Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Search for Maiden Aunt Dora Leads to New Discovery

For years I tried to identify every single person in the dozens of photos taken at the 1946 wedding of my parents, Harold Burk (1909-1978) and Daisy Schwartz (1919-1981).

However, one tall and elegant lady wasn't familiar. She appeared in all the photos of my father's Mahler family, but neither I nor the Mahler cousins I knew could identify this lady. Then I was lucky enough to hear from another Mahler second cousin interested in genealogy! He immediately recognized this fashionably-dressed lady as a favorite maiden aunt: Dora Lillie Mahler.

Now I'm trying to pinpoint Dora's birth date. Here are her ages as recorded in each Census:

  • 1900 US census: 6 years old
  • 1905 NY census: 11
  • 1910 US census: 15
  • 1915 NY census: 20
  • 1920 US census: 24
  • 1925 NY census: 30
  • 1930 US census: 35
  • 1940 US census: ?? - FOUND! 45 years old 

Where was Dora in 1940? I tried several sources for the 1940 Census, knowing that each site indexes records differently. Tillie was long widowed and Dora was unmarried and had health problems. I'm certain they were sharing an apartment in the Bronx. Well, I haven't yet found the records I expected, but I'll search by location and expect to find them very shortly.**

Meantime, in researching Dora, I did stumble across a surprising discovery:

As this transcription shows, great-grandma Tillie and great-grandpa Meyer Elias Mahler seem to have had a son named Wolf who was born in 1891 and died, sadly, at the age of 3 in 1894. I've just sent notes to two cousins, asking whether they ever heard any family stories about this boy who died so young.

I might not have uncovered this clue to a previously unknown Mahler child if not for my research into Dora's background! (Of course I'm going to send for little Wolf's death cert to learn more.) So the lesson learned is: Keep plugging in the names of key ancestors (such as those in the direct line) because new records are posted and indexed every day.

Honoring Dora, here is the death notice that appeared in the New York Times on June 11, 1950 to announce the funeral of this much-loved maiden aunt:

Mahler, Dora Lillie, devoted daughter of Tillie and late Meyer Mahler, dear sister of Henrietta Burk, David Mahler, Sarah Smith, Morris Mahler, Ida Volk and Mary Markell. Services Sunday 1 pm, Gutterman's, Broadway/66 St. 
My "Maiden Aunt" post is #14 in the 2018 #52Ancestors challenge by Amy Johnson Crow. Thank you to Amy for a fun and rewarding #Genealogy challenge.


** Unable to find Dora and Tillie in 1940 Census using Ancestry, Family Search, or Heritage Quest's indexes, I used Steve Morse's ED Finder for 1940, which listed 15 Census Enumeration Districts into which the address 1933 Marmion Ave., Bronx, NY would be categorized. Then I clicked through to manually search each page, address by address, until on the 6th ED I tried, I found Tillie and "Dorothy" at their Bronx address (see excerpt above). They were indexed as "Tellie Mehler" and "Dorothy Mehler" in Ancestry. I submitted corrections right away.


  1. Dora and Dorothy - doesn't that just kill ya? When that happens to me, I wonder why I hadn't considered "Dora" to be a nickname in the first place. Or do you think that isn't the case, that the enumerator made an assumption? In any case, I'm glad that there was a cousin handy to identify the mystery woman in so many photos.

  2. Hurray for cousins who can help fill in the blanks in family history!

  3. Great bit of detective work! I had to go that route once before censuses were online. I had to find the ED and go from there. The family was Frank & Anna Adam, but they had indexed it as the Adam Frank family!

    I'm going to be doing a presentation about finding difficult-to-find people in census records. Can I use this example?

  4. Looks like we both learned lessons with this week's post! Hope to see you Sunday at your presentation to the JGSCT. The only thing that will stop me is if new grandson arrives - he's due this week!!

  5. Thank you so much, everyone, for your nice comments! Dana, please feel free to use the ED example. I am SO lucky that Steve Morse has that ED Finder. Made my search just a little easier. His team is building something similar for 1950, by the way. Counting down to 2022 when we see that new census.

  6. Congrats on being featured on the 52 Ancestor's blog. What an exciting find!! Good detective work and stick-to-itive-ness. It is so nice that now this woman and her life can be honored.

  7. I really enjoy reading your posts! In addition to their being interesting, I always learn something new about genealogy methodology.