Saturday, October 22, 2016

Sorting Saturday: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Family's Story?

Tillie Jacobs Mahler
Watching the Hamilton documentary on PBS, I couldn't get one of Lin-Manuel Miranda's songs out of my mind: "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?" Who, the characters sang, would keep their stories alive?

As the genealogists of our generation, we're stepping up to tell our family's stories, and keeping the stories alive for future generations.

But we can't always sort out what the true story actually is. And I wonder, what story would our ancestors themselves tell if they could reach across time to us?

My family has two versions of a story about great-grandma Tillie Rose Jacobs (185_?-1952), born in Telsiai and married in Latvia to Meyer Elias Mahler (1861-1910) before coming to America before the turn of the 20th century.

In one version, Tillie lives to the age of 99. In the other, she is actually 100 when she passes away, but hasn't admitted her real age.

Which is the real story? Which way would she want to tell it to her descendants?

Either way, I know Tillie was a strong matriarch who outlived her husband by more than 40 years. The family often gathered at her Bronx apartment for holidays and other occasions.

Tillie had 14 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren at the time of her death--a large family to remember her and keep her memory alive through the ages.


  1. I'm a bit confused. I can see where 99 and 100 could both be right - she could have been in her 100th year but not yet reached her birthday. Then there is the "1857?" which suggests she was possibly 95, not 99, which changes the story yet again. Does the question mark attached to the date indicate the "7" was not clear?

  2. Wendy, I'm also confused, which is what accounts for the question mark after the 7 (one of the few "official" birth dates I can find). Some family members seem to remember, dimly, that Tillie exaggerated her age ... some think she kept shaving years off as she aged. So which story is the true story?

  3. Marian, maybe you've nailed it - maybe the true story is she never knew how old she really was.

    1. You're probably right, Dara! She may never have known her real age. No wonder her descendants didn't know, either! Thanks for reading and commenting.