Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sorting Saturday: Great-Aunt Dora Mahler's Birth Date

I'm still working on my Genealogy Go-Over, and looking more closely at my father's Mahler ancestors.

As shown above in the 1900 Census, my paternal grandmother (Henrietta Mahler Burk) was one of 7 living children of Tillie Jacobs Mahler and Meyer Elias Mahler.

The next-to-youngest girl was my great-aunt Dora Mahler, born in July 1893, according to this 1900 Census. Alas, I never met her, but she is fondly remembered by one of my 2d cousins.

Despite looking in New York City birth indexes and searching in Family Search records, I can't find Dora's actual birth certificate. When was she really born?
  • The June, 1905 New York Census showed Dora as 11 years old.
  • The April, 1910 US Census showed Dora as 15 years old.
  • The June, 1915 NY Census showed Dora as 20 years old.
  • The January, 1920 US Census showed Dora as 24 years old.
  • The June, 1925 NY Census showed Dora as 30 years old.
  • The April, 1930 US Census showed Dora as 35 years old.
  • Still searching for her and her Mom in the 1940 US Census.
  • Social Security's records show Dora's birth as July 11, 1894. But then again, her name is listed as Dorothy Lillian, not a name she was ever called in the family.
After Dora died on June 9, 1950, probably of heart failure, her brother told authorities that Dora was about 44 years old, pegging her birthday as July 11, 1905. Nope, he wasn't even close.

Dora is buried at Beth David Cemetery on Long Island, NY, but I haven't yet ventured out to see her grave (nor is she in Find A Grave or on Beth David's grave locator). So for now, I'm going to say Dora's birth date was July 11, 1893. Until new evidence emerges!


Janet McNaughton said...

Thanks for sharing your process in analyzing the conflicting evidence to arrive at the estimated birth date for your great aunt, Dorothy (Dora) Mahler. I am nostalgic for my beginner days when I found a date, a name, a place and did my happy dance with one piece of information. Now, more experienced, my every happy dance is subdued realizing that I need to find more corroborating evidence.
I hope the following suggestions are helpful.
Have you contacted the New York City Municipal Archives where the pre-1910 birth records for New York City are kept? Indexes have notorious problems and a search by the staff at the archives may be fruitful. It costs $15 for a search for one year, one borough and you can start with a search for July 1893. For more information I hope the link below will work:
Bolstering your reliance on the 1900 Census could be the accuracy of the month and year birth dates for the rest of the family if you have independent evidence of their birth dates. How good was the informant in 1900?
I enjoy following your blog. Thanks again for sharing.

Marian B. Wood said...

Janet, Many thanks for the excellent idea. I also note that Family Search says "One study concludes there was a significant amount of under-registration of births in Manhattan. In 1855, 13% were recorded; in 1875, 33%; in 1896, 35%; in 1935, 80%; and by 1955, 91%." In other words, Dora's birth may not have been recorded at the time. Sigh.

Dana Leeds said...

Great post! And, Janet makes some wonderful suggestions.

You mention that the family never called her Dora Lillian, but do you know what her middle name was? Have you ordered her social security application? Perhaps the 1894 is a typo and original says 1893. Also, assuming the birth dates of the other children are correct, the year of 1894 would only make a 12 month gap between her and a sibling which doesn't sound reasonable. The 1893 date makes more sense. Also, that early census is closer to her birth and more likely to be true.

Interesting case!

Marian B. Wood said...

Dana, I haven't ordered her Soc Sec app yet. Dora was one of 7 living children, but in all, 9 were born to Dora's parents (according to one of the censuses). I agree with your reasoning that the 1900 census was closest to her birth and the most likely to be the true month and year. Maybe her grave stone will offer a clue, too. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Janet McNaughton said...

Greetings! I have lots of puzzles with my own ancestors to solve but I still find myself chewing on Great Aunt Dora's birth date problem. Marian, you are absolutely right that the NYC birth registration may not exist for Dorothy (Dora) Mahler. However, the NYC Municipal Archives are not as pessimistic as Family Search on the unreported numbers. On the birth certificate instruction page they use an estimate of approximately 25% of all births prior to 1910 were not reported. Persons can also search the microfilm at the archives. If you have a friend in the area perhaps they could do an in person search for you.
Finding her burial place would be nice but I am sorry to say the headstone or cemetery records will not provide you very reliable information for the birth date. The brother has already been an unreliable informant as described in the original post and he is probably the person who would make the burial arrangements too.
In this time period the only other records I can think of for birth dates are church records. Do you know what church they belonged to? There is a lot of good information on how to find church records in the Family Search Wiki.
Hope this is helpful and thanks again for giving my problem solving brain cells a workout. ;-)

Marian B. Wood said...

Hi Janet and I really appreciate your encouragement in pursuing Dora's birth cert. I think I'll try sending to the Muni Archives for a search...and I will post about the results!

Wendy said...

It's amazing to me to learn how many people did not know when they were born. In a pension application for my Revolutionary War ancestor, he said he THINKS he was born in 1761. My own grandmother said they were not sure if she was born on the 9th or 19th of October. Really? Her mother couldn't remember?? Didn't people celebrate birthdays? I understand informants not knowing for sure - oh she's around 15 (when she was more likely 17). But people themselves? I don't get it.

Marian B. Wood said...

Wendy, I couldn't agree more. It boggles the mind. But in the case of some of my ancestors, one possible explanation is they were following the Hebrew calendar and therefore needed to take another step in translating that to the traditional calendar used in America--which could account for the discrepancy. Maybe...