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The Vic files, part 5: What death tells us about life

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Here are some more treasures from the files Vic Struber sent me. These are the death certificates of Vic’s grandfather, Mendel “Max” Struber, and my great-grandmother, Surah Henya (Strober) Schkolnik. They were siblings.

VRS Doc 010Death certificates are treasure-troves of important information for genealogy researchers, but they can also be stores of misinformation. Note that Max’s surname is misspelled on his death certificate. It shows up, and in consistent ways, as “Struder.” That’s the kind of error that could have caused it to be lost in the files forever. Max’s father is listed as Philip. In fact, his father was Folic. It’s a simple matter of translation, but inasmuch as Yoinus Folic, or Yoinatan Folic, never came to the United States, his name was never pronounced in English.

His mother’s name is listed on the death certificate as Pesice. In fact, it was Pesha. And her maiden name is listed on Max’s death certificate as Struder, but was actually Cohen.

Max died on April 3, 1931, though the death certificate is stamped “1930.” Bureaucratic error? Probably. Mis-set date stamp? Could have been. Source of confusion for years to come? Possibly.

Max’s death was caused, according to the autopsy mentioned on the death certificate, by diabetes mellitus and a fractured rib (accidental), though what these two things may have had to do with each other isn’t made clear. The death certificate says he was 60 years old, though we suspect from other information, such as immigration documents, that he was more than a decade older than that, either 72 or 73 years old.

VRS Doc 009

Surah Henya (Strober) Schkolnik, listed on her death certificate as “Sarah Skolnick,” died three and a half years before her brother, on September 11, 1928. Her death certificate lists her as 75 years old, but we think (again based on other records, such as immigration documents) she was actually 76 or 77. The cause of her death was listed as broncho pneumonia. Her father’s name is listed as Felix, though (as with Max) it was actually Folic. Her mother is listed as “unknown,” which may have been a momentary lapse in memory by a family member at a very trying time, the immediate wake of her death. The address listed as her former residence, 796 Lenox Road in Brooklyn, was the home of her middle child, my grandfather Paul.

Genealogists call these kinds of documents “primary sources” and understand there may be discrepancies with other kinds of official documents and records. They’re vital documents in studying the history of a person or, in our case, a family, but they’re not infallible.

Still, when they reach back 80 or 90 years, they are fascinating.

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  • VIC August 29, 2014, 9:45 am

    MAX DIED IN THE SWEDISH HOSP, BKLYN, AS A RESULT OF BEING STRUCK BY AUTO, AND THE DRIVER PANICKED AND BACKED OVER HIM. HENCE THE RIB INJURY. DIABETES WAS “JUST” A CONCURRENT MALADY. ALL THIS ACCORDING TO MY DAD, “MIKE-THE-COP.”

    • Paul Skolnick August 29, 2014, 10:47 am

      That’s a fascinating update to the tale, Vic. To get hit by a car, then backed over, and have the only injury sustained a broken rib, seems to understate the event.