millender "Before Disability Civil Rights: Civil War Pensions and the Politics of Disability in America" Alabama Law Review, Vol 52, No 1, Fall 2000. pp 1-9.
2.  Soldier's Certificate No. 725160, William Ferguson, Private, Company I, 8th New Jersey Volunteers; Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Veterans Who Served in the Army and Navy Mainly in the Civil War and the War with Spain ("Civil War and Later Survivor's Certificates"), 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives Building, Washington, DC. Affidavit of claimant for Invalid Pension January 12, 1891.
3. War Department Record and Pension Division, Summary of service, March 11, 1891.  Soldier's Certificate No. 725160, William Ferguson Private, company I 8th NJ Vol. Civil War and Later Survivor's  Certificates. RG 15, NAB.
4.  Surgeon's Certificate, Mar 25, 1891. Soldier's Certificate No. 725160, William Ferguson Private, company I 8th NJ Vol. Civil War and Later Survivor's  Certificates. RG 15, NAB.
5., 1900 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc, 2004), Database online .Year: 1900; Census Place: New Brunswick Ward 3, Middlesex, New Jersey; Roll: T623_984; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 40.
6.  General Affidavit May 29 1902, W. Fredrick Stevens, Additional Evidence May 22, 1902, George Gamble, General Affidavit June 9 1902 James Chaplin, Affidavit Jan 14, 1902 James H. Ferguson.  Soldier's Certificate No. 725160, William Ferguson Private, company I 8th NJ Vol. Civil War and Later Survivor's  Certificates. RG 15, NAB.
7.  Surgeon's Certificate Oct 17, 1906.  Soldier's Certificate No. 725160, William Ferguson Private, company I 8th NJ Vol. Civil War and Later Survivor's  Certificates. RG 15, NAB.
8.  Blank and Millender. op.cit.
9.  Letter, Acting commissioner to William Ferguson. January 9, 1908. Soldier's Certificate No. 725160, William Ferguson Private, company I 8th NJ Vol. Civil War and Later Survivor's  Certificates. RG 15, NAB.
10.  Pension Action Record. 1891-1912.  Soldier's Certificate No. 725160, William Ferguson Private, company I 8th NJ Vol. Civil War and Later Survivor's  Certificates. RG 15, NAB..  
11., 1910 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc, 2006), Database online .Year: 1910; Census Place: New Brunswick Ward 3, Middlesex, New Jersey; Roll: T624_898; Page: 13B; Enumeration District: 137. Image 857.
12.  Application for Reimbursement. April 24, 1919. Soldier's Certificate No. 725160, William Ferguson Private, company I 8th NJ Vol. Civil War and Later Survivor's  Certificates. RG 15, NAB.
13.  Invalid Pension Record card. Soldier's Certificate No. 725160, William Ferguson Private, company I 8th NJ Vol. Civil War and Later Survivor's  Certificates. RG 15, NAB.
14.  Application for Reimbursement, April 24, 1919.  op. cit.
15.  Invoice.  W.H. Quackenboss, Dr. Furnishing Undertaker and Embalmer. Soldier's Certificate No. 725160, William Ferguson Private, company I 8th NJ Vol. Civil War and Later Survivor's  Certificates. RG 15, NAB. Burial of William Ferguson, April 24, 1919. 
16.  Record of Reimbursement, May 17, 1919.  Soldier's Certificate No. 725160, William Ferguson Private, company I 8th NJ Vol. Civil War and Later Survivor's  Certificates. RG 15, NAB. 17, 1919.